Sunday, June 28, 2009

What happened to this week?

Seriously, where did it go? Aaaaah, it was a busy one! Wowza. Here's the week in brief review:

Monday: Traveled to a nearby city to visit a friend. Had such a nice time that we stayed too late and missed our bus home. Thankfully the city was truly nearby and so we took a taxi all the way home! The girls passed out cold in the car on the way.

Tuesday: Did 6 loads of laundry. Had a friend over for lunch who had been living in central Asia the past year. Such a great conversation! Spent the afternoon shopping for an oven for a newly-arriving friend. Finally found one in a warehouse way on the other end of town, possibly the last oven in this city of 6 million! Took John's office manager out to eat Korean food for supper since she has put in lots of extra time lately.

Wednesday: Concocted a plan to have a big party for Chloe's birthday, all because we had a bunch of punches left on our card at our local swimming pool that were about to expire. Spent the day calling and inviting friends. 10 xiao pengyous (little friends) coming! Air conditioner broken, with temps over 100. Slept badly.

Thursday: Air conditioner drama. Everybody cranky and hot. We're a bunch of wimps! Temps hit 104! A leak in the bathroom meant we turned the water off. Had a good night of fellowship with girlfriends at a foot massage place. Stayed up talking late with John. Short night again.

Friday: More party plans. More air conditioner drama. More calls about fixing the pipe in the bathroom. Chloe's birthday! More coming on this in another post! Evening was spent helping some friends who had a medical emergency. At the hospital until 1 am, thankfully everything turned out well. Another short night.

Saturday: Air conditioner repairman arrived at 6:30 am! Hallelujah! Flying around getting ready for John's end-of-semester programs, the students' graduation. Went well, but no AC so it was HOT! Then, decorating cake! Getting ready for the party! Taking a two hour nap since I was not thinking straight! (9 hours of sleep in two days tends to do that to me!)

Today: FUN times with all the friends! We went swimming, then came back to our house for homemade pizza and birthday cake. It was great! Made some new friends! Visited our friend in the hospital this afternoon and now we're relaxing this evening. Whew, what a week!

This post was probably boring to everybody except my parents, so forgive me for the lack of thematic structure or excellent writing skills! I have hundreds of pictures, literally, from these past few days, so I will be working on getting them downloaded, edited, and posted. Chloe really had such a fun birthday celebration--stay tuned for pictures!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hmm, what was I saying?

After yesterday's post about our great neighborhood and the neighborly news, I thought you'd find it funny to hear this recent conversation that took place in the neighborhood.

Time & Place: a week ago on Saturday, when I took all of the girls with me to buy vegetables in our alley.

The girls and I had finished shopping and were slowly, very very slowly, headed home. Suddenly a nai nai (neighborhood grandmother) accosted me:

She: "Oh, you went by yourself to buy vegetables! Are those potatoes? Are they fresh?"

Me: "Yes, I bought potatoes. They seemed very fresh."

She: (imperiously) "How much did you pay for those potatoes?"

Me: (with some surprise) "One local dollar per pound." (about 16 cents).

She: (with great indignation) "They cheated you! Look how small those potatoes are!"

Me: " problem!"

She: (even more indignant) "No one pays this much for potatoes! They should only have been 70 local cents per pound, or 80 cents per pound at the most! They knew you were a foreigner and cheated you!"

Me: "It's ok. I don't mind. This is still a good price." (thinking, good grief! In the US I could never buy beautiful new baby potatoes for this cheap!)

She: (with incredulous anger that I am not upset) "You should take them back! Look, these are small, bad potatoes. They just wanted to cheat the foreigner!"

Me: (somewhat hurridly) "Ok. No problem. I will ask them to make it cheaper next time. I must get my children home now. Good-bye!"

HA! I know she had good motives, but my goodness! Not even my husband questions my purchases like that! I guess when it comes to neighbors, you take the good, you take the bad . . . and you never know what you might run into in the alley! At least she didn't start telling me how it was too hot to take the kids outside, etc, etc. Our conversation was limited solely to produce, let us all be thankful for that!

P.S. The potatoes were, as I suspected, absolutely delicious. They were beautiful new potatoes, small, with very thin skin that I didn't need to peel, simply scrubbed well before quartering and boiling for a potato salad. I'm still loving the summer produce!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

News from the Neighborhood

Ever since John and I moved to this country almost five and a half years ago, it has always been a burden on our hearts to get to know our neighbors and share with them. After all, if you live close together, then that should be easy, right?

But it wasn't as easy as we thought. First, as we shared this with a national friend (not a neighbor) during our first year, his immediate response was, "What?! You don't want to get to know your neighbors! They live close to you! They know all of your personal business! They hear your family fights and when you yell at your kids and things like that! It would be embarassing to become friends with them!"

Hmmm. Unfortunately, we discovered that his reaction was shared by lots of people. We made a few efforts, (Christmas parties and such) but at our old apartment complex, mostly filled with retired people, it was pretty tough going. So, we made friends in other places and didn't worry about it too much. We were always friendly, but didn't work too hard to pursue relationships within our small apartment complex.

Things changed when we moved, exactly one year ago today, to our new apartment. This apartment complex has lots and lots of young families, and we were eager to take the girls out to play and make friends. And we have been able to meet several families, but there's almost been the opposite problem--there are so MANY families here that we see different people every time we go out. Add in a new baby and an extremely busy schedule for John in the past year, and we haven't made as many new friends in the neighborhood as we probably could have.

[By the way, just for some context: more people live in our "neighborhood" than live in the town I grew up in! My hometown is about 2800 people, and more than 3000 people live in this apartment complex. That's crazy for an Iowa girl like me!]

However, Father has been at work. I won't go into details, but we have been extremely encouraged by events in the lives of our neighbor who lives directly across the hall, and the neighbor who lives directly above us. The above neighbor and her young daughter came over for lunch this past week and we had a wonderful time. She began to share some difficult events from her life and actually sat and cried on my couch while the girls played together after lunch. I was so amazed--this is unheard of in this culture, especially on a first visit!

We are also seeing how John's business is opening up relationships in the community. On Wednesday evening we were outside, ostensibly to play badminton, but instead got stopped to talk several times--once by a mom who knew me from Clara Anne's previous kindergarten, once by a couple whom we've met several times and are moving here this weekend, and also by a mom who was very interested in having her son study English at John's school. It was actually really exciting to go out after supper to relax for a bit and get to talk to so many friends!

So, moral of the story: Father is so faithful. A desire that He put on our hearts years ago is finally happening! I look forward to the summer (schools here are just getting out in the next week or two) when some of my neighbors will have more time to get together. Great possibilities ahead!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some of My Favorite People

Can I introduce you to a few of my favorite people?

It's not often (in fact I think it's really rare) that siblings, after growing up and getting through all of the teasing, awkwardness, and rivalry issues, turn out to be just really, really great friends. But such is the case with my brother Mark and I. Here's a few highlights of our history together. Let's start at the beginning . . .

As children, Mark was the sweet, non-confrontational, mediating middle child. He didn't want anyone to be unhappy. He often encouraged me not to fight with my mom (something I did rather frequently as a young woman, I'm ashamed to say). He was also concerned about equality. How many pieces of pizza came in the box? How many does each person get to eat? Who had a larger portion of Cheerios? Whose ice cream had more chocolate sauce on it? These were things Mark thought carefully about. A favorite refrain from my childhood: "Dan, don't eat it all!" (Since our oldest brother, Dan, was in fact liable to eat it all.)

Then we grew up. Highschool and college were fun with Mark because we shared a year together--my freshman and his senior. I almost idolized my older brothers and even broke up with a boyfriend once because Mark and Dan didn't like him! Thankfully, they liked John--his goofy sense of humor, athletic interests, and love of the Lord were all things that Mark and Dan shared and could relate to.

After John and I were married, we had a small apartment that had a second room that worked perfectly for Mark to live with us for a school year. He was saving money, dating a wonderful girl that we loved, and during that year they became engaged! I couldn't have been happier with his choice of my dear sister-in-law, Beth. We have very similar personalities and interests, and really conect well together!

The following year, Mark and Beth made their first home in an apartment just a floor above ours, literally only about 15 steps away. That was to be the only year we lived close to each other, but it was wonderful! We often were able to spend time together, sharing meals, watching the Vikings and Twins on TV, and playing our own versions of football and bocce ball in the backyard. Beth and I did a Bible study together that year as well. All these things really cemented our friendship and though we were all busy with our various schedules, it was still such a blessing to live so close to one another.

Now, obviously, we do NOT live close to one another. But Mark and Beth are the kind of friends that (and I hope you have a friend or two like this) we can see each other after a long absence and it is as if no time has passed. There is no relational distance, we can be in a close and deep conversation within moments. There may be lots of things to catch up on, but our hearts are still knit together. I truly praise the Lord for His work in giving Mark and I such a strong relationship. For those of you who know that we lost our brother Dan to cancer in 2003, this also really drew Mark and I closer together. I feel sort of protective of our relationship now, even more so than before, since he is the only brother I have left.

All of this to say, it was so wonderfully exciting to get to see Mark and Beth and their girls when I was back in the States! They took time from a busy schedule to drive down and spend some time at my mom and dad's. It was a huge blessing! We stayed up way too late every night talking, but it was so worth it! I felt like I was smiling the whole time they were there.

Lunch on the deck on a beautiful sunny day!
I snapped this photo and warned Mark, "Hey, that's going on my screensaver!" That grin looks like he's about to eat the last of the Oreo Cookie Dessert!

Marin and Annika are about 15 months older than Clara Anne and 2 months younger than Clara Anne, respectively. They are sweet, sweet girls! I am so excited for all five girls to get to play together next year when our whole family is (briefly) back in the States.

So great to be together!

I needed a few extra hugs that week since I was missing them from my own girls! Marin and Annika happily obliged.

Thank you for your deep and abiding friendship, Mark and Beth. You are precious to me, and I rejoice in the Lord's plan of putting us in the same family and giving us such a great gift of a great relationship. We love you!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Need a Laugh Today?

My helper, Lou, brought home this pasta from the store the other day. She had called me excitedly from the store, saying that she had found "Italian noodles" for really cheap and did I want some? Sure, I said. When I took a look at the package, I just had to laugh! First of all, it's obviously a badly-done imposter. It says "Macaroni" but clearly, is not macaroni.

However, it is, without a doubt, the best leisure food! Even better: "We like the new taste. We need the quality and we need the best food. Here you will find what you want. Cool fashion and cool taste. Give you the minerable feeling."

Oh, YES! I was afraid I had "lost that minerable feeling." Now all of my problems are solved! All because of some leisure food that cost me $.50. Thanks Lou!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Has Anyone Noticed . . .

That my girls seem to always be wearing their "jammy dresses" in every photo?

Hmmm. I thought so.

It's just not worth the battle to me. We DO get dressed in the morning (in fact I am enjoying getting dressed since I was able to purchase some new-to-me clothing in the States and actually now have some things I am happy to wear that fit me well), but if the girls want to wear their jammies at naptime, I let them. And if they don't manage to get dressed again between naps and supper/bedtime routine because we don't have to go anywhere and no one is coming over, that's fine with me too.

What isn't fine with me is the other habit they tend to fall into: "let's-change-our-clothes-15-times-every-day-and-leave-the-old-ones-on-the-floor" routine. Argh. We're working on that.

I guess someday they'll have to "grow up" and wear something different each day, keeping it on all day. But for now, enjoy the blue Disney jammy dress that is Clara Anne's favorite, and the pink fairy ruffled sleeve jammy dress that is Chloe's favorite; "the one that you buy'd for me in 'Merica" according to Chloe. All too soon, these clothes will be too small, and all I'll have left are the photos of the girls, happily cavorting in their jammy dresses, in every photo.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Climbing on Daddy is an Olympic Sport

At least, according to my girls, it is. I think they could take some medals, don't you think?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer's Bountiful Fruit!

With the heat rising in our city (it's been 90-100 degrees in the last few days!), summer's bounty of fruit is available everywhere. Small vendors set up carts on the sides of the street, at busy intersections, outside the bus and train stations, trying to sell their fruit before it spoils. Watermelon vendors come in from the countryside early in the morning with their pickup beds full of watermelons, wrapped in blankets (to protect the fruit amidst lots of jostling). The price of watermelon will continue to drop as the summer goes on. Usually it falls so low that people literally buy a watermelon and eat it rather than drink water--it's a better value!

The abundance and variety of the fruit available is mouth-watering. Today, I did something I rarely do on a Saturday--I took the girls out to buy fruits and vegetables! A long alley leads up to our apartment complex and within the alley are lots of vendors, selling everything from steamed bread to fresh noodles to grilled meat skewers to fresh fruit and vegetables. Usually my helper, Lou, buys the fruit and veggies we need each day on her way to work in the morning. But today, I did it myself!

Saturday is a full day of work for John--it's the day that classes are held at his English training center. And since Lou is off on the weekend, I usually try to have the frig well-stocked by Friday afternoon so I don't have to take all three girls with me to buy stuff. Late last night, though, we made some plans to have a cookout with friends on Sunday, and so suddenly I needed some things. I loaded Christin in the stroller, the girls both took their umbrellas (commonly used here for shade), and we were off!

So, an errand that would have taken me 10 minutes on my bike, alone, took me 1.5 hours with the girls! But we weren't in a hurry. We meandered. We strolled. We looked at things along the way. We stopped at a grassy spot and picked some yellow wildflowers (i.e. flowering weeds). We stopped and talked to some neighbors. A shopworker gave the girls suckers and brought out little stools for them to sit while I went to buy the fruit.

And what fruit there was! Several types of peaches, apricots, cherries, pears, bananas and apples of course, mangos, papayas, watermelon . . . yum yum!

Then, happily enough, there was my favorite fruit ever, in the whole wide world, the mangosteen. Have you met the mangosteen? Let me introduce you . . .

Mangosteens are known throughout South Asia as "The Queen of Fruit" and are prized for their delicate, citrusy flavor. I absolutely love them. The outer rind is hard and thick, but the soft, white, segmented fruit within is such a treat. I was thrilled to see mangosteens appear in our markets last summer on a regular basis. Previously I had only eaten them in Thailand. When we were there for two months having Chloe, John bought me bags and bags of them!

Here is a mangosteen cracked open and ready to eat! Sorry the picture is a bit dark. Delicious!

This year our family has been cherry-eating fools! I have SO enjoyed the fresh Bing cherries this year, partially because here they are reasonably priced and in the States they were always outrageously expensive, or maybe it was just me that could never afford them. Anyway, our whole family loves them, especially Christin. She can put them away! Cherry after ripe cherry, ahh, now that's summer.

My infatuation with the cherry led me to believe that I needed to make a cherry pie from scratch. I had never done it before, but how hard could it be? Thanks to the Pioneer Woman's recipe for "P-P-P-Perfect P-P-Pie Crust", and the Joy of Cooking's Cherry Pie Recipe for the filling, I had fun making this pie! I even decided to do the woven lattice crust! Topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was tasty, tasty, tasty!

What do you think? I was pleased and thankful for a good result on the first try--especially since I had to bring it to a friend's house that night! Since then, I read in the Joy of Cooking how easy it is to freeze fruit pies, so I taught Lou how to make pie crust, and to finish the whole process. Now I have two cherry pies in my freezer, ready to be enjoyed long after cherry season is past!

Clara Anne was pretty excited about the pie too! Isn't God good to have created so many wonderfully delicious foods? We are going to be enjoying all of His bounty as the summer goes on. Hope you are enjoying some summer fruits wherever you are!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

PB&J, Oh Joy!

These last weeks have been really busy around our house! John, especially, has been trying to keep up with a crazy schedule. And I will admit, when I know that he isn't going to make it home for supper, there have been a few times where PB&J ended up on the menu. But no one seems to mind . . . in fact, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are often requested! And they're even better when you accidently smear some on your face. . .

Make your sisters laugh . . .

And just generally spread the joy all around!

Love that PB&J!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Will Play for Food

Our recent trip to the capital city included a long visit to a new-to-us indoor kids' play area. John had read favorable reviews online and so we decided to check it out! It was a bit smaller in size than we expected, but had so many varied activities that the girls were happily occupied for literally hours. Christin totally skipped her afternoon nap and played steadily the entire afternoon. Enjoy the pictures of our new fun find! Christin is standing on a waterbed-type contraption that had "fish" and other sea creatures floating in the bottom. The top plastic was sturdy and could be jumped on like a trampoline!

And here she is, at her new hobby--walking. Literally most of the afternoon she just walked. Walked here, walked there. Turned around, walked here again. Endless fun for a one year old!

This coconut tree was actually a set of swings. Christin was fascinated with mastering the small step up. The great part about this place (and one of their selling points) is that they have a lot of staff wandering around, supervising and playing with the kids. So if I was with one of my girls in one area, there were plenty of people making sure that Christin didn't get bonked in the head if someone else decided to swing!

And there she goes again.

Whoa! Around and around she goes! This is her classic Christin walking pose. One arm up, the other at her waist. You can see it in all three of these walking photos!

Chloe loved this big boat that you could turn on and it would rock on the waves back and forth. John, Clara Anne, and Chloe took several overseas adventures in it together during the afternoon!

There was an entire art room with tables and chairs, markers, crayons, and colored pencils set out, as well as a bead table to make necklaces and bracelets, as well as Clara Anne's delight--fiberglass windows and structures with pots of paint and brushes all ready to go. Every so often someone would come through and clean it off, but children could paint to their heart's delight!

Smocks were ready and waiting to be used as well.

The girls had a wonderful time in this kitchen!

There was an area with simple computer games to play, too. Fun!
Clara Anne loved the water/sea area!
There was also an entire climbing/jungle gym area, a ball pit, and John's special favorite--the doctor's office. He was the doctor in residence for the day and I think solved many a malady. The girls thought it was great!
We finally left after four hours, not because the girls were done playing, but because the day was moving on and supper, baths and bed still had to happen. Fun times were had by all! We'll definitely go back if we have the opportunity!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Bouncing around BJ

We had to take a trip to the capital city last week to renew Clara Anne's passport. Yes, it has almost been five years since her first passport was issued! She has filled it, added extra pages, and almost filled those. Factor in that the photo is of her when she was only a day old, and it was time for a new one. (Not to mention that the U.S. government required us to get a new one!). So we packed up the family and took the fast train to the capital city, spending a few days there and enjoying some great family time!

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that the trip ended up more relaxing and vacation-like than I expected, especially considering that I caught a terrible cold just before we left! We had a wonderful time together as a family, explored several new fun places, and enjoyed some great western food as well.

The first afternoon we were strolling in the area around our hotel, when we found a huge inflatable bounce house set up on the sidewalk. It was free, but you had to go into the adjoining mall to a kid's toy store in order to get tickets to use it.

[Their excellent marketing ploy paid off, by the way. We had no idea there was a toy store there, and it had lots and LOTS of toys imported from America--Legos, Play-Dough, Thomas train stuff, you name it! We ended up buying some play-dough for the girls, and spent a very enjoyable evening with them playing with play-dough and John and I lying on the bed watching the European soccer league! But I digress...]

The girls had a great time in the bounce house. There was climbing . . .
There was jumping . . .

There was laughing . . .

There was trying-to-escape-from-annoying-boys-who-were-chasing-them . . .

And there was sister love.

What more could you ask for?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Getting Acquainted, Part 2

Only 10 days later (ha!), I am finally posting the other pictures of Christin getting acquainted with family members in the States. Sorry for the long wait--Good intentions were met with busy times. Without further ado, take a look at these adorable pics!

The one above is Christin with her Auntie Sarah, John's twin. Christin had never felt grass on her toes before and refused to stand on it. She was happy to sit outside, though, and pick the violets that were growing in my mom's garden! We enjoyed some beautiful weather while we were in Iowa--gorgeous clear skies, green grass, sunshine--ahhhhhh!
Supper on the deck always tastes better than inside at the table. It didn't take long for Christin to figure out that Auntie Sarah had a bowlful of strawberry jello!
Jello mouth!Grandpa and Grandma, and Grandma Ann and Sarah, were delighted that Christin took her first steps while we were in the States! I think it was that lovely, cushy carpet (unknown on our side of the world!) that made her feel comfortable enough to finally strike out on her own! We all enjoyed watching her take tentative steps across my parents' living room floor!My brother Mark and SIL Beth and their girls, Marin and Annika, came to my parents' home to visit as well. I so appreciated them taking the time to visit! Auntie Beth and Christin got to know each other a bit!Fun with Grandma Ann!The Wind ladies posed in the backyard. It was a beautiful day!A little cuddle time before Grandma Ann and Auntie Sarah had to leave.I love this picture. Christin looks perfectly comfortable on Grandpa's lap and is giving her classic Christin look, that sort of knowing smirky look which says "I'm not going to smile for you! I'm keeping my cards close to my vest!"Marin and Annika had such fun walking with Christin! Cousin love!And then, just like that, we are already to the last pictures of Christin with family. The night before we left, I couldn't bear to put Christin to bed. She was happy to walk around and around my parents' living room, hugging her bunny blanket and cuddling with Grandpa and Grandma occasionally. At that point, I figured, who cares about sleep! It was time spent together that really mattered. Above, Grandma and Christin get in some last minute cuddling.

And then, here we are. My flight left at 7am; we wanted to be at the airport by 5:30, with an hour drive time that meant my alarm was set for the very uncivilized hour of 3:45. Wow, the week in America flew by! At the risk of sounding repetitive, I just have to say again how thankful I am that I was able to return, see my Grandma, and let my family get acquainted with Christin. It was only an hour later the morning that I left that my Grandma passed away; I am still marveling at the timing of everything. Truly the Lord had everything worked out perfectly! What a trip!

PS Many people asked me how long it took. . . and the answer is, door-to-door, 28 hours. I left my house at 9am on a Wednesday, arriving at my parent's home at midnight that same day, plus 13 hours of time difference (to my body it felt like 1pm the next day). I took four flights there and four flights back, flying a new route through Seattle on a smaller airline which was cheaper than the bigger airlines. Christin did really well through the traveling and cried very little despite extreme tiredness. We were both glad to be home (in Asia) after that long 28 hours back! So even though that sounds like a long time, on the other hand, think--only 28 hours and I left my house and arrived at my parents', halfway across the world! Times surely have changed from back when people had to take boats that took months to get across the ocean, sometimes not even arriving because of illness without medical care, storms at sea, etc. So my 28 hours wasn't bad at all!