Saturday, January 30, 2016

Three Years going on forever

Only three years? That's what comes to mind when realizing we've been married for three years, as of January 26th. They've been so full! One house, two apartments, two children, and three countries... We've been through just about as many changes as you can in three years. People often caution against making too many life changes in early marriage, and it's probably wise advice. But I'm so grateful that God has used the changes and challenges to just grow us closer. As I told Ryan, "I always feel safe and taken care of when I'm with you." What a blessing it is to be married to this man!

We had a wonderful anniversary too. Sure, the day was crazy, as most days are. I wanted to write a nice card, but only managed to get basic chores done. And clean my rings... I need to do that more often. I forget how beautifully they can shine! But these days love is often shown more in food on the table and home taken care of and helping look for lost things then pages of writing. Not to say I shouldn't aim to write more notes to my man, but to show reality. And yet, it's a beautiful reality!

 There's nothing like being just us two! There's a freedom in that, a rest. So although we left a screaming toddler who didn't want to leave us (even though she loves the family we left her with), we were so happy to get in the elevator alone. Our friends were so gracious to take both a toddler and infant for a few hours, and when we came back, Hadassah wasn't ready to leave the fun puzzles she was doing, and reported "I'm so happy!" :)

 The sky was blue and the clouds were gorgeous and it felt so good to be outside that we walked to the subway station. It really doesn't take that long - maybe 10-15 minutes - when you have no children in tow and are energized being with the one you most love.

The subway was crowded, as rush hour was beginning on that Tuesday night, but we had fun talking over memories from the past three years. Ryan had even creatively bought some lollipops to enjoy on the way. I hadn't had one in years and it made me feel like a kid again. :) Which I often do when I'm with my fun man!

 We ate at Blue Frog Bar and Grill, half an hour away by subway. We jokingly call it "our spot" - not that there are many places this close to home to choose from where we KNOW we'll get good, tastes-like-home food! But the food is so good I don't mind going there again and again!

While we waited, we wrote a few notes in our "Mr. & Mrs. Journal" to remember this anniversary. And laughed because the last entry in there is from our last anniversary... Guess this journal might last our whole marriage! ;)

 Chili cheese fries...

 BBQ sliders... had even this usually-doesn't-like BBQ girl enjoying every bite! I guess marriage can change you. My man likes BBQ so much I've tried it more and more and actually really really enjoyed it this go around!

 The beef fajitas we saved for last because they are just so so so amazingly good. Somehow they get every combination of flavors perfect.

 Good to the last bite. Our bellies were full of warm goodness from the meal.

 So it almost didn't make sense to get cold ice cream. Except... our most amazing wedding (groom's) cake had been a chocolate/peanut butter creation dripping with Reese's Pieces. I'd wanted to make a similar creation that day, but life happened, I didn't have time, and I didn't even have the right ingredients. I spread some peanut butter on dark chocolate as a treat for lunch, which was good, but still not the same. But when we walked by the McDonald's in the subway station, I saw their new flavor of ice cream was peanut butter!! What??? No way. :) So we had to get some to celebrate our anniversary with smooth, peanut butter, creamy chocolate goodness!

We truly felt like kids, taking pictures of our ice cream. But it was like a special gift from God. And they got the flavor combination perfect. We were pretty happy to think of having this treat just a short walk away, but today when I tried to get it again for a special treat with Hadassah, they'd moved on to a new flavor. So although we're sad we only had this goodness once (peanut butter + chocolate combinations are almost completely absent here), it also makes our anniversary just that much more special, to have something that even tasted like our wedding day. :)

God is good. I'm so grateful to be married to this man, and look forward to many more years by his side. We've been through plenty of challenges and moments of "what do we do now?" but Ryan always encourages me to keep trusting the Lord. And the Lord is faithful. I look forward to seeing where He'll bring us as we walk together. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Snow Day and Challenges...

It had long been talked of among friends. The temperatures were falling below freezing and it *might* snow! Just like my home state of Alabama, snow here is a once-a-year-if-that phenomenon, and so it's a pretty exciting thing. So when, on Saturday morning, I looked out of the window to see flakes falling, I scooped up Hadassah and rushed to our balcony for a closer look. She was mesmerized and kept exclaiming, "I need to go down there!"

I was about to meet with a friend for sharing/prayer, so Ryan got her bundled and took her outside to experience the first snow she can remember. (She spent the first 4 months of her life surrounded by snow in Iowa, but of course has no recollection!)

The wonder of a snowflake on her finger... How wonderful to experience childhood again through the eyes of our children!

And her Daddy was awesome to brave the freezing cold and strong gusts of wind to share it with her! This winter in Shanghai is the coldest it's been in 35 years according to reports, and we definitely felt it over the weekend! Even our pretty-well-sealed apartment had drafts coming in from all the doors and windows with the gales we could hear whistling outside.

Even when there's snow, you can't stand being outside too long, so Ryan took Hadassah to their favorite daddy-daughter-date place, Zoo Coffee. Hadassah still loves it so!

The extra cold made our heaters not able to keep up as well, so Saturday night had Hadassah awake for an hour as she woke needing to go to the bathroom, then having a hard time getting back to sleep. Extra clothes and blankets for us all finally did the trick, but we were slow getting to church the next morning. Just the run from the building to the taxi was enough of the crazy wind for me!

That evening we decided to make a cozy, fun evening for Hadassah, splurging with one of the popcorn bags we'd finally gotten in our red suitcase and watching short kids movies on the couch. It helped me forget some the craziness of the afternoon, as I discovered that I have intestinal worms. Ugh. Why?? The list of reasons you could get them all match rather well with the surroundings here, but still... I remember hearing my dad talk about them in his tales of growing up in Africa, and thinking that would be one of the very grossest things to discover. And now I have them. Doctor's appointment is scheduled for tomorrow. But it took a while to get over the initial shock, and I still don't like to think about it...

Monday morning came, a day I usually spend getting back on track after the weekend. But as we were eating breakfast, the power went out. Ryan needed to catch the company bus, so gave me the simple Chinese words to call the apartment fix-it office with: the equivalent of "No electricity" along with our apartment number. I was relieved to be able to do it myself for once, but as the hours dragged by, I finally texted a Chinese friend for help. On the phone there had been a string of Chinese I hadn't understood... She called them for me and learned the men were busy trying to defrost frozen pipes and would be there as soon as they could.

 So I spent the morning snuggling with my girl under blankets reading story after story, and making hot cocoa to warm our insides. It was a good excuse to let the to-do list go, and just enjoy having fun with my child. Thankfully Ellie slept most of the time, all swaddled tightly and with an extra blanket on top for good measure. We realized just how much our heat does when it was off for 2 1/2 hours!

Soon after Ellie woke, the guy arrived and flipped the breaker in the locked box in the hall way. After I nursed Hadassah, she wanted to play duck duck goose - "with Ellie!" she added. When it's just her and I, we add her stuffed animals to the mix. She'll say "goose" on one of their heads, and I'll stay seated and have the animal "chase" her in the air around the circle. Makes her laugh, gets some energy out, and I don't have to run much at all! It's always fun seeing Hadassah want to include her sister too.

But between waking up late and the power going out, then having one thing or another happen all morning, I was really missing a shower. It'd been too long. At lunch I told Ryan, "it's my one goal for the afternoon!" I planned to do it when the girls were safely napping, but Hadassah never did... Not enough energy out? The coldness of her room? For some reason her heater had never really kicked in after the power outage. Or was she just being defiant and testing me, as she kept having requests for me to come? Finally I told her I couldn't come in again, showered despite the protests from her room, and then got her up soon after. If she hadn't fallen asleep by then, she wasn't going to.

I was feeling trapped. That "I really want to get out of here" feel. I was tempted to be really upset with Hadassah for not napping, depriving me of "my" time to get things done... But I knew that wasn't logical or deserved. And my attitude was not what it should be. I turned on Sovereign Grace music. And it helped:
Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain?
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain?
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought?
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt?

Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified
(From the song, "As Long as You are Glorified")

 Tuesday was a really good day. The sun shone, I actually got outside with the girls (albeit only a short walk to get eggs) and I had a date with my man. The sky was even blue.

Today it's rainy again. And supposed to be all week. The water wouldn't get hot enough to give Hadassah a bath until almost lunch time. Most of the morning was spent trying to get the faucets on our washing machine balcony working. The one to the machine was spewing water and the one in the sink was dripping. There's no insulation or heat out there, so the freezing temps were too much. My amazing Chinese friend helped so much... She called the fix-it guy, translated for me over the phone when he was telling me stuff I didn't understand, and came over to see the model of the faucet so she could buy me one. I only had a mini flood on the balcony... she had one in her apartment all over her kitchen and dining room, yet she took so much time to help me. She bought the faucet and brought it to my house, waiting with me while it took 30 minutes for the fixit man to show up. It was a good excuse to visit as we hadn't seen her in a while. But it all thwarted the plans I had to at least go for a walk in the car parking lot basement with the girls... So tempting to get irritated with it all again. And yet, what a blessing this friend is. I don't know what I'd do without her!

But Hadassah is napping. My washing machine is humming again after 5 days of being told not to use due to freezing fears. And do we ever need it!! I'm trying not to think about the rain slated for the next 3 days and just hoping things somehow dry... But the temperatures are above freezing, and our home is warm. Every day is an adventure, and I'm trying to embrace it. One day, I'll have the stories to tell my own children about our time in China.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Just a Thursday at home

Just a normal Thursday at home... and yet so FULL. Full of so many blessings.

We often lose blessings in the ordinary. But this year I'm trying to see those little (and big) blessings more, and it has been such an attitude-shaping encouragement.

Today I am thankful for a morning at home with my girls. We actually have friends to get together with so much that sometimes we only have two mornings a week where it's just us. Rather than the monotony it used to seem to be to be JUST us all day every day, now these times are special. I don't have to rush to get morning chores done, since no one is coming over, so we just take it slower. I get to enjoy Hadassah's creativity more, and snuggle Ellie just a little closer. 

 This little miss has had a favorite thing lately: building a "church" out of blocks. Started as me building a "castle" for her cars, but she saw what looked like a steeple (since we do that simple finger rhyme, "here's the church, here's the steeple...") and declared it to be a church. Now she's started building them around one stuffed animal, and then decided to make seats for all her little friends. She then stands in front to lead them in a song (made up by her and complete with clapping) and today grabbed a toy and declared it was a microphone. How I love this age... she's so creative!

 Speaking of creativity, I bought a book for a few dollars with 365 different activity ideas for toddlers, and have been trying to plan out at the beginning of each week an activity for each day. Because originally I thought I'd just grab the book when I needed something to do, but I've found that doesn't happen. Planning in advance and writing it down (and making sure I have what I need on hand) makes it happen each day. And it's fun to see her creativity shine! This tear and glue and stick activity was a big hit with her. Have a toddler? Definitely something to try. She filled 4 pieces of paper and still wanted to do more later!

Here's her demonstrating:

Another huge blessing? My man that comes home for lunch. Sure, it's extra work. He's not a huge fan of sandwiches (but doesn't complain if that's all I can get to) so it's extra cooking and dishes. That can be tiring sometimes. But it's so so worth it! Everyone's situation is different, but we love this routine. It is worth the sacrifices we have to make of where we live and what we do. That mid-day connection is so sweet.

 And these days I'm hardly ever ready with food *right* when he walks in the door, so he gets a few minutes to connect with his daughters. He's the man who will crawl under the mobile to talk face to face with the baby, then cuddle next to the toddler reading books at the couch. And it so melts my heart...

Then there's the conversation. As a mom of littles, it helps a lot to have the day broken up with adult conversation! It keeps us more connected to exchange tidbits about our morning, and gives Hadassah something to look forward to as she tells Daddy things now too. Someone else to help reinforce training and discipline mid-day helps me a lot too.

 And who doesn't like extra kisses? Though sometimes I have to wait a moment if something's about to boil over on the stove, I try to meet him and leave him with kisses each time he's going to and fro. They never get old.

 Then there's some mommy-Dassah play time before she goes down for a nap... She's huge into puzzles these days, and can do the 9-piece jigsaw ones pretty easily. This 20-piece one from Grandma she calls the "tricky puzzle" because it is! Yet she's stuck with wanting to do it, and can now do it completely by herself, though sometimes I have to give a suggestion to flip a piece or something. But seriously, the rate these little ones learn at is incredible.

And the pink tutu? Makes her dancer mommy happy. We were doing some exercise/burn off energy to music in the living room, and she noticed my skirt moving while we skipped around and said, "I don't have a skirt!" So we went to her room to get one. When I offered her her choice of a pink or red tutu, she looked at her shirt and chose pink to match. Seriously, when did she get so grown up?

Then, glorious nap time. She's in the big girl bed and tests boundaries now and then, even having two days where she never did fall asleep because she was getting out of bed so much. But today as I laid her down she said " Mama, I'm going to stay in the big girl bed and not come out!" How a mother's heart jumps to hear consistency paying off and a young one choosing to obey.

The morning we spent making cookies for Ryan's co-workers. And yes, I say the morning, because between little interruptions, cleaning up messes, Ellie only napping for short spurts (that 12 week "wonder week"?) and my trying to get her back to sleep thwarted when I had to quickly put her down to prevent the big one from going out the door on her little car ("I was going to ride my car to the playground, Mama!" - yes, 4 days in a row is too long to be inside, I know!)... But they got made and they're delicious.

And again, it was encouraging that while I was pulling over the chair for my big helper, she said "Mama, I'm going to not grab - just ASK!" even before I reminded her that she wasn't to just help herself to tastes. Sometimes it feels like (at this age especially!) all I'm ever doing is reminding and disciplining and reminding again for the SAME things over and over and over... So when I see these little glimpses that she's remembering and learning and maturing, it makes all that training and giving her another chance to help so so worth it.

Yesterday I'd sent a tin of cookies someone had given us to work with Ryan, and he'd put it out and sent a message to his co-workers that it was there. Almost immediately, there was a mass migration over to the cookies, only for him to hear disappointed, "We thought it was Anna's cookies!" Makes me happy to have people who so enjoy my cooking, so today I sent some homemade cookies along. Good thing too, because if the whole batch had stayed here... Let's just say it was really hard to limit myself to just two today!

Then the blessings continue... Ellie finally got a longer nap this afternoon, and awoke my happy, well-rested little one. I got to chat with a cousin via Facebook, reconnecting after way too long. I got my "Ellie hour" as I call the sweet time while Hadassah naps that Ellie's usually awake, where I get to just talk with her more and enjoy cooing back and forth. She's growing so fast (15 pounds already and just 2 1/2 months old!) and seems to learn a new sound every day. She's starting to smooth out her movements and grab on to things, and the full-body stretch she does after sleeping is the best thing in the world to see.

I do miss going out. Winter is definitely NOT my favorite season. But I am so thankful for my life. For the lives I get to live it with. For a cozy apartment on a cold day with the potential of snow, and the joys of home life. There is so much joy to fill each day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Tale of a Suitcase...

It finally made it. Remember that suitcase that never made it on the return trip to China? Well, 40 days later it finally showed up...

Who knows where it's been. The tag on it suggests it had a "tagging error" and was forwarded to the China airport. Was it sitting in a room somewhere? Somehow in its absence it managed to lose the 5 bags of chocolate chips (hard to find here!), bag of Reese's cups (gifts for others as peanut butter chocolate is absent here), and 2 boxes of hot cocoa mix. Or maybe someone was craving chocolate? But I am so so thankful the suitcase and almost everything in it arrived!

When the airline told us they couldn't find it, I was really sad. Sadder than I should be about stuff. But I'd spent a lot of time and thought into finding gifts for people here, a way to give back to those who have given so much to us. Those gifts were in the suitcase. God showed me that maybe sometimes I just need to learn how to receive without giving back... But it's still so so nice to have it back.

It is just stuff. Stuff we could live without. But I kept running into things I thought I had only to realize - it must have been in that suitcase! So now my brain is at rest. :) We have the seasonings and spices hard to find here, the medicine in case girls get fevers, the 12 month size clothes Ellie will be in before we know it, and the shoes for when she starts walking... Ryan's nice dress pants and the sweet, handmade gifts from friends.

Like these adorable little bears. A former dance student made them for the girls, and Hadassah was so excited to see one with "H" for her and one with "E" for Ellie. While the H bear was in Hadassah's suitcase and made it, the E bear I thought was lost forever when the red suitcase never showed up. But now they're reunited and I look forward to seeing the girls play with them together as they grow. 

The way we got the suitcase is a story in itself. We were in the final process of giving the airline our bank information to make the transfer of money to make up the loss of our property. A sizable sum (three times the amount I totaled up from what I could remember in the suitcase!) - and even now, after we told them our luggage finally showed up, they're saying they're still going to make the transfer. Pretty crazy... And a blessing, as we did spend a lot to make the two months in the states happen. I'd be willing to do without a suitcase for 40 days again if it means we get over $1000... Who knew! But anyways, how the suitcase arrived...

So the call came at 9:30 PM on Thursday night, and he told me they'd send the suitcase to us right away. I told them "We're about to go to bed - can you deliver it tomorrow?" and they agreed. When I reported to Ryan the wonderful news, he said "No! You should have had them deliver it now in case it gets lost again!" I laughed, but when it never showed up the next day, I wondered if I'd made the right choice... So we finally called in the evening to ask about it, and they said it should arrive around 9 PM. That time came and brought our sweet friend who was staying the weekend, but no suitcase. 

Hadassah absolutely loved have this "ayi" around for the weekend!
 When we got a call around 10 PM, thankfully our friend is Chinese so was able to understand the deliveryman, who said he was running late and would arrive around 11 PM. Not wanting to stay up that late, especially as he said it could be later, we (through her translation) agreed that he could leave it with the guard at the apartment gate when he arrived.

Well, we got a call at 1 AM. Woken from a deep sleep, it's that much more incredibly hard to understand someone speaking fast in Chinese on the phone. Thankfully Ryan did the duty, as I had to get Ellie who was sleeping in our room that night (to give our friend a bedroom), and who, of course, woke up in the middle of the night for the first time in weeks as a result. After the second call-back, we realized he was also knocking at our door. Evidently the guard wouldn't keep it. So, we were just a *tad* less grateful to receive our stuff, it being 1 AM... But that feeling soon passed when I opened the suitcase and discovered the things I'd forgotten were in it. Felt like Christmas. :)

All in all, it was a good weekend. We had a returned suitcase, a sweet friend staying with us, giving great conversation, doing our dishes, and loving our girls. We are blessed.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Two Dates in a Day

Ryan is great at taking a gal on dates. He just has a way of making one feel special, whether it's something he planned ahead or decided spontaneously. He's fully there, thinks of things to talk about, and doesn't ever say something is too expensive. :)

He's awesome, whether he's taking Hadassah on a daddy-daughter date, or me out for what we tell 'Dassah are mommy-daddy dates. Last Saturday, he got to do both!

Hadassah has been mostly inside all week long every week since moving back. :( Between rain, air pollution, Ellie napping a lot, and the hardship of getting two littles bundled up only to find it's pretty cold outside (recently it's hovering in the 30s-40s)... Hadassah wouldn't mind as much, but it's still just hard to get out. Ryan sometimes takes Hadassah for a walk in the car parking lot basement on crazy days, but she still has a ton of pent-up energy that used to be released outside.

So a local "park" was the perfect place to take Hadassah on Saturday! A mom came upstairs to talk and pray for an hour with me (benefit of apartment life, and such a blessing to do with a sister in Christ!) and Ryan took Hadassah out for the morning. Now, we wish more "parks" actually had free playground equipment, but most of the ones we've seen here have gardens, lots of sidewalks, and sometimes a mini-amusement park, like this one. Hardly anyone is there, but it always seems open, with an attendant at each activity. When we go, we often choose one thing to do, but this time Ryan just let Hadassah have fun and do a lot of things! As you can tell by the picture, she was pretty thrilled!

Choo-choo train ride with Daddy!

When Ryan came home and told me Hadassah had ridden the boat by herself, I said "What??" They have no life jackets or seat belts in those things. But he said it was her idea and he wants to encourage her adventurous spirit, and as you can tell, she felt pretty grown up to be able to control the hand-crank boat herself while Daddy was in another boat close by. So, it's a good thing God gave children fathers to do things mom would never consider! ;)

 When the cold got to them, they went to another favorite, near-by spot, Zoo Coffee shop! They have an upstairs corner for kids and tons of stuffed animals they can play with.

 They also have a delicious waffle. Hadassah told me she had "a waffle and chocolate ice cream and strawberry ice cream and white stuff!" Pretty special!

And you should see her eyes shine when she gets back after a date with daddy!

That evening, we had our first opportunity to go out since coming back! Some friends offered to babysit BOTH girls, and it actually went really well! Hadassah is more comfortable with the American friends we've gotten to know and spend time with frequently, and Ellie is pretty laid-back and thankfully takes a bottle without protest.

It felt amazing to get out and just walk the local streets. I hardly set foot outside of the apartment these days, so just walking in brisk air was incredible! Made even more wonderful that I had my love's hand to hold, his undivided attention, and no little ones to look out for, much as I love them. Until you have children, it's hard to communicate the feeling it is to get out for an hour or two alone. It feels so strange - and refreshing!

 We didn't have any huge plans, and I preferred to walk instead of ride the subway for more assuredly good food. So, we first walked 20 minutes to a coffee shop and had a not-so-great pizza. It took over 30 minutes for them to heat it up (it looked to be the frozen pizza variety, and came with shrimp which we assuredly had not pointed to, but oh well!) so we had plenty of time to just enjoy talking with eye time and no interruptions. Everything from daily life to reflections on past and future. Then we did the parent thing and went ahead and picked up diapers and bread since we needed both and were out, then headed to a local "tang bao" place.

 These soup dumplings are pretty good, and perfect for a cold evening. They arrive steaming hot, and are filled with meat and broth. Not the healthiest, but tasty and just right when you've walked through the cold.

Now, eating them is a trick. You want to poke a hole in them to let the steam out so you don't burn your mouth when you stick the whole thing in. I think I only got two eaten perfectly. Usually in the process of poking the hole and letting the steam out, I managed to lose all the broth from the inside onto the little plate (but it was still good to drink it up!) or I just dropped the dumpling all-together or had it fall apart. But it still tasted great! And, it gave me a better appreciation for the food. The only other time I've gone we had Hadassah without a high chair, and feeding these things to yourself is a feat, so feeding them to a (then even younger) toddler is quite interesting, and hard to get you both filled! So, we decided this is a better date night place for just us.

We're continuing to make memories here. We are so thankful for friends, to pray with and play with and trade dates with (we're watching this couple's children this Saturday so they can go out). God is providing and blessing and we are so thankful.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Adventures in Taobao

I don't know what it is. But now that our AliPay account (similar to paypal - necessary for doing almost anything financial online in China) actually works and is in our own name, Taobao shopping is not the thing to be dreaded it once was. It's almost something to be enjoyed, or at least to give a huge sense of accomplishment.

I start with something that looks like the picture above, and type things in Google Translate to copy and paste the Chinese characters into the search bar. Sometimes I have to reword things a few times in order to get the thing I am looking for (like if you translate "crackers" it will give you cookies, and if you translate "felt" it gives you pictures of motorcycles...) but I usually finally get to pictures that look right these days. Then I browse the pictures, looking for things recognizable, and divide by 6 to get an estimate of the price in my head. There are a lot of cheap things online. Which is kind of nice... I've learned a good Taobao technique is to buy multiple cheap things and usually one turns out really well!

Gone are the days of reading reviews (like we would on Amazon in America). Here you just look at the graphic rating/experience on the side. Hearts are the lowest... you might want to avoid them, because sometimes their stuff never even shows up. Diamonds are slightly better. Crowns are the best - yellow crowns better than blue. Number of each thing also counts. How exactly, I'm not sure... And the "T-mall" store always have things drastically marked off, though you wonder if anyone actually ever buys it full price...

Then begins the clicking of buttons in Chinese, a memorized process that you hope never changes, to get the items into the cart and paid for. It's 6-8 clicks, where you hope you are clicking the right thing, since you're doing a monetary transaction after all! Thankfully Chinese friends helped set things up, walking you through it and translating the buttons the first time. But you still have to occasionally copy and paste to translate things and make sure you're doing them right.

And then at last, the long-awaited green check mark graphic that shows you have paid!! And somehow, seemingly miraculously at times, the boxes show up at your door. Sometimes even the very next day! Shipping is very cheap here (often free or just a dollar or two). But due to the number of sellers on Taobao, one day's shopping can yield ten different packages.

It starts with a loud ring, and you pick up the phone that has a speaker to outside the building. "Wei?" You hear "Kuai di!" and hit the button to let them in. Then you tickle the toddler by the door as you wait for the guy to come up the elevator and knock. Sometimes there is a look of surprise when they see a foreigner, other times it's a "a ha" as they point to your obviously not Chinese name on the package.

The worst thing is if you happen not to be at home when a delivery man arrives. Then you get a call on your phone, with someone rattling off things a mile-a-minute in Chinese. I make Ryan answer if he happens to be around. ;) Or sometimes even if you are home, you get a call. My first guess is always that it might be a delivery and I tell them (in my poor Chinese) that I am at home. If that doesn't satisfy them, I tell them my address in Chinese. Usually that is enough, or they just give up, realizing I have no clue what they're asking.

But the package usually arrives! You open it, wondering if you got something that will actually work! These days, the successes outweigh the failures, which is encouraging! I've gotten a lot of great puzzles for Hadassah recently, at just 50 cents each! But we still end up getting things that don't quite work or weren't quite what was expected. Size often looks a LOT bigger in pictures that what it actually is...

 Like my muffin tin. Our new oven didn't fit my old 12-muffin tin, so I ordered one that had dimensions that would fit (figuring out those dimensions on a page all in Chinese - yay for me! It helps that they at least use the same numbers and "mm" or "cm" abbreviations as us!). Well... I guess we'll have to do more tea parties, cause these one-bite muffins would be cute for those!

Or Ryan's new coffee pot... Half the height of our drinking glass. But he's only making it for one person, so it doesn't have to be huge, right? ;)

Now, Taobao still isn't something I'm eager to do. I still usually avoid it when Hadassah's awake, because the random clicking of buttons in Chinese isn't something I want to do with the distraction of a toddler. But it isn't the huge thing I dreaded like before, with half the time paying not even working after going through a long, tedious process. We still have a process, but I (mostly!) understand it and it's faster. And the feeling of success when an order is placed almost makes it worth it to go through all the Google translating and memorized identification of a few key characters. ;)

Friday, January 8, 2016

An Ellie Quilt

 "Well, hi there! Do you want to see the quilt someone made just for me?" :)

"See, it's great!"

 Imagine my surprise when the postman knocked on our door, pointed to the name on the package he held to make sure it was me, and I saw it was from my cousin Sarah. She made a quilt for Hadassah when she was born, and has made one for ALL of my sibling's children. We've given my parents 13 grandchildren and counting, so that's pretty impressive!

I opened the package, and yes, it was a quilt made for Ellie. So beautiful too! And so homey... Made even more special that she it to us all the way from America to China!

"It's also great for doing tricks on!"

Thank you so much, Sarah! I love the fabrics and colors, and you totally surprised and blessed us!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

When you have two... just gets cuter.

And more challenging. And more tiring. And more work. And you have less time for yourself. But the cuteness? Far makes up for it!

 Without meaning to, I dressed them both in black and white outfits on Sunday. I often do that subconsciously, even matching my clothes to the girls sometimes without realizing it!

 When I laid Ellie in Hadassah's bed to do something with Hadassah, she LOVED it and wanted to crawl in and lay right next to her! I love how Hadassah loves her sister, and Ellie loves her too! Just today, my hands were covered in meat when Ellie started crying in the bouncy seat. I asked Hadassah if she could bounce her and talk to her, and so she did, saying "You don't need to cry. I'm right here. Don't worry." And Ellie stopped crying!

And yes, that is Hadassah's big girl bed. After about a week of her wanting to be in the big girl bed half the time and the crib the rest of the time, she finally started choosing it each time. So we moved the crib to Ellie's room and Hadassah gets more room to play! My biggest girl is growing up so quickly!

 My lap is nearly always full these days with one or both. But I love it. :) All those dreams and playing with dolls when I was little, then snatching babies to hold at church or whenever I could... And now this. I have to stop and remember sometimes. When did this wonderful blessing happen? Thank You, Lord.

The nice thing about baby toys is that bringing them out provides amusement for the toddler too! :) Part of it is Hadassah just loves doing things with her sister. After some hitting (mostly when she wanted me to hold her and I was nursing Ellie) and lots of explaining how Hadassah was the big sister and needed to take care of her little sister, to be kind, just pat her not hit her, etc. - we haven't had hitting in a while! Hadassah loves her and is so gentle and kind. She'll point it out too - "Look, I'm being kind to baby Elllie!" And when she isn't, it's usually an accident. ;) I am thankful.

And yes, there is marker on Hadassah's hands. But I chose to view it as a sign that I have so much to love. While I took a minute to talk to Ellie and enjoy her coos and smiles (and she got the closest she's gotten to laughing today!), Hadassah decided the window markers would look great on her hands. It's life with two! :)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Our China Christmas: The Pasties

To make celebrating Christmas finally complete, we had to have pasties at least sometime that week. This favorite-to-the-Lofgren-household is something that almost always happens around holidays, especially if we're all together. It didn't surprise me in the least to hear it was the Christmas dinner of my parents and siblings who were in Alabama. 

 At Thanksgiving we even got the next generation involved as a lot of my sisters and sis-in-law made (I think) 20 pasties (half pies) to feed the whole gang. When you make so many, you want a lot of hands chopping and rolling and forming! Not only is the making of them special for memories like this, most of us think there's no better taste to be found than this homemade goodness.

To my surprise and delight, as we made friends with one of the American families in our complex, I discovered that they even knew what pasties were, and had the tradition of eating them at their grandmother's house! I rarely ever even find someone in the states who knows what they are, so it was pretty cool. Since that discovery, I kept meaning to have them over for pasties, but life happens...

For Christmas she had her parents in town, the daughter of that grandmother that made them for everyone, so I invited them all over for pasties. They had blessed us with many meals when we moved into our new apartment and upon our return from America, so I wanted to return the blessing in some way.

Much joy and enjoyment was had by all, as we swapped stories of relatives and pasties and memories of when we would have them. It made the holidays truly feel complete, to have a reason to make 6 pasties (though I had to cook two pans of them at my friend's house as our oven is too small!) and have a group to share it with.

So thankful for a wonderful Christmas season here in China!