Monday, October 13, 2014

Our Big Backyard

Biking through campus

Autumn comes to the Hundred Acre Woods
 One thing many western parents miss about living in China is having a backyard.  I remember spending so much time in our backyard as a child.  We rode our bikes on the driveway, built forts from leaves and sticks, played in our treehouse, performed acrobatic fetes on our jungle-bars, slid down the grassy hill, and trapsed through the woods escaping from tornadoes and evil step-mothers.  Once we were old enough not to need constant supervision, my mom could watch from the kitchen window as she prepared dinner.  We played for hours outside and were generally reluctant to come back inside.
"What is he doing?  Why is he sad?"
I expect to see Wild Things come dancing through
 In China, we will probably never have a big backyard, and it will be quite a while before the girls are old enough to send them out on their own.  While it only takes a minute or two to scale the stairs, somehow 5 flights seems like a bigger obstacle than just walking out the door - particularly when carrying a baby, a stroller, a bag, some toys, and a child bike.  If we forget anything less important than a child, there is no going back.
The playground near our apartment

Using the see-saw as a drawing table.
I sometimes wish for our own private bit of nature, but we have been blessed to live on a beautiful campus right now.  Just outside our apartment is a small playground area, definitely a rarity in China.  This is Juliana's favorite place to play, and unlike a personal jungle gym, this playground is usually swarming with other kids to play with!  I may value some peace and quiet, but you know Juliana - alone time sounds like some form of torture to her.
The step-stone path

The stroller-backpack

One of the best things about this campus is the abundance of nature.  It is full of beautiful trees and lush green grass - you would never guess we are right on the edge of the desert!  When we (I) want some quiet time in nature, we head to "The Hundred Acre Woods," a little grassy strip between some teacher houses and the campus wall.  Here we dig in the dirt, play in the leaves, and watch the seasons change.  Noisy trucks lumber by on the other side of the wall, but our side is peaceful and hidden. It is secluded enough that we hardly see anyone other than the man who waters the grass.
The lake on campus
Summer in the Hundred Acre Woods
Some days we scale "North Mountain," an unnatural grassy hill covering some sort of machinery (I assume...).  Other days we play hide-and-seek behind the statues and inside the pagodas in a very Chinese-looking park area.  We hop back and forth along the stepping stones in the middle of campus while students swarm by taking pictures.  We walk around the lake.  We explore winding paths and underneath arbors and make pretend houses on the basketball courts.  We collect apples in summer and leaves in the fall.
This summer we discovered apple trees!

Adalyn exploring nature

Our backyard may not be private, but I realize Juliana is not missing that backyard experience at all.  Instead she has an expansive backyard full of fun places to explore.  And even better, every time she goes outside she finds new friends to play with!
Throwing leaves

Monday, September 22, 2014

Adalyn Lucia ~ One Year Old

Happy Birthday to my sweet little Adalyn Lucia.  Sigh, I'm a little sad that she's already a year old!  She is just such a cute, sweet baby.  I'm sure she will be a cute, sweet toddler as well (minus the inevitable tantrums), but I will miss her babyness.  Here is what her life is looking like at one year old!
Adalyn eats pretty much everything we eat, cut up into small pieces, with the exception of the unhealthy stuff!  I think doing very few purees has paid off because she will eat a large variety of foods Juliana would never touch.  She was slow to get into eating, but in the last month she has really been picking up on the quantity of food.  Probably her favorite food is grapes.  She gets excited and points wildly whenever she sees them, and usually we get tired of cutting them up before she gets tired of eating them.
She also loves to drink water.  She drinks down her sippy cup then goes on a hunt for our waterbottles.  She just got her own waterbottle for her birthday, undoubtedly her favorite persent.  She also loves nursing and nurses 4-5x a day.  I'm planning to cut down over the next few months but will probably continue to nurse her some until around 2 years old, like I did with Juliana.  We both enjoy our nursing relationship, and it still has lots of benefits, so why quit?
Bedtime is usually around 7:30pm, a little earlier if she has a particularly bad nap day and a little later if we are out.  She is often tired and starting to fall apart, but that's the earliest we can usually manage.  A month or so ago we moved Adalyn into Juliana's room, and she started more or less sleeping through the night.  Except if she slept all night, she woke up at 5am, which I consider inhumane.  We have now struck a compromise - I go in and nurse her at 4:30 or 5 and then she sleeps until after 6am.

Adalyn naps twice a day.  She will go through brief happy spells of longer naps, but generally she is adamately sticking to her 45 minute naps.  She is happier when she naps better, but to paraphrase the old saying: "you can lead a baby to bed but you can't make them sleep."
Adalyn's very favorite activity for the past couple of months has been pushing stools, chairs, and toys around.  Her favorite is Juliana's step-stool, but she has tried pretty much anything that can be pushed around the floor.  She is close to walking independently but not quite there yet.  She particularly enjoys playing with (and eating) Juliana's toys, but she will play with her own toys if necessary.  She has a pretty short attention span for reading, but she is becoming quite familiar with our personal children's library as she pulls all the books off the shelf every day.

While she has started to exert more "spunk" (screaming when frustrated or when being persecuted by her sister), Adalyn is still pretty laidback.  She can entertain herself pretty well, especially if her sister is nearby (but not sitting on her).  She's more active than cuddly now, but she still likes to check in for hugs.  She likes grabbing my face and bringing our foreheads together while we rub noses and go, "aaaah."  I just have to kiss her chubby little cheeks about 100x a day, and she has just started kissing back.  Although she still sometimes confuses "kissing" with "eating your face."  Either way, it's sweet.

I think Adalyn's first word was mama.  At first she used it to say, "I am in great distress!  Someone rescue me!" but now she uses it to refer to me.  Now she also says dada, bye-bye, night-night, uh-oh, ball, and an approximation of "peekaboo."  She often imitates our intonation on words, even if she can't quite get the sounds.  I never really did baby sign language with Adalyn, but she has gotten down those universal basics - waving and pointing.  She also loves any sound that can be made by flapping her tongue around.

She Loves: Eating crumbs off the floor, stealthy shoe gnawing missions, playing in the pantry, tickles, imitating big sister, attempting to catapult off our beds, eating Cheerios, playing on blankets and pillows on the floor, bopping to music

She Hates: Sister taking her toys, being near but not WITH mama, sitting still too long, diaper changes, not being able to get to the shoes, falling down so often, having to nap

I love: Her chubby cheeks, when she burrows her face into mine, the way she follows her sister around, her proud look when she accomplishes a new feat, her giant expressive eyes, how she likes to "share" things back and forth, her quiet nature, and her reaching arms and cry of "mama!!" when she sees me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


I wound my bike between the dozens of other bicycles, motorbikes, and cars pulled up in front of the kindergarten.  All around parents led their 3-5 year old children through the gate, past the alluring playground equipment, and toward the castle-looking school building.  The children all carried backpacks - covered in princesses, cartoon characters, and superheroes - half as big as themselves and mostly empty.

I helped Juliana down from the bike seat, her own Minnie Mouse backpack bouncing on her back.  "Look!  It's my school!!"  Juliana cried excitedly.  She had been talking about starting school for the past year, and the day finally arrived.  I could tell she was feeling pretty important, albiet a little confused, because for a long time we have been telling her she would start school when she was four.  Technically, she will be in school for three weeks before she turns four.  Almost-four-year-olds don't deal in technicalities.

We stopped first at a nurses station just inside the door where a nurse checked each child's hands and throat.  She handed Juliana a red plastic chip to show she was healthy.

As we climbed the stairs to the second floor, where the 4 year old classes are held, Juliana held the child handrail and carefully placed her feet on the painted footprints leading upstairs.   Her teacher greeted her kindly as we entered her classroom, and Juliana remembered her "laoshi hao."  I put Juliana's backpack and jacket in the cupboard while she happily placed her red health chip in its slot.
Twenty-some children already sat at tables, quietly playing.  Juliana spotted her Norwegian friend across the room and hurried to join her.  The two blond-haired, blue-eyed children certainly do stand out!  Juliana's friend has already been in this class for a year, but the other children watched Juliana curiously.  I said goodbye to Juliana, but she was already involved in play.

When I returned at noon, Juliana ran happily to me.  The teacher told me Juliana cried a little bit before I came, but she ate well (she eats breakfast and lunch at school).  Juliana cheerfully waved to all her classmates.  The other children were finishing their lunch and climbing into beds pulled out for naptime.  They stay at school until 6pm.

On the ride home, I asked Juliana what was her favorite part of the day.  "Dancing!"  No surprise there.  Every day the whole kindergarten gathers outside on in the play yard to dance or exercise together.  Dancing has been her favorite part of every day, along with time on the playground "running and screaming."

 Finding out what else happens at school is a little trickier.  "What else did you do today?"  "Oh, I played.  A little boy hit me."  Every day, there is some variation of a little boy hitting her.  It's hard to tell if that actually happens every day or if it happened one day and just makes the account every day.  Either one seems like a decent possiblity.

We have a lot of exchanges like this:
"What did you eat for breakfast today, Juliana?"
"Hot milk. I like hot milk."
"What about for lunch?"
"Hot milk.  Just hot milk."
"Wait a minute, you were still eating lunch when I came, and I saw you had some soup."
"Oh yes.  We had soup.  We had some orange bubbly drink.  It tasted strange."
"Hmm, I don't know what it was.  Maybe something with vitamins?"
"They were yucky vitamins."

Halfway through the week Juliana's enthusiasm was momentarily dampened.  She got up saying, "I'm a little bit sick today.  I don't think I should go to school.  I'm grunting a lot."  But by the time she was heading out for school, she was excited again.  On Saturday morning when I told her there wasn't any school, she said, "But whyyyyyy??"  She quickly recovered when I told her she could stay in her pajamas.  She would be happy to stay in her pajamas all day, except that I don't let her wear them out of the house.

Kindergarten is off to a good start.  I am really grateful for my super-social, crazy-energetic little girl to have somewhere to go every day to enjoy being around kids (even if she can't communicate well yet).  And I'll be honest, I have been enjoying my calmer mornings hanging out with Adalyn.  I can even get some things done since Adalyn doesn't usually demand constant attention.

Every day I also ask Juliana, "What was your least favorite part of school?"  And most days she says, "Nothing!  There is nothing I don't like!"

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Letter to Myself 2005

 Dear Ruth,

Yes, you, the one who just turned her life upside down to move to China.  Standing on a bus as it careens through the city, feeling a dark panic not from traffic but from the culture shock settling in.  The air is crowded with noise and lights and people, so many people, and you feel more alone than ever before.

You think you signed up for a 2-3 year stint, but I've got a surprise for you.  Here it is nine years later with no leaving in sight.  But even more surprising - you really like it here!  I wish you could see that now, how accustomed you will become to life here.
But sometimes it's best that you can't see the future, because it's actually going to get a lot harder before it gets easier.  That darkness that is going to get deeper.  I wish I could tell you to reach out and get help, to recognize the depression this time, and for goodness sakes to turn on some lights in your apartment!  And I especially wish I could tell you - it won't always be this way.  One day you will realize that happiness comes almost naturally.

Some things won't change much.  You will always be surrounded by a lot of people, and many will continue to stare (although the shouts of "laowai" will become fewer over time).  You'll never quite feel like you belong, but you'll get a lot closer.  You will have friendly conversations with neighbors who will start seeing you as a real person.  American supermarkets will become more overwhelming than Chinese ones.  You will get to know so many students and friends who will treat you with such warmth and respect.  You will make a decision to stay here, first because you feel you are called, and then because you really don't want to leave.

It's going to get easier.  You will go through more moves and transitions than you really want to know about, but you won't do it alone.  Remember that one guy you met at training, the one who seemed so much older than you.  Two more years and you're going to be married to him!  Fast-forward to 2014 and you have two adorable little girls, your own family to stay with you no matter what.

So right now, I know it's hard.  There's really no way around that.  Please give yourself some grace.  You don't have to do it all.  You don't have to handle it on your own.  You don't have to love it all.  But treasure the moments that you can.  Those endearing little freshmen filling your home.  The late night bike rides with your teammate.  The silly photo booth pictures.  The wonderful varieties of Yangzhou doufu.  The incredible quiet and alone time you're going to long for later.

Years from now, you will remember the difficulty, but mostly you will remember those first years with fondness.  Enjoy what you can.  And go start photo-stalking that Kevin guy.
Older, wiser (??), tired-er Ruth

Linking up with Velvet Ashes today, considering hindsight.

Romantic photo shoot by Stinky River and the overflowing garbage can

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Clean and Just: My Top 10

While I strive to live more naturally and justly, I often find it difficult and overwhelming.  I have a long ways to go, but I am slowly taking steps in that direction. When a friend recently wrote her top 10 "clean, green, and not-so-mean" list, I was inspired to do the same.  And a month or so later, I'm finally doing it!   Here are the best/most manageable things I have done recently to move toward cleaner living.

1. Read: Awareness doesn't equal change, but it's a very important first step.  The most significant books I have read in this area are Serve God, Save the Planet and Everyday Justice.  These books made me really think about the importance of conservation and worry about if the person who made my shirt earned a fair wage.  I also just finished reading Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.  It was really eye-opening to think about how much processed food fills our lives.  If you've been around me in the past month, chances are I brought it up!

2. Cloth diapers: Perhaps the most significant change we've made in past year has been plunging into cloth diapering.  Not only have we saved a lot of money, we have reduced a TON of garbage.  I hate to think about all those thousands of Juliana's diapers we hauled out to the trash over 2.5 years.  I was hesitant to switch to cloth with Juliana because it all seemed so daunting.  But really it has been much easier than I thought.  Yes, there is more laundry (and hauling buckets of hot water to the washer), but once it's part of the routine it's not too much more work.

3. Fair trade coffee: Sometimes even when you recognize a problem (like people not receiving a fair wage), it's hard to know what to do about it.  Where do you even start?  For me, buying fair trade coffee is a really easy place to start.  It is readily available - even decaf - and in most of the varieties you are already accustomed to.  It is a switch that requires very little sacrifice or even change.  It costs a little more than a big canister of the cheapest brands, but you can enjoy knowing that the people who grew and processed your coffee are able to live off the wages they make.

4. Moving to reusable: I was happy to notice 3/4 of our roll of paper towels is still left -the one I opened when we moved in five months ago.  I have realized it is just as easy to reach for a rag as for a paper towel.  We almost always use reusable shopping bags, and we try to remember to bring plastic containers whenever we plan to get take-out.  I also have some super handy reusable produce bags my sister made (out of sheer curtains from Goodwill).  I have a harder time remembering to keep them with me, but I love cutting down on the tons of plastic bags that end up under our counter.  Recycling is great - reducing is even better!

5. Ethical shopping guide: This guide is a handy list of some "ethical" companies I have used for finding toys (I discovered Hape toys which makes some great, creative toys) and clothing.  It is hard for me to spend $30 on a shirt when I'd prefer $8 at Ross, but I remind myself that when I am buying fair trade, my money is actually going toward fair wages and decent working conditions, while my great savings are at the expense of someone else.  Paying a fair price for clothing also makes me really consider what I buy.  Instead of buying three cheap things, I choose to buy one fair trade item and be content with the rest of my wardrobe.

6. Homemade stock from veggie scraps: This is so easy and such a good idea, I wish I had started doing this before!  Instead of throwing those carrot peels and bean ends in the trash, just put them in a plastic bag in the freezer.  Once your bag is full, use your scraps to make an easy vegetable stock.  Freeze it in 1-2 cup servings for easy use!

7. Cleaning with vinegar: I started using vinegar to clean a few years ago, and now it's pretty much all I use.  Vinegar has great antibacterial properties, is safe in the hands of a 3yr old, and the smell evaporates when it dries.  Safe, cheap, effective, and all purpose!  For some heavier scrubbing, use some baking soda as well.  If you don't like the smell, add a little bit of orange essential oil to your spray bottle.

8. Making bread: I have always loved bread and was making it pretty consistently before becoming pregnant with Adalyn, when all kitchen activity ceased for a while, and since then I could never find the time to make it work.  Thanks to a breadmaker passed on from teammates, making bread has now become manageable again.  It only takes a few minutes to throw all the ingredients into the bread machine.  I don't make all our bread, but I have been making more of it.

9. Honey-Garlic-Lemon Shots: I'm not a person who shuns medicine.  I think it can be very helpful for things, but I do like to find natural remedies when I'm able to.  We dealt with a lot of sickness while back in the States, but I've been able to stave off several colds with this remedy.  It's likely that plain raw garlic would do the trick too, but this mixture makes it a little more palatable - though no less potent!  Maybe just don't try this if you have an important interview or first date in the next 24 hours.

10. Live in China: Solid, practical advice for everyone, right?  One of the things I appreciate about our life in China is that it is easier (at least in some ways) to live more simply and more naturally.  Fresh fruits and veggies are a 5 minute walk away.  We do a lot of biking and walking (although I've heard that one international air trip is equal to about 4 months of driving in ecological terms, so we aren't off the hook there!).  We can't buy a lot of cans and mixes (or they are very expensive) so I have to make things from scratch. Clothes dryers and dish washers aren't an option.  We don't have A/C.  We don't have a huge house to fill - no attics, basements, or sheds.  And moving every few years keeps you very aware of how much you really have

I still have a long way to go.  I don't love cooking and value convenience, so eliminating processed foods is hard.  I still buy chocolate that I know was likely made with child labor (aka. most chocolate brands).  I buy something for the kids because I really want to even though they really don't need it.  We still produce a lot of garbage.  But with each step I make in the right direction, the next step on the journey becomes a little bit easier!

What are some manageable changes you have made toward more natural, just living?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Top 10 Reasons I’m Glad to Stay in China this Summer

Though we came to China nine years ago, this will actually be our first summer in China!  It seems crazy, but when I think about it I guess it makes sense.  The first four years we needed to return to the States for master’s classes.  When we were both teaching pre-children, the school paid for both of our tickets home, so why not go?  The year after Juliana was born we wanted to return because some family and friends still hadn’t gotten to meet her.  The following year in language school we originally planned to stay, but after many family members expressed interest in coming to visit, we decided it would be easier and cheaper all around for us to return instead.  Last summer we were starting our home leave, and that leaves this summer - our first in China!

While we just returned from the States not long ago, it is strange to hear friends and teammates counting down the days, talking about the things they will do (and eat, of course!) in America and realizing it will be another year until we are back.  There are some reasons I'm not excited about staying for the summer, lack of A/C being one of them.  Not only will all our students be gone, but many of our foreign friends are leaving too.  As friends prepare for their departure, however, I've been thinking about the reasons why it will be good to spend the summer in China.

1) Connecting with neighbors.  As the weather gets hotter and very few homes have A/C, people spend more and more time outside.  Particularly in the evenings, our neighbors come out to to walk, pick mulberries from the nearby trees, wash their cars, and watch their children play.  We are getting to see some of the kids Juliana's age who are usually in Kindergarten (starting at age 3) all day, as well as their parents who work during the day.  All the little babies are coming out of their winter hiding as well - although still well padded against the 90F weather.

While most of our friends and co-workers will be gone, we are happy that a few foreign friends will still be around.  We are looking forward to spending time with them and getting to know them better.  A few students have also said they will stay the summer and are excited we will be here as well.

2) No travel and no jet-lag!  Well, that's not quite true.  We are planning to do a little traveling within China.  I need to take Adalyn on a short trip to Beijing for a vaccination we can't get here.  We may go to a neighboring province with Kevin's past student Brian, and we may spend a little time in Xi'an to get away and see some past students there.  But no international travel, no 12 hr jet lag, no foreign germs, and no major sleep changes for children!  That will definitely make things easier. 

3) Greater health.  We can't ever seem to spend time in America without gaining weight (and not just including the times I've been growing a baby!).  There are so many good foods we have missed that we over-indulge.  Walking and biking to get places aren't practical where our families live, so we spend lots of time in the car and little time being active.  No matter how hot it is, we don't have much choice here - if we want to go anywhere we need to do at least some walking or biking plus our five flights of stairs.  We'll probably make a trip across town to Dairy Queen and eat pizza a little more often this summer, but I'm hopeful we can stay more on track with our health goals.

4) Saving money.  International tickets are expensive.  The school would pay for Kevin's ticket, but paying for mine and Juliana's still adds up quickly.  And I don't know if you've noticed, but America is expensive.  Flying from California to Georgia.  Filling up the car with gas (over and over) as we drive around visiting family and friends.  Eating out with friends, buying cereal...  When we first came to China we would always think, "How much would this be in dollars?"  Now when we return to America we mentally convert into RMB.  "Apples are HOW much a pound?  That's like 3x what we pay!"  Milk and cheese are undoubtedly more expensive here; just about everything else is cheaper.

5) Productivity.  We'll see how much actually happens, since heat can be a real energy-zapper.  I always have great plans for our breaks.  But even though we'll have more free time, there will still be laundry and cooking and taking care of children and all those normal things that can take up a whole day.  I'm trying to keep my list reasonable.  #1: Organize the entire house  ...that sort of thing.

6) Maintaining perspective.  It's amazing how fast my idea of "normal" can change.  When we are here, I think, "Wow, we have so much stuff.  We have so much more than even our middle class neighbors with similar size apartments."  But not long after I return to America I start thinking, "Our apartment is pretty small.  I wish we had a backyard.  Look at these fun toys Juliana would enjoy.  Maybe I should buy another shirt.  Well, you know, everyone drinks Starbucks."  While I still have to constantly fight against the urge to accumulate, it is so much easier to maintain a simple lifestyle here!

7) Seeing my parents.  What we will really miss is seeing our family and friends and In-n-Out.  We can't do much about In-n-Out, and we will still miss most of our loved ones, but happily my parents are coming here to visit!  My mom is going to be doing a Summer Teaching Program with ELIC, so she will be teaching in Harbin (northeast) for the summer.  Beforehand she is coming to spend about a week with us, and afterwards my dad will meet up with her and they will come for several weeks in August.

8) Consistency.  We love for our kids to experience normal American summers - swimming, libraries, corn-on-the-cob and all.  But the transitions back and forth between worlds is wearing.  It will be nice to just stay in our own home with our own routines and lifestyle. It will also be nice for Juliana to not be transitioning back to China just as she starts Chinese kindergarten in the fall.

9) Rain, apple trees, and an Expat 4th of July.  There are some things we miss by being gone during the summer.  Yinchuan gets very little rain: the average precipitation for Nov-April is 0.6 inches.  However, the average rainfall in July-August is 3.7 inches!  Living on the edge of the desert has really made us appreciate rain!  Right now we are yielding the wealth of mulberries, and we just heard that during the summer the apple trees on campus ripen.  Who doesn't love free apples?  And even though we will be in China, we will be able to have a 4th of July picnic with other American expats who will still be around.

10) [Relative] peace and quiet.  Our school is on the outer edge of town, so the area is pretty calm.  Our apartment is right next to the main thoroughfare between one of the campus gates and the campus stores and one dining hall.  All day long, but especially at nap-times, delivery trucks clang and bang and honk their way by, with extra rattling as they plow over the speed bump directly under our windows.  I will miss having the campus stores open, but I won't miss the noisy trucks. The campus will also be eerily empty as most of the 20,000 students will be gone.  Of course, the school may choose summertime to step up the nearby construction, so we'll just have to see how all the peace and quiet actually works out!

There are a lot of things I will miss about being in America this summer, but it will be a good opportunity to have some new summer experiences in China!

Linking up with Velvet Ashes (

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Cost

It's nothing, what we do.  We like our lives in China.  We want to stay here, to raise our children here.  I don't know what we would do if we went back to America!  We are nothing special.  Anyone could do this.  It's not that different.  It's nothing.

I say these things, and I mean them.  Some days I think our lives are so easy.  Sure we don't have dishwashers or avacados, but how much does that matter?  We can buy cheese in our city!  We can talk to our families on Skype!  Why do people think this is difficult?

We talk about missing guacamole, but what we truly miss is much harder to express.  We miss libraries and t-ball and seeing our own childhood experiences played out in our children's lives.  We miss telling friends "See you this weekend" instead of "See you next year."  We miss births and weddings and deaths and a thousand ordinary moments in between.

We talk about jetlag, but the upheaval in our lives is deeper than that.  When we return "home" we live in someone else's home, and though we love the time with family, we lose the rhythms and routines of our own family, along with some of the sanity that holds us together.  We see our children's stress play out in areas like sleep, potty training, and behavior.  Our bodies work hard to fight off unfamiliar germs.

We jump in and out of lives, asking friends to suddenly make a place for us in their busy schedules.  Some welcome us back so enthusiastically it is as if we were never gone.  Some are so busy connection seems impossible; it is as if we never even came home.  The years go by and we so gratefully hold the friendships that stand the test of time and distance.  Perhaps we will always fear being forgotten.  "What ever happened to Kevin and Ruth...they were in China or Japan or something, right?  So what is for dinner?"

We leave friends and family behind to come here, yes, but so often we are also the ones also left behind.  The ebb and flow of the foreign community is greater than the most transient city.  When we try to settle down, to put in roots, we are reminded that we gave up our right to that kind of security.  Our clinging fingers are pried off once again.  We hold so little control in our own lives.

Packing, unpacking, boxes, suitcases...they are the stuff of our lives.  Our clothes go in a new wardrobe, our pictures on another wall, but the transition takes longer than that.  Finding the good restaurants and the places to buy vegetables.  Finding a new ayi.  Meeting new students and neighbors and leaders.  Starting over and starting over takes so much time and energy.  Weeks and months go by and we wonder at our ineffectiveness.

Some days it is all so easy.  But other days...

I watch oh-so-social Juliana deal with the daily frustration of not being able to communicate.  She looks disappointedly after a little friend.  "I asked him to play with me; why won't he play with me?"  She discovers a Chinese writing book and happily says, "Now I can speak Chinese with my ayi!"  Her optimism makes my heart ache; I wish it were so easy.

We struggle to get our students to pronounce a sound or just speak English in class.  After weeks of pronunciation class, she still can't say the "th" sound.  After a semester of culture class, they still think Bush is the president of America.  After years of learning English, he can still barely stammer out a sentence.  Are we teaching them anything?

We spend months forming a friendship and then he leaves.  Or we leave.  Or she becomes too busy.  We form dozens of acquaintances that never get past the most superficial of questions ("Do you like China?  What cities have you visited?").  Or we go deep and explore the real questions of life, but then we hit a wall.  Does it matter that we are here?

Some days everything seems to click.  We talk to friends.  We plan for the future.  A neighbor stops seeing us as 'that new foreigner.'  We hold a long conversation in Chinese.  Juliana excitedly welcomes her now familiar ayi.  Our students give an understandable, enthusiastic presentation.  We share about things close to our hearts.  It all seems worth it.

And on the other days, the harder days -  It is worth it too.  We are here because we love China.  But on the days when we don't, we are here because we love the One who loves China.  We are here because we were asked by the One who sacrificed everything.  Is there any sacrifice he could ask that would be too great for us to give?  Some days the cost seems high, but it is worth it.  He is worth it.

I will waste my life
I will be tested and tried
With no regrets inside of me
Just to find I'm at your feet
Just let me find I'm at your feet
I leave my father's house and I leave my mother.
I leave all I have known and I'll have no other
Oh how I love you, and there is no cost
Oh how I love you, and there is no loss...
- Misty Edwards

[This post was inspired by a couple of recent posts I read at Velvet Ashes, a community for women living overseas:The Grove: Sacrifice and From Dr. Pepper to a Big Backyard: A Look at Sacrifice]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Our First Home School

We usually start our school day with songs.  Except some days we start with role call.  It wouldn't really be necessary ("Juliana?"  Check.  "Adalyn?" Check.), except you know that Juliana can't stand being the only one in school, so she likes to invite imaginary friends.  We have had anywhere from two to ten imaginary friends at our school, either Little People characters ("There is Sara Lynn and there is Michael.") or her own crazy creations ("And over there are Jubia and Sadgee.").  Either way, she expects me to remember their names and locations.
Juliana's self portrait for her "All About Me" book.  She has long, long hair like Rapunzel.  She also included blood and throw up to make it more fun.
Once we've made it through role call, we sing songs.  Juliana's current favorites are "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy..." (She giggles everytime we sing, "Where?" with exaggerated shrugs and perplexed faces) and "Hear the lively song..." a chorus about frogs which ends with a rousing "buuuuuur-UMP!"  Sometimes she likes to make up her own songs, but I have limited tolerance for that.  I am all for imagination, but Juliana expects me to know her made up songs and sing them correctly.  "NO, it's not ju-be-dra-la, it's ju-be-DA-la.  You're not singing it right."

After songs we talk about which day of the week it is and sometimes sing a terribly annoying kindergarten song cleverly entitled "Days of the Week."  Juliana loves it.  Then we talk about the month of the year, and Juliana says, "It's STILL April??"  I recently told Juliana there are four months in the year.  Now I try to finish my coffee before we start school.

We are working on memorizing Psalm 23, something we started about a year ago but then woefully neglected.  Juliana has gotten to the end of verse four, but sometimes she gets distracted.
"The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures like at Yaya and Grandpa's house because pastures means GRASS and I liked to lie down on the grass with Melissa except that the dog would want to come outside and she would make him go inside.
He leads me by quiet waters but not IN the water because that would be silly and if we lie down in the water we'll get all WET.
He bestores my soul..."
Juliana with her bone-body.  An all-tile bathroom is handy.
Our lessons are based on a different letter of the alphabet each week, partly to help with identifying the letters and sounds, partly just to give some structure to our activities.  I wanted to be unique in our activities - why is it always "A for apple"? - but I've discovered preschoolers basically want what they already know.  Or perhaps they just still have a lot to learn about all those things we've already deemed boring. We did an activity with the life cycle of an apple and for weeks Juliana said, "Let's learn about the apple again."

Our activities are rather varied depending on the theme, but in general they involve a lot of cutting and glue, because nothing says "school" to Juliana like a nice messy craft.  Sometimes I come up with good ideas.  Sometimes we watch youtube videos of little kids dancing and try to imitate them.  I figure this is all good practice for me for the day when I actually *have* to teach Juliana and she's actually supposed to learn something.
Juliana counting and eating "apples" off her apple tree.  The apples are actually raisins, so that's a little confusing.  Nonetheless, Juliana thought it was great and wanted to do it every day.
Our schedule is something like this:
Monday - letter identification and writing practice, discovering items starting with the letter
Tuesday - some kind of activity related to the theme.  This week was "earth" and we have been watching some of BBC's Planet Earth series.  So interesting!  Juliana enjoys the darker sides of nature ("Can we watch the fire again?  I want to see the part when the big tree falls.  Look, he's eating that animal - hahaha!").  Hmm.
Wednesday - a virtue or Bible character (I had her dolls act out "attitude" and "caring"...naturally she enjoyed the dramatization of bad attitudes and for a while afterwards I would hear her dolls saying, in the silly voice I used, "Was that a good attitude or a bad attitude?")
Thursday - animal starting with that letter.
Friday - well, sometimes we just don't get to Friday because by then I'm too tired to think of something.  I have plans of making this a "free day" where Juliana can decide what she wants to learn about.  She'll probably say apples.

Our school is pretty simple, but Juliana seems to like it.  Every day she asks, "When are we going to do school?  Are we all done with school?  Can we do more school?"  Now if only she can keep up that attitude for the next 20-so years...
Doggie Juliana is grateful for her one real classmate.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

6 Months Old

We hear Adalyn's little happy waking noises through the monitor, and Juliana runs in shouting, "She's awake!  Her little eyes are open!  I'm here baby Adalyn!  Don't cry, I'm right here!"  Adalyn looks up from examining her hand or talking to the shadows to give a giant sisterly smile.   Her chubby little cheeks are pink and the tired lines around her eyes are gone, even after a standard 45 minute cat-nap.  I pick her up and kiss her soft chin, which always makes her giggle.

At six months old, Adalyn is just as sweet as ever.  She is generally quiet and contented, and she charms everyone with her smiles.   Here is what is happening in her life at six months.

Sleep: Adalyn usually goes to bed around 7:30pm and wakes up around 7am. We've had some rough patches lately, but right now she is back to normal, usually waking up twice a night.  She nurses and usually falls back to sleep pretty easily.   If she is restless in the early morning, I bring her into our bed.

Naps: Adalyn is still a pretty consistent 45 minute cat-napper.  She has taken several longer naps recently, and while I hope it is a pattern, I think it has more to do with a bit of a cold.  She usually ready to nap after about 2hrs of wakefulness, so she takes 3 or sometimes 4 naps a day.  I'd like her naps to be longer, but it seems to work for her.

Nursing: I'm not really sure how often Adalyn nurses during the day since I really don't pay that much attention.  It seems like usually she can go for 3hrs or more without complaining, but many times I will nurse her more often if she needs to nap or we are going out.  While there is definitely less spit up than there used to be, Adalyn still spits up quite regularly.  I can't remember how long I should expect that to last!

Solids: I've been waiting until after 6 months to start solids.  I was really eager to start with Juliana, but this time I don't feel such a rush.  We are thinking about doing "Baby Led Weaning," a sort of strange name for giving your baby pieces of "normal", age appropriate food instead of purees.  The idea is for them to get used to textures from the beginning, thus becoming more accepting of a variety of foods.  It also helps them to self-regulate - and it sounds easier than making lots of purees!

Playtime:  Adalyn loves to eat her toys.  She lies on the floor playing with them and at mealtimes sits in her highchair throwing them on the floor.  Her favorites are probably a set of plastic keys, a plastic bath book, and a play food ice cream cone.  Juliana also enjoys Adalyn's toys and frequently takes them.  We are already having many talks about toy sharing.

Motor skills: Adalyn is getting better at sitting up, although she still only lasts for a short time before losing her balance.  She rolled over once almost two months ago and still hasn't done it again!  She gets close, but she still seems happy with rocking from side to side on her back or “swimming” on her belly.  I guess that's what comes of having a very contented baby!  While rolling doesn't seem to be a priority, Adalyn loves standing!  She doesn't have the balance, of course, but she can support herself for long periods of time.

Biggest challenge this age: Well, you know, not enough sleep is always a challenge!  Otherwise, I feel like at this age Adalyn gets frustrated by not being able to sit up well and be more adventurous in her play.  It seems like Juliana was a lot happier when she could sit up and play and when she got more mobile.

Favorite part of this age:  I enjoy seeing Adalyn's personality continue to develop.  She loves watching her sister play and gives her lots of smiles. She also puts up with a lot from her!  Juliana likes sitting on Adalyn (straddling her stomach), which seems like a bad idea except that Adalyn just smiles and laughs.  She is very interested in different people and either gives them big smiles or intense stares.  And she is still very interested in examing the world with her huge eyes!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Super-mom in China

Today I got the kids all dressed up in their abundance of winter gear so we could go out for a walk.   We try to get out most days since some small person gets a little stir-crazy and since we haven't yet figured out how to fit "real" exercise time for me into the schedule.  We only had about 45 minutes until Adalyn would be ready to nap again, and since it takes approximately 40 minutes to get bundled up and out the door, I contemplated whether it would really be worth it.  But since I had already brought up the idea to Juliana, it was too late for backing out.  She wanted to stop and play with Little People for just a few minutes and really needed to do a bit of coloring before we went and oh, look at the stickers!, but I finally convinced her it was now or never.

I've just about gotten the bundling process down to a science.
1. Ask Juliana 5 times to go potty and wash hands.
2. Set Adalyn on the living room rug near the floor.
3. Get everyone's coats, gloves, and hats and pile them by the door.
4. Find Juliana from wherever she has gotten waylaid and put on her coat and hat.
5. Put on my own coat and hat.
6. Set Adalyn inside her winter outfit with the legs in but arms still out so she doesn't get upset.
7. Help Juliana with her boots.
8. Try to keep Juliana in dirty boots near the doorway (we don't wear shoes inside in China).
9.  Zip up Adalyn's winter outfit and put on her hat.
10.  Quickly put on my own boots while Adalyn cries.
11. Find Juliana's hat which was just on her head two minutes ago!
12. Check for keys and walk out the door,
13. Unlock the door again because I have forgotten the rag and Adalyn just spit up all over me.
14. Head down the stairs counting for Juliana on the way down (approximately 64).

Usually I have Adalyn in the Ergo, which involves a couple of other steps in the middle, but we just got a new stroller for Adalyn so I decided to try it out today.  Naturally, since I was bringing a stroller Juliana also wanted to bring her dolly and dolly stroller.  Fine, whatever.  One large stroller, one dolly stroller, one dolly, one baby, and one 3 year old who wants to hold a hand down five flights of stairs.  No one was injured.  I might be Super-Mom.

Of course the sight of a big eyed foreign baby in a stroller alongside a blond haired foreign girl walking her own stroller was quite a hit.  We generated lots of attention.  Juliana didn't mind.

I realized that in the past three weeks we have been back not one person we've met outside has told me Adalyn isn't wearing enough clothes.  Either my parenting skills have drastically improved since Juliana, or this is not really China.  I'm starting to think they don't really care about her!  Someone, please scold me!  Oh well, there's always tomorrow.