Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Until tomorrow...

Just a word to all the gonewiththewinds fans...our computer has been in high demand recently so I am sorry that I have been delayed in my postings! I'm sure you are waiting with bated breath (ha ha!) to see what has happened with Mrs. Mommy and her two little munchkins. So check back tomorrow for the latest news; we had a great weekend and the week is starting out well so I'm excited to share. But for tonight, I'll leave you with a photo of our little shoe enthusiast! Enjoy!

sorry...the photo isn't working tonight. Tomorrow, tomorrow!

Friday, October 27, 2006

No More Mrs. Nice Mommy

I never knew that mothering would take such spine-stiffening determination! In the past I always thought of mothering with warm and happy thoughts; of course, mothering is a lot of work, but it's fun work and fulfilling work, right? Well, I still think that is true, but I am also realizing lately how much grit and sheer backbone is needed to be a good mother.

As it turns out, I'm experiencing specific circumstances with each of my children that is calling for a little more firm, no-nonsense resolve on my part. With Clara Anne, it is the whining issue. Lately I think her speaking skills have regressed and she has just resorted to whining for everything. Argh! I informed her in a calm and matter-of-fact voice this morning at breakfast that whining was going to be punished within nanoseconds of the sounds leaving her mouth. I know that it is my fault that she gets away with it; sometimes if I am busy or just not paying enough attention, I let it slide for a moment and so she gets into bad habits. No more! I am going to stay on top of this one and we will all enjoy having a whine-free household, Clara Anne included!

Chloe's issue is that she is still having trouble sleeping through the night without waking up and crying. She needs to learn better to go back to sleep on her own, and I am a bit aggravated with this because we have already been through this issue! A while back, I stopped feeding her during the night but then would get up to give her the pacifier. But finally I had to let her cry a bit for a few nights so that she would go back to sleep alone. We accomplished that fairly easily, but then she learned to roll over and started waking up and crying again. So we went through the process again, letting her cry for a few nights until she learned to sleep on her back and tummy equally well. Success was ours, or so we thought!

Then we had our little trip last week. The first night in the hotel room, we had brought a pack-n-play for Clara Anne, but planned just to put Chloe on some blankets on the floor to sleep. What a bad idea...I had no idea Chloe could scoot and move around so much! With no boundaries, she just squiggled and wiggled and worked herself into the strangest positions and of course, every time she woke up and cried. My response: reach over groggily from my bed, arrange her into a better position, stick the pacifier back in her mouth, and hope she would sleep again. It didn't work. I don't think I slept more than a half hour in a row that entire night.

So in the few days we were gone, Chloe got the idea again that if she cried long enough and loud enough at night, someone would come to rescue her and do happy things for her. Now that we're home again, she's been waking up every morning around four or five, pleading for help. Now, of course I hate hearing her cry. Sometimes in the quiet of the night I find myself at the side of her bassinet, just then waking up--I don't remember getting out of bed! So it has seemed easier to just give her the pacifier, pat her back once or twice, and then stumble back to bed. The problem is that our little pacifier moments are occurring quite frequently, and I'm afraid I've let Chloe get into a bad habit again. It seems she needs to re-learn how to fall asleep by herself, AGAIN!

So I am going to have to stiffen my spine a little tonight. The bonus is that I am feeling the effect from all of these nights of interrupted sleep, so maybe my fatigue will work for me! I've got to do it, or we could be looking at months more of this! It may be that if I stand firm in my resolve, it will only take a time or two before she learns that it is no use crying, she doesn't really need anything, and she can just go back to sleep. Let's hope!

Writing this all is good accountability for me . . . I will post an update in a few days and you can see if I've succeeded in my resolve as "No More Mrs. Nice Mommy!"

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Books, Books Everywhere

The other day I was occupied in another room when I suddenly realized that Clara Anne was not with me. I looked around and heard . . . nothing. Oh, dear, there's that suspicious silence again. I went looking a bit more actively, half afraid of what I would find when I finally located Clara Anne, but this is what I saw. Clara Anne loves her books and in this instance had just sat down quietly to browse through them on her own. She has some favorites: yesterday I think I read "Grover's Guide to Good Manners" at least five times, and today's favorite was "Bear Wants More!" which Clara Anne loves since she can say the title by herself. Well, almost. Usually it is just "Bear! More!" and we all know what she means.

My tutor was here today again, which meant that I was trying to hit the books to cram just before she arrived. I am using a book to study language which is geared towards helping native English speakers, so that is helpful. However, it's not helpful if I don't study it! I need to keep working on that! :( Less reading of cookbooks and more studying of textbooks would surely help my language, don't you think?

One book we will all be reading in anticipation soon is called "Potty Training in Less than a Day." Clara Anne's days with diapers are (hopefully) numbered. We went to the supermarket on Monday and as we bought a package of diapers for Clara Anne, I told John that this was the last package! I truly hope that I will not have to eat my words.

I have a great book on my nightstand right now: The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson. I have read this book before but it is worth a reread about every year or so. She really fleshes out the biblical vision for motherhood and home life; it is a very encouraging, practical and motivating book! I highly recommend it!

I hope you're curled up with a great book tonight, after you finish reading this post, of course! Happy reading!

Move Over, Dora!

In my last post, I mentioned how Clara Anne loves Dora the Explorer, mostly because of her friend Emma. Well, last night we found out where Dora truly stands in Clara Anne's affections.

We had just finished supper, and John suggested listening to Dr. Mohler's radio program online while we did the dishes. Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Seminary, has a daily radio show in which he discusses current events from a Christian perspective. It's a great show, and we often listen to it in the evenings when we have a little down time. I guess I didn't realize just how common it was for us to invite Dr. Mohler into our home, so to speak, until I saw Clara Anne's response last night.

When John brought the computer into the kitchen to get it set up to listen, Clara Anne knew right away what was happening and started shouting, "Doctor Mohler! Doctor Mohler!" (I didn't know that she could say his name!) Then as the jazzy theme music began at the start of the program, she threw her arms up into the air as if she had just scored a touchdown! It seemed like she truly recognized the music and his voice as the program went on. She then hunkered down in front of the computer to watch the screen saver as Dr. Mohler began to discuss the day's issues.

So it seems that Dr. Mohler is more exciting to our little girl than Dora's exploring adventures. Too bad, Dora. Nice work, Dr. Mohler!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mountain Climbing Adventures

We've been out of town the past few days, visiting a nearby city with some friends. The place we went is famous in this Asian country for its high mountain which has spiritual and cultural significance. We are told that in the past this mountain was a place where offerings were given to the Most High God, but now, sadly, it is a place of superstition and idol worship. It was striking to see many people buy huge, red incense sticks and place them in the fire, hoping in vain that their prayers will be heard by a nonexistent god. What heart-rending foolishness.

The ascent to the mountain top was easy--we took a bus halfway and then took a cable car the rest of the way. Between our families, we had four children under the age of two, so climbing the 6,660 steps was not a viable option! (Actually, let's face it, climbing that many steps was not a viable option for me even if we weren't taking the children!) But we didn't miss out; happily for us, there was still plenty of climbing to be done after we arrived at the mountain top. John was a real trooper and carried Chloe the whole day, and Clara Anne a lot too!

We hoped that the weather would clear as we climbed higher but instead we found ourselves at the top in the midst of a cloud. The wisps of cloud would drift by, sometimes obscuring our view even a few yards ahead. But despite the lack of a view, we still enjoyed the experience--the air was fresh and clean, we got some wonderful exercise, and only about 147 people stopped us, wanting to take pictures of us and our girls! It's true, in this Asian country sometimes we think we know what celebrities feel like!

Clara Anne enjoyed rock climbing at the peak, but was getting a little too comfortable in some dangerous places for this mama's comfort. She loved wearing a new gift--a Dora the Explorer sweatshirt (she actually has only seen Dora once, but her friend Emma loves Dora, therefore Clara Anne loves Dora too!). I'm sure Dora would have loved exploring this mountain!

Chloe seemed to enjoy the trip just fine; of course, she didn't need to do any climbing, so that made it easy! She was happy to get a chance to wear her fleecy purple hat before it gets too small.

So all in all, we had a great trip. It was refreshing to spend time together, whether we were hiking on a mountain top, studying Nehemiah, praying together, or playing some intense games of Scrabble! But, it's great to be home, too--as all of you moms know, life in a hotel room with two small children isn't quite the vacation that it seems like it should be. I'm thankful to have us all in separate bedrooms again! So, now I just need to tackle my own personal mountain . . . of laundry!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Moment for my Mom

Thanks for taking a moment to lift up my Mom as you read this today. She finally returned home from the hospital last Friday evening. She will go to physical therapy all this week in order to continue to build strength in her arms and legs, but she's so glad she can be at home now to recover. My sister-in-law, Beth, and her two girls are with my mom this week in order to help out and keep her cheerful, making sure Mom doesn't do too much! We are thankful for small steps of progress. Thanks for your thoughts for her!

Late-Breaking Photo!

Can you see what is happening in this picture? Yes, you're right--Clara Anne is making sure that her Doll has a full tummy before going to bed. She took the Boppy pillow, got comfortable in the lap of that large pink bear, hiked her pajamas up and carefully placed Doll against her tummy. I think that Doll is averaging about the same number of feedings per day as Chloe; they seem to be on the same schedule. Funny how that works!

Ride at Your Own Risk!

As I have mentioned before, taxis are our main form of transportation as a family. Now in some parts of Asia, the taxis are really nice. Leather seats, a spacious back seat, clean and well-kept--this could describe the taxis in Hong Kong and Singapore. If you take a taxi in those cities, you feel refreshed and relaxed when you arrive. In our city, sorry to say, this is not the case. Occasionally I'll be in a taxi that seems less rickety and fairly clean, but the vast majority have washable (and therefore moderately clean) seat covers but are incredibly dirty everywhere else--the windows, the insides of the doors, the floors, the ceiling, yuck! So usually when I'm in a taxi, I try not to touch anything, especially if I am wearing khaki pants. Brush up against the inside of the door as you're getting in and your pants instantly need laundering again! When we first moved here, John always instinctively would try to put on the seat belt, which of course was covered in dusty dirt. After realizing the extremely adverse affects to his clothes, he gave up on the dirty seat belts! The worst taxis, however, are the ones with the pack of cigarettes up on the dash, since the drivers who smoke don't hesitate to do so, even if you and your two children are sitting right next to him. Yuck again.

Cosmetic issues aside, traffic is another whole story here in this Asian country. In the west, driving is a science. The light turns red, you stop. The road has a double line, you stay in your lane. The car in front of you uses its turn signal. No one would ever think of passing someone on the right by using the curb. Blasting your horn at someone is reserved for extremely serious situations. However, driving a car here is like an art form. There is a lot of free-flow between lanes (lanes? what are those?), no one uses a turn signal, the lights even at major intersections are considered mere suggestions. The motto seems to be: "If there's room for me, I'll just edge in there!" Horns are used in many ways: there's the short beeps which simply mean "look out! I'm coming your way!" There's the long blasts which could mean "get going! We're all waiting for you!" or "Move over! I'm trying to get through!" There's also the warning honk for bicycles that suddenly veer into your lane or pedestrians who are trying to cross the road in random places.

[Sidenote: crossing the road here is like that old video game "Frogger". First you look to the left and walk ahead, slowly and as you have opportunity, and then you are "safe on the yellow line" so you can stand and wait in the middle of the street before attempting to cross the next lanes. I have had times where buses were bearing down on me and cars were coming the opposite direction as I stood stock still in the middle of the road. The key in that situation is don't move! If you move with traffic around you, nobody knows where you're going and you could get hit. But if you stand still, people are watching out and will take care not to hit you. Of course it's better not to get stuck in the middle of the road, but sometimes with traffic what it is, it's the best option.]

Even being accustomed to what normal (crazy) traffic is like, occasionally I get into a taxi where the driver thinks that since he is carrying a foreigner, he must go to great lengths to get the foreigner there faster. Last night was one of those times.

I was headed out to meet some friends and was amazingly alone--both of my children were at home with John. How nice, I thought. I can just enjoy the taxi ride, look around at things, no need to restrain small hands from playing with the meter or rescue Doll from the dirty floor. Well, instead I was in for a ride that rivaled any amusement park roller coaster.

My driver started off well enough, though he took a different route than I was expecting--he continued straight when I thought he would turn. He zoomed down to the next corner, in and out of lanes, passing other cars on the right and the left, and when we reached the next red light he pulled all the way up into the left turn lane. Great, I thought. He'll just turn here. Oh, no, he didn't! He simply waited for the light to turn green, then put on the gas and veered to the right, so as to cut off the entire line of cars waiting in the proper lane.

At the next corner he pulled the same trick and I was starting to get a little motion sick. It was then that I noticed how frequently he was using his horn and starting counting...from that point until our destination he used it no less than 28 times! (It might have been more, I could have missed a couple.) He just kept zooming in one lane and then another, narrowly missing other cars, people on motorcyles, there was even a scary moment with a couple of pedestrians who had stepped out before they looked. Usually, since the roads are so congested, drivers can't manage to go very fast, but this driver was definitely the exception, and if he had hit those pedestrians there would have been very serious injuries.

I breathed a sigh of relief as we arrived at my destination, in one piece and not surprisingly, in record time. Whew! What do you think, want to go for a ride?

Friday, October 13, 2006

To Eat or Not to Eat

Supper is over at our house tonight, and our collective tummies are filled with "comfort" food. Now I know that term has a good and bad connotation, because "comfort" food necessarily contains excessive amounts of cheese and butter, but of course that's what makes it so good! Tonight I made a family favorite from my growing up years--Chicken Broccoli Hotdish. It's a delectable combination of broccoli and chicken smothered with a rich sauce made from cream of mushroom soup, shredded cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream, with curry powder and lemon juice for flavor, topped with crushed Ritz crackers and drizzled with melted butter. YUM! On Friday nights our asianese friend Robert comes for supper and then stays overnight; this is his favorite way to eat broccoli, if you can believe it. So we enjoyed the Hotdish along with some homemade bread (ok, I confess I used my breadmaker) and homemade applesauce (ok, I confess I used my crock-pot) for dessert.

Clara Anne thought the hotdish was a great improvement over some other things she had eaten today. Lunch for her was some broccoli with rice (with a little ketchup added to help the broccoli go down!) and breakfast was her usual yogurt with oatmeal and raisins. That doesn't sound so bad, you say. Well, it was what she was eating between meals that was the problem. This morning I was working on a project at our kitchen table so I suggested that Clara Anne join me in her high chair and do some coloring. I'll let you watch what happened next:

Hey, Mom, this is fun! I like coloring! (Actually what she most likes is taking the crayons out of the box, and putting the crayons back in the box. Over...and over...)

No, no, Clara Anne, no crayons in your mouth!

Oh, dear, Clara Anne! What is that blue stuff on your tongue and stuck in your teeth? No eating crayons! [End of coloring session]

Then, just before supper while my hotdish was baking, I was doing a few dishes while John and Robert talked in the living room. Clara Anne was playing near them and suddenly came up to John, complaining about something and then opened her mouth and showed him a mouthful of . . . dirt. Oh yes, our darling daughter decided to try out the dirt in my large philodendron plant in a corner of our living room. Thankfully she did not eat any bits of leaves, since I have heard that they are poisonous (yikes!), but then when I tried to have her "rinse and spit" she just swallowed it! So, on to plan B, brushing her teeth, where a thorough scrubbing yielded a brown toothbrush. Ugh! Hopefully she learned her lesson. Now if some manufacturer would just make crayons that taste like dirt, we'd be all set. :)

Finally, (this has nothing to do with eating) I just have to share this picture of Chloe with her friend Samantha. Samantha is nine days older than Chloe, and since their sisters Clara Anne and Emma are already best friends, Chloe and Samantha are discovering that they have a true heart connection as well. Just look at them holding hands in this picture:

If that doesn't warm your heart, you need to go eat some comfort food!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Moo-vie Night and Other News

Movie night is a pretty rare, and therefore special, event in our house. We don't own a TV (on purpose) and so if we want to watch a movie we have to use our computer. That entails setting it up in a comfortable location, complete with extra speakers, and then snuggling in to watch something that we have seen before since we haven't bought any new movies for a long time. But our collection, small though it may be, includes many classics like The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, The Music Man (noticing a theme here?), old black-and-whites like Bridge on the River Kwai, Citizen Kane, and Alfred Hitchcock favorites, and even a modern classic--the Lord of the Rings. We went all out and bought the marathon version with hours of special features and documentaries.

Now, always before on Movie Night it was John and I, munching popcorn and snuggling as we sang along to our favorite movies. But recently we decided that Clara Anne was old enough to include in the mix. She has only very occasionally seen bits of children's videos, and since she isn't accustomed to watching TV, this was a really special event for her. I popped the popcorn (in my wok!) while John set up the computer on our bed. Then we put Clara Anne in the middle, with the huge bowl of popcorn on her lap, and settled in to watch a really great movie--The Miracle Maker. It's a Claymation film telling the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection somewhat from the viewpoint of Jairus' daughter, who is sick, then raised to life and follows Jesus after that. It was so sweet to see Clara Anne sit like a big girl between us, slowly munching popcorn and getting excited about the various events in the movie. She lasted about an hour and then said, "All done? All done!" and happily went to bed.

Though this was Clara Anne's very first experience watching a "real" movie with Mama and Daddy, it seems like it didn't take her long to get hooked. Almost every day since then, at some point during the day, she has looked up at me and said, "Moo-vie, Mama? Moo-vie?" Be patient, Clara Anne! Movie Night will come again sometime!

In other news, we finally had a day of fall-ish weather today. It has been unseasonably warm recently, and though tonight we are still running our A/C, I think the time is coming soon where we'll have to wear jackets, socks, and such like that. In fact, today I realized that my little Clara Anne has grown so fast this past summer, I have no shoes to put on her! The sandals she's been wearing all summer need to be replaced with some warmer shoes. We'll see what I can find!

I did a brave (or stupid, depending how you look at it) thing tonight. John had a supper meeting and so I decided to take the girls out by myself to McDonald's. "How hard can it be?" I thought. "I'll just get a taxi, get there and get Clara Anne in a seat, let Chloe stay in the Baby Bjorn...it'll be fine!" Well, in fact, it went very smoothly. I enjoyed my burger and fries, and Clara Anne enjoyed my ketchup. She truly loves the ketchup more than the fries, and has been known to dip a fry in ketchup, suck it off and double dip, then triple dip, then discard the now-soggy french fry in favor of a crisp one to help get the ketchup in her mouth faster. Tonight, lucky for her, she also had some chicken nuggets to eat which came with sweet and sour sauce, so she had a delightfully dipped meal. Our only snafoo came when it was time to go home. We headed outside, Clara Anne holding my hand and walking, and Chloe in the Baby Bjorn. The streets were super busy; everyone just getting off work and all the taxis were full. I mean, ALL the taxis were full. We waited by the side of the road about fifteen minutes, desperately waving to any white vehicle that came by, and finally snagged one that got us home quickly. It could have been only a five minute wait, but a guy carrying a bunch of newspapers saw me waiting and then stood almost right in front of me so as to get the best angle on any potential taxis that came by. It's kind of the equivalent of someone cutting in front of you in the grocery store. He apparently had no qualms about letting the woman with two children continue to wait by the side of the road. :( But, all's well that ends well, and we did make it home safely.

Today was a big day for Chloe! I had mentioned before how she had learned to almost giggle...but today we crossed the line into full-fledged laughter. It was at an unlikely time; she had been awake for a bit and then it was time to eat, and though I hadn't fed her yet when she saw me she smiled big and started to giggle a little. I encouraged her and she broke into true laughter! The best part was that John was right there, so he ran for the camera and we got it on film. Fun times with Chloe! What a joy it is to be a mother! Now I just have to remember that when she wakes up at 4:30am...

Update on my mom: She is still in the hospital and though she is making some improvements, she is still struggling with weakness in her limbs. Please keep thinking of her! No one likes to have to be in the hospital, and this has been a really long trial for her. She was hoping to come home several days ago, but cannot move around independantly yet and so needs to stay a bit longer. But if things go well, it is possible that she'll return home this weekend. Thanks for your prayers and support!

My tutor was here again this afternoon, and for the first time in a long long time, I honestly feel like my use of the local language has made some improvement! We were studying a particular grammar point today that was a bit challenging, but also quite useful so I am determined to use it in my daily conversations. Mimi, our house helper, and I had some great chats yesterday and she'll be here again tomorrow; she talks so fast and so is great for my language usage. She's also teaching me to cook some more local foods!

I'll leave you with a picture of the day. This was taken this morning--Chloe had just finished eating and was hanging out in the chair, so Clara Anne climbed up to sit with her and brought a Doll, too. It was the first time that we've seen Chloe "give" as good as she "got" to Clara Anne. In the past Chloe has patiently and cheerfully suffered Clara Anne's attentions (elbows to the face, vigorous pats on the head, overenthusiastic kisses, death-grip hugs) but today, in the chair, Chloe got a hold of Clara Anne's hair and wouldn't let go. If you look closely, you can see Chloe about to do that deed in the picture here. Clara Anne was a little confused; I could see the wheels of her mind turning, trying to understand that suddenly Chloe was a person in her own right to be reckoned with. An interesting lesson for Clara Anne! You can also see Clara Anne bestowing loving attention on her Doll, by giving her one of Chloe's pacifiers. I guess she figures that if Chloe needs a pacifier, then Doll does too!

Well, both of my children, and all of our dolls, are already tucked in for the night. I'm headed there too! Good night!

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Thousand Words

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, (and since the hour is already late), tonight I will skip the thousand words and let you enjoy this picture on its own! Clara Anne, October, 2006

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Fly on the Wall

If you were a fly on the wall in our home last night, here is the scene you would have observed:

Mama Rachel: "Ok, Clara Anne, Chloe is finished eating now, let's go put her down to sleep."

Clara Anne and Mama Rachel return to the bedroom where Clara Anne resumes playing on the bed with her doll and some toys.

Clara Anne: (as she lifts up her pajama top) "Oh, Doll! Eat, Doll!" Clara Anne holds Doll next to her bare tummy.

Mama Rachel hides her smile and watches with interest.

Clara Anne picks Doll up, pats her on the back and murmurs some comforting words indistinctly.

Clara Anne: "Diaper? Doll, diaper?" She puts Doll down and pretends to change Doll's diaper, also remembering the powder.

Clara Anne: "More? More?" She hikes up her shirt again, shifting Doll to the other side, and puts Doll's face on her bare tummy.

The feeding session concludes with Clara Anne patting Doll and smiling at her.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I should really feel flattered. Who knew that Clara Anne was paying such close attention during all those times I was feeding Chloe? It's a good reminder that so much of what is learned is caught, not taught. Good job, Clara Anne. I couldn't have done it better myself.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

My Mom

Please be thinking today of my mom, who was recently hospitalized again for complications relating to her diabetes. She has had diabetes since 1981, and it has been getting progressively worse. This past August she was hospitalized for more than two weeks with a low blood sugar that turned into extreme weakness in her arms and legs. The doctors ran numerous tests then, and no explanation was found to explain the weakness, so after lots of rest she regained some strength and was able to return home. However, after several weeks of taking things easy, she tried to resume some activities, but during a physical therapy session last Friday her blood sugar dropped again and she had to be readmitted to the hospital. She is back at square one in terms of the weakness in her arms and legs again. Thank you for your concern and prayers for our family, for my mom's health, and especially for my dad as he is trying to help my mom, take care of things at home, and keep going to work everyday. You can send my parents a word of encouragement at jroelofs@hotmail.com Thanks so much!

The Transgressions of Clara Anne

Well, there she is, our little criminal. Doesn't this photo look like a mug shot? It was actually taken when we needed to get some more passport photos made for Clara Anne, and she wouldn't smile. But it illustrates well my story for today.

Clara Anne has been struggling the last several days with two things: first-time obedience and whining. It's frustrating as a parent sometimes because though we haven't changed our standards or how we deal with her (I don't think, anyway), but she seems to not be responding as well lately to our instruction. We have had a few rather challenging circumstances where she decided to push the line and test us. I fear that I am not passing the test! I am thankful that I can appeal to Father for these things because on my own I would certainly be failing.

You may be wondering what kinds of things Clara Anne has been getting into. Well, remember our Mexican dinner night the other night? I was running a little behind schedule in the preparation, and it was as if Clara Anne sensed that I was really busy and didn't have time to deal with her. Our guests had already arrived, and between the time they arrived and the 45 minutes later when we sat down to eat she managed to do about seven naughty things that she had never tried before. At first she was sitting on the counter next to me, which I let her do sometimes to "help" me when I'm preparing food. That went well for awhile, but then she started wanting to grab and explore things that were nearby . . . I was making the salsa and she attempted to eat some pieces of raw onion as well as some cilantro, quickly discovering that she didn't like the taste of either!

Ok, so I put her down off the counter to go play in her room while I kept going in the kitchen. After a few minutes of suspicious silence, I entered her room to find that she had swiped the lotion bottle (off-limits!) and liberally applied it to one of her stuffed animals.

So then she came back to the kitchen with me, ostensibly so I could keep an eye on her, but then in a moment when my back was turned she reached up to the table for a grown-up's glass of water (also off-limits!) and knocked it over, spilling most of it on herself!

After John changed her clothes, we decided that containment was the best policy. So into the high chair she went, where she very unpleasantly whined (exceedingly off-limits) until the food was ready. Finally after eating and getting her tummy full, as well as getting her hands and face sticky with Mexican Rice, she switched into silly mode and began to give me lots of hugs and kisses. (Hugs and kisses are definitely NOT off-limits!)

Then yesterday our house helper decided it was time to wash Clara Anne's blanket. Though Blanket has not gotten as much blog coverage as Doll, it is almost as important to Clara Anne. She calls it "Bo-bo" and always sleeps with it, as well as dragging it around the house when she feels tired. Clara was quite distressed yesterday to have to use a substitute blanket during her nap, so when she woke up and found that Blanket was already hanging out to dry, she was excited. My clothesline hangs in a small porch off Clara's room; it has windows on three sides and a long counter along the outer wall. Since the clothesline is hung fairly high, we have a small stepstool out there to facilitate hanging up clothes. Well, after Clara Anne saw Blanket hanging there yesterday, she apparently decided to go and get it herself. I was in another room and noticed that suspicious silence again . . . by the time I got there Clara Anne had gone into the porch, closed the door behind her, climbed up on the stepstool and somehow climbed up on to the counter, and I caught her in the act of standing on the counter and reaching up for her blanket! YIKES! Needless to say, it is now off-limits for her to go into the porch by herself.

I guess there are lots of conclusions I could draw from these stories . . . parenting is hard work . . . the heart is deceitful and wicked above all things . . . children are sinners like the rest of us and need to be taught the same things over and over . . . with the loss of obedience comes a loss of freedom . . .but overall I think the moral of the story is that we just have to keep being faithful parents to Clara Anne, shepherding her heart as best we can. Thankfully there is a Strength outside ourselves that we can depend on! And we can pray for her. Today when I put her down for her nap, she said to me, "Mama, pray? Pray?" Certainly, Clara Anne. Let's do that . . . together.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Happy Days

It's been a fun, activity-filled weekend at our house and we all have some happy things to share today. To start with John, he is happy because he is off class all this week since it's a national holiday. We're hoping to do a few fun things this week, including Mexican Dinner night tomorrow! I love to cook Mexican but don't do it very often because of the labor involved, but tomorrow is the night. I'll make the tortillas, grill peppers and onions, make pico de gallo, make sour cream (did you know you can make really great sour cream using whipping cream and vinegar! I didn't either until I moved overseas!), shred the cheese, and make a seasoned chicken filling. Yum yum! I even have a hoarded can of refried beans to break out!

Part of our weekend fun was helping our friend Josh celebrate his birthday. His wife Rachel had made a wonderful meal, including German Chocolate Cake! for us to share together. Clara Anne and Emma had a great time playing, as usual. They love to take baths in the new, shiny bathtub that is at Emma's house. Clara Anne thinks she can swim in it! She is a little fish, and always wants to lie down under the water. For her it's a big bonus, since at our house when she takes a bath, she has to use a little plastic tub in which there is literally barely room for her to stretch out her legs. If she wants to lie down in our tub she has to stick her legs out!

One of the disadvantages of living in another culture and learning its language is that your English skills deteriorate rapidly. You might find yourself using odd words or phrases, just because they translate well in the local language. For example, the word congming in the local language is often translated "clever," but its usage is more along the lines of "smart" or "intelligent." I hardly ever used the word "clever" before in my life before we moved here. Another example came this weekend when Clara Anne and Emma were having a bath together. Emma was saying something that we couldn't understand and then beating on her belly. I looked at Rachel and said, "what is the meaning?" We both laughed to realize that no native English speaker would use that phrase! Another one we find ourselves saying, "Maybe my money (or time) is not enough." If it sounds strange in English, it makes perfect sense in the local language!

Chloe had a happy weekend too. On Saturday morning she was up bright and early and grinning at me from her crib as soon as I got in her line of vision. After she ate, I was holding her for awhile and talking to her, and she started to almost giggle! It was so close to a real laugh--but she just couldn't quite sustain it. Her sweet happy voice was a joy to hear!

As for me, I am happily enjoying my new house helper. She is pretty well trained in now and is doing some great cooking for us on the days she is here. It is really a wonderful blessing to be able to sit down and read with Clara Anne, or hold Chloe and talk to her, knowing that lunch is being prepared and the dishes will get done afterwards, too! Mimi is also a great challenge to my language learning--she is a typical woman who loves to chat and talks a mile a minute. I'm learning lots from her!

To leave you with thoughts of chocolate, which should make anyone happy, the quote of the weekend came from my friend Rachel. When discussing food preferences, and noting how, if given the choice to eat extra food, John would choose meat but I would choose sweets, Rachel said, "But surely you don't need meat when you have chocolate to tide you over!" Amen, sister!

Cultural Lesson #4,688

Recently our landlord invited us out for dinner. How nice, we thought. We had been out to dinner with them once before and it was very low key; just them and us at a somewhat-nicer-than-average local place. We ate in the main dining room (as opposed to a separate, private room--in this culture it is common if you have a larger party of people or you just want to treat someone really well to get a private room within the restaurant. It has its own waitresses and everything, so can be more relaxing and enjoyable away from the hustle and bustle of the main dining room) and they treated us really nicely--they ordered "friendly" food (i.e. no blood or other innards!), we had a good time talking and they were even careful to get us home on time since they knew Clara Anne had to get to bed.

Well, this time was different. Our first clue was when we came out of our apartment building, and instead of our landlord's car, there was a big van, with many people in it, some of whom we didn't know. We got in and were introduced to a few of the people, though we still weren't sure why they were there and how they related to either our landlord or us. But, when you live in another culture you learn to go with the flow, so we just went with it. Soon our landlord explained that we would have a party with the three families, and that this other couple--we'll just call them Mr. and Mrs. X--had a daughter who was 16.

We arrived at the restaurant--a big one near the gate of the campus where John studies. We had gone past there probably a thousand times, but never stopped at the restaurant to check it out. It always seemed busy, though, with fancy cars parked out front and the waiters and waitresses wearing elaborate traditional clothing. We were ushered up to our private room and there we met the remainder of the party, including Mr. X and his daughter. The inside of the room was really nice--plush carpets, fancy tablecloths, little finger bowls at each place setting--and then we learned that this restaurant is famous for seafood. Now, since John and I grew up in Minnesota and Iowa, respectively, we are just not used to eating seafood. In the past I really didn't even want to try eating it, but maybe in the last year or so I have had more interest in trying it. For one thing, it is relatively common and thus less expensive here in this Asian country, and also it's apparently quite nutritious. I was willing to try the foods, but I also was prepared to use the old "put-it-on-your-plate-and-leave-it-there" trick. But I needn't have worried. Dish after dish of food was placed on the table and though some of it was strange, some of it was also seafood that I've never tried because of the cost. I decided that even though the situation was still a little weird (we really were not sure why we were being hosted at this fancy restaurant by these people who we didn't know), I might as well just enjoy myself. So when the plate of salmon came by, I tried it, and liked it! I also had my first experience eating a whole crab, as well as oysters on the half shell. Who knew seafood could be so tasty?!

Now, that day had already been quite busy for Clara Anne, and she was still sleeping soundly when it was time to wake her up to go out for this dinner. And then, of all foolish things, I decided not to take Doll with that evening. I just thought, "oh well, she can do without Doll sometimes; she'll be fine." Oops. Her tired state combined with the lack of Doll made for a really crabby Clara Anne. When we were getting settled at the restaurant, she absolutely refused to sit in her chair and was only happy on my lap or John's lap. We tried to stay firm but she was so irritable, and it was so awkward for the others there when she cried, that we gave in to her and let her sit on our laps to eat a bit. It soon became apparent that Mr. X was in fact hosting this dinner, not our landlord. When Clara Anne was being fussy, Mr. X started barking orders at the waitresses: "Bring some ice cream! Bring some toys! Bring some yogurt!" (Our landlord had informed him of Clara's yogurt obsession.)

I am sorry to say that Clara Anne rather quickly sized up the situation and realized "hey, these people will give me whatever I want, and I can do whatever I want, too, as long as I don't cry!" She then proceeded to warm up to the situation and was pretty much waited on hand and foot for the remainder of the evening. It was like watching the last year of careful child-training go down the toilet in one circumstance. I gave up trying to restrain them from spoiling Clara Anne, and as she warmed up to them and started getting everything her little heart desired, she began to get really slap-happy and silly. She was suddenly willing to go around kissing people, laughing, speaking the local language, and generally making them dote on her all the more.

At this point the situation was so exasperating and laughable that I whipped out the camera to take a few photos. Our hosts loved it and posed for some fairly silly pictures. In the picture at left, you can see our host, Mr. X, trying to ply Clara Anne with watermelon (also one of her favorites) and literally "kiss up" to her.

So what was the cultural lesson? Well, as it turned out, as we were all sitting around the table during the middle of the meal, and all of this expensive food was in front of us, our landlord said to us in broken English: "Maybe in the future you can teach Mr. X's daughter English! Is that ok or not?" We stammered and stuttered and instead of answering the question, asked a few of our own, like how often she wanted to study with us, what was she interested in learning, etc. Finally we said, well, maybe some time it would be ok, but she needs to call before she comes over. At this point everybody else breathed a sigh of relief and got more comfortable. I hate to think how the evening would have gone if we had said a flat-out "no!" In this culture, it is common to accomplish things in life by guanxi or relationships. If you have a friend who has a friend who can get things done, then if you are really nice to that friend maybe he can get his friend to get something done that you want done! Gifts and bribes are common. So when we went out to eat, we thought we were just eating with our landlord but in fact he had these other plans. We then figured out that our landlord does a type of business that Mr. X (who has a position high in the local government) could really help him with. So how does our landlord build guanxi with this important businessman? He essentially uses us as his tools. If we agree to teach the daughter English, then our landlord has done a favor for Mr. X, which strengthens their relationship and makes Mr. X more likely to do future business with our landlord's company.

If this is all too confusing, don't worry! It took a little time of "debriefing" after we got home for us to understand fully the dynamics of the situation, but now we will perhaps be a little more wary of accepting a "free lunch!" The really stinky part is that this type of situation is so common in this culture, that often people put in our situation will agree in the midst of the situation, never intending to actually follow through. We don't want to be like that, but on the other hand to be brutally honest in that circumstance would have made for an awful evening and loss of face on all sides. For example, we could have said, "Mr. X, are you kidding? Do you know that almost every day someone asks us to teach English? And if you wanted us to teach your daughter English, you could have just asked us and we would have told you yes or no--there was no need to waste so much money!" However, we just smiled and essentially put off the question while remaining open to them in the circumstance.

Though we've lived here almost three years now, circumstances like this make us realize that we are still learning cultural lessons! And guess what? Yesterday our landlord called again, wondering if we would be free for dinner this week! Now there's a loaded question!