Monday, December 26, 2011

My New Photography Challenge

You might have noticed that my previous photography challenge petered out on Day 22. I chalk that up to being lazy, getting busy, and the fact that many of the challenges require you to live in a place where you regularly see the sun.

I do not live in that place.

So here is my new photography challenge for 2012: learn to use lighting better. As I look at photos on the internet, I realize that my photo skills have plateaued and I think this is what I need to take them to the next level.

As I was thinking about this, I realized, "Hey, about a week ago a package came from Tao Bao that felt like those photo reflectors I wanted. Those would really help with learning how to use light better. Was I mistaken?"

I mentioned them to Erik. His face went from blank, to "oh!" to a little sheepish. He ran into another room and came back with them saying, "Merry Christmas!" Oops.

So now I have 5 new reflectors to help with my project - black, white, opaque, silver and gold. Yay! I hope to show you some results soon. Here's one of those few times I actually noticed the lighting in a scene:

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Training Continues

Our puppy training continues . . . (that's a disclaimer for those who don't want to keep reading about our dog)

The transition to "bathroom is now outside" hasn't been the smoothest. Mostly it consists of us hoping to nab Scout whenever she makes a dash for the porch where we previously had been taking her outside. Sometimes we don't notice, and we find that she just left something on the stairs for us (like, "Well, people, you weren't paying attention and I figured this was close enough!). Or, like yesterday, when we were too occupied with guests, she just goes somewhere in the house.

So it's a little like starting over. Thankfully she's past the initial, "I'll just hold it till we get back inside" thing she did initially when we went out for walks.

But there IS something that we seem to have trained her well in. We learned that whoever enters a space first a dog will perceive as the "master" so we make Scout let us go first when we go out the door or in the elevator. We've also been training her to sit while waiting for or in the elevator (because otherwise she roots around and finds weird stuff to eat).

She's done really well with this. She will sit outside our door after we've gone in and wait until we give her the OK to come in. This is a great thing, except when you get out of the elevator and forget to say "OK" to your puppy. I was unlocking the front door and the elevator door was closing before I realized that she was still sitting in there, waiting for me. Yay! Not yay that my dog almost took a solo elevator ride, but yay that she has something down.

Now for that bathroom thing.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Year in Pictures 2011

 I thought I'd do another "year in pictures" post. These are some highlights from 2011.

Thailand - we're going again soon in a few weeks!

In the spring, the kids' Chinese really started to click

One of several outdoor adventures around the city

The Great Water Balloon Fight

The kids earned their white/yellow and yellow belts in the same day

Grand Central Station - one of so many cool things in NY

My favorite picture from our Boston trip

Megan was baptized!

A beautiful summer with family - this one was in Milwaukee

We wrapped up the summer with family at the cabin

Megan loves soccer so much, she doesn't care that she plays with only Chinese boys

Track and Field Day was our homeschool co-op highlight!

Halloween - just another chance to enjoy the awesome community we have

And who could forget Scout?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Tao Bao Christmas song

(to the tune of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas")

We bought all our gifts on Tao Bao
Whatever we need on Tao Bao
We buy everything on Tao Bao
And it comes to our door

We find things online
They cost so much less
It saves time and money
We don't go to the store


There’s rarely a day
When we don’t hear “kuai di!”
That’s what they yell at us
When they ring at our door


A hundred and eight things
In the last ninety days
That might seem excessive
But we just might buy more

Did you try to look on Tao Bao
You really should look on Tao Bao
They have everything on Tao Bao
And it comes to your door!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

For Your Entertainment

My dad sent this article to me today. It was written about my grandpa, when my mom was a little girl (she's the "pixie" mentioned). I think my favorite line is, "his mind coated in hopeless perplexity." As my dad said, "They just don't write them like this anymore."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Thanks

760. children with their moms
761. finding most of our Christmas gifts online
762. people who graciously bring things to us here
763. the opportunity to coach women
764. what my own heart learns in the process
765. a warm house
766. christmas lights
767. nativity sets from different countries
768. watching our son become a Boy Scout Tenderfoot
769. Megan spontaneously writing a thank you note to a friend
770. the joy our kids have in giving their friends gifts
771. playdates for the dog
772. walks with the dog
773. playing christmas songs on the piano
774. hearing our kids play them too
775. reading scripture with Megan
776. loving how our christmas pictures turned out
777. It's a Wonderful Life
778. Bebo Norman Christmas
779. advent activities that build memories
780. scarves - can one have too many?
781. how God uses homeschool to shape the kids
782. and me
783. a husband who loves me patiently and faithfully

Christmas Comes to China

In the past week, I have seen clerks in a grocery store all wearing Santa hats. I can't walk into a market or department store without seeing a display of crazy bright Christmas decorations (none of them including Jesus). Today in the drugstore they were playing Santa Claus is Coming to Town on the loud speaker.

Is he?

I have to wonder how many Chinese children are expecting Santa to somehow worm his way into their apartment buildings (through the oil sucker maybe?). I'm guessing not many, but more and more there is evidence that this holiday is slowing inching into China.

When we first came, the best place I could find Christmas in China was in IKEA. I would go there to hear Christmas carols and buy whatever wrapping paper they had that year, if it actually seemed like Christmas. I think one year it was purple and black, but I could be remembering that wrong.

Aside from that, there was the flower market, that yearly cleared out space for Christmas decorations and trees. The only tree I ever saw out in public was outside the bank. It was small, and had brightly colored tinsel strands wrapped around it. I don't know that they ever took it down though, so does that count as Christmas?

The salesman at Nike today mentioned that it is Christmas this week, and then "your" New Year's. I just pray that while this holiday becomes more known in this country, people will hear what we're actually celebrating.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Top Lips Enjoy

I bought a lip balm this week. It says "Top Lips Enjoy" so I guess the fact that I enjoy it means my lips are tops. It also bears this colorful description:

Anti-exposes to the sun the element and the special effect including SPF15 protects the lip ingredient, contends with the moral climate, the violent sunlight and the cold wind violation, often maintain the bilabial four seasons health are moving!

I'm particularly impressed that this lip balm will help me fight all that immorality out there.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Me in a Happy Place

I'm sitting all cozy on a soft hotel bed (not common in Asia!) after a great week of coaching some women through LEAF. I finished at noon and had until 4 pm free, so I walked to the grocery store and bought a jar of peanut butter. I came back to my room and took my peanut butter (to go on the buttery caramel rice cakes I bought on major sale at Jenny Lou's), an orange, my computer, a cold diet A&W, and some Andes mints I found at the convenience store upstairs to my bed to watch a few TV shows while two of my fellow coaches meet with one of the women downstairs.

So here I am, happily relaxed, sufficiently full and extremely thankful for the work I could do this week. I'm in a happy place!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Good Quote for the Day

Next week I will have the privilege again of coaching a leadership development time we do for our company. Leadership development is a bit of a misnomer in this situation I think. I prefer to call it "leadership transformation." The former implies skills training when in reality it is about heart redirecting.

Preparing for this time always resurfaces my own journey and where I am on it. I have to say lately I've been struggling with owning and embracing the darker side of my soul. While I know that God knows and loves and forgives me fully, it's often difficult to extend the same grace to myself.

A friend of mine who will be a fellow coach posted this quote from Dan Allender on her blog today and it encouraged me not to run from the truth of the darkness in me but to acknowledge both the dark and light in me.

"Paul calls leaders not merely to be humble and self-effacing but to be desperate and honest. It is not enough to be self-revealing, authentic, and transparent. Our calling goes far beyond that. We are called to be reluctant, limping, chief-sinner leaders, and even more, to be stories.

The word that Paul uses is that a leader is to be an ‘example,’ but what that implies is more than a figure on a flannel board. He calls us to be a living portrayal of the very gospel we beseech others to believe. And that requires a leader to see himself as being equally prone to deceive as he is to tell the truth, to manipulate as he is to bless, to cower as he is to be bold.

A leader is both a hero and a fool, a saint and a felon. We are both and to pretend otherwise is to be disingenuous. The leader who fails to face [his] darkness must live with fear and hypocrisy. The result will be a defensiveness that places saving face and controlling others as higher goods than blessing others and doing good work. Clearly, the biblical model of leadership is odd, inverted, and deeply troubling. It is so troubling that most churches, seminaries, and other religious organizations would never hire a ‘chief sinner.’ The only one who thinks to do so is God."
--Dan Allender, Leading With a Limp

Monday, December 05, 2011

Scout's friend

Scout has a friend. Her name is Sunshine. She's owned by our friends, the Olivers, who got her from a woman who found her on the street about a year ago. We took care of Sunshine over the weekend which was thrilling for Scout - playtime ALL the time! They did settle down a little after their initial time together. Here they are:

And this picture is just to say, "I thought we bought a brown dog . . . ?"

The Great Wide World

We've finally received the ok from our vet to take our dog outside. So far her view of "outside" has been limited to what she can see on our approximately 12 square meter porch on the 13th floor, or being held in our arms as we walk around the block.

So it was no surprise that on our first adventure out the door, she planted her little bottom and shook. I had brought a few meat sticks with me to entice her. After some persuasion, she would walk about 5 or 10 feet then sit again and shake. Altogether we might have been outside 10 minutes.

We tried again later in the day, and her times between stopping began to lengthen. We managed to walk about a half hour, and she seemed to enjoy it.

Since then we've had a few more successful walks and she is learning that outside is fun! People leave a lot of interesting things on the ground that she likes to try to eat. It's also a place where the big people seem to go wild with excitement when she goes potty, so that's a bonus.

This is all good because it prepared us for what happened this morning. We want her to learn to go potty outside now rather than on the porch, so I thought it would be good to run her down right away. She's pretty anxious to get outside first thing, so I was all dressed with her leash in hand when I took her out of the pen. I held her in the elevator so she didn't get any ideas to go until we got outside, but as we were going down I realized, "I forgot my keys."

This might not be such a bad thing if Erik weren't traveling and it weren't 5:20 a.m., but both those things were true. I tried to buzz back in after about 20 minutes, but of course the kids didn't hear it. We walked another 20 and tried again. Still no luck. Again at 6:30 I tried because I knew Ethan's alarm would go off then. He almost let the doorbell go, thinking I would get it, but then had the wisdom to think, "But maybe it's mom!"

So we had a nice long walk in the great wide world this morning and now she's all tuckered out. I think she's gonna like it.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Why did we get a dog again?

Ok, so having a dog has had its moments. It's fun to see how excited she gets when we come in the door. She's a snuggler. Seeing her curled up in the sun is just plain relaxing. But here's when she isn't fun . . .

At 4:30 in the morning when she decides to start barking
Or at 1:30 a.m. That's not fun either.

When she eats half a bag of dog treats and then needs to drink a gallon of water the rest of the day, so much so that it basically leaks out of her all over the house

When she starts vomiting LIVE worms at 8:15 p.m. Thank God the vet is open late.

As I'm sitting down after a long, single parenting day with a cranberry Barcardi Breezer, a bowl of popcorn and an episode of Psych, and in the second it takes me to turn off the light she has her face in my popcorn and is INHALING it.

When we're still finding poop on the stairs, even after taking her outside 15 minutes. Seriously? It was so urgent that you couldn't tell one of us you had to go, even though 15 minutes ago you had a perfect opportunity to do that in an appropriate place?

When she has learned from the dog we're sitting to bark at us AFTER we walk in the door. We're here. You know us. Why are you barking?

When she knocks over a glass of cranberry Crystal Light onto our white carpet.

I know, right now you might be thinking, "Aww, but she's just a puppy!" Yes, but if we don't do some serious training, I fear this is the kind of adult dog we will most likely have as well. Just like with kids, they don't just "grow out" of everything. Lately the responsibility of having a dog has been weighing on me, and I'm struggling to remember why this was a good idea. Anyone care to remind me?