Friday, April 27, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Thursday is almost past, and that means that day 6 of John's 10 day road trip is also just about complete. He left last Saturday for some speaking opportunities in Tennessee, and so the girls and I have been keeping each other company these last days. We've done some really fun stuff together, including going for walks in our new double stroller, fixing puzzles on a rainy day (today), and cuddling up to read stacks of books. But there's no doubt, we really all miss John.

Clara Anne has been asking for "Daddy" repeatedly, and every time the phone rings or there is a knock on the door, she gets excited, just ready for him to talk to her or walk in the door. The significant events in her life (wearing a new skirt, going to the bathroom all by herself) have been marked by an eager "Go tell Daddy!" only to discover afresh that Daddy is not here. I have been a little sad for her as she keeps wondering where Daddy is!

On Monday, I was washing some lunch dishes as the girls played for a few more minutes before nap time. Clara Anne was busily putting on her shoes and her backpack, and then came over to me and announced "Go to (Asia)! I want to see Daddy!" I tried to convince her that Daddy wasn't there, that he is only a few hours away, but to a two year old, it doesn't really matter where as long as he isn't HERE. So just as I was thinking, "Maybe I just need to give Clara Anne some attention; maybe that would help her not miss him so much," Clara Anne said "Mama, please give me some (at)ten-tion. I need some (at)ten-tion." She said it in such a bashful voice, I could hardly believe what I was hearing! Where did she get that phrase?! And how did she learn how to use it in the appropriate setting?!

Needless to say, that got my attention and so we very quickly sat down and read some books together. The recent favorite: "Guess How Much I Love You" which we have had in our collection for quite some time but seems to be Clara Anne's first pick this week. I do love reading with her, and lately with our busy schedule, it really feels like a luxury--we both truly enjoy it.

John will be home again next Monday, PTL! He will have three very happy girls to greet him! The only downside--I guess I will have to start cooking some "real" food; crackers and cheese, grapes and yogurt will probably not qualify as dinner in his book!

In other news:

Last night I was so happy to have joined in the choir rehearsal at our home club. Probably my favorite conductor in the whole world, Chip Stam, leads that group with a wonderful mix of fun, excellent music, and great technique. I didn't realize how much I missed being a part of it until I was there last night again! Chloe stayed down in the nursery during the rehearsal but Clara Anne was with me--alternately sitting quietly and listening, holding her music as if to sing, and getting up off her chair to dance along. She enjoyed herself thoroughly! Midway through the rehearsal, we were all treated to a big surprise put on by two tenors: One of them (he happens to be blind and amazingly musically talented) moved to the piano and started playing some "Hoe-down" music, and the other picked up a length of rope and started doing lasso tricks! (Did I mention that these were tenors?! Leave it to the tenors!) Apparently this was all worked out beforehand and was meant just for our enjoyment! Only in the Clifton choir would such silliness take place! By the end we were all clapping along and singing "I'll Fly Away" in a hoe-down style. Fun times!

On Tuesday Clara Anne, Chloe and I took out our new stroller to the prettiest place in Louisville, in my humble opinion: the Cave Hill Cemetary. It sounds a little morbid to visit a cemetary voluntarily, but in fact Cave Hill is a truly lovely place. It is like a very quiet garden, with curving walks, well-maintained plants, towering trees, several ponds and wildlife, and benches here and there to sit and appreciate it all. Cave Hill is also an arboretum so the plants are all labeled--which I appreciate since I am curious, but fairly ignorant, about those types of things. Tuesday morning it was warm, quiet, and lovely on the cemetary grounds. The ducks and geese flocked to us when we started tossing out some stale bread, and the only noise was that of a lawn mower humming in the distance. I got some great exercise pushing the girls all over, Chloe got a good nap in the stroller, and Clara Anne and I enjoyed the quiet, birdsongs, fresh scents, and pretty scenery. Unfortunately the dogwoods and redbuds are all leafed out now, and the daffodils and iris are done too, so it was mostly just green everywhere, but we'll go back next week to see the peonys open up. Lovely, lovely, I tell you. Any of you readers in Louisville, don't miss out on Cave Hill! It's a treasure, a quiet place right in the city!

And finally, just a note about Chloe! Our happy younger daughter seems to have gotten the short shrift in the blog coverage lately, sorry about that Chloe! She has been such a sweetie lately; giggling like mad when Clara Anne plays with her, giving me a HUGE grin whenever I come around her side of the car to get her out of the carseat, pulling up and standing next to the furniture with a big smile on her face. Tonight she was playing peek-a-boo with me as I sat in a big armchair--she kept pulling up, smiling and giggling at me, then sitting down again, then pulling up, giggling again, and then disappearing by sitting down. She loves to get her hands on whatever Clara Anne is playing with, especially puzzle pieces! (Of course that annoys Clara Anne to no end.) But Clara Anne still loves her sis and lately always begs me to let her feed Chloe. I have a great picture of Clara Anne feeding Chloe yogurt--I will post it soon, I promise! It isn't hard to get Chloe to eat--I usually have a hard time getting her full! All of that physical exercise lately seems to create a bottomless pit in her tummy. This morning I even caught her trying to eat some lint off the floor! I managed to fish that out of the mouth of that babe later.

Speaking of which, those crackers and cheese didn't really fill me up at supper. I'm feeling hungry! Maybe I need a midnight snack . . . something more tasty than lint . . .

Friday, April 20, 2007

We're still alive!

Oh my! I must apologize for my long absence from my blog . . . we have been in the midst of a whirlwind! After Easter, we spent a week in Richmond, Virginia, meeting with others who normally live overseas and are now back in the States like us. The meetings were good and helpful, but the really great times were spent with others in our free time, connecting and hearing many stories from life around the world. It didn't hurt that I managed to make it to Starbucks with women friends three times in three days, either!

On Monday we drove here to Louisville, Kentucky and arrived in the evening of a warm, deliciously sunny day. How wonderful to be back here again! The red brick and ivy of the campus was a sight for sore eyes. Even Clara Anne seemed to sense that we were coming "back" somewhere and said as we drove on the campus and past our old apartment (of course she wasn't born then yet!) "Are we home, Mama?"

This week has been a flurry of activity--getting settled into our new apartment, speaking in classes and going to chapel, going back to our home club, getting together with friends old and new . . . it seems every moment has been full to the brim. But "full" in a very special, wonderful, heart-warming way--I am so thankful.

Tomorrow night we get to participate in a lovely event called "Parent's night out." All of you who are parents know what this means! It's hosted by the singles group of our local club and so it will be safe, fun, and in a familiar place--the nursery. And, it's perfect timing--John leaves on Saturday for a 10 day speaking engagement in Tennessee, so I am excited for our date! The girls are doing well adapting to yet another place, thankfully. Clara Anne is battling a cough but seems to still have plenty of appetite and energy.

Ok, it was bound to happen . . . our first "reverse culture shock" moment. We left the girls sleeping under the care of our friend Robert on Tuesday night to go to Super Wal-Mart and find some things for our house and (empty) pantry. We thought we knew where super walmart was, having gone there only about a thousand times when we lived here. Unfortunately, as it turned out, we weren't really sure, and took one road after another, driving around searching for it for more than 45 minutes!!! Argh! Finally we found it and went on a shopping marathon . . . I didn't realize how much stuff we needed to get set up here! It was about 12:30am before we started checking out, and after chatting extensively with probably the slowest checker in wal-mart history, we left the store at 1:15 am. This is after a 10 hour drive on Monday, an early morning and a super-full day on Tuesday. I was one tired mama. The worst part was that we had no phone and so no way to contact Robert and tell him we were running so late. I'm afraid we caused him some premature gray hairs! We took him out for supper on Wednesday to thank him!

Well, enough for tonight. I just wanted to check in and let you all know we are alive and well! I am way behind on posting pictures...maybe next time! Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

He Is Risen!

Happy Easter to everyone!

I hope that you all have a wonderful day, celebrating in a special way our Lord's death and resurrection. It is because of Him that we can live in joy and hope, not being afraid of death or enslaved to sin. Praise Him that the power that raised the Son from the dead is alive in us who have received him, today!

We are in Princeton, West Virginia, speaking to a group here this morning. We arrived Friday night amidst snow flurries and were surprised to see some accumulation on the ground yesterday! The snow continued on and off and the temps have not warmed up much. Glad we've had a warm and comfy place to stay the past few days! We ate at the Cracker Barrel on Friday night and it was so cozy and fun--they had a HUGE fire roaring in the fireplace. What a change from the 80 degrees we experienced a few weeks ago!

Blessings on your Easter celebration. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!

I Didn't Think it would be THIS soon . . .

Our road trip behind us, we had a wonderful day and a half in Richmond with our friends Brad and Amy, who are getting ready with their children to move to our city in Asia. They are ready to go and will arrive in a matter of days! Since we're not there right now, it was wonderful that it worked out to see them on this side of the ocean and spend some time with their sweet family. They have three children, Savannah who is 4 (almost 5) and Alex and Peter who are twin 2-year olds. Needless to say, Clara Anne immediately felt at home and started copying Savannah's every move while simultaneously watching the boys (with all their energy) run circles around us.

This is really Clara Anne's first exposure to little boys. Most of her little friends (Emma, Samantha, Pingping, Dingding, Elizabeth and Anna, etc) are all girls. Even the cousins that she's met so far (Marin and Annika) are little girls! Even at our meetings, it seems like most of the children in her class were girls. So until the other day, we had not really talked to Clara Anne about the difference between girls and boys.

But then . . . one of the twins needed to "tinkle." He made his way to the bathroom and unbeknownst to me, Clara Anne followed him in. He didn't seem to care at all and so Clara Anne stood watching with great interest as he stood to use the toilet. It was at this point that I found her and insisted that she give him some privacy, but it was too late! She immediately wanted to go to the bathroom herself, and pulled down her pants and stood in front of the toilet saying, "Do it THIS way! Do it THIS way!" I told her that it wouldn't work because she is a girl, not a boy. I finally got her on the potty, though she protested the whole time.

So then John and I told her that she is a girl, and Mama is a girl, and Chloe is a girl, but Daddy is a boy, and Peter is a boy, and Alex is a boy. Daddies are boys and Mamas are girls. Hopefully this simple concept is sinking in!

Well, though I didn't expect to have to address this topic so soon with Clara Anne, it's probably a good thing! I know that Peter and Alex will become her good friends, so it's probably best to have the ground rules established--like giving them some privacy in the bathroom!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Mikado

Last Saturday night we were so excited to attend a performance of The Mikado, put on by the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company in Minneapolis. We were especially excited because the title female role of Yum-Yum was being played by John’s twin sister Sarah. Sarah has a beautiful soprano voice and is a great actress, so we were really excited to see the show.

I did have a few mixed feelings going in, though. Why? For one, attending a live music performance meant that I had to leave my two year old and my nine month old with someone else! In Asian life, that was pretty hard to accomplish, and we are still new enough in the States that we have only just had my mom and dad watch them a few times when we were gone and they were awake. It’s like there’s a scale: leaving them napping with someone else there and you run out for an errand=not very hard. Leaving them sleeping but about to wake up is a bit harder, leaving them during a meal even more so, but the ultimate to me is leaving them for the dinner meal and then trusting someone else to put them to bed. Bedtime is the time of day when I think kids need their mamas and daddies the most—to complete the (almost sacred) bedtime routine that no one else can do satisfactorily!

But, if we wanted to see the show, this was going to be our only option. Thankfully, John’s sister Mary was happy to watch the girls, so the trust factor was no problem—we knew she’s be great! But on Saturday, we had brunch altogether in the Twin Cities with more family—John’s brother Andy, his wife Laurel and their son Julian—which meant that we were away from Mary’s home and she would need to make the 1.5 hour drive home with the girls by herself. So this was way off the scale in my book—sending them off with Mary alone, first to ride in the car, then have supper, and then go to bed all without me! In my mind, the possibilities of them misbehaving, crying, or generally being difficult were endless, mostly because they had just so rarely done this before. Needless to say, I was doing a lot of praying!

We had a wonderful dinner at Chipotle with John’s mom, followed by a Starbucks latte (oh, I do love eating in America!), and then made our way to the theatre. Occasionally a worry about the girls would surface, but I was trying to just relax and enjoy the opportunity to be out!

Happily for us all, the show was wonderful! The theatre was quite small, seating about 200, so our seats in the fourth row were truly up close and personal with the singers. The Mikado is probably Gilbert and Sullivan’s best operetta, set in Japan but with their characteristic British humor, poking fun at the society and politics of their day. It was fun to see it brought to life!

There were some really strong performances among the cast, but our (truly unbiased) opinion is that Sarah was the shining star. Her excellent vocal abilities were matched by a magnetic stage presence; she had a lot of energy and a sweet, funny portrayal of Yum-Yum. Her solo in the second act elicited a sigh from the audience before the applause! And she was beauty itself in her gorgeous costumes (originally from the New York City Opera). We were so proud of her!

So what happened with Mary, Clara Anne and Chloe? Well, the girls were pretty good for Mary, except that when it came to bedtime they didn’t want to go to bed. Clara Anne played in her bed and disturbed Chloe, and then Chloe cried until Mary rocked her to sleep. They both were sleeping by 10pm, but Mary had a few challenging moments! I was just thankful that when we finally arrived back at Mary’s house about 1am, everything was all quiet. (Visions of screaming children were still dancing in my head!)

So, all’s well that ends well, in the Mikado, where Yum-Yum ends up with her dear Nanki-Poo, and in the household where the children finally go to sleep!

Road Trip!

Well, John and I (and the girls) have completed the first day of a three day road trip from the northwest corner of Iowa all the way to Richmond Virginia. We actually had a pretty good day, though it did not start out so well. John was up super late doing emails and urgent office work last night, and that was after we had already stayed up late unpacking from our Minnesota trip and repacking for the next 3 months. So we were a little short on sleep to start out. And then we had some details to take care of--we rented a car to get from Iowa to Richmond, but first had to turn in our loaner car that we've had for the last month. So John packed the loaner car full, only to arrive in Sioux Falls at the airport, get our rental car, and unpack and repack everything so that we could return our loaner car. Though we intended to get an early start, by the time all of that was done it was after 11am. Chloe was crabby, wanting her morning nap, and we were trying to decide if we should just have a good lunch first and then get on the road.

Now, you should know that John and I love road trips. There is something refreshing about being in your own car, setting your own pace, having time alone to talk, read or listen to music or books on tape. Road trips are especially fun when you have a nice car to drive! So we were looking forward to today and the nice rental car. It is a 2007 model, a Chevy Impala (I think, I'm not too clear on that stuff) and it has lots of space, lots of power, and drives really smoothly. There are other bells and whistles, too, but the newest fun "toy" that we had never used was a Global Positioning System attached to the front dash. Then John had a great idea, let's look for a Pizza Ranch nearby and have lunch before we get on the road!
Now, you should know that eating at Pizza Ranch is one of my very favorite things to do. Their pizza is better than any I've ever had--the crust is somewhat chewy but not too thick, not greasy at all, and they are super generous with the cheese. I love their "Ranch Sticks" (cheese bread) which they serve with lots of marinara sauce. They also have this really tasty broasted chicken (not exactly fried, but I'm not sure how they prepare it--it has crispy skin) that I love, as well as dessert pizza. Basically, I love it all. And it's a great deal to eat their lunch buffet--only about $6 for all you can eat and drink. I also especially love Pizza Ranch because I have lots of nostalgic memories of eating there in high school after basketball games, after school with my friends, or whatever. The original Pizza Ranch was in the town where I went to high school, and now they have expanded all over the upper midwest, so I guess I'm a bit biased for the hometown brand, too.
So before we came back to Iowa we taught Clara Anne how to say "Pizza Ranch." She now knows their logo and as we've been driving lately through small town Minnesota and Iowa, she has actually recognized a Pizza Ranch out the car window and informed me, "Mama, there's Pizza Ranch! I found it! Let's go there! I'm hungry!"
Back to my original story (I think I have chased a few rabbits tonight!), we decided that since we had this new GPS, we could just use it to help us find the nearest Pizza Ranch and eat there for lunch! The only problem was, we couldn't figure out how to use the thing. At first it seemed like it was working, but it wasn't giving directions! We drove around a few blocks trying to get it going, and finally discovered our mistake. AHA, now we had it! Pizza Ranch, here we come!
We started following the map and the verbal directions (it was in the general direction we had to go, anyway), and soon found ourselves on the edge of town. Hmmm, that seems strange. Wonder where it could be out here? We even were directed to take a gravel road! That seemed really strange, but then we remembered selecting "fastest route" and so thought maybe the GPS was directing us down that road for speed purposes.
Finally, we turned down another gravel road as the GPS was saying we were only .2 miles from our destination, then we were directed to make one more turn, and . . . I'm sorry to say that it led us into the midst of a rural housing development! We were literally out there in the cornfields with these newly built homes here and there. This was not a happy moment.
John is frustrated because the stupid gadget led us wrong, Clara Anne discovers that we are not immediately arriving at Pizza Ranch and begins to wail "Pizza Ranch, Pizza Ranch!," and Chloe continued the screeching that she had been doing for the last half an hour as we were trying to find this nonexistent Pizza Ranch. I didn't know what to do and was about to cry myself when John took charge of the situation, thankfully. The thing is, with the girls in their carseats and the car packed so full, I can hardly reach them back there, so we had to stop the car, John held Clara Anne while looking at the map, I nursed Chloe and she settled down, and then we finally got on our way.
We did stop at a Pizza Ranch a few towns further down the freeway, and then were able to do the entire rest of the trip with only one quick potty/nursing break. And even as I write, the girls are asleep, so we can all get some good rest before continuing our journey tomorrow. Happily, the GPS has not led us astray again--I don't have any explanation for what happened that time, but hopefully it was just a fluke.
I'll leave you with a few recent pictures--I have lots more but blogger will not pull them up for me tonight, so they'll have to wait. This first one is Clara Anne talking on the phone to John when he was gone for a week, speaking at a conference. She liked to sit in her rocking chair and cross her legs (like Mommy does) while on the phone. I often prompted her to say "I miss you Daddy," but that has come back to haunt me: now in random circumstances she will go up to John and say, "I'm sorry Daddy. I miss you." We are not sure why she put those two sentences together, but my best guess is that she doesn't really understand the "miss you" concept.
And this is a scrapbooking photo. We can really make a mess, can't we?! Clara Anne loved to "help" so I would give her some extra pictures, scraps of paper, and stickers, and she had a great time. Thanks again to my mom for all her hard work on our album!
And now, it's time for me to catch up on some of that sleep I missed last night. Good night!