Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Glimpse of Christmas, 2007

Here's a peek at our Christmas celebration--it was a wonderful time! I had low expectations this year, since the past two years very little has gone as planned, (including sudden illnesses, over-busyness which led to tiredness and bah-humbug attitudes, and fussy children). However my low expectations were happily surpassed and we really enjoyed creating some new traditions this year. Christmas Eve found us eating some special food which John and I chose together--we decided on Marinated Chicken Wings with a Mandarin Orange and Carmelized Almond Tossed Salad. I served the wings with rice and it was a very tasty meal! We then lit candles, sang carols, and read the Christmas story before inviting the girls to open some new gifts. This year our plan was to buy the girls a toy kitchen--one big gift that they would both share. However, due to various factors (that's a whole other story) it didn't work out, so we ended up with a bunch of small (read: cheap) toys, including several sets of little dolls and doll furniture, similar to the Polly Pockets. The various parts have already been scattered hither and yon, but since they were very inexpensive I don't mind too much.

Clara Anne's third birthday was also a very special celebration! We began with a special birthday brunch (we had let the girls stay up until 11pm the night before, playing with their new toys--a late-ness record for them--so breakfast was also quite late). We were then able to chat with some family via the internet, which was so special, and then in the afternoon Clara Anne got to take out her new bike for a spin. She did great on it! I think she will really have fun with it, especially when the weather turns a bit warmer. I did make the requested homemade pizza for her birthday supper, and we enjoyed that with some birthday cake. Wow, it's really amazing how quickly the time has gone by--it seems just a short while ago that we were looking forward to the birth of our first child, and now we have two big girls with another babe on the way! We are thankful for our dear Clara Anne and the three years God has given her--and we pray for Him to give her many more! It has been especially encouraging to see how she is understanding and growing in more and more spiritual knowledge--memorizing Bible verses, learning to pray by herself, knowing the gist (and details!) of many Bible stories, and just generally comprehending more of a spiritual nature. I pray that this next year will bring even more understanding to her heart.

But on to the pictures . . . Here my little elves are helping to bake some cookies, several days before Christmas. (Licking the beaters is helping, right?!)

Opening gifts--the girls received some really fun book/CD sets from my mom and dad. Tubby the Tuba has been requested several times a day since then!

Chloe gets excited about some plastic kitchen toys.

I'm not sure what this look means! But Chloe is really enjoying her new doll, named "Zipporah" by Clara Anne. (At her request, we've been reading the Exodus stories over and over recently.) The birthday girl at her birthday brunch, wearing a birthday gift--a new princess bib.
The brunch spread: Homemade Cinnamon Rolls, an Egg-Bake with some leftover Christmas ham that we had ordered through an import store to share with some other Americans, and fresh strawberries, which are now in season. And don't forget the cup of Starbucks Decaf Verona! The birthday girl on her birthday bike! Such fun!

Happy Third Birthday, Clara Anne! We love you! (This was not the requested "green cake with blue candles" since some friends unexpectedly gave us a cake. We still managed the blue candles part, but Clara Anne didn't seem to remember that she had wanted a green cake, so happily ate this one--the frosting first, of course!)

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Little Christmas Cheer

We've had lots of fun getting ready for Christmas this year. Perhaps it is because Clara Anne is now almost 3, and so realizes more of what's going on, but it has been a true joy to share
with her about Christmas--the TRUE story, the songs, and the festivities. Of course, Christmas is extra special to her because it is also her birthday, but she hasn't yet seemed concerned about the fact that these two special events fall on the same day. It's funny, some people have seemed disappointed for us (or for her) that she doesn't get her "own" special day, but we think it is very special that she was the Father's gift to us on Christmas Day.

So what have we done to get ready? Well, there's been lots of talk about preparing our hearts for Jesus, and looking forward not only to celebrating his birth but also anticipating his second coming. We've been enjoying putting a small figure on our Advent calendar each day after morning devotions. Also, singing Christmas songs has been a big part of this year's preparations. My mother gave us a Kindermusik CD called "O Come, Little Children" that both of the girls just love, and it has helped them to be familiar with lots of different Christmas songs. One of their favorites is "The Friendly Beasts" which has verses for the various animals that were (perhaps) present at Jesus' birth and the gifts that those animals gave the newborn King.
Look Mommy, I'm helping to trim the tree! (Taken the day after Thanksgiving.)

And I'll pull the ornaments off as fast as you can put them on, Clara Anne!

On Wednesday when Clara Anne and Chloe got together with Emma and Samantha to play, we drew pictures of hearts and decorated the paper with paint to put under the tree as a gift for Jesus--reminding us all that Jesus wants our hearts more than any other thing. Aren't the girls cute in their (totally unplanned) matching clothes?

Clara Anne has even had fun helping me make some cookies. Peanut Butter Star cookies are some of my favorites at Christmastime, and Clara Anne did a good job of licking out the measuring cup used for the peanut butter, licking the beaters, and then placing each star on the cookies at the right time. She loves to help!

John and I have a special gift under (well, actually next to) the tree for Clara Anne's birthday this year--a small bike with training wheels for her to ride. She is so excited about it--she was there when we chose it but we are having her wait until her birthday to open the box (and have Daddy put it together). I hope it will provide lots of hours of exercise, entertainment, and enjoyment!

So how will we celebrate Christmas and Clara Anne's birthday? Pretty simply this year, I think. John and I have talked about making Christmas Eve more of our special, candlelight, family worship service with singing and the Christmas story, then allowing the 25th to be a celebration for Clara Anne. I think that's what we'll aim for this year. We'll probably have a special birthday breakfast and then we gave Clara Anne the choice of what she wanted for her birthday supper. Can you guess? It's going to be homemade pizza, with "a green cake with blue candles, Mommy." Ok, Clara Anne! I think we can do that! Here's our happy Clara Anne opening an early gift from Grandpa and Grandma.

As we have thought about preparing our hearts for Him this Christmas, we are aware, again, of how many (in our city and where you are, too) are not doing that because they have never heard of Him, or believed in Him. This has given us a renewed heart for prayer and sharing as Christmas day approaches. Let every heart prepare Him room!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thankfully. . .

Chloe seems to be doing much better. Today she was noticeably better in mood and disposition, and a closer examination of her mouth seems to show that the sores are healing over. She is still smiling with a funny, swollen upper lip, but otherwise seemed much more like herself today. She also took a 3 hour nap yesterday and today; that can't hurt anything! (I feel certain a 3 hour nap would do wonders for me!)

Her recent trauma has brought out an affectionate, cuddly side of Chloe that I haven't seen before. I guess you could call it clingy, but cuddly sounds better, don't you think? I've gotten lots of sweet hugs and kisses from her in the last week, and now her favorite thing is to run up to me, wrap her arms around my legs, and put her face between my knees. It is a gesture that travels directly to a mother's heart, and makes me so thankful for these two little girls who somehow, miraculously, almost in the blink of an eye, are part of our family. I wouldn't trade them for anything, cuts, sores, hugs, kisses, and all!

Monday, December 17, 2007

A New Plan of Attack

So while we were on our little trip recently, I hurt my knee. I don't know when I hurt it, or how I hurt it, but my right knee has been giving me quite a bit of pain since then. It's ok if I'm just sitting stationary or stretching it out, but bending and flexing, especially to get up or down, is really painful. I've had to resort to various old-person tactics to get myself up and down--pushing with my arms, leaning on my other knee, etc. It's pretty pathetic--I'm only 31!

My suspicion is that somehow I hurt it, or strained it, during a couple of inadvertent long walks we took while in this larger city. Twice in the same day we ended up walking nearly an hour (with me carrying heavy Chloe a good bit of that time) without truly intending to. The first time was after a wonderful lunch at Outback, when we all decided a bit of strolling would do us good. But after we had strolled awhile it seemed like our apartment was just ahead, we might as well keep walking. It was a beautiful day and the walk was nice, too--just the weight of Chloe in my arms got tiring. The second time we got off the subway, thinking that the restaurant we wanted to go to was right next door, but in fact were given bad directions by the restaurant staff, even when we called back to double check. What was supposed to be "right on that main street in front of you" ended up being more than an hour of walking. I wasn't the only one feeling strained--there were seven kids under the age of six among us, so everyone was a bit burdened down for that long of a walk! (To the kid's--and adult's--credit, though, I didn't hear any complaining from anyone that whole long walk! We all persevered with good attitudes and that made our food taste that much better when we finally arrived! Hey, it was a good character building exercise!)

So my theory is that in holding and carrying Chloe so much on my left side, I somehow threw things out of whack and compromised my right leg. I had a bit of soreness and pain in that leg even as we were walking, so that's where this theory was born. But who knows, it could have been something totally different.

Anyway, my knee pain, combined with being 22 weeks pregnant, combined with the fact that despite our plans we are still living in the apartment on the fourth floor with no elevator, made me think through a new plan of attack for going out with our children in tow. I just cannot carry Chloe much anymore--she has got to be at least 25 pounds and really isn't stable enough (or quick enough) to climb up and down those 58 stairs by herself. Clara Anne does better, but still, if we're in a hurry, she usually needs to be carried as well. I'm sorry to say the double stroller, so worth every penny when we were using it in the States, has only made it out a few times since we've been back in Asia. That's because I discovered that I could not carry the stroller down the steps and supervise a child at the same time. So taking the stroller out by myself, so convenient when it was in the back of our minivan in the States, is almost impossible. I have to bring it down first, then either carry Chloe and supervise Clara Anne or make two trips to get them both down the stairs, then by the time they're all settled in the stroller it's time to get a taxi and fold the stroller up again. Finally the whole process has to be repeated when we get home! Not quite as convenient as I was hoping!

And, since it looks like we may be living in this apartment for another 5-6 months (due to various factors) and no elevator will be magically appearing, and soon we'll have three little ones to carry out, we truly needed a new plan to manage this situation! And, here's what we came up with!

My friend Rebecca (herself a seasoned mother of five) had recommended strongly to me a baby carrier called an Ergo. [Actually, Rebecca, it was your comment on my blog after our trip that made me start thinking seriously about buying one! The power of suggestion!] She has one and let me try it on this past summer when we were visiting their home. The Ergo is different from other carriers in that it balances the weight of the baby on your hips, not on your back. I did some reading online, and many mothers who had previously used the Baby Bjorn (what we have) said they just could not manage their babies after about 7-8 months. That was exactly my case. By then Chloe was so heavy, and my back would start killing me, not to mention my shoulders sinking down with her weight, that I could only wear her in dire necessity or for brief periods of time. So the Ergo is supposed to be comfortable for a child up to 40 pounds! Wow, Clara Anne isn't even 40 pounds yet! The Ergo is also a soft-sided carrier, not a framed back-pack type, so it can be folded up and stuck into a handbag or whatever. Another plus is that the baby can be worn on the parent's front, back, or hip--three positions so you can find what is most comfortable for you.

So after looking it up online, reading and researching a bit, and realizing how this could free up my arms and deal with the problem of having to carry Chloe, I made a pitch to John. The only drawback--the price, seemingly rather expensive. But I was surprised by how quickly he thought it was a good idea and that I should get it! So happily I have placed my order and it will ship to my parents' home before Christmas, when they will ship it on to us.

Part 2 of the new plan of attack involved looking for a very small, compact umbrella stroller, to use especially when traveling. And we found one! It's a bit of a cheesy design, but otherwise fits our criteria and so I think will be helpful.

Now we have some options: for now, Clara Anne can ride in the umbrella stroller and John can carry Chloe in the Ergo, yet leaving his hands free. OR, Clara Anne can walk, the stroller can stay home and Chloe can ride in the Ergo. OR, Chloe can ride in the stroller and Clara Anne can walk. After the new baby comes, I can carry the baby in the Baby Bjorn for a few months while John continues to carry Chloe in the Ergo while pushing Clara Anne in the stroller. After we move into a new apartment, with an elevator, the double stroller can be used much more commonly, but for now we thought this was a much better plan than us both needing to manage an at-loose child. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, containment is the best policy!

So, going out and about in our city, though not having the convenience of walking a few feet into your garage where you strap your child into his/her carseat and then you are free to walk around the car, load other things, etc, all only a few steps away from your home, is still workable. We just had to get a bit creative in the solution! Can you tell I'm excited about my new purchase? My days of carrying Chloe are nearly over! Now if only I could get my knee to feel better . . . :)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Concerning Chloe

It's been a rough week for Chloe. I always feel like I don't give her enough "coverage" on the blog because she is smaller, and doesn't really talk much yet, but this week she got more than her share of attention.
It all stemmed from a seemingly innocuous fall last Saturday evening. She was sitting on John's lap and we were all singing Christmas carols. Losing interest in the singing, she squirmed to get down, and John let her go. Apparently, though, she wasn't quite ready and instead of landing on her feet she fell facefirst onto our hard wooden floors, landing directly on her mouth. We picked her up immediately and saw that her mouth had already begun bleeding.
At first it was hard to tell where the blood was coming from. Did she bite through her lip? Bash her tooth up into her gum? Bite her tongue? But upon closer examination, the blood seemed to be coming from the little flap of skin that connected her upper lip to her gum between her top front teeth. It was bleeding a lot, and after deciding that we didn't think she had seriously injured herself, we cleaned up the blood, and I gave her some ice to suck on as well as a bit of pain reliever, knowing she would probably be sore.
But that was just the beginning of her woes. The sore place soon developed what looked like white, infectious spots, which we think are canker sores. Apparently it's common for canker sores to result from trauma to the mouth. So her lip swelled up, and a canker sore appeared on the outside of her lip as well as on that "flap" between her top front teeth, and her gums continued to bleed with pretty much any contact. Poor Chloe!
She was really feeling miserable by then. Four or five days had elapsed since her little tumble, and she was running a high fever, not sleeping well, not eating well, and basically being a crank. Not that I can blame her, since I have had mouth sores in the past and it is truly no fun. The worst part was that I wasn't sure how to help her! Finally after talking with my pediatrician online, and sending him a mostly unhelpful picture of the spot, we hit upon a four-pronged approach: 1. Brush her teeth with a bit of toothpaste (which always causes some bleeding, and thus a need for a drink of water). 2. Spray a small amount of salt water directly on the sore spots. (Drink some more fresh water to get that salty taste out of her mouth.) 3. Apply a bit of orajel, the stuff meant for teethers. 4. Give her a bit of children's tylenol, to help the fever and the pain. (Final drink of fresh water.)
As you can probably imagine, this was not Chloe's idea of a fun time, though she does usually feel better after we've been through the whole rigamarole. In the picture above, you can see a tiny bit of how her gum/lip right around her top two front teeth is swollen. We are hopeful that another few days of treatment will help her to heal up.
The hardest thing for me has been to not give in to her every request since I know she hasn't been feeling well this week! It's hard to punish her for whining when she's obviously so uncomfortable. But, of course, it's for her good!
She hasn't lost a bit of her cuteness, though, as you can see from the above picture. Hopefully my purple girl will not be feeling so blue this next week!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Do you think we need a new bathtub?

My girls don't think so! Photo taken this morning, December 10, 2007.

As Promised . . .

Take a look at these photos from our recent trip! Though I am never as faithful about taking pictures as I intend to be, I ended up with a few cute ones. Enjoy!

Fun times at a kid's play area!
All the kiddos lined up for a morning Advent devotional.Let's go swimming!
Two peas in a pod.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Traveling Adventures

If you read to the end of my last post, I made a comment about "travel in this country always seems to sap my energy." I had new reasons to ponder why that is so after our trip home on Friday.

First of all, John and I have learned that when traveling, especially in Asia, especially with children, that allowing extra time is always a good idea. If you have to wait a few minutes, even a half hour, on a plane or train or bus, it's better to be safe than sorry. So we have usually built into our travel day schedules a time margin for safety's sake.

However, on Friday we must have forgotten everything we've learned. We slept just a little late (love those hotel black-out curtains!), then took just a little too much time getting ready, just a little too much time eating the fabulous buffet breakfast at this hotel, and by then we realized we were falling behind schedule. The girls, sensing the time pressure, and noting how mommy and daddy were too busy to pay close attention, of course chose those moments to disobey and need punishments, which took even more time. Then we quickly packed up, did a double-check of the room, called the bellboy, and checked out at the front desk--all of which took just a little more time than we had hoped.

So our intention--to leave about 9:50 or 10 at the latest, to catch a 10:50 train--was postponed, little by little, until finally when we were all settled in the taxi and on our way to the train station, it was 10:15. We asked the driver with trepidation, "how long does it take to get to the train station from here?" "Oh, about 30 minutes," said the driver breezily. "Well, could you take the fastest route, please? We are in a hurry," said my husband, trying to be breezy but with a note of underlying urgency.

This was not a banner moment for me. I was envisioning the worst--we miss our train, there are no more tickets, we are stuck in this city, we have to take the slow bus that takes 6 hours, etc. But hope springs eternal, and miracle of miracles, we arrive at the station about 10:35.

We struggle out of the taxi, me with the dead weight of Chloe in my arms (she had fallen asleep on the taxi ride), and John trying to manage Clara Anne as well as two large suitcases, Chloe's booster chair, his computer bag, and the Pack-n-Play. A enterprising gentleman comes up to us with a dolly in tow, wondering if he could "help" us. "Hah! For a hefty fee, I'm sure!" thinks John, but then reconsiders--actually yes, we could use some help. The man immediately loads up all of the heavy luggage, and once we show him our tickets he knows exactly where to go. We make a run for it. (Well, the man runs, John scoops up Clara Anne and runs, and I straggle behind with Chloe, my purse with its broken strap, and a miscellaneous bag of snacks, books, and blankets for the train.)

We made it to the building, (the taxi had to drop us off about 2 blocks away, truly inconvenient!) through security, and then as we approached the tickets-only area we began to slow, anticipating that we would now have to take all our luggage. But even as the ticket agent yelled at the guy helping us, our helper waved him off, went right through the gate and down the stairs.

[As a sidenote, stairs without a ramp or escalator, are a really stupid thing to have at a place like a train station or airport. Anyone who has thought about it for any length of time whatsoever realizes that at a place like that, everyone has luggage of some sort! Therefore that luggage has to be lugged down the stairs and then back up to the platform. That was the case at this train station.]

There was a ramp going down the stairs, which our guy tried unsuccessfully to navigate--all of our luggage toppled off the dolly and onto the stairs. But we got loaded up again and quickly made our way through a long hallway and then faced another set of stairs, this time going up. A very kind passer-by gave our guy a hand so that the luggage could stay on the dolly all the way up to the top. We arrived at the top, breathless, and then took off running again for our train car which was quite a ways down the line.

Ah, the happy moment when we stepped aboard the train! Our guy had made it with us the whole way, and John dug out his wallet to compensate him accordingly. He first gave the man 30 local dollars, but the man wasn't happy with that and was grumbling and complaining. His next smallest bill being a 50, John just gave it to him and figured, oh well, it was worth it. 80 local dollars was a small price to pay for having made the train!

We boarded at 10:47, and the train left at 10:49, a minute earlier than scheduled. My first words to John were, "Let's never do that again!" But we were so thankful to have made the train, we just sat there in shocked relief for the first few minutes! Truly, if not for our friend, who managed the luggage so that John could carry Clara Anne, we would not have made the train, and who knows what would have happened then. If not for his help, we would have had to go at Clara Anne's pace, down and up all those stairs and through the crowds--it never would have worked.

Suffice to say, when we finally got out of the train, made it through the station, stood in line for a taxi, got all our stuff in a taxi, and made it home to our apartment, we were extremely glad to get here. Whew! I'm glad we have a few months before we need to have any more traveling adventures! The saying remains true--"East or West, Home is Best."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fun Times Were Had By All

It's our last night on the road! Tomorrow morning we will eat the lovely buffet breakfast available at this hotel, then pack up our things and head back home again. It's been a good trip. I thought I'd share some highlights with you . . .

The time shared with our friends in the capital city was truly refreshing. We enjoyed staying together, meeting together, eating together, and letting our kids play together! It was really a special time of refocusing and connecting; I'm so glad we had this opportunity. It was especially great to have this dedicated time to meet together since our normal, once-a-week meetings are more brief and compact--in this situation we had more time to share and discuss things.

The women had a super evening out which included Starbucks and dessert at TGI Fridays, and we even found some time for shopping--you've got to hit the import store when you can! Perhaps if you've never lived outside the US you might be wondering, "What's the big deal about the import store?" Well, the big deal is that usually a good import store (and there are several in the capital city) has some items which are virtually nonexistent in our city. If I want some graham crackers or powdered sugar, for instance, I need to buy it in a larger city and take it back home with me. So here's a sampling of my purchases this time (in no particular order of importance): Dijon mustard, canned artichokes, Goldfish crackers, Spray-n-Wash laundry pretreatment, blueberry muffin mix, and the find of the day--Johnsonville Bratwurst, John's absolute favorite! We will really enjoy that treat! However, I looked several places and never found Karo syrup. The supplier for that must have run out and never restocked!

John and I have had a good couple of days investigating the possibility of giving birth here in a city only 2.5 hours from our home (by train). Yesterday we visited the hospital, and though in many ways it looks and feels like a typical Asianese hospital, (i.e. not so clean, no nursing staff to speak of, everyone crowding in to see the doctor at the same time) today we were able to meet with an English speaking doctor who allayed some of my concerns about delivering here. She seemed willing to work with me personally and said that if I called ahead for appointments I could see her and she would be my doctor, similar to what we would do in the States. She also seemed willing to go along with my ideas of natural childbirth, which encouraged me. It helps somewhat that this is my third baby, so though I have fairly strong opinions of what I want and don't want, she didn't discredit them since I obviously have some experience in the matter! So we are hopeful that it will work out to be here.

One interesting conversation came when we did the ultrasound. There were three people present--me, a nurse, and the ultrasound technician. Here's how things unfolded:

Me: I really want to find out the baby's gender. Now I am in the 21st week so I hope we can see if it is a boy or a girl.

Nurse: Yes, probably we can see clearly. Do you hope for a boy or a girl?

Me: It doesn't matter--as long as the baby is healthy that is ok.

As I am getting on the table . . .

Technician: How far along are you?

Me: 20 weeks complete, I'm in the 21st week.

Nurse: Yes, she already has two girls and wants to see if this is a boy or a girl.

Technician: (not having even touched me with the ultrasound wand yet) Oh, at 20 weeks we cannot see clearly.

Nurse: Really? It's still not clear at 20 weeks? When is it clear, then?

Technician: Well, it's hard to say. But now it's not clear.

At this point, I was inwardly quite upset at the technician's attitude. She did not even want to try to see the baby's gender, and I was really hoping to find out! I felt like saying something not so nice about the quality of the machine or how I had found out earlier than this with my other two pregnancies, but figured it wouldn't help and so just held my tongue. She rushed through the procedure and soon I was out of there. However, later I found out that because it is against the law for the technician to say anything about gender, even to a foreigner, the technician was just responding in a typical Asianese way--giving me the runaround rather than just telling me directly that she wasn't allowed to tell me. I thought that maybe since this was an international clinic, the standard would be different, but I was wrong. So there you go, we'll have to wait another 7 weeks until I have an appointment in Hong Kong. I just hope the baby won't be too big by then to get a good look! If so, I guess we'll just do what our parents and grandparents did--wait until the baby is born!

The housing options in this city also look promising, and happily, there are Starbucks within walking distance of all three potential apartments we are are considering! The hotel we've been at the last two nights has a Starbucks just a 5 minute walk away. Last night after the girls were in bed, John stayed with them and I went out for a late-night latte. (I drink decaf all the time anyway, so the time of day makes no difference). I ordered a decaf tall gingerbread latte and it was just perfect. Perfect! Just the right amount of whipped cream, foamy milk, and hot, strong espresso-gingerbread flavor. My only regret was that it was so good, I drank it so quickly! I savored every sip, though. It was wonderful! I couldn't have made it better myself!

Another fun highlight for the girls has been swimming at the hotel pool. Our first time swimming, Chloe was a bit uncertain and cried, though I held her close and we gradually got into the water, going deeper and deeper. She soon discovered the pool was like a big bathtub and started splashing around and having fun, though she didn't want to leave my arms. Tonight, though, she knew right away what to do and kept wanting to throw herself out of my arms so she could "swim" by herself! She also saw Clara Anne confidently swimming out in the deep water, climbing up and down the ladder, and playing on the steps, and I'm sure that encouraged her too. But I didn't have floaties for Chloe tonight, only Clara Anne, so I had to hold Chloe back a bit. I was surprised how quickly she took to the water! The girls looked so cute in their swimsuits too! Fun times!

So it's been a good trip. We are eager to get home, though, and back to normal life and routine again. I enlisted Lou, my helper, to get the house ready for us so we should have a sparkly clean home and dinner waiting when our train arrives tomorrow. That will certainly help, since traveling in this country always seems to sap my energy. I think the girls are ready to be home again too. I know they're tired of reading the same 8 books that I packed for the trip!

Next time, pictures from our fun times! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Road Trip!

Okay, so our upcoming travel isn't really in the same league with the American idea of road tripping--packing up the car, stopping as you like, eating at Cracker Barrel, etc, but we're still excited about it!

Tomorrow morning, early (very early, like 6:15) we will leave our house and take a fast train to the capital city. We plan to spend the next several days with our other American partners, having time to talk, pray, plan and fellowship together. The idea is to "retreat" from our day to day work here for a bit and have some time away to be refreshed and renewed. Of course, it helps that there are Starbucks and Subway nearby! John did a great job planning family times, together times, and even a men's evening out and a women's evening out. We'll all be staying in one big furnished apartment, so it will be a weekend of togetherness! We're looking forward to it!

From there, John and I will go directly to another city nearby where we are hoping that our baby can be born next April. There is an international hospital there but it's totally unknown to us, so we wanted to go and look at the facility, meet with a doctor, and generally scope out the situation. [I.e. ask pertinent questions like, "will my husband be allowed to be with me in the room while the baby is being born?" and "What is your idea of natural birth?"] We also will need to look for housing in the area. So after a few days in that city, we will finally arrive home next Friday.

All this to say, I do not know what our internet access will be as we are gone. I may not be able to blog for awhile. Wow, and when we get home it will already be December 7th! Christmas (and Clara Anne's third birthday!) is just around the corner!

Until then, happy trails . . .

A Joyful Wedding Celebration

Last Saturday John and I had the privilege of attending our first Asianese Christian wedding. We've been to numerous weddings in the past, complete with tons of fireworks and cracklers (traditional to drive the evil spirits away), heavy drinking and smoking, and an ostentatiously huge meal. Happily, this wedding was totally different.

It was especially joyful for us because the groom was a young man that we had introduced to our Father almost four years ago, when we first arrived here. He has been a faithful follower, and a passionate share-er of the good news, including leading his bride to the Father more than a year ago. We were excited to learn that the two of them were getting married! They seem to have similar hearts for the Father's work, and that is really exciting.

The wedding ceremony was held at a church building in town. Actually, this was the third ceremony. In this country, a couple is considered married as soon as they obtain the appropriate paperwork from the government; the ceremony(ies) then follow whenever it's convenient. This young couple had already had celebrations in each of their hometowns (several hours away from our city), so this third one was the final one, here in the city where they will now live and work.

We arrived about 10 minutes before the ceremony was supposed to start. Other guests had also arrived and the bride and groom were mingling with them out in the street. We tentatively made our way inside, only to find that we were the first ones in! The building had no indoor heating of any sort, so the doors were thrown open and the cool breezes (it was probably about 40 degrees that day) were flowing in. We sat down and began to talk with other guests, just passing the time. About 40 minutes later, things finally began. There was a pastor, a choir, and then the bride and groom entered. It was a very nice service (what I could understand) filled with lots of Scripture and singing.

After the wedding we all boarded buses that took us to a restaurant for the reception. John had been asked to give a blessing, but as we arrived he could see that it might not work out--all of the tables for the wedding guests were spread out over many private rooms. We took our places and enjoyed talking with our tablemates who were also all friends of the groom.

Late in the meal, the bride and groom came around, as is customary, to drink a toast with us. I raised my glass of Sprite high as we wished them many years of happiness together. But after we were finished toasting, and the bride was called away for some reason, our friend stayed and began to talk with us about the good news. He was first just expressing his gratitude to the Father, and as he began to talk he became quite emotional. Some of his friends, feeling awkward for him, sort of smiled and laughed, proposing another toast, but as he struggled to regain control of his emotions he said, "No, no, I'm not done speaking yet!" He went on to testify to the power of the good news, how much his life has changed, and then began to name people around the table, saying how much he desires for them to know the Father. He was literally pleading with them with tears as he expressed his heart's desire. What an amazing witness!

We finished by taking some pictures with the bride and groom. Here's a glimpse of the day!

Clara Anne was glad she'd worn her cozy hat, sweater, and gloves along with her winter coat, since we were essentially out in the cold for about 2 hours.

Chloe, on the other hand, was just glad for her pacifier. :)During the ceremony--here the bride was in her white, fur-lined dress.At the reception--the bride changed to the traditional red dress.

All of us together. Congratulations to the happy couple!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

On Thankfulness . . .

Well, Thanksgiving Day has come and gone and a few thoughts have been rattling around in my brain that I wanted to share with you all. After a busy week of preparing for Thanksgiving, a wonderful day shared with friends, and definitely full tummies, I left our celebration in a reflective mood. There's always some let-down after a big event, especially when the event has taken lots of energy and hard work. But, when all the food had been prepared, eaten, and cleaned up, I suppose I was just pondering again what I'm thankful for, and how I desire to have more of a spirit of thankfulness on a daily basis. I was also contemplating how I can encourage attitudes of thanksgiving in my children.

One thought that encouraged me came from my friend Gretchen. She wrote on her blog how recently she had heard a message that talked about the sin--yes, sin--of grumbling, and how we should dare not grumble after all that God has done. Truthfully, this relates so well to my own life. When I take extra effort to plan a special activity, or snack, or spend time with my girls playing with a special toy, and then at the end of the activity time they grumble and complain, wanting more, it's like a slap in the face. Instead of being thankful for the fun things we did together, they are (sometimes) whiny and discontent. That response doesn't make me want to jump right up and plan the next special time! But how many times am I like that with the Lord? Grumbling is the opposite of thanksgiving. A thankful heart looks for God's blessings in every situation. A grumbling, complaining heart can only see what was not given. ". . . And be content with what you have . . . " Contentment and thankfulness are intertwined. Oh, may I have a more thankful, more content heart!

Another thought that encouraged me came from John Piper. Reading on his website recently, I found an excellent article that addressed the idea of gratitude--thanksgiving--being directly tied to the grace that has been given. We are more and more grateful when we realize that what we've been given is ours through grace alone. He also points out that true gratitude is an action, directed at the giver. It has an object. It's not just "I'm thankful for" but "I'm thankful to God for" or "I'm thankful to my husband for" etc. When we feel we have deserved something (i.e. a paycheck after two weeks of hard work) we may feel generally thankful for a job that provides for us, but we have a different sense of gratitude when something is a gracious gift. This idea also encouraged me to keep an eye out for the grace that has been given me, so that I may have a heart full of gratitude to express towards the Lord and others.

So with that said, I am particularly grateful this year for an overwhelming sense of surety that we are where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing. It feels wonderful to be a part of Father's plan for this place, and I am thankful that I feel a renewed confidence in our call here. I'm also thankful for my job as a wife and mother. It is continually challenging, but also provides so many times of joy and contentment as well. Yesterday the girls both had long naps, and when they woke up, Chloe just wanted to snuggle on my lap, for a full five minutes! It's moments like that which encourage me and help me be thankful for the job of motherhood. And now as we prepare to welcome a third child to our family, I'm reminded again and again how vitally important it is to be a godly mother. I'm grateful for my sweet children and for the opportunity to learn and grow myself as I mother them.

No Thanksgiving Day post would be complete without a few pictures, so here's a glimpse of our celebration.
Here's Clara Anne doing her part to add her handprint to a Thanksgiving Turkey decoration using fingerpaint. Remember my friend Rachel, craft-woman extraordinaire? She organized not only this decoration but made Pilgrim hats for the men, bonnets for the women, and then my friend Amy made Indian headdresses for the kids. It was fun times, let me tell you. My little Indian on Thanksgiving Day. "Like my hat, Mommy?" A few of the kids (we had 7 total between our three families, not counting the one as yet unborn!) gathered round for storytime with a Pilgrim father.Little Indians raiding the appetizer table--deviled eggs, veggies with ranch dip, and apples with caramel dip. Yum!Happy Thanksgiving, 2007.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

With Thanksgiving just hours away here in Asia, (you in America have slightly longer to wait), I am very happy to report that all of my Thanksgiving preparations are complete. We will be getting together with other American friends and divided the duties. This year I was responsible for the turkey, dressing, gravy, and two pies--pumpkin and pecan. It's so fun to gather with other Americans (it is an American holiday, after all), plus we all break out our stash of imported ingredients in order to put on this feast. It's interesting too, since everything has to be made from scratch, the preparations take more time but I think the food turns out more delicious!

Lou, my helper, pretty much did dishes all day as I worked on one item after another. I roasted the turkey this morning, then took it off the bone and used the bones to make stock, then used the stock to put into the stuffing and gravy. I hope it will all be tasty! New this year--I tried a recipe for Hot Brandy Sauce (never fear, it is cooked so the alcohol all dissapates!) which is to serve with the pumpkin pie. I snuck a lick of it and it was wonderful!

My friend Amy and her family are hosting the gathering, so we will all invade her house tomorrow. She's making the mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, and a chocolate mousse pie, and my friend Rachel is bringing her famous cheesecake ball, an appetizer plate, deviled eggs, the dinner rolls, and the cranberry sauce. Rachel is also our craft-and-fun-kids-stuff organizer extraordinaire, she got together several really fun ideas to make Thanksgiving memorable and meaningful for the kids.

Well, there's lots to be thankful for, every day, not just Thanksgiving day. But for now, I'm just thankful that I'm done getting ready, largely due to the fact that Lou helped me all day and my girls happily played together without much mommy time. I'll be sure to post some pictures from our celebration tomorrow, as well as some thoughts on what I'm thankful for this year, in a day or two.

Now the only question is, what will we eat for supper tonight?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hospital Encounters, part 2

Last Thursday I went to our local hospital again for a check-up. I was slightly concerned about the fact that I had recently lost some more weight (of course the stomach flu didn't help that at all) and just wanted to check on how the baby was doing. An American doctor I had been consulting with also wanted to find out how I was measuring, and so I put the girls down for their naps that day, leaving Lou (my helper) in charge, and then headed to the hospital.

There was a slightly longer line, so I ended up waiting quite awhile, but in the end everything checked out fine. The doctor also thought I looked small so ordered another ultrasound, but thankfully everything looked good to the ultrasound technician. What a happy thing to hear that strong heartbeat and see all those limbs moving!

Everything was fairly routine until I was about to leave. I was finishing up talking with the doctor, and a woman came out of a nearby room, crying quite loudly. She had her winter coat balled up in her hands and had buried her face in it, crying all the while. She was totally alone. My heart went out to her, though at first I was not sure what to do. I started to walk toward the exit, and then I remembered my extreme regret the last time after I didn't say anything to the girl about to have an abortion. My spine stiffened in resolve and I turned around, only to find that the woman had retreated into the bathroom. I paused for a moment, just waiting, and soon she came out of the bathroom and headed toward the exit herself. I then took my opportunity to fall into step beside her.

She was still crying at this point, and so I just very quietly said, "Excuse me, you seem very unhappy. Is there something I can do to help you?" She immediately began to pour out the whole story. She had just had an abortion--but she didn't want it. The doctor told her that her baby was sick, and had a problem, so she should abort it, and her family agreed, but she didn't care--she wanted the baby. "I'm already 38, now I can never have another baby. Oh, my baby, my baby is gone," she said as she wept bitter tears. I empathized with her as we were walking, and she responded with the typical Asianese "It's nothing."

We continued down toward the street and the turning point came when I shared with her my belief. I told her that I knew God could help her, that God loved her, and to my surprise, she responded with vehemence. "No, God cannot help me. He can never love me, not now. He can't love me, I just killed my child." I told her again, "He does love you! Look, here I have something that can tell you about his love. Will you please take it?" She took it and seemed to calm just a little. As we parted, she went to catch a bus and I pleaded with her again to read the item I gave her, to be comforted, that God loved her, and we said a hurried goodbye.

I got in a taxi and came home, processing the event. It all happened so fast and I wished I had had more time with her, or at least gotten her phone number or name or something. Since then, she has really been on my heart. Will you ask our Father with me that though last Thursday was a terrible day in her life, that it could be the start of a great work in her heart? My hope is that someday, she might look back and say, with Joseph, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."

I was quite surprised at how willing this woman was to open up and share with me, a complete stranger, about an obviously very personal crisis in her life. Could it be that more people are willing to share more often than I think, if only they were asked? This incident really gave me a renewed resolve to engage others in heart conversation as much as possible. May we all not pass up any opportunity to touch another heart for the Father as we go through our daily lives!

A Refreshing Drink Recipe

Last week, after my bout with the stomach flu, the only thing that sounded good to me was to drink some Orange Julius. Something about the milk and orange mixure, cold and frothy . . . mmmm. When I'm not recovering from the flu, I love to make this refreshing drink to make breakfast extra-special, and it's easy to whip up! The mixture also makes wonderful popsicles.

Orange Julius
2 cups orange juice
3/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
about 10 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until frothy and ice is thoroughly crushed. The ingredients are flexible--use more orange juice for a more distinct orange flavor, a bit more sugar if you like it sweeter, etc. Enjoy!

Monday, November 12, 2007

So I spent the whole weekend . . .

In my pajamas. Yes, that's right, little did I know when I got ready for bed on Friday night that I would not get out of my jammies until this morning. I hadn't been feeling well on Friday, but just thought it was a bit of pregnancy symptoms gone haywire--after lunch I suddenly felt like I must lie down and rest, and even after resting I didn't feel well, which I attributed to the fact that there had hardly been any protein, just vegetables, in our lunch. So I ate my customary two eggs and expected to feel better, but alas! Friday night John and I (re)watched a movie and took things easy, but when Saturday morning came I couldn't get out of bed without feeling lightheaded, weak, and generally awful. We had to cancel our normal Saturday get-together, a true bummer, because I just wasn't up to it. I basically did not get out of bed on Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday was even worse because I wasn't able to hold down any food or water. Finally at that point, I realized this might be something more than just extra-bad prego stuff going on! Which was good news, in that maybe it would have a limited duration, rather than lasting the 23 weeks that I have left in my pregnancy!

So I think a bit of a flu bug has hit. The girls are now fighting off runny noses, but I am starting to feel a bit better, thanks to a lovely long bath at my friend Rachel's this morning (boy, do we need to get a bathtub!) and being able to eat and drink a bit without throwing up today. It's funny how being able to eat is such a blessing that we truly take for granted 99% of the time. I'm hopeful that perhaps I will be feeling much better soon and that the girls or John won't get it. Kudos to John, by the way, he really stepped up and took over with the girls the last few days. It was funny, though--last night he took them to McDonald's and they ate and played at the play area, and when he got home he was so tired! He said, "wow, it really takes a lot of energy to engage with both of them!" I obviously couldn't agree more!

So now I should get back to resting. Sorry for the lack of posts lately--I keep waiting for my energy level to rise a bit and instead this past weekend is what happened. But, this too shall pass, right? Here's hoping for happier news next time!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ask and you shall receive!

My friend Angela asked recently for another new recipe, so here goes! This is a breakfast pancake recipe, similar in taste and texture to crepes, called "Swedish Roll-Ups." The recipe came from Minnesota Mornings, a great cookbook put together by the Minnesota Bed & Breakfast Association. These are great pancakes to whip up when you only have a few minutes and you want to eat something other than the usual for breakfast! Give them a try!

Swedish Roll-Ups

4 eggs
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp sugar

Combine all ingredients in a blender, mix well, scraping down sides of blender if necessary. Spray a small skillet lightly with non-stick cooking spray; preheat to medium.

Pour a thin layer of batter in pan (about 2 Tbsp for a small pan, 3 Tbsp for a bit larger pan.) Move pan in a circular motion to create crepe-sized pancakes. Cook the first side until the edges start to look slightly brown and dry (about 30 seconds), watching closely as batter cooks quickly. Turn and cook second side about 15 seconds. Repeat procedure with remaining batter. Roll up each pancake and serve immediately with syrup, or spread the insides of the pancake with a bit of jam or preserves, roll up and serve.

We had these for breakfast this morning and I still have some batter left for a few more pancakes tomorrow morning. Chloe ate three by herself, Clara Anne ate one, and I find that 4-5 usually satisfy me. Because of the eggs, though the pancakes are light and tasty, they are also more substantial in a protein-y sort of way than your traditional bread-y pancakes. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Clara Anne's Memory Verse, Oct. 31, 2007

Clara Anne and I have been working on a memory verse each week. We practice it in the morning after breakfast and our Bible reading, and she has been doing quite well with it! This week's was rather long, so we made up some actions to go with it. In the video you can see her looking up (she's watching John) for the actions. The video is a bit dark, but hopefully you can hear her sweet voice speaking even sweeter words of Truth! Enjoy!

More Fun Times with Daddy!

Bouncing games on Daddy's lap . . .
Drumming along to some great praise music . . .

Listening as Daddy reads stories to already-jammied girls . . .

Cuddling and loving on Daddy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

You take the good, you take the bad . . .

You take them both, and there you have the facts of life . . . remember that TV show from the 80s? It was a bit beyond me, as I was pretty young then, but I do remember watching it and liking the idea of the girls living together, learning to get along, going to school, and having fun in the process. Whoever wrote the tune for the theme song should get an award for memorability: I can still hum it today!

This past Saturday was one such day where we experienced the really good and the really bad about living in our Asian city. Saturday is the day when we get together with our other American friends to have lunch, sing, and read the Word, then put the kids down for naps while we do our study. It is a really refreshing time. And Saturday was particularly good. The lunch was excellent, the fellowship was encouraging, the girls were fairly well-behaved (except for one moment where Clara Anne pinned Chloe down and looked like she would kiss her . . .but then bit Chloe on the cheek! Chloe was more upset about being pinned down than being bit, but I think after all was said and done, Clara Anne was more upset about the biting, given the punishment she received for it!). We relaxed and enjoyed an extended time of prayer as well as some in-depth study. We lingered late into the afternoon, relishing the time.

Finally, we made our preparations to leave, packing up Chloe's pack-n-play and various other items, and went outside to catch a taxi. We then realized we had perhaps lingered too long, since it was now almost 6pm, rush hour on a Saturday, and our friends live on a very busy thoroughfare. We waited . . . and waited . . . and waited . . . standing on the side of the road, me holding Chloe on my hip while John held Clara Anne. Even Chloe tried to get into the action by putting her little arm straight out and waving the hand--catching a taxi like a pro! Except, there were no taxis to be had. Finally after about 30 minutes, John left me with the girls and our stuff and went walking down to a large intersection where he thought his chances would be better. Sure enough, 10 minutes later, he had found a taxi and come to pick us all up. Our hero!

The driver informed us that during rush hour, very few taxis will go looking for fares on that busy street where we were waiting. He said there's just too much traffic. So now we know for the future--if it seems like the timing is bad, we'll just walk down a block or two to get to a better intersection.

Since by now it was 6:45 and we were all feeling hungry for supper, we decided to not go directly home, but to first eat supper at Pizza Hut. There are actually several Pizza Huts around our city, but we directed the driver to one in the downtown area, not so far out of our way when we did want to return home. And just as we were pulling up to the Pizza Hut, it started to sprinkle.

Now, there's a strange phenomenon in our city when it rains. It is as if all of the taxis are magically, instantly occupied. Even as we disembarked, I began to wonder about finding a taxi home later if the rain were to continue. John was wondering the same thing. "Oh well," I said, "If we can't find a taxi we can always just put up the pack-n-play and let the girls go to sleep wherever!" Haha. It didn't turn out to be so far from the truth.

We enjoyed our supper, and even stalled a bit at the end, because the rain was by then coming down in torrents and we had not seen a single available taxi go by in the hour plus that we had been sitting with a view to the busy street outside. In fact, crowds of people were gathering across the street in a hotel lobby as well as under the overhang of a shopping mall, apparently all waiting for transportation. Our chances did not look good.

Finally we felt we needed to go and give it a try. We made our way across the street and joined the throng outside the hotel, and tried to see if there was any possibility of transportation. Of course, every moment we were hoping against hope that suddenly a taxi would stop just in front of us and someone would get out, leaving us free to make our way home. But time went by, and finally John decided to take my jacket (he had not taken his when we left home in the sunny noontime) and walk down some of the bigger streets, looking there for taxis. So that left me managing both girls who were fast getting rowdy and showing the fact that it was way past their bedtimes!

After about 45 minutes, he returned, soaked, with no taxi. We decided to regroup in the lobby for a bit, trying to figure out what to do. We even contemplated staying the night in the hotel if there was no other option, and if the rain did not let up. We could have also taken a bus, though it would have meant walking several blocks in the rain with both girls, and waiting who knows how long for the right bus to come by.

By now it was almost 10pm. We were both tired and cranky, though the girls were having fun still. They actually played and occupied themselves quite well, given the situation. They probably thought it was a treat to get to stay up so late! Finally we noticed that some taxis were coming up to the hotel and dropping off people, so perhaps if we got in that line we could get one. We went back outside again, and I waited off to the side while John stood in line. Two, then three taxis came and went while others butted their way in front of John, and finally John decided that he was going to have the next taxi, no matter what! More than two hours of standing out in the elements (not counting the 40 minutes earlier) with two small children, a pack-n-play, a bag, a purse, and a pregnant wife was enough! About 10:10 "our" taxi pulled up, we thankfully loaded up with sighs of relief, and by 10:25 we were home. So close, yet so far away! I don't think I've ever been so thankful to see the dingy outside of our building, except perhaps when we returned from America!

So there you have it--the good and the bad, all in one day. We've never had an experience like that before, and I'm not sure what we could do to prevent it from happening again. It does seem like our city has fewer and fewer taxis, so waiting for taxis (in the past, practically unheard of!) may become a more regular part of life here. We may just have to start building some "taxi-waiting time" into the time we plan to leave in order to get somewhere on time.

For John, the moral of the story was easy. "Next time I'm taking my bike!"

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Trivia Answers!

Thanks to everyone who hazarded a guess at this woman's number of children. I'm sorry to say, though, that none of you guessed nearly high enough. Dianna was the closest, but even she was off by 32. That's right, (if you can do the math in your head that quickly), this Russian peasant woman, wife of Feodor Vassilyev, gave birth to sixty-seven surviving children! This mother labored over sixteen sets of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets between 1725 and 1765. I assume there were some single births as well, but my statistic didn't confirm that. Isn't that simply amazing! Can you imagine trying to trace their family tree down into further generations? WOWZA!

I thinkthis woman's record still stands . . . though I haven't taken time to look it up. But wow, 67 children! I think Angela was right--she must have been the woman who inspired the Mother Goose Rhyme! I also agree with Erica; though this is only my third, the thought of that many children makes my body feel tired all over!

So there's the trivia for the day! Thanks for participating!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Trivia for the Day

I came across this interesting fact recently: according to the 1988 Guiness Book of World Records, the woman who at that time held the world record for producing the most surviving children was a Russian peasant woman. The question for you: how many children did she produce? Leave a comment with your guess.

Hint #1: She had some multiple births.

Hint #2: She bore children over a 40 year period (that is almost unbelievable to me!).

Take a guess! Answer tomorrow! And no fair looking it up online!

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Redeeming Conversation

We've had some dissention in our household lately, all concerning toys. Who has them, who doesn't, who just took them from whom, etc. It never ceases to amaze me that children with so many things to play with can fight over the same things so continually! My children have both had their moments of selfish greediness, where each feels that she absolutely cannot survive if she doesn't have whichever toy is in question.

It often works like this: Clara Anne begins playing with something, or a set of somethings, and Chloe wants to get in on the action. Chloe edges her way in, then snatches something and runs away. If Clara Anne gets upset, Chloe seems to be perversely delighted and runs around gloating. If, on the other hand, Clara Anne says calmly, "Chloe, may I have that back please?", Chloe usually gives it willingly.

Lately the most disputed objects have been some small plastic cars that we found at a local market which were from the movie "Cars"--Lightning McQueen, Doc, Sheriff, Mater and Luigi. Clara Anne is very excited about these since she saw the movie for the first time a few weeks ago. Five is really too many cars for one child to hold, but they each sure do try! We have had to put the cars away on occasion because it seems that peace and harmony are difficult to achieve when the beloved cars are being played with.

Now, lest I paint the situation in a terribly grim light, I must say that the squabbling over toys is not constant, the girls do often play together happily. But, lately this bickering has been frequent enough to try my patience. This morning I attempted a quick shower and no sooner had I lathered up than I heard Clara Anne wailing, the "victim" of one of Chloe's snatch-and-run actions. I never showered so fast!

After these incidents, I keep trying to emphasize to Clara Anne that she is a big girl, that she can learn to share, and that she may not respond by hollering and jumping up and down when Chloe takes something she wants. So even if Chloe's actions are wrong, Clara Anne, being older and understanding more, needs to respond in a better way. But this is a challenge for a not-quite-three year old! I was starting to feel like my words were going in one ear and out the other.

Until tonight. Finally, after needing to intervene several times in a matter of minutes, correct behavior, administer punishment where needed, etc, I drew a deep breath and prayed for patience and wisdom, again! Clara Anne and I began to talk about what had been happening with her toys and Chloe, and I reiterated to her that each time she showed selfishness or responded by getting angry with Chloe, she would be punished, because that was disobedience.
Here's how it went from there:

Clara Anne: "Mommy, sometimes I disobey. But God loves me, right?"

Me: "Yes, Clara Anne, God loves you. But because He loves you, he gave you a mommy and daddy who have to obey Him and punish you when you disobey."

Clara Anne: "Sometimes you disobey, right Mommy? And Daddy disobeys sometimes too, right?"

Me: "You're right Clara Anne. That's why we all need Jesus. Only Jesus can help us to not disobey, He can give us a new heart so that we want to obey instead. Let's pray and ask Jesus right now to help us."

We ended the conversation by praying (Clara Anne too) and asking for the Lord's help to have new hearts that long to obey, and share, and be generous, and fight against the temptation to disobey. I am encouraged! My feelings earlier in the day were ones of frustration, irritation, and discouragement over this issue, so I am thankful that the Lord gave me wisdom in that moment to stay calm and use it as a learning point with Clara Anne. I am also reminded again how many times I fall short and perhaps the Lord grows weary of my same sins, over and over again. And yet He is gracious, and forgiving, and longs to make His glory more evident even in our sin-soaked lives. Praise Him for the truth of the gospel, which has the power even to impact my sweet Clara Anne! I pray that it will!

And now lights are out and there is only blessed silence coming from the girls' room. Whew! Today was a doozy, but tomorrow is another day. There's always fresh hope!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

And now, some pictures!

Though our camera has been neglected lately, I do have a few recent snapshots to share with you. This first one is Clara Anne and Chloe, cozily cuddling up together in a wicker chair. Notice the comfort items present--Clara Anne's blanket, Chloe's special bear and the ever-present paci on a string!

Here they're playing together happily. Chloe's hair is finally growing somewhat!

We had a little trip to the "park" yesterday, for Family Day. The weather was lovely (see the previous post) and the girls were so excited to see the swings. Clara Anne, however, is swinging on a bar which I believe is supposed to be used for hanging on with your hands and swinging, rather than sitting on top and swinging. But it was fun anyway!
Fun times with Daddy!

Happy Clara Anne!

Golden Week, Take 2

This past week has been simply beautiful, weather-wise. The skies have been clear and brightly blue with only a few high, puffy white clouds. The smog has been minimal, especially if I look off to the south where there are some mountains outside the city. We've been enjoying having the windows open, taking the girls out for walks, and I've especially been enjoying doing my laundry and having it dry the same day! It is amazing the difference the weather can make on life in general. I think that I'm not affected by it, but then we have a perfect fall day and I feel light-hearted and energetic again. What a blessing! This past week of weather is what we should have had, but didn't, during "Golden Week." No matter, a week or two late is just fine by me!

The past week has also been quite busy, so I apologize for the lack of communication on my end. It seems like the days stay pretty busy, caring for John and the girls, training my new house helper, and let's not forget, speaking/studying Asianese! Actually the studying has been pretty minimal, except for all of the new vocabulary I'm learning from my new helper (I'll call her Lou.) It's funny because Mimi (my previous helper) seemed to learn fairly quickly the words that I knew and didn't know, and so when we talked she stayed pretty much in that vocabulary of things she knew I knew. Lou has no idea so she keeps tossing in new phrases and expressions that then I have to ask her about--great for my language, but makes everything take longer!

In general I'm really pleased with Lou. She works hard, is willing to do anything I ask, and is very eager, though sometimes a bit too eager. Several times I've been trying to teach her something and she interrupts me and says, "I know, I know, let me do it!" But then I have to go back and correct something later. I am so thankful, though, because Lou is obviously the person the Father meant us to have. She seems to love her new job, cooks wonderfully, loves kids, and truly takes a load off my shoulders! Even better, she was already my sister before she came to work for me, but was longing to grow and learn more. So we are going to start meeting together with some friends of hers as well, studying the Word and praying together. I'm really excited about this opportunity, though it will certainly challenge my language as well!

Speaking of language, we're hopeful that having Lou around, and having her devote some dedicated time to playing with Clara Anne and Chloe each day, will help them to learn the local language. We tried one day last week having her read stories to Clara Anne in the local language, but it was a bit too much for Clara Anne. Lou kept trying to get Clara Anne to repeat words, and at first that was fine, but after awhile Clara Anne said "Mommy, that story makes me TOO tired!" So I think we're going to have to stick to some more informal playing. We may also have to make sure that Clara Anne understands basic phrases in Asianese before she plays with "ayi" (auntie); because right now Clara Anne seems to not understand and thus disobeys. I'm honestly not sure if she genuinely does not understand or if she is using that as an excuse. At any rate, I hope that Clara Anne will get more and more comfortable with Lou so that their playtimes together can be fun and enjoyable, rather than high-pressure work on language.

Training a house helper is really a manager's job, and I certainly don't have any "real" experience in management! It takes planning, patience, and organization to plan her days well and use her time effectively. Even little things, like asking her to "thoroughly clean the kitchen" involved quite a long explanation of what that entailed and how I wanted her to do it. But she is learning quickly and I am also adjusting to having someone in my house 40+ hours a week! She is easy to have around, though, and I don't feel bad if I need to take a nap when she's here! She's already learned to cook several western items (Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, my mom's Chicken Broccoli Casserole, Cornbread, Granola, and on Friday, my favorite Apple Cake recipe which is mostly apples!) and seems to be enjoying the western cooking more and more. We even tried out my friend Sandra's lasagne recipe--it didn't turn out as tasty as it looked in your picture, Sandra, but we enjoyed it anyway!

On another note, I just want to share how thankful I am that our family is in a great routine these days. Several of you have asked how that is going for us, so I wanted to share that it's going well! John has started school again, and we've both been faithful (well, he more than me) about getting up early for exercise and QT. I feel like we're really settled into "normal" family life with a good balance of work, play, rest, family time, worship time, etc. This is something that had been lacking for a long time, so I am thankful. The girls seem to sense it too and are doing well (except for the occasional squabble, of course. Why do two children always want the same one toy?!). So of course, though things are always changing, and tomorrow is unknown, I am thankful for this new rhythm of life.

And finally, thanks to everybody who sent emails and congrats after we announced our happy news about baby #3! It was really a blessing to hear from so many of you! The baby thanks you too. Though he/she is still causing me to lean over the toilet every morning, I haven't been so desperate for naps lately AND last night was the first night I didn't have any evening nausea! PTL! Thanks for all your prayers!

Breadmaker Bagels

Here's another great recipe for those of you who may live in areas where if you're going to eat bagels, you're going to make them yourself. Or, if you just love to bake, give this recipe a try! They beat store-bought bagels hands down!

Breadmaker Bagels
Load your breadpan in the order suggested by the manufacturer:
1 1/8 cups water
3 cups flour
3 T. plus 1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
3 1/4 tsp yeast

Set your machine for the dough cycle, but remove after the first knead (about 20-30 minutes, depending on your machine. Mine is a full 30 minutes). Place the dough on a floured surface. If the dough is even a bit sticky, work in a bit more flour. The dough should feel fairly stiff. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, setting aside 2 1/4inch balls for test dough. Form into balls, then gently poke your thumb through the middle and stretch to form a bagel shape. Place on a floured surface and allow to rise, while bringing 3 quarts of water with 1 Tbsp sugar to a boil in a large stockpot. Drop the test dough--if the ball immediately pops up to the surface it is time to boil the bagels. Use a slotted spoon to drop 2-3 bagels into the rapidly boiling water. Boil on each side for 30 seconds. Remove and cool on a rack while you boil the other bagels. When they are all finished, brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds, coarse salt, or poppy seeds, as desired. Bake at 400 F on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal until golden--approximately 15 minutes. [I have found that they brown more easily and bake better when I bake them directly on the oven rack.]

Our family loves these bagels! They are a special weekend morning treat, though I think that soon I will teach my helper how to make them and then we can eat bagels on a regular basis.
A few ideas for variations: Add 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 cup raisins for Cinnamon Raisin Bagels
Add 1-2 Tbsp grated orange peel and 1/4 cup dried cranberries for Cranberry Orange Bagels
Add some minced jalapenos and a few Tbsp Parmesan cheese for a spicy, savory bagel . . .
You get the idea!


Friday, October 12, 2007

And the Big News Is . . .

We're expecting another baby! I was trying to come up with some cute and funny way to share this exciting news, but it's late already and in the interest of finishing this post in the next 23 minutes (before bedtime), I decided to just come right out and say it! I just passed the 12-week mark this week; I'm hopeful that the fatigue and nausea will soon be waning. I guess with two older children the fatigue may linger, but at least hopefully my tummy will feel better soon!

I went to see a local doctor today for the first time this pregnancy, just to confirm things. To be honest, all I really wanted to do was hear the baby's heartbeat. And happily, I was not disappointed!

Going to a hospital in this country is an interesting experience, to say the least. You know that the same standards do not exist for medical care when the overwhelming odor inside the hospital is urine mixed with cigarette smoke. I found my way to the registration counter, then to the women's area where I was directed to a certain door number. The doctor was inside with three other patients crowding around his desk, asking for his attention. He barely looked up at me but his assistant directed me to take a seat and wait (in the same room with the other women being seen). He finished, one by one, with them, then asked me a few questions and wrote briefly in my registration book. Actually, one of his first blunt questions to me translates literally "Do you want the baby?" I was stunned for a moment and then replied in the affirmative. Then the happy moment I was waiting for: he directed me up onto the table so that he could check for the baby's heartbeat. It took him a moment, but then, there it was, the miraculous whoosh, whoosh, whoosh coming through the Doppler. Hallelujah! I breathed a sigh of relief even as a few tears slipped out.

The doctor then suggested an ultrasound, which I needed to pay for before they would do it. I found the right counter and paid, then made my way back to his office where I was again asked to wait (inside the office) as he finished with some others. As a westerner, I was slightly embarassed to have to witness others as they came in to be examined or treated.

To my dismay (sometimes I wish I did not understand the local language so well) a very young woman came in and it wasn't long before I gathered that she and the assistant were discussing abortion. She was dressed in such a way that gave me the impression of perhaps being from the countryside. She must have been at least five months along. Even as the assistant was casually saying, "Let's see, we get off work at 5, what time is it now? Oh, it's only four, so yes, there's time to get it done now," the young woman was standing holding her arms unconsciously in a protective manner over her belly. When the assistant suggested doing it that day--and let us remind ourselves that "doing the procedure" means killing a living human being--the young girl swallowed thickly and in a very soft voice said, "let me ask a moment." She went out to confer with whoever she came with, then came back in a few minutes later and said, "ok, do it today."

I felt so helpless. I wanted to cry, beg, and plead with her all at the same time. "Don't do this, don't kill your precious baby!" But I was silent, not knowing what to say or how to say it. I didn't know how to help her, what resources or agencies to refer her to, or what kind of pressure she was facing from her family or boyfriend. Even as I rejoiced in the preservation of the tiny baby in my womb, I wanted to weep for her.

A moment later, the doctor came and summoned me to the room where women were lined up to have ultrasound examinations. He beckoned me into the room (effectively jumping the line) and though at first there was a bit of concern that the baby wasn't moving at all, it seemed like he or she was just very soundly, happily asleep. Finally the technician purposely startled the baby and saw some activity. The heartbeat was strong and normal, and everything else looks good. PTL!

I left with a glad heart, so thankful for this tiny life. Even though sometimes I think "we must be crazy! What are we thinking, having another baby?! I'll never be able to handle it!" I know that when I trust in my Heavenly Father, he gives grace enough for each day's joys and challenges. It was his design to send tiny, helpless infants into families where they must be raised and nurtured, and his design to bless us with this new baby, so he will also sustain us and provide for all our needs.

So now, just for fun--the total bill for my trip today:
Taxi ride to the hospital: 7.5 local dollars
Registration fee: 4 local dollars
Ultrasound examination: 30 local dollars
Taxi ride home: 9 local dollars

One US dollar is worth about 7.5 local dollars. That means that the ultrasound cost a grand total of about $4.15 ! Wow, that was worth it!

Finally, if you think of it, say a prayer with me for that young woman who aborted her baby today. There will be grief ahead for her. Let's pray that the Lord would somehow use this to draw her and her family close to Him.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Late-Breaking News!

Hi everyone--a quick word before my bedtime arrives--I have a new house helper!

Through an amazing series of events, my previous helper Mimi found this new woman who was very interested in being my helper. She is 28 and single, and had been working for a family but the family just had a new baby; now that the grandparents have moved in she is not needed anymore. She came to meet us this morning and seemed very sincere and eager to work for us. Actually she shared with me that she was previously engaged to be married, but things did not work out with the guy, and so now she wants to start a new life. She is even willing to change apartments so she can live nearer to us. My first impressions of her were good, so I am really hoping that things will work out with her.

She starts tomorrow! Wow, that was quick!

She will be at our house full time, making lunch every day, doing the cleaning and laundry, and spending some time playing with Clara Anne and Chloe to help them learn the local language more easily. As you can imagine, this is going to be a HUGE help to me. But the next week or two could be more challenging as I train her in our "strange" western ways . . . i.e. we always use hot water when washing the dishes, we dry the dishes or let them air dry before putting them away, we put the girls down for naps awake, rather than rocking them to sleep, in general we don't let the kids rule the household, etc. So hopefully everything will go well and she will soon become acclimated to us and we to her. Because of the amount of time that she will be in our home, we will be able to have a great influence on her as well as she will on us. We're hoping that it will all be positive! PTL with me for this answered prayer!

Golden Week

This past week here was a national holiday--7 days' worth. There are two of these week-long holidays spaced strategically in the spring and fall, as well as a longer one around the New Year time. We have heard it said that the spring and fall holidays are called "Golden Weeks" because the merchants make so much money. Many people travel, so tickets of all sorts, hotels, and restaurants are in high demand, and many businesses have special sales during this week, since most people are off work and have time to go shopping. There are fireworks every night (and day, too--why wait for the evening?!), people get together with their families and eat big meals, so there's just a lot of excitement.

Last week, unfortunately, the weather was a big bummer. It rained almost every day, and the days it didn't rain were chilly, gray and dismal (an objective fact, not just my opinion! We didn't see the sun all week. This was too bad for my laundry, which after hanging for more than two days did not dry but just soured and I had to wash it again). Even our national friends commented on how it was too bad that this year the weather was so yucky. Usually the fall is quite lovely and so everyone really enjoys getting out and about during Golden Week. But it surely didn't stop everything--there were still fireworks being set off near our home at random moments, and the big stores were quite busy.

The weather also didn't stop us from doing a bit of shopping ourselves. Before the week started, I had been pondering a dilemma. . . what to do about my oven situation? Some of you have seen the picture on my blog of my tiny toaster oven; actually I think it was somewhere in my first month or two of posting. My oven was still working fine, though the dilemma came in that before we went to the States I sold it to my house helper. She really wanted an oven, I didn't need it for at least 6 months, and besides, when we got back we were planning to move right away to a new apartment where I could buy and install a full-size oven. What actually happened was that when we returned and figured out that we wouldn't be moving for quite awhile, my house helper loaned me her oven (my old one). It was still running great, except the fan seemed to be somewhat noisier than usual--to be truthful, turning on the oven sounded like there was a jet engine in my kitchen! But it still worked just fine!

At any rate, I was feeling like I couldn't just keep on borrowing her oven forever, and also was thinking that maybe the Golden Week would be a good time to buy an oven--maybe there would be a sale, even! John was willing to go with me to look, and my friend Amy even offered to keep my kids for an afternoon so that we could search around.

The searching was necessary because ovens are just not very common here. Most locals do not bake anything, not even bread. The most common type of bread is a steamed bun, but many people eat rice more commonly even than the bread. Baked goods are kind of an unknown, as are ovens. When we first arrived here, almost 4 years ago now, there were people who didn't even know the word (that we had found in the dictionary) for oven.

Now things have changed quite a bit. There are very nice model kitchens on display in several locations around town, and thanks to the sleuthing of our friends Brad and Amy, we knew exactly where to go. This department store had kitchen store after kitchen store, with all of their model kitchens beautifully outfitted, and many of them had ovens. We went slowly and patiently through them ALL and found that many of the ovens were the same few brands, some slightly fancier models and some more basic. But the one we found last was the best! It was a "Chef" model--a division of Electrolux, an American company, yay! To us that meant good quality as well as an English instruction manual and some of the "goodies" that Americans like--a roaster pan with lift-out tray, two (not just one) metal racks, and a couple of small cookie sheets thrown in for good measure. The price was also the lowest of pretty much all of the ovens we looked at!

So I am happy, so very happy, to tell you all that now in my kitchen, sitting up on the counter, is my brand new, shiny, Chef oven. Fitting it into my kitchen was slightly tricky, however. There was absolutely no room on the floor. My old oven used to occupy a place on top of the microwave in a corner of the counter. That obviously was not going to work with this oven. However, John, through sheer ingenuity, rigged up a way to extend the counter slightly sideways so that the oven would fit there. When we move to a new place, we can have it installed flush with cupboards like a normal oven, but for now, it works great! We had to be a bit creative in finding space for the microwave after that, but now everything is resettled and is working out wonderfully. I have already used the oven numerous time--I baked some potatoes for Baked Potato Soup, I've made some lovely Honey Pan Rolls, and today some carrot-raisin muffins baked in only one batch! Wow, what a nice change!

As we were oven shopping, we found that the outside of the oven usually measured the same (60 cm) but the inside space varied. We were a bit concerned about that because I had purchased some pans in the States--a big pizza pan, some 11x17 cookie sheets, etc--which I had unthinkingly bought, simply assuming that since I was going to buy a full-size oven everything would fit. The evening the oven was delivered, John measured again the inside space and said, "Yep, those cookie sheets should fit!" He then brought them over and began to slide them in only to discover that no, in fact, they were too big, just by a hair! However, there was no stopping him; he soon had the pliers out and very carefully bent down one side of the cookie sheet's handle. Now they fit just right! No rack is needed--they slide right over the grooves on the oven wall. The pizza pan also fits, though it didn't need any adjusting. Yippee!

So, my "jet engine" is gone and in its place is a shiny, purring, efficient machine. I'm so thankful! I'm sorry to say, though, that the big idea about "hey, it's Golden Week, they'll give us a great discount!" was pretty much a myth--we only got 5% off, and it wasn't just the seller. Very few of the sellers were willing to bargain, and those that were would only give us 5% off. But I'm so glad we bought it now, rather than waiting to move to a new place. I shall be enjoying this new addition for many Golden Weeks to come!