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.

The Envelope, Please!

November has arrived. This is not big news, but in my mind, November was a key marking point because it was the time when I was going to start toilet training Clara Anne. All through October, when Clara Anne seemed to be giving some signs of readiness, I kept thinking, well, maybe around November 1st we'll start. Part of my procrastinating attitude was legitimate: we had our little trip planned for mid-October, and I've read that you should only commence training when there are no other major transitions or traveling plans.

Also, my friend Amy in the States was going to be sending me a flat-rate mailing envelope with the book "Potty Training in Less than a Day" and also numerous pairs of training pants inside. "I'll just wait for that," I thought. "I'm sure it will be much easier after I've read the book." Plus those training pants sounded really handy. I have some little girl's undies, but surely I need the training pants, right?

At this point you may be thinking, why doesn't Rachel just go down to Wal-Mart and buy some training pants herself? (We do have a Wal-Mart in our city.) Well, the reasons for that are numerous. The local Wal-Mart does not carry training pants, because the local people do not use them, because the local people use an invention called "split pants." Split pants are simply that--the crotch seam is not sewed together so that the child can easily squat down and relieve himself. This also means that the child's private parts are no longer private, and instead are exposed for all the world to see. Unfortunately, it is common to find children relieving themselves in just about any public location, and even in homes parents do not necessarily bother to take children to the bathroom, but allow them to use the floor instead. (I am not joking, I have been in a friend's home when their young son was encouraged to pee on the floor; his mother said to me with a smile, "the floor is easy to clean!" "Sure," I smiled back weakly.) This is perhaps part of the reason that floors are always considered dirty in this culture--we take off our shoes when inside and put on slippers; an Asianese person would never walk around barefoot or stockinged foot even in his own house. But I digress...

So then recently when the envelope didn't arrive, my friend Amy sent a message. Apparently she had returned home one day, only to find the envelope she had sent to me on her front porch! It had been returned to her, marked as a terrorist threat! Yes, that's right, toilet training is now an internationally dangerous activity. You never know what might be in those cotton underwear! What kind of message is this sending me?! As if I wasn't intimidated enough by the idea of toilet training, now I discover that the US Government doesn't think I should toilet train Clara Anne either. Maybe I'm not the only one "terrified" of taking on this huge task! :) Amy had to try again to send it to me; the envelope hasn't yet arrived. Hmm...

Well, Clara Anne, enjoy your last few weeks of diaper bliss! Your time is coming, if only they would deliver the envelope, please!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sleeping Babies and other Happy Tidings

All's quiet here at our house tonight; my children are both sleeping soundly after warm baths and applications of lovely lotions followed by clean jammies, and John is relaxing with a book as I write. It was a busy day today so I'm glad for a low-key evening.

First, to all of you who were wondering how it has been going with Clara Anne and Chloe and my resolutions of's been going pretty well. Chloe had a tough time, especially the first night--she woke up and cried a long long time, (of course any amount of time over 5 minutes is a long time to a mom!) but then finally settled herself back to sleep. The second and third nights were much better, and then the last few nights she has amazed us all by going about 11 hours each night before waking up and crying! In fact, this morning she woke up happily after about 11 hours of sleep; I heard her talking to herself in a cheerful voice early this morning. I am a thankful (and much better rested) mama!

Clara Anne is also showing some improvement, particularly today. It is so wonderful when I am consistent to discipline her, because then she is happier and more content, which makes me happier and more content, and on and on in a beautiful cycle. Today was one of those days where I really enjoyed being around Clara Anne: singing with her, reading to her, helping her "help" me make monster cookies, splashing water during her bath--just laughing and loving together. Her affection towards me seems to increase, not decrease, when I force her to "toe the line" and refuse to give in to her selfish complaints and demands. Today she came up to me several times randomly, wanting to kiss and hug me. My favorite sign of affection from her, though, is when I hold her and she pats my back, as though to comfort me. Thanks, Clara Anne! I needed that! [There's the picture of our shoe enthusiast--Daddy's shoes this time!]

In other happy tidings, I made some new friends this week! The first night Chloe slept 11 hours straight was Sunday night: I kid you not, I felt like a new woman on Monday morning. I woke up thinking about what great things I could accomplish that day, and what fun things I could do with the girls. We have had some chilly weather recently, but Saturday, Sunday and Monday were all warmer. So, on Monday morning, bursting with new-found energy, I took Clara Anne and Chloe out for a walk. It was a perfect time to be outside--blue skies, a slight breeze, warm sun, just lovely! We headed up the hill behind our apartment building to a little spot of grass so that Clara Anne could run around and play. On our way, we met one of my neighbors who has a two-month-old baby; she was also outside soaking up the sun. It was fun to meet another mother! She is on maternity leave from her teaching job this semester.

Then as we rounded the corner to the small park area, there was another mom out with her young son. She and I started talking and hit it off right away! We marveled that we had never met, even though both of our families have lived here for more than two years. Erica (her English name) invited me to come in right then and eat lunch with her family! I said we already had plans (Mimi, my house helper, was already busy fixing lunch) but then she invited me in to "sit awhile" and drink some water. So up I went with my girls in tow, and met her mother, her father, a few random neighbors and some other kids that tagged along. We had a great time! I hope we will become good friends--I really like her and she seemed to really like me too, as evidenced by her continual suggestions of further get-togethers. Best of all, there wasn't any sense of her just wanting to meet a foreigner to practice English (we were speaking Asianese the whole time), but rather a feeling like we truly could be friends. This is a great blessing to me; I've been wanting to meet more moms and here I found two of them, about my age and literally in my backyard, all because Chloe got a great night of sleep! (Well, sort of...I guess she doesn't get all the credit!) Today Erica stopped by our apartment because I had accidently left one of Chloe's blankets behind when I was at her house the other day. I plan to try to see her again soon. We could do lots of stopping by since we live in the same housing complex; that's exciting to me!

Speaking of exciting adventures, Doll had a truly life-changing adventure today...she was put through the washing machine. Oh yes, it said on the tag (barely readable after 25+ years) that she should only be surface washed, but in fact she was SO dirty after being dragged around Asia, in and out of airports, numerous taxis, parks, back and forth to Emma's house, etc. that a true bath was very necessary. I am sorry that I did not get a "before" picture, but at left is the "after." Her face, particularly, is much cleaner--now Clara Anne has a nice, clean Doll to sleep with again.

Speaking of sleep, I am reminded of a great quote to leave you with (though I cannot remember the source): "There never was a child so lovely that his mother was not happy to get him to sleep." Rest well, little ones!