Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Our China Christmas: The Day

 Christmas morning. Ellie could care less, while Hadassah is super excited that it's time to finally open the presents that have been tantalizing her under the tree for the past week! We survived with only a few pieces of wrapping paper torn before we caught her in her curiosity. ;) It's so hard to understand why you have to WAIT for presents for a two year old!

But when I got her up that morning and took her potty, I told her it was Christmas morning, and she said "We get to open ALL the presents!"

 One of the best presents by far was the "water wonder" book from a friend. It's made by the Melissa and Doug brand, and has a pen you fill with water that they use to color the page and reveal colors and objects. When it dries, it turns white again and can be re-colored. Hadassah did it nearly all day that day, and has continued. It will keep her occupied for 20 minutes sometimes, so it's a great toy to allow me to nurse Ellie or get some chores done!

 We mostly gave her books and puzzles, including this elephant one we told her was just like "elephant buddy" (a beloved stuffed animal). She was excited. :) Friends also brought a lot of presents to the Christmas party, so we had a lot of presents to open! It took a while too, since she just wanted to play with whatever she opened instead of opening them all at once.

The most exciting present: a swing!! Hadasash had loved swinging in America, but here in China there are no outdoor swings, at least close to where we live. Some friends had indoor swings, so we decided to get Hadassah one for Christmas. It hangs from a strong tension pull-up bar. It was going to be in her doorway, but the bar was just a tad too wide, so we put it in the entry way instead, which actually works quite well!

 Art in red and green peppers for Christmas morning breakfast...

 Delectable omlettes
 Strawberries by candlelight
 Cinnamon roll goodness!

Funny thing is, with all these goodies, I also pulled out some leftover steamed broccoli for Hadassah. So after she had finished her cinnamon roll and eggs and broccoli, what does she say? "I want some more broccoli!" That's my girl... somehow she loves her veggies!

 Cuties in matching pjs!

 Amused Christmas baby :)

We had some friends (actually the ones in our very building) come for Christmas dinner, which was fun. Nice too, to split the cooking. She made amazing cheesy potatoes, goat cheese dip, and pie, while I made roast beef, roasted brussel's sprouts and biscuits. Unfortunately the roast beef turned out pretty tough and honestly not great... It was my first time ever trying it, and it had been out of stock earlier so we got it delivered that day and it arrived frozen, so we had some stressful time trying to get it defrosted and figuring out how to cook it. Obviously I need more practice, but large cuts of meat are expensive so we rarely get them. But everything else was delicious, and we enjoyed having friends to be with, especially in the absence of family.

But all-in-all, it wasn't as lonely as I expected my first Christmas away from extended family to be. I did have a moment while I was doing the dishes, alone in the kitchen, where I missed the hustle and bustle of my sisters around and the games that were always going on... But we are blessed here. Choosing to embrace the opportunities and memories we can make here!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Our China Christmas: The Eve

Christmas Eve was our family day. We took everything a little slower in the morning, with Daddy home, a successful party in the books, and no special plans. Because Ryan was home, I was able to leave him with Ellie and a bottle of pumped milk (we're giving her a bottle once/week to make sure she takes one in case we can get away on a date - and so far she's taking it great!) while I took Hadassah on a walk to the university campus across the street. It's been a while since it's been JUST me and her outside, and it was fun to explore our old favorite spots on campus. I love my biggest girl. :)

It was cold, though, so we didn't stay out as long as we could. The promise of leftover party cocoa with marshmallows helped us hurry home, and we enjoyed the sweet treat together. Spending Christmas without extended family may be a rare thing for us, as it's an easy time to travel with vacation days and other family off work. But, it is special to build memories of our own. And I'm someone who likes traditions, so I started a list based on what we did this year... If we're traveling, maybe we'll just declare the week before we go Christmas for us, and do the traditions then. Like using paper plates to make less dishes (thus more time for family fun!) and having a family dance party to Christmas music in the living room. :)

 Since I'd done a ton of cooking for the party and we planned a special Christmas dinner with friends, we headed out on the crowded subway on Christmas Eve for a dinner out. It was a normal work day for most people, so the subway was crowded with people going home. But, Hadassah's getting old enough to stand and hold onto the center pole, which she enjoyed. And Ellie just slept and slept in the ERGO carrier, making it easy to be out and about!

 We ate dinner at Blue Frog and Grill, which was delicious! Wow. We ate too fast to take pictures of our food (knowing Hadassah could get squirmy or Ellie wake up any minute) but the burger and fries and beef fajitas were the best we've had. For all our hurrying, we actually finished eating before Hadassah, who devoured all of her steamed vegetables and a fair share of what she'd picked from the kids menu: noodles!

 It was fun to be out as a family and see some holiday decorations and lights... Most places don't decorate much and I miss that, but the malls usually go all out, so it was worth going 30 minutes by subway to get to a place all fixed up for the holidays!

 It made it feel more like Christmas to see lights, and their decorations were lovely.

 We stopped by our favorite frozen-treats place at this mall for their fresh mango popsicle, and while it was still good, we decided it was definitely fit more for a summer treat. :)

 We then went to the pet shop in the basement, as Hadassah absolutely loves animals, so wanted to give something special for her amid all the craziness of walking here and there. She loved seeing the animals, but "I want to touch them!" was her constant desire. She still misses and talks about my parents' dog and cat.

 When we got home, we had Hadassah open one present, a book called Daddies. "What do Daddies like to do best? By bus or taxi, car or train, daddy rushes home... to us!"
Then it was matching PJ's for the girls (sweet gifts from some of their cousins!) and off to bed for them. 

Ryan and I then enjoyed the Christmas tree... so peaceful when it's the only thing lit up! We shared memories and exchanged our gifts for each other. We decided that will definitely be a tradition - it's so nice to see what your sweet spouse thought up without the distraction of kids opening their toys! And Ryan totally surprised me, by taking a taxi to a mall on his way back to work from lunch one day, picking out beautiful earrings, and even making his own wrapping paper to print at work since he couldn't find Christmas wrapping paper in the store (neither could I - I didn't even look, though!). All his effort made me feel extra special. :)

Our time was cut short by a baby's cry - Ellie still has trouble settling down and sleeping for more than 45 minutes at a time in the evening. But we really can't complain. For all my worries of messing her up immensely by switching her days and nights at a month old, it seems like maybe that actually helped... A week after coming back to China, she was sleeping 8 hours at a time. Now, she often goes a solid 10 hours, once she's finally out for the night (usually after 9 PM she doesn't wake). No clue what it is... whether the jet lag righted her confused night and day, or the fact that she's a bigger baby makes her sleep longer stretches, or that she eats every two hours usually from 4 PM on due to her shorter naps in the evening. Or the fact that Ryan convinced me not to wake her to nurse in the night, when I thought "she should be up and eating by now!" Either way, we are very thankful. And yes, I am keeping an eye on my milk supply, but so far she nurses really well during the day and doesn't seem to have a lack. So I am enjoying full nights of sleep - and feeling rather crazy for getting them with a 7 week old! I know it may not last, but she's gone at least two weeks with no night wake ups, so I am just thankful, knowing it's definitely not something I made happen, and hoping it continues! :)

It was a beautiful Christmas Eve... a wonderful day with the ones I love best.

Our China Christmas: The Party

We had it! Our first Christmas in China. Well, second for Ryan actually, but the first for us as a family. And while it was hard being away from extended family, it wasn't as hard as I thought... Being with them for two months probably helped! But God was really good. We filled the days Ryan had off from work with friends and good food and fun times as a family, and it was truly a wonderful Christmas. Isn't God so good?

Day one was Wednesday, the 23rd. Ryan had it off from work, so we threw a drop-by Christmas party! I knew better than to try to do a party on a day Ryan was working, because it seems to be Murphy's Law that on days we have a lot of people over, little ones don't nap well and/or wake up cranky. Ryan took Hadassah out for a few hours to play in the morning so I could get things ready, which helped tremendously. Then he helped hold the baby, sweep floors, and distract the toddler (who did wake up early and cranky from her nap - she seems to know when Mama's busy!) so that we had everything ready on time. And yes, we let her watch youtube videos in order to keep her occupied while we did last minute things. There is a time and a place for that! :)

I'd done my fair share of Pinterest research for food ideas, and it actually all turned out well! The only major catastrophe was the cocoa boiling over and creating a burning smell right before the party started. Yes, on a gas stove, it can go from not boiling at all to boiling over VERY quickly (especially when you're taking the toddler to the bathroom!). Thankfully I just took the cover off the cider and soon the wonderful spicy scent covered over the burnt smell. ;) And the cocoa, which I made with dark chocolate cocoa powder, still tasted wow-so-good!

 I paid a bit more for pre-made "puff pastry" dough, but these apple pie roll-ups were amazing. Probably one of the favorite things I made!

 For a Christmas party I love any food that is red and green, and these cherry tomato - fresh mozzarella - fresh basil bites both looked and tasted amazing!

 Many ideas were to do food in a Christmas tree shape. Believe it or not, strawberries are hugely in season (I've had the best strawberries I have EVER had recently!) and they plus grapes made it fun and red and green!

This pull-apart bread (pizza dough filled with mozzarella and cream cheese) was hugely popular and disappeared quickly! The original idea had it in the shape of a Christmas tree, but I made a "wreath" instead... easier to form, especially when my small oven means I had to cook two batches!

 Though it wasted a bell pepper, it was a fun serving idea to put the dip inside one!

Though we weren't intending to serve supper, the party was from 4-7 PM, so I wanted to have something with some protein. Tuna salad with pickles and celery gave something green, but I wanted a red garnish... The ends of the cherry tomatoes I had to cut off of the cherry tomato bites to make them stand up worked perfectly! :)

 Fun treats... the softest, chewiest, delicious-ness molasses cookies, the apple pie roll-ups, and brownies made into "Christmas trees." I also had some oreo-cream cheese balls (dipped in white chocolate). They didn't get coated white, though (probably didn't melt the chocolate right) so while I was going to call them snowballs, I decided they were Alabama snowballs, since those always have dirt mixed with snow. ;) They tasted so so good though!

My trusty oven. It took 5 rounds to cook the molasses cookies, and two to make the rolls, apple pie rolls, and brownies (since only one 9" pie tin comfortably fits). I intentionally didn't bake much more because of this, and spent the days before the party baking in the morning with Hadassah helping with what she could as well as nap times or after kids were in bed to get it all done! But, this oven actually works!! So I'm not complaining about its size. It actually bakes things well and gets them crispy if desired!

 My friend and her daughter showed up right at 4 PM, and we enjoyed catching up after 2 months apart. Hadassah loves her little girl (who is just 3 weeks younger) and was excited to see them! But almost an hour passed with them the only guests, so we started to wonder if this would be a very slow party...

 We needn't have worried! Around 5 PM around 4-5 families showed up, and more kept arriving! We never did get a full count, but many of Ryan's co-workers came with their families, as well as a few other friends from the community, made through the baking classes I did or mutual friends. It was such fun to have our home full of people!

 Everyone was happy and it was great to have a chance to meet many of Ryan's coworkers. The children all loved the toys - never have I seen our toys so scrambled and everywhere. ;) But for good reason - shows everyone had fun!

Despite me putting on the invitation that gifts weren't expected, that this party was just to meet and greet old friends, everyone brought gifts. Chinese people are so good at that! From a fish tank with a sustainable fish environment to toys to bunches of fruit, to this cute Christmas tutu one of them made... We were beyond blessed.

As I did the dishes at the end and we put the house back to semi-rights, Ryan and I were so happy. Yes, it was a lot of work. But I love the excuse to cook goodies, and just love cooking for people. And to have our home full of friends and acquaintances made an otherwise gloomy and high-AQI day so bright, and just felt so festive. It felt like it was the holiday season, and kept us busy so we weren't lonely. We're so glad we decided to have a party!

And that was just the first day of our Christmas celebrations in China... It may be our only one (since it's usually the time we'll go home to visit family) so we took plenty of pictures to document it well. More pictures coming later! :)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015!

 When your amazing sister-in-law Megan says she wants to take a few pictures of Ellie, you say "definitely - yes please!"

 She gave us priceless Christmas pictures to cherish...

 And when you get back with your big girl from taking her to get shots and find the midst of the photo shoot, it works to have the big one jump right in, and because she loves her Aunt Megan so much, she gives such sweet smiles!

 Our best gift this year :)

This precious gift just keeps growing... 

 Christmas joy!

Merry Christmas from China! :)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Discovering The Christmas Story

 We started what may be a new tradition tonight. With it being winter, and with a little baby, it's harder to get outside on Sunday evenings like we used to. Add to it the fact that all of us have been sick (some still are) in the past few days, we were pretty low on energy and it was still an hour before bedtime for Hadassah. So, we decided that Sundays may be family movie night!

Of course, we want to be careful what movies Hadassah sees, and our selection is mostly what's on youtube. Flying over on the plane from America, we tried a kids movie to help pass the time, but a somewhat intense (not scary to an adult) part made Hadassah scream and we realized how things can seem so real to a toddler. So what fits the criteria of no scary parts and a good story?

Well, the best story of all is always a good place to turn! We ran into The Beginner's Bible 26-minute animated version of the nativity story, and it was really good! It kept Hadassah's attention, especially as we have been going over and over the story in various books recently, plus she has loved having me act out the story with our nativity set. With each of the characters (angel, shepherds, wise men), she kept pointing to our set and saying "Just like the story!" It's so much fun to watch her discover the joy of the Christmas story.

When we were done, she went over to the nativity set, and started acting some things out. Her favorite is the angel that flies in the sky to say "Glory to God in the highest!" - I often hear her while in another room acting that part out. :) She moved all the pieces down to the shelf and said, "Mama, the story is ready!" indicating she wanted me to act it out again. So I did. Then she found an Arch book with the Christmas story, so we read that too. I told her, "This is the best story, because it really happened! It's a REAL story!" She kept repeating that - "a REAL story!"

I realized recently, that to her, Bible stories are probably the same as any other story we read about puppies or trains or children at play. So it's time to start communicating more to her that these are special stories, because they really happened. What a privilege and joy it is to be able to communicate The Story to young ones.

God, give me the words and the clarity to show her the truth in Your Story...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Past Week Pictures

I have posts I want to write in my head, but with two children, my computer time is greatly limited. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing... I feel like I waste less time online and spend time more productively overall because I know I have less of it to myself! Though I still have moments of procrastination while scrolling through Facebook...

But pictures are quicker to post, and they say a picture's worth a thousand words, right? Most of these were posted to Facebook in the moment because that's quicker, but I've included them below for friends and family not on Facebook. :)

 Girls wearing Christmas bows for our first Sunday back to church here. Wonderful to reconnect with friends! Crazy to remember how long it takes to get to church, and the adventure of cab rides... especially when we end up with a smoke-filled one...

 I love how Hadassah wants to include Ellie in everything! And it often turns out that Ellie enjoys whatever it is, when I never would have thought to put here there (like in this play tunnel - Ellie was mesmerized by the light coming through!). She is blessed to have a big sister. :)

 Whenever Hadassah sees me in the kitchen, she says "Need to help Momma!" and tries to push a chair over to the counter. She has a hard time understanding when I don't have things she can help with - and it's hard to turn her down, even when it takes longer, when she loves it so! She especially loved helping make brownies the other day... And when she got flour on her clothes, which she'd worn since yesterday, I decided to just let her get all out dirty, then wet helping dishes, and change everything afterwards. ;)

 Hadassah in a box? "Want Ellie to get in box too!"

 I definitely have less time to just snuggle like I did with Hadassah as a baby... So I cherish the moments Ellie is awake while Hadassah naps, even though I have less time for chores and things, because this little one is growing up so fast. Already 6 weeks!

 Fun with glasses! The second born gets to wear things the first born never did at this age because she has a big sister who loves to share and wants her to do whatever she's doing. Makes thins pretty cute though!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Saturday Morning Moments

Saturday mornings are the best. Though sleeping in is a thing of the past (though sometimes one or the other of us gets a few extra minutes while the other takes child duty!) it's a time for taking things slower, staying in pajamas longer, playing with the girls more instead of chores and rushing out the door, and loving that my husband is home!

Here are a few glimpses into our morning... We're finally feeling fairly normal. Both girls only woke once last night, and each went back to bed fairly easily. The big girl got stories from Daddy (he makes up the most creative ones about her animal friends!) and the little girl got mommy milk and then projectile pooped all over me when I was changing her diaper... Just keeping it real! :)

 We got our Christmas tree up two days ago, and it makes the apartment so happy and bright. I'm so glad we got a used tree this year!

I often read stories to Hadassah while I nurse, since I'm sitting down anyway. And if there's time, it works perfectly to lay Ellie against the side cushion when she's done, and read at least one more story to give Hadassah some lap time. I love snuggling with my girls!

Then, with Daddy home, it's a bit easier to do bath time, though I can do it myself if needed. But having extra hands to run water or hand things or take one of the girls when done is helpful. With Hadassah I always used a baby bathtub, so borrowed one from friends this time around. But I found when I'm running the water and making the bathroom warm for one girl, it saves time to give them both baths at once! Hadassah enjoys the company and shows Ellie toys, and gets extra play time while I wash and dress Ellie. The Ellie got some daddy time while I washed Hadassah.

Tip: using a hand towel makes washing an infant in the big bathtub so much easier! Underneath it keeps her from slipping so you just have to support her head, and on top it keeps her warm. Perfect all the way around!

 Friends sent us matching bath towels, monogrammed with each of the girls names. I love that they're large towels too, so they can really wrap them up warm!

 Nothing gets much better than a baby under the Christmas tree. We are so blessed to have a wee one again at Christmas time!

I got this one all dressed up for a Daddy-daughter date. Can someone tell me how she grew up so fast? I braided her hair back (I love dress up my girl, and she's enjoying the special things more too!) and he took her off to Zoo Coffee shop. She was thrilled and couldn't wait to go from the time he told her about it.

And me? I got to finish up two Christmas gifts and catch up on some things online. As well as enjoy some one-on-one time with Ellie, in the brief time she's up and awake! It's funny, though, how when I just had one child it seemed like they took so much focus and time. Now, just having one or the other up and awake seems so easy! ;) I am thankful God grows us day by day, and that He grows us as mothers too. "Strengthening mothering muscles" I've heard it put. He is such a good and loving Father.

Now, what are you all up to this Christmas season? People often thank me for blogging and keeping in touch that way, and I love sharing what is going on in our little nook of the world. But, a blog is often so one-sided, and I miss the back-and-forth connection with friends. So, in a comment here, on Facebook, or an email, do make sure you all let me know what is going on in your life too! It helps us seem not so far away when we hear from friends.