Wednesday, September 29, 2010


It's Wednesday evening here in our corner of the world, and our family has just finished five days of a "stay-cation." We hit upon this idea because both John and I were feeling the need for a break from the routine, but didn't want to make the bigger commitment (in terms of time and money) to travel someplace.

It's always been a bit of a challenge for us to know how to do vacation in our context. [Sidenote: other than our honeymoon, John and I had never taken a "vacation" in our first 7 years of marriage in the States, we always used vacation time to visit family! So we were truly not sure what to do with our generous allotment of vacation time once we moved here!] The first few years we lived here, going anywhere was much more stressful and difficult than staying home. We didn't speak the language well, couldn't read the maps to figure out our way around new places, and with me pregnant and/or carrying along a small baby so soon after moving here, the first few years were pretty hard to know what to do to "rest and relax" through a vacation. Then as the girls started getting older, we found that our previous ideas of vacation--getting away to a naturally beautiful setting, resting and relaxing, perfectly happy to spend the days reading books and taking naps, etc--were more difficult with active toddlers and children around! Our ideas of "vacation" began to change. We began to have more structured vacations, filled with more activity than we would choose ourselves, but wanting to make special memories with the girls.

I've posted before about how the idea of vacation can get to be an unattainable ideal, and how I have struggled at times with having unrealistic expectations of vacation time. Of course, it would be wonderful if vacation meant that every child was perfectly obedient and always spilling over with gratefulness for all the parents are doing to make the vacation special, and no one ever got sick, and yes of course it would be great if we didn't have to spend much money either. But that's simply not reality! It took me a few years to adjust my expectations, I think! The last vacation time we took was to Hong Kong in February, and we had many wonderful times together, but we also had two children throw up a couple of different nights and I spent one early morning with severe intestinal distress in the bathroom, emerging so weak I didn't know if I could carry on with the day's plans! Ahh, such is matter how we hope and plan, sometimes things like that just happen, even on vacation. I will say I was never so glad to have a washer and dryer right in the apartment we were staying in!

This time around we decided to stay at home to accomplish some of our vacation goals: family time, rest, a break from routine (I especially was wanting a break from home schooling...nothing bad happening, just ready to have a break), even while recognizing that there would be no "getting away" aspect to our time. I'm really thankful and surprised, though, at how much our whole family enjoyed it, myself included! I planned some special meals, busted out some import ingredients and that made it really seem like a holiday. We enjoyed things like spinach artichoke dip with chips, homemade pepperoni pizza, homemade apple fritters, a delicious blueberry coffee cake that was not to be believed, it was so good, and other yummies. John and I had a really fun lunch date out on Monday, very enjoyable! We planned some special times out in the city, going to parks, having picnics and boat rides and we were so thankful to have some really nice weather during these days.

Yes, we still had interruptions, and John had to stay up late several nights answering emails and doing other work, and on our first day a local friend came by to see us and ended up staying for four hours, but that's how it goes when you're on staycation. I resolved not to let those things bother me (and of course I wasn't the one staying up to work at night!) and I feel like we really had a fun vacation. I especially enjoyed some things we DIDN'T do: not having to pack, not having to travel with numerous suitcases and children and stuff, and not having to pay for plane or train tickets was very nice! I loved being in my own bed each night and maintaining some of our daily routines...morning prayer time, exercise, cups of coffee while reading to the girls, laundry and bath times in our own usual space...those were all blessings to me.

Today after spending a truly wonderful day at the city zoo (which had undergone some amazing improvements in the past year or two, it was drastically changed since the last time we had been there!), as we loaded everyone up on the bikes to head home, John said to me, "I think this vacation is in the running for our best family vacation ever!" And he might be right! Many more pictures (I think I've taken about 300!) and posts to follow!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The New Playplace

Sunday is a special day in our house, it's our family day. John works the other six days of the week, and we have our worship services on Friday night, so Sunday is the day that we spend together as a family doing something fun. We often go out to breakfast, or have a special breakfast at home, and then go "out and about." One of our favorite destinations recently has been this indoor playplace. The playplace was discovered by "accident" one evening when John and I were riding a bus home from a nearby city. All of a sudden I said to John, "There's a DAIRY QUEEN!" Sure enough, there was. A real DQ from the States! We just had to check it out and came back on our bikes that evening with our girls. We stopped at DQ and had some ice cream, and then wandered around the shopping area where the DQ was located. As it turns out, it was a really nice shopping mall! There were hair salons, restaurants, stores, a 24 hour Mickey D's, the DQ of course, and then John found this playplace on the 3rd floor. It had only opened in July so it was clean, new-looking, and full of fun stuff to play on! The whole area had a princess/castle theme which the girls thought was great!
So since then, Family Day has often involved a trip to this playplace. And to show you the importance it occupies in the girls' minds, without fail, Christin prays for this playplace every day. Usually she is just thankful for it but occasionally she asks for help for it too. :) That's along with praying for America every day. . . we can't forget that either!

There's a fun climbing system with a triple slide into a ball pit, a large trampoline area, smaller toys for the smaller kids to play on, this inflatable boat with annoying loud music, and the girls' favorite (which I don't have a picture of), an inflatable octopus that turns around, huge and perfect for jumping and climbing. The girls love it!

These pictures were taken with my small camera, so forgive the poor quality, but they give you a glimpse, anyway! The one below I just had to post because of the "homegirl" expression on Christin's face! She has been such a hoot lately with her expressive face and funny sayings!

No A/C at the "new playplace," but now that we're into fall the temperature has been just fine. We're so thankful for a relatively clean, safe place for the girls to run and play and get energy out! And usually the other parents and kids at the playplace are busy doing their own thing, so we don't get as much attention as we do out in other public places, which, frankly, is a relief. It's nice to just be able to play and not have to pose for a thousand pictures. So we love our new playplace! In this country there's always the chance of businesses not making it, but we truly hope this one sticks around!

Happy Playing!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Still, My Soul, Be Still

Thanks to our friend Chip and Doris Stam, we received Keith and Kristyn Getty's new album Awaken the Dawn when we arrived back in the States this spring. This wonderful album is structured like a worship service and has led me into the Lord's presence many times already. Highly recommended!

One of my favorite songs on the album is "Still, My Soul, Be Still." With a hauntingly beautiful melody and rich, scripture-saturated text, this song has been a real encouragement to me. Is there something in your heart tonight that needs to be stilled? Some worry or concern that only the Lord knows about? A burden that you simply cannot bear anymore? I wanted to share the text with you tonight, and pray that it will encourage you as it has me. Enjoy!

Still, My Soul, Be Still

Still, My soul, be still and do not fear, though winds of change may rage tomorrow,
God is at your side, no longer dread the fires of unexpected sorrow.

God, you are my God, and I will trust in You and not be shaken.
Lord of peace, renew a steadfast spirit within me to rest in You alone.

Still, my soul, be still, do not be moved by lesser lights and fleeting shadows.
Hold onto His ways, with shield of faith against temptation's fleeting arrows.

God, you are my God, and I will trust in You and not be shaken.
Lord of peace, renew a steadfast spirit within me to rest in You alone.

Still, my soul, be still, do not forsake the truth you learned in the beginning.
Wait upon the Lord, and hope will rise, as stars appear when day is dimming.

God, you are my God, and I will trust in You and not be shaken.
Lord of peace, renew a steadfast spirit within me to rest in You alone.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Delightful Dinnertimes

Recently my friend Sarah posted on her blog about trying to establish more pleasant mealtimes in her home. She shared her frustration of wanting dinnertime to be a peaceful, pleasant, enjoyable family time, but all too often the time at the table is anything but that! Getting everyone served, running to the kitchen for forgotten items, children excitedly all talking at once, attitudes and table manners that need correction or discipline; sometimes all of those things combine to make mealtime a real challenge! I think all of us mothers of small children have been there!

Here are three simple principles that John and I have put into practice in order to make mealtime more pleasant for everyone, and a time that we all truly enjoy together! Peaceful mealtimes are possible and we have enjoyed many since implementing these principles. Give them a try if your mealtime routine is needing a tune-up!

1. Once everyone is seated, children are not allowed to get up until the meal is over and they've asked to be excused. I take responsibility to make sure all of the needed items are on the table, and unless given specific permission the girls are responsible to sit "properly" in their chairs (feet in front, centered on the chair. Yes we have had children actually fall out of their chairs before!). No up-and-down!

2. Generally Daddy leads the mealtime conversation. He often asks the girls questions about their day and gives them opportunities to share, and then at some point (sometimes earlier, sometimes later) he says, "all right girls, I am going to talk with Mommy now. You may be quiet and focus on eating." At that point the girls must put a hand on one of our arms and wait for permission to speak. I've been amazed how well this works! And John and I can have an adult conversation at the table! Wonderful!

3. The girls are responsible to help set and clear the table. My friend Rebecca, who has an abundance of kitchen help in her six children, has specific table chores assigned to each child. In our home it's a bit more loosely organized, but the principle is the same...each one helps to set the table and then when they are excused from dinner, they each clear their own plates, cups, and silverware to the table. This might seem inconsequential, but it really makes a big difference in how much time it takes me to clean up! And they're learning that their work is valuable and helpful in the life of our family too.

If this is an area you've been struggling with, I hope these tips will help make for some delightful dinnertimes in your home! And, if you utilize other principles that I haven't mentioned, please leave a comment and share! This is by no means an exhaustive list and I'm always eager to hear others' ideas!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

All in a Day's Work

As the girls and I have gotten into a better home schooling rhythm, the days are settling into a bit of a pattern. We start with devotions, memory verses, and the hymn of the week at breakfast. Then after breakfast there are some small chores to do before read-aloud time. In all wisdom, reading aloud probably shouldn't come right away in the morning, but that's been my choice. It's just too appealing to sit down and cozy up with the girls and a cup of coffee and dive into our latest book. They love it and so do I! On this particular morning they created a little "bed" for themselves on the rug in the school room, so as to properly enjoy the reading aloud. What do you think? Is this home schooling or . . . simply pure pleasure? (that blue and white chair was about to be occupied by me and my coffee cup, book in hand!)
Silly faces, fun times!
Ok, down to business now. Clara Anne and I have been working on her handwriting. I didn't buy a specific program but am just using the ball-and-stick method that I happened to have on hand in a workbook. She's making progress with evenness and flow! Chloe enjoys getting in on the action too! I'm not sure what I'm going to have to teach her when her time comes...she's absorbing a lot already!
Clara Anne is quite conscientious and careful. Notice she added an extra line to the first "F" making it an "E". She dutifully crossed it out and continued on. She always wants me to circle the one which is the best looking!
So, from building forts to listening to books to practicing our handwriting, ballet, and piano, it's all in a day's work! The schooling journey continues!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blue Skies Welcome Here!

I think I have "shared" (maybe "complained" is a better word!) often enough about the extremely high level of pollution here in our city which makes our skies white and smoggy the vast majority of the time. On the worst days I cannot clearly see the high-rise buildings outside my kitchen window, about 100 meters away. I have my own methods for keeping my spirits up during long spells of white skies, which include lighting fragrant candles, playing music, and of course, freshly brewed coffee!

Usually the winter is pretty bad, because the city-run heating system is a coal burning system. But for some reason, August was a particularly bad month as well. Maybe it was because it rained almost every day. Or maybe it was because it was humid and sticky and hot, still. But for whatever reason, I think it's accurate to say we hardly saw the sun the entire month.

So, when this past Friday morning dawned with actual visible clouds (not just smog) scudding across the skies, and as I sat in my comfy chair early in the morning, sipping tea and reading the Word, it began to look like the clouds were going to clear and the sky would be visible! I opened the windows and was delighted to find a fresh breeze was blowing and the clouds were breaking up! I even saw some blue skies peeking through!

This was an event! This was a cause for celebration! This was an occasion to drop everything and go outside while the sky was still blue!!!

So that's exactly what we did. I declared it a perfect day for a field trip; and despite some difficulty getting everyone ready and out the door (partially delayed by a leaking kitchen sink which we had to call a repairman and get fixed), we packed a backpack and headed to a local park.

My helper rode with us so that she could take one child and I could take the other two on our bikes, and we arrived at a beautiful local park, Five Dragon Springs. Our city is famous for its natural springs that bubble up out of the limestone rock bed below and the spring water which is beautifully clear and clean. Some of the local people like to collect the water and drink it, but I wouldn't trust it! We're definitely in a "bottled-water-only" country! But the park is beautiful, and I figured on a Friday morning it wouldn't be too busy.

The morning started out cool but all the girls had their jackets off after about the first 10 minutes. Christin enjoyed getting out and about!

Sweet girlies! You can see--it's real sunshine on their faces!

We wandered around a bit, just following paths and seeing where they took us, and ended up at this pretty bridge with hundreds of fish to watch down below. I thought we might as well take the opportunity to reinforce some recent math concepts: Are there MORE orange fish or MORE black fish? Are the white fish MORE or LESS than the orange fish? We also observed how the fish were eating the roots of the lily pads and had fun watching them swim effortlessly and interact with each other under the water.

This picture of Clara Anne includes a bit of the sky, pretty blue in the background! Love it!

And I love this girl!

And this one too! Hungry, Christin?

Beautiful spring water was worth a moment of contemplation.

I asked a nearby grandmother to take our family picture; she was so excited to help out the foreigner. Lots of other people took the opportunity to take our photo at this point too (note the interested onlookers on the left of the picture!), but then everyone started to try to put their kids in our picture too! I accidently deleted a really funny photo where people were quickly shoving their kids on either side of us to take a picture...such is the life we lead here! Sometimes we're not sure if we're movie stars!

We stopped at one point to read a book about sunshine, have a little snack and snap these last pictures. All in all we had a really fun morning, even though Clara Anne got tired of all the extra attention (people wanting her picture, touching her, feeling her hair, etc) and was ready to go. What a great field trip! The girls were glad to get a chance to play outside and I was thankful for blue skies and a fresh breeze, it lifted all of our spirits. Thank you, Lord! Blue skies, you're always welcome here!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Baked Oatmeal

This hearty, yummy, almost cake-like breakfast food couldn't be simpler! It is more filling than regular oatmeal (because of the eggs, I think) and as a bonus for me living here, can be made with all local ingredients. I haven't priced it out, but I think the overall cost per serving is quite low. I was a bit skeptical when I first saw the ingredient list, but truly--this has none of the "porridge" quality of regular oatmeal and instead tastes more like a crumbly breakfast cake. Give it a try!

Prep time: 5 minutes. Bake time: 25-30 minutes at 350.

In a large bowl, mix:
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/3 cup melted butter
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (the recipe called for 3/4 tsp but I scaled it down just a bit)
1 tsp vanilla

Stir in 3 cups quick-cooking oatmeal and spread in a greased 9x13 pan. Top with 1 cup of your choice of chopped fruit and bake. Enjoy!

*I used blueberries, which were heavenly! But I imagine you could add anything...some raisins and a bit of cinnamon, sliced peaches, other berries, apples, even dried fruit, nuts, whatever you like.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Christin has been cracking us all up lately. Here's a sampling!

She recently picked up the phrase, "Know what" and now uses it all the time. "Know what, Mommy?" "Yes, Christin?" "(and then she babbles on.)" I think she likes it because it gives her permission to talk. In a house (mostly) full of women, that can be hard to come by!

And then there's the "How about" construction. Yesterday, in the kitchen:

Me: "No, Christin, it's almost time for supper. You may not have any yogurt."

Christin: "How 'bout a cookie, Mama?"

In the school room while home schooling Clara Anne:

Me: "Ok, let's put that book away now Christin."

Christin: (bringing me another book) "How 'bout this book Mommy?"

Funny girl!

Christin's verbal abilities just seem to be exploding. She's expressing herself so well. Her prayers have gotten much better as well, I'm happy to say! She's actually praying prayers that are appropriate to the context and not repeating herself nearly so much, which is good progress!

She's really taken an interest in reading lately. She has several favorite books: Brown Bear, What Do You See, of course, and we have a book called Maybe My Baby which has been a favorite for a long time, but the two most often requested books recently are We're Going on a Bear Hunt and Go, Dog, Go! She's had the latter almost memorized for a long time already, and the Bear Hunt book is just plain fun with its repetition, fun noises, and unexpected ending. She loves to ask for them to be read again and again--over and over--again and again! I usually comply because I know this is really helping her verbally and mentally right now. It's fun for everyone!

We love our Christin! Even when she protests her nap, tells everyone to "SHH!" when she's trying to get a word in edgewise, and is a pesty younger sister, we still love her and her Christin-isms. We're so glad the Lord made her part of our family!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Tea Party Traditions

We've started a new tradition here at our home, a Saturday afternoon tea party tradition! Inspired by Sally Clarkson (have you read her books? Mission of Motherhood, the Mom Walk, the Ministry of Motherhood, and more, or you can find her on facebook as well) and her emphasis on intentional relationship building with your children, I began this new tradition. Traditions don't have to be expensive, or saved for very special occasions. We're going to do this each week on Saturdays, since Saturday is usually a long day of work for John and that can mean a long day at home too! When we have the tea party to look forward to, it makes Saturday a more special day, rather than just a day to "get through."

My tea set was a gift from my mother-in-law. When she visited us here last year, we found this beautiful set in a local market. It's more western-style than eastern, and a nice full pot of tea is enough for each of us to have two cups. It's fun to use our beautiful things; the girls love it!

We make the tea party a special event. We wear our pretty dresses, use our best manners, and Mommy leads the conversation. Tea party time is a time when each girl can ask a question or bring up one topic of conversation (as directed by Mommy), and I also lead a brief reading from Proverbs. How fun to learn about being a wise woman--wise in the Lord's ways--while enjoying our special tea time together!

Even Christin is allowed to carefully use a real cup. The girls love to add their own sugar and milk, carefully handling the china and delicately stirring their tea. We're all on our best behavior at tea party! Making memories and building relationships, while enjoying tea and special treats, what a treasured time together. I hope we can continue the tradition for many, many years!

How about you? Do you have a fun family tradition that your family just loves?

Sweet Sister

Since Clara Anne has put her trust in Jesus and been baptized, she is fond of reminding me that now our relationship is not just mother-daughter, but also sister-sister in Christ. Though she knows that she is still under our authority as parents, it seems to bring a special comfort to her heart to think of John and I as her brother and sister as well. It's just another way that I'm reminded of her growing up!

Last week, I received a very distressing phone call. A friend was calling, upset and angry, crying on the phone about a certain situation. I had been in the middle of reading aloud to the girls, we were all comfortably ensconced on the couch, and so Clara Anne was at my side. As I began to talk with this friend, Chloe and Christin wandered off to play with something else but Clara Anne stayed near me. I was doing my very best to understand what this friend was saying, since she was so upset and wasn't making any sense. Worse, since it was all happening in the local language, and over the phone, I was truly having difficulty understanding. Then, when I did understand the things she was saying, I was having a hard time knowing how best to respond, since her words were very accusatory and angry. I felt the Spirit's support and help as I tried to respond with loving truth.

This went on for 40 minutes, Clara Anne staying by me all the while. At the end I finally had to was time for Christin's nap, she and Chloe were starting to get into trouble, I simply couldn't stay on the phone. But as I hung up the phone in shock and disbelief at what had just happened, I didn't say anything at first, I just started getting Christin ready for her nap. And as I went into the bedroom to help Christin get settled, Clara Anne came to me and said, "Mommy, I was praying for you the whole time." I then promptly burst into tears, hugged her tight, and literally cried on her shoulder for the next few minutes as she hugged me in the tightest squeeze her five year old little arms could do.

We talked for just a minute about the fact that the phone call was difficult (she knew that already from listening, her local language comprehension is better than she lets on!) and that we needed God's wisdom to know what to do about it. I thanked her again for praying for me, telling her that that was such a big-girl, sister-in-Christ thing to do. She just knew that I needed it!

How thankful I am to see Clara Anne respond to the Spirit's prompting like that! Though the situation was difficult, the Lord brought good out of it with her response. Praise Him for my daughter-sister!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Making Progress

I've been more faithful to require Clara Anne to practice the piano this week. Hoping to keep it up! Notice she is wearing her ballet clothes. . . of course. It's not a good day unless there's some dancing involved! I'm a big believer in a few minutes a day, every day, of any discipline to see good progress, but sometimes it's hard for me to carry through. Anybody else relate to this??! Anyway, we'll just keep on trying, and trust that eventually progress will be made! Way to go, Clara Anne!