Monday, September 19, 2011

Recent Happenings

It's the start of a new week, banana oatmeal raisin muffins are cooling on my counter, the laundry is folded and put away and the kitchen is clean.  What better time to write a little update? 

We've had two weeks of school now and it's going surprisingly well.  I have been pleased and a little relieved that Clara Anne seems very glad to be in school, and willingly and excitedly follows my leadership on when and what we are studying.  Last year I felt there were so many times where I was ready to do school but she was not...for whatever reasons (she was busy playing, she had just started a new craft project, she was tired, etc).  This year that has been almost a non-issue, well, so far anyway.  She's been happy to spend pretty much the whole morning on school activities and that's been a blessing for us all.  I was never concerned about Chloe, she is such an eager learner and is blossoming under the extra attention, but I wasn't sure how Christin would fit into the mix.  Thankfully, so far she has participated in the things that we do all together and then happily wanders away when I'm working with the other girls.  She seems to like the structure too.  I think all of the girls (and me too!) are so glad to be on a bit of routine again that it just feels great to be back in school!

I continue to be amazed at the pace of life in America.  It is VERY easy to pack every evening full with activities of all sorts...not to mention the parks we could go to, the zoo, the science museum, the library, and on and on.  I've had to say "no" to some things already that I would have really liked to have done but that were just too much.  I am trying to faithfully put my priorities in line and figure out exactly how that means I spend my time.  It is a challenge! 

Tonight I chose to get some things done around the house in order to be better prepared for tomorrow, so that we can start school in the morning without much delay and tasks hanging over us.  But, it meant that I didn't have time to exercise.  And, it was 11pm when I started writing this so I'd better not go on too long!  Still trying to figure out how everything fits in!  Exercise will ideally happen right after the girls go to bed, but of course that limits my computer time or anything else I wanted to accomplish in the evening.  But tomorrow is another day, I'll try to get it in then!

We are so enjoying being a part of our local church.  It has been a great blessing to my soul to be a part of the worship services, as well as the fellowship that takes place afterwards.  Our family seems to always be some of the last to leave!  On Wednesday night we were there for the prayer service, which started at 6:30.  We didn't get home until 9pm!  It's such a gift, though, and I am very thankful for the opportunity to be a part of local church life.  We have wonderful pastors and I have felt very refreshed, encouraged, and strengthened by the teaching of the Word.

The girls are doing well in general with life in the States.  Recently our friend Robert (whom we knew from Asia and helped to come here to study) had finished his degree plus a one year internship and returned to Asia.  We hosted him for a few meals before he left and on the final night, Clara Anne particularly had a hard time saying goodbye.  She just kept hugging him and clinging to him!  She said later that she just wished she could go back with him and be with her friends there again.  We reminded her that if she did that, she would have to leave her friends here.  Such is cross-cultural life; our hearts are in two places at once!

We have enjoyed some time at local parks, a family bike ride where we rode Asia-fashion down to Riverfront park, the blue blue blue skies and cool temps of fall, and the girls have loved our porch swing which is a great spot to sit and read aloud in the mornings.  It is such a blessing to have clean air!  We've even had the windows open!  I am thankful.

John is thoroughly enjoying his classes, reading, and interaction with others on the subjects they're studying.  It's a ton of work, no doubt about that, and he has to be very disciplined with his time, but he is excited about his course of study.  It's been great to see him really thriving!

Well, the hour is already late so I'll just leave you with this family picture with Robert, the night before he left.  We miss you already, Robert!  We hope someday the Lord will allow us to live on the same continent for longer than just a few weeks!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Home School Happiness

Two days of home school are behind us, and things are going quite well!  We are gradually getting back into a good routine and getting used to how to make life work for us here in the States.  The girls seem to really enjoy "doing school" and though we've only had two days, were already reminding me this morning what came next in the morning line-up.  We are going to love that space downstairs that we've got set aside for school; it's bright, comfortable, and spacious which is simply a gracious gift from the Lord.  We're thankful for it!

I'm so thankful to be finished unpacking; and Clara Anne is too!  Last Saturday she said to me, "Mommy, I'm so glad you're done unpacking, now we can spend more time together."  There was a little "ouch" in that statement when she said it, but she's right!  I'm so glad we've made it through the season of "girls, please play quietly in the other room and don't fight, Mommy needs to finish this!  And don't touch that stack of stuff!" and now can focus on doing school together.  Of course it helps to be in a bit of routine, even these two days have felt so refreshing!  And, it's been fun to enjoy some steamed milk (for the girls) and a homemade latte (for me) while we read aloud.  Wow, who knew school could be so fun?!

Pictures to come of my happy home schoolers! 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

By Request

I have some very happy news for you all.  Tonight, this VERY evening, I finished the last bit of the unpacking!  Yes, it's true, the sorting and organizing and putting away of the homeschool/craft materials that had been hanging over me for a very long time now are all DONE!  Decisions about where to put things, how best to organize the space in a large walk-in closet downstairs and use the storage containers we already had are finally made.  I had not intended for this to take so long, but I got interrupted several times in the doing of this project, including almost all of last week at the hospital with Chloe.  But, I am so thankful that tonight I can say we are totally finished unpacking!  There are still two closets (in the master bath and our bedroom) that are only loosely organized, but that can easily wait or be tackled in a hour or two sometime.  The big projects are done now, which is such a relief since we need that space downstairs to start home schooling next week!

I finished up my home school ordering last night and am getting very excited about this year and the things we're going to do.  One caution I keep giving myself, though, is not to overbook our family.  It seems really easy in the States where there are so many fun options of things to do, to plan so much "fun stuff" that everyone is running ragged.  I am determined to have more time at home than out, more routines than not, and generally some time and space to create a learning environment where the girls are rested, happy, and secure.  I want to give them my best time every day.  Tonight we talked about a small project that we are starting tomorrow called "Family Service Opportunities"--a nice name for chores.  When we lived in Asia I had picture chore cards that I laid on the table in the morning, and they had to complete the tasks that the picture represented (a picture of their jammies to remind them to put away their jammies, a picture of their toothbrushes to remind them to brush their teeth) and then hand the stack of pictures to me to receive their points for the day.  (That was to keep them on task as well as to prevent the cards from getting scattered all over the house!)  The girls have asked for those pictures again so we will take all new pictures, have them laminated, and put them on a ring so that they can each have their own set to remind them what to do.  In this house they'll have a few more opportunities for service since our beloved Lou isn't working for us anymore!

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, talking about settling in and finishing up the unpacking.  My dear friend Sandra emailed me recently and asked me a few questions about life and adjustment to the States, and I thought I'd answer her questions here--she asked such thoughtful and interesting questions!  So here goes!

1. Would you crate again?
To be perfectly honest, no.  In this case we were so very thankful that the investment of furniture and household goods that we already owned was able to come back with us to the States, and the value of having those items did still far outweigh the difficulties of the crating experience, so I'm glad for that.  But the incredibly long, complicated and expensive process that it took to get those things here is not something we would like to repeat in our lifetime.  At this point, our feeling is that if/when the Lord leads us back overseas, we will NOT take these things with us but will find some way to live more simply there.  But that is also difficult, obviously, with children and home schooling and just the basic need for furniture, kitchen utensils, clothes, etc.  It's not easy to move internationally, crating or no, but I just don't think we will go through this particular process again.

2. When you were going through the things you stored 7 years ago, what was the best thing you kept?
Probably all of the memorabilia from our earlier lives...I had an old hatbox filled with the letters we wrote each other while we were dating, there were various scrapbooks, photo albums and things like that.  I am also glad I didn't get rid of my huge collection of operatic cd's, now we can easily put them on our ipod and enjoy them still.  When we first moved overseas the ipod didn't even exist, and we certainly weren't going to use luggage space for a ton of opera cds!  But now I'm really glad we have them.

3. What made you say, "Why did we store this?"
Hmm, let's see, I know there were things we threw away or gave away...probably some superflous things like I had a whole Mary Kay manicure set because I used to really enjoy doing my nails.  Ha!  Those days are long gone, and I should have just given up on the manicure set while the polish was still usable!  Also, we had a lot of financial records...I guess they say you should keep those things for 7 years, but that had come and gone so it was time to get rid of those records as well.  For example, bills and correspondence relating to our college loans, which we paid off several years ago.  Time to throw that stuff away!

4. What colors did you paint your new home?
Some lovely colors!  It's really fun!  I found a great taupe-y brown that I liked called "Au Lait Ole" which of course sounded great to me and my love for coffee!  It looks like a very creamy coffee color.  We used it as the main color in the kitchen, living area, hallway, and stairs leading downstairs. 

Then, we painted three walls--two adjoining ones in the kitchen, and one opposite the front door in the living area--a very vivid, dark red.  It is beautiful!  When we first started putting it on it looked so very red, I wasn't sure if I liked it, but now I really do.  It's very striking.  The Au Lait Ole color had two other colors on the paint chip with it, in the same family, one a "coffee with a little less cream" color (slightly darker), and then the darkest one a chocolate brown.  Oooh, I love the chocolate brown!  We have a tiny half-bath on the main floor where we used the chocolate brown, and then the medium color is in our bedroom.  It goes great with the cedar bedroom set we had shipped over, as well as my "cheap-o but still looks nice" duvet cover and pillow shams which are darker brown with a blue accent.  Also, we painted the main bathroom upstairs a dark blue, "Baritone Blue" to go with our white and blue shower curtain that we already had.  We painted before the shower curtain arrived, and thankfully, it matches just fine!  So, we painted all of the main floor except John's office space. 

On the lower level, the girls' domain, we painted their big room a pretty, vivid lavender color, called "Imperial Lavender" and it is!  It was a bit bright upon first finishing it, but now with their furniture in the room and their bright quilts it looks very nice.  The family room/home school area in the other part of the downstairs we were not going to paint, but then we found some leftover, old paint stored under the stairs downstairs and stirred it up very thoroughly, and used that to just give it a fresh coat.  It is an antique white.  Whew!  We enjoy painting, but that was lots of work!

5. What's the best part of being in America? 
Blue skies and family!  No doubt about it.  I love that we have been able to see our family and I can pick up the phone and call them anytime without figuring out the time difference and how much it's going to cost me.  That is such a blessing.  The fresh air has been wonderful too!  And, many of the conveniences that feel truly convenient to me...fresh veggies washed and cut that you can steam in the bag, a dishwasher, being able to run errands with my own car, and being able to make myself understood very easily is a big plus too!  No language barrier!  Oh and I almost forgot--the favorite feature in my kitchen is the automatic ice maker!  It's an older frig, no ice or water in the door, but it has an automatic ice maker!  I love it--ice is always being made, and not by me!  Ice was always a hassle in our home in Asia, so I think this is fantastic!

6. What's been the toughest aspect of being in America?
The pace of life seems so much faster here.  There are so many great things to see and do and go and people to be with and activities to enjoy and...the list goes on.  I am hoping that things will slow down, but this transition has been rough.  It was a full two months (mid June to mid August) that I got my clothes out of a suitcase each morning and there were lots and lots of times where I wasted time looking for something that I knew I had just seen somewhere!  I don't enjoy living in chaos, I like having everything in its place, and so this was a big challenge for me.  And probably we've all experienced gets crazy, there's no routine or structure, who knows what will happen each day...and time with the Lord gets pushed aside because we're too busy or too tired or whatever excuse we have.  So keeping my priorities straight--the Lord, my husband, my children, then other tasks--has been very difficult.  We're all looking forward now to a more "settled" fall semester; maybe we'll still feel pretty busy but at least things are in the same place from day to day!  My kids know where their toys are and how and where to put their jammies away and we have food in the cupboards and aren't forced to eat out all the time!  (I actually got tired of eating out when we first moved.  It's true.  I never thought it could happen, but it did.)  That's a true blessing!

7. You said that your Asian cooking supplies made it to the states. What types of things did you carry back from the East?
I took my wok, my set of knives, my notebook with over 30 recipes written down to make our favorites, and then some specialty food items: la pi (a type of noodle made from sweet potatoes), dried xiang gu (those yummy mushrooms), dried mu er (the black wood ear mushrooms), our favorite instant tea (I don't drink it every morning, trying to conserve!), dried red peppers, the kind we like in suan la tudou si, some star anise, some mouth-numbing hua jiao, our very favorite deep fried stuffed dried red peppers, and then some liquids: dark soy sauce, my beloved wei da mei soy sauce, and I think that's it!  We had to take all of this in our check-in luggage because we weren't allowed to put food or medicine in the crate, and so we had a list prepared if they would ask us in customs if we had food items.  Thankfully, they didn't ask so didn't need to look things over, which was a relief because at that moment the time was getting short before our next flight.  I have already used several items and cooked some basic things...I love having my wok and the knives, good knives are so expensive in the States so I'm thankful for my well-worn but still wonderfully useful set.  I think I will use the wok, knives, and wei da mei the most. 

8. What aspects from life in the East do you find yourself infusing into daily life in the West? I am surpised at how much Asianese I have spoken here!  I have met a lot of Asians already and have enjoyed speaking with them in their language, and they have seemed to enjoy it too!  I am thankful for this and hope to continue relationships with several of the ones that I have met.  Also, here's a very practical thing: I am not at all fazed to wear the same clothes a few days in a row, especially if I've mostly been at home and they aren't really sweaty or dirty.  I did this all the time in Asia but I think (I'm guessing, anyway) that the American way is still to have a lot of clothes and always change everything every day.  I think I have way less clothes than the average American woman (for better or worse!).  Of course I like to look nice but I don't want to get too concerned about clothes either.  We also eat more vegetables now than we did when we lived in America before, partly because we're used to it!  It's so easy to stir-fry up some vegetables and add some rice for a great meal.  Though I bought the cheaper, "long grain" rice instead of jasmine or basmati and it really tastes so very mediocre.  Edible, but not tasty at all.  I think I'm going to have to bite the bullet for the tastier rice next time!

Two other notes of culture and adjustment:  I am trying my hand at couponing/trying to buy groceries on sale and save money.  We get the Sunday paper and its coupons now and I've been watching the ads and comparing prices for about 4-5 weeks now, and I'm so surprised that many of my favorite foods that I loved to make from scratch are actually more expensive to make in the States than to buy.  I thought for sure that from-scratch cooking would be the way to save money in the States but I am totally wrong.  I can buy a cookie mix on sale for much less than it would cost me to buy the chocolate chips to go into a batch of cookies.  I priced out my granola, but it is a budget-buster: honey is quite expensive, the dried fruit is expensive, even the oatmeal is much higher than I remembered!  I could get a box of granola cereal on sale for less than making it myself!  So it's going to be interesting to make those I make things we really love from scratch?  Just occasionally, as a special treat, or is it something that we love and no matter what, I am going to make?  Hmmm, questions for consideration.  I really had no idea how much it was going to cost to feed our family and so we're still trying to figure some of those things out.  Lately I've been buying things on sale, using coupons when I can, and most meals I'm hitting right at about $5 per meal.  Does that seem good or not, fellow couponers?  Maybe as I get more into the flow of couponing I will find I can do it for cheaper.

The other thing to get used to is that our new place is almost all carpet.  I am not used to carpet.  I view it suspiciously; when we first moved in my girls were running around in bare feet and their feet were black after an hour or two.  Truly.  We tried to think of any other explanation, but it really was the carpet.  YIKES!  Since I wanted to be able to go barefoot in my own home, we rented a cleaner and went over it thoroughly, but I feel like it's still dirty.  I vacuum regularly, but not daily, so it's hard to know how dirty it truly is.  But, I'm making peace with the carpet.  It does have its advantages so I'm trying to appreciate it (and just not think about what might be hiding in those absorbent fibers!)

Ok, this may have been the longest post I've ever written.  And you made it to the end, wowza!  Thanks for the questions, Sandra, and thanks for reading!