Wednesday, January 11, 2017

10,000 Reasons in 2016

At the end of 2015, I read Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts. I don't know why it took me so long to pick it up. Friends had recommended it before, but it just wasn't something I thought I really needed. I was wrong. It challenged me about the way I thought about life, and how I would react to situations good and bad. It challenged me to be more thankful. So with the dawn of a new year, I resolved that it would be a year of thankfulness. And what a wonderful blessing that outlook has been.

3. The ability to nourish a baby.
4. The toddler's curiosity.
7. H saying "don't worry, I'm right here!" to E and E smiling really big!

I put pen to paper on January 1st, to record many small moments, reasons to give thanks. I'd aim for my "one thousand gifts" this year, I decided. By the end of that day, I had over 100, and by the end of the month, I had 1,000. So I changed my goal to 10,000 - "Ten Thousand reasons for my heart to find" as the song by Matt Redman goes.

50. The look in my husband's eyes as he thanks God for this China experience.
52. Hadassah's giggles during "kisses kisses!"
131. "A-goo" from Ellie.
323. Giggles over a dangling bow.

The writing and recording ebbed and flowed. Some days I didn't write anything, other days I filled three pages. But even after long breaks of busyness I always came back, by God's grace. Partly because I had a goal and I don't like to leave things undone, but partly because giving thanks and recording them became a habit. Such a good habit.

539. H's favorite thing to sing: "Heaven's gates are open wide - He's alive! He's alive!"
914. The way asking about a baby softens everyone.
1,251. Hanging laundry in beautiful morning air.
1,419. Skyping my parents... Reminded of how precious just seeing their faces is.
1,432. "But I'm a little bit snuffy!" from H. :)

Sometimes I really didn't feel like being grateful. But stopping to reflect, starting to write, suddenly I would realize all of the many reasons I had to be grateful. Sometimes I had to look in the things I was annoyed by, yet there they were:

1,501. Crumbs on the floor... little ones in the house!
1,502. Dirty dishes in the sink... We have plenty of food to eat!
1,503. Laundry, always laundry... I have a family to care for!

I still fail. I still look on the negative side of things far more than I'd like. I still fret when it seems we've been sick more often in the past two months than not. I still have much to grow in this area of thankfulness. It will be a life-long journey.

1,703. "Pacaroni" - H's rendition of pepperoni
1,710. Ellie's sleepy song.

But at the end of a year of purposeful thanksgiving, I feel changed. My outlook is more thankful than it used to be. God's blessings abound. Everywhere. And it's catching. I'd start to give thanks out loud when we walked outside: "God, thank You for the trees. Thank You for the blue sky! Thank you for the sound of birds..." and Hadassah picked it up. She'd chime in with me, and sometimes she'd start it when we walked outside: "God, thank You for the beautiful, beautiful day!" My favorite was when she said, "God, thank you so so so much for Ellie's fluffy fluffy cheeks!"

4,262. Weather warm enough for a family walk after dinner.
4,417. A quite satisfying rock "ker-splash!"
4,490. The Lord has blessed me and kept me, made His face to shine upon me, been gracious to me, and given me peace!"
4,689. Dassah's "Good job, Ellie!" and clapping - such an encouraging big sister!
4,806. Ellie's slobbery bed-time kisses.
5,035. "Daddy, you are really strong. You eat lots of BEEF!"

The process of writing in short snippets has also revived the journaling zest I had when I was a teen, but that died when I was a mom. I no longer had hours to just write and write my deepest thoughts or record every aspect of a family trip. But I can write short sentences as they happen. I gave up trying to have them in chronological order, and just write as I remember or as they come. It was refreshing to sit down for a few minutes during nap time, or start the day reflecting on the previous one. As a result, I have precious moments recorded, from Ellie's firsts to Dassah's adorable, 2-year-old quotes. It's a form of journaling I'd like to continue for all of motherhood.

7,163. A little girl who picks out the most-chocolatey treat.
7,551. Surpassing power from God (not us!)
7,855. God's grace through busy mothering days!
7,951. Two daughters doctoring Daddy.
8,169. Tylenol.
8,396. How Ellie wanted to read the "My First Sounds" book 3 times in a row!

My favorite memory of Thanksgiving this year was when Dassah sat in my lap and "helped" me write down things each of us were thankful for. After that she'd say "let's write in your thankful book, mommy" - probably because she just wanted to help hold the pen! But she got used to my practice too, and started saying "write that in your book, mommy!"after she'd do something particularly sweet to Ellie. :)

8,573. "I showed Ms. Hong around. We be best friends!"
8,836. So many books they're strewn around on the floor...
8,921. Cough drop cuddles in the night... H was so sweet and thankful.
9,066. H singing, "I love you so so much! Hip hip horray! You know I love you! Oh oh El El!"

When December hit, I still had over 1,000 to go. But to be "forced" to record around 100 things to be thankful for a day is not a bad thing amid a busy holiday season. It forced me to record so many sweet memories and sayings from our trip with family. What a huge, huge blessing. I even finished a few hours before midnight on New Year's Eve, and sang the song "Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul" with my husband before the new year dawned.

9,262. Big sticks for the big girl.
9,452. Sunshined Ellie.
9,511. Driving on open road with girls asleep in the back seat.
9,512. Talking about anything and everything with my man.

And with the start of a new year, I'm setting pen to paper again. Still writing. Still numbering reasons to give thanks. It's become a habit and an inspiration of joy. I may not aim for 10,000 this year - though who knows, I might have some goals because goals keep me motivated - but I hope that this recording of God's faithfulness becomes a life-long habit. Because He gives me reasons to praise Him too innumerable to name. But I can at least try. :)

9,999. Opportunity to see God's glory in the next 365 days.
10,000. "A man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps" - such peace for 2017.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Highlights over 16,000 Miles

We've been back from the US for about a week now, and finally the fog of jetlag is lifting once again. At least, it's the first night I haven't fallen exhausted into bed as soon as we put the kids down by 7 PM. Jet lag is my very very very least favorite part of traveling with kids. But when we look back over the memories, it's worth it. Just hard to see sometimes when it seems like you entirely broke all of your kids sleep habits. Again.

Anyways, I just posted a Facebook album with over 100 photos, so there's no way I'm going to capture it all here. But below are some of the best pictures from the trip.

1 - Leaving the airport in Shanghai. Hadassah is always so very excited at the start of our trip. She's been looking forward to grandparents for months. And aren't these the two cutest carry-on's you've ever seen?
2 - The moment Dassah waits for so long (24 hours of flying and more!). Such absolutely joy at being reunited!

 3. Cousins in Indiana. Doesn't get much cuter!

4. Chickfila. We managed to eat there 3 times. Because it just doesn't get better than the peppermint chocolate chip milkshake and their classic chicken sandwich.

5. The Louisville Science Center. Basically kid heaven.

6. Our strong girl! Because when most of your "playground" outside is exercise equipment, you get really strong climbing and hanging off of the bars!

7. This absolutely adorable, fun-loving cutie!

 8 Christmas lights and an Ellie who liked grandparents, but NOT if mommy stepped away from her side!

 9. But after her body finally got over jet lag and she'd warmed up a bit, Ellie was enthralled with her grandparents too at last. :) We also had a warm day - in the 70s! - for Christmas in Atlanta!

10. Atlanta and an awesome "Toy Park" while visiting relatives!

 11. Alabama and the old country home!

 12. The trampoline. In a hole. With cousins. In brown.

13. A zoo outing for the whole family!

 14. Accidentally matching my love. And family to take photos for us!

15. Feeding the giraffes with Uncle Elijah!

16. Twirling girlies while we waited for lunch. And the warmth of Alabama!

17. An impromptu family photo by a brother-in-law with an amazing camera.

 18. The whole family - all 6 of my siblings and our "adopted" sis Marisa made sure they were there too during our visit. What a wonderful blessing!

 19. Saying goodbye at 5 AM at the airport. Parents who get up way early to see us off...

 20. The city lights, the clouds, and the sunrise on the horizon... The beginning of the very long day of flying back home to Shanghai.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas: The China side

 Yes, I am way behind on blogging. With two littles and them napping less as they grow, I have less and less computer time! Too busy living life to record it. ;)

We made it back to the US for a great just-over-two weeks last Friday. It's taken almost a week to get out of the daze of jet lag though. This one was really really bad, exasperated by Ellie's bad congestion and cough. Days I get only 2 hour segments interrupted by them wanting to play in the middle of the night are really hard. But Hadassah finally slept all night and Ellie only woke once last night, so I am feeling like a new person with so much sleep!

With traveling for Christmas, I still wanted to preserve some Christmas traditions for our little family. I don't know why, but I'm big on traditions. So, for us, the Saturday before we left was our home "Christmas."

In the weeks in December instead of letter-of-the-week activities, we did Christmas ones. I really enjoyed making this felt tree, after over 5 people shared various ideas for it with me. ;)

The girls were enamored the first morning they found it, but really didn't play with it all that much after that. Oh well. It was fun to make, added brightness to our wall, and there's always next year to pull it out again!

Dassah enjoyed some Christmas-theme free printables found via pinterest!

This cute print-out nativity set was especially fun. She even helped me attach magnets to the back.

It's fun to have Ellie more and more wanting to get in on the action of things!

Adding it to the fridge was fun for a few weeks too.

I love having little girls especially when it means I get to make such adorable things as these for Christmas presents! Very thankful for a husband who played with the girls all evening one weekday so I could get these done!

"Cozy time" by light of the Christmas tree became a favorite activity for Dassah. What could be better than cuddling up with Daddy and having him tell one of his amazing stories?

We had a full line of Christmas activities by the time we were done.

Our family Christmas Eve tradition, I've decided, is to eat out so we don't have dishes to do. So for what we decided was our "Christmas Eve" we went to our favorite Chinese Muslim restaurant.

It was extra fun to have it be one of the nights this dancer performed. The girls were in awe.

The girls also totally enjoyed dancing on the stage themselves! I love that they both love to dance.

Before bed that night, we had to take a picture in pjs by the tree!

The sparkling Christmas tree in the corner is definitely my favorite time of year for the inside.

We had a special gift for the girls this year too! It was surprisingly inexpensive, and worth getting for the next few months of needing to play more indoors!

We opened presents on Saturday morning before breakfast. This picture just seems to be the essence of sweet childhood...

Ellie could get into it this year too and enjoyed looking at what Hadassah opened too!

Ellie is way into bubbles, so we got a fun bubble set. You don't often have bubbles by a Christmas tree!

And the slide was a definite hit! Ellie especially did it over and over, as she loves to climb!

We had red and green pepper omelettes and beautiful strawberries...

And cinnamon rolls. Because you always need an excuse to have cinnamon rolls. Because my butter was frozen and it doesn't have the convenient markings for tablespoons like butter in America, I cut off what I thought was the right amount, but it turned out to be quite a bit more. But they were the best cinnamon rolls I've ever made, so I'll have to repeat that mistake. ;)

We took some over still warm to friends in our complex, and Dassah serenaded them with "Joy to the World." That's been "her" song this season.

This little miss kept happily sliding throughout the morning, and loved getting things to put down the slide in front of her too!

It was an amazing day outside, so we couldn't resist when friends invited us to go for a picnic and some rides at the park / amusement park nearby. We grabbed bread, peanut butter and jelly and biked over. What an amazing and fun December day!

When we got home it was time for me to start cooking while the girls napped! I had baked the treats ahead, and had fun making Christmas goodies for our drop-by party!

Ryan cleaned out the laundry porch and we set up a play area for the kids. Smartest idea ever! They ate out there (keeping mess somewhat localized) and they played and yelled and weren't too loud since they were secluded. :)

We had a full house! And we had 6 countries represented: China, America, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, and Singapore. I hope that wherever we go, we can stay connected with internationals. It's been neat to see how many are in the area these days. My Syrian friend unfortunately couldn't come, otherwise we would have had 7 countries!

We are so thankful for good friends.

Friends that have brightened our lives so much in this last year. So many reasons to be thankful too.

Some friends we hadn't seen for months but they made the trip out for the party, which was special!

It was a lot of work and a ton of clean up, but I am so glad we had the party. I love having the memories of get togethers and the excuse to see friends. And in the morning sunshine I always enjoyed the tree reflected on the wall!

For our last Sunday in China before Christmas, we had to wear Christmas clothes of course! It's fun how with layers, Dassah's Easter dress works for Christmas too. We're going to miss the special Christmas Eve service with our church so are praying that goes well. But we are also very much enjoying our time with family in America. Especially now that we finally seem to be getting sleep...

We didn't bring our laptop (too fragile after the water spill) so hopefully I'll post pictures from America after our return home the beginning of January. 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!