Monday, March 28, 2011

Soapy Water Fun!

Better known as...doing the dishes!

High excitement around here is helping Mommy in the kitchen.  The girls love to help me, and I love that they are now getting to the point that their "help" is actually helpful!  Chloe, Christin and I did the dishes on a recent Saturday morning and had a wonderful time.  There was a little playing around, but mostly everybody was excited to actually help Mommy accomplish the task.  It's never too early to start training them to be little homemakers!  Thanks for the help, Chloe and Christin!  You did a great job!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tropical Vanilla Granola

Granola has been a real treat around our house lately.  I found a new recipe that used oil, instead of butter, (always a plus in our country, butter is available but it's somewhat expensive and a 30 minute bike ride away!) and tweaked it to fit a few ingredients I had in the cupboard.  Lately we've been enjoying this granola sprinkled over plain yogurt, with a few strawberries or mango slices added just for extra yummyness.  The finished texture is delightfully crunchy.  Here's how to make it:

In a saucepan, combine:
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Cook over medium heat until well combined.

In a large bowl, combine:
6 cups quick-cooking oats (regular will work fine, too)
1 cup almonds, slivered or roughly chopped  (I've used walnuts, too)
1 cup diced mixed dried fruit--pineapple and mango are our current favorites, gives that "tropical" feel!
1/2 cup flaked coconut

Pour liquid mixture over the dry mixture, stirring until thoroughly coated.  Spread granola on 2 cookie sheets in an even layer.  Bake at 275 F for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown, stirring every 15 minutes.

Cool and store in an airtight container.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 20, again

March 20 is a special day in our family's history--it's the day in 1970 that my brother Dan was born, and the day in 2003 that he died and went home to be with Jesus.  Dan lived 33 years exactly and finished his race well, trusting the Lord, finding peace and joy as he surrendered his own hopes and desires for his life to Him.

I have written previously about Dan's life, reflecting on how my big brother influenced me.  In the years since his death, my mom had a video professionally done using some of the family home movies as well as footage from Dan's funeral.  Tonight, we watched that video again as a family.

It was surprising to me how deeply the movie affected me tonight.  I cried--a lot.  It was hard to see those images of Dan, the healthy and happy ones because they were bittersweet, and the ones where he was so sick because they were just plain hard.  Though it's been eight years since his death, watching the movie again made me realize how much I still miss him.  There is still a loss because of our current separation--he in heaven, I still plodding along in this fallen world.  I imagine that sense of loss is even greater for my parents, who never imagined outliving their oldest son, and my brother Mark, who lost his older brother whom he looked up to so much.

But through it all runs the thread of Jesus' love.  His deep, deep love, that washes over us, that protects and sustains us, that gives us hope for the future.  Dan is now experiencing that love perfectly, deeply, fully, and is basking in the worship of his Savior. 

And the question that Dan earnestly sought the answer to remains a question in my heart:  Do I fully trust my heavenly Father enough to surrender it ALL to Him?  All?  If trial, sickness, or death be mine, can I still surrender to His perfect will and find the joy and peace that He promises? 

By God's grace, Dan's life answered that question with an overwhelming "YES!"  May my life do the same.

Questions that I have no answers to

Isn't there a rule that says they can't grow up too fast? 

Where did this little girl with hair long enough to braid come from?

Why can she already communicate so well and say things like, "Mommy, are you going to go outside and find Chloe's other pink mitten?" 

What happened to the bundle of pink sweetness that used to fit in the crook of my arm?

Who took my baby and gave me a little girl that begs for sips of my black coffee?

How can I stop time and just cuddle her sweet little self for a few more moments?

When did her eyes get so blueberry-blue?

Will I ever get enough of being her Mama?

Love this (almost three year old) girl.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I love it!

Learning to read, for Clara Anne, has been a slower process than I anticipated.  We struggled through the first 67 lessons of "Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons" and finally decided to take a break for a bit; she was tired of it and I was tired of it.  Technically she was doing fine, but it was like pulling teeth to get her to sit down and do it every day, and the lessons took an agonizing amount of time to keep her on task and focused.  So, we took a long break, pulled away for awhile, went back to just enjoying stories and noticing interesting words.  That coincided nicely with the time we were in the States last year.  Then, I purchased a new phonics and reading program called "The Scaredy Cat Reading System" and we began with that again in June of 2010.  We reviewed, took things slowly, incorporated handwriting, word family studies, spelling tests, alphabetization, word usage and vocabulary, and other skills along with reading.  So, taking time to add in all those fun "extras" like worksheets, reading games, and activities also slowed down our reading progress.  I wasn't worried about this, it was just the fact of how our studies were going at that point. 

But I think we've finally crossed a crucial point.  Clara Anne has gained enough skill now that she wants to read more and more, rather than me requiring her to read.  She wants to spend time reviewing books that she knows and trying harder ones.  The desire is there, and it's making all the difference.

Last night she was begging to be given a small flashlight to read for a bit after the light was off in their room.  In trying to plead her case, she said, "Mommy, I just love to read!  I just love reading now!  All this time, I've been wondering what the pictures mean when I look at books, and now I don't have to wonder anymore...I can read!  I can read, Mommy!"  She was simply thrilled about the books she was reading and so excited to spend more time reading.

Wow!  I truly praise the Lord because this is an area I really wanted to work on with her this spring--gaining reading fluency and confidence.  I'm so thankful!  I want to feed the fire in her now, so we did let her take a flashlight to bed, with instructions to turn it off after two or three stories and to keep it under her covers so as to not bother the other girls.  The last thing I saw as I left the room was Clara Anne, sitting up in bed, a blanket thrown over her head and the light shining from within. 

What a treasure to see Clara Anne developing her love for reading!  I wouldn't have missed this process for anything.  It's such a gift to be able to home school and see her gain these skills and fire up her desire to keep learning.  I love it! 

Biker Babes

 We took advantage of a lovely sunny, spring-like day recently to get out the girls' bikes and enjoy the sunshine.  Here's my biker babes!

Christin actually does just fine on the bike; I'm not sure when she learned!  A few times she narrowly avoided crashing into something, but she averted disaster each time.  Her steering skills are impressive!  The older girls just love the fresh air and exercise.  We're looking forward to lots of days like this in the sunny springtime!

P.S.  A special thank-you to our dear friends Emma and Samantha for giving us your bikes!  We are so happy to ride them and think of your generous hearts!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Win-Win!

Remember how toys (mostly the cleaning up of toys) were a big issue at our house just a few weeks ago?  I am happy to say there's been significant progress!  Take this layout, for example:

I'm very happy to share that the girls are doing SO much better.  This particular day, they spent a very long time (almost an hour) setting up this complicated landscape for their small dolls to live in.  They kept the unused parts in the appropriate bins (rather than dumping them all over the floor), and I was busy in the kitchen after lunch when I heard Clara Anne say, "First let's clean this up then we can color!"  I watched surreptitiously from the background as they each helped to clean up until finally everything was neatly put away...not just in the right general area but actually back in the cupboards where the things are stored.  Wowza!  A victory for sure!

Last week the toys issue was almost a non-issue, they did so well with cleaning up every day.  I am so thankful!  Yesterday Clara Anne remarked to me, "Mommy, now we're in the habit of cleaning up!"  That is simply wonderful--especially because she is taking leadership in it.  The other girls follow her example so easily, so when Clara Anne is taking the initiative like that they follow suit.  What a relief!  Everyone is enjoying their toys more now--I'm not getting as irritated when they get out so many things to play with, because I know they'll do better with putting them all away, and they're having more fun because they have the freedom to play and then the satisfaction of doing what they know is right.  It's a win-win situation! 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Happy Birthday Lou!

This year AGAIN Lou's birthday snuck up on me!  She mentioned casually one day that the next day was her birthday and I kicked myself, wondering how I could forget.  As I was exclaiming over this important event having slipped my mind, I asked for clarification again on her actual birth date.  As it turns out, she doesn't know her birthday by the western calendar, only by the lunar calendar; i.e. the twenty-seventh day after the new year.  So by our measurement, her birthday changes every year.  Aha!  Maybe there's an excuse for me after all!  :)

But, the late notice didn't stop us from having a fun party.  We invited some friends and got the wok fired up.  In America this would be very bad form, but here it's perfectly normal: I asked her to make her own birthday lunch.  We had stewed ribs (a treat, they're more expensive), shredded spicy and sour potatoes (her favorite childhood food), a cold cucumber and mushroom dish, marinated in a vinegar and sesame paste sauce (my girls' current favorite), stir-fried broccoli, and fresh noodles.  The length of the noodles is supposed be good luck for a long life, so is a traditional food on birthdays.  It was all delicious!
A tradition we have at our house is at someone's birthday, we all go around the table and say a few words of what we appreciate about the birthday person.  It was a blessing to Lou to hear everyone's comments!  Even my girls participated.  (The food that Lou makes may or may not have been very high on each of their lists!)

It was a wonderful party time together, with only a slight shadow over it since this may be the last birthday I get to share with her for a long time due to this news.  But we had fun, I made a fantabulous apple crisp using the Pioneer Woman's apple pie recipe (just skipped the crust) and it was so amazingly good.  We couldn't do candles since it was hot, but we ALL enjoyed that wonderful dessert!

And then, I let her do the dishes.    Ha.

 Lou is a true gem.  She has been a blessing to me in a thousand ways.  It's been 3. 5 years now since she's worked for us, and we truly count her as part of our family.  She is fun and outgoing and regularly makes me laugh.  She has her own funny quirks and habits, and yes, I still frequently find dirty dishes in my cupboard because she washes them at lightning speed, spraying water all over the kitchen in the process, but I still appreciate that she's there to do my dishes at all!  Lou is my dear, dear friend, my sister in Him, and such a big help to keeping things going around here.  My girls love her dearly and regularly pray for her.

Here's a few funny stories in bullet-point fashion from my years with Lou. . .

The first time I ever left my children alone with Lou for a more significant period of time, they were extremely naughty and she was at her wits' end with them.  In that one notable day, Clara Anne colored on the wall with a marker, Chloe found her baby book in a drawer and systematically ripped it to bits, and Clara Anne climbed up onto the piano and then dropped something hard and heavy onto it, causing a ding in the piano's lid.  They also drank approximately 11 yogurts in one day.  (I am not making this up.)  We began to teach Lou the art of saying that simple word: "No."

On another notable occasion, the girls convinced her that the vitamins in the drawer were candy and they could eat as many as they wanted.  When we came home and I noticed that Chloe's pee was electric greenish-yellow, I was understandably concerned.  Then the whole truth came out as Clara Anne confessed.  Lou felt terrible when she discovered there was actually some danger in allowing them to consume all those vitamins (thankfully they had no iron), and we kept the girls up late having them drink water and go to the bathroom. 

When Lou first came to work for me, she had no idea how to do anything around the house.  I had to teach her everything from "This is how you wipe the table," to "This is how you wash the dishes."  Actually, the dishes how-to has been repeated several times.  And yesterday, when I pulled no less than FIVE dishes from the cupboard and discovered that they were all dirty in one way or another (stuck on egg-yolk, greasy film on the back of the plates, etc), I determined that the dishes training shall be offered again.  :)

One time I heard a rumor that there were fresh blueberries for sale in town at a supermarket.  I thought maybe there would be fifteen or twenty boxes so gave Lou very specific instructions.  "When you get to the supermarket, look on the bottom floor in the special imported produce section for the blueberries.  If you find them, buy them all."  Well, when she got there, there was a huge floor-to-ceiling display of fresh blueberries.  (Not imported, grown in this country and so the volume was much greater and the price much lower!)  Still abiding by my original instructions, though, she asked the man working in that section how many boxes of blueberries he had.  He estimated numerous hundreds, maybe even a thousand.  She then mentioned to him that she was supposed to purchase them all.  "You'd better hire a truck to get them home, then," he said, matter-of-fact.  Did Lou call me to confirm, "Do you really want them ALL?"  Oh no!  She simply bought as many as she had money for.  I had a good laugh when she got home with 37 boxes of blueberries, and I still have some frozen in my deep freeze, waiting their turn to be folded lovingly into baked oatmeal, made into luscious blueberry yogurt muffins, combined with batter to make blueberry coffeecake...mmm.  And Lou had the last laugh on that one, too...after that the blueberries disappeared and haven't been seen since!

Ok, there are too many funny stories about teaching her to cook western food to share here; the biggest obstacle is always that the recipe needs to be followed EXACTLY.  Asian style cooking never measures anything.  If you like your veggies salty, add more salt.  If you like vinegar, add some.  Pour on the soy sauce or oyster sauce or use the dried peppers or fresh ginger or tons of fresh garlic if you like it.  No matter, your food will still be tasty!  But in western cooking, especially baking, you cannot alter the ingredients, the amounts of the ingredients, or the process of making it without some serious consequences.  She is still learning this principle...still.  She can make tons of great stuff now though, so it's been worth it!  Her homemade bagels, tortillas, and homemade chips are wonderful.  She's a pro at granola, several of our favorite cookies, pie crust, and muffins. 

My girls also love that she loves to do their hair.  She's always inventing new hairstyles and figuring out different ways to make their hair look fancy.  I love it too, since I have very little creativity at hairstyles and would just do simple braids everyday for time's sake!

I have been told that I have an accent to my Asianese speaking which is, um, not quite like the city we live in.  Just a little bit off.  But when I share that I spend a big part of every day speaking with a person from a nearby city, many people nod their heads knowingly.  "That's it!  You sound like you're from there!"  I've never actually been to Lou's hometown, but apparently I sound like it!  :)

I love my dear friend Lou and thank the Lord for her everyday.  She has been a huge part of our work here in the past few years, in that she has relieved my domestic burden considerably as well as being willing to watch our kids.  We've been able to do a lot of teaching and things that we would never have been able to do if Lou hadn't been willing to be with the girls, even overnight.  I so appreciate her helpful willingness and overall attitude of wanting to be a blessing to our family!

And did she ever get better at dealing with naughty girls?  I'm happy to say, both she and the girls have made significant progress.  For many months now, we've been able to leave the girls with her and know that there will not be any disobedience issues.  And if there are, (including a notable exception where Chloe threw a fit at naptime and actually hit Lou in the face) Lou is doing much better at handling them.  That time with Chloe, she required three things of her:  1. You will say you're sorry.  2. I will have to tell your mommy and daddy and they will punish you when they get home.  3. You still have to take a nap.  At that point, Lou gently but firmly told Chloe to stop crying, go get on her bed, and go to sleep.  And Chloe did it!  I'd say we've come a long ways from the children drinking 11 yogurts "because they wanted to, so I couldn't stop them!"

I praise the Lord for my dear friend Lou!  Happy Birthday to you!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Notable Moments

Today was one of those long days.  You know, where so many things happen that you think of something that happened yesterday and wonder, was that only yesterday?  Thankfully, all the things that happened today were just a part of busy family life, no crises or injuries or anything like that.  It was a good day, a blessed day, just full of activity!

Here's a few notable moments from our day today:

At lunch, Clara Anne said, "Daddy, when are we going to study Plato?"  "In a few more history lessons," answered John.  "Wasn't he part of the golden age of Greece?" Clara asked.  "Yes, actually he was, Clara Anne."  I can guarantee you that wasn't a conversation I was having when I was six years old!  The things that come out of her mouth sometimes!

[Did I ever mention the time recently where, in drinking warm milk before bedtime, Clara Anne casually observed to me, "Mommy, I think this milk will have a soporific effect."  What????  Ok, I know she only knows that because of the Beatrix Potter Flopsy Bunnies story, but STILL!  She used it correctly in an appropriate context!]

Christin wasn't feeling so well this afternoon and fell asleep in my arms during a post-lunch story time.  The other girls felt so badly for her and as we got ready for family devotions tonight, they were pampering her, tucking in her blanket all around her, bringing her tissues and water and her favorite wa-wa.  The kicker, though, was when I overheard Chloe say to her in perfectly sincere sympathy, "Christin, I'm sorry you don't feel well.  You CAN bother my feet tonight!"  Since they share a full-sized bed, sometimes there are territory disputes and both are often reminded not to "bother" the other's feet.  But evidently Chloe thought it might help Christin feel better!

We had a good day of home schooling, practiced ballet, had a fun time with paint in art class this morning, and read a lot of books.  (Christin's favorites lately are "We're Going on a Bear Hunt," "Go, Dogs, GO!," "Goodnight, Moon" and a book of Mother Goose rhymes that she has mostly memorized.)  Baths were taken, meals were made (homemade whole-wheat naan for supper with some red curry chicken!), enjoyed, and cleaned up after, 3 loads of laundry were completed and I exercised tonight too.  I'm so thankful for the grace to do the work that I am called to each day, to be able to shepherd my girls, be with them, teach them, and impact their hearts for eternity.  I love making a home for my husband and daughters.  They are such a treasure!    So thankful for these notable moments that are adding up to a lifetime...strung together like pearls on a string, making something beautiful. 

Overwhelmed with gratitude tonight for the gracious gifts I've been given.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A morning scene

Here's a typical morning scene.  I get up and follow the same pattern every day...use the bathroom, weigh myself, put on my robe, make a cup of tea, and sit down in the school room with my Bible, journal and pen.  Usually by 7 or 7:30 Christin and Chloe have stumbled out of their rooms, rubbing sleep from their eyes, as they come to cuddle with me.  Clara Anne is my late riser, she often isn't up until 8 or even 8:30, but the other two girls "keep me company" (you know, don't you always want company when you're trying to read and pray?) and drink 2 yogurts a piece (which they help themselves to!) as I finish my morning devotion time.  They are supposed to be quiet but there are often small disputes about who gets to snuggle in where with Mommy.  Usually I can hardly move when everyone else is comfortable!

This particular morning was a few weeks ago.  As the morning routine was followed and one by one, everyone wanted to pile on the chair, I thought, "In a few years I'll be missing this time...all my girls liking nothing better than morning snuggle time with me.  I have got to be enjoy and be thankful for this time, even if I'm feeling crowded!  These days won't last forever."  So then I called John to come and take a picture!  I love all the sleepy morning faces!  Thank you, Lord, for the joys of home and family.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Land of Smiles

 Want to visit the Land of Smiles with us?  Let's go to Thailand!  Yippee!

 So fun to be on a special trip together, Mommy and daughter!
 Clara Anne made her own fun in the airport.
 We're having fun already!
 This little girl has done a ton of traveling!  She's so easy to travel with, especially now that she can manage her own carry-on luggage.  She's (literally) a world traveler.
 A stop for a Caramel Frappucino in the airport held us over til lunch.
 I love to fly Thai airways.  They have excellent service, good food, and even give orchids to the ladies upon arrival!
 We had to stay one night in Bangkok in order to get to the homeschool conference on time the next day.  So, I made reservations at the Rama Gardens...our favorite BKK hotel!  It's a beautiful hotel with a lot of gardens and green space, a wonderful breakfast and gorgeous pool.  We have lots of family memories at the Rama and were glad to spend one more night there!  Clara Anne obviously enjoyed the fabulous breakfast, too!

 Our traditionally-dressed Thai waitress was glad to pose for a picture.  Clara Anne loved her beautiful outfit!
 Let's hit the pool!  What a great idea!

 I got to do a little of this too!  Ahhh...
 Pink taxis are everywhere in Bangkok!
 Clara Anne made a friend already on the trip up to the resort where the conference was held.
 Pink padded ceilings, blue curtains, don't you love the tour bus style in Thailand?
 More new friends!
 The setting for the conference was beautiful.  Lovely!

 And full of wildlife...I saw more snails, squirrels, birds, bugs, and unfortunately mosquitos who got Clara Anne the first night during the night.  Her eye swelled up and she looked like she'd gone a few rounds in the ring, poor girl!
 On the way back, we left early in the morning.  Clara Anne and Alex both fell asleep quickly!
 This new package of play-doh occupied Clara Anne for a good 90 minutes on the way home!
 While I enjoyed a Thai diet coke and the current issue of the Economist.  I don't really understand economics, but I was trying to exercise my brain!
 Love this sweet girl!
Fun was had in the capital city airport as we waited for our flight back to our city.  I was so thankful that everything went so smoothly the whole week.  The conference was helpful and encouraging, it was wonderful to connect with some friends who also attended, we loved the warm weather and enjoyed some good Thai food.  I was surely very glad to get home to my husband and littler girls, though! 

A favorite memory from the week:  We had gone swimming in the pool at the resort (though it was a little scuzzy around the edges) the first day, then the second afternoon it rained, and on the third afternoon, just as we were getting ready to go to the pool, it started to rain again!  But Clara Anne was determined.  We walked down to the pool and she insisted that she was going to swim.  "Are you sure, Clara Anne?  It might be a little chilly."  Clara Anne replied, "Mommy, I said I was going to get in the water, and I. am. going. to. swim!" (teeth gritted)  She bravely got in the water and started to have lots of fun, so I was persuaded to get in too!  The rain rained on our heads and we played happily in the water, having a great time.  After a while, the rain stopped and the sun came out, and we laughed and played and pretended to do ballet in the water and watched the birds flying overhead.  What a precious memory together! 

It was a great trip, I'm so thankful for the opportunity to go!  I'm also thankful that I didn't lose anything or miss any flights or have any complications like that while I was traveling alone with Clara Anne.  All went well in the Land of Smiles!