Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Celebrating the Resurrection

We started celebrations on Saturday night as we have to go so far to church that I knew I wouldn't want to cook on Sunday. When the guests were about to arrive I noticed that I'd unknowingly dressed both Hadassah and Ellie navy and stripes and polka dots, so of course I had to take a sister picture! But getting them BOTH to smile at the same time... yeah. Pictures get harder with more than one child and we only have two right now!

This is often life here. Hadassah always has things to say, Ryan is a great Daddy to fully enter in, and Ellie just watches.

We had a wonderful feast! One of our American friend families came and helped with the food, making the meat (which intimidates me usually!) and seven layer salad. I spent a lovely afternoon in the kitchen making the delicious sides... deviled eggs, cheesy potatoes, bacon green beans, and white, soft crescent rolls!

And of course wonderful desserts - great excuse to make them! Did a brownie strawberry trifle and a key lime pie, which turned out to be the favorite of most!

I meant to get a picture of all the people at the table, but forgot until the other family had left. But I'm so glad I thought to get a picture with "Y" and "E." These ladies have been such sweet, true friends. And I honestly don't know where I would be without them. "Y" was our first neighbor, "E" is just a few buildings over now, and they have both done (and continue to do) so much translation for me and are my guides to how life works over here! Their English is outstanding.

Easter morning came early. There is no time change in China, and so it gets light here around 5:30 AM and often Hadassah is making noise pretty soon after... But when we have such sites like these early in the morning, it makes everything better. Already, Hadassah loves "reading" to her little sister. :)

I love it. The cuteness! And yes, Hadassah often has one sock on and one sock off as she loves to pull her socks off!

After these cute cute snapshots, when I got them all dressed in their dresses - running behind time of course - I tried to snap a quick picture of them before we headed out the door. But Hadassah kept pulling Ellie's bow off and Ellie wasn't her usually smiley self around the camera, so yeah... Sometimes the unplanned snapshots are best anyway!

But we had cuties in the car on the way to church!

Without even trying Hadassah and Ryan matched quite well! So springy - I love this green color!

We asked someone to get a quick family picture at church. But already we're realizing family pictures are harder to get with more than one child! ;)

For a few minute, Hadassah wanted to hold Ellie's hand... Gives this Mama's heart joy - especially since there are too often times these days she's trying to be not so nice!

I had Ellie jump on my lap to the song "See What a Morning" which just added to the joy of singing and celebrating Christ's resurrection!

And what a beautiful line-up! Songs about the resurrection are my favorite, and to have them all at once is so much fun. Hadassah laughed and smiled so big when we sang the last song, as when that one plays at home, she always says, "It's my favorite!" so was pretty thrilled that they did it at church!

Ellie was her smiley self kicking beside me for the first part of the service. Then  I actually got to hear most of the sermon this week too, which was a blessing, as Ellie nursed just before the service and then slept half way through, and Hadassah did a fairly good job being quiet with books and puzzles and coloring.

Some friends invited us to join their Easter lunch after church, so we got a second feast which was delicious! We were somewhat regretting it on the way home, though, when our taxi driver took a long, slow way, the traffic wasn't great, and it was 3 PM before we got home. So late for Hadassah's nap, and Ellie had a hard time settling down to sleep the rest of the day after 3 naps in the carrier. It's the reason we usually just pack PB&J for the car on the way home. It is so hard to live so far from most of our church Body. It's hard not to have the time to really connect with most of the people there. But, we are so grateful that we have them to worship with, for the friends we know close by, and for the friendship of those further away too. Hey, at least it's a sign that there are SO many people at our church we would want to get to know more if we lived closer! :) But, I am grateful for where God has us. It's not perfect - life never is - but it is full of so many blessings. I just have to remember them and not get lost in the things I'd like to change. :)

And the biggest blessing of all? Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.

Friday, March 25, 2016

A walk to Burger King and back

Walking without children is such a treat. I guess I've always been a walker... I used to go for walks along our dirt road almost every day growing up, and I fell in love with Ryan while we walked and talked over many different weekends. So when we had a date last Friday (so thankful for friends who swap babysitting!!), the weather was just too good to get in a taxi or on the subway. We walked. And talked and talked, about anything and everything. I felt like I jabbered, just happy to have his undivided attention for 2 1/2 hours! :)

 I love my man. And everything is so much more vibrant when spring is in the air, blossoms are all around, and you're walking hand in hand.

 And I love that he carries my bag even when it's pink and makes me blush by randomly pulling me into swing dancing in the middle of our apartment complex. You should have heard the cries of Wàiguó rén! as a group of about 10 kids rushed over to rush and giggle, especially when he kissed me at the end. I don't like making a scene, but I don't mind it as much when I'm so in love with him. And the springtime does make me want to dance!

 The Shanghai Lily against gray always makes us happy.

 We found a little hidden path along the way and breathed deeply of the scent. I love all the white and pink blossoms out this time of year! And the way the perfume hits you at unexpected times brings such delight to the senses - especially when you smell many different random - and often not so great - things as you walk along a road with many little shops!

 And I know... Burger King isn't exactly on the top 10 or even top 100 places to go on a date! ;) But when we wanted a burger and wanted to walk, it was pretty nice. :) It took about 40 minutes at a fast pace (felt so so good!) to get to the mall it's in, and we even snagged a semi-secluded outside seat. We'd eaten pretty healthy all week, so the burger and fries tasted great! And especially with all the walking, we felt justified!

 We picked up treats from Dairy Queen (funny how the few familiar fast food shops make you feel at home even when you rarely stopped there in the States!) and sat in this romantic spot to eat. :) We were going to sit closer to the river, but upon further inspection thought it looked better from farther away. ;)

 The ice cream was delicious, and it reminded us of a time in our engagement when we sat on a random piece of cement along a road. I love building memories with this guy.

 Legs swinging, hand in hand... We felt like kids.

 Then, knowing Ellie would be needing to go to bed soon (though she thankfully took a bottle of pumped milk while we were out) we began our twilight walk home. Shanghai does a great job with their outdoor lights.

 Talking, laughing, and enjoying the random sites of small stores.

 You just never know what you're going to see. Yes, that's a wedding dress. On an e-bike. Randomly parked outside a formals shop, with no one in site. How I wanted to know the back story of that one!

 Near the end of our walk, we focused on thankfulness. "What are you thankful for about China, Ryan?" His first response was "that tree." It's such a beautiful, iconic site in Shanghai. We continued to name things... a truck that looked like it was two different vehicles welded together. The ease of walking places. The colored lights decorating trees.

Then it was home sweet home. We remembered how beautiful it looked outside this time of day, and vowed to take more family walks after dinner with the weather getting nice. And as we went inside to a big girl who didn't cry at all this time (finally making progress!) and a baby who was wailing (but calmed down as soon as I took her, yes, it makes a mommy feel needed!) we were refreshed. We had time. Just us. Together.

Last year, part of why we wanted to leave China before we'd planned is because it just didn't seem like we were ever going to get regular date nights. We really value time to just be Ryan and Anna and continue building friendship and love while being out away from home and chores. It's not absolutely necessary to a good marriage, but it is so encouraging and a blessing. And just look how God has provided. We serve an amazing Lord. Sometimes, we just need to keep trusting and holding on, for you never know what is around the next bend.

For Whom the Horns Honk

Terrible play on a classic book title? I know. But accurate? As my Norwegian-turned-Minnesotan ancestors would say, "You Betcha!"

We stand out here. I've gotten so used to it, I forget it now. Sometimes. But I always feel the eyes. It's not impolite to stare. Sometimes I long for a backyard where we could just go outside and play with no one watching, or even better, no awkward conversations that always end with tīng bù dǒng (I don't understand) as they ask question after question.

I don't like attention. I never have. I used to walk around as a young teen with eyes down, arms crossed, and shoulders slumped. Thankfully I learned that wasn't polite or good posture and made efforts to change. I learned to speak in front of large crowds and teach classes and direct musicals. God uses you to do what you never would have done on your own to show the power is from Him sometimes. But still... I like fitting in.

We never will here. It's the college guy that asks to hold your blonde haired baby and have his friend take a picture. You instruct her to smile because what's creepy in the states is so normal here. It's going to the zoo and taking a picture of your daughter in front of the lion only to see five other cameras pop out, pointed not at the animal but at your girl. It's the random grandmas that talk very loudly and very excitedly in your child's face and want to pick her up (often without even asking), that for a while she grabs you and wants to be picked up whenever she sees one coming. It's the word that almost everyone here seems to know in English - "beautiful!" - directed usually towards your child, but recently towards you in a somewhat awkward taxi ride. So I think the driver was just using the little English he knew, as he asked me "how old are you?" and about my family (mostly in Chinese) but then told me twice, in English and Chinese, "you are beautiful." I know it was likely just a cultural thing and his limited English, but I was glad we were almost home.

It's the constant KànKàn (look look!) that you here as you walk almost everywhere. Especially when they see two children and exclaim Liǎng gè háizi! Want even more stares and questions and discussion among themselves? Just babysit your friend's daughter and bring her out to the playground with your own two. Doesn't help that she's almost exactly the same size as Hadassah! :)

I don't resent these things. I know it's normal, when white faces and blonde hair and blue eyes are rare around here, and to see a child with the features even more rare. But it's always such a breath of fresh air when we're back in America and I realize we're not the center of attention anymore. People aren't stopping in stores to stare at us. We blend in. We're anonymous. Wow. You forget how amaing that feels.

So when we were waiting to cross the street and my friend asked, "Do you notice that horns always honk when we're waiting for a light?" I had to pause for a moment to realize it. I thought people just honked their horns a lot here. "I've seen the drivers in the cars. It's because they get so caught up in staring at us that they don't see when their light turns green!" I laughed. It's better to laugh at such things.

We had a wonderful morning out in the sunshine. We speed walked with our double strollers for 30 minutes to get to the botanical garden, and enjoyed great exercise and mom-to-mom conversation. What a blessing!  When we got to the garden, our senses were doubly blessed by the beautiful sites and scents.

 But, even though this place is more secluded then some, the attention started the minute we got in the gate. A middle aged woman who had been posing for a picture among the flowers hurried over to stand behind my friend's stroller with her hand on the bar as she motioned for her friend to take a good picture of her with two blonde headed children.

 We smiled as a Chinese girl seemed to play with my friend's daughter, then laughed a little when we realized it was just her grandma pressing her to get closer so she could take a picture of them together. There are so many times you could choose to get annoyed... It's just better to laugh.

 But still, the beauty stills the soul.

The children loved running along the path while the baby slept in the ERGO. I loved watching the three little tow-heads together, hand in hand. It's so wonderful to see my girl growing up with friends.

 And we enjoyed a picnic. There's just something wonderful about eating outside, especially surrounded by God's creation. Though all of the paths by the water kept us moms busy keeping the 2 year olds from falling into the lake!

But the weird thing? When he got home from work that day, my husband knew the exact spot we'd eaten lunch.

First, the back story and a little bragging on my man. :) He ran in an almost-5K today. His company is located kind of out in the middle of nowhere with a lot of other tech companies. Someone had the great idea to organize a race for those who wanted to participate on a Friday afternoon and not have to be bused downtown. My crazy cool guy placed 1st from those who ran at his company, and 4th overall when you consider the many who participated from various companies. He even WON a bike for his placement. Even more cool? Just last week we were looking at the prices of bikes as we hope to get some soon to go places faster as a family. God knows what we desire and is so good to give unexpected blessings!

He was talking with a coworker about how excited he was about the bike, since we wanted to get some so we could more easily go places like the botanical garden on campus. "Your wife likes that place. She went there today, didn't she?" was the reply. "Well, yeah... But how did you know?" Turns out his co-worker's friend was there as well, took a picture of us having our picnic, posted it to wechat (the popular social media site here), and Ryan's coworker recognized me.

So when Ryan got home and told me the exact spot we had the picnic, I was a little weirded out, because there are tons of little tables all over that place. When he showed me the picture- taken from across the water and mostly of our backs, it was even more strange. But when he finally explained, it made sense. After all, people take pictures of us so often we get strangely used to it. Just another opportunity to laugh. :)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Easter Dresses for my Girls

My girls. It still hits me how wonderful it is to be able to say it. :) While I have nothing against boys and really hope God gives us some one day, I am so enjoying our girls.

On a side note, here in China, it's interesting how everyone - EVERYONE - who sees me out with my girls assumes that Ellie is a boy. "Xiao Didi" they say - "small younger brother." Even though she's almost always dressed completely in pink with a pink blanket, they assume she's a boy, because they see that I already have a girl. They also aren't as picky about what they dress babies in, often using hand-me-downs regardless of color, so I understand that they could be confused there. But I happily reply "Je shi Meme" (this is younger sister) and they smile. But I know what they're thinking. Boys are often valued and desired more here. Especially because they were only allowed one child (or two, as the current policy has changed). But I am so happy to have two girls! I was telling a taxi driver that I had two girls one day, and he could tell... He said (in Chinese) "you really like girls." Yes, I do. :) Childhood dreams are being fulfilled...

Like sewing Easter dresses. I knew I wanted to this since before I was married. But the first year we had a daughter, we were packing to move to China. I had no time to sew. The second year we were in China, and I had no sewing machine. But dreams of making something with white eyelet still persisted.

 But how practical is white eyelet for little girls that always spill? So while out shopping for fabric with friends before Ellie was born, the idea for white eyelet pinafores was born. Then I can put them on for brief cute times and take them off in times of eating. Or if spills do happen, they'll be easier to bleach because they're all white!

And besides, what is cuter than a tiny baby pinafore??

 And with them being for little girls, I get to put cute touches just because... Because you can never be too cute or girly when they're small!

 When we knew for sure we'd be staying here more than a year, and especially when we found out we'd be having a second girl, I made the investment for a sewing machine to have here. And I'm so glad I did. There's just something about working with fabric on a quiet afternoon.

 The machine doesn't come out often, and I'm learning I have to just take it out sometimes even if all I have is 30 minutes at a time. Because those few minutes do make progress that turns into dresses. But God was really good today. Despite Ellie's current pattern of short naps being the norm, today BOTH girls had naps that overlapped for 2 hours!! I was able to enjoy blessed silence except for the whirr of the machine, and create.

And I'm pretty excited about the end result. :) I showed Hadassah the dresses and she immediately wanted to put them on. :) It will be fun to see them all dressed up to celebrate our Lord's resurrection on Sunday!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

First XiGua of the Season

 Ah... Watermelon. Or, as it's most commonly known around here, XiGua. One of the things I so enjoy about Shanghai is how inexpensive watermelon and how early it arrives here. Last week I decided to go ahead and try the small watermelons I saw at the fruit stand. And while it didn't have the height-of-season-absolute-sweetness, it was really really good.

 Hadassah was pretty excited to see what we were having for lunch!

 I made broccoli, carrot, lemon sage pasta for lunch too. The meal just said spring time...

 We all ate a lot of watermelon. Granted the pieces were small, as the whole melon was no bigger than a small kickball. But still... I was especially impressed with how much Hadassah ate!

 Her enjoyment of it was so cute I just had to take a lot of pictures...

It reminded me of the blue eyed baby we moved to China with... Here's Hadassah in June 2014, 7 months old and totally enjoying her watermelon.

At almost 2 1/2 years now, it's still one of her most favorite things ever. :)

The Tale of a Cheat

It should have been obvious. I mean, a red suit? But when the children were going crazy and I couldn't hardly understand his Chinese...

It started with a knock at the door. Noon. I'd just finished reading to the girls and told Hadassah we were going to get some lunch. Ryan was meeting friends that day, so he wouldn't be home. But first, the door. I put Ellie on her tummy with some toys and Hadassah and I went to answer.

He seemed just as surprised to see us as I was to see him. I was expecting a delivery man, and he sure wasn't expecting a foreigner. He had a booklet that had big pictures of roaches on it. Not something I really wanted to look at! He said something I didn't understand and gestured with a tube of what looked to be bug repellent. Hmm, I guess he's hear to spray for bugs? Maybe they get this done every year?

I motioned him inside but gestured to his booklet and told him “we don't have these” in my limited Chinese. Being on the 14th floor has had its perks, as I have yet to see a bug inside this apartment, unlike those that invaded our first one!

He said some other stuff, and noticing my confused look, said in English, “You don't speak Chinese.” I affirmed that with an “yi dian dian” (very little bit) and he didn't offer anything else in English so I'm guessing that was limited for him too. He kept gesturing to his booklet, showing me a picture of roaches and spiders, and was looking for something in the kitchen. I let him. I mean we often have random people come by to fix things or look at the numbers on our gas meter or whatever. When I can't speak the language I just let people do their thing. He put some bug stuff on the hinges of the door, as I checked on Ellie. Then he had me sign my name on a piece of paper, that was almost full of other signatures. It confirmed to me what I'd been thinking: This must be something they do in each apartment every year.

But then he pulled out four boxes of roach traps and two receipts, each for 200 kuai (about $34). That's when I got unsure – I mean, I wasn't planning on buying anything, and if I did have to pay for the bug repellent he'd done I was expecting a smaller amount! So, I told him I would call a friend.

“E.” She's the one who always helps us with things like this. She's been friendly from even before we moved here, and so helpful to translate for me when repair men come. In fact, one day she asked for ½ cup of peanutbutter since she'd run out and was cooking, which made me so happy as I told her it had always been my dream to know my neighbors well enough that we could ask each other for ingredients we were missing. She said it had been her dream too, and was glad she'd convinced us to move here. :) Anyway, I hated to bother her, especially since I knew she was sick with a cold, unable to come to our weekly study that morning. But I didn't know who else to call.

I briefly explained, and gave the phone to the guy, who talked with her for a while. Hadassah, meanwhile, I was trying to hold instead of letting her poke around the guy's things, and Ellie was getting a little fussy as it was time for her to nap again. When he gave the phone back to me, E started to explain that the stuff was child safe when the phone had issues. I could barely hear her so I put Hadassah down as she was making noise, only to have the phone drop and then me hear Ellie crying loudly. I looked over to see Hadassah kicking her feet into her head!!

This always happens when I'm busy – I seethed inwardly as I sent Hadassah to her room and comforted the crying Ellie. 9 times out of 10 Hadassah is very sweet to Ellie, loving to hug and kiss her, show her toys, and do “dance shows” for her. But when she knows my attention is elsewhere or people are around, for some reason the aggression comes out. Maybe because she knows she'll get attention? Either way it makes it hard to deal with in the moment, and grieves my heart to see. I tried calling E back, but Ellie was still crying and the phone was still breaking up. I knew I had to get back to Hadassah too, so I just gave the man the money. He was hanging around like he expected it, so I assumed E would tell me it was something they did at the apartment each year or something. If not that, maybe it was something our landlord ordered. Oh how hard it is to be renting and not able to speak the language!!

I put Ellie in her play pen and had a long talk and disciplined and prayed with Hadassah. I put her in her chair to eat some lunch, knowing part of her acting out was tied to hunger, and messaged E: “I paid the guy and he left. Maybe this is something they do every year, as he seemed to expect me to pay for it. Thank you for your help.”

She replied: “You paid how much? Kind of strange. I'll go to the Wuye [apartment facilities people] to ask.” I told her the amount, 400 kuai, and that there looked to be others that had signed, adding, “It was unfortunate that Hadassah started hurting Ellie, so I was very flustered. If we lost money it was my fault.”

Her reply clinched it: “Oh my goodness! He must be a cheat! He didn't say the money with me in the phone. Let me see if we can call to Wuye to stop the cheat!!” I felt bad. I didn't want her to go to so much trouble, with her being sick especially, telling her it was my fault and a risk we took living over here and not knowing the money. But we weren't alone. E sent another message: “I called Wuye. Cheat! Other people has called Wuye looking for him. What clothes does he wear? Red?”

Yes. I hadn't even really noticed in my distraction from the girls, but the red suit had been kind of gaudy. He'd been dressed up fancy, not like a normal repair man. The booklet must have been to try and convince me to buy something, whereas I just assumed it was an explanation. The tears came. The frustration of not being able to communicate with random people at the door, the fact that I'm just too trusting usually anyway, coupled with the sadness of seeing my older daughter hurt my younger. Sibling rivalry at such a young age is such a heavy thing, showing the ingrained nature of sin...

But soon what prompted tears turned into a reason to laugh. E called: “I'm on my way to your house. The security man caught the cheat. I will return your money in exchange for what he gave you.”

Visions of the older men that stand at our gate chasing down the “Cheat” made me smile a bit. And I breathed a sigh of relief at not having lost another almost $100 on something I just didn't understand. It gave me a story to tell Ryan and I praised E for her role in catching the Cheat. If she hadn't acted quickly, he probably would have gotten away.

And next time, I won't be quite as trusting to let just anyone in our house. I tend to be too agreeable when I don't understand someone. But this has opened my eyes... And given me another story to recount one day of our life in building 5.

Our home on a beautiful, blue sky day