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.