Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Chinese Thanksgiving

 It worked. God blessed. We're tired, but we're so thankful. We had a houseful for Thanksgiving... it felt like family gatherings in the past, but all of our guests were Chinese. It is amazing to realize how many friends we've been blessed with in just 6 months!

Ryan was wonderful in watching Hadassah much of the day so I could clean and cook. It was so much fun, too, knowing I was preparing for a big group! Everything got done in time, turned out well, and Google was definitely my friend - you CAN make Thanksgiving food without many things... no evaporated milk for the pumpkin pie, canned soup substitute for green bean casserole (I had one can Ryan's mom brought, but needed to double the recipe), and everything was created without an electric mixer or a rolling pin. But hey, forks and chop sticks work! :)

The turkey was super moist and so delicious! It cooked 8 hours in the crockpot, with lemon, garlic, sage and rosemary tucked inside and around. And wow. Wow. I'm doing it that way every time I'm the one making a turkey!

The spread. I'd asked everyone to bring something to share, so we had some Chinese food for Thanksgiving this year too! Everyone enjoyed it, too. I thought I'd have a ton of leftovers, but besides the large turkey carcass in my fridge, I just have a tad of this and that left!

A family from the baking class I taught came! They are so sweet.
Ryan's boss came, and helped Ryan carve the turkey
We had a time after the big feast but before dessert to share what we were thankful for. Everyone really got into it, making eloquent mini speeches and clapping after each one shared.
Everyone we invited came - 3 co-workers of Ryan's, our next door neighbors, our upstairs neighbors, a family from our church and my Chinese teacher! A total of 26 people including us!
Thanksgiving would not be complete without pie. I made them on Friday, and while they were cooking, it truly felt like it was Thanksgiving with the smell...

Not having tapioca to thicken the apple pie like I always did in the past, I had to find a new recipe. My Idaho friend mentioned she was trying a new recipe when we skyped recently, and when I searched, the same one was one of the top picks. So, I tried it, and am so glad I did! Apple pie was always good, but never the one I'd go for first... but this one was out of the park! Almost made me like it better than my favorite, pumpkin!

 Everyone was in good spirits, and the party dynamics were so good. It was loud, which meant people were having a good time. :) The kids played together, people enjoyed looking at our family pictures, and when they were leaving, one remarked how nice it was to meet new friends that live close by, that it was a very friendly atmosphere.

Hadassah was definitely more unsure. Poor girl had a rough day. Between teething and less napping than normal, she was pretty fussy and cried if I left her side for a moment. Though, as the evening continued and toys were out, she got a little more confident. I'm learning it's harder to host as a mom! But, it's so worth it. It's good for her to learn some flexibility. And I was thankful for her early bedtime being at home - she always loves going to bed at night - as soon as I put her in her pajamas, she was smiley and happy and went right to sleep despite all the noise!

It truly was. One to remember.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Joyful Thanksgiving!

 Our God is a good God. My day began with some tears. But it's ended with much joy.

 I struggled through the morning, praying for joy... It is so hard being away from family, but I could feel the love and prayers from friends and family. I talked with my sister-in-law on the phone, enjoyed the beautiful blue-sky day with my daughter, and skyped my sister by heart. And somewhere along the way, God gave joy.

By the time Hadassah woke from a long afternoon nap, I was singing silly songs and dancing for her just because I felt so light-hearted. Joyful.

We went for a walk when Ryan got home from work, and saw the most amazing sky. We talked about the day, and it was just so wonderful to be a family. And it's so incredible being married to my best friend!

As I got supper on the table, I was singing... "You turned my mourning into dancing, put off my rags and clothed me with gladness; my heart will sing and not be silent - I'll sing and not be silent. Oh Lord, my God, I will give thanks to You forever..."

I made chicken pot pie soup for supper, since the big turkey meal will happen on Saturday. The stuff is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Seemed to be a good combination of Thanksgiving ingredients, without all the work (it just takes about 20 minutes to make!). And, I'd saved two pieces of pumpkin pie from my "test" pie last weekend (okay, I just wanted an excuse to make more pie!) so in the end, it tasted like Thanksgiving. After the soup and the pie, Ryan said it felt like his taste buds had "one amazing explosion after another." That's good enough for me. :)

Hadassah colored her turkey hand, and we made ours together, to prepare examples for our Saturday group craft.

And, to top it all off, the internet has worked all day! I was able to finish a Christmas present photo project that I'd tried to do at least 7 times only to have it fail in the upload process, even if I left it alone and didn't do anything else all day. But it's done! It worked! Wow!! We serve an awesome God.

I didn't "need" these blessings. I wanted to be thankful even if it meant tears all day. But, God has given me little gifts that show me tangibly how much I am loved. What an amazing Father we have!

Happy Thanksgiving from one continent to another! :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Recently, it's been easier to focus on things to complain about rather than the things we are blessed with.

It's easy to do. The little things pile up, until you hit the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back."

Case in point: last Saturday's date night.

It was a mostly great day. We got some rest, more time reading, some projects done, and enjoyed throwing a frisbee in an open field - it doesn't get much better than that.

We got some cute pictures of Hadassah...

And she got surrounded by group after group of touring high school students, getting her picture taken by probably at least 75 of them while all she wanted to do was just play with rocks. ;)

Then, we headed out to eat. Not wanting something we'd done before, we decided to try a place that looked popular... and ended up walking out before even getting a menu. So then we decided to try the place right outside our complex's gate. It also looked popular. Stepping inside and seeing rows of raw meat to be grilled ourselves should have clued us in. But Hadassah was going to be crazy if we didn't eat soon... surely there was something there?

The exposed raw meat with flies buzzing would surely not pass any food safety inspections. We ended up grilling some broccoli, and eating what seemed the "safest" food there: fried egg rolls and chicken nuggets. Yeah, not the healthiest... There was sweet watermelon (in November??) that we were thankful for... but overall we ended up feeling sick and rummaging the fridge when we got home.

Oh yes, when we got home Hadassah promptly covered herself in a pool of pee as I was changing her diaper, so I handed her off to Ryan for an emergency bath and brought her clothes to the laundry room only to find the load I'd run earlier was sitting in a tub of water because the machine had stopped draining properly. Great.

By the time the little one was safely tucked into bed, we were ready to just crash with a movie... something to de-stress. But our VPN wasn't working (the internet here has been really really bad and inconsistent lately) so YouTube wouldn't load, and YouKu (the Chinese version) didn't have any good, free movies in English. So we resorted to using our external DVD drive to connect to our laptop (did I mention our computer is also pretty slow and inconsistent?) to watch one of the two DVDs we'd brought with us... and discovered that wasn't working.

So we sat on the couch and aired our woes, yes complaining some... We couldn't even post the funny status to Facebook about our date night failures because it wouldn't load. But we ended up laughing through the moans of our upset stomachs, thankful to just be together.

Thankful. Thanksgiving is here. It's a quiet day, as Ryan has work as usual. But we've got 13 adults and 6 children coming on Saturday for a Thanksgiving feast, so there is celebration ahead. And I have my weekly skype date with a dear sister of the heart, and this evening, we'll be together. Our small little family. That's something to be grateful for: usually as a young family you're never alone for holidays, as it's such a good time to be with extended family. I like big large family gatherings, but it just hit me that this year we get time to make memories with just us... and that is something to be treasured.

We went for a walk on Sunday afternoon, and while we started out complaining - after all, if it isn't the yowling cats keeping me awake for 3 hours in the early morning, it's the mosquitoes buzzing in our ear at 3 AM - but we decided to try to focus on things we were thankful for by specifically being in China:
 - A good job for Ryan, that is growing his skills, giving him way more responsibility and leadership than he'd have in America, familiarity with more things than he'd be able to work on at a larger company, and growing his career
- Good colleagues and a great work environment, with no cubicles making things more social and collaborative
- A nice apartment - we really are blessed with a great one that we enjoy.
- A daughter - cute, expressive, inquisitive, bright, and such a joy. We're pretty amazed that we get to be her parents!
- Good neighbors. I mean, who would have ever guessed we'd live right next to people who spoke great English and were so interested in being our friends?
- Each other. We're learning more about each other and growing through the "trials" and are thankful for these experiences.
- Our church. Though we don't like the distance, we never expected to find a church we meshed with so well in Shanghai.
- Nature. We really live in a pretty, well landscaped place, and on Sunday discovered a hidden path by a river with the most gorgeous fall trees...

Right now, this seems like a very hard season. But I know one day we'll look back and it will be one we remember with fondness, that we're thankful for. And I want to be thankful now.

I'm thankful for the fact that it's teaching me to do with less.

I'm thankful for the time with my husband and my daughter. I do get more time with them because there are less friends and family to be with. Long term, being without community is not what I'd chose. But, this is still a sweet season.

I'm thankful at the opportunity to see the Lord's faithfulness. Sometimes it's hard to see why how this move fits into His grand plan, but we know it does, that nothing's wasted, and that this is part of our loving Father's good gifts to us.

I feel like complaining a lot more over here. I fail in looking at the bright side so often. But I'm thankful for this opportunity to learn more perseverance.

So Thanksgiving dawned in China with memories of family, missing them, and shedding some tears. But, I'm learning to be thankful through the tears... realizing how hard it is to "be thankful in all circumstances" but that is what we are called to. This lesson is a good one to learn.

Lord, help me to be more thankful...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Golden Way of Grandeur

There's a road where fall is showing...

I call it the Golden Way of Grandeur. Yes, there's a little bit of "Anne of Green Gables" in me that just has to come out sometimes. :)

 *sigh* Isn't it majestic? Ryan gets to ride past this every day on his way to work.

 The only way to get her to sit for a second for a picture was to give her a leaf ;)

 Why sit still when you could go off and explore?

That seems to be her motto these days. ;)

 But she smiled for a picture with mom!

The leaves are falling fast... but all the better for us to play!

Ryan showed me this place as we've started walking for 30 minutes (with a 10 minute run in the middle for him) right before or after dinner, in an attempt to get him exercise. So when Hadassah didn't fall asleep for her morning nap today, I knew where to go. After 45 minutes and still hearing little noises (the fact that her nigh-night lamb was hanging up to dry instead of ensconced in her arms probably had a lot to do with it... sometimes I just really want a dryer!) I wasn't feeling like doing chores anyway, so I got her up and we headed out in the beautiful 60 degree weather. :) 

Thank You, Lord, for beauty in your creation to enjoy.... 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


It's a pretty familiar sight: a gathering of grandmas with babies in strollers, going on an outing together. And the familiar ache hits. I want what they have. Well, not exactly what they have. I know that I could join in - I could leave the dishes, grab Hadassah, run down the stairs, unfold the stroller, and run after them. I'd be welcome. But I'd be the novelty. Everyone here is so kind; they smile quickly, show interest, and remark on how beautiful my daughter is. But we're the curiosity - asking how old she is, remarking on her walking so well, and feeling her jacket because they're sure she's not dressed warmly enough... I love it. I love the opportunities to practice Chinese and the interaction with a friendly face. But my understanding runs out before their words do, and we're left with awkward smiles. We both feel it. They start talking among themselves about us, and eventually I move on.

I'm not complaining. This is what we wanted, to be living right in the culture, with Chinese people as our neighbors. But it's hard. The reality of not having that close-knit, you-understand-each-other community is hard.

Many moms have said that the season with littles is lonely. I understand that now. It's not that I don't love my daughter. She's so sweet and cute and growing so fast that I love being here to share all those moments with her. She makes me laugh and brings such joy. But between naps and meals and chores, going anywhere is difficult. And when the friends from church live an hour away, it's even harder. I wouldn't trade this time; I'm gaining a closeness with Hadassah that I hope will last, as she grows and becomes my right-hand girl. But...

I have it easier than so many. There were women alone on the prairie, women who packed their belongings in coffins to follow their husbands to Africa, and women (my mom included) who received news 6 weeks late when a letter finally arrived. I have weekly skype dates with family and friends, and even a US phone that uses the internet to make unlimited calls and texts. I have dear friends, sisters by heart, who send emails and check up to see how I'm doing. Those things are invaluable - I'm not minimizing them. But...

But I long for a friend that's there, who comes over and we talk while the children play. Who knows the 'rules' of our home and isn't afraid to correct my daughter if she gets into something while I'm in the kitchen getting a snack. Who doesn't have it all figured out (since I certainly don't!), but we can talk through it together. I miss the Titus 2 woman who knows me, knows my circumstances, and offers advice based in knowledge and truth from God's Word. I miss the younger sister who comes over to enjoy a baby and talk about life and hopes and dreams...

Unrealistic? Maybe. At least, hard to come by. And I know it's not just because I'm in China that I'm having these longings. Community is hard to find no matter where you are. Our culture is fast-paced, people are always moving, and we (myself included!) are often too afraid to open up our not-so-perfect homes and be real about our far-from-arrived lives.

But that doesn't mean I don't long for it. The Body of Christ isn't meant to be just a gathering on Sunday morning. Is it better than nothing? For sure. Am I just not being grateful for what I have? Perhaps. And I have a sneaking suspicion that what I long for won't fully be realized until heaven.

Maybe it's just because I know what I'm missing... they say ignorance is bliss. But I've seen a community where parents could supervise a little less, because they all looked out for each other's kids and even the teens kept an eye out for the toddlers. I've seen the moms be real with each other, and the children forge friendships to last. Was it perfect? No. But it was - is - beautiful. I was still a little on the outskirts; I was the teacher who had to stop conversations to let the class start. But I was there. I was included. I had moms who mentored me and younger "sisters" I could take out to lunch. And it's still a place we can go back to and feel included and loved. I'm ever so thankful for that. So why long for more?

There's something about that in-person-ness. (and yes I know that's not a word!) It's kind of ironic to write about this on a blog that's not in person and mainly one-sided... Why even bring it up? Because I believe it's something to be sought after, to look for wherever you are. So if you live in a community that's already there, make the most of it! Don't be afraid to get involved, to invite people over, to be real. If you don't live in community currently, pray for it and work to build it. Do the same things - invite people, open up, and live truthfully as a Body.

Part of me just wants to give up looking for that here. Part of me knows I should keep trying. We are blessed with friends - in 6 months time we've made quite a few. There are always more opportunities to get to know people than there is time. But it's hard for them to be deep, especially when they can only be built during evenings or weekends with a little one with an early bedtime. But... it's worth trying. We're praying for it. We're realizing it may not happen here, and it factors into how long we stay. We're seeing the wisdom in people who move overseas with a team or intentionally live close to those with whom they can form community. But we also know that God has put us where we are right now for a reason. We wouldn't change being close to Ryan's work and allowing us to have more family time. We are thankful for our neighbors and the friends here, and the Sunday morning relationships.

But we're looking forward to more, one day, should the Lord so bless. Because life lived alone with Him is worthwhile and sweet, but "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow" (Ecclessiastes 4:9-10) and "exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Hebrews 3:13)

So wherever we are, let's be intentional about building community for God's glory. 

Monday, November 17, 2014


Though we should focus on blessings every month, this one especially is one where we think of all we've been blessed with. Family, friends, food, and more... We will be missing our family - the first time in 24 years I've not been with my family on Thanksgiving day - but we are inviting many of our new friends and neighbors, hoping to have a big feast similar to the first Thanksgiving, where the Pilgrims shared a meal with their neighbors and friends in the new world.

There is so much to be thankful for too, from the big to the small. Top of my list this year is that my dad is free of cancer! After 3 rounds of chemo and surgery 3 weeks ago to remove the bladder and prostate, they found no more sign of cancer! Recovery is slow and there have been some complications so prayer for full recovery is still needed, but we are praising God!

A smaller, but still big blessing, is the provision of clothes for Hadassah. I was planning on stocking up on clothes for Hadassah for the next year at thrift stores while in America in December, but she was growing too fast! I posted on "Shanghai Mama's" forum asking if anyone had clothes to sell, and someone responded, selling close to 50 items for only $32! They're all barely worn, from cute dresses to warm sweaters to practical long sleeve shirts to a swim suit with a built in swim diaper. Wow... God truly provides abundantly more than we could ask! 

So it's fitting that this month I finished the embroidery project I've been working on:

Wanting something meaningful to put on our blank door, and wanting it to be Chinese too, I searched online for a free cross stitch pattern for Chinese characters. This one, with the old-style character for "blessings" seemed fitting, as many people, our neighbors included, put this character on their door. In ancient tradition, it's supposed to scare off a "monster" that comes around during the spring according to legend. It's also usually displayed upside-down, since that way it looks like the character for "arrive" so it's a desire for blessing to arrive on them.

Paired with the beginning of Numbers 6:24, it is a prayer for God to bless us and those we come in contact with here.

 The design is as much Ryan's as mine. I am so blessed with a husband who is interested in my projects and has great ideas to add! I was excited to come across a free online cross stitch word generator and he helped me pick out the font to use. When I was trying to decide on a border to do, wanting to combine red and black, he had the idea to do the simple one I was looking at, but replacing every few stitches with red. It gives a cool effect I never would have thought of!

He also gave me time to do it. I discovered that embroidering while listening to him read really helps me focus and listen better than I do when I'm not doing something with my hands. Mainly because if I'm just sitting and listening, I get drowsy and kind of space out, especially when it's cold and we're sitting down with warm blankets! So, this was a great way to work on something fun and productive and get more out of our devotions too!

Last month, tired of a completely blank door and not done with the project, I'd printed out the "welcome" sign and colored it with crayon. Now it's fun to have something more meaningful to add.

What blessings has the Lord given you lately?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fall in Shanghai

Fall in Shanghai has been beautiful for the most part. All of October was mild weather (think short sleeves and sandals!) and blue skies almost every day. 

November has been a little cooler, but still not bad. Most days we can get by with just a sweater. I still love exploring outside with my cute, pink, pony-tailed lassie. :)

But it's not all been rosy. The beginning of this week the pollution was horrible. The Air Quality Index hit 260 (probably due to the fact that factories here burn coal for heating), Ryan and I could feel the heaviness affecting us, feeling pretty bad all day with a headache to boot, and I didn't want to take Hadassah out to breathe it in, so she was pretty fussy. For reference, 50 is the high end of "good" and we were at "very unhealthy" where it is "Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected."

We went out that evening since Hadassah was restless and the AQI was down to 140. Still "unhealthy for sensitive groups" so we tried out our masks. But Hadassah kept pulling hers off and crying if we forced it back on. What do you do? Make her wear it and make going outside a miserable thing, or let it go without and hope the mild exposure doesn't hurt? It's hard to know. I hate how if we wear a mask, it takes away the smile...

Thankfully the wind came in and blew away the pollution for now - the last few days have been great - but we've heard the winter brings more and more heavily polluted days.

 Today was gorgeous though. I decided to capture some of the sights of fall here. Definitely not as colorful in terms of trees - this tree outside our building is one of few I've seen decked out in yellow, but with the milder weather, I'll take less color!

 The leaves on the bushes in our complex turn a beautiful maroon...

 And there are roses. Yes, roses in November! After a year and a half in Iowa, I'd forgotten how amazing a southern climate can be!

 There are other colorful flowers planted in our apartment complex making it live up to its name: HaoDiFang Apartments - "Happy Place."

 They sure know how to do landscaping here. This is outside the gate to the university across the street. The pansies make up for the lack of such fall colors on trees!

 And these are my favorite flowers... it looks like fire blooming!

The tops of these bushes also do their best to bring out the color. It's a beautiful fall here, indeed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Syllabus for Romans 2:1-3:9

Instead of writing a post on each of these topics, I thought I'd provide an outline of an imaginary 14 week course on it.  Here's the way I'd like the class to be layed out if I was going to take it.

Week 1: Background theology: "Root and Fruit" and Future Justification
You need to be familiar with the passages in scripture that talk about the fact that Christians will be distinguishable based on their fruits.  This will help your assessment of whether or not Paul is talking about that in this passage.  Same thing with "future justification".  Does such a concept exist in scripture?  Get a solid foundation about what the Bible as a whole says about these things.  Primary sources: Paul David Tripp's "How People Change"

Week 2: Background exegesis (1): Old Testament sources
Mainly bring up what's going on in the poetic passages (Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah) that Paul quotes from.  Walk through their background.  Primary sources: Seifrid (Commentary on NT use of the OT) vs (!) Moo (Romans).

Week 3: Background exegesis (II): NT context and literary features
Cover the parallel passages in Paul.  Also bring up the diatribe style, how it was used in contemporary sources.  If time permits, deal with E.P. Sander's (crazy) claims.  (e.g. deal with whether or not Paul was wrong to require so much of the Jews for their salvation.  And other NPP debates.)

Week 4: Background ethics and application: Hypocrisy
Give a general overview of the way we choose spin rather than substance. Primary source: Cornelius Plantinga's "Not the Way it's Supposed to Be" and his chapter "Masquerade".

Week 5: Romans 2:1-5, Switching to the religious world
Cover mainly how these verses set the tone for 2:1-3:9.  Especially with regards to hypocrisy.  Trace the themes of hypocrisy and judgment through the rest of the section to get and understanding of the importance of this opening section.  If time permits, cover who Paul's audience is in this section (his "hidden target").

Week 6: Romans 2:6-11, Judged according to our works
Focus mainly on the debates surrounding whether or not Paul is referring to Christians in this passage.  Bring up the prevailing modern view (that Christians are in view) over against the traditional Lutheran view (that they aren't).  Examine the symmetry and chiasm in the passage.  Review the OT background (Proverbs) behind "according to their works" (v. 6).

Week 7: Review for Mid-term.  Survey the recent contributions on Pauline theology from children's literature.

Week 8: Excursus: Gentiles and Christians in Romans 2:1-29
Take a break to argue that Christians are not mentioned until 1:29 and that they are not being described by any of the verses prior to this one.  Answer any questions.

Week 9: Romans 2:12-16, Jew and Gentile
Several items: (1) The "law" that Paul brings up and how it is used in verse 12.  (2) The common grace of conscience (v. 14-15) and the philosophical ramifications of these verses (especially as they relate to natural law), and (3) Bring up the alleged future justification of verse 13.  (4) Should there be a parenthesis in this passage or not?  (5) If time permits, deal with any wrong hermenuetics commonly associated with this passage (inclusivism, or that it is referring to Gentile Christians).

Week 10: Romans 2:17-24
Were the Jews robbing temples?  What is Paul doing in this passage?  Cover how vv. 17-18 are symmetrical with vv. 19-20.  Emphasize that vv. 17-20 were all true and good things.  Review the OT background of v. 24.

Week 11: Romans 2:25-29
Cover how crazy and irritating Paul must have seemed to the Jews of the time.  How revolutionary it was for Paul to be messing with "circumcision".  Also point out Paul's use of the word "law" and how someone can keep it without being circumcised.  Cover the way (and reason) Paul brings in the language of the "Spirit" in verse 29.  If time permits, deal with whether or not verse 27 is hypothetical.

Week 12: Romans 3:1-8
Cover the traditional interpretation of this passage.  Understand the traditional exegete's view of who is asking the questions and how and why Paul answers them the way he does.  If time permits, examine some of the nuances in the original text and why this text is so difficult to translate.

Week 13: Main application - our condemnation
Spend a week reviewing the other sections (before the test).  And re-reflect on the theme of judgment that has been in Romans up until now (Romans 1:18-3:8).  Examine various ways this can be brought into evangelism conversations.  "Sin is more than just disobeying a father.  It is a treasonous rebellion of a subject in the kingdom against a good and noble king."  Reflect on Paul's main point of this passage (we are all under sin).

Week 14: Exit
Last class. Bring up some of the main homiletical challenges this passage presents.  Ask the class for any ideas they can think of for how to preach it.  Review its common applications. Review for final.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beauty in the Everyday

Lately, life has been getting to me. There's always so much to do, and as soon as I do it it seems to be un-done. It's the life of a wife and mom... bellies get fed and then hungry just hours later. Dishes get washed and then dirtied. Floors get swept and then covered in crumbs in what seems like minutes. Clothes get washed and hung and ironed... and then dirty and wrinkled. It's easy to feel like you're never getting anywhere.

I guess that's why I feel the drive to create. To scrapbook, to sew, to make things that last. Sure, nothing is forever. Everything in this world will one day be destroyed, so we're to focus on treasure in heaven ultimately. But, sometimes it helps to be able to point to something and say, "I made that!" Maybe it's why I take so many pictures... to capture the fleeting moments, to help them last.

So a few weeks ago I decided it would be project week. Ryan was great with it (he encourages my creativity) and so we planned no dinner guests and I let the dust remain just a little longer and planned simpler meals. But Saturday rolled around, and I'd never even touched the sewing machine a friend is letting me borrow. Instead, Hadassah started to walk and I spent days preventing tumbles and calming tears when they did happen. And you know? It's worth it. I may not have anything concrete to show for it, but I'm seeing a little one grow from helpless to walking in the course of a year. It's pretty amazing. But that itch to create something beautiful that lasts? It's always present.

Don't get me wrong. I love being a wife and mom and I truly often enjoy the more "mundane" housework and cooking. I want to focus on finding joy in that. So one morning as I was chopping vegetables for soup, wanting to get through it so I could maybe move on to more creative stuff, it struck me:

It's beautiful. Sure, it won't last. It got all stirred together, the color faded, and it filled our bellies nicely. But, there are moments like these in the everyday work if I just take a minute to notice. It was a great reminder.

But... I still have a million ideas for projects I want to do. I'm realizing that creative drive will always be a part of me, though there are seasons (such as this one) where I can't follow through on many of them.

My husband, though, didn't let me be a mommy martyr and sigh that I just couldn't do them right now. He listened to me, brainstormed with me, and offered a solution: Monday evenings.

We'd go out to dinner. I balked at this. I like everything to be homemade, as it's healthier, cheaper, and I DO like to cook! But, it takes time. Not only to prepare, but it makes lots of dishes to do, often after Hadassah's in bed. But Ryan convinced me this was worth it. And... it was. :)

Especially as we've found a restaurant we love! It's just across the street, and everything we've eaten there so far - with the exception of one dish last night - has been absolutely hands-down delicious! That's saying a lot, as there are many things in typical Chinese restaurants that are just plain weird and, to our American palates, gross.

This hole-in-the-wall, no fuss place, though? They know what they're doing!

 Hadassah approves of the noodles, of course. ;)

 As do we! They're freshly made there, thick and delicious, and the longest I've ever seen!

 The owners are Muslim, from the north of China, and I've decided I really like their type of food! People often ask the difference between Chinese food in America and the stuff here, and one of the differences is that most places, the staple meat is pork. Here, because it's Muslim, there isn't any pork, just delicious beef, chicken, and lamb!

And we've found an amazing way to eat our veggies. ;) Whatever ever they do to this, adding cumin among other things to veggies and a little meat, is out-of-this-world. We try new dishes each time, but so far haven't been able to NOT order this one... it's just too good!

This is only our first week to try the Monday night thing, but it was such a blessing. It gave me motivation to do chores in the morning, and Hadassah had a long afternoon nap to allow me to work on a project then, as well as after supper while Ryan took her on a walk, read her stories, and gave her a bath. He is blessing me so much. And in the process, blessing others, as often the projects I work on are gifts for others.

So, I'm learning. Learning I really can't do it all, learning when I need to ask for help, and to allow others to help me. Eating out, though not my first choice (though delicious!), makes me a better wife and mom in the long run. Do I NEED this time? No. We can all learn through dying to self and our desires. But, when we're able to make it work, it does help. Being creative in this way does something to my brain that makes me just more uplifted and joyful. Time away from the never ending duties gives me new energy to tackle them again.

Thank you, Lord, for creativity. Continue to show me how to use it well, to bless others for Your glory. And where time for projects doesn't exist, help me still be joyful and find beauty in the everyday.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mandarin Book One - Complete!

With my teacher - Ryan's dad was so thoughtful to think to take a picture of us while they were visiting
Last week, I finished the last of ten sections in the first Mandarin book. An exercise to sum it up was to write an essay introducing yourself in Chinese pinyin (the non-character, phonetic way to write it). It was neat to see how much I could say in Chinese, though I still have trouble remembering everything (tone and pronunciation and structure!) and saying it confidently on the spot when meeting people. ;)

I thought I'd write the translation in English here, to give an example of what I've been learning. I had to look up some words (like the word for sewing and the last paragraph about Christ) but everything else we covered in the first book:

Hello! My name is Anna Wolfe. I am American. I am a house wife. I clean the house, wash and iron clothes, cook food, and look after my daughter. Her name is Hadassah. She is one year old. She likes going outside and walking. She also likes look at books. My husband is an engineer. His name is Ryan. His office and our home is in Shanghai. I speak English and a little bit of Chinese. My teacher is very good.

I like sewing, and my husband likes playing guitar, but our most important thing in life is Jesus Christ. We are Christians. We read the Bible, pray, and go to church. We want Jesus to define us.

The Chinese is actually a lot simpler than the English. For example, while we have different words for he, she or it, they only use one: . And while we have to remember whether to use I or meWǒ covers it for them. It's a lot easier to remember, and explains why Chinese people often refer to our daughter as "he" accidentally even though they know she's a girl - they don't have a distinction for pronouns in their language!

The sentence structure is also very simple, with fewer words. They don't have any word for a, an, or the and often don't have to use prepositions. A complete sentence can be made up of a subject and an adjective. The verbs don't have any tenses - it can be past, present, or future based on the sentence structure, but the word itself doesn't change. It's pretty cool. But it does make me often feel like I'm leaving something out when I'm speaking, without all the extra words English requires!

There are plenty of confusing things, though. I often completely butcher the tones in my nervousness, but people are very kind and seem to appreciate the effort. I am beginning to understand more and more, or at least pick out words I know when people talk to me, which can be good and bad. ;)

It's fun to be a student again, as it's been 5 years since I was last officially one. My teacher is very encouraging, and seems impressed at my progress, though I still feel I'm going very slow. It was encouraging to take the level one test and realize I knew almost everything in, though. Slowly but surely, progress is made!

Today we finished the first section in the second book (all about the weather), and she explained some characters as well. How up (shàng) looked like a tree coming out of the earth (上) and how down (Xià) looked like the roots under ground (下). If you think of the straight line in each character as the ground, it makes a lot of sense. She showed me how some of the old characters used to be more pictures, with round and flowing lines, but that now it all has to be in a box shape, to be more standard. It's all very interesting, and I feel I'm finally ready to learn some of it and not be completely overwhelmed. So, she said each lesson we'll try to do some if we have time. It should help things make sense, too, as we're starting to run into words that are completely the same - pronunciation and tone even! - but have different characters and thus different meanings.

Finding/taking time to study continues to be hard. But, the exercises and reviews with my teacher helps the important things stick, and I try to review on my own as I can.

Lord, thank you for this opportunity to learn. Help me to use what I learn well...