Sunday, September 30, 2007

Chai Lattes, Anyone?

Yesterday and today have been cool and drizzly. The rain is coming down fairly steadily but gently, and the overcast sky makes me want to snuggle back into bed. It seems like fall has moved in overnight; suddenly the house feels a bit cool-ish and I found myself searching my sock drawer for some cozy socks this morning. It's a day like this when you feel like drinking something warm, spiced and soothing. I decided it was time to get out my crock-pot and make another batch of Chai tea.

Since Starbucks is so (unfortunately) out of my reach, I have adapted several of my favorite Starbucks methods for my own enjoyment at home. And recently, I found this great recipe for Chai tea which I thought was perfectly lovely. If I had a better milk frother, I would say that the finished product tasted exactly like Starbucks. (My "frothed" milk tends to deflate in a matter of moments.) So I thought you all might enjoy the recipe!

You will need:
2 quarts (8 cups) water
8 bags black tea
3/4 cup sugar
16 whole cloves
16 whole cardamom seeds, pods removed (optional) [I skipped this with no ill effects]
5 cinnamon sticks [I used less since they're not as easy to find here]
8 slices fresh ginger
Milk to taste, for later [About 1 part milk to 2 parts tea is a good ratio, I think]

Combine the water, tea, sugar, cloves, cardamom, if using, cinnamon and ginger in your slow cooker. Cover, cook on High for 2 to 2.5 hours. Strain mixture and discard solids. At this point, tea may be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Stir in the milk just before serving. Serve hot or chilled.

I think you could easily adapt this recipe to use on the stovetop if you wanted it to go faster. I really enjoy this recipe and hope you will, too!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Greatest Story Ever Told

One benefit of getting settled into life in Asia again has come through the re-establishment of some routine in our lives. It seemed like our time in the States was full of transitions and travel, and it was hard to get into a rhythm (other than the rhythm of constant change!). Knowing how much children enjoy routine, I have sketched out a little weekly schedule for our family, always subject to change, of course, but at least it is a start!

[Sidenote--subject to change, as in last Sunday afternoon when a group of friends arrived for a party. "Oh," I said, "I didn't know you were coming over!" "I'm sorry," said one of our friends, "I guess I told everyone except you that we were going to get together today at your house!" No matter--they all came in, I found some fresh fruit to slice and a few monster cookies in the freezer, and we had a great time together. They stayed 3.5 hours! Things like this seem to happen to me regularly!]

But I digress . . . now something built into our daily routine is a time of devotions after breakfast (with the girls still in their high chairs) where we read from one of our two new Bible storybooks. While in the States, we purchased two excellent ones: the Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Storybook Bible. After the reading and perhaps a few brief questions about the day's story, we then practice our current memory verse and have prayer together. It's true, Chloe is pretty oblivious to everything going on, but I have been very encouraged to see Clara Anne's response.

Earlier last week, we came to the stories about Jesus' death. As John was reading (he's the preferred reader since he's more dramatic and does exciting voices), Clara Anne was literally on the edge of her seat, with a horrified look on her face. She seemed to comprehend what was happening to Jesus and was truly distressed. When we asked her a few questions, she gave evidence of being especially touched by the fact that the soldiers hit and hurt Jesus. Of course, we couldn't stop there and had to read the next chapter where Jesus rises from the dead. It was amazing to see the relief settle over her face when she realized that Jesus was alive again.

I really knew that the stories were making an impact when later that morning, Clara Anne was playing with Play-Doh at the kitchen table. I was working nearby, and overheard her telling the story again to herself, complete with a big lump of play-doh which was the tomb, and a smaller bit in her hand which was Jesus, she was putting him in the tomb and then taking him out again. The soldiers' awful deeds seemed to be foremost in her mind--as she played and talked to herself I kept hearing "soldiers hurt him" and things like that. As far as she was concerned, they got the full blame!

More than just that day, it has been encouraging to see how Clara Anne now asks to read the Bible numerous times a day. Many times during breakfast she will say, "Mommy, we forgot to read my Bible!" I then remind her that we always do it after breakfast and that she just needs to wait a moment. Both of the books I mentioned above do a very good job of telling the BIG story of the Bible--tracing themes from beginning to end. I truly think that she has been captivated by the story, the greatest story ever. I myself have been moved, sometimes to tears, as I have read through these books with her. The best part is, these stories are all true! They're not just nice-sounding, happy feeling, made up stories! Amazing! What a great God we serve!

Now if only Clara Anne's love for reading her Bible would have some practical application--you know, more obedience, less whining, a more joyful spirit--but then again, maybe the Lord thinks that about me sometimes too! Thankfully He is patient with me, a redeemed child, so I need to be patient with my as-yet-unregenerate 2.5 year old. For now, Clara Anne, we'll just keep on reading!

Friday, September 28, 2007


I guess I should have figured that though we were coming back to our home, and the familiar, there would be changes that we would need to adjust to. As we've settled back into life in Asia, there have been several areas that have required some adjustments of our expectations. How could it be that things were different than before?! But life in all places continues to grow and change, sometimes for the good, and sometimes the changes are hard to get used to. What has changed, you ask?

For one, the price of goods. Inflation has hit our city in a big way. Certain items that we used to buy that were cheap (like fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken breasts, etc) have gone up, some as much as 50%. A typical Asianese lunch that used to cost about 15-20 local dollars now is usually closer to 30. Eggs are now about the same price per dozen as those in the States. Cheese, which we always paid a lot for in the past, has increased to the point where it is now slightly more than $5 US for one 8 oz package! Yikes! It seems like our city, along with the rest of this country, continues its economic growth at an alarming rate and so since people can afford to pay more, the cost of goods is more. Wow! I didn't think it could change that much in the 6 months we were gone!

Sometimes people talk about "reverse culture shock" where a person will return to his home culture and be taken aback by all of the changes. We didn't experience this too much living in the States regarding the price of things, because we had been warned. And living here we were used to paying higher prices for western things anyway. The toaster that I finally found for my Asian kitchen several years ago cost us close to $20 US. But when we bought a toaster to have in our kitchen when we moved to Louisville, we only paid $6.87! Wowza, that's cheap! So I expected the US prices to be more, and in some cases they weren't (in other cases they were way more, like gas--gulp!) but returning here I had an expectation of things being cheap and instead lots of things have risen in price.

Another area that I should have known to be ready for is pollution. The night we came in, it was drizzly and rainy, and the entire next week was smoggy and overcast. Now that it isn't blazing hot summer anymore, all of the taxi drivers are driving with their windows down, subjecting everyone in the car to a steady intake of exhaust, smog, and generally dirty air. To make matters worse, in the surrounding countryside the farmers have harvested their corn and are following their traditional practice of burning the stubble off the fields. Two nights ago the acrid smoke in the air had penetrated every corner of our apartment, our clothes smelled like smoke, and I could not sleep because of a sore throat from breathing the heavily polluted air. That was the worst I have ever seen it here, but thankfully it didn't last as early in the morning rain started to fall. It rained all day and brought some fresh air after the showers.

The last few weeks, in fact, I have had a rough time with this--I knew the air would be polluted, but somehow I forgot the extent of the pollution! The New York Times recently published a fairly comprehensive study of the effects of pollution in this country, and in reading their information, I discovered that our city has a pollution level THREE times that of Los Angeles. Oh my. Unfortunately we are not expecting it to get much better. The coal-burning season is almost upon us and so it may be a smoggy winter ahead. This is a fact of life here; definitely an area to adjust my expectations! I must have gradually taken for granted the clear blue skies over small-town Iowa! I haven't been running since we've come, partially because we were still getting over jet-lag and the girls have been getting up quite early each day, and partially because I didn't want to breathe in deeply all of the smoggy air. But, we get more exercise in general here, starting with the 58 steps that lead up to our fourth-floor apartment!

So now that I've showered you with the gloomy news, I'll share a few better-than-expected circumstances. After not speaking the local language for 6 months, I was worried that it would take me a long time to make up that ground. But thankfully, after a few encounters with my house helper I feel like I have remembered a lot again! Neither John nor I have started studying again, and that will surely help, but my "functional" daily language has mostly returned. I didn't expect that and so am extra thankful for it! I've even started dreaming in the local language again!

We are also doubly grateful for the friends we have in this city, both fellow Americans and nationals. It has been wonderful to reconnect with them and in many ways it feels like we never left--we've just picked up where we left off, very easy and natural. I am thankful for this, especially when I think of the loneliness that we battled for the first few years here.

I guess the moral of the story is "learning to be content in every circumstance." What a challenge, but how valuable if we can practice this! With the contentment comes thankfulness and joy for all that we have, since "we have been given everything we need for life and godliness." May we all be more content, more thankful, and more joyful today!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Finally, A (Long) Update!

Today already marks one full week that we have been back in our city in Asia! I apologize for the lateness of this update; our internet only got connected yesterday and I had a busy day with no time to blog. But, thank you all so much for your thoughts for us--our traveling, once finally started, really went smoothly. We arrived on schedule and so did ALL of our luggage, and truly the trip went quite well. Though it didn't start out quite so smoothly . . .

Our plan the morning that we left was to arrive at the airport 3 hours before our scheduled flight, check in all of our luggage, and then go out for one last American breakfast (Cracker Barrel has great breakfasts!). However, when we arrived at the airport and began to unload our luggage, the airline personnel began to weigh our luggage and found that almost all of it was slightly overweight, a couple of them by as much as 10-15 pounds. And since we were traveling internationally, the charge for an overweight bag was more than $300! So we quickly determined that it would be much cheaper to simply go and buy another piece of luggage to put the excess poundage in. I hopped in the car and sped off to Walmart, my dad stayed with the girls, and John began the laborious process of unpacking each trunk, one by one, and taking out items until the luggage was within the 50 pound limit. When I arrived back, 45 minutes later, I knew my hope of breakfast was dashed, but at least I had the extra luggage in hand! John loaded the extra items in it, pulled it up to the counter, and IT was more than 50 pounds! So at the last moment we were stuffing children's books into our carry-on luggage and sticking things in wherever we could find a little space! Thankfully, no one ever asked to weigh our carry-ons!

So once we got past that little drama, we ate a quick bite at the airport cafe before getting ready to board. We said a sad farewell to my dad, who needed to get off to work, (we had had a tearful goodbye with my mom early that morning; she didn't travel with us to the airport) and then got through security with no problems. Happily, our flight left just a bit early and went faster than expected, so we had slightly more than an hour, instead of just 40 minutes, to connect in Chicago. PTL! Also thankfully, our connecting flight was just a few gates down from where we came in to Chicago, so we didn't have to dash madly through the entire O'Hare airport.

The long flight went well; only a few moments of desperate crying from Chloe, and Clara Anne really did very well. They slept for probably 6 hours total and that was great. I had brought along some Dramamine to encourage them to sleep, but silly me, forgot to check the appropiate dosages and so was afraid to give them too much, or not enough!

So we arrived in Asia without incident and then had a six-hour layover until our final flight. We had to claim our luggage and then recheck it in, and so it doubled as furniture during those hours when the check-in was not yet open. We even got out Clara Anne's Dora tent and sleeping bag and at one point, I had a short nap inside it while John read books to the girls! (You know, all of those books that we couldn't fit anywhere else . . . they were right at hand!)

Arriving back in our city was great. My friend Rachel picked us up from the airport with a huge van and we made our way to our apartment. To my delight and surprise, opening the door and going back inside was truly like coming home. Rachel had organized a huge cleaning project, to get everything ready (they even washed the windows and curtains!), including stocking my frig and pantry! There was ready-to-eat food in the frig and even hotdishes and cinnamon rolls in the freezer! She had also put my rugs back down on the floors, put back up some of our pictures, and got my kitchen ready to be used again. What a HUGE blessing! I thought they were just going to clean, but they did so much more . . . the fact that our house was ready to be lived in again made it truly seem like HOME and we were able to settle in very quickly. By Tuesday evening of this week we were totally unpacked and organized, our luggage put away and back to "normal" life again. THANK YOU to Rachel, Mimi, Amy, and everybody that helped. It was truly a huge help.

We dived back into life and work here as soon as we arrived back--John had a (pre-scheduled)meeting the next day at 11:30, after having been back less than 12 hours! One of the results of that meeting was that it looks like we will not be moving from this apartment for at least six months. So instead of just "unpacking to move in the next 6 weeks or so" we fully unpacked, planning to live here at least until after the new year. But that feels good too--we like our home, despite its shortfalls, and so it will be good to be here awhile longer.

My house helper Mimi has been here a few days and so my Asianese has had to get refreshed in a hurry! Wow, she talks fast! We've had some good talks already, and boy can she cook great food. We've had all my favorites this week! :) Mimi will not be with me for too much longer, though, she's just on loan to me since she works full-time for Rachel now, so I'm looking for a new helper. We're hoping for just the right person to come along!

So that's our news! We're happy to be settled back in, I'm happy to get the girls in a good routine again, and though we're all struggling with jetlag still (waking up early in the morning), we're glad to be back. On that note, though, please keep thinking of us. In many ways, a lot of things have changed since we were here last. Particularly, some of the people we had a lot of contact with have moved away, gotten new jobs and become very busy, or for other reasons are not in our lives now. So in a way it is like we are "starting over." I feel excited about that, and yet a little nervous too. We shall see what He has in store for us!

One final story to give you a good laugh: the other morning, just shortly before nine, there was a knock at my door. I opened it to find an older woman with a baby boy, about 1 year old. She immediately said, "where are your kids?" I gestured to the bathroom where they were both brushing their teeth. "Oh, how cute! Look at the little girls!" she said to her grandson. "You can be friends with them and they'll teach you English!" She sort of edged her way in and all the while, I was racking my brain to think of who this was! She didn't introduce herself, and though she looked vaguely familiar, I just couldn't place her. But since I felt like I should be friendly, I sort of invited her in (she sort of walked in on her own) and offered her something to drink. Fifteen minutes went by of me making small talk, her trying to give my children a particularly messy snacky-sort of bread, her grandson being extremely possesive of the play stroller that happened to be nearby, etc. I still could not think of who she was!

Finally, at the end, I asked her where she lived, and she jogged my memory, saying how we had met once at my ladies' salon. I then remembered another incident, where she asked the salon ladies where I lived so she could visit after Chloe was born. They did come over, and that day she had said, "Oh, I have a new grandson. He and your daughter can get married, don't you think that's a great idea?" She was serious. So I guess that's why she came to visit; she wanted to see if her grandson and Chloe would hit it off. Unfortunately, I'm not so interested in marrying off Chloe when she's only 15 months old. But there you go, who says arranged marriages are an outdated practice?!

Ahhh, yes, we're back in Asia again!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Traveling Mercies

This is it! We leave tomorrow morning, Wednesday, bright and early. We'll leave home about 6:30 am, travel to Sioux Falls, SD, and get on a 10:30 am flight. We fly first to Chicago, and then have only 40 minutes to catch our overseas flight. If you think of it, please lift up our travels. We have a LOT of luggage, 13 checked pieces, and are really fervently praying that it will all make that quick connection in a notoriously busy airport. We were only going to have 11 pieces, but today we arrived at the post office with two 50-lb boxes of children's books, intending to ship them surface mail (using an m-bag) to our home in Asia. Unfortunately, since May 15th, the rates have drastically changed, and to send it via m-bag was going to be more expensive than to send it priority mail! The cost of the priority mail? $250 for one box. OH MY! Well, the books inside those boxes are not worth anywhere near $500, so instead we will pay the airline an extra fee in order to take them as extra pieces of "luggage." Thankfully we found this out the day before we are leaving so that we still had the airline option! If we had left them for my parents to ship, we would have really been in a pickle!

In other recent mishaps, I had recently purchased some luggage online. When I paid for it online, I saw that the billing address was correct but neglected to clarify the shipping address, and it was shipped to Louisville! All last week, we were wondering why it did not arrive, and finally after tracking it online, John discovered my mistake. We quickly called the company and they said that UPS would not re-deliver a package after failing delivery in another state, so I re-ordered the luggage and made sure it would be sent here, to Iowa. The customer service representative assured me that it would be here by Tuesday, today.

Then this morning about 10, the luggage arrived! Wow, PTL! However, then this afternoon, about 2, the other luggage arrived! Oops . . . turns out the Louisville post office had a forwarding address for me and so had forwarded it on, so now we have more luggage than we bargained for. Thankfully again, the company (Land's End) was very gracious and are just sending another UPS person to pick up the extra set later this week.

So, I'm hoping we've already had our share of mishaps. If you think of us on Wednesday, the 12th, please say a little prayer for traveling mercies. We hope it will be an uneventful trip. If all goes well, we will arrive back at our home in Asia on Thursday evening at 10pm, (Thursday morning in the States). Some dear friends have already been to our apartment, to clean and make it ready for us to just fall in bed that first night, so we are extra EXTRA thankful for that.

Thanks for your thoughts! Next time, Lord willing, I'll be writing from the other side of the world!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Just a few Pictures!

Finally, here's a glimpse of our last road trip. It started out in Minnesota, where John's entire family (all 6 kids plus his mom) got together for a few days. John's mom lives in a small house in town, and so to put everyone up, we stayed out at some friends' of hers who have a farm. They parked a few campers on their lawn and opened up their guest rooms so that there was room for everyone. We enjoyed the peaceful country setting, the fire pit for S'mores and late night talking, and the kids had a great time in the sandbox. We even had a fun family game of Ultimate Frisbee on their huge lawn! What a treat to be there! Thanks, Dick and Charlotte!Here's Chloe and cousin Amanda having a fun time on the lawn.Then, from the farm outside Fergus Falls, we drove to Stone Lake, Wisconsin, to stay at a "cabin" loaned to the family from one of Sarah's (John's twin) friends. I say "cabin" because it had 9 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, a huge great room, a pool table, a ping-pong room, a trampoline, about 20 bikes, a tennis court, a fully stocked kitchen . . . the list goes on! It was a really fun time there, complete with great meals (we all took turns), a bike ride with the entire family on wheels, swimming in the lake, and late night game-playing. Clara Anne looks kind of uncertain about the water here, but Chloe is already having a great time.
Come on in, the water's fine!
From Stone Lake, John and I traveled to Mora, Minnesota, to stay at my brother Mark and sister-in-law Beth's home. Their little girls are so sweet and great playmates for Clara Anne and Chloe; the kids had a super time together and so did the adults! Marin very helpfully pushed Chloe on the swing and Chloe squealed with delight in response (except, of course, when I got this picture!).

Who needs water? Let's play in the tub anyway!
Can you find the girls in the playroom? There are three of them, intently watching the Wiggles. Have I mentioned before how much Clara Anne loves the Wiggles? We have the Wiggles Dance Party VHS and Clara Anne gets up and grooves to it. "Can you point . . . your fingers and do the twist? Na, na, na na."

John and I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to leave the girls overnight at Mark and Beth's home so that we could go to a bed and breakfast. B&B's are a tradition for us--we went to one for a whole week on our honeymoon, then tried to get away for a night each anniversary since. So this trip was to celebrate our 10th anniversary, just about 8.5 months late. We had a great time! The first night away from the kids in two and a half years . . . it was very refreshing. The only bummer was that I was starting to get a cold when we left and so was feeling rather snuffly.
Here I am outside the Ellery House B&B in Duluth, Minnesota. It is a beautiful home!We went walking down Canal Park to the Rose Garden and enjoyed the gorgeous blooms.

Lake Superior in the background, Happy 10th Anniversary!

We opted to have breakfast in the dining room the next day, and were served this amazing fruit plate, along with a wonderful stuffed French toast dish and maple-cured bacon. A real highlight for me of this particular B&B is that they had an espresso bar set up that we could serve ourselves from, anytime. I took advantage of that! I thoroughly enjoyed my straight espresso with a chocolate chip cookie (upon arriving), my cappucino later that evening, and my vanilla latte with breakfast. Let's see, did we have a good time in Duluth or was it just all that espresso?!
The next day was sunny and clear so here is a much better view of the lake. That's the famous Lift Bridge in the background.

And one picture to leave you with--a sunset over Knife Lake, this is looking out of Mark and Beth's backyard. We returned there to spend just a few more days before getting on the road again. Earlier in the week it had rained, but the evening this picture was taken was just gorgeous. Wow, only God could paint a sky like this!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Shopping Continues . . .

Well, we went to Wal-Mart this week. Surprisingly, our trips to Wal-Mart since being back in the States have not been very frequent. Right here in Rock Valley we have so many great quality consignment stores, and then the ultra-cheap Dollar store, that we haven't had a real need to get to Wal-Mart.

But this week's trip was pretty momentous. We actually went aisle by aisle, looking everything over to help remind us of what we can't easily buy in Asia (i.e., we should buy it while we can). We began to fill our cart with things like over the counter medicines, especially child formulas, other special children's items, bakeware, sheets for Clara Anne's future bed, a rug and shower curtain for our future bathroom, etc. At the end of it, we had spent three long hours in Walmart and gone down practically every aisle. (We skipped a few of the hardware and grocery aisles.) A few fun finds: beautiful new cookie sheets, some swirled chocolate and caramel chips to go with them, floppy sunhats for the girls, on clearance for $3, and Dora band-aids for those future boo-boos.

The problem of "stuff" presents itself to us who live overseas in an interesting way. I remember when we first moved there, and how excited I was to get rid of most of my earthly possessions. I felt so free! But when we moved into an apartment in Asia, it seemed like we bought it all again . . . the small stuff, like dishes and pots and pans, and then bigger stuff like some furniture items. The true but frustrating part is that we need stuff to live. Think of all of those who lost most of their earthly "stuff" after Hurricane Katrina. Some of them are still working to rebuild, since we truly do use "stuff" to live. So it seems to me that balance is needed--though we need our possessions to make our lives workable, we also do not want our possessions to possess us. If we're not careful, pretty soon all of our time is spent organizing our stuff, managing our stuff, taking care of our stuff, and dealing with our stuff.

It can be easy, especially living overseas, to get caught up in "stuff" that we "need" to have. I have caught myself many times in the last few weeks thinking, "Oh, I can't get that in Asia, wouldn't it be great to bring some back? I just would love to have that!" Or worse, "Oh, Clara Anne and Chloe would just LOVE to play with that!" But the truth is that not everything that I would like is necessary, and so I can and should learn to be content with what I have. Living overseas can sometimes set a person up for coveting--thinking, "oh, if only I was in a place where I could easily buy this or that, my life would be better." Or, "poor me, I can't eat Mexican food here like I can in the States. I have it really rough." But on the opposite end of things, living overseas can be a blessing in this area. It is a blessing to learn to live in contentment whether or not marshmallows are available, or if my child has to wear the same few outfits again and again. As the Son reminds us, life is more than the food we have to eat or the clothes we have to wear. Our Father knows we need these things, and He provides them. We need not worry.

All of that being said, we're trying to have a balanced approach as we plan, shop, and pack for our trip back. It will likely be several years before we return to the States, and though we are trying not to go overboard, the fact remains that we will be taking a lot of "stuff" back with us. Even that stuff, though, goes with a certain amount of faith and trust--only the Lord knows whether or not everything we take with us to Asia will arrive with us, or for that matter whether we ourselves will arrive as planned. So it's all in His hands, thankfully.

Most of you know, I don't enjoy shopping very much, especially when it needs to be focused, diligent, once-every-three-years-thorough shopping with two children under three along. So for me, I'm just glad that there are no more three-hour trips to Walmart in my future!