Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Thanksgiving Tree and other stories

Last Wednesday morning was a playdate for the record books. We still get together once a week with Clara Anne and Chloe's friends Emma and Samantha, and my dear friend Rachel. I'm not sure who enjoys playdate more, the kids or the moms! Usually the girls play together so well and Rachel and I get a chance to catch up. So we all have a vested interest in making sure play date continues to happen! :)

With Thanksgiving coming up, I had planned a simple craft that we could do together: a Tree of Thankfulness. Rachel and I helped the girls sketch some leaf shapes, then they cut them out and decorated them to put on the tree. The trunk of the tree is Jesus, and the most foundational branches are God's promises and God's love. We talked about how wonderful it was to have so many blessings to list on all of our leaves, but that there are seasons of our lives, like autumn, where the leaves fall. But in those times we still have everything to be thankful for, since we still have Jesus as the trunk of our tree.

It was a great lesson that I hope I'm still learning...but it may have been lost on our four and three year olds! That's ok though--we had fun anyway! Take a look . . . Another special event of the morning was having a hot chocolate party. We made hot chocolate from scratch (using cocoa powder, sugar, milk and vanilla--what could be simpler?) and enjoyed drinking it from my new tea set, a gift from my mother-in-law when she was here.

If you look closely you can see the steam! It was a cold day outside, so the hot chocolate was perfect! (Well, in theory. Chloe took one gulp while it was still too hot, burned her mouth, and then refused to touch it again. Samantha drank all of hers and Clara Anne and Emma sipped some and left the rest. Hmmmm. I think they were too excited about playing together to sit too long and sip, since usually my girls love hot cocoa!)

We all donned aprons for the event, including me! I wore my new, frilly, 50's housewife handmade creation that was also a gift from my mother-in-law. I love it! It takes me back in time and makes me feel like a Proverbs 31 woman when I wear it . . .you know, diligent with her time and rising early, providing for her family, and all of that!

What would we do without the Joy of Cooking? John and I recently saw "Julie and Julia" and I have had fun occasionally using a Julia Child voice while cooking in my kitchen. The girls think it's really funny!
Our third incident for the record books went like this: at the lunch table, I overheard just a snippet of conversation between Clara Anne and Emma. I didn't hear what came before, and I didn't hear what came after. But here's what I heard:
Emma: "Do you believe in Jesus?"
Clara Anne: "Yes, I believe in Jesus!"
Emma (very earnestly): " Yes, but have you been baptized?"
Clara Anne (just as earnestly): "No, but I believe in Jesus!"
There you have it! Glad we all know where we stand!
The final incident actually happened earlier in the morning. I had set out some scissors, planning to get ready for the craft, and then got interrupted with something or other, leaving the scissors out. Rachel and I were sitting on the couch for a moment when suddenly Emma and Clara Anne came out happily, scissors in hand. "Look, Mommy!" said Clara Anne. "We're giving each other haircuts!"

Upon investigation, it was true. I had never even approached the idea with my girls--certainly they knew that they shouldn't cut hair, right? Well, apparently not. Clara had trimmed a bit of her hair (not too bad, really), and Emma had trimmed some of Clara's hair and then given herself a little trim, too. Yikes. Rachel and I looked at each other, not sure whether to laugh or scold or what! Later she said that her girls specifically had talked about how scissors are used and what to do and not do with them, so she had to follow through, but I settled for a firm warning to the girls and a discussion on appropriate scissor use. Oh MY!

So, there's never a dull moment when we have a play date! We are SO thankful to have such very good friends, right here in our city. That is a blessing that we didn't always enjoy, which makes me appreciate it all the more. I'll end by echoing what several of the girls wanted to put on their Thankful leaves: Thank you, Lord, for friends!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Favorite Pumpkin Bread

This bread is so wonderfully moist and yummy with just the right hint of spice, I don't know why I always wait until autumn to make it! I made a loaf today (mixing time, approximately 7 minutes) and the aroma while baking was simply delightful. If you have a cup of pumpkin puree and 7 minutes, you've got a fresh, homemade Pumpkin Bread! Enjoy it with a cup of chai tea and you'll be feeling like Thanksgiving has arrived (which it almost has, in fact!).

2 eggs
1 1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 2/3 c. flour
1 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
1/2 cup water

Beat the eggs. Add sugar and oil, blend. Add dry ingredients and beat on medium speed. Add pumpkin and water, mix well on low speed. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at 325 degrees for one hour. Cool 10 minutes in the pan. Slice, serve, and enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankful, again

I've been thinking a bit lately about our baby that we lost through miscarriage in September. This week would have been just about time to be feeling the baby moving around if I had still been safely carrying the wee one. I'm not sure if it's that, or just maybe with Thanksgiving coming up this week, that my thoughts have been frequently straying to how thankful I am for that little one's life.

Striking to me has been the absence of bitterness in this process. I am thankful, truly thankful, that the Lord spared me from that. But that is not to say there isn't still a sense of loss. John and I had the opportunity last week to have a date, and as we sat and talked over coffee, the topic of the baby came up. I was surprised by the depth of emotion that suddenly welled up in me. Before I knew it, tears were flowing as we talked about life ahead without this child. Undergirding my heart's emotions, however, is a true and overwhelming sense of gratitude for the Lord's plan. He gave us the gift of this little one, He touched and changed our lives through her brief presence, and He sustained us as we dealt with the loss of our fourth child.

Thinking about this loss reminds me again of the fragility of life. We have a dear friend who is facing a difficult diagnosis, again, after a previous successful stem cell transplant. Others we know are experiencing other deep, deep trials, physical suffering, and loss of precious loved ones. Thankfully, these things can remind us of what is really true: this world is not our home, the promises of God are sure and steadfast, He will make everything right one day, our hope in Christ is secure because of His faithfulness.

So, to put it simply, as we approach Thanksgiving, let's remember that a thankful heart is also something to be thankful for. It's a gift from God to preserve our hearts in faith and give us a thankful spirit. I am thankful this year that the Lord protected and nourished my faith through the loss of our child, that bitterness is nowhere in sight, and that He has given me the gift of a thankful heart for this experience. May He be honored and glorified by our thanksgiving to Him!

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I love this precious one. I'm thankful for her. Enough said.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Where are we, exactly?

We've been treated in the last week to some true winter weather . . . making me believe that perhaps we suddenly got teleported back to Minnesota or something! We woke up last Wednesday to steely gray skies and the threat of snow. It began to rain/sleet later in the afternoon and continued overnight, so that we woke up to a magically transformed winter wonderland on Thursday. SNOW DAY! The snow was supposed to keep on falling so we decided to cancel our day's regular activities and stay home, cuddle up in jammies and blankets, and drink hot drinks. This was only the third accumulating snowfall that has come to this city in the six years that we've lived here! Truly a rare occurance. We enjoyed it for all its worth! The girls and John went out to play and were joined by some other friends in the neighborhood; they had a great time making a snowman, throwing snowballs, and of course came in soaking wet with bright red cheeks. FUN times! I don't think I realized how much I miss the Minnesota snows until we experienced a bit of it this week!

But the pictures I wanted to share today came from a few weeks ago, when we were also wondering if we were still in a large, populous country in Asia. As a part of the national games, we went to see a baseball game. Yes, baseball. Largely unknown in this country, we were almost the only fans at the game, the others present were either volunteers or security people. The teams were very unequal; the capital city's team was playing the second string team of a much smaller province. The score reflected it--the capital city won in 6 innings, 15-1. (There must have been a mercy rule.) But we enjoyed our outing to a baseball game, despite feeling a little silly cheering loudly when no one else was saying a word. At one point, while we were cheering (for the underdog, of course!), the security guy next to me said (literally translated): "I see but I can't understand." I was going to try to explain the rules of baseball to him but didn't think I could manage the specialized vocabulary!

Here's the park, on an unusually beautiful, clear-sky fall day! We so rarely see this kind of clarity--smog is a constant issue where we live. But that makes us enjoy the clear days all the more!
Batter up!
Enjoying some Jelly Belly's (left over from our Hong Kong trip) while watching the game. Let's face it, my girls enjoyed the snacks much more than the game!

Chloe and I take a moment for a picture.

After a delicious lunch at a hole in the wall restaurant, we made our way to an equestrian event that afternoon. I don't know anything about this sport! But after watching about 20 horses compete, we learned! This was a hush-hush event, they even requested that everyone stay seated while the horses were competing. The event was called "horse dancing" and the riders led their horses through a series of paces that included a special kicking up of the heels that looked like the horse was dancing. It was interesting, and the horses were so beautiful! My girls were fascinated at first, but then, let's face it, it was the snacks that got them through!

Again, very few specatators. But the surrounding scenery was amazing! This arena was set up in the mountains and with the sky so clear, we could see for miles! Beautiful! Just got a little chilly, though, as the afternoon advanced and the wind picked up.

What a great experience, so very unlike anything we've ever done before in this country! It made us wonder a bit if we were really still here . . .but indeed, after a long day out, home was waiting for us just 30 minutes away by taxi. It was a fun and interesting day!

The Tables are Turned

I am sure that I've mentioned before (probably only about a thousand times) how we tend to get photographed wherever we go, living in this country of Asians, since we travel with three blue-eyed blondes who look to our national friends like "foriegn baby dolls." This photography comes in several forms:

  • The surreptitious photographer. This is when the person slyly sneaks out his cell phone or digital camera and takes the picture without you knowing, not bothering you in the least.
  • The sweet and eager photographer. This is the person who is so genuinely excited to "take a photo" and so sweet about asking that you consent, even though it's late and you meant to be going by now and your kids are not exactly cooperating.
  • The bold photographer. This person walks up, poses next to you while enlisting a friend to take a picture, and it's over before you could even say, "no thank you."
  • The cutesy photographer. These people want to pose. They want to flash the peace sign, put their arms around you, get your kids to hug or kiss them, etc etc. I'm sorry to say that these are the most annoying. They frequently are not satisfied with the first photo and insist on a second, or third.
  • The too-late photographer. This is the person who wants to snap a photo, but gets ready too slowly and my kids have already dashed off somewhere else.

You may disbelieve my list there, but truly, we've lived here long enough and have had all manner of these encounters. Some days I handle it well, other days it really, really bugs me. On the positive side, it's sweet that people think my children are beautiful and want to take pictures of them. On the negative side, no one (except people who know us) realizes that every person that we saw that day also wanted to take a picture of us, and that the moment we stop for one photo in a crowd, immediately twenty more cameras come out. It's really an amazing pheonomena. I guess that perhaps being a famous person is a little like this.

Anyway, on this particular day in early October, we (including Grandma Ann) were playing frisbee and letting the girls ride their bikes outside, when along came these twins. My MIL got so excited, she thought they were SO CUTE! She wanted to take a picture, and though the mother of the twins looked a bit uncomfortable, she gave permission and so John snapped this photo. Ann just kept gushing about how cute these little tykes were! I'm sure the mother had some of the same feelings we have when people ask to take pictures of our kids! Interestingly enough, the tables were turned.

They ARE cute, though, aren't they? And aren't you glad my MIL insisted on a picture so you could see them, just as my children's pictures are probably sent to friends and relations all over this country? Ahhh, the price of popularity!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Outing to the Lake

There is a lake in the center of our city that underwent an extensive improvement project in preparation for "sprucing up" the city for the national games. They actually made the lake larger, adding a whole new section with bridges, a sandy play area, paths, beautiful landscaping, and lots of traditional architecture (pagodas). It was a lovely place to spend a morning. Priceless smiles in the flower garden!
A restaurant within the gates to the lake park, with lake views. Ann enjoyed seeing the traditional painted wood designs.

We spent most of our time on a boat ride, tooling around the lake and trying to take the boat through the new passageways. Most of them, unfortunately, did not allow boats, so we stayed in the main part of the lake. The girls enjoyed pretending to be the captain of the ship! Ahoy! Pagoda ahead!

A beautiful bridge, so inviting . . . and the security guard off to the left, motioning to us "You shall not pass!"

Wherever we went, people along the shore would start whipping out their cameras to take pictures of the "foreign baby dolls." Finally we just encouraged the girls to wave to their adoring fans.

The main gate to the park (seen from the inside, of course), with a bed of lotus growing in the foreground. The lotus flower is the city flower.

Taking a few moments to be silly is always fun!

Daddy and Clara sharing a moment. Clara loves to feel his whiskers!

Refreshed and relaxed after our time on the water. By the time we left, we were a bit chilly and were happy to go home and drink something hot to warm up. But it was a lovely morning at the "Big Moon Lake."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

But we love Grandma Ann MORE!

[See previous post about loving Friday's. They can't hold a candle to Grandma Ann!]

We love Grandma Ann. She dances with us . . . Talks to us . . .

Entertains us . . .
Plays "chopstick people" with us . . .

And loves us right back.

Whoops! Maybe there's a little too much love going around!

Nah, couldn't be. This is why she came, after all!

How sweet to be able to love on her in person!

We love our Grandma Ann!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Give me FIVE, Grandma Ann!

I know I can do it . . . Yep, that's the way!
Give me five, Grandma!


Sunday, November 08, 2009

We love friday's.

We love TGI Friday's. I have to admit, in the States Friday's would be pretty low on my "where-I-would-go-out-to-eat-if-I-could" list. The Pizza Ranch (hometown favorite, great pizza and broasted chicken), Qdoba (love their burritos and queso and chips), Chili's (it's all good here, and some molten chocolate cake wouldn't hurt either!), Culver's (frozen custard and butterburgers, anyone?), and of course Starbucks (though that doesn't really count as food, wait...maybe it does!) are much higher on the preferred chain restaurant list.

But, in Asia, Friday's is (almost) like home. The menu is the same, the prices are decent, the service is good, and even the decor makes it feel like you're suddenly stepping back into America. This is probably a phenomena you don't understand until you've lived overseas. Suddenly the familiar can be a wonderful thing. We try to hit Friday's every time we get to the capital city, and enjoy a little Americana. Several times now we have been seated at this round table for five in the corner, with Rocky Balboa breathing down our necks. See? The girls love Friday's too. Why? 1. Balloons. 2. Crayons and a coloring sheet! 3. Chicken Fingers with mandarin oranges on the side!
Christin was having fun.
Chloe gave us her best smile. Say "Macaroni and Cheese!"

Clara Anne being silly.

Christin caught the silly bug, and I caught it on camera!

Working hard. This was after the meal, by the way. No getting up and going for us! There's still lots left to color!

I think Daddy caught the silly bug too! Striking a contemplative pose. . . he must be thinking, hmm, is life really all about the weekend, the premise of TGI Friday's? . . . I don't think so! It was fun for lunchtime, though. See you next time, Friday's!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Opening Ceremonies!

Here's a brief look at the opening ceremonies of this country's national games, which John, my mother-in-law, Ann, Clara Anne and I attended near the beginning of October. We bought the tickets for the nicer seats, but discovered later that "nicer" in this context meant "closest to the President" who was also attending the ceremony. So we found ourselves with a truly bird's-eye view in the top-most row of a very large stadium! Take a look!
We enjoyed strolling through the huge plaza on our way to the stadium. We arrived early enough that some of the performers were outside taking pictures and milling around. Of course, we were asked to pose!
The festivities started with fireworks, speeches, the national anthem, and the like, and then of course the entrance of the flags and the athletes. After all that came the artistic performances; here's a glimpse.

This was a huge group doing tai ji, an ancient form of exercise/fighting, I am sorry to say I know very little about it. Yes, each one of those white specks is a person! Notice the white (mechanized) doves, lit up and "flying" towards the center of the stadium, in the corner of the picture. They added an amazing, unexpected touch!

This performance involved men on bicycles with megasized sparklers shooting off their bikes as they cycled around in perfect unison! The large screen in the middle was used to various affect throughout the evening--projecting images, forming different shapes--it was quite interesting.

Clara Anne, on John's shoulders, got into the spirit! Working towards the finale with most of the performers on the floor--including a huge contigent of flag wavers, and cheerleaders lining the edges. . .

One of the final moments. All of the points of light in the stands were because we were each given a gift bag upon arriving with a small, powerful flashlight in it. There were volunteers at the bottom of each section of the stadium showing us how to bob our flashlights in time with the music. It was a wonderful effect!

The finale. Lots of fireworks were shooting off outside, and all the performers were on the floor. The white doves flew towards the center again, and those rings had people inside them, lit up and posing in the various positions of the various sports. It was quite the sight!
We really enjoyed being able to be present at the stadium for this fun event--what a memory maker! The performers did a beautiful job and it was a really spectacular show. And, it was fun to hear those famous words: Let the games begin!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Bits and Pieces

It's been awhile since I've blogged, and thus I face the dilemma of mommy bloggers everywhere: so many things have happened, do I try to cover them all? Only post stories that have corresponding pictures? Just choose a few highlights?

Well, I haven't decided yet! But for tonight (in the 15 minutes before I go to bed), here's a few bits and pieces of news to share. . .

My mother-in-law has arrived safely back in the States, but not until after being delayed for thirty-six hours in the capital city! There was a cold rain which turned to snow the morning that she left, and when John brought her to the airport it seemed like maybe she would get out ahead of the weather. Alas, no. She boarded the plane and they sat on the runway for nine hours! Finally they were allowed to deplane, given supper and a hotel for the night, and then the next day began the nightmare task of rescheduling everybody's flights. She finally arrived back in Minneapolis after stopping in two extra cities, a day and a half later than planned! We were thankful that she was able to contact us a few times throughout and it seemed the Lord was helping her to feel at peace despite the circumstances. I felt so badly that we couldn't help her more--that's no fun! But she did great and found her way and arrived home safely, PTL!

Just before she left, John and I were able to get away for an evening at a new hotel in our city, just to have some time together. We considered it a sort of "marriage retreat" and enjoyed the uninterrupted time to talk. We made some significant plans for the next five months, which was really helpful as well. We're headed back to the States in March of next year, so we want to use these next months to the full! The retreat was great--we were only gone from home about 24 hours but what a blessing it was!

Some of the changes we discussed we've already put in place. For one, Chloe started attending local kindergarten this week! (More like preschool, just structured playtime.) She has gone two days now and is doing quite well, adapting pretty quickly. She cried the first day but then the teacher suggested that Clara Anne come to join Chloe and help her get acclimated. So we've done that for two days now and I think tomorrow it won't be necessary. Already today Chloe was speaking the local language, interacting with the other kids, eating her lunch and drinking hot water just like the other kids. PTL! It seems like she's doing well.

Another big change is that we have begun bed-training Christin. She is now staying up to be part of family devotions in the evening and then goes to bed with the big girls. She will share with Clara Anne for now on the bottom bunk. So far, so good--the first night she sat up once but didn't get out of bed, and tonight she was bothering Clara Anne but after I spoke to her once, she went to sleep. Let's hope that continues!

Now that Christin is in a big-girl bed, we are transforming her room into the school room. When we were in the capital city last weekend, bringing my MIL to the airport, we spent some time at IKEA and got some furniture to outfit that room. Even now, John is putting chairs and a table together! We moved the girls' bookshelf from their room into that room, and also have a comfy armchair set up for read aloud time. I'm excited about it! In a day or two we should be settled in there, so I'm looking forward to continuing the reading lessons with Clara Anne that went on hiatus when Grandma was here.

On not-such-a-fun note, in doing some switching of seasonal clothing I discovered that not only did some clothes smell musty from being stored in our (especially this summer) damp basement, but some things were actually growing mold. The only choice was to pull it all out, wash it and dry it thoroughly. In doing that, it was time to go through my crates of baby clothes and give most of them away. So I've been doing laundry, laundry, laundry this week to get all of those clothes clean again! I must have missed spring cleaning this year, since we're doing it in the fall!

Another part of our new schedule is a re-committment to a firm bedtime and early wake-up, in order to help the rest of life go smoothly. And 6 am comes pretty early for this mama! So I'll sign off for tonight, but look for some pictures soon! We sent my MIL home with more than 400 pictures from her 3 weeks here; there are some real gems in that bunch so I'll try to get a few of them uploaded soon. But for now, good night!