Mostly what they want is to be held. Tightly. One of them has a sweet smile and clear eyes, but soon his groping hands on your face, your hair, tells you those clear eyes are not working for him. To him I am not a foreigner, or a stranger, but a pair of warm arms, a willing embrace. Does he meet those kinds of arms often?
Another one, she squats outside the glass doors that keep them all in the large room with sparse furnishings and walls chipping with paint. She scoops rice and broth from a bowl listlessly into her mouth, eyeing me as I squat next to her. Her hair is short, face expressionless, but she looks to be fourteen and the little one next to her affirms it when I ask the question. I ask her if she likes to read and she nods. I ask her if she can read and she nods. But later I find out her mind is that of a three year old.
The babies lay, lined in their cribs, bottles propped. They are well clothed, so much so that their little heads glisten with beads of sweat. Some watch me with their eyes. The one I hold has purple lips and fair skin, a heart condition apparently. He is tender, surprisingly, tucking his moist head into my neck, searching my face, gripping my fingers as I hold his little hand.
It is a small place, very meager in supplies but enough to keep the children surviving, if not necessarily thriving. You can't help but wonder what help, what difference it makes to hold and to hug for a few short hours every couple of weeks. I wish they were nearby instead of a couple hours drive.
Do you take the baby home, the one they say will not live... to let his last days be in a home, in your arms, where he will be loved? What do you say to the little one in the corner, on the bucket all day, to let him know he is cared about?
Do not withold good from those who deserve it,
when it is in your power to act.
I hold, and whisper prayers. I speak soothing words. He gives grace to the humble (Prov 3:34) Are there any more humble than these? Is there special grace for them? I give so little. They need so much.
Monday morning here, and I bring you another Before and After tour from our lovely apartment.
This is our kitchen, the room with the least natural light, but made up for by amount of space (at least in comparison to what I have had before in China) . What id does receive comes from that tiny window that is actually filtered through the small laundry balcony it looks onto. There is a door on both ends of the kitchen, which also let in a small amount of secondary natural light.
As you can see from the Before picture, the cubboards are a bright, tangerine orange which could work for some people or maybe someone with a more modern sense of taste, but for me were a little too much. So, I covered them with contact paper I had brought back from the States with crossed fingers (knowing I was coming back to orange cupboards but not having seen them yet). The contact paper worked great and I have been so happy with the result.
We had to add a lot of storage, so put in two shelves above the sink as well as two hanging racks for drying dishes, and on the opposite wall, a large white cupboard from a secondhand alley in Qingdao, as well as a utility shelf from IKEA to place our oven, microwave, and baking pans, etc. on. (the oven is a story in itself. It must be plugged directly into a wall outlet to receive enough power, but there are no outlets along the floor- only high near the ceiling, but the cord is short, so it had to be placed high enough on a shelf to reach the outlet. Sheesh. And that outlet was also the only available outlet for the refrigerator, so another cord had to be re-routed along the floor from another way high-up-in-the-sky outlet on the other end of the kitchen. I'd love to talk to the people who wired this place)
The counter tops may come up to my knees, and the water has to be blasted full force (which because of the mismatched size of sink to length of spout, causes of a lot of water sprayage on the pants and counter area...) in order to trip the hot water heater, but even with these small (and they are small) little glitches, I really enjoy this little kitchen. And I have enjoyed making it come to life, or to a place that reflects my sensibilities and tastes a little more and makes me feel at home. Putting it to good use is the best way to do that too, and we do so each and every day.
Mix dry ingredients together, then cut in butter until resembles coarse crumbs.
Mix in cinnamon chips.
Whip together wet ingredients. Pour into a well in center of dry ingredients and stir gently together with fork just until moistened. Gently knead several times on floured surface until dough forms. Shape into circle about 1/2 in. thick. Either cut small triangles, or circular biscuit shapes. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in 425 degree oven for about 15-20 min, checking for lightly browned tops.
One of my favorite breakfast treats is a good scone. I would be pleased with almost any variation, but one that is a favorite around this house and especially during these cooler months is cinnamon chip scones. Because of a superfluous amount of pumpkin puree hanging out in my kitchen after a big happy pumpkin found it's way home with me the other day, I decided to add pumpkin to the equation. The result is not an overly dry scone (which some may prefer), but it sure is delicious. I would recommend doubling the recipe and freezing some, or eating them all at once. My only regret this time? Not making them into the pretty triangles I love. I was going for smaller since they were partly for a brunch treat. But in the end, a scone is a scone is a scone as it melts in my happy little mouth.
I am sitting here with glands swollen like elephants, a throat that feels like knives are having a slasher party down there, a head that feels like someone is trying to hammer open a melon, and chills (any good word pictures for chills?)
What am I doing on here then, you may wonder.
Well, in spite of my poor wretched body issues (that will of course, fade in time) I am floating on stars. It's not that big of a deal really. You might think we just received our long awaited reference for an adoption (we're not adopting), or a check for a large sum of money. But in fact, all we received was two lovely packages in the mail.
I am not sure why these things encourage me so much. But often for me, it is the little things. Now, my life is not super dramatic (Don't roll your eyes at me. Really. Deep down I know it's not.) and it is pretty much made up of little things. Little events, little victories, little struggles (that I make rather important and all encompassing), little tasks, even little people just now. So it is no surprise to me that just a few small gestures can make me feel like the floodgates have opened.
For instance, the other day, it was sunny out. Sunny. And clear. With blue skies. I felt like I had to look up all day long and just mutter "thank you" over and over again. I couldn't get enough of it. You know what it did for me? It reminded me that even though most of the days will be gray here... there will be days of sun. There will be reprieve. It gave me a glimpse of hope. A little thing, I know-- but it was big to me.
Then there was a day where I didn't cry as I sat praying at our kitchen table, looking over the vast sea of houses and construction cranes jutting the sky like a herd of Brontosaurus. It's great to cry. I'm not against it. But I felt okay, not like I was barely going to make it through the morning. Did my hormones just calm down that morning? Or was it a comfort from a Great Comforter. Maybe both. But anyway, little thing as it was, it too gave me a glimpse of hope.
I've also written a little of how much it has blessed me watching our kids play and be together lately. They still fight and lash out at one another every single day. But there is so much good to see too, and it has encouraged me. It's such a little thing- but it has lifted my spirits.
The Man and I, we are so blessed. But there are plenty of times when we don't bless each other. There are times when, in the midst of a struggle between us, I have felt exasperated and caught in the dead end of a narrow alley-- having no idea where to turn and feeling rather hopeless. But God in his goodness, He has helped us time and time again. He makes me humble when I don't feel one ounce of humility. He sheds light on both our selfish hearts when all we want to do is rage and retaliate. And when that happens, as it did again the other night- I feel hope.
So today, when we received two unexpected and unsolicited packages in the mail, I was lifted high by such a little thing. My mother has always sent packages, and she is a supreme package sender. She sends gifts and thoughtful treats and anything I ask for with regularity. And while I delight in her packages, somehow you expect your mother to do such things. Not that it doesn't make you grateful, or even feel undeserving, but it is just that you are not blown out of the water when she makes the effort time after time. But when someone sends you something who has no sense of obligation (my mother, let me be sure to note, is no obligated gift giver. And she attaches no strings... a post for another time) to do so, it encourages my heart in a whole new and different way.
One package, from my SIL, who is like a sister, was nothing more than a down maternity coat. I have deliberated about whether or not to buy a coat, for this, my last pregnancy (knock on wood. Or call a surgeon). The winters here are bone chilling. Everyone wears down (in our other city, wool was the rage, but here we can only find down). I had half heartedly decided to try and eek it through with bulky sweaters and scarves and perhaps going out less. But then this. A little thing. So thoughtful.
The other package was from an old college friend. We lead similar and yet polar opposite lives on two sides of the globe. She is a mountain girl with four little ones, homeschooling and skiing and living a faithful life as best she can. She was a dear friend and gift while I lived in Jackson, Wyoming back in the first couple years following high school graduation, and I am blessed by what a gift she continues to be. Encouraging notes, a reminder every now and then that we are comrades in this walk, and now this package which was brimming with goodies and thoughtfulness. I know it is a small thing, but I felt hugged both from her and from on High.
Now I am going to go lay my pathetic little body down for hopefully a bit of rest that will lead to recovery. In the meantime, it seems a very flesh and blood picture to me of the fact that when we are weak, He continues to care for us.
Homemade Pizza is our Sunday night tradition, a tradition that has been slow going this past month or so with various travels, etc. getting in the way. But last night we settled in for a return to a meal we've come to anticipate spending either as a family, or often with friends. It was the official "end" to our one week October Holiday (thanks to the Chinese National Day on Oct. 1st) and we celebrated with a leap into the ingredients that say "fall is here!" even if the weather outside isn't quite on board yet.
Pear and Pecorino Pizza
small sprinkling of mozza cheese
thinly sliced pear
freshly grated pecorino cheese
pepper to taste
*most recipes for pear pizza use goat cheese... which we don't have. I tried pecorino which was a more pungent flavor, but it worked for us.
Pesto and Ricotta Pizza
small sprinkling of mozza cheese
dollops of pesto
sliced grape or plum tomato
Caramel Dipped Pears
wash and chill pears
dip into warm caramel sauce
(we made ours with the caramel candies and full whipping creame melted together over the stove)
sprinkle with coarse salt (go light on the salt- I used too much) or nuts
*this take on caramel apples was thanks to a pinterest link from my sis in law. Thanks Jos!
The Chinese National Holiday arrived on October 1st, which granted us a glorious week off of school and work, and sent us to Beijing for a long weekend with old friends. We came back home and perhaps from a combined result of needed rest from travel, housework that needed attending to, a man hot on the trail of completing his final Master's class, and the incessant gloomy weather, we have mostly remained in that very place... at home. It has been altogether quite good though, for all of us. You may wonder what exactly a family of five does in their little apartment in China over the course of a few days. Well, some of us...
created board games, complete with playing pieces, game board, and list of rules (they are priceless treasures, though sometimes a little confusing to play.)
researched and wrote, and researched and wrote, and lost files, and kept writing, and finally finished.
typed... letters to friends and grandparents, little notes to mom and dad, newspaper articles, reviews of the day, seven year old thoughts on sibling rivalry and ways to solve it.
organized long overdue piles of photos and albums, closets full of linens still without a home, and the pile of wintercoats finally hung in the newly emptied (thus homeless linens) wardrobe.
read to one another, to ourselves, in the morning, before bed, during naps, with mom helping, or all by ourselves, with playful voices, in monotone, by memory (so sweet to listen to)
played outside: hide and go seek, tag, on our bikes, falling off our bikes ("he looked just like a motorcycle crashing mom... it was awesome!")
played inside: restaurant, olympic long jump competition, Newsies, cowboys, superheros...
watched some good stuff with the kids like The Cosby Show and Newsies... and some good stuff with just mom and dad like The Beaver and The Tree of Life.
talked about our future and the here and now and things we can do to not merely survive, but thrive in this place, in our family, and with a new member coming into our family soon.
danced with each other, inspired by the myriad of clothing changes our littlest one goes through every day.
imagined with markers on windows, crayons on paper, pins and pincushions, jars of buttons, and even sometimes the food on our plates.
enjoyed, really and truly enjoyed the presence of one another. It was a gift to me, to see it at all, and to take note of it, to give thanks for it-- all of it, the working through conflict, the sharpening (that can feel like grinding) that living in close quarters can bring, the giggles and hilarity, the imagination and companionship, the solidarity and loyalty, it is all there and often not in equal measure, so for these good days I can and must breathe it in with a whole lot of gratitude.