Saturday, December 27, 2008


One of our favorite movies is "Fiddler on the Roof". We love the music, the dancing, and especially the opening number where everyone is singing about the Traditions of their village while doing things like chopping meat and kneading bread in time to the music. And in our family, we love the idea of traditions as well. Traditions can be the yarn that knit our families together in special ways. One of my favorite books on this subject is Noel Piper's "Treasuring God in our Traditions." She has some great thoughts there about the why of traditions, and learning how to focus our traditions around our Lord.

One tradition John and I started early in our relationship was to go to a bed and breakfast for our anniversary. We had spent our honeymoon at a B&B, so it seemed like a natural extension. I will never forget our first anniversary, when we were poor and I was still in school, and John surprised me by driving me to northern Minnesota and taking me to one night at a bed and breakfast when I had no hope that our budget could support such a thing. Since then, we tried to get away each year, at least for a night. On our 7th wedding anniversary, we also had no hope of continuing the tradition since that was the day that we moved overseas! However, United Airlines had other plans and since we missed our flight due to mechanical difficulties, they put us up in a hotel in Los Angeles so we got to celebrate our anniversary there!

Here in Asia, it's been a bit challenging to continue the tradition since at first there wasn't anyone to leave the kids with, and also there aren't any bed and breakfasts here, but this year is different! Our friends are going to watch the girls--all three girls!--so that we can get away to a nearby city for the night and have some time to ourselves. I think after our busy Christmas season we will really appreciate the time to be quiet and rest and just enjoy the time together without three little munchkins around!

So tonight I'm packing two little backpacks for the girls to take to their friends' house; the girls are so excited because the backpacks have Minnie Mouse on them and were Christmas gifts. The fact that Mommy and Daddy are going away is tempered by being able to use the new Minnie backpacks! Amazing the things that cheer up our children!

And, amazing the things that cheer up mommy and daddy too! We are looking forward to our trip! Stay tuned . . . when we get back I have Christmas photos and Clara Anne's birthday photos to share with you!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Merry Christmas, everyone!

Christmas Eve is here and with it our family's celebration of Christmas, since tomorrow (the 25th) is Clara Anne's birthday and reserved for her. My table is set, the meal is almost ready, and my children are taking an unusually long nap, which is allowing me to send these Christmas greetings to you all.

We have had a whirlwind of a few weeks preparing for Christmas, enjoying sharing the news of Emmanuel with new friends, neighbors, even Clara Anne's kindergarten class. I have baked more than 600 cookies (I'm not kidding, but I have a cookie press that makes 80+ per batch so they add up quickly!), we have hosted numerous people in our home--in short, it has been a busy time, but a Blessed time. I am eager to enjoy our family celebration tonight as well as a day celebrating Clara Anne's life tomorrow.

So in lieu of more words, let me wish you all a Merry Christmas! I pray that you will know the joy of Emmanuel this season: God has come to dwell with us! And may we all continue to prepare our hearts for his second advent, which we look forward to with certainty: Amen, Come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who is that Blonde Mama?

Recently a friend reminded me that it has been forever since there were any pictures of yours truly on the blog! That's because I am usually taking the pictures! So today I thought I'd post a couple of pictures that were taken recently. Here's Mama and Baby, self-shot: Self Shot, trying again:

Thought we'd try for a group shot--yep, typical! Christin thinks the flash is too bright, Clara Anne and Chloe are smiling at something off to the side, and I have a double chin! Ha ha! To be preserved for all time!One last pic with Mama and baby, done by Daddy this time. Happy Days!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I've Got a Hankerin' . . .

For some of that yummy crib rail! Christin has been chewing on anything and everything lately as she has experienced the breakthrough of her first two teeth! Yes, it's true, she's got two teeth already! The first one popped through on December 2nd, and then about two weeks later, on the 15th, we saw the second one emerge.
It won't be long before she's pulling up on the crib rail, too!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cultural Adaptations, part 2

I've been mulling over some issues relating to cultural adaptation lately that are of concern not to me individually, but to my children. In case you thought you missed the "Part 1" of the title--it's not something I wrote but rather something I experienced personally. John and I have been through almost five years of acclimating to this culture and now very rarely have "bad culture" days where the cultural differences bother or frustrate us. But, now we are in the stage of watching (and helping, and encouraging) our children as they adapt to culture, (hence, part 2, the 2nd generation).

In a way, some of these adjustments in our kids took me by surprise. Our kids are growing up here, right? They should be used to the culture, right? They've never known anything else, right?

Those statements, of course, are true. But we are seeing our kids go through some acculturation processes as they get older and able to understand more. Some things about this culture they absolutely take in stride--the noisy streets, the pollution, the vendors everywhere, the fact that everyone else speaks a different language. Other things, well, it's taking a little time.

One particular area of concern is usage of the local language. Actually, it's still an area of concern for all of us! We still feel we have some distance to go in growing toward fluency. But I guess I wasn't prepared to see my children struggle with it as well. I thought it would be easy for them to just "pick up" especially since we give them plenty of opportunities to be exposed to the language, especially for Clara Anne who is attending kindergarten three to four mornings a week.

This issue hit home with me last weekend. Clara Anne has a special little friend at kindergarten whom she had been asking to have over to play. So I called her mom and we agreed to a playdate on Saturday. They came to our home and I had several special activities planned, including reading the true story of Christmas, decorating Christmas cookies, and coloring with special Color Wonder markers from America (thanks again Cornerstone!). The girls really had a fun time together, and played together happily. Later, though, as John and I reflected on the morning, I realized with somewhat of a sinking heart that this little girl had done all the initiating in the play time--ALL. Clara Anne hardly said a word. John expressed it best: "Clara Anne just doesn't know how to play yet in the local language." She doesn't know how to say things like, "let's go play with dolls! Look at my doll! Her name is Mary . . . " or any of the thousand things that she would say to her friend Emma who speaks English when Emma comes over to play. Or, if she knows how to say them, she is too shy to try it out in the local language.

I've been trying to work with Clara Anne a little more intentionally but I get the feeling that I am trying a little too hard. The more I try to help her speak, the more she resists me (at least lately, I'm sure it will change). John assures me that when Clara Anne has listened and absorbed enough, she will start speaking when she feels confident. I am praying that that day will come soon! Clara Anne can have a tendency toward shyness anyway so adding the language barrier in makes it all that more difficult to be friendly.

So there's something that we are praying about. Our Father is in control and I know that we can trust His hand and depend on His wisdom as we try to help our girls adjust to the culture around them.

**Update**Last night as I was getting the girls ready for bed, I was singing "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" in the local language, and I forgot for a moment the order of the body parts listed in the middle section. As I was pausing to think what came next, Clara Anne filled it in for me! So there's some small progress! Perhaps there's more local language floating around in her brain than I realize!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Picture of the Day

Who can resist this smile? Clara Anne, with cheeks flushed from the cold, giving a "happy to be home from kindergarten" look!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I Can Stand (with help!)

Is she really growing this fast?!

Like Mother, Like Daughter

When I was a young girl, reading was an absolute favorite activity of mine. Play-acting, roller skating, music, and dolls all ranked up there with my regular trips to the library! In fact in our family lore I became notorious for checking out so many books that my brothers teased me, "you have to take a U-haul to the library!" But I didn't mind; many happy hours were spent reading to my stuffed animals, curled up in a corner reading a book myself, or snatching a few moments to read at my school desk after my seat work was done. It was with delight, then that I happened upon this scene recently:

I was busy doing something else and Chloe had set herself up with a bunch of books on our bed and was reading to her bear. (This is the favorite bear mentioned previously). Bear is listening intently, as you can see. Smiles when she realized her picture was being taken!

There are some classics there on the bed, gifts from some sweet friends in the States who gathered together lots of ladies to host an international book shower for us! What fun! Thanks so much, Dianna and groups! We are already reaping the benefits and look forward to many hours together of fun and educational reading. Even Bear appreciates the simple joys of the Big Green Pocketbook!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Outing: Children's Science Museum!

A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday, we took the opportunity of a free morning to take the whole family out for a special activity. There is a children's science museum in our city just to the east of the city square, and we recently heard through a friend that it was pretty fun. Ok, we've only lived here five years and we're just now finding out these things! That's what happens when you can't read! We had passed that big building a thousand times but never knew what it was all about inside. So based on our friend's recommendation, we thought it was worth checking out. But as with all things in this country (or maybe just in living in a foreign culture), it's best to have your expectations low. We were fully prepared for it to be not much fun and even had a backup plan.

Our morning started with a special treat--breakfast at McDonald's! You can tell by Clara Anne's silly face how excited she is!Chloe cheerfully gave me a big smile!Ah, early mornings out with the children! Everybody is still happy! Christin was giggling in between waving her arms excitedly and bouncing them on the tray.Then we walked from McDonald's to the museum, walking through the square (and of course attracting a crowd!) on our way. On the east side of the square there are many much-larger-than-life statues of famous people from this area of the world. Here's our girls posing (somewhat reluctantly) with Confucius. In the few minutes that it took for us to get their picture, about 10 other people snapped a picture too!
Inside the museum, we were pleasantly surprised! The lowest level had many different play areas, including this area with vinyl-covered foam blocks for building. The girls played here a long time!
There was also a ball pit/climbing/jungle gym type area, along with a maze, funny mirrors, and various musical instruments to try out that worked on some scientific principle. But my girls really enjoyed the clay room, where they could work with real clay and try to fashion something. They both worked very industriously and made some interesting creations! Clara Anne made "Eve" to go with John's "Adam," since of course Adam really was made out of the dust of the ground. Here they are hard at work:

Here's Clara Anne's Eve:
The finished products. I think Chloe was responsible for those many little balls.

We made our way through other parts of the lowest floor of this building (four floors total!) and even went to see a 4-D movie, in which my kids lasted for approximately 2 minutes until they were so scared they cried and we left! I am afraid I have scarred them forever; since that day they still regularly talk about "that scary movie." We thought it was going to be about fish, like an underwater adventure, but instead it started with a plane crash onto a deserted island and various animals were following the pilot around . . . that was as much as we saw and it was enough for the girls!
Christin was a trooper and took only a brief mid-morning nap in the Ergo. The girls played for a solid three hours until we said it was time to go! By that point it was past 1:30 and we still hadn't eaten lunch or anything!The easiest option was to quickly grab a bite at McDonald's again . . . I know, I know, twice in one day is really not great but we were under a time crunch. The girls were happy to eat their hamburgers and even happier to get some chocolate ice cream (chocolate soft-serve is new to our city!) for dessert!

What a blessing to have such a fun day! With such low expectations, we were really thankful to have found a great place to take the girls back to, especially now that winter is coming and it won't be so nice to play outside. The price was reasonable and I can forsee us going back there many times in the future. We had a great time and were really glad for such a fun family day!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's Go Skating!

Now that the weather is chillier, we have to dress up in our warmer clothes! Clara Anne loves her new Strawberry Shortcake coat that we found at a local market. Chloe wasn't so excited about the picture taking, but loves her purple coat too, even though it was Clara Anne's last year! The girls got all ready to go out on a date with Daddy; Clara Anne took her rollerblades and Chloe had her little bike in tow. Fun times!

Within our apartment complex there are several open areas with a city square sort of feel. Other kids were also out with their skateboards and bikes!
Clara Anne is doing great with skating! She is gaining confidence and has fun with it. She still lands on her bottom occasionally but she just gets right back up again. I have such fond memories of roller skating with my friend Heidi on our smooth driveway when we were growing up; I'm glad for Clara Anne that she has learned this new skill. Way to go, Clara Anne!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Girls and their Babies

It's been all about babies at our house recently. Everybody's got a baby to take care of!

First, there's the real baby of the house--Christin. She is growing up fast but is still, undeniably, a baby. She also acts like a baby sometimes (cries for silly reasons, has a highly developed radar system for where mommy is, drools everywhere, and of course, still needs those diaper changes frequently) which is completely normal. Her main care falls to me but Clara Anne takes a close second. There have been numerous times where I have been freed up to do something else, dinner prep or laundry or whatever, by Clara Anne asking to play with Christin! Her favorite things to do are to have me put Christin in her walker and then pull Christin around the house, or to have Christin on their bottom bed where they can read books together. It's sweet.

Clara Anne also has her own "babies" though. We've moved past the stage where she is carrying Doll around with her all the time, but now she has something even better--imaginary babies. One is named Mary (Mary's existence is based in an actual doll), and Manna, who is completely made up. According to Clara Anne, Manna is six years old and she "obeys me really well, Mama!" (I'm not sure how Clara Anne can be not-yet four and her "baby" is older than her, but that's ok. It's all in the imagination!) Mary is also a very good little baby and we hear about her quite often. Clara Anne is still my story-telling girl. This morning when I got her up, her first words were not "Good Morning," or "Hi Mommy," but rather seemed to continue a story she had started to tell last night, as if no time at all had passed. She greeted me with, "You know, Mommy, it's really hard for my baby to get good sleep because Chloe always wakes her up. . . " and the story went on. Judging by the amount of time Clara Anne spends talking about her imaginary babies, they are a well-loved part of the family.

Chloe imitates Clara Anne, as typical for younger sisters, and has found that she can conveniently make several objects into a baby. Usually it's her bear that she is lavishing loving care upon: it's a small stuffed brown bear with a lopsided purple bow on the head; he/she is also missing one ear. (The ear fell off early in the loving process). She also often wraps up her blanket just so and pretends it's a baby. This morning as I was finishing up my exercising with Chloe by my side, Chloe ran to me with her blanket and an urgent cry, saying, "Mama, mama, my baby is crying! Hold my baby!" As if I didn't have enough of real babies crying, now I'm the appointed one to take care of her baby! :)

And then there's John. He's got four babies to protect, provide for and care for--"his four girls"as he calls us! He does a great job and we are always happy to run to the door and greet him at the end of a long day. He says that those happy smiles and hugs and kisses make him feel so special, in his words "If you ever need a self-confidence boost, just leave your kids for a bit! The welcome home makes it all worthwhile!"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To be continued . . .

Hi everyone!

Has it really been 9 days since I posted? Really? Sorry about that!

And tonight's post is just a cop-out, a brief update so that you don't stop reading my blog altogether. I have about five posts in line to publish but in fact, the difficulty is that I haven't written them yet. My main excuse is that we've been experiencing some technical difficulties. MAJOR technical difficulties.

Remember the new computer that was supposedly going to make our lives so much easier? Well, it's had some problems almost from the start. I won't go into the gory details but suffice to say that despite John working on it for numerous hours, it is, at this point, completely non-functioning. It had a malfunctioning file that corrupted the whole hard drive and so everything needed to be wiped clean before it could be fixed. Now it's been fixed, but the entire computer and all of its software systems need to be rebuilt. If you like that sort of thing, that might sound fun. If you're my husband, however, dealing with computer issues after being at work the whole day doesn't sound like fun at all.

Anyway, we're thankful that our old standby Toshiba is still working fine, despite its quirks. I hope to get some time on the computer in the next few days; we'll see!

Until then, good night!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Results were tallied . . .and eaten!

Here's a few pics from our fun election day voting! The choices were: Pizza, Mac-n-Cheese, or Biscuits and Eggs for a main dish, Sprite, Hot Chocolate, or Juice for a drink, and Pudding or Cookies for Dessert.

After a brief explanation by Mommy, Clara Anne was our first voter (yes, she is wearing her Disney jammy dress and her princess crown!). We did not attempt to do individual ballots, so it wasn't a private vote this time. She carefully drew a check-mark in the box of her choices. Chloe was next, as Christin watched. Her check-marks were a bit more squiggly, but clear nonetheless (thank goodness, no "hanging chads" in this election!).

Even Lou got in on the fun since we figured she had a stake in the election--whatever was chosen she would end up doing a lot of the prep for it! I explained to her the choices, though when she got to the drinks category, she couldn't remember which one was which, so she just voted for what everybody else voted for!Here's the final tally: Pizza (homemade) edged out Mac-n-Cheese by a vote of three to two, whereas Sprite won an overwhelming victory with a vote of four to one. We had a bit of ballot spoiling since Chloe found the marker later and thought she'd add another check-mark to the hot chocolate vote! The race between pudding and cookies was also close, but pudding came out on top with a vote of three to two.

This was a really fun activity to do with my girls! Clara was initially sad that none of her choices won, but seemed to enjoy the pizza anyway. :) We discussed how everyone's vote made a difference, and if one person had voted another way on an item we would have been eating different things that night. Christin didn't get to vote and was served her usual supper of rice cereal and pureed pumpkin anyway. Shucks. But the rest of us thoroughly enjoyed our pizza, sprite and pudding and I hope that the girls learned something along the way as well!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Kindergarten Update

Several of you have asked how things are going with Clara Anne and kindergarten. In a word, they're going great!

During the whole month of October, Clara Anne's class was learning how to rollerblade. The first day the teacher told us about it, we went out and bought a pair of rollerblades (with adjustable sizing to last longer) for Clara Anne as well as all the protective gear. It was the last pair in the store because of all the kids needing a pair!

The school had it set up to use their dance classroom for rollerblading, so there was a handrail to hold onto as well as a nice big open space for skating around. Special instructors were brought in to teach the kids this new skill, and Clara Anne really enjoyed it! She made good progress and can now (though still somewhat hesitantly) get around on her skates by herself! John has taken her out on the paths within our apartment complex several times since then and she is showing some good skill.

Clara Anne continues to make friends at the kindergarten, in particular one little girl named Xing Xing. When Clara first came home and told me about her, I asked her name, and Clara thought it was Xi Xi (she pronounced it she-she instead of shing-shing). Oops! But now they seem to be good friends and often would hold hands while skating. We're really thankful for Clara Anne to have another little friend!

Language is also progressing well for Clara Anne. The teachers now tell me that Clara is able to play with other kids as well as speak the local language with them, and even respond to the teacher's questions using the local language. This month they have been having some English classes, not exactly something Clara needs but fun anyway. Yesterday when the teacher asked her, all in the local language, "Do you have an English name?" Clara responded "No, I only have a [local language] name." So the teacher still doesn't know her given name! I need to remember to write it down for the teacher next week!

So, all in all, we've been really pleased with Clara Anne's kindergarten experience so far. Imagine my great surprise last week when Clara told me she could write some words in the local language, since we haven't worked on writing at all yet, even in English. She then proceeded to produce a pad of paper and a pen, and carefully wrote the words for one, two, and three. Way to go, Clara Anne! You're making progress! She's growing up before our very eyes!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


With Election Day upon us, I just wanted to post a friendly reminder to all of you in America to get out and vote! It is truly a privilege to have a say in the democratic process; we realize it all the more after being in this country where the common person has absolutely no influence on the political system. So all you Americans, be thankful that you can exercise your rights and take the time to cast your vote in this important election!

The girls and I are going to have a little mock election to help them understand what it means to vote for something--but we're going to be voting for dinner! I thought it would be fun for them to get to "have their say" and perhaps try to convince one another why they should vote for a certain item. No explanations of the electoral college here--it's a popular vote only! If it's a tie, Mommy will break it. I'll take some pictures of our activity and post them later this week!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Learning How to Eat!

I've heard it said that when you move to a different culture/country, it takes a while to "learn to eat" there. The food may be different, the preparation and methods are different, and the seasoning is different. The way of eating may be different, and the finished product and taste is almost always, most certainly, different. This takes some getting used to.

Looking back over almost five years in this country, I can say with confidence that I have learned how to eat here! Just for fun, here are some of the bumps in the road along the way . . .

Intially I loved the food. It all tasted good to me, was cheap, and I didn't have to cook it myself! (Because we lived in a dorm room without a kitchen when we first arrived.) I soon learned some of the names of our favorite dishes, with ba si di gua (carmelized sweet potatoes) topping the list.

Then pregnancy nausea hit me about five months after we moved, and suddenly nothing tasted good. I quickly lost 10-plus pounds since all I could manage to get down each day was some crackers that tasted like too-oily saltines and a fried egg sandwich that was made down in the little snack bar on the first floor of our dorm. I had to make sure, though, to ask for the sandwich without ketchup, cucumber slices or the mayonnaise which they usually put on it. (!)

At that point, all the food tasted too ginger-y and way too garlic-y, two ingredients used fresh in almost every stir-fried food I tried here. I went through several months of eating basically mantou, a steamed bread which is very bland and plain, and a few bites of veggies when I could manage it.

It was with great relief that we moved to an apartment where we then had our own kitchen. I could finally make some simple western food and that agreed with me better. But after my nausea abated, I found that I really enjoyed eating the local food occasionally, and so John and I would often order in on a night when I didn't feel like cooking.

Finally by then I got used to buying my eggs from a street vendor. The eggs in the street and the grocery store are not refrigerated, and so actually, buying them off the street is safer, since they are fresher. There was also the notable instance where we were having guests for supper and I needed some pork, and was forced to buy it from a street vendor since I didn't have enough time to travel to the grocery store. (I washed it thoroughly upon arriving home!) After cooking and eating it, both John and I declared it the most delicious pork we had ever tasted! It had probably just been butchered the night before or early that morning!

So, slowly, slowly, we've gotten used to the food. Fast forward to the present. Now, I eat local food basically every day. Rice is also a staple. (I prefer the Thai jasmine rice which is readily available but more expensive than the rice grown in this country). Because of my family's love for rice pudding, I sometimes find that we eat rice at every meal! Today for example, I had some rice pudding topped with homemade granola for breakfast, we had several stir-fried dishes for lunch with rice, and I ate some lunch leftovers for supper since John was out tonight.

As I mentioned in my last post, I really appreciate the freshness of the fruits and vegetables here. Now that we have Lou cooking lunch for us every day, we take full advantage of this. She goes out each morning to the street market and buys what just came in on the truck from the countryside greenhouses a few hours before. Today at lunch we had a delicious dish of baby bok choy stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms, as well as a spicy chicken dish, stir-fried egg and tomato, and glass noodles with shredded cucumber and pork. I have now gotten to the point where I crave the local food and feel like I am missing something if I don't eat it for a few days. It also doesn't seem like an indulgence to eat a lot of it: "Why yes, I think I will help myself to some more of that baby bok choy!"

We often find ourselves following the local custom: "zao chi hao, zhong chi bao, wan chi shao", which means at breakfast eat healthy, at lunch eat until you're full, and at supper eat only a little. So it works out great that Lou makes a great lunch for us each day--then we can eat a simple western meal or have leftovers for supper. Even our eating habits have changed from the typical western style where you just eat a bit of lunch to get by and then have a full supper. We still sit down for supper but it is a simpler meal.

So I guess I have really learned how to eat here. I practically feel like a local in terms of my eating habits--who ever knew I could love to eat tofu, or lotus root, or cabbage, or rice so much! We now have several "western" veggies that we enjoy the most in their stir-fried form. Lou, my helper, makes a wonderful dish with carrots, potatoes, and meat cut paper thin and stir fried together--it's tasty! I'm not a local, though, in my seafood-eating; I still stay away from that and fish as well, only because they hack through all the bones and no matter how careful you are, the bones end up in your mouth!, and I don't eat some of the weird stuff like congealed blood and bugs of various sorts.

Here's the kicker: last Saturday morning as a "special treat" John went out early and stood in the line to buy you tiao from a small vendor in the alley that leads up to our apartment complex. It is basically a fried dough in the shape of a long stick which puffs up dramatically when deep fried and is light and crispy. Locals usually eat it dipped in soy milk but we prefer to dip in sweetened condensed milk. It's not Krispy Kreme, but pretty good nonetheless! I also don't think it will replace cinnamon rolls in our hearts, but still . . . who could have thought I would consider it a special treat?! We've learned how to eat!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fall is in the Air: Apple Dip

One of the aspects I love about the country we live in is that all of the produce is super fresh. It is picked the day before, or even early in the morning the day that it is brought to market. We tend to eat vegetables with the seasons, since whatever is available and freshest is what we buy for lunch that day. This is true in America to some extent as well, but it's not quite the same since produce comes in from all over and if you are willing to pay for it, you can buy good quality fruits and vegetables even in their off season. In this country, no one stores much food (as opposed to Americans who tend to stock their pantries quite well). Instead, what is needed for that day or two days is bought, cooked, and eaten. (This is also why the refrigerators, freezers, and kitchen cupboards tend to be quite small or nonexistent! But I digress . . . )

Now that fall has arrived and there is a definite chill in the air, it's apple time! Apples are being sold everywhere: on the street corners, in the usual fruit stands, from the backs of pick-up trucks, you name it! We've already enjoyed eating some fresh apples in hand or baked into a crisp. But tonight I wanted to share with you a super-easy apple dip recipe made with an unlikely ingredient: cream cheese.

You will need:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Mix these thoroughly with a hand mixer until smooth and lightened in texture. Then serve with fresh apples. It's easy and delicious!


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Half a Year! (Already?)

It seems truly hard to believe that Christin is celebrating her six month birthday today! Time passes so quickly! I thought I would mark the day with a few pictures and words about Christin at this stage in her life. We already marked the day this morning by giving her a shot--another round of immunizations! She didn't cry a bit, brave girl! (The immunization was bought when John was out of the country recently, kept refrigerated and given to her this morning by my house helper, Lou, who used to be a nurse. I prepped the site and she did the injection. That's what you call taking personal responsibility for your children's health!)
Some unique things about Christin:
  • She loves to "mmm" and "hummm" over her food, low in her throat. Lately her feedings (even nursing) have been pretty noisy!
  • Her nose is almost perpetually red for apparently no reason. We've been calling her Xiao Hong Bi (Little Red Nose)!
  • When she gets excited over her toys, she flaps her arms up and down while gumming on her lower lip.
  • Clara Anne can get her to laugh faster than anyone, usually at the time when I'm saying, "Gently, gently, Clara Anne!" Christin just laughs it off!
  • So far she really enjoys rice cereal, pureed pumpkin, carrot, apple, and pear. Corn and beans were also tried and eaten fairly willingly. The latest addition to her diet is yogurt; she likes it but a tablespoon or two usually satisfies her.
  • Christin will play well by herself, especially in the corner of the couch, sitting in the booster chair on the kitchen counter watching me at work, or playing on the bed in the girls' room. The bright quilt there seems to captivate her.
  • She's at the age where everything she manages to grasp goes directly into her mouth! Lots of drool everywhere!
  • Her laugh sounds more like a chortle, deep in her throat; it's funny!
  • She seems tall for her age; I only know that because most of her 6-9 month pants are too short!
  • Christin is still my good sleeper girl. I'm thankful for her willingness to sleep long hours at a time!
  • Unfortunately she has had several illnesses in her young life. Nothing serious, but I will be happy when she's 100% well and I'm not wiping her nose all the time anymore!
  • Lately Christin often tries to "kiss" me when I'm holding her by looking at my face and then putting her open mouth on my cheek or chin. Either that or she's really not getting enough to eat!
  • She responds to her name really well. If I call to her from across the room, she'll search around until she finds me and then she'll smile and flap her arms with excitement.
  • Christin isn't babbling any syllables yet, just doing a lot of humming, squealing, and other vocalizations.
  • She loves to stand on my lap and jump/bounce up and down--good exercise for those little legs!

Christin is a sweet blessing to our family and we are so thankful for her. She still fits in my arms like a precious little bundle and I love the baby smell of her. She's in that golden stage of babyhood where she sleeps a lot, eats a lot but less frequently, smiles a lot, but isn't mobile yet!

Thank you, Lord, for Christin Arielle! We love her.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Moments to Melt a Mother's Heart

It can be easy, as a mother, to only remember the stressful moments or the difficult moments at the end of the day. (When John comes in the door, and asks, "How were the girls today?" I have a bad tendency to tell him the bad stuff first!) But when something happens that just melts my heart, I've resolved to remember those moments and be thankful for my children in a new way. Recently I've had a few "melt-your-heart" moments with my girls in the past few days and just wanted to share! The first happened with Christin last Thursday morning. She was sitting on my bathroom rug, waiting for me to put in my contacts, brush my teeth, and finish getting ready for the day. She was happily occupying herself, and when I was ready to leave the room I held out my hands toward her, and for the first time she held up her arms by herself for me to pick her up! The innocence and trust in that simple action truly made my mother's heart melt! What a sweetheart!

I've been somewhat concerned about Christin's health--after that week where she had roseola, she seems to be struggling with another cough/cold and perhaps an ear infection. It is really common in babies, and perhaps more so in a baby who has a sister who is going to kindergarten every day, bringing home germs from who knows where. So I've been giving her some tylenol and getting lots of snuggle time. Her appetite has still been quite good, so that is a blessing. And this week she's been fairly happy as well as sleeping well, so I'm thankful for that, too. Last night she slept 11.5 hours straight, a new record for her! (Usually she goes around 10.5 to 11). She probably needs the extra sleep to help her get over her sickness.

That's where my moment with Clara Anne came in. Tonight we were finishing up supper and I was feeling so concerned for Christin, so I was trying to find more information online about ear infections. Clara said, "Why are you so sad, Mommy?" I told her that I was sad about Christin not feeling well and not sure what I could do to help her. Clara Anne slipped out of her chair, came up to me and gave me a big hug around my middle. "Don't worry, Mommy, Jesus can heal her!" Out of the mouths of babes!

Chloe also had a sweet moment late in the evening last week. We had a group of friends at our house, and when I put the girls to bed they were given strict instructions to go right to sleep and not play, fuss, ask to go to the bathroom again or anything else. But about 10 minutes after I had tucked them in their beds, I heard a voice from inside the room, and it sounded like singing. I went in to investigate, and asked, "Who is singing?" Chloe readily said, "Me!" I quickly reminded her that she needed to be quiet. Then she said in the sweetest voice, "Mommy, I sing Jesus!" (Whether she meant a song about Jesus or a song to Jesus, I don't know!) I couldn't resist that and so told her that then she had to sing so softly that I couldn't hear her outside the room. I certainly don't want to discourage her joyful spirit!

It is such a honor to be a mother, and a joy to see my girls growing and maturing. They are sweet gifts from God, and moments like these make me realize it anew!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

And Yet Another Language Gaffe

So what did I say this time? (Friendly reminder, I have been living in this country for almost five years now!)

My helper, Lou, and I were talking about the differences in American homes and homes found here in this country. She was saying how amazingly clean, bright, beautiful, and lovely American homes look to her. She had seen some pictures of my parents' home in Iowa, and was truly amazed at the greenness of the backyard, the cleanliness of the interior, and the sheer beauty of a home nicely decorated. When I told her that my parent's home is a nice home, but certainly not exceedingly large or expensive by American standards, she could hardly believe it.

As we flipped to the next page in the picture album, I said, "Oh, yes, this picture was taken in my parent's . . . (thinking hard, oh what is that word for basement?!) . . . hell." "WHAT?" she said. I said, "I mean, you know, like where our storage unit is . . . in the . . . " and she finally took pity on me and helpfully filled in the word, "Basement!"

We had a good laugh over that one! I think I scared her a little bit!

I have only some pathetic excuses for this ridiculous misuse of language. The only reason I can think that I managed to mix up "hell" and "basement" is that they both start with the same initial word but the ending words are different. As well, I've been studying a lot of spiritual language recently and so I guess that other word was on my mind.

Oops! Keeping me humble, that's for sure!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Testimony time

I learned early this week of a testimony from a friend who had attended our Saturday night meeting, and it encouraged me so much I had to share it with you!

Our meeting went very well, despite myself. I will say that in the afternoon I was a wreck. I know there is a Battle going on, and I certainly felt it that afternoon. I felt so discouraged, so unprepared, and so unworthy to teach this class which it seemed would end up being more about a woman's role than just a house-keeping class. John tried to comfort and encourage me, and all I could see was the pressure of the clock, the needs of the children, and my own disordered spiritual state. Finally, I had a moment to sit down and take some time with Father as well as prepare, and--I'm not kidding--three minutes later, Christin was awake and asking for her next feeding. I share all of this not to incite pity but to say how all-sufficient and merciful our Father is, for, despite the fact that my daily duties did not ease (John had guests on Saturday afternoon and so he was occupied and couldn't help with extra things), I was able to stop crying, gather my thoughts, plead with Father in prayer and finally come to a place of quietness and rest, trusting Him.

And of course He is faithful! We had a wonderful turnout and great discussion. My fears about not being able to express myself in the local language were assuaged, and it seemed that everyone talked and shared freely. We began by looking at what the woman's role is, according to the Word, and why she is responsible for the management of the home, even if she also works outside the home. It was a blessing to talk through these things with fellow sisters!

One particular sister came to the study with that very question: why, when both she and her husband work outside of the home, does she need to come home and cook, clean, and do the laundry while he sits on the couch and watches TV or plays games on the internet. In the past it was hard for her to understand this and she felt it was unfair. She would often scold him for being lazy or get angry with him, telling him to get up and help her, complaining that she was tired too. If we're honest, ladies, perhaps we have all been there!

Anyway, she sat and listened on Saturday night. Didn't say much, but was just quietly listening. However, when she went home, she had a changed attitude. On Sunday, she was bustling about their home, cleaning, organizing, and getting things done with a markedly different cheerful heart. Her husband, impressed with how hard and cheerfully she was working, offered to help her. (!) She said, "No, no, you just rest. I'll take care of this." He was so impressed with that, he again reiterated what a hard worker she was and later that day, when they were out running an errand together, he offered to take her out for lunch, which she happily accepted. They hadn't had a "date" like this together for a long, long time. Wow! What a difference! Instead of complaining or scolding him, she did her work--her responsibility--cheerfully, and her husband was so pleased, lots of other good things happened! What a blessing!

I was so encouraged when I heard this, and I hope you will be too. This brief example shows me again what good things happen when I choose to obey His plans with a happy and thankful heart. Be encouraged, wives! Your work is that of serving Him by serving your husbands and families. It is vital work and when done well, it brings glory to our Father. Blessings to you as you do housework, shop for groceries, read to your children, and change diapers for His glory!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Just Sittin' Around

Our sweet little Christin is growing so fast! Sitting up by herself has been her newest acquired skill. She had a rough week last week with some illness; had a high fever for a few days and then broke out in a rash. I was actually a bit perplexed by Christin's symptoms and fussy behavior until my friend Amy suggested roseola--it turns out those are classic symptoms of the virus. There isn't much to do about it except increase fluids as needed. My other two never had it; I guess there's always something new to learn as parents! Anyway, I finally got my happy baby "back" on Saturday morning when she woke up from her nap, cooed and smiled at me and then was content to play for a long time after her lunch.

Here are some recent pictures of her sitting in style!

The high chair is becoming a favorite perch. Look at those toes curled for balance! (And yes, she has found her thumb. The paci is now passe!)

One morning she was happily sitting up on our bed, what a big girl!

I never seem to capture her at the good point of her smile, but the picture is cute anyway! Sitting on the couch is really fun too!

Love this overbite!

"Sure, Mom, I can do this anytime! I don't need all those pillows anymore, I'm a big girl now!"
It always amazes me how quickly these first few months with a new baby go by. Christin is already almost half a year old! It's probably because new ones take so much energy and keep their parents so busy that the time just seems to fly. We love our Christin and it's so sweet to see her interact with the other girls. Clara Anne continually thinks up new names for her (tonight it was "Chrisssy" and "little girlie") and Chloe's favorite time with Christin is waking her up in her crib when it's time for Christin to eat. She'll run in and climb up the sides to lean over and gleefully shout to Christin, "Awake, Kiss-tin! Awake!" We reserve this activity for when Mommy is also going into Christin's room so that Chloe doesn't get overexcited and scare Christin too much!
It's the big news this week, but the growing doesn't stop with her sitting up skills! Before I know it, Christin will be starting to crawl. But I hope she waits a few months for that. I'm not ready for such a mobile baby quite yet!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Verbatim, Part 2

"God, Thank you, my mommy, my daddy, my ayi, my blankie, my Peter. Amen."


Remember her constant "where's Peter?" of a few weeks ago? Well, I guess he has made his way into her heart for good. He is now "hers" whether he likes it or not!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Famous Last Words

"You'll hear from me early next week." Um, right. Guess I have to eat my words on that one!

This week came in with John's happy and safe homecoming, (Whew! It's good to have Daddy home again!) and is going out with a flurry of activity. Tomorrow is a big day for me since I will be teaching a class on housekeeping. Yes, that's right, housekeeping.

The issue came up among some of my women friends here who have never really been taught the art of housekeeping. Instead, from a very early age, they have been told, "Study! Study! Just study! Get good grades! Test well on exams! Study, study, study!" Many women who do finally test well and beat the odds to attend university end up suddenly moving out on their own with very few life skills. Washing clothing, keeping their rooms clean and organized, managing their money . . . many young women are just completely inexperienced in these areas.

I am happy to say now what I complained about as a young woman: my mother was very diligent about teaching me the arts of homemaking. She consistently taught me not just what to do, but how to look ahead at what would need to be done, not just how to do things but why to do them. My mom had great methods of keeping house that made sense and now I find myself passing on her requirements to my house helper! I have also already started working with Clara Anne and Chloe on basic things like putting toys away neatly, learning to put their dirty clothes in the hamper themselves, straightening their clothes drawers, etc. It's just as easy to put things away and do things well as it is to throw things on the floor where you have to pick them up later, or end up tripping on them, or whatever! As well, my girls are already learning that it is more fun to play with things that are organized and sorted well. If we want to get out the tea set, but half of it is missing or scattered under the bed, it's not so fun. But when we want to play with the tea set and everything is in the basket where we usually store it, we can sit down and play, having a good time right away without having to search for things. And that's just one example!

My mom's methods and requirements didn't always sit so well with me, however. I can remember one distinct conversation where I was airing my grievances (read: complaining) about having to do yet more laundry, while my brothers got off scot-free with no laundry chores to speak of. "Mom, why don't they have to help? And I already know how to do laundry, I've done it a thousand times!" Her response was clear, "Well, Rachel, you will be running a household some day and they will not. It's good practice for you."

Well, Mom, you were right. Now I actually really enjoy the tasks of keeping our house clean and organized, finding that it makes our home more comfortable and usable. I also now see more and more scriptural principles to apply in this area. In fact, the title of my class is: "Keepers of the Home: A b i b l i c a l Approach to Housekeeping."

So tomorrow night about 15 friends will be arriving, ready to hear what I have to say (in the local language, too yet)! Oh my, talk about out of my comfort zone! But addressing this topic is meeting a real need and I am excited to do it.

Lots of other news and pictures to share, but they'll have to wait until next time, since the night is already getting late! By the way, the meeting is happening at our house tomorrow night--partially because I have a feeling that everyone wants to actually see if I practice what I preach! No pressure there, ha ha!

Monday, September 29, 2008

A note to say . . .

John is leaving for a meeting today, and will be gone all week. He returns late next Saturday night and so we will miss him dearly while he's gone! I'll especially miss him when Christin needs to be fed at the same time as Chloe needs help in the bathroom at the same time as Clara Anne can't find her favorite doll at the same time that Lou wants to ask me what she needs to buy at the market at the same time as my phone is ringing. You get the idea! Seriously, though, we'll miss him and pray that he will return to us, safe and sound, next weekend.

The good news is that we are getting a new computer on this trip! The bad news is that John has to take our old computer with him so that a friend there can help him transfer the data from the old to the new. The good news is that when he returns, I'll have my own computer! (Our present one). The bad news is that I'll be without a computer this whole next week.

However, I'm sure I'll survive! I have several great books on my bedside table, waiting patiently for me, as well as some other projects to work on. And, without John here, I may want to just fall in bed at night at the same time as the girls anyway!

So have a great week everybody! You'll hear from me again early next week.

Monday, September 22, 2008

An Adventurous Outing

Last week there was a holiday in our country, so everyone had three days off. Our neighbors thought it would be fun to take us on an outing to the countryside, south of our city, to celebrate the holiday and spend some time together. They offered to arrange transportation and since we have been wanting to get to know them more, we gladly agreed.

Now, an outing in this country usually is an all-day affair where you as a foreigner are never quite sure what might happen to you. In past experiences, people that I know have been in various . . . ahem. . . interesting situations where they were served cicadas, had children that fell into a stream, got taken in a rattletrap vehicle deep into the countryside and eventually had to beg a ride home off a stranger, you know, things like that. I myself have been on some interesting "outings." But, for the sake of adventure (and relationships with our neighbors) we were glad to go. I had packed the bag for the day with tons of wipes and plenty of snacks in preparation for any eventualities.

The actual adventure started the night before, when Clara Anne got sick. She had had a cough with excess mucus that was bothering her, and that night (a Sunday) she kept waking up with this terrible deep cough that was causing her to gag on the yucky stuff and want to throw it up. We put her on the chaise lounger in our room to sleep and she was awake probably every 30-45 minutes, all night long until the early morning where she only woke up once an hour or so. I think I can safely say that in my mothering career, that night set the record for the most times I have ever been up in one single night. So by morning, I wasn't feeling rested, to say the least, but Clara Anne seemed better and like she still wanted to go on our special trip.

We got ready and our next big surprise came in the transportation. Our neighbors had intended to get one big car for us to use, but it fell through somehow and so suddenly we found ourselves being escorted in our neighbors' friends' car, with the friend (whom we had never met) driving, and just our family with him. So much for spending time with our neighbors! Oh well!

Clara Anne had several times of needing to cough and "throw up" on the way there, but nothing that I couldn't manage just with a tissue for her to spit into. Not ideal, but not terrible either. But then she started to moan, saying that she had to throw up again, and even as I prepared the tissues in my cupped hand, she lost her whole breakfast all over the seat, the open bag that I had so carefully packed, her clothes, the stuff in the bag, you name it! I think she just got some motion sickness and couldn't fight it. Argh! Not a fun start to the day!

We had to stop the car to clean up a bit, and after using about 20 wipes and as many tissues we were ready to go again. Thankfully, we were almost there. Our neighbors took us to a park, of sorts, set in the mountains south of our city, that was "dedicated" to several minority groups that live in this country. For example, entering a particular area would show you a certain minority group with their handicrafts laid out, some people from that group wearing their traditional dress, and then the people would put on a small show for us. The concept was a bit odd--like a minority group people zoo or something. But we went along with it . . .

Here's a few pictures from the day. In this one my neighbor is filling me in on all the history of what I'm seeing. (Like our matching hats? They were a gift from the driver-friend!) Christin found it all just mildly interesting and decided to take a nap instead.

This picture is of the Wa minority group. They did some pretty vigorous dancing that involved a lot of tossing of their long hair.
This man, from the Miao people group, climbed this pole whose steps were made of swords. He performed some acrobatic stunts along the way.

These men were from a neighboring province and danced in their traditional costumes while beating on the drums at their waists.

We got a beautiful blue-sky day for our outing. Wow, I sure appreciate blue sky much more now than I ever did in the States!

A family picture near the entrance to the park.

Lou with Chloe. All the grandmothers in the crowd kept giving Chloe snacks, which she happily kept eating!

My neighbor, her son, Clara Anne and I (and Christin) enjoying the time together.

We then went to eat lunch at a true "Family Style" restaurant. This place was set way out in the countryside, with a small cement platform literally next to a small lake. People were fishing and then having the fish cooked by the restaurant for their lunches. All of the vegetables and meat served were raised by that family. The food tasted so amazingly fresh--different even from the vegetables that we get fresh daily in the city. We sat on small foldable stools next to low tables and enjoyed a delicious lunch.

Clara Anne and my neighbor. After lunch we headed back home again (I was surprised! Usually an "outing" lasts much longer!) and so we all arrived home about 3:30pm. It was a nice day and I am glad that we had the opportunity. The beautiful scenery was a real highlight!

Around the House

Tonight for your viewing pleasure, here are some recent pictures of domestic tranquility . . . of course, who ever is taking pictures when there isn't tranquility? I usually don't get out the camera when my children are fighting over who gets the plastic lemon!

Anyway, enjoy!
Ready for bed . . . Clara Anne with her new princess jammies on, Chloe with the farmer look (shirt pulled up over her belly), and both of them with clean teeth and bright smiles!
The girls' favorite snack lately has been frozen grapes. The small seedless green grapes are in season now, just ending actually, and we have bought lots and frozen them to eat as a healthy snack. They are tasty! Here they're eating their grapes while Christin settles for eating her fingers.
Clara Anne and Chloe really do a good job of entertaining Christin. Fun times hanging out on the couch! Chloe gives me her cheesy smile wearing her "dancing" dress--whenever we play music in the house (pretty much every day) the girls want to put on their dresses and dance around. Usually no one is injured in the process!

Here's my helper, Lou, doing some work in the kitchen. It is the perfect size for one person! Everything is easily accessible. I love having real countertops and the luxury of the hot water in my tap has not worn off yet! (Yes, Lou is wearing my old Starbucks apron. It's gotten a lot of use!)

September 12 was a big day for Christin--she started eating some rice cereal! I had noticed that she seemed to be hungry still after feedings; instead of looking up at me and smiling she started squawking at me after she was done nursing. So I began her on rice cereal and now she is happily eating three servings a day. She prefers it mixed with mama's milk but can be convinced to eat it mixed with water. She's really improved in her sitting skills with all the practice time in the high chair! I love her little toes held straight out in this photo.

And, if the rice cereal doesn't fill you up, just try gnawing on a plastic bib for awhile! So satisfying!