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!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Rules of the Road

Long-time readers of my blog will remember previous descriptions of the traffic here in this country. Simply put, it's crazy! The larger streets are a bit more well-governed (i.e. cars usually stop for lights, pedestrians usually use the crosswalks, etc) but on the smaller roads, anything goes. For example, two lanes can morph into four in a matter of moments when a driver decides there's room for him to "squeeze in" to that small space between lanes . . . or a bus executes a bold and daring left-hand turn from the right turn lane . . . or a motorcyclist zips through traffic wherever there's physically room for him . . . or a pedestrian steps out and begins to cross a busy street without looking (because if you didn't see the other guy, it's not your fault. If you saw him and still hit him, you're at fault!).

All of this to say, it seems like the roads have only gotten more congested in the time we were away. Or maybe it's just that we've recently arrived from small-town Iowa where there is a grand total of one stoplight in the town. But local people, too, especially taxi drivers, have commented on how the traffic just keeps getting worse. Perhaps it goes back to some of the economic changes--more and more people are able to afford cars, and so are buying them and driving themselves, rather than taking public transportation or riding a bike.

Now, in many ways, we are not SO affected by the traffic, other than to have some patience when we go out. We don't drive, so if we're caught in traffic we can sit back and relax (or try to entertain little ones, as the case may be). Also, the taxi fares as yet are still just based on distance, not time. This is different than some other cities where you are sitting, waiting in traffic and watching the meter click up, and up, and up. When John rides his bike, he can go fast in the bike lanes, which he loves to do. And we haven't had too much difficulty getting taxis--we can usually flag one within a few minutes of waiting, sometimes within moments.

Going to America with two young ones was a huge adjustment in terms of car travel because of carseats. Clara Anne and Chloe had to learn that the carseats were not optional, that they could not be held, that even if we were only driving a short distance they needed to be buckled in. At first this was a struggle, but after a short while they grew to be perfectly content in their carseats and accepted it as a normal part of life. Despite the extra step that it took to get them all settled in the car every time we went somewhere, I also grew to appreciate the carseats! Having carseats meant that I did not have to hold and wrestle with wriggly children on long rides. Having carseats meant that they both had their own space, and they soon learned to fall asleep in their carseats as well. Not only was it safer for them, it meant an easier ride for Mommy!

So, as you can imagine, being back in Asia has meant an adjustment to the carseat-less taxi riding again. Previously, Clara Anne was too small to sit by herself on the seat and so was usually held, and I always had Chloe in the Baby Bjorn carrier. Now, Chloe is WAY too heavy for the Baby Bjorn, and so she has become a lap baby. Clara Anne has graduated from being on a lap and gets to sit on the seat next to me or John.

But with her new freedom comes new responsibility. We now have established several rules in taxis, the "rules of the road" so to speak:

1. She may not touch the door. The backseat driver's side door is not usually used and often not even functional; typically we get into and out of the taxi on the passenger sides. But, on rare occasions, we'll run across a door that will open! Therefore, this rule.

2. No feet on the seat. For Clara Anne, it is a bit of a challenge to climb in without climbing across the seat and therfore, getting the driver's white seat covers all dirty from her shoes. So this is a hard one for her! It will probably get better as she gets a bit older and taller.

3. Sit on your bottom! Without the restraint of a carseat or seatbelt, it is only her own willpower and our rules that are keeping her in her place! But if she doesn't sit down then it seems the infraction of rules number one and two are soon to follow!

Though it has been a bit challenging to get these new standards into Clara Anne's mind, we are seeing some good progress. She does love to ride in a taxi and is always excited to go out somewhere. So though the drivers around us don't necessarily follow the rules, Clara Anne still needs to obey the rules of the road!