Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Chapter Ends.

I've put off this post for a while. Mostly because Ryan's new job didn't have his computer ready for two weeks so he had to bring our only working laptop and internet-capable phone to work each day. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Without the distraction of internet I got a lot more unpacking done and even started a daily tradition of reading for 30 minutes during the girls' naps. Yay for being 5 minutes from a library and house work taking SO much less time in America!

But mostly, it just seems so final. Our China chapter is done. There's so much to catch up on. So here it goes...

 After a week of packing and weighing and removing and repacking and too many goodbyes (TOO many...), we had our final dinner in Shanghai. Our last meal with this amazing group of people who became like family as we lived life overseas together. Our last tastes of yang rou char and the most amazing, fresh, thick yogurt with honey.

 The last dance on this stage. Not many restaurants can boast of one! ;)

 Our flight didn't leave until Friday evening, so Ryan took the girls out most of the morning so I could do the final packing and cleaning. Thankfully friends were going to move into our apartment, so we were able to leave a few things that didn't sell or get claimed as give-aways. So nice to have them willing to take care of it. Then, we made that final trek to the airport after teary goodbyes. It rained. Somehow that seemed fitting...

 And while we maxed it out at 8 maxed-out checked bags, a checked stroller, 2 rolling carry on suitcases, 3 backpacks, a diaper bag, a computer bag, and a carry on stroller, these two were still the cutest carry ons. ;)

Then, as we got there early to make sure all our bags got checked (thankfully there was no issue although a few were just over 50 lbs!), we had a lot of waiting to board our almost 10-pm flight. The girls did great all things considering, and mercifully slept for most of the flight. A couple who had just adopted a little boy graciously traded seats with us, so they could be all together in the middle aisle and we could occupy the very last 2 seat across seats on the side. Turned out to be perfect, as Ellie could lay across the two seats with me squenched on the ground in front of her. That way she could sleep comfortably and I could at least put my head on the seat and close my eyes, knowing she wouldn't roll off without rolling into me! But many many times I was glad this was our last 12 hour flight!

 After such a crazy flight, chairs for the girls to walk over and a strawberry smoothie was life giving.

 And at the end of the 30 hours or so of traveling, between three flights and three airports, having Ellie sleep on the last flight was such a mercy.

 Hadassah was more energized at the thought of seeing her grandparents and being in America. She told a stewardess very excitedly, "We're going to see my grandparents! First we're going to rent a house, then we're going to buy a house, then we're gonna get a pet!"

We were a bit crazy. But as we landed on Saturday morning and Ryan had to start work on Monday morning, we wanted to move in right away. My parents had wonderfully arranged the renting of a house we chose online, so we drove three hours (in four different cars!) to move in that day. But it didn't quite go as planned. We arrived and loved the house, though the first impressions of it were with girls who couldn't stop crying as we woke them up from their long car naps, and on jet lag it felt to them like the middle of the night. We discovered the water had gotten turned off because a leak had been detected and didn't have a wrench and couldn't find the valve in the mud. And my parents didn't arrive until almost 10 pm due to both of dad's back tires on his old truck SHREDDING, with him spinning around on the highway and ending up down in the median in the rain. But he was wonderfully okay. My mom was a bit behind so was able to stop and eventually find someone to replace the tires. It was all so so crazy. I told Ryan that if our first day was anything like what our life here was going to be, it was not a good sign!

So with no water and no parents there to help, we went to a hotel for the first night. It was comfortable, and the 24 hour Walmart provided food to eat when we were all wide awake at 2 AM on jet lag. Hadassah thought it was pretty funny to use a spoon as a straw for her yogurt. ;)

 The next day was much better, as we moved in with my amazing parents' help, and we discovered a lovely park just 2 minutes drive from home, against a beautiful blue blue sky...

 My sister who lives in town had brought over a ton of stuff her friends gave her for us (I'm still amazed at their generosity to people they didn't even know!) and also made a casserole to provide our first dinner in home on Sunday evening. With stuff my parents brought too, it was starting to feel like home.

 This chair was amazingly free from one of my sister's friends, and it has been SO comfortable. From bed time stories to cuddling jet lagged kids in the middle of the night, it has been a back saver!

 Then early Monday morning, Ryan was ready to go to work. First day at NASA. This man is seriously amazing. He did his first week still on jet lag, with long days learning things to craigslist pick ups in the evenings. He is incredible.

 And while unpacking plus jetlag plus girls ALSO on jetlag is NOT a good mix, it was aided a ton by our back yard. It's so easy to go outside. And our kitchen window overlooks it, so I can let them out as I do dishes. And tea parties are so much easier outside where I don't have to clean up the water they inevitably spill.

 Even amid the mess and stress of unpacking, with more whining and clinging that comes with jet lag, these two are such a bright spot amidst the chaos.

And having the help of grandparents all week was what made it possible. My parents stayed the first few days, then Ryan's mom arrived with her car stuffed full of wedding gifts we'd left stored in their basement. It's so nice to have a kitchen full of those amazing dishes and tools again! And we are enjoying this stroller friends in China gave (since elevator doors aren't wide enough for it there and sidewalks have poles on them preventing it from getting through!).

 We even found a park in OUR neighborhood, so perfect to walk to on warm evenings after dinner...

We truly love it here. What a wonderful, amazing blessing God has given to move us to this location of our dreams.

 And He keeps giving above and beyond! Mid way through the week we discovered that we had brought home an extra special gift from China! :D And yes, it gave me extra motivation to do as much as I could before morning sickness hit full force!

 We continued our letter-of-the-week fun the second week here, with treasure hunts for letter T made so much easier with our OWN back yard!

 And one of the best things about it is that the girls can go outside in their pj's! :) Our yard backs up to an open, empty field which adds a nice amount of privacy and nature. And yet we're just 5-10 minutes from so many stores and restaurants! It's crazy after being in China, where many things did NOT look appetizing, to pass so many things here that look delicious! ;)

 Our living room is great for twirls...

 And our yard has a little garden plot that Hadassah tends each day, pretending to water and dig and plant. Soon I hope to plant actual flowers and herbs to give her nurturing bent something to tend. :)

 We're swinging. OUTSIDE. Pretty much every day.

This one is LOVING all the outside time and being able to see grandparents more often, with them just a 3 or 4 hour drive away!

 There are wildflower bouquets given me,

 and picnics outside in the many green spaces around.

These two sweeties will continue to grow, and another will be added for them to embrace. Life is full and so so blessed.

We definitely do miss China. Especially the people. Goodbyes said on another continent are so much harder because there's no way of knowing if we will ever see those people again. Thankfully there are friends we know we'll see in heaven one day, but so many that don't have that assurance. We try to keep in touch, but it's not the same across the ocean....

But somehow "reverse culture shock" hasn't hit yet. Maybe because things are so much easier here. Laundry that was dirty that morning is clean and dry and in the closet again by noon. I hardly even have to iron as the dryer does it for me! My floors are not continually covered in dust so I don't have to sweep as often. The back yard and plentiful parks to drive to keep the girls happy and busy. And while the choices of what to buy can seem overwhelming, I'm loving the access to ALDI, the Walmart 5 minutes drive away, and the carts I can bring with kids and groceries straight to MY car waiting in the parking lot. No more struggling out the door with babies and bags in hand, hoping to find a taxi! And somehow, after a week of fresh air, Ellie's constant stuffiness, running nose and deep rattling cough disappeared. She'd had it for at least 6 months so it is pretty amazing (and wonderful!) to have it gone in a week!

I know there will be things we continue to miss. The cherry blossoms are full in bloom I've heard, and we're not there to see it. I miss walking 5 minutes over to my friends' house. We'll miss evenings discussing everything from politcs to parenting with our closest Chinese friends that felt like sister or brother despite the culture difference. As we've hardly gotten to know anyone as we're visiting a new church each week trying to find a place to land, the absence of community after having one so strong is especially hard. But, a new chapter is ahead. A new time to grow and connect and reach out. Only God knows exactly what it will look like.

And, as the China chapter ends, I'm bringing this blog to a close as well. It will stay online, and who knows, we may use it every now and then when we need a long post format. But with life just getting busier with a new baby on the way, and an ache for a more private life especially now that we're stateside, it's time. I'm relishing not being as connected online, with more time for reading and sewing and, hopefully soon, more in person connections. Of course I'll stay on email and Facebook and phone for long distance friends I definitely want to stay in contact with. But, at least for now, being an active blogger is a chapter that is ending once again.

To God be the Glory. Great things HE has done.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Last Saturday in Shanghai

How to spend your last Saturday? At goodbye parties, of course! Two of them, to be exact. We felt very loved.

One of Ryan's co-workers gave the girls these Chinese dresses. I will enjoy having this picture and these dresses to remind ourselves of how big our girls grew in China.

Now, of course with young kids it came with a price tag. Ellie decided (of course!) to wake up at 5:45 AM on Saturday. So she was in quite the daze at the lunch party. Then fell asleep in the stroller on the 15 minute walk back. Made the transfer to her bed, but woke up 45 minutes later NOT happy. I managed to get her back to sleep holding her (I was desperate, knowing what was ahead!) but she was still really tired as we taxied to our next party. For an hour. So wiggly! Then we got home late. And party food isn't the greatest for a one year old. I was planning to pack more, but had ended up holding a sleeping baby. ;) So either the food or lack thereof seemed to upset her digestive system, so she woke up scream crying at 10:30 PM after a later bed time (another 45 minute taxi ride home!). She thankfully went back to sleep, but woke again at 5:00 AM. Oh and Hadassah woke at 3:00 AM to use the bathroom. Needless to say, it was an exhausting Saturday! Just keeping it real...

But, looking back, I know we'll remember the love. We truly have been loved these last three years in Shanghai, and have loved many...

The first party was organized by E. Oh what a blessing this woman has been. She shares my love of cooking and organizing events, and is so so sweet. She's saved the day for me many times, calling the wuye to come and fix broken things in our apartment (and even going shopping to find the new part for us!), setting up water delivery for us, setting up bill paying through AliPay, and being just a phone call away when I need help translating what someone is trying to tell me.

She arranged for the rental of a beautiful garden and event spot on campus, and gave each person something to do, while she arranged the food,

The kids enjoyed all the fun spots to hang out...

 Dipping things and hands in the water...

 A treasure hunt to find balls to trade for suckers and special toys...

And we all enjoyed talking and lots of smiles!

The food was delicious - a good blend of Western and Chinese!

Ellie's always happy with a banana in hand!

 Then there were pictures to say goodbye... This family was our first neighbors and will always remain close to our heart. We will definitely stay in touch with them and hope to see them again, whether they visit us in America (perhaps even this summer!) or we come back to China. I saw "Beauty and the Beast" with Y Sunday night, and in the taxi ride home reflected on how she is truly a "bosom friend" and like a sister, and she said the same. We will so miss them.

 And oh I can't imagine daily life without this woman. She has shown me what it looks like to live in authentic, Christ-centered community with another mom. We share wechat messages to encourage and commiserate throughout the week, take our kids on outings to campus or play places, and can always count on the other to pray if we're just having a hard day. I will so miss her.

 This family is always so sweet and joyful when we see them out and about around our apartment! J always greets us with a smile an effort to communicate though he speaks little English and we not much Chinese. And F was a part of our study of the Word for half a year. We will miss their smiles.

 Speaking of smiles, this one did a great job smiling through all of these pictures! Not easy for an active 3 year old who wants to always explore! ;)

 E and her daughter C... Always a joy to see them on the playground and participate in lunches there or their help with parties we put on. E always came early or stayed late to help clean up. She was a true neighbor too, sharing my love of cooking and swapping recipes or borrowing peanut butter... I had always wanted a neighbor like her, and have thoroughly enjoyed the past two years. I will miss having her so close.

 These co-workers of Ryan have been friends since the first month we arrived in Shanghai. They've invited us for special outings, be it to see a train themed restaurant, a waterpark, or all the way to MoGanShan. And after working at Ryan's company for a while, he left to devote his time to a full-time to a Taobao business. Not everyone can say their daughters are models for a Chinese towel company! ;) But we've been happy to take pictures for them as needed, as they have always been so so giving to us. We will miss their sweet friendship and generosity.

We may leave China, but our daughters will continue helping sell towels on Taobao! ;)

 This family. The memories... We first connected to them through them being former college friends of someone at our church in Iowa. They helped advise us on things to bring to China, and helped us find both of our apartments. We ended up even living in the same building as them in our current place! It's been so nice to have friends just an elevator ride down. We've been inspired, encouraged, and challenged by their heart for reaching out, devotion to learning language and culture, and authentic parenting. We will miss their friendship and their community.

 As Hadassah would say, "I'm so attached to D & A!" We've only known this amazing couple for just over a month, as they've come to start their China adventure just as we're leaving ours. But it feels like so much longer. From dinners to praying and sharing to them babysitting - much to Hadassah's delight, with Ellie's feelings were much like her face here! ;) Though we've known them for such a short time, their impact will last and we plan to stay in touch! We will miss their sweet kindness and realness.

S & D have been our regular friends for play dates and studies of the Word. We've learned about parenting and kids together as her daughter is just a few weeks younger than Hadassah. We've explored and laughed and danced and played. S was always full of fun ideas and snacks that Hadassah couldn't wait to try. We will miss their exuberance and always ready attitude.

 Oh these goodbyes are hard. D remarked that finding a friend you can just talk to about anything is hard, even for them with other Chinese. And yet, we've found it in each other.

Then it was the home-ward walk from campus - one of our last times! - for naps before our next big party...

This one was put on for us by church friends. It meant traveling downtown, but they made it a time of joy. It was especially nice to see some friends who were part of the original gathering (we moved with the church plant last September) and catch up on their lives. We've seen God's faithfulness displayed in so many ways through these people.

This picture captures some of the great people we will miss. There's G & M, who was like a grandma to my girls and always ready to share ideas of her latest felt project and ooh and ahh over mine. She is a kindred spirit in the creative realm, and we plan to keep emailing each other our creations! D has the best Scottish accent - I always love hearing him read Scripture or hearing him sing out strong in the congregation. He and his wife have welcomed us into their home multiple times on a Sunday afternoon when we tried to stay downtown for lunch and naps. The same for C and his wife... And they've even traveled out to Minhang a time or two which is extra special!

B organized the party and J hosted. These ladies serve the church in so so many ways, untiring and with such sweet joy. I will miss their example.

Just a few of the great men Ryan has been blessed to know and engage as they spur one another on. As Ryan said in our goodbye remarks on Sunday morning, these churches have lived out the "one another" commands in Scripture so so well. We will truly miss them all.