Growing up – With photos

You ever try to write a blog post, edit photos, answer homeschool questions with a four year old rolling around under your feet?  I shouldn’t.  I did which resulted in me hitting “post” rather than “save as draft.”  Here is the full post with photos from Little Monkey’s special day.

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IMG_9096During our travels in February we celebrated the birthday of our sweet Asian beauty.  I truly love watching as she grows and matures, but I must admit that each milestone also brings my heart a twinge of pain.  Eight.  Sigh.

To further confirm my theory that this child is growing up fast….she has a bucket list of things she wants to do/see in her lifetime.  What 8 year old does that?!  One of the things on that list was to see the Terracotta Warriors.  We just happened to be traveling through the city where they are located around her birthday.  It was such a fun way to celebrate our girl!  We spent the day learning more about the buried army, Chinese culture and taking many photos to remember the day.  Not sure which we like better…the Great Wall or the Terracotta Warriors.  Each soldier made around 221 BC has a uniquely carved face.  Cool.   But the Great Wall is the biggest man-made structure in the world and also constructed way before power tools.  Unimaginable.  We love the history and rich culture of this country!

 

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Don’t let Soccer Dude’s “been here done this” look fool you.  He acts to cool for school when I ask him for a photo, but when it comes to reading about this stuff and watching the work of the archeologists….He might have enjoyed our day more than the birthday girl.

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Now the other two kids…they might not be our history buffs, but they can make anything an adventure.  Here are my two crazies making the day just that much more fun.

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We wrapped up the day with a trip to McDonalds for burgers.  We can’t get burgers in our city so it was a treat.  Little Monkey was a bit put out that I couldn’t make her a cake in our hotel room, so a surprise fruit topped cake compliments of our hotel was a fantastic way to end our day.

I could tell you so many more stories…like how we decided to save money and take the public bus out to the Warriors.  We were the only crazy expats on the bus and the driver decided he didn’t want to finish the route and just dumped us out in the middle of no where.  We ended up on a mini bus with a bunch of grannies who had never seen white people on their local buses and where sure I didn’t know how to parent since my children weren’t wearing enough clothes.  You should have seen the look on their faces when I clued them in that I understood what they were saying and respectfully told them in mandarine that the kids weren’t cold and that many American families have four children.  I love shocked expressions….followed by conversations with locals! Wink!

All in a day in the life of a crazy family who live cross-culturally.

Some of our favorite things

We have used the last days of our holiday break to do a few of our favorite things…hot pot and ice skating ice sledding.  We might not have public playgrounds for kids or malls to walk around, but there are some fun things to pass the time in our city.  Sledding and bike riding on the frozen lake is definitely high on our list of fun things.

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Our family tradition is to eat hot pot on January 1st.  Everybody gets a tiny soup type pot sitting in front of them and you cook your food in that pot.  It is kinda like fondue, but even yummier!  It also is a bit exciting with an active four year old.  Little Man + a boiling pot + raw meat = entertainment that borders on danger.

 

 

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Ice sledding…you might wonder what that is.  In all my yankee days I have never seen anything like it.  Sleds are fit with blades (like what are on ice skates).  You use metal poles to push yourself around on the frozen pond.  They also have bikes that run on blades and are propelled forward by peddling.  Super fun but so hard to steer and stop.  There is a theme to the fun in our city.  It all tends to be border line on dangerous.  Just kidding.  Kinda.

 

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Our Northern peeps really should think of starting a business with these sleds!

Anyone who wants to brave the cold and visit us in the winter, we will totally take you for spin on this lake!

Just another day

It doesn’t matter how many years I live here, I will never get used to Christmas being just another work day (or get used to being away from family over the holidays.  You might think we are great adventurers, but we do get homesick.  Just say’n.)   A few days before Christmas the stores put huge Santa head signs on the doors, but I am the only one shopping in the toy section for my kids.  On Christmas eve many young adults go out to eat and fill the few western restaurants in our city which makes it feel like we are the only ones making a feast at home and reading the true story of Christmas.

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How do we make it not just another day?  We spend much time hosting and using every opportunity to share what the story of Christmas is about.  We have had cookie decorating parties for Hubby’s students and for the kids at the orphanage.  Sugar cookies are seriously one of my favorite foods, but I have made so many batches of them and baked them in our toaster oven sized oven (that would be 6-8 cookies at a time if you are counting.  I was.) I can hardly stand the thought of eating one now!   As much work as it was….we had a ton of fun sharing our holiday with all of our students.

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So we might feel like we are on our own celebrating Christmas, but really we are not.  There are several other expat families in our huge city.  The holidays is a great excuse for us to come together and celebrate.  Since we are from all over the world the ways we celebrate vary drastically, but that is part of the fun.

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Our girls participated in Christmas plays at the international school and at our Sunday fellowship.  Roo sang her first solo and rocked it.  Soccer Dude had a christmas recital with the group he is learning guitar with and Little Monkey sang in a choir and had a line in the play.  She worked at getting over her fear of the stage.  Proud of them all.

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Little Man was also supposed to be a sheep in one of the plays.  I was starting to sweat the morning of the performance.  “Mom I think I should be an elf who shakes his booty NOT a sheep.  ”  hmmmm.  Then, a package came in the mail from my parents.  The kids were thrilled with hats that my mom made for them.  Little Man’s is a lion.  “Mom do lions eat sheep?  Now I know!  I will be a lion in the play and see what the shepherds will do!”  No matter what I said he walked around the apartment practicing his lion growl.  I guess a growling lion/sheep is better than an elf/sheep who shakes his booty!?  I was wondering what this loose cannon would do on the stage.  In the end he got cold feet and took a nap.  I won’t say that I was disappointed – relieved actually, to have another year before he has a live audience.  This kid.

 

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I might never get used to Christmas not being a holiday here, but it did save my tail when I forgot (again!) to buy batteries.  Thankful for all the ways we were able to celebrate.  Over and over again I was thinking of how JC is with us.  Immanuel.  What a special holiday.

 

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Thinking of all of you on the other side of the world and wishing you a blessed holiday season as well!

I can’t forget

Sitting here in my pj pants sipping strong coffee reflecting on the week.  Oh, what a week.  The first week of the semester always is a bit overwhelming, I must admit it and should be prepared for it.   But I can safely say this week was more intense than most.  Yes, Hubby had his first week of teaching with all the new student and textbook craziness.  We did start homeschooling and jumped into figuring out Chinese classes for the girls at the international school and I was at the orphanage setting up what my art classes will be.  All of that but more.

Trying to decide what to share and what should be left between me and my coffee.

But if I don’t share their stories…..

I had a few key meetings this week at the orphanage to plan our involvement for the semester.  So many opportunities have been mentioned and we really needed clarity and wisdom over what we should do.  Unfortunately, the need is just greater than OUR time and resources.  But, we happen to know the ONE who has no limits.  That was my comfort and peace as I was given a unique invitation to tour a facility outside our city with a special education director.

Let me back up a bit.

Children who grow up in the orphanage have two paths their lives might go down….1. to be adopted and set in a family  2. to grow up in the system and at age 18 they are released to be on their own — or sent to an adult institution.

(Can I just say again….please adopt!)

Three of my older students turned 18 and were sent to the adult facility this summer.  Saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.  When I was told they were moving to the adult institution I literally thought I was going to throw up.  I have heard stories and my heart couldn’t handle the thought of those horrors being a part of the future for my friends.  In that moment I clearly heard the voice of THE FATHER speak to me.  “They are not yours.  They are mine.”

This week, I was able to visit my three students in their new home….a facility for people with no place in society.  As I walked up to the compound that has bars on the windows, my heart hurt for the kids — kids who not only never have known the love of a family, but now are living like prisoners.

A non-profit organization, CA, has built a special unit at the facility for the teens coming from our orphanage.  The rooms are nicer with a private bathroom, there is a main living room and dinning area where the residents are able to eat together.  But life still is hard.  Our kids are used to classes, art and music, games to play, books to read, a caring staff and an area outside to walk. Now at the new facility, they have none of these things.  Without these, the days living within the barren walls of the unit must seem endless.

Twice a week two social workers from CA are now going out there to teach the residence life skill classes.  During our visit I got to see one of the classes.  It is a start.

I was thankful to see my former students, their new home and reassure them that they have not been forgotten.  But in a way I kinda do wish I could forget.  I didn’t even know this place existed a few days ago.  Now I have seen it and know the dear ones locked behind its walls.  One resident followed us around and with tears begged for attention.  That place, those people, they are burned in my mind.

CA has asked me to teach art classes at this facility once a week.  I am at a loss….feeling my heart moved and yet not knowing how to make it all work.  This facility is a 2 hour one way bus ride from where we live and is to far for a taxi driver to want to take me there.  On top of the issue of transportation, there is no help.  At the orphanage the nannies/teachers help me with the classes.  I provide the projects and they help with paintbrushes, scissors, tape….whatever I need help with.  At this facility there are no nannies or teachers to help.  I can not do this alone.

So that is what I am talking to Gd about over my coffee this morning.  Since I can’t forget they are out there needing help….I need a Chinese drivers license, a car, and a helper….and maybe a few more hours in my days.  That might just about cover it. Okay, I also could use a good dose of Gdly courage.

This is a Gd sized job so we are waiting to see how He comes through.  For now, we are buying books, paper, markers, DVDs and other items to send to the residence to use.  It is a start.

Not really sure where to go from here or how to close this post.  I guess if you will indulge me let me say it one more time…please adopt.  Anyone who is able – adopt.  If you can’t add a child to your family then donate toward the adoption of a child.  If you can’t donate then tell the stories of children who need families and spread the word.  

Dear Gd may you find families for these kids before they ever need to be move to adult institutions.

 

 

 

Pizza Party Good-bye

There are moments when you know you have come a long way (and that there is so much further to go…Amen?!)    I had one of those moments as I talked to one of the teachers at the orphanage.  They had planned a pizza party for our last Friday class together as a way to say good-bye for the summer.  My heart was so warmed!

I have been hoping for deep life-giving relationships with the workers at the children’s home.  I volunteered at the orphanage for a year in the past and never really was able to build relationships with fellow workers.  I still am in awe over the open doors and how favored my time at the children’s home has been since our return almost a year ago.

 

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They bought all the ingredients for the pizza and set it up in the orphanage “apartment.”  One of the classrooms is set up like a home, full kitchen, living room and bedroom, to teach the kids what a home is like.  Both of my classes crammed into the tiny apartment and with remarkable attention watched as I mixed the dough and made pizza for them.  I looked up from kneading the dough to their sweet faces starring at me – it felt like we were a family.  I love them all so much, at times I feel like I could just burst.

 

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We were using the common oven you can find in these parts; they are the size of a toaster oven.  There was a lot of waiting as we baked the dough, put on the toppings, baked again.  The pizzas were very small so we went through this process four times.  The kids waited patiently and entertained themselves by looking at photos of themselves as I took them.

One Chinese teacher carried the first pizza over her head and exclaimed to the kids – “Your American pizza party!”  It made me laugh as I took in our small square treat.  They had decided to top the pizzas with Chinese hotdog (it is like spam in my opinion) mutton, carrot, onion and tomato.  I did put my foot down and told them I would bring the pizza sauce.  “No, ketchup is not what we use in the States as Pizza sauce!”  HaHa.   So “American pizza” is a term I would use loosely when describing what we ate…but the kids sure did enjoy it.  The beauty of these kids, they are honest.  So I know they weren’t pretending to like it!

 

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The second pizza was cut into tiny squares and carried up and down the hallway of the orphanage to be shared by the kids who are not in my classes.  It was so fun to hear the excited exclamations over eating pizza…and in between meal time at that!  We also had a steady stream of nannies coming to take a peek at the recipe which led to us planning a shopping trip over the weekend so I could introduce them to the import store where you can buy mozzarella cheese.  Relationship building at its best and I think I might just have started to become a part-time cheese supplier.  Who knew?

What a great way to end the semester.  I hate to see it come to an end; it feels like we just got things rolling.   I have high hopes that the 6 weeks we have off won’t set us back, but I will be able to pick up the relationships right where we left off come the fall.

Hmmm….maybe we will have to start the fall semester with me planning a cookie party for them at my apartment?  Already planning and dreaming for next semester!

2.5 million people

Image 5Ever wonder how two country kids can end up living in a city of millions and thrive?

It’s true, Hubby and I both grew up in small towns and at least for myself the thought of living in a city of millions was unimaginable.  But yesterday, we laughed again how living in a large city in this culture at times can be so like living in a small town.

Little Man and I were walking back from the market.  We have learned to ignore the stares as I pull him in the wagon (Thanks to another expat friend who gave us their wagon that had been shipped over from the States.  Gotta love hand-me-downs!)  I was hauling my load up the small hill to the back gate of campus when a middle-aged man stepped in to help.  Rare!  We often get watched but don’t get helped.

I turned to thank him and a conversation began.

It started like most conversations….”So this is your son?”  We chatted about us having four kids; he has one.  I told him how long we lived in China and he told me he grew up in this city.  He asked about Little Man’s leg and the conversation turned a bit more personal.

“Oh, yeah we all know your family.  Your husband is a teacher and we see your children.  We know you live on the 2nd floor in building 5, but we do have questions?

At first this could feel creepy…..but really it speaks to the communal nature of this culture.  It might be a big city, but our little apartment complex filled with neighbors in high risers – they know each other and they want to know and understand me.

“Did your son have an accident which made him lose his leg?  It looks like you love your Chinese children the same as your birth children, but that can’t be true.  Is it?  We watch you come and go….where do you work?  Would you adopt a child from here?  What is this thing you are pulling your son in?  This is my first time seeing a wagon.  You are different!”

I answered his questions as we walked through campus, knowing he would report all my answers to his wife, a teacher along side my husband.  She is sure to tell the other neighbors.  It is like living in a fishbowl.  Maybe if I hadn’t grown up in a small town that would bother me.  Believe it or not, I welcome the curiosity of my neighbors.

As they ask questions our hope is that they see something different about our family and they will be intrigued by who makes us different.

 

Going out

Butterflies in my stomach…I have had them ever since I was called in for a meeting at the orphanage.  Children’s Day (like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day in the States) was quickly approaching and they asked me to help make it special for the kids.  It was the first time they asked me for help.  Usually it is the other way around….I offer help and see if they approve it or even want it.  This was a huge deal for them to approach me and I was excited, but really nervous wanting to do well.

We planned two events for kids this past week with the help of some international students who are visiting Hubby’s university.  Couldn’t have done it without these students who served and loved well!  They blessed my socks off!

 

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On Children’s Day – when the park was filled to the max with families taking their children to the park – we also loaded up 12 taxis filled with volunteers and children.  Each volunteer was matched with a child for the afternoon to be their buddy.  The orphanage staff choose the 20 children we could take to the park and I was thrilled to see that the list consisted mainly of kiddos who don’t get a chance to get out often – kids with severe autism, kids that are blind and kids who were unable to walk.  It all made this momma sweat a bit thinking of being responsible for them.  Any doubts I had flew from my mind as we wheeled them out of the orphanage.  One boy, who I often feed dinner to on Monday and Fridays, called out “Kai Xin” (happy) over and and over as we placed a hat on his head and took him out into the sunshine.  In that moment I would have signed over every Sunday afternoon for orphanage outings if they had asked me!

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The afternoon wouldn’t have been listed as the best ever Children’s Day in the book of most children.  The group wheeled the kids around the park, we played with bubbles and finished the afternoon with a special yogurt treat and a Hersey’s kiss.  The kids were content to watch people walk by and to have one on one attention for the day.  They were not content with only one Hersey’s kiss!  Note to self to sneak in chocolate treats more often!

 

The second outing came about after another meeting.  Word had gotten around that I had some friends helping with an outing for Children’s Day.  The foster care department then asked me to help them with an outing for the foster families.  If I was nervous about the first request….well this one gave me a heart attack.  They asked us to plan interactive games and to train foster families how to play with children to promote physical and mental stimulation.  “We know Americans parent differently and are very accepting of disabilities…show us what you do.”  Ummm, yeah.  No pressure.  Heehehe.

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The second outing was even better than the first….for me at least.  We had planned games using a parachute, exercises based on the Eric Carle book “Head to Toe” and sidewalk chalk art (of course!) – but it wasn’t the planned activities going well that made the day a huge hit for me.  In the midst of the party we were having at the park, I looked around at the 30ish foster families and their children and was overwhelmed.

 

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These families are caring for children – day in and day out – with needs like spinal bifida, limb differences, and blindness….just to name a few.  They are going against the cultural norm and loving children who have been set aside.  One foster mother told me about the 17 children she has cared for till their adoptions to the United States and then introduced me to the sweet one she is caring for now.  With love she told me how this two year old girl still can’t walk, “but I have hope for her!”  Wow.  What love.  What sacrifice.

 

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Over the afternoon I felt such a deep connection with these families who look different from the average Chinese family.  As I gave them a book and a bubble wand at the end of the afternoon I was wishing it was so much more.  I wanted to hug them tight and whisper in their ears – “well done!”

Because they gave me a gift.  I don’t feel as alone anymore.

I often look around the orphanage and see a need that is oppressive.  This week I realized that some times the need can be met with something as simple as an outing to the park.  I also have met a whole new set of friends who are battling the needs right along with me.

So glad I ignored the butterflies and pushed through.

Blessed.

 

Afternoon learning fun and split pants.

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We have the benefit of two worlds…homeschooling and an international school.  In the mornings you will find us huddled around our coffee table learning together, but by noon the three big kids are packed up and heading out the door to the international school.  There they have Chinese classes and specials (art, music, PE, and library) plus some invaluable time with others kids who live in a culture that is not their own.  They have made some great friendships and their Chinese, including reading and writing, has improved dramatically over the year.

This past week the school hosted an art fair.  It was a great time for all….well except for Little Man.  Oh, that is a story in itself!!  I will get back to that.  Each of the big kids had projects in the fair and I loved taking it all in.  Got a few ideas for my classes too!  Their art teacher is amazing.  So appreciate her hard work!

 

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The highlight of the afternoon was Roo winning the award for best project of the 4th grade.  She came up with this monochromatic masterpiece on her own using many different materials to show texture.  When she first showed me her piece, I again was amazed by her natural talent.  What a blessing to have our little artist encouraged by winning.  So proud of her.

 

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While big sister was shining, Little Man was trying to hide.

Let’s start the story by saying that he has become Mr. Independent of late.  When he headed to the restroom on his own the thought ran through my head that it could be disastrous.  I should always listen to that still small mommy warning voice in my head!

He didn’t aim well.  He got wet.  Really wet.

So in the middle of the art show I was scrambling to find him a change of pants.  I found a gracious Chinese mom who was willing to loan us her son’s extra set of clothes.  I was so relieved until I noticed that they were traditional Chinese split pants.  Split pants are exactly what they sound like.  There is a split in the middle….for easy aiming, I might add, so that you don’t have wet clothes with young ones.  No pull-ups around here, young kids walk around with it all hanging out of the split.

So poor little man had to be wet or exposed.  Hard choice.  He really hates being wet.

True to his nature, he pulled those pants on and turned those cheeks towards me and shook them singing, “booty, booty, booty!”

The rest of the afternoon he spent wrapped up in my sweater trying to hide that cute little booty.

He said, “I don’t like these “showing” pants.  I might have been born in China, but I am American and we don’t wear split pants!”

For many reasons, it was an afternoon we won’t forget!

No photos of Little Man from the day! 😉

worst hair cut ever…just smile and nod.

I love living overseas.  Different culture, food, friends, travel, language….okay maybe the learning language bit is a stretch, but usually I love living cross-culturally.

Until I need a haircut.

When I walk to the door of a salon I can see the looks of excitement or horror (depending on how the stylist feels about his first time cutting a blonde head).  Yes, here usually the person who shampoos is a woman and the person cutting is a male.  I go in armed with a photo and my best practiced hair cut phrases but I must admit they do me no good.  I have lived in Asia for a total of five years….and yet have I had a good haircut.

I had high hopes this week.  Two months ago I was sure I had the worst bowl cut ever so how could it be any worse? sigh!

With little dude in tow, I tried a new place a few blocks from campus.  Maybe my bad cuts came from always going to the cheap places on campus?  It was a theory.  What my theory did not take into account….my coping mechanism when it comes to my lack of language skills.

I smile and nod.

It seriously is the worst habit that I have ever ever ever picked up.

I showed the dude the perfect cut I had printed from Pinterest and said, “short in the back leave the front alone.”  That is where it gets fuzzy.  The shampoo girls were quickly falling in love with my charming son and I was momentarily distracted as I realized that he was scoring fist-fulls of candy.

That is when it happened.

I smiled and nodded.

The next thing I knew a chick was bringing out little rods.  I started to sweat and rethink everything I had said from the time I had entered the salon.  Those sure look like perm rods to me.  Nah….couldn’t be.  I didn’t say anything that sounds like “I want a perm.”  Wait!  What is the word for perm?

“This will make your hair fat in the back.”  I smiled but told myself not to nod as the stylist was pointing to the picture I had brought in.

“Oh, no,” I replied.  “My hair isn’t exactly like hers.  I just want it cut like hers.  You know short in the back and longer in the front.  Can you cut it short in the back?  I want it cut.”

Maybe the more I say “cut” the more they would understand.

“I don’t think she understands.”  I hear one of the shampoo girls say to the stylist as she gives my son even more candy.  “No, no she understands.  Her hair is so flat she needs this.”

I guess my thin limp hair is understood in all cultures and everyone wants to try to help me out.  Did I mention that I was sweating by now and I had lost the smile along with the nod?  I have had perms in the 90’s and I do not want to go back to those days!  Kinky and big in my book isn’t better than straight and limp.

“Ahhh, my son is with me I need to have this done quick.  I don’t think I have time for your plan.  Could you just cut it short in the back?”

I walked out with straight hair….but it is not short in the back.

Little Man gave it a pat and asked, “What happened?”  Even my three year old knows that the bowl cut was better.

The next time you see me – bad hair and all – please show me some grace.  I love living overseas but it isn’t easy on my hair.  You can comment on it, but I am sure I will only smile and nod.  Oh wait, I am trying to break that habit.