Monday, June 27, 2011

Over the Top

Delightful dish, Tortellini Salad from Supernatural Everyday which just arrived in the mail!

You would think that the rows or fresh cheeses or endless pasta choices (orzo!) would do it to me. Or the shelves neatly stacked with bed linens in beautiful colors and high thread counts would send me over the top.
Or to stray from the consumer arena, maybe it should be the little bounty of fresh produce we haul in from the garden each day; this week broccoli and asparagus and fresh mulberries with rhubarb, next month heirloom tomatoes, snow peas and sweet peppers. If that wasn’t enough, maybe it should be the thick carpet of grass that stretches an acre plus behind the house and is free of any dog droppings or spots where a taxi driver (or twenty) may have relieved himself.
The blue skies, so so blue. The fresh air. The familiar sound of my own language. A bookstore. Driving. I already mentioned the cheese (feta, everyday. Shaved parmesan for dinner. Goat, tomorrow).

But lo and behold, let me tell you, in all of God’s goodness that he showers on me each day, the greatest to me right now is that I am not filled with regret, or longing to stay in this place, my home away from home. I am delighted to be here. I am relishing the days and the sunshine and my children getting dirty in the backyard with their cousins each day. I am soaking up all the good food. I am refreshed daily by the presence of my gracious and loving family. But I can, and I will, with a full heart, leave this place.
The past several months have been difficult, with goodbyes and the sorrow that comes when you have to leave a place you have rooted into, and that you love. But with the leaving has also been the assurance, perhaps moreso than ever before in our lives, that this is a move God is asking us to make.
That sounds, well, strong to me. I don’t hear God speak. I ask him for direction. I trust that He leads me. I read His Word and believe that it is Truth spoken both to my daily circumstance as well as the big picture of my life and the whole of the world and history. But I don’t know Hear his voice audibly, which makes knowing what he is saying for certain nearly impossible, which is also why much of His leading can be an unnerving thing to follow.
 But we have sensed His leading in the ways that He graciously does so, and in choosing to follow, regardless of the discomfort or sadness or possibility of great upheaval in our lives, we have experienced His peace. He is a strength-giver after all, and in our weakness, he is able most to shine all strong and glorious. I already sense that strength; in the contentment, in the peace, in the fact that though things don’t look exactly promising, I am not afraid of the leaving or of what may come.
So right now we are enjoying all the simple and delightful pleasures around us, and preparing to take a few of those back with us, of course. But more than anything I am taking with me this daily assurance, this inner joy that is given each step of the way.

Among the Fields of Corn

We drove down to the middle of Indiana yesterday. A friend from China was getting married.

We left with plenty of time, packed a picnic lunch, and found a nice little road off the main highway next to some cornfields (There is actually nothing but cornfields. Still, we were happy to have them). We were all dressed pretty nice, at least far nicer than we normally are. We were going to see friends we haven't seen in weeks, since being back in the Sates. It should have been grand. But we got lost on those very same nice little roads off the main highway, next to and surrounded by all those lovely cornfields.

We missed the ceremony.

And the Scout was a bit of a stinker (really, much worse than that), which was less than glamorous and wonderful, but still it was a nice pretty drive through the heartland of America and we got to see our friends and the beautiful, stunning bride at the reception and have cake and a secret family recipe punch that was pretty exciting for everyone under six (and me too to be honest).

And then there was this moment, which hoepfully isn't offensive because in my book, it was pretty priceless.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

For My Man :: me all me

We are going on 19 days now without the Man. We really miss him. He misses us too. He asks for pictures, anything, more often than I post them. It's easy enough to chase the kids around with the camera, but not so easy to turn it on myself. For one, it's just plain physically awkward to get more than my nose ring in the picture when the lens is only an arm length away.  So my SIL, Josey who has an incredible eye both in photography and all other aesthetic details in life, snapped a few for me today.

These next two crack me up. First one: the normal, everyday look on my face and behavior of my needy children recently. The second: *click* yes, we're a nice happy family minus our fearless leader.

Only a few more days til we reunite! We love and miss you, you fabulous man you! Can't wait to have you all to ourselves.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gone Camping

One of my goals for the summer: take the boys camping. Not because I don't think girls should camp (obviously) but because my boys would appreciate it most at this point, and my life is one hundred thousand times easier camping without the Scout. So that was my goal, and this past weekend we completed it. Yay.

It really could not have gone much better, as far as my expectations were concerned (except for the racuous party going on the next site over well into the wee hours for the morning). Beautiful, adventurous, perfect-for-six-and-unders hiking, campfires, s'mores, gang of reunited friends (moms included), swimming, delicious food (we don't skimp when we're roughin' it), delicious coffee (we don't skimp when we're roughin' it), and lots of "Mom, this is the best thing ever. Can we do this every summer?!"

Friday, June 17, 2011

In the Evening

This yard is so beautiful in the evening. The white tufts being shed from the tall cottonwoods float lazily in the shafts of setting sunlight (we sneeze and rub our itchy, watering eyes),  and the whole place seems to take on a magical glow. The kids can't help but be drawn to the trampoline for one last round before baths and books, even though they've spent half the day there already.

I told him to give me a smile for his newly shorn head. It was starting to look like a giant ball of ratted curls... his nearly four year old cousin even said he looked rather furry. Something had to be done. I think he must feel about ten pounds lighter.

They've all been doing rather well together, even taking care of one another's cuts and bruises. That is, when they're not having a round of "he pushed me!" and other meaningful, conclusive debates.

Tomorrow we are heading out to meet some dear friends and their kids for a short camping trip a few hours away. It's an old favorite haunt of mine from growing up and I can't wait to share it with my boys, though we're a little sad Daddy can't join us. Soon enough (but not really). We miss you honey!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's Just All So Big.

Everything seems so very big here. Shopping carts are twice the size and seem like giant cavernous oil barrels tucked against my belly, waiting to suck my wallet dry. The cars are big, the refrigerators (oh for the freezer space!), the milk cartons (a gallon? all at once??), the sinks. Even the cleavage is big in this country. Or at least it's big in your face and I've become so accustomed to and thankful for the mismatched but charmingly covered up styles of China.

Bigger... the yards, that everyone has (as least in suburbia), the heights of the counter tops which my lower back is singing the halleluiah chorus over, the bread loaves, the drinking glasses. It's almost like leaving a land of miniature play things and finding yourself in Papa Bear's Too Big Chair (or bed, or bowl of porridge). It feels like it doesn't fit, or you don't fit, or to be slightly less dramatic, like you shrank to about half your size.

I remember feeling this way, though in flip-flopped proportions, when we first arrived in China. Everything seemed so small. The counter tops were my first sign, then the shopping carts. All I had was some saltine crackers and Ramen soup (nothing else looked familiar) and my cart already seemed full. I wanted to cry, mostly just because nothing looked familiar.

But now all that seems normal, and this seems like a strange forgotten world. That's the funny thing about all this culture hopping- they are both my worlds now. I run the neighborhood streets here and my mind jumps back to Jayme Vanheusen* from the 6th grade and how she was the first one to get a bra and be kissed by a boy, and I pass the house of the guy I once had a crush on and the coach I couldn't stand. A breeze blows in the backyard and I can almost taste those nights when the cloak of autumn surrounded me and all I could do was dream of going far away to college.

This world that seems so strangely foreign right now also shrinks up against my skin like cling wrap- it knows who it once held and I am not a complete stranger to it. Such a strange sensation to be here and feel like the time that I once lived here is lifetimes away, and yet the home that sits uppermost in my mind and heart is on the other side of the world and seems almost like a dream when I'm bombarded with all this Bigness.

And my kids are so confused. Where we've left and where we are and where we're going and where Daddy is and where we're returning to and when he's coming and what the name of this city or country or state or who knows what is... it's all a toss up.

I like it though, in a confused and unsettled sort of way. I like that I don't live here now, and that my friends are from Australia, the Philippines, Korea, and California (that's like another country, right?). I'm thankful we can come here to enjoy mixed greens from my dad's garden and feta and sliced turkey breast like it's no big deal, but also know that many of these comforts are not expected or supplied in most of the world. And that's not even to say that we do without very much in China. We have a lot. But it's different than here, and did I say this before? Everything here is bigger.

*obviously, that's not her real name.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Forts and Thrifting Make Me Happy

It probably goes without saying that where we live, this kind of thing doesn't happen too often, if ever.

I was actually impressed that they hit the nail on the head, repeatedly.

Grampa has rules like, if you want to play in it you have to help build it. On trip 155 of carting wood scraps for the roof out to the site, some kids had a harder time with that rule than others. But this is where the Miller Work Ethic comes from and maybe a crack at it once every two years will be enough to instill some sense of it in these, my city-dwelling children. One can hope.

And what was I doing while all this hard work was going on? Well, taking pictures. And then later...

I have to tell you that one of the things I miss most (I know that is strong language) while living in China is the thrift store shopping. I have furnished three homes in the past with thrift stores and today could have nearly furnished a fourth... but that home is somewhere on the other side of the world and I'm sure it would make little sense for me to pay hundreds of dollars in baggage fees to ship items I bought for 25 cents.

Anyway, I still have a couple projects to shop for and today I was pretty ecstatic to find just what I was looking for. Excuse my extreme dorkiness... yes, I did sit these guys down for a photograph.

Exhibit A: cute gingham dress for Scout, cherry bathing suit (going to return the one I bought at Target today), miniature "vegetable shopping" bag. (also, the moss green suitcase above is soulemama style... for dress up clothes or storing scrap material in)

Exhibit B: Vintage purse for me (since I've disliked all the ones in the stores and my coffee stained cloth shoulder bag is almost embarrassing), vintage dishtowels that were EXACTLY what I was envisioning when I set out on this quest to find them. Yay.

Exhibit C: Miniature Kitchen Set. Remember this link I posted a few weeks ago? I've long been dreaming of creating some sort of kitchen play area for my daughter/kids. I know it's probably something that I'll have more fun with than they will, and that's okay. My idea is to make a simple play set out of old furniture or something to that effect, once we get back. But I'd like to find little vintage (and cheap!) items here in the thrift stores to stock it. Today was a good start.

I tell you, a lot of fun can be had with a hammer and few quarters in your pocket.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

For Daddy

For Daddy, who is away.
Just a few pictures of the kids.
He said 200 a day would be enough, thank you.
Well, here's seven.
And actually, one is just a rose.
But it reminds me of him because that's where we walked the day we said our vows,
and this whole crazy thing began.
And we planted those roses.

Anyway, this kid has learned to ride a bike in the last few days.
I'm so proud of him, considering the shaky start he's had over the last six months.

And this one, she's all about puddles. Stepping in them, drowning her face in them... with tears.
She's a mess, but she's ours and so gladly but with a bit of trepidation and a lot of stumbling humility we'll walk this puddled road with her.

The oldest was gladly participating, but somehow just thought this face was uber cool, and couldn't get past that idea. Sorry.

She almost made him crack a smile though.

Hope you are cracking one too.

We love and miss you Daddy!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rainy Day and Re-entry

After our first two scorching days here, it is raining today; a welcome relief and helping us to enjoy to some of the simple treats inside, like an old book on how to make paper airplanes.

The comfort of all these giant cottonwoods wading in their sea of lush green grass, as well as the presence of my ever-helpful parents and the quieting surroundings of home, and green, and everything in my own language is not lost on me.

But there is still jet lag, which wakes everyone up at the wrong hours of the night and makes them crash hard in the middle of the day. And there is this pressure mounting somewhere behind my eyes and hovering over my shoulders with all the people that need to be seen and the doctor's appointments and the fact that we are in a very small house and that my two year old has turned into something out of a nightmare. She's two, and that could be it. Or we've traveled half the world and just finished packing up our entire life, and that could be it. Or she's spirited and strong and has no ability to control herself at this point in her life, and that could be it. Or all of these things.

And I suppose there may be part of me that is beginning to feel the same way as this spirited two year old who wailed, "I want to go hoooooome!!" repeatedly on the plane, likely feeling as though the seats and confinement and food was not quite as comfortable as the bed in her old room. I don't want to go home right now, but I know that when we do leave the States next month to return to China, it will not be to anything familiar. And though I've mostly been trying to work through that transition in my head and heart and felt as though it was going rather, well, normal... the fact that there is no apartment yet waiting for us, and that our stuff still sits in our apartment in Qingdao without anything quite finalized as to the date or even how it will be moved, has left me feeling pretty unsettled myself.

Two years ago, on our first trip back to the States for the summer, I had grand and elevated ideas and excitement about what that visit would look like. Then reality with a 7 month old nursing baby and jet lag and sleepless nights which affected my entire demeanor and ability to visit well with people I'd been missing for two years rudely interrupted that idyllic picture. And this time around I may have done it again. Maybe a two and a half year old doesn't travel much better. Other factors have also once again taken over and I'm beginning to think a little re-adjustment in what I think or know these precious few weeks will look like is in order.

Re-adjustment may just look like: a good cry (check), prayer and surrender (check, check, check... keep checking), a good talk with my mom... "perhaps there is more joy when you receive something if you did not first demand your own way" (check), a trip to Target (check).

The trip to Target proved to have it's own emotional landscape to maneuver. Often the first entry into a store in the States after a couple years away can produce some intense reactions. I've heard of many friends who have left in tears without buying anything, because they feel so overwhelmed... by the sheer variety of options in the shampoo aisle. This may not be so extreme anymore, as more and more is available in China. But I dare say it is still overwhelming.

What triggered it for me this time was strangely enough, the medicine aisle. The bandaid selections and row upon row of remedy for nearly any ailment you can imagine, and all so clearly laid out and explained for you in your own language! I kid you not there were tears forming in my eyes. Is it because I miss this? Because I feel the disparity between what I could have on a daily basis and don't? Because I feel at a loss over what to choose to bring with me and what to do without? I mean, we always have done without and so many people do... do I need this stuff?

And then the most ridiculous thing I saw today had to have been the miniature size filtered water dispenser for your pet dog. The sight of it just sent me over the top. There is nothing you cannot get here.

Oh, the joys of re-entry! They are numerous and confusing and I gladly welcome them... most of them. I can hear the marbles clicking right now as Gramma plays a fierce round of Chinese checkers with the boys, and sweet Scout is curled up on the bed upstairs. But she slept through most of the night last night and may be on her way to a normal schedule. 

My heart knows this is what He has for us right now and that instead of tightening up, I need to bow my head and open my hands, unclench them every day, over and over. These days, full as they are with all manner of change and upheaval, they are a gift.