Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Holiday Highlights

Happy 2007, everyone! Thanks to the assistance of the lovely Angela, I am now back online. I’m not sure why this method (of sending her my posts and having her post them online) didn’t occur to me earlier, but I’m glad that it seems like it will work so I can share the family news with you all again. Warning: this post is long and includes lots of details! Extra points if you get all the way to the end!

Christmas this year was really special, after lots of thinking and planning. It still feels like John and I are trying to settle on our own family traditions. In the past, in the States, we usually tried to spend time with both families during the holidays, just participating in their traditions as we had opportunity. On John’s side, that meant church on Christmas Eve, opening presents afterwards, and eating lots of John’s mom’s homemade goodies. On my side, that meant getting together with extended family, playing lots of games, eating Chex Mix, and the annual Christmas Bowl family football game. (Played in the yard, not watched on the TV!)

So for us, the first Christmas away from our families was at the end of our first year in Asia, 2004, and that’s the day that Clara Anne was born! Exciting, but not a tradition to repeat every year! And last year, though it was Clara Anne’s birthday, we were super busy giving tons of outreach Christmas parties and had two parties scheduled for Christmas Day. Plus, since it was only Clara Anne’s first birthday, she was pretty clueless of her special day and actually a bit crabby since she had been sick earlier that week. In fact, last year, when John and I went to get Clara Anne out of her crib on her birthday, we sang “Happy Birthday” to her excitedly, and all she could do was cry in a pathetic voice (read: whine) for me to pick her up. We got it all on video—I like to call it “Bummer of a Birthday.” So we wanted this year to be different!

In talking through what we wanted Christmas to be like, we decided to strive to keep the idea of Christmas as a time to share Christ with others. It is all about Him, truly! But also, since it is Clara Anne’s birthday, we wanted her to feel like it was her special day. So John suggested this idea, borrowing from his parent’s Christmas Eve tradition: we will have a family Christmas celebration, with candles, singing, and reading the Christmas story, on Christmas Eve, and then Christmas Day will be Clara Anne’s special day to celebrate her life and the years that God has given her.

So this year, that’s what we did! On Christmas Eve, we spent some time passing out Christmas cookies in a square downtown (see my post of Dec. 24), and then spent a wonderful afternoon singing carols around the piano with some good friends. On Christmas Day, we had a special birthday breakfast for Clara Anne with fresh hot muffins and scrambled eggs, and then a special birthday lunch out at Pizza Hut. (Don’t laugh, remember that Pizza Hut is a really nice dining experience in our city!) Admittedly, that was our choice, but as she gets older we are going to let Clara Anne choose what she would like to eat on her birthday. That was a tradition in my house growing up, and I always felt so special. Clara Anne got to open a few gifts in the evening, we took some pictures, and we all sat down together to read the Christmas story one more time. The girls experienced bath time together for the first time on Christmas night, and John and I finished the evening by playing Yahtzee—a Roelofs (my) family favorite—and of course, listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas CD.

The day after Christmas we set off on an adventure to ride as many taxis as we could in the morning hours, between getting everyone ready and coming home for lunch. We had a special gift to give to taxi drivers—a cassette tape with Christmas songs and a special presentation of the Good News. John took Clara Anne, I took Chloe, and we were able to share with more than 40 people that day! It was a great blessing and a joy to share. Although a few people looked at us strangely, it was encouraging to find that the majority received our gift with gladness.

Whew! After all of that, we were tired! But there was still more fun to come! The 28th is our wedding anniversary, and though we didn’t actually celebrate on that day, we did take both of the girls and enjoy lunch at one of our favorite western restaurants. John had a meeting in the evening, and I will confess I was a little sad and lonely by myself at home. I tried to read things on the internet—but it wasn’t working, and at the time I didn’t know why. I tried to watch a movie, and the DVD drive on our computer was acting up, which is does once in a while. I tried to call my friend Rachel, and her cell phone was out of minutes. In the quest for something to do, I finally resorted to exercise: I have some weights that I lift several times a week and also some abs exercises that I do. This wife was overjoyed to see her husband arrive home that night!

The celebration of our 10th anniversary was truly special, a few days later. In the morning, despite our awful internet situation, the connection was good enough to enjoy a long chat online with my family members, who were all gathered at my mom and dad’s for the holiday. Modern technology is truly a blessing! We were able to see and hear clearly and even sang some songs together. PTL! I think there must have been some divine intervention, since just the day before, the connection was terrible.

Then in the afternoon, we left our kids with friends (only the second time to leave Chloe with someone, the first time she was only a few weeks old!) and went out for some fun and food. There is a bowling alley in our city which seems to be imported, lock, stock and barrel from the US. The shoes are all sized like the US, the balls are weighed in pounds, not kilos, and in general everything is really nice looking and well-maintained. I won the first game, but John prevailed and won the next two, ending with an all-time personal high of 159! He did great! We spent some time browsing through a local mall (something we never do since kids have little patience for things like that) and made the find of the year—avocados! Yes, they were expensive (imported from Mexico!), but we thought it would be worth it to make guacamole for our New Year’s Eve celebration. Dinner that night was at the restaurant of a five-star hotel in our city’s downtown; they have a fabulous Brazilian Barbeque and buffet. Brazilian BBQ is where cuts of meat, particularly beef, are seasoned and then roasted over an open fire, and then the waiters come around to slice portions off the skewers for you. It’s tasty! Good beef is hard to find in this Asian country, (I have never cooked anything but ground beef at home) so every few months or so, we go to this restaurant and enjoy. A special highlight of our dinner was taking turns naming our top 10 highlights of 10 years of marriage. What a treat to sit, enjoying the food and atmosphere, (without little ones to manage) and just talk, reflecting on 10 years together—10 years of the Lord’s faithfulness. Only He knows what the next 10 years will bring!

New Year’s Eve was fun and a bit crazy this year! My friend Rachel and I had planned lots of snacky food for our supper that night: her homemade Chicken fingers, a layered bean dip that I like to make, of course the special guacamole, and then we decided to attempt (our first ever) “Bloomin’ Onion.” Neither of us had any experience deep frying, nor did we have a thermometer. The process was going well, cutting the onion, breading it, etc, until the deep frying: the oil was too hot. The breaded coating cooked too quickly, and got too toasty, while the onion pieces were still somewhat crunchy and a bit raw-tasting. Too bad! It used a ton of oil (which we saved) so we’ll have to try it again. The other food, including chocolate dipped strawberries and individual molten chocolate cakes for dessert, was all wonderful and a fun treat to eat.

The best part of the night, though, was the games. First came Quiddler, a word game that we love, and then Catch Phrase, on and on, into the wee morning hours. In fact, John and I didn’t arrive back home until 3am! I am not someone who normally enjoys staying up late (because as all mothers know, if you don’t sleep while the children are sleeping, you will cry when they are crying!) but this night was a super fun exception. We had put all the kids to bed quite early, so we had many hours of game-playing fun and conversation before we finally headed home. I’m just glad there are taxi drivers who work all night! I’m also glad that my girls seemed to sense the uniqueness of the events so that when we got back home and got them to bed, they both agreeably slept LATE the next day—Chloe got up at 10, and Clara Anne not until 11!

So our New Year was ushered in with a bang; and since then it’s been full-steam ahead. Our leaving date is rushing nearer and nearer, and there’s lots to accomplish before then!
I’m going to have to be diligent with my time in order to make good progress towards packing up our house, studying language, and my normal wifely and motherly tasks.

There you have it: you get a bonus for making it to the end of this very long post! And the bonus is a picture of Chloe, taken just today, sitting up like a big girl. Thanks for bearing with me! And Happy New Year!

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