Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

More to come later on, but for now...

Merry Christmas from the two youngest (and cutest!) members of our extended family!

All of Anna's family (all 7 siblings included!) are together for Christmas for the first time in a LONG time. So blessed.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Since we're leaving tomorrow, I stopped by the vegetable stand this morning not to buy food but let our friends know we'd be leaving for America tomorrow and returning on January 7th. The fact that I knew how to say that in Chinese made me happy. :)

The vegetable stand lady and Hadassah are good friends. She doesn't always want to go to her (she's a big momma's girl right now) but she always has fun and they have little games they play together. The vegetable stand man laughs and watches, as he's given up on getting Hadassah to go to him. ;) But as she held Hadassah a little closer this morning knowing she wouldn't see her for a while, he motioned for her to give her a Qiǎokèlì (cha-co-lee) that was sitting in the back with some fruit. Probably his treat for later. It touches me how generous everyone is. Especially to Hadassah... this isn't the first time she's been given chocolate and almost every time I buy fruit or vegetables, we get a little something given to her for free. I was happy to be able to give a little back, bringing them Christmas cookies earlier this week.

But seriously, the generosity of people isn't helping me teach Hadassah that when someone else is eating does NOT mean that you are entitled to some as well! She's perfected the art of walking closer and looking up with pleading eyes, so if they weren't offering food to her already, they definitely do then! 

 If she'd known how to open this, she would have...

She kept it in her hands while we were outside, and kept putting it in her mouth and say "um um um!"

I must say, though, having Hadassah often means good things for me. I mean, I wasn't about to let her eat a chocolate bar, and it'd be a shame to waste it, right? ;) 

There's only one "ornament" left on our tree, making me smile each time I see it. One more day!! I'm not looking forward to the flight, but am so ready to be with family. And in a little warmer house too. ;)

Please do pray as we fly. We fly out of Shanghai at 5:55 PM on Saturday and arrive in Alabama at 10:30 PM Saturday. Yeah, figure that one out. ;)  We have a 13 1/2 hour flight from Shanghai to Dallas, and then a 2 hour one to Montgomery. All with an active one year old in my lap. We're hoping that flying over her normal night time means she sleeps for at least part - maybe even most of it, or that if she ends up being awake, it means she adjusts to jet lag. I researched a while online on how to help toddlers with jet lag, and pretty much everyone said just expect a few days of misery.

So, prayers are appreciated. Especially that we don't get sick - it's unlikely we'll get much sleep on the plane, and likely Hadassah will wake up quite a bit during the new night (that used to be day for us!) so it will be a while before we get much sleep. And plane rides are pretty good for picking up germs, especially in the winter. But, we know that God is in control and are trusting Him. This may not be much of a vacation rest-wise, but we are looking forward to getting filled up with fellowship. It will be worth it.

We may not post much here while traveling, so Merry Christmas! :)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Creating Christmas Cookies

Wanting to not just delay celebrating until we got "home" to America, I decided it would be fun to make Christmas cookies to give out to Ryan's co-workers and some neighbors. After all, the Chinese people seem to enjoy learning about traditions, and this is one I enjoyed doing with my sisters many years. Plus, having something to give at Christmas, along with a letter explaining the true meaning of Christmas, seemed like a good plan.

I invited my neighbor to join me, since she really enjoys learning more about baking and I knew that making and decorating a whole batch of sugar cookies would likely make me go crazy! I'm so glad I asked... Projects like these are definitely not meant to be done alone!

She came over on Thursday to help roll and cut out the cookies. She brought some cookie cutters she had, and we used ones I'd brought here. The recipe I used was great - these were the easiest cookies I ever rolled and cut out! Must have been all of that butter. ;)

It only took 6-7 batches baking in our small oven before they were all ready. By that time, I'd had time to make the frosting and the cookies cooled quickly in the cool house. ;)

 The pretty colors ready to be used...

We were able to decorate about half of the over 80 cookies that night too, finally calling it around a night around 9 PM. While we baked, Ryan and her husband talked for quite a while, getting on some really good topics, truth being shared and discussed. Then he took their son back and Ryan went to get some music ready for Sunday (Hadassah having been in bed for some time already) and it left Y and I with some great time to talk. It's rare that we get uninterrupted time, as one or the other of us is usually busy with a child. :)

 There's something about making something pretty that is so relaxing. Christmas music played in the background, giving some starters for conversation here and there. Y remarked that it had been a stressful week at work, but that this was so restful and fun. As I decorated a sheep, I asked if she'd heard the phrase "counting sheep." She said yes, and that in China they joke that Americans must count sheep because it sounds like the word for sleep (how did I never make that connection?). So she said in China people say to count dumplings, because the word for boiled dumplings sounds like the word for sleep - same spelling and pronunciation, just different tones. It made us both laugh, especially when she said you're not supposed to count too many dumplings, or you'll get hungry and won't be able to sleep!

I enjoyed learning more about Chinese history, sharing some stories from the first Christmas as the music played, and hearing some ancient Chinese stories that are similar.

The next evening, she came over again, to finish decorating the cookies. It was just us, along with music, and as we worked and talked, she remarked on how nice it was to do something creative with a friend. And she truly is a friend. I am realizing how blessed I am - I've never had a friend as such a close neighbor!

We got to know each other more over Christmas cookies. She shared some hard things that have happened in her family. I asked about what they think about life after death, and shared about the peace I have about that in Christ. As music played that my students had danced to, I shared some of the memories. I told her about my favorite and last production, "Creation's Promise" and described the Creation dance. She wanted to see it, so after we finished up the cookies, we watched the recording, as it portrayed creation and the fall. It's really cool to see how things I did in the past - really, God did - are being used even now.

We now have 22 smaller plates of cookies, stacked and ready to give out to Ryan's co-workers. Ryan edited the letter yesterday, to clearly explain the message that brought so much hope so many years ago. There is a reason for this season - and there's a reason why we're here.

Lord, use these cookies, to glorify You, as You already have... 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Life in Random

On Tuesday night, one of Ryan's co-workers invited us over for dinner. We enjoyed the tasty dishes his wife prepared – over 6 different things all stir-fried, enough to feed the 10 people that were there! He just got married this year, and said his wife knew nothing about cooking before she married him. She'd evidently learned well, as everything was delicious. They told us she cooked with tea tree oil, which definitely made everything feel more healthy.

While I'm discovering more and more Chinese dishes that I really like, it's hard to eat them. Why? Well, first there are the chopsticks. I've gotten better than I was with my first attempt 7 months ago, but I'm still quite slow. They assessed last night that Ryan used chopsticks better than I did. ;) Then there's the set-up: all of the dishes are arrayed in big bowls on the table, while each person is given their own rice bowl. Then with each bite, you take something out of one of the big bowls with your chopsticks, maybe mix it with someone of your rice, and eat it. For each bite. It wouldn't be so hard, if it wasn't for the last reason: Hadassah. She keeps me busy feeding her when we're home and all I have to do is cut it up and keep her plate filled. But with Chinese food, I also have to manage to get food to her with the chopsticks, and by reaching across the table to grab whatever she can eat. By the time I've gotten it to her and broken it apart, she's usually ready for the next bite. I've actually had to tell Ryan we can't go out with groups to Chinese restaurants after church, because if you have a large group, they add in another element: a rotating part of the table, where the dishes are constantly going by. I never manage to grab enough to fill both Hadassah and me. So, it's tasty, but a lot more work than our “normal” way of dining. :)

The weather this week has been warmer, which is nice. It's helped the inside not feel so cold, as the outside air definitely seeps in through the not-well-sealed windows. Plus, when we're able to go outside more in nice weather, it gets our blood moving so that when we come in, it feels warm. A friend at church also asked, “Well, don't you have heat lamps in your bathroom?” when I was telling her our cold woes. And I realized... those are what those super bright and hot lights I never imagined why on earth were in the bathroom when we first moved in in the summer. It doesn't change everything, but it helps. Though, through cold trial and error we've discovered if we turn our hot water on too hot first thing, it completely goes off and we have to restart the system. Life is never boring!

We got a space heater and wool socks, and ordered slippers. We're getting better about layering. And slippers? They make my feet happy and my whole self feel warmer - it's wonderful!

It's only 8 days 'til we leave now, and I was able to go through things and make a list of what we want to buy while in America. Chocolate chips, spices, vitamins, toiletries I can read, shoes (my foot just barely fits into the largest woman's size here)... it's the little things that are so much more expensive if you buy them imported, and that really help make it feel like home. Is it crazy that I'm super excited about going to Walmart? Never thought that I would anticipate it so much, but to go in a store where I know where to find things and all the signs and labels are in English sounds heavenly.

Our internet decided to not just be slow on Wednesday, but to stop working all together. Seems like it's always something. :) They fixed it yesterday (praise God for an English speaker on the help line!) and today the VPN is actually working too!

Life with our little cutie who's trying to talk so much, mimicking so many animal sounds, playing games like hide-the-dolly and copy-cat (even realizing SHE can be the leader sometimes!) continues to be such a joy!

 She learned how to climb up the steps to the slide our neighbors gave us to borrow, so I've been keeping it against the wall except when I can supervise her. Tonight, she climbed up, and then started going down headfirst. I held her ankles, and she giggled the whole way and did it again and again and again... it is so much fun seeing her discover life!

Yesterday, though, I was mixing up cookies in the kitchen and came into the living room to find she'd managed to squeeze around and climb the stairs, patiently standing at the top waiting for me. Nothing's safe any more. ;)

She helped me unload groceries that were delivered today. Online ordering is really nice when I get around to doing it. It doesn't take as long now, but the thought of ordering in Chinese just makes me procrastinate. Hadassah was SO happy to take things out of the box (since one of her favorite things is to empty something!) and bring them to me. She helps me peel oranges now, as I give her the peel and she drops them in the garbage. She also is quite good at tearing apart a lettuce leaf and putting the pieces in a bowl when I make salad. I love my little helper.

There are so many moments I want to capture, to pause time and savor... her little voice saying “quack quack”, the light in her eyes when she sees daddy do something funny, the joy when she runs to give me a hug. She is growing so fast!

Lord, thank you. For so many blessings in life.

Friday, December 5, 2014

December Cold

Colds aren't the only cold we're getting around here.

People warned us that the winter was cold. Coming from the north, and looking at the average temperatures and the fact that it hardly ever snows here, we laughed just a little. I mean, how bad can it be?

We're not laughing now.

It's hard to complain much. I mean, we just came from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where snow covered the ground from November to March. The fact that it's only been this week that I've hesitated to take Hadassah walking outside due to it being really chilly says something. We like this climate weather wise. While the recent 37* F morning e-bike ride to work for Ryan is really really cold, it's still crazy to think he's riding a bike in December!

But we had the excuse to try out Hadassah's big coat a friend gave us. No, we can't find her hands in it. We call it her marshmallow coat. :)
But, it's cold inside. Like really cold. Knowing the fact that I couldn't get warm and my feet felt like they were freezing all day made me want to get some numbers. The heater in the corner of the living room and bedrooms was set to 78* F and even turns off and on, suggesting it reaches that temperature, but it definitely is NOT that warm in the room.

So I pulled out our alarm clock (which is a story in itself - ordering stuff online in Chinese going by pictures and Google translate sometimes means you get a clock that only plugs in via usb - huh? - or if you run it on batteries doesn't stay on so you have to hit it to see what time it is) which also happens to tell us the temperature. Made for cold indoors, maybe? We'd noticed that our bedroom seemed to hang around 57* F, only getting up to 59* if we ran the heater all night long, so I was curious...

Hadassah's room is, thankfully the warmest. We run the heater almost constantly in there, she has thicker curtains, and her room is 64* if the door's open or 66* or even 68* if the door's been closed while she sleeps. That combined with her thick, fuzzy footed pajamas means she sleeps warm. The living room comes in second, reaching 64* if the heater has been on and the sun is shining through the window, but usually hanging around 62* with the heat on.

Our room is by far the coldest, and the bathroom? I had to check, since my feet felt like they were going to stick to the floor from the cold when I got up in the middle of the night. The result? 53* F. It did warm up some during the day (if you call 57* warm!) but still... I now know why people didn't use to take a bath all winter. And what was the logic in installing a huge window right next to the shower?? I haven't had the heart to give Hadassah a bath in over a week...

This is what your husband will do (cover you in blankets) if he finds you curled up, shivering, not wanting to cook in the cold kitchen. I speak from experience.
Yeah. It's crazy.

And yes, we're taking steps to make it warmer. Catching up on computer stuff last night, I sat on my feet for 45 minutes and they finally thawed out! I felt warm for the first time all day! We're wearing lots and lots of layers, and hopefully getting warmer socks and slippers soon. We're also planning to buy a heater or two at the secondhand store this Sunday, though I'm not sure how well it will work. And Ryan's favorite part of the day is his morning coffee. Almost made me contemplate drinking it... but nah. I may try to start liking tea though... we'll see. Because when you drink water that's been put through your filter (and thus at room temperature) it makes your insides freeze!

So, if you have warmth this winter, be thankful. Be thankful for the heating systems installed in American houses, or at least a fire as a spot to get warm. I never realized how much I took for granted.

And pray for us. It is so easy to start complaining again, to say "I'm done. I've had enough." Ryan gets to escape to work where there is, thankfully, central heat, but sometimes I feel like I'll never be warm. Except at night, after the initial plunge into icy sheets, our many blankets do the trick making it hard to get out of bed in the morning.

However, God is still good. God is still faithful. With so many earthly comforts being tested, I'm realizing how much I have to look to Him for joy. After all, He is the only thing that lasts. I fail so many times. But, our God is a patient teacher.

But... I'm also dreaming of a WARM Christmas...

A tale of a nose

Poor Hadassah has had a tough week...

On Sunday evening we were having a quiet time as a family after a busy weekend, when the night got crazy with cries. Hadassah slipped on a book (I think?) and fell into the lower shelf of the coffee table. While it's now covered with padding, it's never something I thought was dangerous... But she managed to get a nice cut on her nose. 

We were scared. She was crying harder than she ever has, blood was gushing, we couldn't clearly see what she'd done as she was thrashing around in pain, and we were trying to stop the bleeding and determine if she needed stitches or what. It's our first cut as parents and it's so hard to see your baby in pain!

Medical care is harder to access here, especially for foreigners. While there are some (more expensive!) hospitals geared toward westerners, for emergency situations, you have to go to a local hospital. Which requires translation. So when we finally got Hadassah quieted down with videos of her as a baby, we decided to go next door to ask advice, knowing we'd need them along if we had to go to the hospital.

When we got over there, the grandma immediately took over. Swiftly she pulled out some solution, a tool to quickly slide the skin back in place, and cut a bandage down to size to fit snugly. And I remembered - she used to be a nurse! God provides. She told us (through her daughter-in-law's translation) not to worry, that it wouldn't leave a scar, and how to care for it.

Hadassah calmed down, and went to bed easily, not waking up once. In the morning we found she had pulled the bandage off, so we were able to get some pictures to send my dad and Ryan's aunt. It's pretty nice to have a doctor as a dad and THE expert on wound care as an aunt! They both confirmed that it didn't look too serious.

 With a band aid, she still pulls off the adorable look quite well!

 Her owie still looks pretty nasty, but it's continuing to heal, Hadassah hasn't picked at it as I've explained it's not something to touch, and she's hardly acted like it's there.

But the only thing more pitiful than a baby with an owie on her nose is one with an owie AND a snuffly nose! Tuesday night we awoke in the middle of the night to loud cries (it's rare these days that she wakes up, thankfully!), and the next morning we could tell she definitely had a cold. A bad cold. So she hasn't napped as well and hasn't been in the best mood, understandably, these last few days. Meaning that at night she's pretty tired. The above picture was taken two nights ago. She was laying on the floor with her nigh-night lamb a full hour before bedtime, saying "nigh-night..." So we put her to bed straight away. :)

Ryan has the cold now, but thankfully so far I've escaped it. Prayers appreciated that Hadassah fully recovers soon, Ryan gets better, and I don't get it!

And this momma is ready for her baby's nose to not have anything else happen to it... ;)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Paper Christmas

You never realize how much you enjoy seeing the sites of Christmas spring up around you until it's no where to be seen. Aside from a few local shops that have snowflakes and "Merry Christmas" in their window year round, and the hotel our church meets at that has decorations in their lobby, I haven't seen much.

When packing to come, I just brought a few small Christmas items, because I knew we were planning to go home to visit family for Christmas. Looking back, maybe I should have brought more. Because when what you put up is all you see, you really want it!

But... it's fun to see what you can do with paper. :)

 I did bring a few Christmas lights, and they definitely cheer up the room. And making paper chains, I learned, is a lot of fun. Hadassah "helped" me with some of it too. :)

 On a whim I tried making a tree out of paper, and it worked! The "ornaments" have numbers on it, counting down 'til we fly to America. Each day I take one off. We're at 14 today!!

 I had to put something else on the wall, and this is big and bright and reminds me to seek joy. Because we have SO many reasons to be joyful - the biggest one being our Lord is here with us!

 I brought our manger scene friends gave us for our wedding

And I always wanted to make sure I had mistletoe in the house when I was married, so the cheap one I picked up last Christmas got packed too. :) And the snowflakes may be the only ones we see over here this year, which is fine with me! I tried to show Hadassah how cool they were, but she was more interested in eating the bits of paper I cut out of them, so I had to distract her while I finished them. ;)

It doesn't feel like it's really in 20 days, but the decorations and Christmas music I play almost constantly when Hadassah is awake helps. It also fills me with memories, since many of the songs are ones I choreographed for my students. It may be 2 years since I last taught (already??) but I'll never forget "my" girls. 

Merry Christmas!