Thursday, March 27, 2008

Week 37!

For all of you out there keeping track (I know, probably just me and maybe my mother, too!), week 37 has begun! I was a little alarmed last weekend, when John was away, to find that the "Braxton Hicks" contractions I was having were coming regularly about every 10-12 minutes for a period of several hours Friday afternoon and evening. I called my friend Rachel and said, "What should be my plan?" At the time I was feeling really uncomfortable and was helping the girls eat supper, though I wasn't hungry at all. She very calmly said, "Ok, get your girls in bed, lie down, drink lots of water, time your contractions, and call me in an hour." I followed her advice and though the contractions continued, they did not intensify and I was able to go to sleep (a sure sign of pre-labor, not real labor) about 11pm.

Thankfully John was coming home the next day and so we discussed things. These prelabor contractions are so typical for the way my previous two labors have gone that I really shouldn't have been surprised. With Clara Anne, they started right on my due date and I thought I was really going into labor! To my surprise, she wasn't born until 5 days later! With Chloe, they started about 2 weeks before she was born (particularly noticeable on our daily walks to Starbucks from our apartment there in Thailand), and at first we were all excited, thinking she would come early. Nope, two weeks later, after many many prelabor contractions, found me complaining to John one afternoon, "I am so sick and tired of these prelabor contractions! They are starting to really hurt, and I just know this is going to go on for another week!" The pain factor should have been my first clue. Sure enough, she was born about 10 hours later.

However, these contractions have been more regular and frequent, and begun much earlier, than either of my previous experiences. Suddenly our plan to arrive in the birth city a scant two weeks before my due date was looking a bit risky. So, we've changed our plans and will now be leaving for that beautiful seaside city next Monday, a week earlier than originally planned.

John put me on mock bedrest this week in order to help me deal with the contractions and life as well. We've eaten a little simpler meals, I've been forbidden to take the girls out by myself, and John won the "Sensitive Husband Award" by suggesting that I get several massages this week. I think we're going to make it until next Monday! The contractions are still present but I haven't bothered to time them; in fact I'm trying my best to ignore them. Now I know from experience--real contractions will not allow you to ignore them! So as long as I can put it out of my mind, it helps a lot.

We were glad to have this one final week to wrap things up at home here--in fact, several big issues have made significant progress. The most exciting is that we have signed an agreement on a new apartment and will hopefully take possesion on May 1st! It needs some renovations so we do not plan to move in immediately (and with a new baby I will probably not be ready to pack immediately), but maybe by June 1st or so we'll be ready to move. Ahhh. . . ready to move to a bit bigger space . . . with an elevator . . . and hot water . . . and a bathtub . . . yippee! The new apartment is in a nice complex with lovely landscaping and places for the girls to play outside, which we don't have right now. We are excited about it!

As well, major progress is being made with Chloe and her potty training this week! She is now getting very skilled at releasing almost as soon as she sits down on the potty, without trying to stand up or cry about it--two of her previously most distressing problems. She has even shown some great initiative in taking herself to the potty several times in the past few days. I am so thankful for this, since we are about to be in a lot of transition and I wanted her to make as much progress as possible while we were still home. PTL for small miracles!

So we'll see what next week brings. Exciting times are just around the corner!

The Heat is . . . Off

Anyone else remember that corny song from the 80s, "The Heat is On"? I have kind of a vague memory of it and am not really sure what the song was supposed to be about, but anyway that has not been the case at our house anymore since last week.

You may remember that we have government controlled steam heat, which is turned on for the whole city at a certain date in the fall, and then turned off at a certain date in the spring. Many times in the winter, if the weather is mild, the heat inside our house would be oppressive and so we'd be walking around in t-shirts and shorts. Our lovely down comforter was sadly just too warm for most of the winter. We'd have to open the windows occasionally just to keep from roasting! I'm not complaining, though, since I would rather be too warm than too cold.

Now we're experiencing the flip side. The heat was turned off last week and the difference in our house is noticeable. Suddenly even John (who is rarely cold) was asking for more of the comforter at night. My girls stopped playing dress up in their swimsuits and Clara Anne asked for me to heat up her apple juice this morning at breakfast.

So, we'll probably have a week or two more of feeling a little chilly inside, and then the weather will catch up. It's been lovely springtime here--the redbuds and dogwoods are in bloom in various places around the city, the trees are sprouting new leaves, and a lovely white flowering tree right outside my kitchen window (we live on the fourth floor so sort of look down on the tree) has had more and more blossoms each day. Happy Springtime! I'm thankful for the cycle of seasons!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

White Chocolate Cheesecake!

Recently it was my turn to host our weekly gathering of foreigners, providing the perfect opportunity to make my first-ever cheesecake. It was always something on my list of things I wanted to try, but seemed a bit mysterious, not to mention expensive. The mystique of things like springform pans, paddle vs. whisk vs. food processor, etc, made me think twice every time I thought about giving it a shot.

But recently the situation changed. First, our import store started carrying a fairly inexpensive brand of cream cheese, sold in bulk. I have this great product in my refrigerator at the moment. Second, my friend Rachel gave me her Williams Sonoma Baking cookbook which had several luscious looking cheesecake recipes in it, all of which required using a food processor, which I also have. Third, I was given a springform pan from some dear friends in Iowa last Christmas. It got slightly bent in the shipping but some careful bending on my part restored it to its lovely round shape.
So it seemed like now was as good a time as any to give it a try. I followed the recipe to a T, and it did not disappoint! I decided to make a white chocolate cheesecake, since it only required one pound of cream cheese (as opposed to some of the plainer versions which needed 2 pounds!) and I thought that would be cheaper. On that point, however, I was wrong. It needed 10 oz (2 cups) of white chocolate and that really added up! Note to self for next time . . . the versions with more cream cheese would have actually been less expensive. Oh well, when you're making cheesecake you can't quibble over the price!
The cheesecake turned out beautifully, creamy and rich with a subtle white chocolate flavor. The fresh strawberries on top were just for fun, but added to the whole experience. Everyone seemed to enjoy it--even my husband, who isn't a huge fan of sweets. Clara Anne ate the crust and the strawberries, but Chloe enjoyed the cake part as well.
I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't take forever to make--of course Lou helped me and did all the dishes afterwards, but still it was not as time-consuming as I expected. I was also happy to find that the flavors intensified by the third day; I actually ate the last sliver for breakfast on Sunday (it was made on Friday) with a cup of Decaf Verona and it was like a mini-vacation, there at my breakfast table. Yum! Sorry you weren't all here for it, but enjoy the pictures of my first cheesecake attempt!

Happy Birthday, Dear Lou!

Today, (only two weeks late!), we had a great birthday celebration at our house for our helper, Lou. It was fun to do a little something special for her, after all that she does for us, day after day! The girls enjoyed singing "Happy Birthday" in English and Asianese to start the day. We had a special lunch of homemade pizza and chocolate cake (Lou's first time to make the pizza entirely by herself) and we all shared something at the lunch table that we like or appreciate about Lou. I didn't give her a card or a gift, but did send her home with more cake to share with her friends, and a hug from me to tell her again how much she means to our family. A simple birthday celebration--yet she had tears in her eyes at the end of the day and said it was the most meaningful birthday celebration she's ever had! I didn't know whether that should make me happy or sad for her! I told her she shouldn't feel like we treat her TOO well, since we let her do a lot of the work and all of the cleanup as well :).

Anyway, I wanted to share some birthday pictures with you all. Lou turned 30 this year, but like most Asianese women, her age is hard to guess just by looking. She's a young-looking 30, I think!

Happy Birthday, Lou! We appreciate you!


Sorry about the formatting on the last post. I couldn't figure out how to change it!

Potty Training, Take 2

Over the last couple of weeks, Chloe has been exhibiting some strange signs whenever we try to change her diaper. She began to seem really scared of the whole process, and would cry inconsolably until the changing was over. At first, we just thought that she was a bit afraid of the height of her changing table, so we started changing her on the sofa or other places. But the crying persisted, and in fact got steadily worse. She just became unreasonably upset nearly every time we needed to change her diaper.

As John and I were racking our brains to think of what could possibly be the matter, the most plausible solution we came up with was this: since Chloe had already experienced some potty training, she knew that she should not make her panties wet/dirty. But, since she wasn't wearing panties, only diapers, she wasn't sure what to do and felt a bit uncertain. She then got used to releasing in her diapers again, kind of forgetting about it, but whenever we changed her diapers she was reminded of her uncertainty and fears that she didn't do the right thing.

Timing-wise, this is a terrible time to start potty-training again. My "window of opportunity" had passed and now we are only a few weeks away from traveling for the new baby, this last week was unusually busy for John and we had several extra activities, and I'm definitely not at the peak of my energy being so pregnant! [For those of you who are counting, I'll be 35 weeks complete tomorrow!!! I am starting the 36th week!]

However, despite the timing issues, John and I were both starting to feel that even if the potty training was a more involved process, we were worried that having Chloe continue in diapers was really going to confuse her. Sunday evening, I said to Chloe, "Ok, let's go get your jammies on," (no mention of diapers at all, though she knew that we always change her diaper before bed), and she absolutely flipped out--screamed in terror, ran from the room and tried to hide behind the couch. No amount of hugs, comfort items, or soothing talk could help her calm down until the diaper business was over. So this put me over the edge--we decided late Sunday night that I would start potty-training her again.

The last two days have gone well--yesterday she was 1 for 7 on the potty (and the victory came late in the day, just as an encouragement to me, I think!), and today she was 3 for 4. Progress is being made! I think we're in it now for the long haul--we won't stop again. It still upsets her to pee on the potty, for some reason, but I am seeing some progress there as well. We do have almost three weeks before we travel for the new baby, so we'll hope that she can really get into a good habit between now and then. Keep up the good work, Chloe!

Addendum . . .

Tonight as Clara Anne was taking a bath, I heard her in there singing at the top of her lungs. It was her own words and her own melody, and had something to do with "God has filled my heart with love, and He died for my sins, so now I can be nice to Chloe . . . ". There was much more, but some of it made no sense (not to me, anyway), but I appreciated her creativity and entertaining herself for about 45 minutes in the bath!

One final quote that I forgot to include last time came a few days after our lovely Easter egg hunt organized solely by my friend Rachel. (More about that in another post!) The girls have had a wonderful time playing with their baskets, and Clara Anne came in to the kitchen where I was working, holding her basket which contained one of her dolls. "Mommy, look, I'm going to put my baby in the river!" For a moment I couldn't imagine what she could be talking about. The Yellow River? The Mississippi River? So I asked, "Which river, Clara Anne?" She looked at me as if I was truly a bit behind the times and said, "The Nile River, Mommy!" as if to say, of course! Which other river could it possibly be?!

Let's just hope that once the new baby is born Clara Anne will not attempt to put her in a basket and send her down the river!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Clara Anne Quotables

It sometimes amazes me the progress that Clara Anne has made in speaking what she really thinks. She is able to express herself so well! (Of course, there are downsides to that as well . . . ) But here's a few recent quotations, before I forget them all!

"Mommy, that jacket is too small for your baby." Observed when watching me trying to zip up my spring jacket past my very large belly.

"Here, Chloe, here is some wine. You can drink it and remember me." While playing with cups in the bathtub, I think some ideas about the Lord's supper got mixed up with the bath water!

"Oh no! Mommy, Chloe bent this card, and I'm sorry to say, now I can't fix it." Can you guess who else in our house uses the expression "I'm sorry to say"?

"Mommy, I'm hungry. Is it almost breakfast time? Maybe I could have some hello dollies and some cake!" After a nap; just listen to that sweet tooth talking!

"When Jesus died, that made me very upset." After watching a brief children's video about Easter.

"Mommy, I don't like it when my hair keeps falling in my eyes. Can you comb my hair today? I better put some clips in my hair, Mommy!" This was a first! Usually the hair-combing is a battle.

"More hello dollies, please!" My first attempt at making this yummy treat this week met with rave reviews from the whole family!

Then of course, there are the lines that I'd like to forget, like "I don't want to" and "but, Mommy," although we do try to minimize those occurrences. Generally, it really is fun to see Clara Anne acquiring more and more language, and especially growing in her ability to learn Asianese and memorize Scripture, both important! Hope you enjoyed these quotes from Clara Anne!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Could I be any more embarassed?

In case you needed a laugh today (and I needed some humbling . . . ), here's two recent incidents from my life:

On Wednesday I was talking with my house helper and she mentioned that she was only two and a half years younger than me, since she has already celebrated her birthday this year. It came to me in a flash . . . oh no, her birthday! I totally forgot her birthday! "Was it yesterday?" I asked, knowing that it was on a Tuesday. No, in fact, it was last week Tuesday . . . the day that John and I were gone all day! So not only did I ask her to work about 14 hours on her birthday, she spent her birthday supervising children (a first for her) and English-speaking children at that! Oh dear, I felt so badly. So at my insistence, we have now designated next Tuesday as her birthday and we'll have a special lunch and a birthday cake. SO sorry, Lou!

The other incident occurred in the same conversation, if you can believe it. Lou was asking me about some deeper questions and as I talked with her I kept on referencing Paul's writings in the Bible. The only problem was, I kept pronouncing his name "bwoh-lwoh" instead of "bow-lwoh", calling him "pineapple" instead of "Paul"! Ooops. So, let's see, how many years have I been speaking this language??! There's always more to learn!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Flashback: Fun with Rice

I was sorting through some digital pictures today and ran across these gems. [By the way, does anyone else have a hard time keeping up with their digital pictures? I used to have a method of downloading them onto our computer, sorted by date, and then after a period of time, burning them onto CDs so as to have external record of them in case our computer ever crashed, but I'm about a year behind. Is there a better way? Help, anyone?!]

A few months ago, before our trip down south, it was my turn to host the playdate with Clara Anne and Chloe's friends Emma and Samantha. One of the activities that we did was supposed to help them understand the concept of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and 1 whole. I had a large container of raw rice and four baby food jars with the measurements marked around them with rubber bands. We then were going to fill our baby food jars up to the measurements and talk about the difference between them; i.e. is 1/2 more or less than 1/4? Well, that was the idea anyway.

The girls immediately had a great time putting their hands into the rice and using small cups and funnels to pour it into the jars. Invariably (I expected this) some rice was spilled. They didn't care whatsoever about the measurement markings on the jars, they were just totally enthralled with the feel of the rice, the fun sounds it made as it filled up the jars, and then the especially fun sounds it made as it hit the floor.

Knowing that only more and more rice would end up on the floor, we didn't really make any effort to sweep up as the activity was going on. But occasionally as the girls would fill their jars we would pour it back into the bowl; they seemed to not even notice and just kept on busily filling the jars. A few times we swept the rice that spilled on the table back into the bowl as well, but sort of early on we gave up the "floor rice" as a lost cause.

As time went on there became even less of an effort to keep the rice in the jars, in the bowls, or even on the table. One child (I can't remember who) asked to take off their socks and walk around on the rice-y floor. The rest, of course, had to follow suit, and then pretty soon there was a general desire (among the children!) to take off shirts and pants as well. The rice became sand on the seashore and the girls rolled around in it, tossed it in the air, got it into every nook and cranny, laughed and laughed, and just generally had a splendid time, as these pictures will attest.

So there you go--the next time your kids are bored, try playing with some raw rice! Next on our plans? I heard someone say something about flour . . .

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Quick Trip and a Settled Peace

Many of you know that John and I had been seriously considering arranging for the birth of our third daughter here in our Asian country. Typically, we would fly out to Thailand for this birth, but we felt that going so far away, and needing to be gone so long, would really be a detriment to our work and family life this spring. The rule on the airline we use is that a pregnant woman cannot fly past 36 weeks, and so we would have had to leave a month before my due date, putting us in Thailand with basically nothing to do but wait for the baby. Then after the baby is born, we would need to apply for her paperwork (birth certificate, passport, and visa) before we could travel again--probably another 3-4 weeks.

The idea of packing up and moving our whole family for two months did not sound very fun, especially since a lot of that time would just be somewhat aimless waiting. (Of course there are ways to redeem the time, but being away from our work and in a totally different culture and using a different language makes us feel even further away from where we are called.) As well, since everything went so well with Clara Anne and Chloe's births, and this pregnancy has proceeded normally with nothing unusual, the "giving birth in country" option was looking better and better.

I also felt relieved that I was able to get such a thorough check-up in Hong Kong just a few weeks ago. If there had been anything, even a small thing, that looked suspicious with the baby (like evidence of a slight heart murmur or a cleft lip or something), we would have immediately changed our delivery plans. But thankfully, the baby looks to be very healthy, active, and a good size--no forseeable problems whatsoever.

But then, last Friday happened. Last Friday was the day that I took Chloe in for her brief visit to the doctor, getting her urine checked etc. My experience at the hospital was less than ideal--a doctor who seemed like she was bored with it all and would rather have been anywhere else, a waiting area with kids peeing on the floor, the cleaning ladies swishing dirty water around in pointless effort, and in general, a very dismal and depressing place.

While we were waiting the girls were eating some raisins and Clara Anne dropped one on the floor. "DON'T touch that!" I practically leapt up to prevent her from picking it up and eating it off that very unsanitary floor. I tried to keep them from touching anything, actually, since it just gave me the shivers to think about what germs were floating around there.

That experience really made me wonder, "what in the world am I doing planning to give birth to a baby in a place like this!" True, the hospital we would go to is affilated with an International Clinic, with (hopefully) more international standards of cleanliness, but I started to think again about all of the unknowns in this situation. Nursing care in this country is almost non-existent (usually families hire a helper or stay themselves with a loved one in order to help the patient to the bathroom, provide meals for the patient, etc) and so I found myself thinking about basic questions like "who will check me to see if I'm fully dilated?" and "Will there be someone to bathe the baby after she is born?" And, I admit it, I started to worry a little bit.

Enter John. He encouraged me to sit down with him last Sunday evening and organize our birth plan, as well as talk through all of the questions that still remained about giving birth in this very different culture. We came up with a list of probably 50 questions that we wanted to ask the doctor, whom we had met briefly once. Topping the list was "So can you get special permission for John to be with me during the entire labor and deliver?" as well as "What do you think will necessitate a C-section?" [My helper estimated that 90-95% of women in this country have c-sections, which I truly want to avoid if at all possible.]

We then realized that if things didn't, in fact, work out in this neighboring city with the International Clinic, we would have little time to plan a trip to Thailand unless we did it soon. (I'm already 33 weeks!) So on Sunday night we made some plans, on Monday morning we made some calls and bought train tickets, and on Tuesday we made the trip! The city is nearby, 2.5 hours by a fast train, and so we took the train there in the morning, had lunch with a friend who lives there, and met the doctor at 2pm. We were finished at the hospital at 3:30 and had time for a brief stop at Starbucks and McDonald's for some early supper, then were back on the train again at 5pm and home by 8. Amazing!

What was the result, you say? Well, everything went VERY well at the hospital. The main factor in our favor is that the doctor is very excited about having me, the foreigner, give birth under her care, and so she did numerous things throughout the time we were with her to show that. She introduced me to the head of the department, she got me in to see the labor and delivery rooms which are normally off-limits; she took me to a private place to do a brief exam of the baby (usually everyone stands in line and then crowds around in one room during examinations--no privacy at all), and best of all, she basically agreed to everything we had on our birth plan. There were only a few small sticking points and they weren't the essentials.

I think it really helped that this is my third baby. John did a lot of the talking/negotiating, and he kept saying "well, in the first two births it was like this . . . " and so we have experience on our side. It also helped that this doctor is very interested in western ways, and really wanted to accomodate us wherever she could. She had worked with some western doctors before and so I think she sees this as a great opportunity to actually help someone give birth "the western way."

All this to say that we left the hospital feeling very encouraged and with a settled peace that this is where we are supposed to go for the birth of our daughter. Many other factors worked out as well, such as our friend in that city arranging a business trip so that we could stay in his apartment rather than live in a hotel. The neighborhood where he and his wife live is very convenient for shopping and getting around, which is an added plus. Also, we are planning to take Lou, our helper, with us for the three weeks or so that we'll be gone. She'll stay in a cheap hotel nearby, and be available to cook lunch each day, clean, and watch the girls occasionally, all things that get harder and harder for a very pregnant mama to do! This nearby city is on the coast, so we can take long walks down by the sea and of course, visit Starbucks frequently! We will be able to function in Asianese, we won't need to travel internationally, and all in all, I think it's going to be a great situation.

So we returned home Tuesday evening (Lou had stayed with our girls all day) to find that (in John's words), our trip was smashingly successful whereas the girls' day at home was just . . . smashing. They had not behaved terribly well for Lou--didn't take naps, fought over toys, Clara Anne colored on the wall with a marker, they ate practically every snack available in the house (the final count was 9 containers of yogurt and 7 individual boxes of raisins), and Chloe got a huge purple goose egg on her forehead from running into a doorway while chasing Clara Anne who had snatched her toy.

BUT, on the flip side, everyone was alive, Lou was glad when I said she didn't have to come in until 11 the next morning, and Clara Anne got plenty of consequences for her misbehavior. If you remember, Lou is single and really hadn't had much exposure to kids until she started working for me. We had worked her into watching the girls slowly, an hour here or an hour there, but Tuesday was definitely a test for her! All day . . . and I'm sorry to say that I think Clara Anne took advantage of the fact that we were gone and so was somewhat manipulative and naughty. The language barrier doesn't help, but we certainly need to keep working on this with Clara Anne.

All I can say is, it certainly was easier to make Tuesday's trip without carting two small children everywhere! We are thankful for the new high-speed train that makes this journey, previously 5-6 hours, only 2.5, making it possible for us to go there and back in the same day. Now our plan is to travel to this city on April 7 and wait for the baby (due April 23) and then leave fairly soon after the baby is born, as soon as I feel recovered enough to make the short trip.

We are thankful! I feel strangely energetic this week after having the burden of that big decision off my shoulders. Obviously, there are always risks associated with childbirth, but I feel confident and peaceful that we have made the right decision without putting the baby at undue risk.

And if you made it to the end of this very long post, you've done well! Here's a recent pic to enjoy as a reward! It was taken last week when Chloe wasn't feeling so well, but the girls were both enjoying playing the piano "like Mommy" and singing along. Sweet songbirds!

Herself Again

Well, I'm finally logging in today to share the happy news that Chloe is pretty much entirely over her sickness. After consulting with our American doctor online, we ended up getting a urine sample from her and taking her to a local hospital to get that checked as well as her lungs checked. The doctor there thought that Chloe had a bacterial infection in her throat (her tonsils were inflamed and swollen). That diagnosis certainly fit her persistent fever, thirst, and reluctance to eat. Our American doctor thought it might or might not be an actual bacterial infection; he felt the safest route was to put her on a five day treatment of antibiotics to make sure. We started on Sunday and she is really and truly feeling better. It's so good to see her smile again! She's been happily bopping around the house these last days, full of energy and of course, fighting with Clara Anne. But we're happy to have her acting like herself again! This week was too busy to resume the potty training, and John has some important meetings at the beginning of next week, so perhaps later next week we'll try it again. A few more days of diapers won't hurt anybody!

Thanks to all of you who were thinking of Chloe last week. I am thankful for such a gracious answer to prayer!