Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Dora Invasion

Last fall, when Emma came into Clara Anne's life, she brought the love of Dora with her. At that time Clara Anne had only a very faint idea about Dora, but then we received a Dora sweatshirt and pants outfit that Clara Anne was suddenly excited to wear. Combine that with Emma's various Dora items and Clara Anne was hooked, though until we came back to the States I think she had seen a Dora DVD exactly twice.

But since we've been back, I'm afraid to say that Dora has explored her way into every nook and cranny of our home. It started innocently enough; maybe some of you remember the saga of the Dora toddler bed we ordered, which Clara Anne has been sleeping on since the beginning of February. Then back in the States, we added a few small items--first it was the fun Dora toothbrush and Dora band-aids that I found at the dollar store, then it was the Dora panties that were such a treat to wear, then it was the Dora sneakers that I saw at the consignment shop.

It didn't help that soon after we arrived, Clara Anne discovered that Dora was on TV every morning at 10:30, so she persistently asked to watch it. If I let her, she would get so excited as the theme music would start and then lose interest as the show progressed. But every day, without fail, Clara Anne would ask for Dora, wondering when she could watch the show again!

We took another significant step in Dora-izing when we stopped briefly at the kids' consignment store again and saw a super-fun new toy: a Dora pop-up tent. The price was right ($10) and so we decided to go for it. The store owner told us it had only been in the store 3 hours! Amazing! Clara Anne was SO excited when she saw it and even at this moment, I am a little embarassed to admit that Clara Anne is wearing Dora pajamas, sleeping in the Dora bed, with the Dora tent over her head, after brushing her teeth with the Dora toothbrush. Oh my!

The kicker is that yesterday we actually bought a Dora DVD. I never thought it would happen.

The crazy part of all of this is that Clara Anne has not asked for any of this stuff, but John and I seem to love to buy it all for her! We seem to have no self-control! It reminds me that the Word is true..."If you who are evil love to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give you good gifts..."

So the Dora invasion continues. We're not too upset though; just going to have to keep a handle on that TV watching. Enjoy Dora while you can, Clara Anne!

Recent Reflections

Greetings to you all from the bustling metropolis of Winthrop, Minnesota! Just kidding--Winthrop is probably just over 1000 people, but it does happen to be the home of John's sister Mary. We have had a whirlwind week with some memorable moments and are glad to have made it here to visit briefly. Here's some highlights of the last week:

Enjoying some 80-degree weather in Rock Valley--in March!! It was such a treat to simply step outside, into my parent's lovely backyard, toss the Frisbee around, and let the girls play and run on the grass. Though, strangely enough, grass was such a new sensation for Clara Anne that she insisted on putting her shoes back on. Chloe had a great time playing on a blanket on the grass in the sunshine. John also took Clara Anne to play at the new kid's playground equipment at the public park, and so we have added some new words to Clara Anne's vocabulary, like "slide" "merry-go-round" and "swings." Fun times in the glorious weather!

My brother Mark and his wife Beth stopped through Rock Valley on their way to a week of vacation with Beth's parents. Clara Anne was so excited to play with her cousins again, and we let her stay up late and savor every moment. Then John and I did a little savoring of our own and stayed up late talking with Mark and Beth. Time shared together is more precious than sleep! What a blessing!

Last Saturday we had dinner and stayed over with some great friends who have five children. Clara Anne and Chloe felt right at home, right away! I helped to prepare some food in an authentic Asian style; it was so fun to eat with chopsticks again! We had a wonderful time sharing together and again went without some sleep in order to prolong the conversations. Unfortunately, when we went to bed around two am we disturbed Chloe who then woke up and played until . . . 5am. Yikes! I never knew she could play in her crib that long! Does she do this every night and I just don't realize it since we're not usually in the same room?! The worst part was that we had to get up at 7am to get ready to lead a service--John sharing the message and me leading all the music. Thankfully, when we are weak, He is strong! The service went well and we enjoyed our time with the brothers and sisters. They also had a fabulous potluck for us afterwards, with my favorite: roast beef and mashed potatoes! Yummy!

Monday evening marked an historic moment when Mom and I put the final page in the scrapbook. WHEW! I just hope my mom will still enjoy scrapbooking after this project--it sure felt like work to me! We basically worked on it every spare moment for a week. PTL it's finished! It had to get done because on Tuesday we needed to do some shopping and on Wednesday morning we drove up to John's mom's home to visit for a few days. So it got done at the last moment, hallelujah!

After a relaxing time at John's mom's home the last two days, we drove today to Mary's house. Tomorrow we will see John's sister Sarah and his brother Andy and family. We have been keeping quite the pace!

This post wasn't very interesting thematically, perhaps, but it gives you a glimpse of our recent activities. I would like to ask you to keep on remembering our kids as we take them through so many transitions. Clara Anne, recently in tired moments, keeps asking to "go home." I was showing John's mom some pictures yesterday of our home in Asia and when Clara Anne saw them, she immediately recognized them and said, "I need go home. Help, please. I want to go home." I am honestly not sure how to deal with this other than to "talk up" the things we are going to do next and reassure her that we are going to stay here for awhile. Plus, after this weekend, we go back to Rock Valley for one night and then drive all the way to Richmond, VA. Lots of transitions ahead! We all need some supernatural grace! Thanks for thinking of us!

Pictures next time . . .

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Scrapbooking Mania!

John has been out of town most of this past week (he returned yesterday, hallelujah! We ALL missed him greatly!). While he was away speaking every night, staying very busy, my mom and I have been on a mission: scrapbooking. John and I planned to do a scrapbook of our last three years in Asia, and had all the pictures chosen and all of the pages planned (mostly) before we even arrived back in the US. Our goal was to do the scrapbook the first week or two so that we would have it at the ready for friends and family to see what our life has been like these last three years!

However, just a few little things interfered with the scrapbook mission: jet lag, getting unpacked, having some special responsibilities already the first weekend we were back, etc. So the scrapbook got put off. Finally, when John left on his trip I knew it was now or never.

Thankfully, my mom is a scrapbooker extraordinaire. She has created many amazingly beautiful and meaningful books, especially as she has gotten more "into it" in the past few years. She has supplies galore and a real knack for choosing paper colors to make photos come alive. Since I hadn't done any scrapbooking for three years, I was out of touch with all of the new techniques, papers, designs, etc. that are now being used--but she is familiar with it all! So I am so thankful that she has been helping me this week.

My days have looked like this: get up, get the girls up. Breakfast. Clara Anne and Chloe play while I try to do a little scrapbooking. Put Chloe down for her nap. Continue scrapbooking. Give Clara Anne a little attention while also trying to scrapbook. Lunch. Put both girls down for their naps. Continue scrapbooking. Late afternoon, spend some time with the girls while giving my mom further direction in the scrapbook project. Supper. Bedtime routines with the girls. More scrapbooking until 11:30 or 12am. Sleep. Repeat cycle.

I told my mom this morning that I hope she still enjoys scrapbooking after this marathon project of 60 pages! Even now, we are on page 45 and so we have just a few days left to finish it before John and I begin some more traveling. We hope that many of you will be able to see the scrapbook before the summer is out! It looks quite nice so far, I think, but we still have a ways to go.

So there's my excuse for no blogging earlier this week! I even feel a bit guilty now for dashing off this post--so I'd better go and get back to my scrapbooking!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Um, really?

Clara Anne and I have been having a good time looking out the windows at Grandpa and Grandma's house. They have a lovely breakfast nook facing east with lots of windows, and there are numerous tall windows in the living room so that you feel like you are sitting outside, almost. There are some neighborhood cats that wander through occasionally, and lots of birds (including a beautiful blue jay that likes to eat the cat food my dad sets out) and a few squirrels too. So we're always on the watch for what we might see out the windows.

Yesterday morning at breakfast Clara Anne suddenly pointed and said "MAMA! I see a penguin!" Not wanting to stifle her creativity, I merely said, "where, Clara Anne?" "RIGHT THERE!" she exclaimed in a super-excited voice. She pointed out the window and I said, "Clara Anne, I don't see it. Where did you say it was?" "Right there, Mommy! Penguin! Right there!"

Ok, Clara Anne. If you say so. What's next? Elephants in the back yard? :)

Saturday, March 17, 2007


As promised, here are some photos from recent weeks, in reverse chronological order (since that is how blogger is working for me tonight!): the one above is the girls having fun opening presents, a few months late! They had a great time! Below: unpacking--what a mess! It took us awhile to get all of that organized!
On our travel day, having Starbucks after checking in. I think it was about 4:30 am. The girls, however, didn't care a whit--they just thought it was time to get up when we woke them up (at 1am!). Here they look perfectly happy. Too bad that didn't last the entire 20+ hours of travel!

On the plane--we were so glad to have four seats and the whole middle row to ourselves. Chloe even sat in her own seat sometimes!

In Bangkok we visited an amazing acquarium, can you see the fish swimming behind John and Clara Anne? "Fish, fish!" Clara Anne kept saying.

One of the loveliest pools that we've been to in Thailand--it's gorgeous, as you can see! We went swimming several times a day. Clara Anne did great with her floaties on and even loved jumping into the water by herself!

Our sweet Chloe girl loves the water too!

A more panoramic view of the pool.

John and I, oceanside! We had lots of opportunities to sink our feet in sand during the month of February--I loved it!

My dad has lots of great pictures from our homecoming but they're not digital, so I will have to find a way to convert them to share with you all. And our camera battery was dead the last few days, so I don't have many of Clara Anne and Chloe with Grandpa and Grandma. I'll have to remedy that this next week! Hope you enjoyed the photofest!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

English Explosion

Now that we're back in America, hearing English all the time, Clara Anne has had a language explosion. She has started to speak more and more in complete sentences, as well as incorporating lots of short phrases and colloquialisms into her speech. Here's a recent sampling:

"See that, Mama? I scratched it. It itched. See this one? I scratched it." spoken in reference to several mosquito bites received on our vacation that are still lingering

"Mama, wash my hands please." after washing. . . "That's better."

"Go punish Doll. Too crabby and fussed and whined. Naughty Doll."

"I'm all done. Tummy full. Get down, please."

"Play toys little bit more." in reference to being told she needed to get ready for bed

"OH, MY, MOMMY! THANK YOU!" when she saw the new Dora panties we bought for her

My favorite moment from today was when Clara Anne had been reading some books with Grandpa, and blanket was right near by. It was almost naptime, and instead of wanting to get into bed, she just spread her blanket over Grandpa's chest, settled herself on his lap, and snuggled in. I was sorry to have to disturb her!

Chloe got a new toy yesterday--a small activity table that she can stand next to and play with the items on the top. I found it for $5 at a kid's consignment store! She is having a great time with it and played/stood for quite awhile today. I hope it tired her out since last night she woke up numerous times and cried. I think she still is truly confused about day and night. Since we've been back, I've had to wake her almost every time from her daytime naps but she wakes herself up numerous times at night. I realized how spoiled I've been with her usual pattern of sleeping through the night! But we hope those days will come again as soon as she figures things out a little more. Today I kept her up more and didn't let her sleep as long, so we'll hope that tonight is better. I didn't anticipate that it would take so long for her to adjust!

Ok, I know I promised pictures last time but I have not yet uploaded them to my laptop, sorry! John is busy working on the laptop (I'm on my parent's PC) so it will have to be next time. Sorry about that!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Small Town, USA

It has been so nice settling into my hometown of Rock Valley, Iowa, again. Rock Valley is truly a small town. When I say small, I mean it--about 2,700 people, one main street, and one stoplight (not counting the four way stop on the corner intersecting Hwy. 18). Rock Valley is also unique in that the majority of people who live here are of Dutch descent. In recent years, the Hispanic population has grown (so much so that there is an authentic Mexican restaurant and grocery now on Main Street!) but most people have Dutch roots. And in case you didn't know, Dutch people are known for being extremely neat and clean, along with being quite frugal and thus, prosperous. So in Rock Valley, all the homes are neat and clean. The lawns are all beautifully manicured. Even the farms are beautiful to behold--the outbuildings kept up, the animals all in their proper places, everything painted and orderly.

You can imagine that for us, coming from an Asian megacity, with its noise and pollution and dirt and people people people, Rock Valley is a refreshing change. Not only is the town neat and well-kept in general, the people are really great. The vast majority are Christians: probably 80% of the town is in one of the many churches on Sunday mornings. People here really care about their neighbors. Everyone knows everyone, and usually that's a good thing! Case in point--last week John took my dad out to run a few errands and it took them forever, simply because everywhere they went people were asking my dad about his health and reassuring him of their prayers. Since then I've been out and about a bit and just about everyone knows me and knew that I was about to come back to Rock Valley for a while.

Now when I was in high school, this close-knit community started to feel like it was closing in on me. I longed to break free, to be known as my own person and not just by my family's reputations. I wanted to experience more of the world and have exciting adventures. Well, I certainly have done that! It's been interesting to see that now, coming back again, Rock Valley is suddenly quite appealing again. I can see why so many families think it's a great place to raise a family!

On Saturday, the weather warmed up considerably and all of the big piles of snow began to melt, sending rivers running down the street to the storm drains. I was out for a walk, walking for about 30 minutes, and met exactly 6 cars in those 30 minutes, of which two of those drivers waved to me. That's when you really know you're in a small town again!

Because of the great work ethic by most locals here, Rock Valley also has great businesses. The well-stocked local grocery store is a seven minute walk from my parent's home. There's everything from heavy industry to car dealerships to restaurants to clothing and other retail stores, all in town. My favorite place to shop in Rock Valley, though, is a second hand clothing store called the Economy Shop. Since most people keep their clothes so nice (that Dutch neatness again), the second hand clothes are practically brand new! This morning I spent about 40 minutes there and found two pairs of jeans, a pair of denim capris, a sweater set, and three shirts for less than $50. It's great!!! I have been looking forward to shopping there for a long time and am thankful to have found great stuff today that I really needed! What a deal!

The rural scenery has also been a balm to my soul. Yesterday, John and I were speaking at one of our partner churches in Sioux Falls, SD, and so had to get everyone up early and out of the house in order to make the drive to Sioux Falls. Since it was also Daylight Savings Time, we really had to get up early! But we had a wonderful reward--as we drove we saw the most glorious sunrise over the fields. The huge sky was first peachy pink, then rose-colored, then redder and redder until a gigantic, golden red sun rose in all its glory. It was breathtaking! What a great God we serve!

Someone asked me today if I missed our home in Asia. I replied that I missed our friends, and I miss some of the food already, but I am really, truly, enjoying being here. My girls seem to finally be adjusted better to the time--Clara Anne adapted quite seamlessly but Chloe has been up during the night a couple times every night since we came. But it's finally getting better so I'm glad we don't have to go back anytime really soon, now that our body clocks have been reset! The girls are also having a great time with their Grandpa and Grandma, which is really fun for me to see. Today Clara Anne was sitting with Grandpa and suddenly decided she needed her blanket, so she trotted off downstairs, retrieved the blanket, and then came right back and plopped herself down on Grandpa's lap again. How fun!

I hope to have some pictures for you all to see next time--stay tuned!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Wonderful Homecoming

In Asianese there is a word for wonderful which goes above and beyond our typical understanding of the word in English. We might say casually, "Oh, how wonderful!" about anything or everything. But in Asianese the word which is translated "wonderful" has almost a sense of the miraculous--this word is not used casually but is used to describe something incredibly fortuitous or grace-filled. For example, in the sentence "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," this word, qimiao, is used. And that's how our homecoming was yesterday--wonderful, bordering on miraculous!

First of all, my dad was there at the airport! Not only was he released from the hospital (with strict instructions not to drive for several weeks, what he should be eating, and a list of meds to take as well as physical therapy goals to work towards), but he felt well enough to come all the way to the airport with a friend of our family in a big Suburban to pick us up! The second big surprise was that my brother Mark and his wife, Beth, and their two adorable daughters (aged 3 and 2) also made a long journey by car in order to surprise us and meet us! Mark's head was the first one I saw when we made our way down the long hallway with our two (tired) kids and myriads of assorted luggage. We also had some thoughtful friends from our home church in Sioux Falls who came bearing a great gift for us--the use of a car for the next month. What wonderful blessings! We felt so loved and appreciated!

You see, I was prepared for the worst. I had thought that perhaps if my dad was still in the hospital, we would need to go straight from the airport to the hospital in order to see him and my mom, and then John and I would just continue on to Mom and Dad's home and pick up something for supper on the way, eating by ourselves. The thought of Mark and Beth coming 6+ hours, in the middle of a week, (Mark is a busy pastor) and taking their two young children along just to stay over one night (read: hassle) had never occurred to me. So I had some fairly low expectations for our arrival. Instead, the picture was dramatically different: we were all together, having a big family reunion, laughing and talking, catching up and watching the girls form an almost instant bond together. Though just after we sat down to eat, Clara Anne had finished her yogurt and had a few bites of real supper when she announced "all done" and in the next moment was asleep in her high chair. I've never seen her do that before! She was sitting up, with her head falling forward and eyes closed, totally asleep. So she missed out on some of the fun, but was happier (and more well-rested) for it.

The flights all actually went fine--the girls both had some rough moments of inconsolable crying brought on by sheer exhaustion, but they both did sleep at various points, though not as much as I had hoped. There were just a few times, especially during the middle, longest flight, that I had tried every method of soothing Chloe and nothing was working, so I resorted to pleading with her to stop crying! She always did settle back down, so I'm thankful. Traveling that far, for that long, with such young children is not for the faint at heart, though! It required every trick in my bag and more! But we are recovering today (and probably the next few days as well!) in Grandpa and Grandma's comfy home so it's all good.

Speaking of comfort and convenience, I have been struck how convenient things are in America! Wow, having a car to go somewhere whenever you want is truly convenient! And look, hot water, right out of the tap! And look at all of the storage space in the frig and freezer! It's huge! (Actually just a normal size but it seems huge to me!) And, I am amazed to report that ALL of my laundry was done this morning by about 10am. I thought I had tons of stuff to wash, so started early, but then I realized that the capacity of my mom's washer must be at least twice that of mine in Asia. It only turned out to be two loads, and how lovely to have a dryer to immediately have things dry! I guess I have new appreciation for the simple pleasures and conveniences of the American lifestyle.

So today, I am thankful. We are here, safe and sound, all of our luggage arrived, we were granted safety traveling more than 8,000 miles, and we had the added blessing of seeing my dad recovering well and sharing precious time with Mark and Beth and their girls. When we left for Asia, their oldest daughter Marin was just 3 months old, and so to now see her a talkative, happy and musically gifted 3 year old is just wonderful. Annika, Mark and Beth's younger daughter, is just a few months younger than Clara Anne and we had never met her in person. What a joy to get acquainted, and how fun it was for Clara Anne to run around with her little cousins!

Well, we still have lots of unpacking to do, and both of my girls have already crashed this evening (let's hope they sleep all the way until the morning!) so I'd better make the most of my time. Thank you all who were praying for us as we traveled--we felt all of your prayers and it helped me during those difficult moments to remember that I wasn't the only one praying for us! Your prayers were answered so wonderfully--thank you, Lord!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Checking In...

Hi Everyone! Two main items of interest today . . .

I apologize for the lack of updates on my blog recently; we are still in transition and have barely had internet access these last weeks. (Note to self: wow, wireless is super convenient! We are going to have to invest in that!) We finished our meetings and have moved to a lovely hotel in Bangkok for a few days of "decompress" time before we take that long journey--tomorrow! Tomorrow morning at abou 1:30am our alarm will ring so that we can pack up and check out of the hotel by 2am, be on the road by 2:30, and arrive at the airport around 3am. Then we'll claim our left luggage that we have been storing there since coming into the country almost a month ago, check in at our airline, go through security and customs, find our gate, and sit down to wait for our 6am flight. It's a large plane, going first through Tokyo and then on to Minneapolis, so I anticipate some long lines in check-in. From Minneapolis we'll take a quick flight to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which is just 45 minutes away from my parent's home in northwest Iowa. According to my mom, they are in the midst of some wild winter weather, so we will be moving from the tropics to heavy snowfall!

We almost didn't get on this flight. On Friday night, when we arrived in BKK, we tried to access the internet in our hotel. The connection was slow and we couldn't download our emails, but John did manage to get on the Northwest site to check our reservation. He found our names, but it said "there are no flights in this account." Thinking that couldn't be right, he then called Northwest to confirm, and found that our tickets (purchased through a travel agent 3 months ago) had been cancelled! YIKES! What to do!!! We called on some of our colleages that live and work in this country and they were able to assist us, thankfully. Also thankfully, there were still seats on the flight so they were able to rebook tickets for us. So though it's been a bit stressful the last few days, we are thankful that everything worked out, that John had called so early to reconfirm, and that the problem was found and thus able to be fixed. PTL for watching over us!

Please pr for our long travel day! I have lots of snacks and fun things planned to do for the girls, but I am really hoping they will sleep a lot. We will arrive in the US in the middle of the afternoon, 22 hours later on our body clocks. We are looking forward to that arrival moment!

The other main item for prayer is that my dad had a heart attack over the weekend. Because of our internet difficulties, we didn't know until several days later, and thankfully he was much improved by that point. He didn't feel well over the weekend and was experiencing some chest pain, so on Monday morning he went in to the doctor and they found that one of his coronary arteries was almost 100% blocked. He was taken to a heart hospital and they performed an angioplasty; from what I know now he is doing all right--able to get up and around a bit, though not so much energy. He is still in the hospital and may still be when we arrive back at my parent's home; I'm just not sure. This was rather a shock to us since my dad has always been so healthy and still plays basketball with a group of guys--he played just last week! But we are thankful--thankful that he went to the doctor in time, thankful for the medical technology that was able to help his heart, and thankful to the Lord for sparing his life. I am also SO thankful that the Lord arranged the timing since we are on are way there and can be with Mom and Dad right now. But please pr for my dad, Jim, as he recovers. Pray for his heart, in all ways, that he will be physically, emotionally, and spiritually strengthened right now. And pray for my mom--she still has some lingering effects from her health difficulties last fall, mostly in her balance and coordination. It's a challenging time for our family ut we know that the Lord will be faithful to meet all of our needs! He is a gracious and loving Heavenly Father!

Well, this all certainly puts things in perspective. Our times are in His hands--what a reminder to make the most of our days, living for Him! Clara Anne would like to make the most of this morning by going swimming one last time, so it's time for me to sign off. Thanks for all of your prayers! Next time I post, we'll be in the States, Lord willing! See you on the other side!