Monday, March 22, 2010

More Ways to be Thankful

151. I haven't had any problems with allergies for a very long time
152. my hand held massager that keeps tension headaches away
153. Our new car!!
154.The opportunity to coach LEAF this week
155. How coaching LEAF helps me go deeper into my own LEAF lessons
156. Being in a city with spring weather
157. I got to see my husband here before he went back home after a week away
158. I had a great talk with a great friend Friday night
159. My coach, Dayle, who speaks the truth to me in ways that build me up
160. Seemingly no neighbors in the hotel to disturb my sleep tonight
161. Earplugs, just in case there are
162. Did I mention our car?
163. The joy of teaching drama to middle schoolers
164. Season 1 of Little House on the Prairie that gave me a fun bonding time with the kids and brought back childhood memories
165. The joy of talking about "my brother and his wife" today
166. I work with people who care about my heart and my growth
167. Solitude
168. The place around our hotel is beautiful and fun to run in
169. The truth that I am God's beloved child and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it, therefore I can't change it. It's just true.
170. I don't have to deal with the workers who are trying to find the source of the leaking in our apartment (my condolences to my husband, who does)
171. Our patio door is fixed. No more drafts.
172. My friend brought me oatmeal to the hotel because the breakfast buffet is not appealing.
173. Our treadmill
174. The fact that my kids love me and didn't want me to leave
175. My husband, who is gracious and generous in watching the kids while I am away!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The worst kind of weather

Of all weather, my least favorite is wind. I feel like you can't really protect yourself from it. It's just annoying. And makes running pretty stinkin' hard.

But what's worse than wind is when it carries to your doorstep a load of sand from the Gobi desert. This morning I awoke to a yellow, and I mean yellow, sky. The cars on the street were visibly covered with a layer of yellow dust, and as cars drove, the dust swirled up like a scene from a western.

This is not an uncommon scene for this time of year. In a way I should be glad - it means spring is on the way. And the upside of wind is that usually it blows out the bad stuff. Just not today.

Friday, March 19, 2010


When we moved into our first apartment in China, we lived on the 20th floor of a 22 story building. Our apartment was an empy shell when we rented it, and in agreement for lower rent, we had flooring and some cupboards installed, and the walls painted. At first it was nice to live there because few people lived on the top floors, but over time people moved into THOSE empty shells, and the renovating became a constant neighbor. One apartment was so bad that I went and asked them how much longer they were going to be. They gave me the old "ban tian" which means, "half a day" but in actuality means, "It's anybody's guess lady. Could be weeks, could be months."

I thought we'd left our renovating days behind, but the apartment above us has been slated for a complete renovation. Every day (except weekends) they begin work around 8 am and continue til 5. I'm thankful for the days which don't require drilling. Today is unfortunately not one of those days. Finding a room in our house where we don't hear the drilling is a challenge. Usually Megan's room provides the best retreat, so we can continue to do some schooling (at least that which doesn't require us to speak to one another).

To add to the experience, last night we had some of the management company workers come to our house. There seems to be some water leaking into their basement dormitories. No surprise, given that the walls and flooring outside our two bathrooms, as well as the wall of Megan' room which lines the bathroom are all disintegrating from water damage. We've been lazy in inviting them to come. Maybe we thought it would magically go away on its own. I guess we thought it was done leaking, and we just needed to fix the damage. Not so, not so.

I don't want to disparage the quality of workers here, but it's not uncommon for them to wander through the house like they're hoping the answer to your problems will suddenly jump out at them. It reminds me a little of that scene in Toy Story, "I don't believe that man has EVER been to medical school!" My faith in their fixing abilities is shaky. But what's most disconcerting about these times is the possibility that at any moment, they will come ask me for something. Over the years, I've learned a lot of new vocabulary, as I've been asked for things like rags, ladders, pails, flashlights, hammers, and caulk. I've also learned the most important word you can learn about your house: leak. I know how to talk about leaks.

Beyond these random inquiries, there is also the final analysis, which could also be called, "The most trying language moment of the month" or "10 minutes of frustration that will suck the life out of you." This is when the workers come and tell me what they've found, and what they plan to do about it. This involves them pointing at things and jabbering quickly (usually with a southern accent), while I nod and grunt, and hope for words I understand (usually just "leak" and "water"). Then they ask me for something, and I have to admit, "I don't know what you mean." Then begins the game of me saying, "You mean this?" No. "You mean this?" Yes, but blah blah blah something else I don't understand. By the end, we usually come to a fair understanding of what has and what will transpire.

Today, the end result is that they need to talk to the workers who installed a new pipe in our bathroom. This may or may not be the source, they don't know. They're coming back this afternoon. Before they left, I asked one of them to look at our back door which hasn't been shutting properly. He fixed that, and then determined that my kitchen faucet wasn't working (I didn't know that!). I'm not sure if that puts me ahead or behind.

Now that they've left, I have an unsettled feeling. I'd better rest up though because I'll have round 2 in a few hours!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Falling Apart

No, not me, my house. As I sit here in the homeschool room, I can feel the draft coming from our porch door because lately it has decided it doesn't want to stay completely shut. I can look into my bedroom and see that the water damage around our bathrooms has started in a new spot. The damage has managed to make it into the kids' bedrooms too - very odd for Ethan's room because he's not against a bathroom wall, but maybe it didn't want him to feel left out. The laminate floors are ganging up with the walls, rebels that they are, and are bubbling in various spots. Our kitchen cabinets are still being held up by a 2x4. Am I forgetting anything? Oh yes, the lower cabinet which has detached from the wall and likes to slant to the right when you open it. Tricky.

Such is life here. Stuff breaks easily. Thankfully, repairmen are generally cheap. We have just been unmotivated to get these things fixed, especially since the water damage will probably require a lot of time and mess (the mess is more my concern). Maybe we'll just leave it all for the next tenants.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In like a lion . . .

Ok, I hate to say it. I mean I REALLY hate to say it, but I have to retract my spring declaration. Granted, it has been significantly warmer here, for the most part, than my hometown and for that I am grateful. But it's hard to say spring has arrived when it keeps snowing!

What's up with this? I think 3 out of the first 5 years we lived here, we didn't one flake of snow. The other two years there was probably a combined total of six inches. This is just weird. The kids and I went out to brave the weather for church (mostly because I had something to pass to a friend and didn't want to miss the opportunity) and there was a good inch and a half on the car! Then I saw that my friend wasn't going, so we turned tail and fled back to the warmth of the house.

Sort of. See, the government has been slowly turning off our heat, and I think tomorrow might be the official turn off point. It feels a little like that scene in Star Wars when they are caught in the garbage compactor and the walls are closing in. There they are, helpless to stop it. Changes in weather do not slow the turn off. So while it might be 50 degrees outside, which is nice, it's still 50 degrees inside, which is not. And today it's probably about 35.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not really complaining about it. More baffled really. Although if this is still happening once the heat is completely gone, you might find me complaining.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Already an adventure

To test out my new unlimited almightiness and freedom (I wonder when that's going to get old for me?) I decided to be extremely lazy and drive to the new grocery store 5 blocks away. Normally I might take my bike or walk, but I planned to buy a lot and needed an easy way to get it home. Great Wall Hover to the rescue!

I'll admit, I was feeling the freedom, after I deflected car guarding/money extorting man with, "I'm in a hurry. I'll talk to you when I get back!"
I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if there's an underground carpark at the mall?"

And there was! With 382 spaces! But as I drove down the ramp into the carpark, I thought, "This seems really dark." I came around the corner to a large blue metal door that was shut. Which meant I had to drive backwards up the ramp. Don't panic! All that "backing into parking spaces" expertise I picked up in Singapore to the rescue. Thankfully it was a straight ramp.

Inside, I discovered that I am not the only one who knows the new grocery store is open. You really have to admire the long suffering quality built into this culture. The line to get fruits and vegetables weighed was at least 40 people long. I'm talking people waiting probably 15 minutes just to get three carrots. I have no such quality in me. I'll go later. I did pick up a truckload of chicken though - my main purpose in going.

After paying, I happily carted my chicken out to the car, hopped in, and drove home. I parked far away from our gate, hoping to avoid another encounter with car dude, but he waved me down. I promised him my husband would talk to him. Conversation averted!

Let the adventures begin!

Unlimited Almightiness and Freedom

Who doesn't want unlimited almightiness and freedom? Who thinks they might be able to obtain unlimited almightiness and freedom? Well, I'll tell you today that it can be had in China. IF you own a Great Wall Hover. And now we do.

I prayed every day this week that we would get our car before Erik leaves on a long trip today. As I stood on the street corner near our complex, waiting for a sighting of the ever elusive taxis (the smell of luxury vehicles scares us away from our condo, despite the fact that there are some of us who DON'T drive them), I kept thinking, "God, you're not giving us the car because you want me to learn to be patient, is that right? Well I don't want to learn patience! I want our car!" I believe God is unmoved by these displays of immaturity. I think He just sort of chuckles at them in a gentle way.

But yesterday morning, we got the call from the dealership that the car had arrived. Thankfully, Erik had the day off and was able to jump through all their hoops of paying, getting the car inspected, and signing (and of course stamping - lots of stamping) paperwork. He even made it back in time for us to stupidly brave Friday night traffic so we could meet friends for dinner. (in the end, totally worth it).

Now I am looking at a day of errands that need to be run, and I'm not even daunted, because I have the car. Indeed, I am already feeling the unlimited almightiness and freedom. Or at least the freedom. Maybe the almightiness will come with time.

If you're wondering why I keep saying "unlimited almightiness and freedom" you need to go to the link.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Out of the mouths of kids

I asked my Sunday School class today, "Why do we take offering?"

"Because we want to give to God"
"Because we should give to the poor"
"Because the Bible says we should tithe"
"Because God gives to us so we should give back"

and my favorite:
"Because the church has a budget."
Spoken by the son of one of the guys who works at the church. Classic.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Felt Needs

Necessity is the mother of invention. It's also the mother of "kick you in the butt to learn more language." Nothing makes you realize you need to study more than staring blankly at someone who is talking to you, knowing they will expect you to respond with something intelligent, and you've got nothin'.

I've felt this butt kicking a few times this week. The piano tuner came to fix our piano which had not merely fallen out of tune, but plummeted out of tune as though pushed off a 12 story building. The extent of my piano vocabulary includes, "piano, sounds bad, fix." The winter months of dry, cold China air had caused various things to happen to our piano. She spent several minutes after her work describing, I can only assume, how she was able to resuscitate it. All I understood was, "Call me in August and I'll come again." Sigh.

Here's the problem - how do I possibly obtain this vocabulary? Invite a Chinese friend over and say, "If you were a piano tuner, what would you say about my piano?" There was no lesson on piano tuning in our classes. There was one on how to yell at someone who hits you on your bike, but not this. (I still don't have the guts to pull out the "Haven't you grown eyes?!?" phrase we learned. Let's hope I never do).

The other need I feel every month or so when I restock my shampoo. Normally I choose Herbal Essences, the light blue bottle, because that's what I bought in Singapore where it was in English. I'm trusting it's the same here. But today they were out, so I decided to try something else. How about Pantene? Well, I could read that it was Pantene (because it very nicely says it in English) and I could read the characters for shampoo, but beyond that it was a mystery. There were probably 7 kinds, several of which promised to fix something (important to know the character for "fix") but fix what? There was a woman at a counter nearby who watched me stare at the bottles for a full 5 minutes. I debated asking her about some of them, but suspected that I wouldn't understand her explanations. I kept hoping if I stared long enough, the characters would whisper their meanings to me. No such luck. In the end, I chose a Chinese brand that seemed "normal."

Now again, how do I learn this? I guess I could take a Chinese friend with me and have her read all the characters, then write them down. I hate using my friends for things like that. I did borrow the woman's pen to write down several of the common characters. Maybe Erik will know some of them.

I did redeem myself at the flower market. After buying flowers for a friend's baby shower today, I decided I needed the green sponge stuff that goes in the bottom of vases (see, I don't even know how to say it in English!). Because I am the queen of talking around something in Chinese, I asked for "the stuff that you can put flowers in to make them stand up" clarified with hand gestures. She said, "Ni yao hua ni ma?" I don't know. Maybe I do want hua ni. Can you show me the hua ni? Sure enough, I do want the hua ni! Erik and I have discerned that it must mean "flower cement."

The great thing about learning something in a moment of need is that chances are, you're not going to forget how to say it. So yay for learning a new word today.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Making progress

I made this list and realized that a lot of them center around "progress." This is something I'm learning to embrace. It's so easy for me to look at my life and see what isn't happening. But I'm still trying to do as my coach says and "celebrate the little victories." No point in looking at what I'm not accomplishing - I'm much more motivated and encouraged by looking at the things that I am doing. I'm reminded of 1 Corinthians 15:10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect." God's been at work helping me to move closer to the life He's calling me to live, and I'm thankful for it.

126. A free afternoon
127. Sunshine
128. Time to run
129. Feeling a difference in my body from all this running
130. My first drama class for the middle school kids was successful
131. My stomach feels normal today (that can't be said for every day this week)
132. Diet A&W Root Beer. Hard to find decaffeinated, sugar free drinks here
133. Seeing the lights come on for Ethan in math this week
134. Genuine repentance in my daughter when she apologized to her brother for hurting his feelings
135. Making progress in my goals
136. My husband is home!
137. We are days away from getting our car
138. A quiet house
139. God's prompting to maintain habits like playing worship music in the mornings
140. Seeing progress in my kids' writing skills
141. A wonderful time with other moms at my house last Saturday
142. Lunch with friends on Sunday
143. The Olympics are over and no longer a temptation (we were having a hard time getting school done!)
144. The piano tuner came today - we can play again!
145. I grew up in a family with parents who loved me and built me up (been on my mind since watching the first half of Precious. Couldn't watch any more)
146. Erik is here for a full week before he leaves again
147. We had a fun, safe ski outing last week with our team
148. Our kids are learning Chinese, and Ethan really likes learning characters
149. We learned a lot this week in homeschool
150. I really enjoy my kids and the relationship God has given me with them

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The value of sanity

Debate of the moment: is saving myself nearly three hours of walking and riding the subway with my kids to get to a friend's house worth $20 in a taxi for one hour instead?

Answer: today, yes. Not every week, but Erik is gone so I'm giving myself this freedom. Sorry, honey, it's the price of sanity for the week. Maybe we can reimburse it as a business expense.