Wednesday, April 28, 2010

{book}worm wednesday :: we're pretending to be farmers

 Man, I'm beat. I'm not sure all of what did it today, maybe the three thousand times I repeated myself to the middle one who is forever saying, "whaat??" We think he has some serious wax build up in his ears... that or something more serious like actual hearing loss. Then there was Skills (my new nickname for him since he spends nearly every waking moment practicing his soccer footwork and enlisting me to watch him), and of course my Busy Bee who is still kind of weepy/clingy/snotty from her ear infection, etc. Besides that there were sheets to wash and stories to be read, friends to meet with, and who knows all of what else.

Suffice it to say that even though I had grand designs of featuring some wonderful books on here, I just don't have it in me tonight. Plus, the reading has been a little redundant and slow lately- though I DO have a few new ones that have been cracked open and I am looking forward to sharing them in the future. In some of my puttering around today, I started pulling books off the shelves that I have either never been able to quite get to, or have been wanting to read again for some time (as in, years). So, I'm putting together a tentative "summer pile." I think I'll just share those with you tonight. If you want to give me any feedback for those of you who have read them, and/or if you want to give me some of your own summer list ideas that will possibly inspire me down a new and different path, I would love to hear your input!

And just to explain the pictures. We had a lot of buttermilk yesterday. I was squeezing tight on the budget this week so needed to make some bread for sandwiches, toast, etc. and went back to an old recipe called "Farmhouse Buttermilk Bread" that I like for just that sort of thing. The recipe is from this book, which is a great little baking cookbook that Josh's mom gave to me sometime around when we got married. I have used it possibly more than any other cookbook I own. Which isn't saying too much since I think I have maybe 4 or 5? But still, it's a good one.

So, I also decided since it was the "nth" night in a row we were eating Chinese (helps the budget since it's pretty much just veggies and rice and a little meat), I ought to whip up a dessert with... hmm... flour, sugar, milk and eggs. My handy dandy book came to the rescue and I decided to try the Buttermilk Pie. We topped it with strawberries from down the road and homemade whipped cream. Delish. It was a hit. With all that buttermilk floating around in our stomachs, we felt a little like Almanzo after a hard days work, except we had tilled zero fields and chopped nada loads of wood.

I am dreaming of something like Chicken Cordon Bleu next week when the money rolls in.

But enough of food for now. Here is what I'm pulling off the shelf so far...
  • Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept by James W. Sire 
  • Upgrade: 10 Secrets to the Best Education for Your Child by Kevin Swanson
  • Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn (a friend is loaning this one to me while she leaves for the summer)
  • The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan
  • He Gave Us a Valley by Dr. Helen Roseveare
  • Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey 
  • Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (I know everyone has read it... somehow I never have)
I'm feeling like I'm going to need a novel or two in there. I also miss Jack. You know how I am about him. So, I might try to read something new from his stash or just go back to an old favorite. 

Thank you for putting up with my meager book posting. And let me remind you, buttermilk makes everything better.

Monday, April 26, 2010

six :: it's easy when they're cute

How cute are they, chasing around their little sister in her fluffer-ball dress? How could I not be grateful when I watch them run and laugh, making her giddy with giggles and being careful not to knock her down or be too rough? And the warm afternoon, the blossoms breaking free, it was all so lovely as we walked home yesterday.

I tend to have issues with so many things... sometimes I can't be grateful enough, sometimes I feel bad for being grateful for things when others don't have them. Sometimes I write too much. But last night my dear mother reminded me that being grateful for the little things, that's what we're supposed to be thanking him for. Those things are always with us no matter our circumstance. Rather than being caught up with the things we don't have, or the race for bigger and better, it's finding grace in small things that keep us preoccupied with Him and all that he is daily giving us. It's the Corrie-lesson. The one that is that is thankful for fleas, even fleas. Well, it's not quite that... I'm still looking at things like cute little kids and sunshine and am pretty far removed from fleas in my bed and the horrors of a concentration camp. Could I ever even fathom being able to thank Him in the midst of something like that? Another issue... another day.

1. I was so grateful for my mom last night.

2. And for my three little ones, especially when I watched a wonderful mother weep new tears over her firstborn leaving for college next year... and all the swelling pride and fear and reminiscing it brings.

3. I love going to the little Korean grocery, creeping up the narrow stairs to the upper floor where all the fresh food is made, buying a little pack of Kimbob for 7 RMB and splitting it with a different child each week. It's so funny to watch how their different personalities play out in this little space. The oldest talks the whole time, the little one gets up and down and goes all around the whole time, and today it was just me and my sweet middle boy, staring quietly, whispering through big blue eyes, watching everything and holding my hand.

4. The morning was early and quiet and I am hopeful.

5. New babies (not mine) are on the way, one any day!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

five :: maybe the sunshine isn't the trick

I had thought maybe the weather had a lot to do with it. But, maybe I was wrong. I do tend to be wrong sometimes, a lot of the time.

I had thought it was the perpetual grey-ness, the forever weeping, seeping sky, and air heavy with fog. But then, lo and behold, the sun has been shining on us for almost three days now and the air has had that tinge of warmth that promises a change is coming... and I still struggle to lift my head, to be thankful.

It's just so easy to be swayed. Too easy, it seems.  My throat hurts, and I feel that pounding drainage behind my eyes, and it makes me snap at things, like small children, or human husbands. It's not my fault, it's the drainage, I tell you. There are other things too, like sick babies who cry a lot and just want to be held. They don't sleep well at night and they wake up far earlier than is proper and just. So I'm sure that it isn't my fault, it's the sick children, I tell you. My counter top is cracking, and bubbling, and generally looking like a piece of plywood left out in the rain. I also ran out of clothing detergent, and my ayi was sick so I couldn't leave the house with one very sick and two semi-sick kids in the rain (it did rain once this week) to go get more. I can't imagine it is my fault, it's the counter top and lack of detergent, I tell you.

But it really isn't. Because I know that my circumstances, they are not in charge of me. I just like to let them be. I throw them back in my sweet husband's face when he wants to find out what is really bothering me. I don't like to think I'm just plain grumpy, and weak, oh... and wrong sometimes.

I do have much to be grateful, exceedingly thankful for. The first one being that when I am weak, when I was weak, it was then at that perfect and completely helpless, pathetic time that He died for me. While I was a sinner, and while I am a sinner still, it was and is then that He saves me. I love Psalm 25 because it always reminds me that He leads sinners in the way. Thank Goodness. Because that is me, sinning, needing the way and needing Him to lead me in it.

And I'm also thankful for...

  • My busy little scout, sleeping still, which means I'm sitting here, writing still.
  • A beautiful, blue sky day that the boys are playing in and have been since this morning.
  • Ten little friends from our concrete complex, ringing doorbells, riding bikes, playing soccer, building forts out of trash, filling the afternoon air with screams and laughter.
  • The blissful feeling of hair being washed and head massaged at the salon.
  • a cute little lady giving me knitting instructions in Chinese as she waited for her perm to set.
  • Raisins, real dark juicy ones, on sale! And a cute little girl's tank top being sold by a road side vendor.
  • Strawberries, firm and fresh and deliciously red with shortcake and whipped cream. 
  • Little boys asking questions... do we know anyone in our family who is adopted? Oh! WE are! Because we are in God's family!!
  • Packages from home. New pajamas, vanilla flavoring (how timely, I just ran out), pretty girl dresses (she even said ooooooh, daddy! ook!!), and more books!
  • A friend bringing by some oh so lovely, the color of sunshine flowers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

it's addicting, this knitting

This little sweater is proof that YouTube can teach you anything, even how to knit. It's kind of sad to me that this is how I learned, which I've mentioned before, but I'm getting over it. I'm trying to make up for this community-less way of learning a generational skill and timeless pastime by surrounding myself with a knitting circle of real, live people. Plus they share their needles with me. And their expertise. And tea.

It's such a satisfying and enjoyable skill in my opinion. I love picking a pattern (this one is from here) and then changing it all around to make it fit my personal style and taste with just a simple yarn switcheroo, or the size of a needle. I confess already to a few too many hours browsing Ravelry and getting sucked into the vortex of online yarn stashes and patterns.

This sweet little sweater was one of the first things I saw on her site when Josey introduced me to it this summer. I couldn't get that image out of my head and just wanted to somehow be able to make it for myself (or some other lucky customer as it turns out). It was a pretty easy pattern as patterns go and there were only a few things I had to learn along the way that were firsts for me, like placing stitches on a holder and making a buttonhole. But I took it step by step and lo and behold, it worked! 

I did have a bit of a scare when washing it up. The shoulder seam started unraveling because I didn't tie it off correctly. What a horrible feeling that was. But I quickly salvaged the stitches and got them on a needle... spent a day slightly depressed over how much work I may have lost and trying to figure out how to do some kind of emergency surgery... and then watched as my uber-talented ayi whipped it into shape for me when she sat at our table munching rice and making fingers fly during lunch. I am pretty thankful for her.

The yarn was not my favorite in the whole wide world of yarn selections. Right now I am dreaming about a huge shipment of impossible proprotions that I might send myself over the summer. But the reality is that I am currently limited to the little hole-in-the-wall shops I find by spending an hour asking directions and getting pointed every which way.

So many Chinese women knit. It's still kind of a standard skill here it seems. But they don't have Hobby Lobby or cute little trendy, eco-friendly yarn shops like they do in some countries. And these women must love to knit with super thin yarn so that their fingers get a serious workout, turning what could be a quick knit into a marathon affair. Only because they have ninja fingers, it's still a sprint for them.

I walk into these stores the size of a large closet, and peruse the wall of half-decent colors, most of which I would never wish on a pet dog much less that newborn babe I was hoping to swaddle in my handmade wonder. The women eye me and watch curiously, I can hear their whispering and little words like "waiguoren" (which means foreigner so I know they are talking about me) and "they always buy..." which makes me wonder if I am about to fulfill some embarrassing stereotype. But they are always kind.

The vest it turns out, is too small for my little scout so she will have to wait for another one while this one goes to some other little lady. Thanks for sharing in my knitting excitment! If you don't already, you should try it. Especially if you failed to learn how to sew as a child. It's incredibly redemptive in that way.

Monday, April 19, 2010

come putz around my house

I've been pretty wordy lately, I will admit. So today I am just going to share a few moments with you via the camera. We had a couple exciting things happen here over the last couple days, exciting being a relative term that I use with a bit of liberty.

First up is our firstborn son, sporting his first ever lost tooth. I think he was a bit surprised and maybe slightly relieved at how excited his mom got about this event. I'm not sure why it affected me so much. I guess I never imagined myself with a bunch of babies, and certainly not with a five year old who looks like an eight year old and talks like a ten year old. And you just don't imagine imagine them getting all gap toothed and whistle-worded. It's so cute. 

Then there was sweet little Ari, who I could hear faintly somewhere in the house, talking about the disciples and how they thought he was dead, but he really wasn't!!... and I came upon him "reading" this very long and detailed story to his poor little bear who must have felt a bit stiff from sitting so long. But his very attentive daddy eventually put him to bed after spending about forty five minutes constructing it.

I also discovered this little treat. Our thrifted cabinet which houses all the coloring, puzzles, and paper for little hands, lost it's door (which it's done before but this time I think it's for good) to Kids Fighting Over Closing It Trauma. So now I just need to get a cute piece of fabric and sew up a little curtain with the sewing machine I don't yet have.

In other news, I've been wanting to find an old desk to put in the back corner of my bedroom as a little haven for all my crafting supplies and projects. And the sewing machine I'm dreaming of. This goes against all the rules of making your bedroom your "haven" which I think I heard somewhere on Oprah or something but it is becoming increasingly impractical in our little apartment. I'm just not going to get that sewing room. Or laundry room for that matter. Or mud room. Or basement. But I'm okay with it! I think I'll enjoy sprucing up this little corner so maybe I'll post a new picture someday when it is all in order... and when I learn how to sew.

The desk is from a friend who is moving away at the end of the school year. That's the sad part. I hate taking away furniture from people who are leaving. But I love the idea of it going to people you know. I actually love returning home and finding little bits and pieces of our past scattered throughout our friends houses. This particular desk is pretty rickety, but I love it's character.

I think tomorrow may be the big day I finish my little sweater and I can't wait to share pictures with you, so stay tuned!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

four :: keep on truckin

I had one of those moments today when I could almost taste the first time I walked through a grocery store here. It was so busy in there this afternoon. I just wanted to grab my few things, like the wipes we so conveniently ran out of and some fresh strawberries for the waffles we were having for dinner, but the place was packed out of its mind.

In China there is no real grocery cart etiquette. It's kind of a free-for-all as far as lanes and traffic flow and right of way go. Much like the driving. The plus side of this is that people don't really seem to mind if you bump them with your cart or shove your way through a tightly packed aisle, nipping ankles and sideswiping bags and hips as you go. No one glares at you or curses your existence or voices disapproval. They understand (and you are expected to understand as well) that this is part of the game, the nature of the beast that is a country teeming with over a billion people and millions of them pouring into the cities each day. That, or they have more of a communal mindset than we westerners and sort of meld and morph as a group, even in the yogurt aisle. 

As I gazed over the sea of ebony hair and felt my shining, towering awkwardness, I had a sudden glimpse back to those first few trips to this very place a few years ago. The smells were so strong; pungent, like a smoky, musky spice with a twist of fishiness. I even felt like I could smell their breath. Do westerners have distinct breath odor as well and I am just so used to the scent that it passes by me unnoticed? I could remember too, the foreignness of the food and how nothing looked even vaguely familiar or eatable to me. I think I bought saltines, and maybe some orange juice on that first trip. We were prepared for an onslaught of the flu but not dinner seven nights a week.

Things have changed so much since those opening days, when I was often found staring bewildered at the rows of dried shrimp and bins of frozen jiaozi. As I felt that twinge of reverie today, remembering how the crowds and the smells would get to me so quickly, I was struck by how normal in some ways it has become to me now. I can take the bumping and smushing and not leave weeping. I can stand in the vegetable weighing line and not get completely angry at the lack of queuing or the woman pushing her celery in front of my apples. I can possibly even, tak over the world.

It was good to think on those first days and to start remembering that I was brought here. I have been placed here and I have been helped here. I have not been alone here. I have so much to be thankful for, but not because I can somehow whip up all these great circumstances and start listing the positive things in my life. I can think of many positive things, but that is not what brings about a true heart of thanksgiving. 

Do you know Corrie? Her story is not just inspirational, it is actually unbelievable, except that God laid his hands on her as well. One night in the dark belly of a concentration camp, Corrie and her sweet sister Betsie discover there is lice in their soiled mattresses. Corrie is nearly ready to curse it all but Betsie humbly submits that they ought to thank God for the lice. It's nearly the last straw for Corrie. How can they thank God for this. Later, you find that there was in fact a saving grace in the presence of the lice. But sometimes, we don't always find those reasons out.  And so I have been thinking about how I drum up thanksgiving throughout my days, and how often it is trying to think about all the positive things I like that I can thank God for. When, really, that just leads me down a path of circumstantial joy. So if and when I have nothing but lice, how how do I lift my face up to mouth a grateful "thank you!" then?

My taxi ride home from the grocery store was shrouded in, you guessed it, another foggy day. It's the landscape of spring here and I grind my head against the concrete trying to accept it. The fog is here, and not a rolling landscape of tree covered hills and pleasant farms. Can I give thanks for the fog? I thought of all that I have here and do not have here, and was struck by what we always know is true but don't always really know... that it is all from him. Do I not thank him for his goodness? Do I not thank him because he is over all these things that are in my life, overseeing and directing, and yet not always able to disclose all the reasons why? I have been brought here by Him and so I can be thankful. I have been helped here by Him so I can be thankful. He is here so I can be thankful. He is in the fog and the crowds, so I can lift up my face and mouth a grateful "thank you!" with all my heart.

My friend told me today that the baby growing inside her may be touched with Down's Syndrome. My immediate reaction was to comfort, to grieve, to try to lift her up with all the "good" that could come from that, if it were the case. But my power of positive thinking fell flat to my own ears. Instead, perhaps the slightly less positive but slightly more robust truth of God's promise that he is good, and his love endures forever. That He plans all things according to his purposes which we can trust with every fiber of our being, that he carries us in our sorrows and is acquainted with our grief, but that we will not always grieve. That we can cast our burdens on him because he really does care and is able to take care of us. 

I liked what she wrote about thanksgiving being a sacrifice. And there you have it. Sometimes it is not just the mango shakes and new clothing stores that should bring us to our knees with hands lifted up. And when we look deeper as we struggle to wrench our sacrifice deep from the linty depths of our pockets, and we lay it out there on the altar of praise to be given up and given over, a heart of true thanksgiving is born.

holy experience

Friday, April 16, 2010

three :: I used to shop more

When we moved here to this land of four toned language and city streets changing daily with construction and the demolition of progress, we were moving to a country that had already seen massive leaps in modernity in a space of a few decades or even a few years. People I met who had moved to our city even six, eight, or ten years before us would tell "tales" of the living conditions and things they did without, before many of the "conveniences" I now enjoy had arrived. They "endured" things like no diapers, or large grocery stores, and no western imported food, period (this, when all that we had when I arrived was a little hole in the wall shop with canned goods, a few boxed cereals, and baking supplies or alcohol for the starved and dehydrated foreigners).

It seems that the country and probably every city within it is changing daily, hourly. New high rises, apartments, high-end shops like Burberry and Armani (which are empty... who can shop there? They are a mystery to us all), and places like the first Dairy Queen and Subway are popping up everywhere like the little spring buds that push through the rock hard clay packed around the concrete streets and sidewalks.

I say this because today I experienced my first ever shopping excursion in Qingdao that actually had me giddy with delight. I saw clothes. I liked them. I could afford them. They did not have appliques of Micky Mouse or Mei Yang Yang sewn on nearly every available surface. It was not a dream, or surfing online, it was an actual store and it was like eating straight out of a carton of Ben and Jerry's Heath Bar Crunch after living for twenty years in the Saharan dessert (okay, not quite like that). Today, H&M opened up down the street from our apartment. My friend and I went in merely to gaze and ooh and ahh over what could now be... buying clothes for our children, for a friend's baby shower, for that growing belly, for that moment when you just need a new shirt because all of yours have been stretched to disproportionate lengths by your angry washing machine.

I have many things to be thankful for today, some of which should include things like food, water, a mind that works and a body that can move. For my children who shower me with love and cuddles, who bless me with quiet moments when I need it and who drive me crazy with their wrestling when I DON'T, for cinnamon swirl raisin bread coming hot out of my oven and for the joy of my husband returning at midnight tonight after a week away from my arms, for a beautiful run by the ocean with music that made me feel like I was soaring high above the waves, for the grace given to respond with grace when I felt like holding it against her, for life giving Words and a boy who obeyed, for a good friend given time and again.

In light of all those things, clothing stores seem kind of trite and superfluous. And to be honest, in all my excitement about the possibility of shopping in the flesh again with greater frequency than once every two years, I actually felt a little bittersweet about the opening of this store today. Thinking about all those sacrifices that we willingly accept when we move to a different culture, a less-developed country, remembering all the ways they change us for the better, the way they challenge us to think differently about our lives, I wondered if this was the beginning of the end. The end of doing without (if at this moment you are thinking, good grief lady, take a load off and enjoy the darn store, I hear you). It's wonderful, in a bittersweet sort of way. And while I'm basking in all it's affordable, stylish, accessible glory, I'm feeling a bit wary of the changes it will bring. Wary, but not protesting, mind you. I'll be in there again tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

{book}worm wednesday :: cry the beloved country

 Ray LaMontagne is soothing my ears right now. The swish of his swinging, jazzy beat and the raspy voice... it brings me back to college days, and summer nights in our first home. Tonight I am far from H Dorm and Willow Grove Ave. I'm all alone; the kids sleeping soundly with the memorials of their day still scattered here and there throughout the house. The worlds are swimming and swirling like a small galaxy hovering over my head. The stories I'm reading... Ozarks and coon hounds, Johannesburg and Shantytown, coast of Maine and Prodigal Sons, and then Ray in there with my memory lanes. 

 I want to share about books tonight because it's been awhile since I've been able to do that, but also because I've been reading some good ones. I am so thankful for the books we have here, the old friends that have followed us from place to place and even over oceans. And the children's books, the ones that the grandparents have blessed us with time and time again, they are priceless. Many an early morning, long afternoon, sick in bed day, or be quiet while I put the baby to bed, has been saved by these precious books. I love that in all her clambering, the Busy One has started to sit and look intently through her books. She's clearly catching on to what is expected of her. Her little board books may be discussing belly buttons or runaway rabbits, but she is getting the idea. 

The books tonight are some of my old favorites. I have also been weeping openly nearly every day now as I've fingered their pages and held their words in my mouth. I have got to stop crying over these coon hound pups. So, as a form of thanks, I offer up this short list-- of books.

Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
As you can tell from anything I've mentioned about the coon hounds in the past few posts, this story has left me a soppy mess of tears nearly every time I try to read it. This week its just me and the boys, waiting for Daddy to return home and needing an "interim" story. So because the oldest has been talking every day about wanting two puppies, and has already named them, as well as planned out an entire training regimen for when they arrive (which will be when we live on a large farm in the country), I thought this was a fitting story to begin. They are loving it, and I am too- when I can speak without my voice quivering and tears welling up in my eyes. Billy is just so darned determined, and sweetly passionate, and burning up with dog-love. His grandpa is so moved and bewildered by the coins dumped out on the store counter, his parents so torn up about the lack of money and the heartsick dreams of their young boy. Then there's the way he loves his family, and that he buys his sisters candy so their eyes will light up, and his mother material for a new dress. The names carved in the tree, the generous fishermen. I could go on and on. 

I also love that the mother and father are highly concerned about living in the country, at the foothills of the mountains, far from town. "It's no place to raise a family," the father says. And they want to move to town so their children can get an education... "more to an education than reading, writing, and arithmetic." I love this because it is so ironic to me, who worries that living in the city is no place to raise a family. "More to an education than reading, writing, and learning a language..." Like throwing rocks and splitting wood and romping through streams and feeling dirt between your fingers and seeing where the food you eat comes from.  Not sure all of why, but I am thankful for this sweet story right now. 

Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
If I had to give a list of my all-time favorite books, I believe this one would top the list. Maybe at some point in my life this will change. For now, it reigns secure.

The story is tragic. An old minister who is from the hill country in South Africa, where the "lovely little road that runs to Ixopo" lies, goes to Johannesburg in search of his wayward son who has been missing for some time. What he finds brings deep suffering. The road he travels in the city is full of humbling moments, of finding grace through the love of God's people, of temptation and failure, of grief and mercy, of great joy in simple acts of love, of uncertainty and provision. 

Some of the things that stood out to me this time were things I didn't notice the first couple times through. At several points, a friend who sacrifices much to help the suffering minister is thanked, and he with some chagrin states, "I am a weak and sinful man. But God laid his hands on me. That is all." It is no small statement, and has come to my often as I think through all that I am that is not of me, and all that I am not that is not counted against me. All of him... his hands on me and that is all.

I love how it ends. I love how it begins. I cry for South Africa, for all that happened there and all the crying out for humanity and a country torn and fearful. I am humbled by how much this man who wrote these words loved his country, and the people, and knew that what was needed when the hating had turned to loving was forgiveness. I love how he lifts up the way God meets us in our need with mercy and grace, but also questions why some people receive the healing of their suffering and some never see an end (because I too ask these questions), and answers that it is a mystery, but not in a way that makes you question God's goodness, just how much we are able to understand.

I hope you read it. I hope you like it. Given my infatuation, maybe just pretend or say something vague and polite if you don't.

One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
For some reason we've been picking this one up frequently these days. I think the Middle One likes the pictures. He will sit and slowly leaf through them for long periods of time. A simple story of a little girl, Sal and her Saturday morning on the coast of Maine, where she helps her father dig for clams, and loses her first tooth, takes a boat ride to town, and gets ice cream with her sister. The wildlife, the townspeople, the new spark plug, it's all very Maine-ish and delightful.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller
A friend gave this to me for my birthday and I'm just getting around to it. A quick, but insightful read into the real issues of the Prodigal Son story. Perhaps it's not the younger brother who really has the more serious problem. And if you've grown up religious, or with your moral ducks in a row... it's likely you'll find yourself in the hot seat. 

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
My faithful husband is still plugging away at this monstrosity of a book. He is loving it and often reads sections to me aloud (sweet, but not recommended in a house with several children under 5, who are not sedated with television or benadryl). 

I Can't Believe I'm Knitting (no author)
I feel like I'm reading this book only because I constantly have my nose buried in it, trying to figure out the directions. I am sooo thankful for it and the simple directions which are guiding me through my baby steps as a knitter. And I am pleased to say that I am halfway through my first simple sweater!! I can't believe it... hopefully I will be proud enough of the finished product to be able to share pictures soon. 

There you have it, a short but important list and one that I truly am thankful for and all the joy it has brought me these past few days and weeks. If you want to share, I'd love to hear what you are reading. Of course that means you'd have to leave a comment... which I know is like public speaking or something awful like that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

two :: If it Wasn't for the Taxis

None of the taxis I took today dropped me off at the right location. One of them misunderstood me and then we were locked in by one way streets so he couldn't rectify the mistake. Another jumped out of his car at a spotlight to inspect what was in fact a very flat tire. So, then we had to get out and transfer to a new one, the fare starting over again of course. The third guy decided it wasn't convenient to go all the way in to the grocery store I was trying to reach, so we were dumped out on the side of a busy road with the big red letters of our destination at least perceivable from our distance.

Then I came home and our camera cord was (and is) missing. I'm pretty sure the fault lies somewhere within the span of a plump little 18 month old hand, but I can't prove it and so she remains innocent until proven otherwise. I'm really wishing I could interrogate her though... find out which garbage dump to dig through or which hidden crevice of separated floor boards to press my nose against. It's just plain annoying to lose stuff like that.

After an spending half the day running around (when I had planned to be riding pretty, taxi-style) and getting errands done (the shoes I returned and exchanged for smaller sizes STILL didn't fit when we got home), I am kind of worn out. Trying to pour out thanksgiving right now just sounds exhausting. I did think quite a bit about it today though. It has certainly helped me to start lifting my gaze again and not dwell on all the kind of things I just spent my opening lines dwelling on. I can be sort of a hypocrite.

The best part of this whole day was the morning. The sun rose glorious. It was like all that rain and nasty blowing yesterday just wiped the earth clean and sparkled the glassy skies so we could behold their color. The light just bounced and played off of every conceivable surface, soaring back up to the source where it came from and taking my spirit right along with it. Why are we so incredibly affected by the weather? Really, all our aesthetic surroundings have a profound affect on us, but it is the weather we so often talk of and draw attention to. We even use words like "oppressive" to describe heat or "refreshing" to speak of a warm summer rain. I know it didn't have to happen and sometimes we have to endure weeks on end of miserable weather, but oh how grateful I was for that sunrise today.


  • A morning run along the ocean, waters glistening and sparkling like a thousand diamonds blanketing the rocking sea. 
  • The recalling of a favorite passage in an old book, and the comfort it brought as I wrestled with thoughts of why He gives to some and not to others and how to be thankful for what is given to me.
  • The sweet idea that played in my head of how I answer the peppery, probing questions of my son and how much God must be like that... giving part but not the whole picture because I just can't wrap my head around it yet. And so those things that seem hard to understand about him, I can be okay with not fully knowing.
  • A hot water heater that started working again.
  • The joy of learning to knit, of using my hands to make something that will last, and the pleasure of overcoming challenges and feeling like I'm learning something even when it's hard. 
  • fresh vegetables that don't cost a fortune, soy milk and mango smoothies... and carrot muffins in the morning.

Monday, April 12, 2010

one :: Maine and Rain and Ears in Pain

Of course today was a good day to come down with an ear infection. He must have known it somehow, perhaps creeping into the living room last night and turning on the computer, scrolling through my high aspirations and deciding to take a swing at them, see how long it would take to make me crack. I didn't crack though, and I think I could end my list right there and it would be enough. But there were other things, and maybe they too would like a few moments to share their story. They may be small, but here I offer them as something for which I was thankful.

1. I couldn't believe it was light already, having been up several times through the night with a sniffling sore throat and a desperate cry to "blow my doooose!!" But the light is creeping in earlier and earlier these days, one of the only signs of spring in these parts it seems,  besides the milky white buds I saw huddling bravely today against the stormy rain. Yes, it was also a rainy day. The light came regardless, and there was gas to heat my shiny red kettle of hot water and there was enough fresh grounds to heap in the bottom of my gifted french press and there was thanksgiving. There were also two who slept on, in spite of one who woke early. But the two who slept are the neediest when awake and so we, the early two, sat on the couch and sipped steaminess and read. And I was thankful.

2. After the rest had crept out and toast had been made, and made again, and made some more, we huddled on the couch together again. I wondered why I was letting them rain crumbs on my furniture but felt happy to because Daddy is gone this week and it's nice to do something different. Sometime eating toast on the couch can be so different it even feels special. We sat there and read One Morning in Maine, which seemed far away from my Morning in Rain but was sweet because Sal's tooth is loose and so is my boy's and there are lots of trees and gulls, and mussels and boats, and I could almost smell the sweet, cool air of the upper East Coast. But mostly it was that they were all sitting there with me, quietly drinking it in and playing with each others hands, which is not something that happens very often, if ever-- at least with all three at once. And so I was thankful.

3. The peaceful couch moment ended and the screeching, writhing ear pain wrestling began, and continued for a couple hours until he finally fell asleep in a heap on my bed. I don't think the boy has ever had an ear infection (at least that I have known of) in his life, bless his heart, and I knew from his wails that something must be up. But medical care here is not always the most wonderful thing and I have somehow avoided taking any trips to the clinic since moving here three years ago. I resolved however, to go as soon as our Ayi arrived, and then he fell asleep right before she walked in the door, so instead I took the other two out for a walk and a romp, telling her to call me in as soon as he woke up. 

Because of that, I happened to be outside when my next door neighbor headed out and told me she was off to the Korean Clinic for her son as well. I had been planning to go to the International Clinic but when she told me this place was far more thorough, and that the International one had no device to check the inner ear, I gratefully thanked her for offering to book me an appointment as soon as she arrived. A short two hours later, walking out with a bag of antibiotics, and a brightened (though clearly infected) little boy, I was struck by his question of whether poor people look the way they do because they don't have money to go to the doctor, or the dentist. I was thankful, but felt how meager it was.

4. Later a friend dropped by for tea and we talked about books and South Africa and child development. It was nice and companionable and somehow made me feel less alone through what can be the most difficult part of the day for me, especially when Josh is away. Sometimes when you are trying too hard to really talk, instead of just be, when the kids are around, it can be frustrating and stressful. But she is just the kind of friend that will leap in and fill cups of water, or hide in a closet, or help color a handwritten newspaper project. Then we ate Chicken Korma and Naan and a Shawarma to boot. The boys ate all their pears and didn't whine much over their meal, so that when she slipped out the door it was already bath time and I couldn't believe how the evening had flown by. 

5. Her fresh, baby soft curls nuzzled content against my chest and that busy little hand played along the lines of my face, and I thought of how much she continues to burrow her way into my heart. When she came out I was, to be honest, aghast, but now I have trouble playing humble when her older brother asks me if I think she is the cutest baby in the whole world. Quite simply I do, even though I know she is not. A few weeks ago she figured out how to throw her 17 month old body over the high walls of her prison-bed and so we took it down and put up the side rail guard. Tonight, though she whimpered a bit and voiced her defiance, she never once climbed down but slowly nursed her sorrows until sleep overcame. And once again, I was so thankful.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Coon Hounds are Tear Jerkers

I started weeping tonight about coon hounds. I'm thinking either this means I have a secret longing to get me some dogs and hunt in the river bottoms of Kentucky, or it's a really well-written book that touches on the emotions and yearnings of life we all deal with, or there is something seriously wrong with me. I was sitting on the boy's bed, one little arm slung over my shoulder, another little body sliding constantly off the mattress and onto the floor at my right, and there I was, voice trembling, trying to gain composure but eventually losing it as tears poured down my face and I lost all sense of who or what was around me outside of the story of this sweet boy and his years of hard work saving money to buy the coon hounds he so desperately wanted.

This seems to happen with some regularity in my life, this weeping and tearing up over any and all kinds of things. I sensed a change after the first time I got pregnant. It was like the floodgates had opened, and little did I realize they would never again in fact be allowed to close. I also realize I am not the bubbliest girl on the block. I tend to look at things through a pretty melancholy screen. It's hazy in here. If you hadn't noticed. So, it may not come as a surprise that I deal pretty regularly with the doldrums. But deal with them I do and though others may find it easier to see life as generally pretty uplifting and charming, this doldrum-dealing has been my particular lot.

My husband read a passage to me this morning from Les Miserables... it was a beautiful description of the contrast between a poor and rich man's perspective on life. The rich man, having much to occupy the "lesser portions of his brain" in amusements, etc. is little moved to think on things beyond himself. The poor man however, spending most of his time working to earn what little he has, is then left with nothing but the earth, the heavens, and humanity around him to turn his mind to. I listened, and wondered. Is much of my bummed-out thinking a result of having too much?

Then yesterday, I ran along the water's edge, listening to a panel discussion from Kindling's Muse on the exodus of Canadian young people from the church. At one point, a panelist mentioned that the culture is informing the message taught in many of these youth groups, rather than the other way around. The message in particular being that God is your Friend and just wants you to be happy. I thought about how I know this danger. But, in spite of all my knowing, I wonder if I too really think this most of the time. My dissatisfaction lately, my unrest and frustrated spirit, could it be because I too sit around thinking about all that I don't have and all that I think will make me happier... and I expect Him to give it to me?

I don't really want coon hounds. But whatever they are, these things that give me unrest, they make my gaze flit here and there and everywhere but here, where I am. They make me shifty, uncomfortable in my skin in this place, unwilling to sit very long and smile at the people around me. They make me worry about future days, days I have no business thinking about or planning as though I were the potter, and not just the spinning, whirring, dizzy and dazed clay.

So, I'm not really sure what the exact reasons are that I always get in scraps with this big brute, this bully Discontent that kicks me around here and there when I think I'm getting along so nicely. I suspect it is many things, some mentioned above and some I either haven't perceived or He has mercifully kept disclosed for now (never more than you can bear, you know).

The thing now is to kick back. That being said, I hope you don't mind if I use this space to practice a little exercise. There have been many who have gone before me in this and have done it much more eloquently or with perhaps greater transparency, but I will simply try to keep myself accountable by posting here, for a little while at least, a list of daily thanks for things whether small or even smaller. An attempt to, if nothing else as I wait and ask for the haze to lift and my gaze to clear up, look for what is given instead of what is not.

Friday, April 9, 2010

As If I Needed Something Else to Do

You have to know I really wanted to write a post about Neil Postman, and some ranting about community and facebook and all that. 

But then I finished this hat, and being my first completed hat (well, there have been two others but one was for a small bear who lives atop the bunk bed and another fit more like a skull cap than a ski hat so I feel like they don't really count) I felt it deserved a celebration. 

My model was dressed by her eldest brother, a privilege he earned for completing some little task this morning. And his desire was to outfit her like a cowgirl. I'll have you know we don't normally do denim head to toe, but that was what the stylist picked and so there you have it.

The recipient of this little number is actually a bit smaller than the model pictured here. She is in fact still in utero and will hopefully be arriving sometime in the next few weeks. Hopefully she likes red.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

return to things

It doesn't take long, the reinstating of motherhood. They fared pretty well without me for nearly twelve days, and yet the routine that Daddy had down pat was broken within seconds of my arrival. In a way, I'm grateful the little one didn't cry for him like she does for me, I'm thrilled they were all so helpful and played so lovely together. It made my shoulders light and my heart free when I was so many thousand miles away. It's a mother-love thing, this crying and grasping at the knees. At least that's what I try to tell myself.

So I returned home to fevers and weepy eyes, but smiles all around. And the day routine is slowly finding its way back into my blood. That's what a few too many days away, sitting by the poolside and exploring ancient relics will do to you, make the day routine return slow.

Besides all their beautiful blue eyes and silly welcome pictures taped on the door, it's the little things that are bringing a happy, inward sigh and making me feel at home again. I kept the camera close the last day or two, just to help me see and remember them.

1. Sitting across from bright eyes as they peek over the table, munching lunch and peering intently at puzzle pieces.

2. Running painfully, laboriously up a seaside hill, spitting on the fact it's been two weeks since these burning lungs have tasted fast wind. But the tight calves and cleared mind make it worth it, and the smiling wave from my polar swimmer Chinese friend who laughs gleefully at my slog jog, gives these lips a grin in the hair whipping wind.

3. Walks along the city streets in the late afternoon sun, air warming slowly to the tune of coming spring and my little man at my side, chatting cheerfully as though I were his closest friend. 

4. The sights of familiarity as roasted sweet potatoes pushed on an old cart come rumbling our way.

5. Korean food.  Fresh and light and fully of salty, pickled flavor. A shared lunch in a small, upstairs room, bright with sunshine and the sounds of women cooking.

6. A boy with chopsticks and a silly smile. He seems so old, so grown up and boyish with his cocked hat and serious questions.

6. Baking. With the middle one in tow. Back to flour on the counter, on his shirt, in her hair, on the floor. But back to warm breads and fresh lemon scones, french-pressed goodness and homemade smells in the air.

It's good to be home, in China.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

why else do we Live?

And so today is Easter. The day of days, to remember the moment of all moments, when the powers of death were swallowed up in the light of an empty tomb. I have spent the last several weeks in preparation for this day, and it has helped me immensely. Perhaps it prepared me more than I could have realized, for today was anything but a festive day.

I remember as a college girl, enjoying the sunrise services deep in the heart of Philadelphia, the full brass ensemble echoing through Rittenhouse Square as pigeons pecked through the cobblestones and sparrows twittered cheerily in the cherry trees. I remember sitting up on the grassy rise in the backyard of my childhood home, wrapped in blankets, chomping away happily on warm muffins and hot chocolate as the sunbeams rose and we listened to the marvelous story. I am sure today all over the world there were cathedrals and high school gyms ablaze with the sounds of worship and thanksgiving, pomp and celebration. But today, we saw none of that.

Instead of a sunrise service, we were cuddled on the couch reading the Story together. Instead of community of worship, I was trying to unpack with a feverish daughter on my chest. Instead of the sound of choirs and congregations crying out with praise, my lone and simple voice rocked sickness with resurrection lullabies. Instead of an Easter feast with friends and family gathered ‘round, there was peanut butter and jelly, and rice for dinner, with a whimpering, sweaty brow tucked tight against my arms. It certainly wasn’t the festive celebration I would have planned or that I can hope for again come another year, but in many ways it was just what has been planned for all along.

I’ve been reading Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. It is such a beautiful book, on so many levels. If you haven’t already, please, please read it if you are able. This time around, a new voice has stood out to me: the simple, quiet housekeeper who lets out rooms to the suffering minister who has come to Johannesburg to find his wayward son. She is forever serving, allowing Kumalo to bring his prostitute sister and her small son in from the streets, then allowing him to bring yet another young girl his son has made with child. She cares for these girls, feeds the entire group, covers Kumalo with her prayers and her daily small kindnesses. Three or four times throughout the story, she is thanked. Each time, she simply says, “It is for this we were born” or, “why else do we live?”

I keep thinking of her response, her way of living, and I am brought low.

Broken and spilled out. Wounded for our transgressions. With his stripes, comes our healing. His was a life poured out, a cup offered up, a sacrifice laid down.

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Then he turns it on us to do the same. Powered by the same strength, armed with the same love, filled with the same Father-centered purpose, he asks us to lose our lives for the sake of others.

It’s what we’re to be known for isn’t it? It’s what makes us seem backward in a forward driven world. What seems more foreign to a survival-of-the-fittest humanity than giving up your own survival so another can thrive? Who thinks of others before their own interests are met? It seems like death, and indeed it is. For in losing your life, there you will find it.

Today I am humbled by my own ugliness, the sin that creeps up everywhere, clouding everything. I am humbled but I am lifted up. I died with him and now I can know raising life power. I feel defeat and yet I can claim victory because of Jesus. It is all Jesus. There is nothing for me but Jesus. I see him, high and lifted up, the Suffering Servant who bears all our sin and shame, and washes me clean once and for all- and over and over again.

I sit here with my weak little girl, writhing in her achiness, unable to do much but hold and rock her gently and I know that this is just the Easter celebration I need. He came to serve, he gave it all, he lost his life to give me mine, he rose again to make it sure, and I am learning day in, day out, “for what else are we Born?”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

egypt :: cairo uncovered

Finally, today, I felt like I saw Cairo. So be prepared... I have posted lots of pictures. For the whole set, click here to view them on flickr.

We headed out this morning to the popular market known as Khan el Khalili, and were dropped off on a dirty side street corner with a finger pointing us "that way" before driving off in the ever busy traffic. We crept hesitantly into what seemed to be back corridors and a maze of secret passageways. Suddenly, a friendly "student" walked up and politely informed us we were on the Egyptian side of the market, whereas the Tourist side was on the other side of the busy street. No matter, this is the side to be on apparently; no tourists and cheaper prices, and of course legitimate handicrafts, food, and goods as opposed to the knock off, made in China junk from the other side of the road.

We soon found out our extremely knowledgable guide was a local university student who is studying antiquities. He led us to the most beautiful mosque in the city, knew all its ins and outs and how to climb the tower, the dates and names of those who had built it, the streets to head down to find the most well known and respected papyrus maker/painter in the city (there was a stack of highlighted guidebooks on the artist's table to drive home the point... he is a legend), the best kebabs, and the Old Spice Market. Now, whether or not this student just "happened" to be there as we teased him about all day, he was still very friendly and compliant, not pushy, and of such vital importance to us (as we soon discovered wandering hopelessly in the maze at his mercy) that we were happy to comply and send him off with a handsome tip at the end of the day.

After spending most of the day climbing towers, exploring mosques, pushing our way through markets and wandering through ancient city streets, we headed down to the Nile for a traditional Falukah ride. This was an old sailboat that took us out on the most refreshing and beautiful early evening tour of the river, especially after a long and exhilirating day of walking and exploring.

After a long day of snapping the camera at everyone and everything else, I thought a little proof that I had in fact been there as well was in order. One posed and one self-portrait are enough for now:)

Hopefully the pictures speak for themselves. I am sitting in a hotel lobby, hocking internet time and it is time to sign off. Good night from Cairo!