Monday, December 20, 2010

Jet Pack Training

What is this child doing? Why, she's jet pack training, of course! I came upon the kids doing this today with our TRX bands (these are non-stretchy exercise bands that hook over a door. We use them for P90X). Conveniently, there are handles for their arms, plus extra loops for their hands. With their feet up on the door, they pretend they are airborne.

But you wouldn't really feel like you're flying without wind, so here's the fan! They take turns holding the fan for each other.

Ethan insists on his jet pack face - he's serious about this flying business. Lest you think he's that red and sweaty from just hanging in the air, that's the result of a recent Nerf gun fight.

I'm guessing the creator of TRX never anticipated this use.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lick Away, My Friends

I'm really glad that my mom never told me I shouldn't eat raw cookie dough because that's really the best part of cookies for me. Lately, though, I've met more people who are really against this idea of eating raw batter because of the whole salmonella thing. I know people who have never eaten raw batter because of this fear, and that to me seems tragic, like they're living less than a full life.

Well, today I found this post that proved to me (not that I really needed it) that it's perfectly acceptable to eat raw dough. Here are the stats:

Your chances of getting salmonella poisoning from raw cookie dough: 1 in 30,000.

Your chances of dying from salmonella poisoning: 1 in 50,000,000

Your chances of drowning: 1 in 1,000

Your chances of dying from slipping: 1 in 6,000

Your chances of dying from choking on food: 1 in 5,000

Your chances of being in a car crash: 1 in 4

So while you're doing all your holiday baking, enjoy yourself. Lick away! Do, however, take care while swimming, walking, eating, and driving.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thank you thank you thank you

I was inspired just now after putting in a few loads of laundry to add to my thankful list.

395. My giant washing machine (ok, not by US standards, but definitely by these standards!). I can't tell you how many hours this has saved me.
396. Our dryer - again, giant, and it actually spins the clothes instead of baking them, like most Chinese dryers.
397. The fact that the only truly cold place in our house is the porch where these appliances are, and since they are so big I don't have to go out there too often.
398. Road trip! I love road trips. (we're going to a furniture place).
399. The possibility of finally getting the last pieces of furniture for our apartment.
400. My husband who graciously included, "Finishing house projects" in his sabbatical plan.
401. Sabbatical! Not for me, but Erik. He so needed it. I love having him around!
402. Jane Eyre for 89c on Kindle. So far I love this book. Don't spoil it for me please.
403. New shared interest with Erik - P90X.
404. Feeling strong and energetic after our first week of P90X.
405. Tao Bao. I will always be thankful for Tao Bao.
406. And Amazon, because now my family has Christmas gifts in route.
407. Relaxing days in a sort of Christmas break (we've still been doing a little school, but very little).
408. Fun times with my kids making sugar cookies and cutting out snowflakes.
409. Making fun Christmas gifts (yes, in addition to Amazon - I was feeling generous this year) for my family that reminded me how much I love them
410. The incredible blessing of being able to coach LEAF last week
411. Having a GREAT coaching team to work with - best ever, never had so much fun doing it.
412. Reflecting on my own LEAF growth and how God has made a seismic shift in my heart that makes me see everything differently now.
413. Getting to spend two hours last night listening to one of my friends who went through LEAF last week talk about how how excited she is about all that she learned
414. The joy of Christmas coming!
415. IKEA - never would have thought I could finish my Christmas shopping for the kids there, but this year I did
416. Friends across China who send me notes via other friends when they can.
417. Thailand is appealing to me again - we'll go there in January for a few weeks. When we traveled there from Singapore, it was just a dirtier version of Singapore. Now it will be a happy relief from the cold!
418. What cold? :) I'm happy to have predicted temps in the mid-40's this week, even if it means we won't have a white Christmas.
419. My brown hat. I heart my brown hat.
420. Kids who are in a really fun stage - so helpful, but getting independent, able to have interesting conversations, always growing and learning.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Search for Stockings

When Megan asked me yesterday if we were going to have stockings this year, it did beg the question, "Where are the stockings?" After a quick check with the Stateside fam and another perusal of the closet, we had to decide they've gone AWOL. Possibly they hopped a boat back to the tropics. If so, good riddance. We can hardly celebrate Christmas with stockings who can't take the cold.

So as we are now accustomed to doing, I am searching Tao Bao for new stockings. In searching, I have discovered a few things. First, a number of the items are displayed on the legs of thin women actually wearing the stockings like socks. I avoid these not only because a) someone has been wearing something I planned to put candy in, but b) if the stockings are small enough for a tiny Chinese woman to wear as socks, they aren't anywhere close to the size we need.

I say this because I now realize the kids in our family grew up with what might be termed oversized stockings. (I prefer to call them "generous" or even, "the RIGHT size"). My brother's stocking was long and thin, something I could easily now pull up to my mid-thigh. I secretly thought mine was better - though shorter, it was significantly wider, allowing for bigger items inside. Our sister's was about the size of mine as well. To us, they were normal.

So how do I find equal size stockings to replace our lost ones? I would feel like Scrooge to give them any less (although I admit our previous stockings were not up to par - another reason I'm not too sad to see them leave). I thought I'd found a winner, but upon closer examination, it is proclaiming, "Let it sonw!" so we're bypassing that.

I've got my eye on a "Pottery Barn" (or so it says) reindeer stocking, but they only have two. Maybe Erik and I will just get those for the kids and use garbage bags instead. Sure, we lose on aesthetics, but you can't get everything you want, even at Christmas.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Warning

I'll be staying in a hotel all of next week and I'm blessed to have a woman named Iris as my roommate. We're excited for the time together to catch up as we don't often see each other. But I realized this morning that being my roommate comes with a warning which I must give her.

I sleep talk.

And not just mumbling like, "Huh, Gina's saying something, I can't quite make it out." No, because I'm a drama geek and that just wouldn't be as riveting. My sleep talking is full on trying to engage you in my reality, which is whatever I've been dreaming about. Add to that the fact that I am actually awake and fully aware of what I'm trying to tell you. Oh yeah, and when you don't understand what I'm telling you (and you won't) I will become frustrated and think, "Idiot!" before falling back asleep.

I started this in high school by wandering into my parent's room at 11 p.m. and insisting to my mom (who was still awake) that "my squad is missing" (referring to my marching band squad of 5). I spent 5 minutes trying to get her riled up about my missing squad but at one point she justifiably asked me, "Gina are you awake?" to which I responded, "YES!" and grumbled out of the room.

Fast forward 20 years and I have subjected many roommates to this behavior. My roommate in college awoke once to me jumping on her, screaming, "Help! Help! Help! Crap! Crap! Crap!" She stopped me before I ran out the door. Erik's born the brunt of it of course, everything from me insisting that he just rolled over the green peppers I was cutting on my pillow to thinking I'd crushed the baby to telling him not to come any closer (because I thought he was a stranger climbing into bed). He knows now that when I speak in a staccato tone, I'm doin' my thing and he should just go along with it til I lose consciousness again.

I wish I could stop doing this, but it's seemingly impossible. Instead I just have to warn people, "I will probably talk to you. I am awake during this times. You don't have to understand. Don't try to converse with me. Eventually I'll go back to sleep. I apologize for the weirdness."

Fashion No No's

Ethan spiked his hair into a mohawk last night after his shower. He's quite pleased that it has stayed that way through the night and plans to keep it until his next shower.

This morning, he and Megan discussed whether or not they should wear their Thing 1 and Thing 2 shirts (they like to wear them on the same day) but Ethan said, "I thought about it, but a Thing 1 shirt just doesn't go with a mohawk."

Good to know.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All in good fun

Today, Megan came racing into the kitchen screaming and laughing and exclaimed, "Ethan's going to KILL me!"

"I don't think he's going to kill you."

"Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating but AAAHHHH!!!" as Ethan rounded the corner and attacked her, and they fell down in a heap laughing hysterically.


I realized today during a Tao Bao search for brown leather clogs (any suggestions?? The Dansko ones I can only find in a size bigger than I wear) that if I lived in Europe, my age would match my shoe size, 37.

This amused me because since I turned 37 I've been reminded of that line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "I'm not old, I'm 37!"

A momentous year for me, that's all I'm saying.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Still thankful . . .

More things to add to my thankful list from earlier today:

391: The turkey turned out awesome, if I do say so myself
392. And so did the stuffing, and I don't even like stuffing so that's saying something
393. Conversations with friends that start with, "When we were living in . . . " and it's always somewhere out of the ordinary. I love those stories!
394. Crunching leaves under my feet as I walked home. There never used to be leaves in the fall here! I hope it's a long time before someone comes along and takes them away

I just found the sign below online and it encouraged me. I hope you see all the good gifts in your life today too!

Sliding down the stairs

Thump thump thump thump - "Oww . . . ."

That was the very familiar sound of a child sliding down stairs. We used to do it as kids, in our sleeping bags, down the carpeted stairs. Here, we have concrete stairs covered with a thin wood veneer. It didn't sound fun.

"Was that an intentional slide down the stairs?" I asked from the kitchen where I was nursing the turkey (oh please oh please oh please be good little turkey!)

"That was me sliding down the stairs on a beanbag," said Ethan with a bit of a moan.

"And what did you learn from that experience?"

"I need to do it again!!"

Not the response I was expecting. I should stop typing and put the kabosh on this madness because it's only fun until someone smashes into the AC unit at the bottom of the stairs.

Gratitude on the day of Thanks

It would just be wrong if I didn't add to my list of grateful things today, so here they are:

366. My husband gently disciplining the kids in the wee hours of the morning
367. Quiet hours in the a.m. while getting over jet lag
368. Amazing women in my small group who love me and want to hear my heart
369. New friends for our kids
370. Running the Turkey Trot (and finishing it despite a side ache!)
371. Running the Turkey Trot with four other women, just enjoying their company on the way
372. An older woman who can coach me in cooking my first turkey (yes, my first!)
373. And my first batch of stuffing!
374. An oven big enough for a 13 lb. turkey. This is a rarity in China.
375. Oh, I forgot to mention - 20 people fitting into our kitchen/dining room after the Turkey Trot to eat cinnamon rolls and drink coffee (and we weren't even that crowded! I love my kitchen!)
376. Enjoying a new book (Count of Monte Cristo) on my new Kindle (which is on my new iPad)
377. Dayle, my coach, who is wise, gentle, and believes in me
378. Realizing that I have parents who love me really well and are unfailingly generous.
379. Almost being through jet lag
380. The gift of being able to coach LEAF again in a few weeks
381. Erik has sabbatical for the month of December - I'm so looking forward to him being around!
382. Our house is WARM!
383. God is my defender, the One who justifies me
384. God uses all things for good
385. My husband is my safe place
386. Plaid pajama pants from Old Navy - they have become my new "uniform"
387. Tao Bao - what can't you buy on it? We would have ordered the turkey from there but they were sold out
388. Our helper - I love coming home just in time to host people for dinner and seeing that my house is now clean (it wasn't when I left!)
389. I was able to use my Discover card at Carrefour yesterday. It's a long story, but it saved me a lot of time and stress!
390. So far the turkey looks edible!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Our kids' take on the States

Before we left China, I asked the kids what they were most looking forward to about being in the States. I thought I'd get responses about seeing family and spending time in Orlando's amusement parks, but instead they said,

"We'll be able to see the sky because it won't be polluted." Ethan

"No one will touch my hair." Megan

"I'll be able to understand everything that people are saying." Ethan

"The traffic won't be so bad." Ethan

The kids really do love China, but it was interesting to see that they do notice the differences in culture and can appreciate something good when they have it.

Thoughts from 27,000 feet

Our kids are getting too big to curl up in the chairs and sleep.

Even time I do this I think, “I never want to do this again.” And yet I will have to do it again in a week.

Never judge your hair in an airplane mirror. The lighting in there is awful.

If people are still standing and walking while the seatbelt light is on, even after the flight attendant says in Chinese, “For the last time, sit down and fasten your seatbelts!” chances are they will remain standing.

Special meals are the way to go – no waiting for that meal cart to finally get back to us little people.

Providing someone with a small, thick steak may seem like a kindness except when you have simultaneously provided her with only plastic utensils.

It doesn’t matter how bored I am, the movie Grown Ups is not worth more than 5 minutes of my attention.

Why can’t I bring water on the plane, but you’ll give it to me when I’m here? (there is a second security check as you leave China, after your ticket has been scanned, to take any liquids you've bought in the airport)

I am genetically programmed to sleep only when it is dark and quiet, I am laying down in a comfortable and warm bed, and no one is touching me. These are not the conditions on a plane, therefore I do not sleep. Also, I would suck on Survivor.

I wish I could take credit for what great travelers our kids are. We get so many compliments, but really, it’s all them.

My butt hurts.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Being Thankful

I've been meaning to make this list for awhile now, but it's been hard to find time in the busyness leading up to our brief trip this Friday. Much of what I'm thankful for involves this trip, but there have been many other blessings as well!

330. We're going to the States on Friday!
331. Our kids are old enough that even flying solo with them isn't that hard
332. We get to see Erik's family, my family, and my friend Laura, this weekend
333. Target! Can't wait to shop there
334. My parents are graciously coming to Orlando with us to hang with the kids while we work
335. We got a 3 bedroom apartment to stay in while we're there
336. I'll have lots of time to write next week
337. I will have a night with some old friends from China there.
338. We get to see our dear friends, the Higgins, on our way back through MN (shh! The kids don't know!)
339. Orlando's weather looks to be right around 80 degrees every day
340. But the weather here this week has been GORGEOUS so I can't complain
341. I had a great time buying gifts for friends and family yesterday
342. I've been coaching Erik's new assistant in Chinese and last night I walked away with a long list of words I'd learned (admit, to be hurt, selfish, avoid, lies, barriers)
343. My maid, otherwise who knows what condition my house would be in right now
344. Teaching drama to the 3rd and 4th graders was really fun last week - looking forward to it today
345. I had a great 2+ hour talk the other day with a good friend that was just what I needed. Then later I got encouraging texts from another friend. Feeling very blessed in this area!
346. A teenage girl from our co-op called us a few weeks ago and offered her services as a babysitter for us - just what we needed!
347. Our kids are at this moment up early doing their schoolwork before breakfast. This means my hope of running once the sun and the temperature are up might really happen!
348. We had a great conference a few weeks ago with some other moms where I was the MC. While most people would rather die than speak in public, it feeds my soul.
349. Halloween - super fun with just our expat friends in the neighborhood, and everyone outside commenting on how cute they all looked
350. Megan had her first soccer tournament on Saturday. Her team came in dead last, but not for lack of Megan trying! She did really well - we were so proud of her!
351. I finally feel settled here
352. Scarves - I'm a bit obsessed
353. My Croc slippers for around the house - again, a bit obsessed
354. Carpet! It's become the wrestling ground for our kids on a daily basis
355. My new computer!
356. All the books, clothes, etc. that are waiting for us when we get to America. It saves me so many hours of shopping here and there
357. Our kids have been getting along really well lately. It's such a blessing!
358. Red leaves - never used to see these here
359. pumpkin seeds - they are my new favorite snack. But not just around Halloween - they are readily accessible here, roasted and salted already
360. My friend Tammy led us to a great local dentist who saw Ethan for free last week (we had a sudden fear when he had a huge bump over a molar. Turns out his 12 years are coming in early!)
361. There's a rhythm to life here now
362. Runs in the park nearby have been so life giving
363. Our treadmill for those days when it's still too dark and cold to run outside!
364. We found a new park near us that looks beautiful - so many places to explore!
365. I get to see my coach, Dayle, next week. She's a great blessing!

Saturday, October 30, 2010


I found out this morning that the flight I'm taking on Friday back to the States with the kids (and no husband - he's coming a day later) has no in-seat entertainment. On flights that do, I can put our kids in their assigned seats and see them again when I get off the plane. This changes the game considerably. We get on at 1:40 p.m. and land many hours later (11? 12? 13? not sure) in San Francisco. At some point they will fall asleep, but until then we need to have enough books and games packed to keep them from driving each other and me crazy (to their credit, they are very good fliers, but everyone has their limit).

On a very pleasant run to the park just now (Turkey Trot here I come) it hit me that I really have no reason to complain. I mean really - getting back from the Orient used to take months. On a boat. Sometimes people died on the way. At best they spent part of it heaving over the railings. Can you imagine trying to entertain your kids on a boat for months? How tired would you get of hearing, "How much further is it?"

So I'm choosing to be thankful that I can manage a trip home for a week and it takes me less than a day to get there. No boats, no heaving (hopefully), no all sorts of things that could happen if the trip took months. It's all in how you look at it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Speaking of bathrooms

It's been really fun to watch my kids learn Chinese. More and more they recognize characters they see out in public, or pick up words Erik and I are speaking to others. The only unfortunate thing is that soon Erik and I will not be able to use Chinese as our "we don't want the kids to understand what we're saying in their presence" language. Time for Erik to pick up Spanish (and for me to find it again).

Today as we reviewed for their class, I was throwing out other useful phrases like, "Where is the bathroom?" There are two good ways to say this. One is "Wei sheng jian zai nar?" and the other is "xi shou jian zai nar?" The latter they instantly recognized as "Where is the wash hands room?" Easy enough. The first means literally, "Where is the sanitary room?" so I explained sanitary as clean. Ethan objected to that by observing that the bathrooms here are rarely clean. So then we put together the phrase, "China has no sanitary rooms." This is not actually true. In fact there has been a delightful increase in the number of public bathrooms which DON'T make me wish I couldn't smell. But for the sake of language learning, it made for useful conversation.

On a completely unrelated note, my question about whether or not the yogurt in the refrigerator had gone bad has been answered. I now need to go eat something else.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Thoughts about the new carpet

I am experiencing a state of high satisfaction with life today, mostly superficially centered around the arrival of the two pieces of carpet in our home. The larger, pleasant blue colored one is in the homeschool room, and the smaller, off white one is on the first floor (yes, off white - we're living on the edge!). After yesterday's curtain debacle this felt like a bit of redemption for me. I don't want to talk about it. I'm not proud. And I still don't have guest room curtains, although the living room ones are lovely (albeit without pleats, but that's another story).

I didn't realize how exciting the carpet would be for the kids, but after I had accompanied the carpet delivery men to the ATM to get money for them, I returned to hear shouts of glee from four young people who were romping on the carpet upstairs (the kids had friends over).

Megan hadn't come downstairs to see the living room carpet yet, but when she did this was her reaction:

Megan: Wow - look at this one! And daddy hasn't even seen it yet!

Ethan: He's going to come in and say, 'What's that big white thing?'

Megan: No he won't. He's not that dumb.

Glad that Megan has so much confidence in her father. And glad to have a nice comfy place to sit in two rooms!

On a Morning Walk

I almost took my cell phone with me on a short walk this morning, but the battery was dead. Too bad, because I could have shown you what I'm about to simply tell you. So you'll just have to use your imagination. I saw:

The sun rising through the trees - gorgeous!

Dogs that came to the park and made friends - a German Shepherd, a couple of Golden Retrievers, something that looked like a small St. Bernard, a giant Husky, and a variety of smaller dogs roughhousing and chasing each other.

People doing Tai Qi as solitary figures in the midst of the trees - beautiful and calming to watch

So many people out walking and running - Chinese are active people!

A man playing the saxophone

Another man slapping his legs vigorously - wake up legs! Or at least, that's what I imagine he's thinking

My breath! It's perfect exercise temperature right now

yellow roses and purple wildflowers

old ladies walking and chatting together (and by old I mean OLD)

Walks like that make me want to go more often. Unfortunately I can't go out again in the morning until Erik gets back Wednesday night. Next time I'll take the phone so you can see for yourself.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Gina vs technology

I'm not one to pursue new technology. I like to think that what I have is as good as I need, and that there is really nothing added to my life by getting the next best thing. I think if I were 80 years old right now I'd be the kind of person who has never touched a computer and still has a rotary phone.

So when Erik suggests that he buy me new technology, or tries to pass off his old gadgets to me (because he IS buying the latest technology for himself) I tend to be resistant. The most recent attempt has been an iphone. He really wants to buy me one. I know, I know, there are probably many people who would think, "Why on EARTH wouldn't you want your husband to buy you an iphone?!?" Ok, here are my reasons:

1. I don't need another way to waste time
2. That thing's a giant. It feels like I'm holding an entire book to my ear.
3. They're not cheap.
4. There's nothing wrong with the phone I have.
5. I'm just kind of stubborn.

On top of the iphone, I desperately need a new computer, because this one is the devil incarnate. Erik's always up for buying me a new computer (I mean of course when the need arises, not just for fun) but because he just bought a Macbook and hasn't really started using it, he suggested I just take it and he can buy another one when we're in the States.

Ok, switching to a Mac brings out a whole new level of resistance in me, mostly driven by the fear that I will have to spend hours trying to figure out how it works which will degenerate into frustration and tears and the kids saying, "What's wrong mommy?" and then quietly leaving me to myself. Not my preferred method of living.

And yet, today Erik is setting up the Macbook for me, and I have agreed to an iphone. Why the change? Well, partly because I fear one day I WILL throw this computer out the 12th story window BEFORE opening the window which will mean more Chinese workers in my house fixing the window, not to mention the real possibility of killing someone on the street below. That's a whole mess of trouble. I've heard a million times "Once you go Mac you never go back" and I'm willing to test theory.

As for the iphone, I've been swayed by a few apps, like the one that allows you to point your phone at Chinese characters and have it read them for you, and the one that allows you to directly record things into Quicken (I might actually stick to our budget that way!), and the GPS. We're not going to run out and buy it yet, but I'm open.

I surrender. Technology wins.

Friday, October 08, 2010


This is the view out our north windows on a pretty typical day. This actually isn't as clear as it could be, but the sky usually isn't as clear as it could be. We had some really beautiful days over the holiday last week, days where you forget that the sky can do this:

This is the same view, this morning. It was worse when I woke up at 6, but whatever part of this was fog has left and this is what we get to see the rest of the day. The forecast says "sunny" but what that means is, "The sun is still shining on the earth, but you will know this only because the white will become brighter."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A Lego Imagination

I heard Ethan this morning before I saw him, the sounds he was making to accompany the flight of his Lego creation coming down the stairs. He sat on the couch next to me and told me an elaborate story involving the dog sector, the human sector, differences in gravity, his "son" Ben, the specs of his flying vehicle, something involving a war, and a crash landing. This is all in his imagination. His Lego imagination.

If you have boys, and you are wondering about the value of these expensive pieces of plastic (which become lethal torture objects under your feet in the dark) wonder no more. Granted, most of the Legos we have we bought on sale or were gifts, but they are worth every penny.

Ethan rarely puts sets together as intended anymore. Instead, he and his friends (and sister) have covered his Lego creation table with various vehicles and stations, including the White House, a carpark, a pet shop, a fishing pond, a museum, a gas station, a prison, a dock, a "puffle" house, and a horse stable.

Nothing has provided Ethan with more hours of entertainment nor with more fodder for imagination than Legos. In fact, it's pretty much his only toy. The things he makes baffle me - I don't think I could create them. That could be because I have not one engineering bone in my body.

As I typed this, Ethan jumped up from the couch and said, "I have an idea!" I can hear him rummaging through his Lego boxes. Today, I tip my hat to the creator of Legos, and say thank you very much.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Ever since I saw this field of wildflowers in the park near our house I've wanted to take pictures of the kids in it. The light was horrible at this time, and the kids weren't dressed or anywhere near clean (when mommy can't remember the last time you showered, it's really time to shower) but this was my "test run." Once we found a place where they weren't being swarmed by bees, they were good sports about it. Soon I hope to go back with clean, groomed children (because that's what they look like so much of the time right?) and better lighting, and see what we can get.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Calm hearts

This is the "tired heart" Ethan drew a few weeks ago. I asked him last week how he's feeling now, and he said, "Well, my heart's not jumping around all crazy or anything. It's just . . . calm." I think mine is there too, or at least it's getting there.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I think I need to make my thankfulness lists longer, or post them more frequently, or I'm going to be writing them into retirement. I'll admit, for a few weeks there I was struggling to be thankful. I was content just to struggle to keep my head above water.

Now that life has settled down a bit, here are some things I've been grateful for:

301. My husband is home after 10 days away
302. When my helper quit last week, friends offered the extra hours of their helper so I can have someone come clean once in awhile (I know, I'm really spoiled)
303. My parents
304. Cooler weather
305. The amazing park we found near us!
306. Opportunities to use my gifts
307. The joy of decorating our house
308. An arm injury that slowed me down for a week
309. How helpful our kid were while I had the injury!
310. The wisdom to cancel school for a week so we could let our hearts catch up with our lives
311. 5 day weekend coming up!
312. The book The Rest of God
313. Joining a new Bible study with women who are thoroughly enjoyable
314. Allergy meds - I needed them today
315. Sunny skies
316. Finishing things around the apartment
317. We've used our guest room 4 times already!
318. The kids have been very motivated to do their schoolwork lately
319. Chinese class for the kids
320. Tae Kwon Do class for the kids
321. It's so easy to order dinner nearby when I don't want to cook!
322. I really enjoy our new church
323. Megan has been able to live out her passion - soccer - twice weekly this fall!
324. Our car. What would I do without our car?
325. Language learning opportunities
326. Just over a month until we go back to the States for a week
327. Though my helper quit, another woman has quickly taken (part of) her place
328. Water dispensers - we have one upstairs and one down. I love instant hot and cold water
329. cute new shoes that just arrived from Tao Bao!


The other day at lunch with some friends, we got into a discussion about how the relatively inexpensive way we can live here impacts how we spend. For one family who hasn't lived here long, it's brought up questions of how much they should give to their kids. Just because they are suddenly able to afford to give their kids more, should they? It was an interesting discussion about the balance between generosity and frugality, and when you cross the line into spoiling, or the other direction, being stingy.

In the end, our conclusion of the matter came down to heart and freedom - what is our heart in spending or giving? Is it to attain security, to gain material goods? Are we giving to our kids without teaching them gratitude, value, how to live simply? While I may have the freedom to spend or give, there are times when it is wise to refrain, or even to splurge.

I was surprised to find myself in the minority as we explained family backgrounds. Most of my friends came from families where their parents were extremely tight with money, even stingy. Although my parents have always been quite frugal and wise in how they spend their money, they were incredibly generous with us. I don't just mean giving us material things. They were generous with their time, their energy, the opportunities and experiences they provided. They certainly taught us to be wise stewards of our money, but any decision to withhold something from us was explained in terms of its value. Over the years, as their resources have multiplied, the evidence is found not in the material ways they live, but in how they give even more of themselves to the people they know.

I think what impressed me most about our dinner table conversation is how it reminded me of the character of God. I see God as a generous God who loves to give good gifts to His children. When I look at Scripture, I don't see a God who is stingy. I see a God who gives when giving is unmerited, undeserved. He gives and gives and gives. In this aspect, my parents have been a reflection of God to me. They have been wise stewards who pour themselves out for others, and I am incredibly thankful today for that example.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Can't get enough of autumn

It's been 12 years since I have spent an autumn in the States, specifically Minnesota. When we first moved to China, autumn was joke, because we lived surrounded by concrete. The only way we knew it was fall was because people suddenly began wearing excessive layers of clothing and the air turned dry and cooler. I heard rumors of a place where you could see some color change in the leaves, but with young children it never seemed worth the effort to bike or taxi there.

Since moving back, I have to say that China has somehow also improved how they do autumn, don't ask me how. Probably it's due to an increase in foliage. Last fall the leaves along the canal where we ran turned such a dark red it looked like there was fire lining it. Here, we've recently discovered a vast park just to the west of us full of trees. They may not be the kind to change color, but they are certainly a beautiful place to spend these cooler days.

What's also changed is my desire to recapture fall. In my memory, autumn in MN has become an endless stream of apple and pumpkin picking, huddling under blankets at football games, jumping in piles of crunchy leaves, and long walks in the colored woods. I realize this is far from reality, but I'm on a quest to enjoy similar things. So I'm making soups and bread, and roasting pumpkin seeds, and finding ways to go to apple orchards and pumpkin patches (yes, they do exist here). It was such a joy to buy a little pumpkin today (for cooking, not carving). As I type, I am wearing a burnt orange shirt and matching scarf, and what I like to call my brown "Oliver Twist hat." It makes me feel very autumny. We'll see if I can get my fill this year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life with one arm

Have you ever thought about what life would be like with just one arm? Considered what you wouldn't be able to do? I've had the misfortune to discover the answers to those questions this week as I pulled a muscle in my left arm last week exercising. Let me tell you what becomes incredibly difficult:

drying your hair
driving a stick shift car (didn't even attempt it)
opening a can of tuna
washing dishes
lifting a KitchenAid mixer from the bottom shelf up to the counter
putting on clothing
using the bathroom
zipping your bag closed
turning the pages in your book
and so on . . .

The kids have been quite sweet and helpful, partly because they find it greatly amusing to see what I can't do. More than once I've had to have the kids lick something off my left index finger because I couldn't bend my arm to my face. Thankfully, each day it feels better. This morning I could see my elbow bones again - there'd been too much swelling previously to see. On the one hand it's been a great excuse to slow down and rest (something God often likes to force on me because I have a hard time choosing it myself) but I will be very glad when I can stop figuring out creative ways to do everyday tasks. Ever tried to open a stuck jar with one hand?

Mid-Autumn Festival

Today is Mid-Autumn Festival here in China. I tried asking a Chinese friend the other day how she celebrated this day growing up, hoping it would give me some ideas on how to spend it with my kids. She said initially she would spend time with her family today, but once she got into middle school, the pressure to do well on tests was so high that she and her classmates always spent this day studying. Wow - so I was hoping to hear some fun childhood memories and instead ended up feeling sorry for Chinese youth.

We may celebrate by going out with some friends this afternoon on a picnic. I know one thing I don't plan to do is buy moon cakes. I've tried enough to know they aren't worth it (despite the fact that I've heard rumors of chocolate filled). Rather than try to explain moon cakes, or the Mid-Autumn Festival itself, I thought I'd repost what I wrote last year around this time:

The mid-autumn festival is approaching here. I'd love to tell you more about this holiday, but I'm not entirely sure what it's about other than eating moon cakes. These are little round cakes that have a somewhat pastry like outside and the densest insides you will ever encounter in something considered edible. That part's usually some kind of fruit flavor, but also could be red bean or chicken, among other things.

So because I lack the know all to tell you about the mid-autumn festival, let me share with you this gloriously written ad from a moon cake brochure found on our restaurant table tonight. I swear to you that this is word for word and not embellished in any way:

Welcomes the midautumn festival festival, month round person round all things is all smooth, the day and the human and all things are auspicious, are widely separated by Wan Lichuan the friendship, but asks the safe early morning and the evening.A moon cake entrance, the myriad taste enters the throat, the full moon view spends a character and style, the heart, thought, obtains, saw, smells, eats, the luck, transports, wealth, midautumn festival festival!"

Whatever it's about, it's a beautiful day today and we hope to enjoy it with or without (hopefully without) moon cakes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Childhood of our Children

As I said yesterday, I used to lament my children's upbringing - where was the backyard, the park, the sprinkler? Our kids have had everything outside their door ranging from a tiled courtyard to a pool to a gated community. Each time we've made the most of it. This time is no exception.

In our new apartment, we are in a complex that isn't gated, but has little traffic on the streets. Our area includes about 30 buildings arranged in in rows. Between the rows are small parking lots, courtyards, roads, paths, and even grassy areas.

We have good friends who live at the other corner of the complex. To get there, our kids cross a small street, then ride their bikes along the edge of the complex where there are no cars. Ethan realized he could see a potential new route to our friends' house from our window so yesterday we went out to explore.

As we rode bikes around, following paths between buildings, I started to see it all from a kid's perspective. Here was a ordinary ramp that became a great slide, there a small grove of trees in which to play, here an open area for capture the flag.

I want to give my kids freedom to explore the area on their own. It feels quite safe, and we're going to get Ethan a cell phone to help keep track of them. I've been reading this blog called Free Range Kids that has been encouraging me to let them just enjoy what they've been given. It may not be the childhood I had, but it seems they think it's pretty fun.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Childhood

I had what might felt like an idyllic childhood when it came to playing. I spent my life from age 6 months to 16 years in the same house, a little yellow stucco house on a corner lot. Having a corner lot meant a huge backyard and front yard, plus a bonus yard in between our house and the detached garage.

Our backyard had an apple tree, vegetable garden, flower gardens beautiful enough for people to stop and just look, and a swing set made for us by our dad. Across the street was "Goose Egg Park" so named because of its shape. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I realized its real name was Cascade Park.

It seemed every other house had old people or families with young kids. The old people served as additional guardians and could always be counted on to tell us the whereabouts of friends who'd gone astray during a game.

When we had exhausted what our yard, the alleys through our block, and the park had to offer, we sometimes ventured a few blocks down the street to play in the wooded area near a stream. I know, to parents now that sounds like a classic recipe for abduction, but boy did we have fun.

Living overseas, I used to lament that my children haven't grown up with anything close to this. They've lived in 5 homes in their short lives and all have provided (sometimes vastly) different play opportunities.

I won't go into detail in this post because I'm curious about others' growing up experiences. What was good about it? Anything you wish had been different? Do you feel like your kids have something better or less than what you had?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Tired Hearts

I asked a group of co-workers last night at our house to draw pictures of how their hearts are doing right now, as all of them have recently moved to our city and started new jobs. While we were doing this, Ethan slipped into the room and observed. At one point he came over said, "Mom, there's something I want to show you."

He had drawn his own picture. It was his bed from above, complete with his fan, clock, books, pillows, and bookshelf. His heart was tucked under the blanket with a smile on its face, Z-Z-Z's drifting from its corner.

He said, "I drew this because, well, first of all, I'm tired and I want to go to bed. But also because my heart is tired of all the new things."

Wow, I can't blame him. This week alone he started Tae Kwon Do, Chinese, this bi-weekly group at our house, and homeschool co-op where he's the only 5th grader with all the middle school kids, not to mention all the newness of moving to a new place.

Last week I told God "too much has been asked of my heart lately," so I know just how he's feeling. We're trusting that over the next few weeks things will settle down and feel normal again.

Monday, August 30, 2010

This is how it's done

I have wondered more than once how a place like Metro does business in China. Metro, for the uniformed, is like Sam's Club. Theoretically, you need a membership card, though I just tell them every time that I don't have a card and they write a slip for me to go in. Inside, there are carts larger than you've ever seen elsewhere in China (I used to shop at a place where a "cart" was a double decker place to put plastic baskets - have fun shopping for 10 items!). There's everything from lawn furniture to appliances to food to household goods. And in good Chinese fashion, in addition a gallon vat of mayonnaise, you can buy a 2 liter jug of soy sauce.
(side note: despite the massive size of much of what can be purchased at Metro, they do not deliver. Go figure).

The reason I wonder why they don't close shop is that I rarely see people buy any of the larger items. Case in point: today the woman in front of me was buying an 8 pack of Mentos gum, a 3 pack of glue sticks, and a small jar of Dijon mustard. The guy in front of her, a package of noodles. The woman behind me had a bag of frozen dumplings.

This is what I had:
This is easier to understand when you know that until very recently, many Chinese households didn't even have refrigerators. Their kitchens are small, without storage. They shop meal to meal, or at least day to day. True, occasionally I'll see someone with a large amount of alcohol, or an economy pack of holiday treats (currently moon cakes), but they generally have a look of wonder and excitement on their faces that says, "I can't believe I'm buying this!"

So I ask myself, "Is it just us foreigners keeping this place open? Or is the restaurants to whom it is supposedly marketed?" (you can buy lots of restaurant stuff there). If so, maybe we should go more often, cause I don't think I can live without my 2.5kg bag of oatmeal for 29.99Y or the 2kg vat of vinegar for 19.99Y.

The funny thing, they're all staring at my cart like I'm insane, and I want to say, "Hey, this is how it's done here people!"

Thursday, August 26, 2010


"I recognize that I disobeyed the laws of this country by failing to register within 24 hours of moving. In the future I will make a greater effort to abide by the law."

That is the sum of my self-criticism which I was forced to write recently at the police station. Writing a self-criticism is a rite of passage in China, right up there with getting your bike stolen, and getting sick from street food.

The reason for my punishment was that every time you move to a new location in China, you have to go to the local police station and tell them that you've moved. Erik went the day before me to register our family (6 days late), and also had to sign a self-criticism. His was because he had left the country in July and didn't re-register in our previous district. The police officer saw that he had neglected to do so and told him, "We have records on the computer that show when you leave the country, so we will know if you don't do this," which begs the question, "If you have it on your computer, why do I need to come tell you?" But that's a question best left unasked, as there will be no satisfying answer.

Erik had forgotten a few documents (our rent agreement, and the owner's ID) so I had to go back to present these. The woman showed me Erik's self-criticism, and gave me my own to write. I tried to get out of it by telling the woman that I did not leave the country in July, only my husband did. She told me it was because I hadn't personally come to register the day before, and I pointed out that previously when we registered in our old district, only one of us had to go. Then she asked me, "But when did you move up here? Did you come here within 24 hours?"


I admitted that I hadn't, and vainly explained that moving is a busy process, especially with small children. She concurred, but was unmoved. I was sorely tempted to go overboard with my apology. I was writing in English (thankfully - I've had friends have to write it in Chinese) but wasn't sure if they would recognize the sarcasm and make me write another self-criticism as penance for my insincere self-criticism, so I refrained. In the end, she didn't even glance at what I wrote.

A strange form of punishment, but I think it will work for me. I felt like an 8 year old having to write lines, "I will not fail to register within 24 hours." Well done, China.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'm thankful

I just passed 1,000 posts! But that's completely irrelevant to what I'm going to share with you today.

SOO many ways to be thankful right now, as we settle in to our new place. Here they are:

276. Our apartment is finished and it's beautiful!
277. I have a kitchen island
278. I have an OUTLET in my kitchen island
279. The ACs work
280. I have more storage space than I currently need. This has never happened before in Asia
281. Our guest room is ready and it makes me happy to look at it
282. Erik is 4 minutes away
283. There's a huge produce market 5 minutes away
284. I can get my hair cut for 15Y at a really cool place at the bottom of my building
285. Street popcorn
286. Friends within walking distance
287. Our friend Gary still had furniture in his warehouse that we could use and he gave us great deals on it
288. My dryer works (just not my washer)
289. A double sink!
290. Beautiful views from our 12th floor
291. The friendliness and curiosity of the Chinese people. I almost always feel welcome in this country
292. Children who are flexible and adaptable and adventurous
293. The freedom to let my kids bike down the street to play with their friends
294. Friends returning from the U.S. each day
295. The ability to communicate in this language (most of the time!)
296. My husband who DOES communicate well in this language and who rescues me often, and who never tires of serving and encouraging (or at least doesn't show it)
297. Homeschool co-op starting soon
298. The book The Rest of God
299. P90X that is kicking my butt
300. The knowledge that all these things are little gifts from a God who loves me

Monday, August 23, 2010

I just moved to China

So I just moved back to China last Monday.

I know, I know. I moved back to China last June right? Yes. But, no.

The part of town where we lived this last year was a bit of Chinese utopia. It was sort of China lite. There were very few people, little street traffic or food vendors. There was a lack of blatant staring at the foreigners, local restaurants and stores, or unexpected nasty smells. There was an overabundance of luxury SUVs and a shortage of bicycles. It was green and clean. In short, it wasn't typical.

You wouldn't think that moving to a part of town where the opposite of these things being true would be desirous, and I'll admit, it will take some adjustment. But the other night, our family ate Muslim food on the street at the bottom of our building, then I got a 15Y haircut a few doors down. The other morning I saw a guy sitting on a rickety stool, sketching some trees. There are old men who gather at one corner to play ma jiang each day. There's food everywhere. People are curious and friendly. The produce market down the street is gigantic (and I'm told it's the "smaller" one). Within walking distance of my house I can find a dry cleaner, hair salon, restaurants, convenience stores, pharmacy, vet, and I'm sure hosts of other things I'd never imagine I need right here.

Sure, the unabashed staring will get old, as will the fact that it can take about 15 minutes to travel from our north gate to the stoplight two blocks away because people make it a free for all in terms of how many lanes they make (and which direction they flow). But last night as we walked back from a friend's house, we bought a bag of street popcorn for 3Y and thought, "This is going to be fun."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The State of Things

I'm happy to say that as I look around this room (our living room) there is only one box. It is open, and most of its contents are either put away, or on the floor next to it. I can hear Erik unpacking and sorting in our office as I type. Apart from needing a few more pieces of furniture in which to place unpacked items, we've got things put away (if you count throwing lots of boxes into the storage room "putting away", and we do).

I think I'm a little surprised it's happened this quickly. It doesn't feel like we're done though by any means, because we haven't put anything on the walls. Oh, and did I mention I can't use my washing machine or oven yet? And our dishwasher is having a hard time making it here from Shanghai. Apparently it's been sidetracked by the ocean view along the way. Can't blame it.

I have to say my favorite room is the kitchen/dining room. Every time I walk into it, I think, "This is a kitchen in China?!?" Knocking down the wall was inspired (I give Erik the credit - I was reluctant, for reasons I cannot now recall. Probably it was just me not liking change). It's huge and open and beautiful and I love it. Come see for yourself!

My goal (and Erik says it's ambitious, but those of you know me know ambitious is how I roll) is to have everything in place, including pictures on the wall, by September 1. This week that includes going to the furniture place to see what Gary has left, and heading to Golden Five Star to buy the rest of our curtains plus replacement covers for our couch (wow - didn't realize how much the love seat faded in the sun!). Hopefully the dishwasher will show up, most likely with a tan from all that beach time. Erik's job is to switch the plug on our oven so it will fit into the wall (it has a Singaporean plug) and to find the piece we need to hook up our washing machine.

As we say here, "Man man de" which means, "Slowly." I'd have to say though that for a week in, the state of things is pretty great.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A new story

I was going to say that we have just started a new chapter of our lives, but it feels more like a new story entirely. I say that because when you finish reading a good book, there's often that sense that you wish it would continue. You hate to say goodbye to it, but you know the story is resolved. That's how I feel about the last year of our lives. It was a great story, filled with old friends and new experiences of a culture that we love. But those friends have moved on and now so have we.

And when you're starting a new book, you don't know much about what's going to happen. It could be a story that sucks you in and makes you fall in love with it, or you could get partway through and think, "Why am I reading this?" I have a vague idea of where this story is going and what could happen, but so much of it is still uncertain, and I don't like that. As I was sitting on my couch this morning, I thought, "I don't know how to do life here." We are blessed to know many families in the area already, but I don't know their schedules and how we will fit into them. I know there must be places to buy food, but I don't really know where I should go. I know that I will have a new helper come September but right now I couldn't even recall her name to you. In all these things there will frustrations and joys - days when we find something and think, "This is awesome! I never knew this was here!" and other days when we think, "I just want to go crawl in a hole because I can't seem to figure this out." I like routine, and I like feeling competent, and I know that I will have little of that in the days to come.

I am thankful in the midst of this transition to have a husband who is gracious and helpful, and seemingly unstoppable, and children who are flexible and independent (which is maybe another way to say they have figured out how to entertain themselves when I can't do it for them!).

A friend once told me that when you move a house plant from one place to another, it wilts a little. But after awhile it perks up again, once it becomes accustomed to its surroundings. So I know I need to give myself grace to be a little wilted while I get my bearings. (this also reminds me that I should really go check the status of my jasmine plants on the porch!).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nothin' like a little love

Nothing cheers like a genuine verbal boost from your kids when you least expect it, and believe me, today was a day when I least expected it. Needing to focus entirely on packing, and having almost no options for neighbors to watch the kids (not to mention all their toys being packed) I shamefully admit that they watched 3 movies, in addition to some Wii time. Ok, a lot of Wii time.

Maybe that's why Megan said this to me, "You are the BEST mommy in the whole WORLD! Because you're beautiful, and loving, and kind! And I LOVE my mommy!!"

This comment came after some Wii and a movie, but before the 2nd two movies and more Wii, and macaroni and cheese which I loathe giving them (but they adore), so I'd like to think it was based on some truth and not just spouting from a media induced euphoria. It might also have stemmed from her observing my state of mind and thinking, "Mommy might crack. I'd better pour some sugar on this or we could lose her."

Either way, it was encouraging!

One last time

I haven't spent much time down by the canal this summer because unlike last summer, it's been wickedly humid and hot no matter how early I rise. I miss Minnesota summer mornings, the kind where you can still see your breath a little sometimes. Alas, that kind of cool isn't reality here, but at least something where you don't feel like someone's trying to smother you with a blanket. It's just fun that way (I have found myself wondering how on EARTH I ran every morning in Singapore, but I think it was because a) the sun wasn't up and b) I had no choice and c) you really do get used to it when it's constant).

This morning I planned to take one last walk (I've given up on running with this humidity and the stress of moving) around the canal. When I woke up and walked into the homeschool room, I was encouraged that it didn't feel like I was stepping into a sauna, which it usually does. I headed out the door sometime just after 6 into a beautifully cool, sunny morning. I walked about 4 miles in a loop, snapping a few pictures along the way. Unfortunately my camera battery died, so I couldn't capture the collection of old people slapping their legs in unison, the produce market hopping like mad already (along with various other vendors), the people doing tai chi in the park, or the old men painting Chinese characters on the ground with water and giant sponge brushes. But I got to see them, and that was pure joy. I'm so thankful to God that my last jaunt by the canal was such a fun one!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Packing day

Today is a packing day, and I can't tell you how relieved I am that Erik is finally free to help me (I've done about 60 boxes on my own). He's all motivated right now. We'll see how that goes.

Though Erik and I are committed to this process, the kids are either a) not as excited or b) not quite as capable of packing. So this morning when Megan woke up and came to sit with me, I tried to psych her up for the day (she's the excited, but not as capable one).

Me: "Megan, maybe while we pack, we should play music on the Apple TV!" (If you don't know what an Apple TV is, I'm sorry, I'm not going to explain it here).

Megan: "Or we could just play a CD."

Me: "But if we use the Apple TV it will just keep playing and playing."

Megan: "But we might get a song that's not so packish."

True. We'll still try though, and hope that all the songs are packish songs, and also maybe joyful and patience-producing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

One Room's Transformation

It's been amazing watching our apartment take shape, from empty shell to livable home. There is still plenty of transformation to come as we haven't even moved our stuff in yet, but here's an example of the level of work that's being done there:

The original kitchen - for some reason, painted dark gray. The part jutting out on the right covers pipes, and was unable to be moved, but the wall to the left we decided to tear down so it could be open to the dining room.

The kitchen/dining room, taken from the door you see in the first picture, after they tore the wall down. The small room there is a guest bathroom.

Taken from the same viewpoint as the first picture. As you can see, taking down the wall really opened up the space.

Color!! I love this color. I wanted something slate/blue/gray to contrast with some pumpkin/copper color stuff we have in our dining room. You can see the start of a heater cover there. Most of the heaters won't be covered - just painted because it's too expensive to cover them.

The kitchen view from the dining room. I love that we have this little breakfast bar, and bookshelves for things like cookbooks. There is a space for our dishwasher between our sink and stove. The space above is for the "oil sucker."

Here you can see the space for our refrigerator (to the right of the part covering the pipes) and space for our oven (below) and microwave (above). Below the cabinet on the right we are going to put our buffet.

Beneath all the dust and construction supplies you would be able to see some nice tile they've installed too. No point in cleaning along the way. Our move date is next Monday. It won't all be done by then, but it will be close. You can see more before pictures on my Facebook pages. I'll take more "after" pictures (or at least "in progress") pictures today when we go see what's happening.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Trying to be more local

One of the ways I have always wanted to be more local is in my Chinese signature. Whenever I have to sign it, I feel like it must look like a kindergartner wrote it. When Chinese people write characters, it's very fluid and flowing. When I write them, I am conscious that one wrong stroke can change the meaning, and that when a Chinese person is watching me do it, he or she knows if I write it out of order (yes, the order in which you write the character is important to them), so it's very precise.

Our extreme dependence on Taobao deliveries means I am often called on to sign my Chinese name. In light of that, about a week ago, I decided I needed to master a more Chinese looking signature. I spent some time yesterday signing my name over and over. Today at the hair salon after a much needed head massage, I took a risk and signed it as casually as I could. The girl who was helping me said, "Wow! You sign just like a Chinese person!"


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Looking Forward

Now that we've said our goodbyes and are picking up the pieces of our broken hearts, it's time to look forward at the next step. In two weeks we will move up north, closer to our office. While packing box after box and dongxi bag after dongxi bag (these are plastic like bags that zip shut. Dongxi means "stuff"), I have started thinking about our new apartment and what I'm excited to experience in it, like:

1. A double sink in the kitchen
2. Dishwasher
3. An island with stools next to it - breakfast is served!
4. A guest room, maybe two!
5. That beautiful duvet I bought at Hola for the guest room
6. Using the shower curtain and towels in the guest bathroom that I never could part with but haven't needed for the past 3 years (and the new bathmat that matches them that I got for my birthday!)
7. Bright, bright rooms
8. A five minute commute to the office, door to door
9. An office in our home
10. Beautiful new paint colors
11. Stairs! I haven't had stairs in my house since right after college
12. Leaving behind the leprous walls of this apartment (from the water damage)
13. A giant homeschool/playroom
14. A closet! Chinese apartments rarely have closets. They just use wardrobes
15. That huge built in shoe/coat cabinet in our main room
16. Friends across the street and down the street in more than one direction - so many people we know who will be close!

That last one is probably the best (and I'm not just saying that to counter the material emphasis of the previous 15 thoughts). I'm not thrilled about the packing and unpacking, but I'm excited to think about how much fun it will be to live in!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Not Quite What We Chose

Erik has been periodically checking on the status of our apartment, which I'm sure involves headache inducing conversations in Chinese with the renovation boss (whom we affectionately call "Mr. Zhuang Xiu Pants" - zhuang xiu meaning "renovation") about the details of everything.

After his last visit, he came home with that "prepare your heart" tone as he told me that the kitchen tile has been installed, and it's not what we ordered. I suppose in the U.S. this doesn't happen, or if it does, you'd immediately demand a refund and receive it. Here, it's just kind of part of the deal.

Erik suspects it might have been his fault, a miscommunication with the tile woman. Thankfully, it's not horrible and is relatively close to what we ordered. Instead of a neutral color on the yellow/tan side, it's neutral on the grayish side. It could be so much worse.

It could be like our first place, when we ordered tan carpet for the whole house, and got gray instead. When we pointed out the difference, they initially insisted it was the same. Later, they admitted, "This is what we had at the factory." Or it could be like the time we spent an hour choosing the covers and countertops for our cabinets (pine color covers and dark counters) and got two random orangish/yellow colors that didn't really go together. Or what about the time we chose dark forest green couch covers, and our couches showed up in a vibrant green? It begs the question, "Why do you bother asking us to choose colors?"

So if this is the worst mistake that happens in our renovation, I'd consider us very lucky indeed. Here's hoping . . .

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I found this quote on a friend's page today and had to post it because I'm a sucker for Henri Nouwen:

“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not 'How can we hide our wounds?' so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but 'How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?' When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.” Henri Nouwen

Have you ever acknowledged how you have been wounded? What have you done with your wounds? Have you tried to pretend they don't exist, or don't bother you? Or have you allowed God to enter in and redeem them?

Monday, July 26, 2010

I have not forgotten how to be thankful. I have simply been storing them up in my heart!

251. My family is here! This includes:
252. My dad
253. My mom
254. My sister, Lisa
255. My brother, Christopher
256. My sister-in-law, Rachel
257. 3 bags worth of supplies from the States which was like Christmas!
258. Having all of them here for my birthday
259. The joy of seeing our kids enjoy their family members
260. Gifts from Uncle Christopher and Aunt Rachel that will encourage our kids in their interests (specifically learning guitar and cooking)
261. How relaxed everyone in my family is, whether we are braving a tourist site or chilling at home
262. Their presence has filled in the gap left by our friends
263. BBQs in the backyard, even if it hot and muggy
264. Our little pool in the backyard for hot days
265. Great birthday gifts that say "I know you and I love you" from friends and family
266. Help with the kids while my family is here!
267. Eric and Jen Ford, and kids, back for a few weeks
268. Time with Jen at the dirt market, where I got the lamp I've wanted
269. Successfully finding an apartment for friends coming from the U.S.
270. Progress on our apartment
271. A move date - August 16th!
272. The use of a friend's car so we can drive everyone to fun places around town
273. board game fun with the family
274. a tragic car key breaking incident last week resulting in Erik having a great spiritual conversation with a woman who owns a massage store (you'd better believe we're both going back there for more conversation and massages!)
275. Erik has been able to be with us for most of this time that my family has been visiting!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Special delivery

Last week our postal carrier informed me that we had a large box which she had tried to deliver when we weren't home. Because it was large, she didn't want to bring it again and left it at the post office for us to get ourselves. She told me the post office was "next to the grocery store."

When I went to the grocery store, there was no post office in sight. I asked a few guards there and on the street where the nearest post office was, but in typical Chinese fashion they had no idea. This a lamentable aspect of society here - people have no clue about things outside of their own zone of responsibility.

We found a post office which looked abandoned and was locked. There was a large, lone package on the counter which I fervently hoped wasn't ours ("Looks like the foreigners aren't coming. Let's ditch!"). We returned home and hoped that the postal carrier would have mercy and bring it again.

This afternoon I was over at a neighbor's house preparing it for my family's arrival, when there was a knock on the door. It was our postal carrier. She looked at me for a moment like, "Do I know you?" then proceeded to show me a large package and say, "Do you know this person?" It was my name on the box.

She had gone to our house, and finding us not at home, decided to go find another foreigner under the presumption that we all know each other (and in this case, a good assumption). So all's well that ends well and we have our package.

A sad post script to this post though is that this may be our last delivery from Book Depository. They have suspended shipping to China for the time being. And there is great despair in the land.

Market shopping

Whenever I run along the canal, I see an outdoor produce market that opens in the wee hours of the morning. Every time I think, "I should come here," and then I don't.

I want to go there because I have a strong suspicion that the prices are much cheaper than the grocery stores. But more importantly I want to go there because it reminds me of how we used to live here (seriously, if you don't like me going all grandma on you, you just shouldn't read my blog). We used to have a produce market like this at the bottom of our building where I bought 90% of my produce, and even some of my meat (that's right, we live on the edge!). It was so cheap I remember one time walking away with 10 lbs of food for $1.50.

Finally this morning I dragged the kids out on their bikes, threw my panniers on mine, and headed down there (it's about a mile away). Since it was already 9 a.m., the place was really hopping. I unfortunately only had about 20Y of small bills and several hundreds. 100Y bills are death at places like that because no one wants to take them, but thankfully the man selling asparagus did. Altogether though, I only spent about 50Y (about $7.50) and walked away with carrots, cucumbers, eggs, lettuce, asparagus, bananas, rice, peaches, and a large fruit called "ha mi gua." I don't know what it's called in English, but I would call it, "sweet piece of heaven in my mouth" and it looks like a melon. The man who sold it to me said I was the first foreigner he'd even seen in that market, which made me rejoice just a little. The kids confirmed this by saying they'd been barraged by questions at the playground and were quite ready to go home. I told them next time they should stay with me, because that guy gave me a piece of ha mi gua for free and it was delicious.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Psalm 16

Last week, Ethan asked me why God made us come back to China only to have his best friend leave so soon. I didn't answer the question then, but this morning as I walked around our complex, I heard a song based on Psalm 16 and thought it was time to take a stab at a response (the song is by Jason Gray-formerly Gay but changed his name for obvious reasons-and if you are unfamiliar with his music you're missing out).

Here is the part I shared with them:
"Keep me safe, O God,
for in you I take refuge.

I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing."

LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure"

We talked about what it means to have an assignment, to have a portion that is measured out just for you. We talked about the boundaries around a property and how they keep us safe and show us where we are supposed to be. And we talked about how all these things are from the hands of a good God who loves us and wants the best for us.

And then we talked about how this assignment from God might work out for our good. Soon, we will be moving to a part of town where there are many people we know and love. Erik will be a 5 minute walk from work (I mean literally from his desk to our door!). We will have more time as a family and more connection with our team. And that is only what we know - who knows what else God has in store?

We reflected on how this has been a good chapter of our lives, given to us by God. We talked about previous chapters that weren't as great, but we can see how God brought us through. And we ended by confirming our belief that whatever is in the next stage, God is there.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

- C.S. Lewis

We had a sad parting yesterday at the airport. There were hugs and "I love you's" all around, and the mommies were in tears. Afterward the kids and I went to a hotel and met a good friend who brought her kids so we could all swim together. I was glad for the distraction, especially with someone who knew our friends well and knows how hard it is to lose them.

We lost it at bedtime, as the reality hit us again. I know that in the days and weeks, even months to come, the grief will surprise me at odd times - like just now, coming home, and seeing their empty windows. I am struggling with the balance between distracting myself from the pain, and allowing myself to fully process it. I know too much of the former is unhealthy, but for the kids' sake I can't be a constant puddle. So for now I will continue as I have been, to allow myself moments of tears. In the end, I know this can be good for our hearts, if we will leave them open and allow God to keep us soft. I believe it enlarges us and gives us a greater capacity to love in the future when we see that it is still worth it to love well.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Hardest Goodbye

I've written before about the occupational hazards of being an expat, particularly the inclination of friends to up and leave you. Today we will navigate what will probably be the most difficult goodbye to date, if Ethan's comment at bedtime last night is any indication, "Tomorrow is going to be the worst day of my LIFE!"

Dan and Jenny Higgins came to China for the long haul with us in the summer of 1999 when we first came. We were then two young pregnant couples. Since then, 7 children have come into the world between us (they have been much braver than we in the kid department). They lived a floor below us for several years, then a building away for a couple more. It was sad to part with them when we moved to Singapore, but we managed to see each other at least once, usually twice, a year while we were there.

Last summer when we moved back, we were thrilled to get an apartment right next door to them on the first floor. The number of hours logged with them this year is hard to count. It's tempting to be frustrated that we only had one year with them (and, Ethan is quick to point out, they were gone last summer and we were gone part of the winter, so it's not even a full year) but we will choose to be thankful that we had this year. It's been a great gift!

With the Higgins, we feel like we've experienced the true definition of community. We've just done life together, and it's been loads of fun, which is why it's so hard to see it go. We feel confident that some day in the future our paths will cross again though!

I keep thinking about the line from Shadowlands, where C.S. Lewis asks, "Why do we love when it causes so much pain?" and Joy answers, "The pain then is part of the joy now." This is when I am reminded of the challenge to pursue the people in our lives wholeheartedly, resisting the temptation to pull away and protect our hearts from the pain of losing them, because in doing so we would rob ourselves of the joy.

So think of us this morning as we enjoy our last hours with our friends. Adding to the difficulty of this goodbye is the fact that Erik is on the same flight as them to the States for a 6 day trip. The kids and I are headed to a hotel tonight for some swimming and fun (although we've been to this hotel with the Higgins so many times I don't know that it will help me keep my mind off them leaving!) and to a movie with some friends tomorrow. Next week my family comes to visit, so we're looking forward to that. In the meantime, pray for us!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Talks about God

As we face the imminent departure of our closest friends here, the emotions are running high. Yesterday Ethan came into the house in tears because he hasn't been able to spend as much time with his friend Jackson this week as he had hoped. Through his sadness, he asked me, "Why did God bring us back to China if He was just going to make the Higgins leave so soon?"

Well, I have a lot of theories about that, but I knew he didn't want to hear any of them. So we just sat and cried together.

When I put him to bed, I told him that I was glad he'd asked that question, and asked how he was feeling toward God. This led into a long discussion about being honest with God (since He knows what we're thinking anyway!), hearing from God, heaven ("I can imagine going on forever, but I can't imagine not having a beginning!" he said), what being born again really means, how to grow closer to God, why it's ok to have doubts and question Him. It was the most precious conversation I think we've ever had.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mini Me

I'm often told I look exactly like my mom, although once I was told I'm the spitting image of my dad. Hard to see how that's possible. I'm going with "looks like mom" though because we've actually had random strangers stop us and comment on how much we look alike.

But what about our kids? I think it's always been easy for me to see that Ethan looks like me. There's a Chinese idiom that translates, "The sister's son looks like the sister's brother" which is even more true. Ethan looks quite a bit like my brother. But Megan's always been a question - me or Erik?

I've heard it both ways - Ethan is like me and Megan is like Erik, or that Megan is my "mini me." I think the red hair throws people off into assuming Megan looks like Erik, but I'm not denying I see him in her too. What do you think? (not about me looking like my mom - I think that's a closed case. I mean Megan looking like me).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Laowai* have left the building

By the end of the summer, my helper just pointed out, there will no longer be any laowai (foreigners) in our complex. We've generally had a good handful (5-6?) units of us throughout the years at any given time.

Why are we all leaving? For various reasons, but generally when someone leaves a foreigner's apartment, we try to find friends to take it over. Not this time. Why? Well, to put it simply, this place has just gotten a little rich for our blood.

When we first moved to China (oh here she goes again with the "back in my day" grandma stuff), our rent for a 1500 sq ft place in another complex was less than $500 US. That's pretty steep for China, but it felt like a steal to us. In fact, everybody's rent felt like a steal. We were relatively rich, to the point where we didn't want to tell anyone what we paid for anything (and believe me, they asked).

Right now in our complex it's impossible to find a 3 bedroom apartment for less than about $1,500 US. All of us who are giving up apartments or have had to renew leases have had landlords ask for a $700-1,000 a month increase. This is mostly due to the high demand to live within a kilometer of one of the best schools in our city. And apparently, there are enough really wealthy Chinese out there who can afford to bump us out and educate their children. So we foreigners are packing up and heading for greener pastures. Actually, it's likely that they'll be less green as this is a fairly beautiful complex, but hopefully they'll be cheaper pastures.

* Laowai is what we are affectionately called here. It means "old outsider" and is somewhat equivalent to calling us "gringos."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The tones

I'm going to make a bold statement. I don't think Chinese is really all that hard. Sure, it can be hard to pronounce, and the characters just look like chicken scratching, but there are other aspects that make it quite easy to learn. I mean grammatically speaking it doesn't get much easier - there is no conjugation of verbs, no articles. And things just make sense here. Like when I was looking for a treadmill, which I didn't know how to say, so I asked for, "The machine you can run on," and they replied, "Oh, run machine." Literally, treadmill in Chinese is "run machine." So often while searching for a word you don't know, you'll actually say it.

But the tones. Ah, the tones. The tones can bring a man to his knees. My first summer here, I was talking with a friend in Chinese and she said, "They should teach you to use the tones." Uh, yeah, they do. Many painful minutes were spent in Chinese class listening to the teacher drill a tone into someone's head (sometimes my own).

It is my responsibility these days to help my kids review Chinese between classes. This primarily consists of helping them memorize the characters (because their teacher says they are lousy at reading. Personally, I think they're stellar - I know a lot of adults who can't read a lick), and pronouncing things correcting. To their credit, they are trying to make the words have tones, and often they are correct. But if they don't know, especially when there are two characters together, they say the first word as 1st tone, and the 2nd word as 2nd tone. So I have to correct them. Sometimes more than once. And then I tell them that I know it's frustrating, because I've been there. We ALL have. (and when I say ALL I'm referring to the people I know who've tackled studying this language). But it will get easier. And once they've conquered the tones and the characters, everything else should be a breeze!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Conversation about the future

Me, "Megan, when you're done being the best soccer player in the world, will you be a coach?"

Megan, "No."

Me, "What will you do then?"

Megan, "I'll keep playing soccer."

Me, "You mean even when you're an old lady."

Megan, "Yep."

Me, "But how will you make money?"

Megan, "I'll just kick the ball around."

Me, "And people will pay to watch an old lady kick a ball around?"

Megan, "Yep."

Let's hope she's a REALLY interesting soccer ball kicker into her old age.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The gift of being yourself

I have to share these thoughts from the book The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner. He's written some excellent books about identity in Christ and living out of our relationship with Him (although I'm still partial to Brennan Manning's writings because they feel more raw and real to me). Here's what he has to say about the true/false self:

We do not find our true self by seeking it. Rather, we find it by seeking God. For as I have said, in finding God we find our truest and deepest self. The anthropological question (Who am I?) and the theological question (Who is God?) are fundamentally inseparable. It is by losing our self in God that we discover our true identity.

There is no true life apart from relationship to God. Therefore there can be no true self apart from this relationship. The foundation of our identity resides in our life-giving relationship with the Source of life. Any identity that exists apart from this relationship is an illusion.

Giving Thanks

I confess that earlier in the week I was thinking about this on-going list and thought, "I don't think I could think of 25 things right now!" It's been a tough week emotionally with Erik being gone. I think often we consider the ramifications on our kids for Erik's travel, and assume that the two of us will be able to manage ok, but I think this last month of business for us has been taking its toll on me personally! Add to that the fact that our best friends here leave in less than a month, and I've got a recipe for a very busy heart.

But we are to give thanks IN all circumstances right? So here goes:

226. The weather has been blessedly cooler than usual, which is glorious
227. Rain!
228. The flowers I liked the best of those I bought on Mother's Day are still alive and beautiful
229. My jasmine plant is finally blossoming!
230. Our car is powerful and I love it
231. While our apartment is still waiting to be renovated, we have a great local guy helping us who gives us confidence that it will get done eventually and well
232. We have friends who are having their apartment renovated by the same guy, and he's ahead of schedule and under budget. In China????
233. Free mornings
234. My treadmill
235. All the stuff Erik's bringing back from the States for us - it will be like Christmas!
236. I have completed 3 (almost 4) sections of a writing project I'm doing
237. The kids have been reading like gangbusters lately
238. Our friends who live next door - love how easy it is for us to stop by and for them to come over!
239. My family comes in just over a month!
240. The book Bold Love, by Dan Allender. His stuff is always challenging.
241. Reading with the kids - we're actually reading a book they both love!
242. Tao Bao
243. Lohao city - an organic store outside our building that has really good stuff, including flax seeds and Sunmaid raisins
244. Chinese class two times this week and seeing my kids be able to read lots of characters
245. Seeing the lights go on in their heads when they understand what's being said to them in Chinese
246. The dirt market - heading there tomorrow. It's one of my favorite places in town!
247. Heading to the dirt market with good friends=even better
248. New fun places near our building in which to eat and play
249. A great time out with girlfriends on Wednesday afternoon
250. Finding out that it's cheaper than I thought it was to change my middle name (from Marie to Brenna) even though I have to wait til next summer to do it

Wow, that was easier than I thought it would be. :)