Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pretty Things

Just a few things that caught my eye this weekend.
I finally started up on a knitting project again, and it felt just right.
The stools became happy, dressed in red.
We hung a dish rack, and the counter doubled in size.
That afghan I found thrifting this summer still brings me a little kick of joy every time I look at it lying on my daughter's bed.
Pizza for dinner, with friends. Homemade ricotta. The best.

And well, I'm finding myself in a bit of a rut with online inspiration... so if you have a favorite place you visit-- do share!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

{book}worm wednesday :: a summer list of sorts

Between the shopping and the traveling this summer, reading took a bit of a hit. I did squeeze a few in and they were so refreshing to me that if there had to be only a couple, I'm grateful they were these particular books.

The first is, Romey's Place: A Novel. If ever I could write a story, I would like to write one like this. It is full of honesty and the struggles that make up most of our real lives, but it is a "seeing" story that has clean truth to it, the kind that just sits with you and can make you feel at once uncomfortable and sort of peacefully happy at the same time. I love the boys in this story, and their friendship. It is poignant and far from cookie cutter. I love the picture it paints of the good and the hard of relationships with fathers, and the depth and complexity of our love for them and theirs for us. And it talks about churches and community and sometimes the confusing mess they can all get into. Just overall a great story, and wonderful themes within it.

Next was Joni Erickson Tada's A Place of Healing. I continue to appreciate the life and story and writing of Joni so much. I've shared before of how she had such solvent words during the first days of grief when our friend's boy died this past March. This woman knows about a life of suffering. She knows about crying out to God for answers and struggling with the questions we've asked for centuries. And she just glows with the life of Jesus flowing through her. She is so real, and yet so different. I praise God for her because that is all you can do when you see His work in others-- and I believe it must be nothing but His work in her. So this book is another evidence of that-- the chronicle of her continued struggle with pain as she faced a new chapter of suffering in her life. She doesn't mince words or make it sound easy, but she does seek Him and she works and doing what He says-- and she finds grace to help her in her time of need. She sees God healing parts of her that are far more important than her limbs. She lives with a hope that is unfading and grows brighter each passing day. I was challenged, encouraged, and washed with her words as I read.

Ha. I told you the list was short.

I did buy a couple books I'm looking forward to though. Do you want to hear about those?

Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.
Heard lots of good things about this book. And it's M.L'Engle, how could it not be good?

Churchill. by Paul Johnson.
An interesting fellow I dare say. I think my mom bought this one for us though.

Give Them Grace. by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson.
I've started this book already and can say it is just what I need to read at this stage in life and parenting. I am being challenged to rethink the way I pursue my children and my own response to and understanding of God's grace towards me and them every single day. I've heard one criticism about the book... that perhaps the examples are a bit unrealistic (as far as being able to spend about ten paragraphs explaining something succinctly to your child, and still find them listening in the end)... and I do think that may be true. However, I am finding it helpful at least to see the "language" and thought process worked out, and then proceed to bumble my own way through fleshing it out. I've stalled with the reading so The Man and I can do it together in a few weeks.

Knitter's Almanac by Elizabeth Zimmerman
I feel like a real knitter now! I own Elizabeth Zimmerman!

The Eve Tree by Rachel Devenish Ford
Rae lives in India with her husband and four young children. Several of them have dreads, and they travel the world. She is a blogger and extremely gifted writer. I've followed her at journeymama for a year or so now and knew she was a writing a book, so when she published it this summer- I grabbed a copy. For some reason I have not been able to read it yet. Perhaps now is the time.

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross, and
Lent and Easter Wisdom by Henri Nouwen
What can I say? This theme excites me. I do love me some Henri Nouwen too.

Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson
This is a cookbook. It is gorgeous. I love the photos... if I could be a photographer for real this is what I would love to do. Take pictures of food. Anyway.
I've enjoyed recipes from Heidi's popular 101cookbooks for some time, and this book seems like a lovely compilation. The ingredient lists are for the most part, friendly to me even in China. Fresh vegetables, grains (most of which I can get or substitute something like, say rice for). Give me a recipe with garlic, sea salt, olive oil, broccoli, almonds,  feta cheese and grains and girl you have me sold. I did find that all the recipes I was trying were somewhat similar though so time to branch out.

In other parts of this house there is a bit of reading going on as well. Somehow the kids ended up with Moby Dick as their nightly story. Granted, it is a very condensed "young readers" version but still. Listening in as I patter around the house while their dad reads to them, it doesn't sound that much more exciting. But somehow they listen, or sleep. I'm not sure.

The Man just finished Same Kind of Different As Me and really enjoyed it. He's also been working on Peter the Great by Robert K. Massie which he swears is an excellent read about that time period in general. I do believe I will take his word on that. No really though, I'm sure I would enjoy it and so would you.

And thank you all for your kind comments and emails yesterday. They did warm my not-quite-at-home heart over here. I really appreciate hearing from you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day by Day

Normally this blog is a sanctuary of sorts for me. It gives me a space to let out a little creativity, or to share something I'm working on or thinking through that excites me, maybe challenges me. I think it bums me out when I have nothing to offer here. Whether it's full days that channel all my energy into other tasks, or just a waning in creative thought, I don't like feeling stuck, or dry, or whatever it is.

I think it may take me awhile to hit my stride in this place. Even though we are settling in okay... kids doing well in school and with friends (a huge blessing), job going fairly as expected, our home coming along slowly but surely, I just don't feel myself at all. My regular tasks are sort of constant-- getting the kids to school and shopping for food (which these days and often in China feels like foraging or hunting), washing, hanging, and folding endless laundry, cleaning, preparing, caring for the kids needs when they return home, etc. etc. I suppose it is the other routines of my day that feel a little lost. Maybe it's the people that were a part of them, or the places I loved to go. I just haven't found those things quite yet here.

All the pictures above are from our short walk or ride to school in the morning. It's the only place I've been able to take my camera out with me. I am itching to find something more interesting. I guess I feel a bit like an intruder again with the camera too. I don't know these markets or streets, and I feel funny poking my lens into their faces or places. Maybe it's that I'm trekking around on a bike more too... and that makes it harder to stop and take pictures, especially when you have a wide load (almost 3 year old) strapped behind you. I don't know... whatever it is that's stopping me, I don't like it. I want to get over it.

I want to get over it, but I do think all I can do is just take the day in front of me and do with it what I can. Day by Day... it's my theme of late and I think it may be growing into a lifelong one. You really can't handle more than a day at a time. Daily Bread, Daily Manna, Give us Today the grace we need... not enough for a week or a year or the child-rearing years, but just Today. I've noticed He really does do that too. You worry about tomorrow and it does you no good. You don't even know what tomorrow will hold, which way things will go. But you take what is in front of you and He helps you through it. And you do the same thing with the next day, and the next task, and one... step... at a time.

 I think there just may be something to it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I made my bed and other things

I made my bed today. It felt nice, even though I've had to "rework" it a little since we used to own a queen and were surprised to show up to a king. Not a bad surprise really, once you get over the pretty sheets you just bought and can't use. But I still like my bed and it made it feel a bit more like home, now that it's made.

I also made dinner. Butter Chicken Curry with rice and some beans thrown in to keep everyone eating their greens. Also cauliflower, and carrots. Then there was popsicles for dessert, which were more like popsicle-smoothies since apparently the freezer isn't really, well, freezing so much. It feels good to make dinner. More like home.

I found a vegetable market down the road that I really like. A friend took me on her electric scooter, which apparently is the primary way to get around here. Or on bikes. But when you need to carry a lot of stuff, which I generally do when it comes to food shopping, a bike doesn't always cut it. So I guess we need to buy a scooter now. And a dryer (which, yay, we have room for in this apartment), or so says my husband who was frowning at the slightly mildewish scent coming off of his shirt this morning. I would frown too, I guess. Although the scent of mildew makse it feel a little like home too... like home in China during the hot, humid summer.

I'm finding that things are a little better than I expected. The dialect here, while strong, is not so prevalent that I can't communicate with anyone (which I sort of imagined after hearing numerous stories). I've successfully ordered water, given a driver directions, bought vegetables and fruit, talked to the guards about parking questions, and apologized to a the poor woman Curls ran into on his bike today (whaaa??). Yes, things are definitely better than I expected. And starting to feel a very tiny bit like home.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Moving In (our apartment)

Internet. Brilliant. I've been able to send emails, skype, send messages on facebook, read the news, and now update the blog. It's a little overwhelming to try and come back here after being away for even a few weeks. There seems to be too much to say, which I'm not going to say (her nap only lasts for so long anyway). But I know many of you are like I was only a few weeks ago, and that is dying to know just what this place (specifically our apartment) would look like, and how the whole move thing would go.

We have so very much to be thankful for right now. I've been rehearsing many of the things over and over in my head, now that I'm over jet lag and those first hours of coffee deprived depression. I'm afraid I'll forget many of them or won't be able to state them here, but just so you know what I know and that is the we have been well taken care of. That is true most obviously by our fellow staff members here at the school who have prepared for our arrival, welcomed us with open and generous arms, and have worked hard to help us in many ways.

It is less obvious to others, but increasingly obvious to me and my family that God has been taking care of us most of all. This morning before we left for the first day of school, I gathered up the kids on the couch to read from the Word and pray before the day began. We read of Moses and the Israelites coming to a full stop at the Red Sea, with the Egyptians bearing down behind them and the wall of uncrossable water before them. And God made a way. He was always taking care of them. Earlier in the morning I had read on my own from Psalm 95, where the Lord reminds his people to come and worship him with thanksgiving because of his great works, because he is their shepherd and they are the people of his pasture. He is always making a way for them. It even talks of when you hear his voice, not to harden your heart like the children of Israel once did when things got hard in the wilderness. Those were comforting and challenging words to this child too.

We follow a God who leads, and who provides, and who makes a way. It does not mean the way is always easy- but he is there and walking us through it. We are experiencing that even now and I am filled with joy at the ways I am seeing him provide, sometimes even for the little "desires of my heart" as we've left some important things behind us.

In the midst of all that, there is the actual moving in and transitioning process that we are up to our necks in. The Man has been away at school from dawn to dusk working hard at getting things rolling for the school year while we have been at home, trying to unpack, organize, shop, find food, make food, play, and stay sane. I knew this part would be challenging. I have to say again the women here have been so lovely and generous, taking my kids several times to allow me a shopping trip or two or three to get bookcases or food or an oven (still not hooked up). But there is still so much to do with all of us here together and it has not been the easiest thing I've ever done. There have been several videos played on the laptop if that tells you anything. But regardless, we are beginning to make headway and I am really enjoying this new space to live in.

What follows is some photos of our place, in the raw, from last week, mainly so you can see the place and then in a few weeks I hope to be able to update with some lovely "after" photos. My favorite things about this apartment are it's simplicity (chinese apartments can often be, to my western tastes, gaudy and overdone), the amount of natural light... LOVE, the cleanliness and lack of mold since it is an unused apartment, and the size of the kitchen. While we're at it let's also give a shout out to elevators (we live on the fifth floor), patios for bikes, another patio for laundry (though it's uncovered... will have to get used to that), air conditioning, and king size beds (a surprise- but a welcome one!)

The kitchen, which I've since covered with contact paper... you'll see later.

Living Room, needing a lot of work.

Looking at the entryway (on the left) from the living room. Kitchen door is across from entryway.

The dining room opens up off the LR, and has huge windows!!

Dining. Room. Small table. Banged up cabinet. But lots of light.

Bathroom. With window! Plain colored tile!

But we did have to laugh at this lone piece of tile on the wall... all my efforts to keep the boy's eyes pure down the drain.

Guess Bedroom/Office. Obviously, needs a lot of work. But it has a ton of light and interesting shape to it.

Kid's room. We gave them the MBR. I love the way they make window seats in all the bedrooms here. Have I mentioned that yet?

And now, since you've seen the mess, a few things that are making me happy.

My antique chinese doors in my favorite color in China. I just love them. They need a pretty paint color behind them and then they will shine...

Some things are getting organized.

The window seat again... and the kids love it too. I'm making it into a library corner.

But really, most of the house still looks like this.

The view from our LR, DR, and Kids Room. It's not the sea, but a sea of rooftops, and we like it! At least it's not the wall of another apartment building next door.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

We Are Here (but just barely)

Whew! I'm delighted to be back here, even if it's just for a few moments, and who knows how many more days until our internet is hooked up. For now I am locked away in an office away from our home, pawning internet time off someone else's computer.

We arrived, we made it. All five of us and all twenty bags (that includes carry ons and "personal bags" like purses, okay?). The kids were wonderful travelers, and I've come to appreciate that about and almost expect it from them. Except for Scout, who can be a bit of a firecracker. But with her Daddy around this time it seemed to go much smoother.

It is lush and green here; the trees are taller and more plentiful. The kids keep asking if there is a beach around here. No, but there are PANDAS, which is what everyone and their mother tried to tell us when we announced our move, in some sort of attempt to comfort us, I guess. Do most people find that much comfort in being able to peep at a Panda sleeping several meters away behind a fence?

Our apartment is quite lovely. It has a ton of natural light, which is one of the most important things in the world to me (when it comes to apartments at least). We packed the three kids into the master bedroom since it was quite large and will accommodate all their toys and clothes and beds. That leaves two more bedrooms, one for all the myriad of guests we are expecting/planning/counting on having as well as a desk and probably all my ironing (which will get done), and one little bedroom for us.

The past week has been a memorable one in my own life. This move feels harder than any other for many reasons, and though over the past several months I have been seeking to accept it and engage in it, the reality of it hit pretty hard those first twenty four hours. I felt homesick, tired, overwhelmed, cranky, ungrateful, unwilling, depressed, and I should stop there. Slowly though, as the hours have passed and another box has found itself unpacked, or as the kids have slept a few more hours on the correct time zone schedule, and as I've poured my heart out to God, I have seen things brighten up.

It is true that thankfulness can be one of the keys to joy and acceptance and worship. It is also true that sleep and good coffee can be one of the keys to a more enthusiastic attitude towards unpacking and watching small children at the same time. I am attempting good doses of all of the above.

So far, we have found that bikes and electric scooters are in more frequent use here than in our previous city. We have found friends of various ages and genders (though we still talk and think about the ones we are missing), we have tasted excellent peaches and eaten delicious street food noodles. We have found a few of our things that we thought were missing (and are still determining what must be missing that we thought we still had). We have determined that we love the window seats in each of the bedrooms and that the bright orange cabinets in the kitchen had to go (and so were covered with contact paper). We have said over and over again that we are so thankful to be here, even though it is not all easy.

I hope to be back on here in a few days, perhaps with pictures (though I left my battery charger in that states, arg, so hopefully a new one can be located soon), or perhaps with words. It's a whole new Home Made In China and we must get on with it!