Friday, April 29, 2016

Loving China with my Man

Date nights with Ryan make me love China more.

Maybe it's because everything is easier to love when you're with the one you love most!

But really, it's a whole different experience when I'm out with him and not with the girls. We don't get too much attention. Even when we do crazy things like steal kisses on the sidewalk because the scent of pollen is so strong and sweet and makes us so happy, hardly anyone stops, stares, or cares. And walking places is just plain fun because it's easy to talk and hold hands, and reminds us of how we fell in love...

With the girls, on the other hand, I often feel like I'm in a zoo. Except we're the animals, not the onlookers. I hear comments almost everywhere we walk. If I stop for a moment, there's almost always someone - or a crowd - that comes up to the stroller. If I dare lay Ellie down on a playmat to kick around while Hadassah plays, there's almost instantly a crowd, often asking me questions. Thankfully we've found some more secluded spots, but outside of those, we're an attraction. And walking, while still something I enjoy, means maneuvering a double stroller over bumpy sidewalk and up and down curbs. That or holding on to the toddler's hand to make sure she doesn't get hit by a car, bike, or trip in the many holes. Okay so really, it's not so bad - it's just harder at times. I am so thankful for how much JOY I have in daily life, especially compared to how almost depressed I was this time last year. I am thankful for how warm and caring the people here are. There are just many moments I'd rather not be so noticed!

So it is so good to get out more alone. To feel a bit more free. To not feel like I'm the "show" for those who pass by. And when the day is warm, the sun is still bright at 5 PM, and the girls both napped well that day so should be doing well with the friends watching them, it's so much easier to be carefree and love being part of a walking society with the buzz of a Friday evening.

Even more fun? Finding one of those rare secluded spots and doing a little swing dancing! I felt light, like a teen again. Ellie's almost six months old, and I feel I've almost fully recovered from the rigors of pregnancy and birth. My man is an amazing leader, and we pulled out moves we've hardly done since our wedding rehearsal dinner and laughed as we got our arms all mixed up. It's easy to laugh when I'm with Ryan.

Dinner was a disaster and a delicious surprise. Both of us had yummy Chinese cabbage on our minds, so we decided to walk to the nice campus hotel/restaurant that had it. Only to find they'd changed their menu. Perhaps even changed who ran it. The "menu" was a huge wall of lighted up pictures with only Chinese descriptions. Nothing looked particularly great, and the ingredients sitting out to chose from (including a plate with a raw, dead fish) didn't look that fresh. They finally took us back to sit down and pulled out an old menu we recognized with English translations, but said they didn't have most of the dishes. And mind you they were only speaking in Chinese, so we were just picking out words we knew and going by actions! ;) When we asked for beef, they pointed out their most expensive, weird looking beef something (equivalent of $20) and they didn't have cabbage... Finally we just decided to leave, very embarrassed but relieved. And it seemed the wait staff was relieved too! Sometimes it's just not worth it to try to communicate when neither of you is catching most of anything the other person is saying...

So we went to the one other place we knew of that had the cabbage, the place with the hilarious menu translations. I hadn't been that impressed with it before, but it never hurts to give a second try, and that cabbage was on our minds! To our surprise we were greeted just inside the door by a man in a Chef's hat hailing from India and asking (in English) where we were from. To our delight we discovered an insert in the menu titled "Exotic Indian bread" - I mean you can't go wrong with that! And we were not disappointed...

Though the 10 or more descriptions of the bread were all in Chinese, so we decided to ask the chef for his recommendation. After some back-and-forth in broken Chinese with the waiter, Ryan got him to take him back up to the chef to talk in English. Only to find out that this man's English was very limited. Ryan asked "what do you recommend?" and the man answered him in an Indian dialect! I think the chef was trying to give the impression to the waiter that he knew English. Pretty awkward for Ryan, but he said one English word - "egg" - and what he brought out (friend thin bread around scrambled egg and chives) was absolutely delicious! Definitely want to go back for more some day!

The other choices - our cabbage, lamb chops, spring rolls, and a pumpkin dessert roll, along with freshly squeezed orange juice as the perfect palate cleanser - were all delicious as well. We actually ate and enjoyed them all. We're getting better at ordering, or maybe just less adventurous!

But the company and conversation was sweeter still. We got our favorite convenience store ice cream to eat on the way home, along with a pack of white paper, since the "paper" I thought I'd ordered on Taobao turned out to be card stock! And we kept stopping to drink in the scent of pollen - the wonderful scent of spring - all the way home. Laughed about how we live in Shanghai but hardly ever take the metro. Looked into each other's eyes and smiled. And never ever let go of each other's hand...

Ellie was crying really hard when we got back though. Life is still life with all it's hard moments. She often gets overtired even after just 2 hours being awake, and she's gotten more mommy clingy lately. She calmed down in my arms, though, and after a long nursing session was her smiley and laughing self again. Even went to bed really easily, being relieved to be home. Hadassah thankfully is fully joyous with our friends and no longer protests at all when we leave, just takes her shoes off and runs in for fun. So they do grow, and I know that this is ultimately good. I hardly ever left Hadassah at this age, but I've learned that a little crying doesn't do a ton of damage, and we're showing Ellie that we always come back... Her tears hurt my heart, but ultimately I am a much happier Mommy for having been out for 2 hours with the one my heart loves most.

What a sweet, sweet time it was... Thank You, Lord.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Life with Littles at Home

Life with two continues to mean usually not as much blogging time! I often take pictures and think "I want to share that!" and even think of a cute caption to go along with it, but usually I don't want to pull away from playing with the cuties to get on the computer in the moment, and then there's always a million other things to be done... 

Plus, I've gotten bitten by the photobook bug again, so am using any extra time I can to work on our 2015 family picture book. I'm learning sometimes to just take 10-15 minutes even if I don't "have" it during the time both girls are asleep in the afternoon. There are always so many many chores, but Ryan's helped me see that sometimes, I just have to give myself permission to breathe. I don't know why being creative in terms of photos or sewing helps so so much, but it really does. I so often don't, because I see the to-do list so full, but when I do, there's often a happier wife and mom around, which is better for everyone even if the laundry has yet to be put away.

Hadassah is full of energy and enthusiasm and ideas, and her favorite thing is "I want to help you, Mommy!" Though sometimes that seems like a nuisance, I have to remember that I trained her to be with me, and this help is going to be so useful in the long run! Already it's nice to have someone who can return the laundry hamper to the room or rinse the dishes, though often dishes just doubles as play-with-water time for her, and makes us both happy!

But, often I can just work, work work and get to nap time and realize I never sat down and just played with her. And while I don't want to be her sole source of entertainment, I don't want to miss these times of play and creativity and imagination. So, though it doesn't always happen, I've made it my goal to stop chores and do "Mommy-Dassah play" around 9 AM. Though Ellie's naps aren't always predictable, she is usually asleep at that time. :) We aim for 10 minutes of free play (it's always fun to see what Hadassah thinks up to do with me, or we play dolls or something), 10 minutes of reading time (I read a book to her then read my own book while she looks at a stack of hers), and some art/activity. Usually followed by 15 minutes of room time and then a morning snack. Hardly ever goes perfectly according to plan, but I've been aiming for this for the last month, and it really does help. She's always happier to play alone after some time with me, and has gotten used to me running around doing chores (with her helping where she can!) around 8:30-9 AM. :) 

And when I get buried in feeling like there's always so much work to do (yesterday was a prime example!), I want to take time off and just focus on mommying. People won't usually notice if the floor is mopped, but these childhood moments are what I'll remember. Often writing "play with Hadassah" and the activities I want to do that day on my to-do list helps me make sure they do. Partly because I love checking things off, but also just to give myself "permission" to ignore visible things and get down and play with little hearts.

So, what follows are a conglomeration of photos from the past month. Some are art project ideas (many of which came from Pinterest or blogs!), and others are just too-cute-not-to-share moments from our daily life.

 Making these butterflies are quick and children always have fun decorating them! We've done our share of babysitting two other kids at a time to trade date nights or for doctor's appointments (both of our American friends here are expecting their third baby!) and I've done these multiple times with great joy on the part of the kids. They're usually the ones to ask to do them again!

 Dassah still loves to sing and dance. I love seeing her praise the Lord. :) She often wakes up singing, and though I'd prefer quiet at 5:45 - 6 AM, hearing "Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, oh sing hallelujah!" coming from the room of a toddler is a pretty sweet way to start the day.

 We used the leotard my niece passed along to have her first "ballet lesson" for a mommy-dassah play time a few weeks ago. Pretty fun for this former dance teacher mom. And while when it's my own child I'm amazed at how much she can do if she wants to, with attention spans and physical ability, I'm glad I held firm to not having group ballet classes until the girls were 4 years old! ;)

 But still, dancing at home? So much fun. :)

 Ellie loves her exersaucer and smiles even more if she has a big sister visiting and playing along too! Hadassah gets big smiles whenever she comes near Ellie, and Ellie will follow her with her eyes whenever she can. Makes my heart so happy! And though there are still moments of aggression towards Ellie (usually when Hadassah wants attention), they are getting less as the ability to play together more goes up.

 Last week we used sweetend condensed milk and food coloring to make easy fingerpaint! Hadassah enjoyed helping scoop the stuff into an ice cube tray and squeeze colored drops and mix them around. Then we did some finger painting together...

 It doesn't really dry well, so we had to eventually throw the stuff away (after brushing against the sticky stuff one too many times!) but it made some pretty pictures! After tiring of fingers, Hadassah painted with sticks...

 Then a paint brush...

 Then a roller...

 The enjoyment lasted for quite a while, so of course when Ellie woke and I decided to nurse while Hadassah was occupied, she decided to start painting herself. Thankfully I noticed and called out "hands in the air!" before she got to her clothes! ;)

 I've seen ideas for kids sticking things to contact paper everywhere, but couldn't find any here. But I found a roll of wallpaper for just the equivalent of $2 on Taobao, and it serves the same purpose. :)

 Laundry still does have to be done, and taking down two loads and hanging one up can take 30 minutes at a time... So I have to include the girls in it when I can, and now that the weather is nicer it's easy for them to hang out on the balcony with me. Ellie can sit up safely in one of the empty boxes I had stored out there, so when Hadassah saw that, she wanted a box for herself, and one for her Ni-night too of course!

And laundry is so much more fun to do when you have cuties looking up at you! :)

 Pinterest is full of heart-shaped animals these days, and so we made one the other day. Hadassah was concerned that this fox didn't have any legs, though, so we added two. You've got to love how imaginative toddlers are and how it doesn't have to look totally realistic in order to please! :)

 Occasionally Hadassah will mimic what I'm doing with Ellie with a doll or other little friend. The other day she took Ni-night, laid her down on the rug and said, "I'm changing her poopy diaper." Then she took her to the rocking chair and pretended to nurse her, burp her, and then "she has a potty diaper now!" Then she took her to Ellie's high chair and fed her some "rice cereal" and "a little bit of ice cream" (I promise - I've never fed ice cream to Ellie!!). Then it was playtime. Ni-night got to be in the exersaucer some, and then she sat next to me on the couch (as I was letting Ellie jump on my lap) and had Ni-night jump too. Then, it was bed time. She went through the whole bedtime song and what we say "I love you ni-night, but Jesus loves you even more. Have a good sleep, I'll see you after your nap!" and put her in Ellie's crib. The first time didn't go well. She had to go back in because "ni-night is crying!" and do the routine again. Then she told me, "Now she's not waking up. She's having a good sleep." I tell her she's learning to be a good mommy. :)

She told me at lunch today, "I'm so glad God gave you a baby!" We talk a lot about how someday she will grow up and that maybe she'll get married and then God might give her a baby. :)

I call this one, "Baby, meet baby." Ellie had a fun time playing with Hadassah's doll this afternoon while big sister was sleeping. She kept reaching for it, squealing and talking to it. And of course, trying to eat it. 

And last but not least, with all the spring rain, these rain boots for Hadassah were definitely one of our best buys. It scandalizes the grandmas and grandpas outside often, and we usually end up having to change wet socks and pants too, but it gives her so so much joy and satisfaction to splash in puddles. Childhood is just too short to deny her that joy... 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Family in Spring

Remember those Easter dresses? I've decided they were made for outdoor pictures. Especially when it's a day the air is clear, the sky is blue, the sun is warm, and life is just good.

A friend met us at the botanical garden on campus to take the family pictures, then we stayed later to get a few of the girls. It worked well, because Ryan took some family pictures for him the day before. :) Spring is the time to capture them for sure!

Especially since both the girls and the flowers are in such bloom :)

We are so blessed to be just a 15 minute bike ride from such beauty!

 We had to take a few running breaks for the squirmy toddler ;)

 On with the aprons! And do you know how hard it is to get both girls to look at the camera at the same time? A squeaky book toy helped with Ellie!

 Told Hadassah to put her arm around Ellie for a picture, and she just started kissing her over and over. She truly does love her sister, and it melts my heart...

 Sweet sister smiles

 Seriously, does it get any better? And I've decided toddler-baby pictures are so much easier to capture when the baby can almost sit up on her own!

 I have my arms full...

They're full of love.

 This stone was pretty convenient - allowed for a single portrait of Ellie while the apron hid my hands holding her from the back.

 The essence of little girl-ness :)

Dassah is never long parted from a stick of some sort!

Ryan and his little girls :) Dassah was done with pictures and Ellie was due for a nap, but the sweetness comes through. He's an amazing Daddy.

All loaded on the bike and ready to go! Somewhat of a pain to get in the elevator, but it allows me to go places with both girls that I'd almost never go by walking, so it's a blessing! And I'd forgotten how fun it is to ride a bike...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Twenty Highlights from Mo Gan Shan

Last weekend we were blessed to go to Mo Gan Shan... a beautiful mountain with forests about a 4 hour drive from where we live in Shanghai. Ryan's coworkers organized the trip and were so gracious in bringing us along. It was so relaxing to get out in nature and be away from the chores of home. Hadassah loved playing outside so much and we just enjoyed being together as a family and getting to know some of Ryan's coworkers and their families better.

We took over 600 pictures in two days, and I posted a Facebook album with close to 80 pictures. But here I just wanted to post 20 of my favorites from the weekend. :)

 We tried to caravan with 2 other cars on the way there but got separated, so had to spend about an hour at a little stop half-way up the mountain. But we didn't mind too much as it was just so refreshing to be in nature!

 Our lovely accommodations for the weekend!

 Hadassah so so loved being able to play outside almost the whole time!

 We got to hike up a bit and along the edge of the mountain late afternoon on Saturday. I had so missed the feeling of being surrounded by trees...

 The spring green. It's real!

 A door along the way. I seriously love Chinese architecture!

 Ellie got Ergo naps for two days straight but was a sweet sport about it (though my shoulders were sore!).

 Beautiful overlook at dusk

 We were given one room with one bed. Our Chinese friends suggested we all share the one bed, but thankfully there was room in the car to bring a pack 'n play. Meant to use it for Ellie and put Hadassah on blankets on the floor, but the floors were wood, not carpet, and she moves around a lot. So, we put the not-yet-rolling front-to-back Ellie on the floor and hoped she wouldn't start rolling that night. ;) She didn't and both girls slept all night which was much better than we'd anticipated with the craziness of travel!

 Time outside with the girls in the early morn :)

 Morning mountain mist
 I like gates and doors, what can I say?

 Dassah and QiQi, the son of the co-worker/friend who organized the trip. They've played many places together! And it was great having a balcony to the outdoors just off of our room! I could nurse Ellie inside and Hadassah could play outside in a contained space as I watched her. Perfection!

 Off on a morning waterfall hike! This carrier we borrowed from friends for Hadassah was a lifesaver!

 The first little waterfall along the way

 These signs made us laugh :)

 It was beautiful and worth the (literally) thousands of stairs all the way to the bottom and back up again...

 Trees!! Surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings at home makes me appreciate being surrounded by trees so much more!

 We made it to the bottom and even all the way back up. Legs ached, but it felt so good to get exercise and be out in clear, clean air!

Best of all, we made memories as a family. The girls may not remember first-hand, but we'll have the pictures to show them they were here.