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?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An encouraging word

My helper just paid me the highest compliment I've had in awhile. She asked me what I studied in university. My degree is hard to explain in English, let alone Chinese, so I explained that I studied "office communication" which I suppose could convey a wide variety of things to her, most of them not what I studied (organizational communication for the inquiring mind - basically anything that makes an organization run well in terms of its people).

She told me she thought I must have studied interior decorating, or what I assume means interior decorating. She said that the things I buy and the way I arrange them in my house is beautiful so I must have studied how to do it.

Why, thank you!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 22 - Hands

Day 21 - Faceless Self-Portrait

So this is what people see when I'm taking their pictures!

Day 20 - Bokeh

 Confession: I had to look this one up. If I'm understanding correctly, it's when you have light in the picture somewhere that is blurred. So here's my best effort:

Sometimes I take too many pictures for their liking

Saturday, November 26, 2011

We Gave Her an Inch . . .

We don't yet trust Scout to be out on her own and today she proved why.

I had to take Megan to soccer which meant we'd be gone for over 2 1/2 hours. That's tough for someone only 3 months old. Normally we put her in her crate, but today I thought I'd give her a little more freedom by leaving her crate open inside a large dog pen. We have friends whose dog happily stays in this kind of situation even when they are present in the house (we have co-op classes there).

For extra insurance, I put it all the "man cave" (our inside, tiled, not particularly warm patio) and shut the door - thank God. I threw in a few of her toys and a pee pad and thought she'd be ok.

On the way home, I stopped to get some noodles and Megan continued home to let Scout out. She found her not only outside of her pen (along with a couple of her toys) but with a noticeably larger belly. I guess I forgot about the bag of dog treats on a high shelf. They were gone, save 2.

This means that she not only managed to get out of the pen (under? over?) but she also climbed up a chair and onto the shelf where the treats were. How she got her toys out, I do not know.

I guess the only question now is - when will we see these treats again, and from which end of our dog?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Don't Believe Everything on Pinterest

 What is this man doing? It may look like he is taking a blood sample from a lemon, but that is not the case. We were trying to debunk something that has been pinned and repinned on Pinterest in the past few weeks. It's a picture of lemons cut in half, each lemon a different, perfect color other than yellow. It says you can achieve this by injecting food coloring into lemons.

When I first saw this pin I thought, "Cool!" for about three seconds, and then my logic kicked in. How could the skins be uniformly another color? And how does each individual piece of pulp get colored, but nothing happens to the white parts?

We had to try it.

So we got out some dark red food coloring and injected as much as we could. As you can see below, most of the ink settled to the bottom of the lemon, making it look sadly bruised. We tried at least three different places to make sure we got as much as possible in, but it also kept leaking out the other holes.

We let the lemon sit for awhile to make sure we gave it a change to spread and soak in. Then we cut it open, and below is the result. As I suspected, you shouldn't believe everything you see on Pinterest.


I stood at this corner just south of our complex tonight for a good five minutes and these cars stayed in this exact position the whole time. Traffic was backed up for at least a block in each direction, all because people didn't think past "I want to cross the intersection" to consider what might happen if they tried to cut across at the same time that others were attempting the same thing.

It was amusing to watch, but being in this kind of thing is a crazy maker. I was a little tempted to direct traffic, but instead I just stood and watched because that seemed a more pleasant choice. Eventually it cleared when the van sticking its nose in on the right side, the silver sedan, and white van all realized they had to back up.

It reminds me of a great link a friend of ours sent us the other day detailing what it looks like to make a left turn in China. Trust me, this is no exaggeration. We can only hope this intersection gets a stoplight soon or this will continue to be a daily occurrence. Note to self: never drive this way in the evening.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sun Puppy

 Scout has taken to asking to go outside just so she can go sit in the sun. We'd like to say we're on to her schemes, but we're just so happy whenever she indicates that she would like to go outside that we always take her.

 She realized this time that sun doesn't not equal comfort if there are massive winds blowing your ears back.

 So she found a cozy spot on the stairs where she could enjoy the warmth of the sun. She knows that there are sun spots in the off limits unless someone's in there bedrooms too and she will sometimes try to race in there to enjoy them before we catch her. Today I gave her a bone and let her sit in the sunny office while I exercised. She couldn't have been happier.

Day 19 - Something Orange

 So there's the really obvious oranges for sale . . .

And then I noticed this woman was wearing an orange jacket (I was trying to get a silhouette of her but she moved out of the sun!).

Day 18 - My Shoes

Not all that exciting, but here are my shoes. I LOVE these shoes!

Day 17 - Technology

I'm going to post day 16 later because I have a plan for it tonight. Here's some of the technology I saw today:

 I couldn't decide so I'm posting them both. This first one is the "cash register" and scale used by the man with a truck full of cabbage.

And while I was taking the first picture, these people walked by as if to say, "Here you go, Gina, here's technology for you."

Day 15 - Silhouette

 I finally had a decent day to go out and try to get some of my photo challenge pictures. Erik insists that this is NOT a silhouette picture, but I like it anyway. I went out too late in the day to get many shots before the sun was gone. And, since I'm on a roll I thought I'd throw in a picture I took at Chinese New Year last January that does fit the bill. Pretty much.

You know it's been a long week when . . .

Last night I had a new friend and her ADORABLE children over for dinner because our husbands were wrapping up a long week of training. When the guys came back we talked and laughed with them for awhile before we decided that yeah, the kids really should be in bed. After they left (and completely unrelated to the enjoyable hours spent with our friends) Erik walked into the kitchen and said, "Let's see, Kahlua . . . "

Yeah, it's been one of those weeks.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 14 - Eyes

Day 13 - 13 Things

I skipped day 12 because it was "Sunset" and it was one of those "I think that's the sun, or maybe it's a street lamp" days. And Day 13 was supposed to be Me with 13 Things but it's just 13 Things. I tried getting my reflection in the computer screen, but it just looked creepy. So here are the 13 things that are most commonly found on my coffee table these days - coaching materials for LEAF, along with my trusty highlighter and pen, Sacred Rhythms, my journal, my book notes journal, phone, knitting (I've just been practicing on this ball of yarn over and over - probably not good for the yarn) my computer, and of course a Coke Zero.

Day 11 - Something Blue

Not the most interesting thing, but when I looked out my window for something blue, this is what looked back at me from across the street.

Day 10 - Childhood Memory

At first on this day I thought, "How on earth will I find something that reminds me of my childhood in China??" And then I looked at my bookshelf. Hello, old friends.

Lessons from a dog's life

1. Love your people
2. Show them how much you love them by wildly running at them when they come home and kissing them a lot.
3. Play hard
4. Sleep when you're tired
5. Stay close to the people in your life
6. When in doubt, play or sleep, whichever you need most.
7. Listen to the people in your life because they know what you need
8. Don't pee on the carpet or anywhere other than accepted places because the people in your life will be unhappy.
9. Love your people

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I've been pondering the soul this week. Ruth Haley Barton says that the soul is the part of you that is most real, the part of you that is who God made you to be. I have begun to try to ask myself regularly, "How is it with my soul?" I can really only answer that question when I pull away from the distractions of life and am silent before God.

Today I was looking over some poems I wrote way back when distractions in my life were much fewer. I hope that I can get back in touch with the part of me that writes poetry. I think if I actually do what I was talking about in this poem, that might happen.

My Bit of Heaven

Not in the powerful wind,
nor the earthquake, nor the fire,
He came in the gentle whisper.
                                                            I Kings 19:11-13

My soul longs for solitude,
like a desert thirsts for water
And somewhere out there,
the solitude is calling me.

In search of it I find
cutout trees against an orange sky.
Snow lays unbroken, pure, white
as the peace it pours over me.
A single leaf is hurried
Scattering across the white in
reckless ignorance to the stillness it is in,
            Too much like me.

I breathe in the silence
and realize I’m home.
His gift to me is a bit of heaven
filling my heart, loved poured in by the Spirit.
I only find it in the gentle whisper.

Versatile Blogger Award

It's nice to know that people read my blog, particularly people I've never met. If you know me, maybe you're just following my blog because you like me (is that a pity follow?). But to know that people who've never met me also enjoy hearing my ponderings is pretty encouraging.

It's even more encouraging when one of them gives you an award for doing it. So thanks Melanie, your blog is awesome!

Now the rules of this award are as follows:

1. Thank the person who gave you this award. (check!)

2. Share 7 things about yourself.

3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic!

4. Contact the bloggers you’ve picked and let them know about the award.

So here are seven things about me:

1. I am, unbeknownst to most people, an introvert. I really don't get energy from being with people.

2. I love to communicate in any form (this should be obvious). This combined with #1 causes dissonance and misunderstanding. Just because I like to talk doesn't mean it refreshes me to always be with people. I'm happiest when I can either communicate in writing or in front of large groups. Or I just talk to myself.

3. I am learning these days what it looks like to be fully present with people, to be still with them and with God and with myself.

4. I love to exercise. I mean I genuinely enjoy it! Mostly I walk or run, sometimes I even run races if I feel inclined. Lately I've been doing Insanity which is actually really fun and makes me feel strong.

5. I love decorating. If I had to start over with another career, I'd probably pursue being an interior decorator.

6. Another one of those "almost" careers is photography. I had a mentorship in photography in high school, back when I would spends hours in the high school darkroom developing pictures for the yearbook. Lately, I feel like my photography skills have plateaued a bit so I'd like to pursue improving them at some point.

7. I never planned to homeschool. I was one of those "can't wait till my kids get in school" kind of moms, but I've never regretted my investment in them.

Now here's the tough part for me - I don't follow a lot of blogs aside from my friends. I used to, but I found it took too much time to read them all. So while I'm sure lots of people are out there saying interesting things, I just can't keep up. And I don't have a blog roll on the side of my blog because it feels like picking friends in the playground - who will make the cut? So I'm going to choose not to post any links because all the new people on my blog feed are people Melanie also mentioned in her post! But I encourage you to go to her website and check out her blog roll. Thanks again Melanie!