March 30, 2012

more than meets the eye

I am not an artist.  Oh, sure, I can sketch a pretty good pony or the distorted likeness of my mom's face, but without fail the pony's head looks like a hotdog bun and the shading between my mom's teeth is so dark that she might as well have some kind of funky gum disease.

Like I said, I am not an artist.

Now, Bright and I are very similar.  Our idea of a good time is a wild round of hang man, or making tiresomely long lists of homonyms.  Bright would forgo a video game for the opportunity to play with the spell check on Microsoft Office.

Not Zion.  Zion is an artist.

The other day, while painting, he asked for permission to dump his brush water all over his paper.  I thought to myself, 'That is going to ruin what he has made, not to mention make a huge mess of the room.'  I gave him permission, anyway, and he was incredibly pleased with the results.  It was exactly what he had envisioned, apparently.

"Look, Mama!" he proudly exclaimed, "here is my painting of Africa."
The craft at our local children's library (a.k.a. Jenny's living room) was a halved apple made from the letter "a."  Zion was a good little boy and followed the instructions, with a glazed-over look of boredom on his face.  Of course he knew how a letter "a" was supposed to look, and of course he could write his name.  He writes it every day on the top right corner of his workbook pages.
After he was done, however, he asked for another set of materials, and while the other kids were off playing, he set to work on his own creation.  The finished result puzzled me.  He had done everything wrong.  I laughed nervously to my friends, excusing his mistakes with a wave of my hand.  "Four-year-olds," I said, or something like that.
And then, when we got home, it occurred to me to flip the paper over and view it through the light.
Well, I'll be.  Turns out there is more to art, and the artist, than meets the eye.

March 27, 2012

Love (by chocolate)

We love, love, love Tim and Amy Hedden and their seven kids.

Two nights ago, we said goodbye to them.  They left this morning for the States, for their son Luke's wedding, and the Rupps will not be living in this city when they return.  It breaks all of our hearts.

You know those people in your life with whom you share the same values?  Who don't mind your quirks because they have many of the same?  Who hang with you for 5 hours and everyone agrees it seems like just a few minutes have passed?  Who help themselves to whatever is in your fridge and who's visits you don't tidy your house for?  You know how much it STINKS to say goodbye to them?  It stinks like the fermented tofu that our neighbors fry twice a week.  It stinks like the skunks that used to roam our old Kentucky home. 

I've smelled it before and I'll smell it again.  It is the price of love.

So, we squeezed into our dining area and stuffed ourselves with meat and potatoes, and then Amy and Miriam and Laura and I squeezed into my tiny kitchen and baked Love By Chocolate Cake, which we were leery about.  A tablespoon of curry and absolutely no flour?  I had clipped it from a recent copy of Midwest Living, and I don't often get an excuse to use an entire box of American baking chocolate.  I'll tell you what, though, no matter how much fun we had stirring it up, nothing compares to how much fun we had eating it.  Oh my word.  There truly are no words to describe this cake.

2 sticks butter, cut up
1 1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 C sugar
1 C cocoa
1 T curry powder
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup shredded coconut
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 C heavy cream

Butter a 10" springform pan. Line the bottom of pan with wax paper.
Melt butter and chocolate chips in medium saucepan over low heat.
Mix sugar, cocoa, and curry powder in a large bowl; add eggs and whisk until well blended. Whisk in chocolate/butter mixture. Stir in coconut. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake 45 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Cool on rack. Remove from pan. While cake cools, prepare ganache by placing bittersweet chocolate in medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring cream just to a boil, and pour over chocolate. Stir until shiny. Top cake with ganache.
I will make this cake again, many, many times, and every time, I will close my eyes and remember the last supper we had in our shared city, the Heddens and the Rupps.  Love, love, love (by chocolate).
Top left: Andrew, Luke, Amy, Laura, Tim, Miriam, Isaac, Natalie (missing: Jake with wife, Rachel; Luke's fiance, Rachel)

March 26, 2012

saying goodbye to my teachers

Every year, so my mom tells it, while the other kids were running for the bus to get home on the last day of school, I would linger beside my teacher.  I didn't want to leave her.  The last one to go, I would pass the empty playground on my way to my mom's waiting minivan, looking at the dust mounds under the swings, the monkey bars where I chicken-fought all the boys and won, the little log cabin where I made (and lost) a few friends, and I would cry.

Every year.

Now, we are fast approaching our final days in this city, and I am lingering beside her.  She is one of the best teachers I've ever known.  She has challenged me, scolded me, comforted me, taught me, and most importantly, she has pointed me in the right direction, like all good teachers do.

She isn't spectacular, perhaps, to anyone else, but this place means a whole heck-of-a-lot to me.

The bakery where I buy my bread (when I haven't had the energy at night to load my bread machine).

The red bean paste-filled "cakes" that my kids love with a passion.

The walking street in our neighborhood where my kids run their hearts out, and wear their jeans out.

The courtyard under our apartment window where we shoot giant water guns and ride tricycles.

The apartment that has been home longer than any other address in the last ten years.

I will miss you, Spring City, and I will love you always.

March 23, 2012

Eating Shorty

We bought a basil seedling in the Fall, and it grew and grew.  I watered it whenever it's dish ran dry.  I moved it from window to window throughout the day, chasing the sunshine.  The kids, not surprisingly, became very attached to it.  They named it Shorty.

We found babysitters for Shorty while we were away.  It's minty aroma filled the house on a breezy day.  Every now and then we would take a few leaves from it, to brighten our dinner just a bit.

And then Shorty started to die.  His leaves began to yellow and curl.  The Internet said he needed new soil, something about his PH balance.   I have no time for hunting down potting soil in this huge city that is organized about as well as my Tupperware drawer.  Not to mention, we're leaving for America in May and then moving to a new part of this country.

It was time to eat Shorty.

So, yesterday, the kids said goodbye.  Each of them had their moment with their pet plant.  It was a tearful and hilarious process.
She doesn't much care.
He's a hugger.
 And the sentimental kid.
Oh my.
Daniel and I didn't shed a single tear, except for tears of happiness as we enjoyed the red Thai curry that Shorty became.


March 19, 2012

human kindness

One of my favorite songs of all time is Bette Midler's "I think it's going to rain today."  I'm sure it is purely nostalgic.  It brings me back to the 80's, when I was eight, and my best friend, Michelle, and I would spoon on my mother's brown couch and cry our way through our 24th viewing of Beaches.

But I just love that term, human kindness.  It implies that humans can be kind, if we try, and we will be kind, if we are inclined, and we should be kind, if we're going to achieve any of the goals JE$US laid out for us.

The arena where I struggle with kindness the most is with my children.  I get to thinking, if I'm not careful, that these little people are mine.  Mine, to treat any way I want, like property.  But they are not.  They are G0D's, and like all of G0D's creatures, they deserve respect.  They deserve human kindness.

So this morning, I pulled up Bette Midler's song on youtube and blasted it through the house as I drank my strong coffee with a splash of cream and 3/4 of a packet of Equal.  I played it through three times, as I spread jam on shortcake for the kids and as I told Jubilee for the thousandth time not to talk with her mouthful.  When I looked at her - when I looked at each of them - I thought about them as people, fellow inhabitants of this earth, who are just trying to make their way alongside everybody else.  Who am I to be anything to them but kind? 

March 17, 2012

we are those people

When we first moved to East Asia, we stared with reverence at the people who had been here a "long time" (more than two years).  They were not, like us, just passing through on their way to their real jobs and real lives.  These were their real lives.  Their teenage daughters had all their best friends here.  Their sons were in boy scouts here.  Their kids got their braces adjusted here.  It was all so bizarre.

Then somehow, along the way, the nursery magic happened to us (sorry, I read a lot of the Velveteen Rabbit).  Almost without our knowing it, we bought a stand mixer and a real vehicle, and now Daniel is taking an exciting direction that could see us into 2020, or beyond.  I guess we settled in.  It happens.  Settling.  Even when we don't plan on it.  Like a divorcee moving back in with her parents and never leaving.  The three of them get used to drinking their coffee together in the morning and none of them wants to change the arrangement.

Of course our lives are more than just taking what comes, I realize that.  We have asked the L0RD very fervently, all along the way, if he still wants us in East Asia, and his answer has always been, "Yep."  We aren't complaining, either.  Things are going really well here and we love the fact that we get to do this with our lives!

So here we are, apartment-hunting in a new city that has lots of smog, Subway sandwiches, an IKEA, and loads of good people to be friends with.  It probably even has a scout troop, and a good orthodontist for all we know, and just like that, we are those people.

March 16, 2012

topics of conversation

"I don't understand why we have foreheads," I said the other night. "They take up half our faces, and they are bald and vast and odd, not to mention hard to keep clean."

Daniel thought about that for a moment.

"Some people can cover them with bangs," I went on, "but I have a cowlick in my hairline and bangs make me hot, which is limiting."

"They were weapons in ancient times," Daniel said.

Well that about answered that question.  I went into the kitchen to pop some popcorn.

March 13, 2012

straight from the cow

You are looking at 2.5 liters of pure white milk, straight from the cow.  Sound like no big deal?  Think again.  It has taken us years to find this stuff.  Years.  That is a long time to go without the taste of real milk.

I know at least one guy who is very happy about it.
The farmer said it would go bad by Saturday, so we went out and bought boxed cereals (a big splurge here) and we've been eating nothing but Apple Rings and Marshmallow Mateys.  Yesterday, after his first bite from his third bowl in a row, Daniel actually threw his head back and sighed.

Too bad we found this milk two months before leaving for America, after which time we are probably moving to a new city in East Asia.  Looks like we'll be having cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner from now until May!

He paid, I smacked.

The people here smack.  Terribly.  We're not just talking about chewing with their mouths open.  Oh no.  I could deal with that, no problem (I grew up with two brothers).  We're talking about a tongue-wagging, food-sloshing, teeth-clicking mouth party that makes my stomach a bit queasy, to be frank.

After almost four years of keeping my mouth shut (pun slightly-intended), I finally got around to asking Daniel about it.

"Oh," he said, "I can easily tell you why they do that."

"Really?" I said.  "Good, then please do.  I am just confounded by it."

"Well," he said, "have you ever eaten with a local person when you hadn't either cooked the food or bought the meal?"

I thought for a moment.  "No."

"See, there you go.  Your only experience dining with locals is when a 'Thank you for this great food!' is in order, with a hearty, 'I love your company!' thrown in.  That's what you're getting from them when they toss food around in their mouths, tearing at the bread and slurping up the soup.  Even if they hate it, they want you to think they LOVE it, and that they LOVE you."

"Oh," I said, feeling a little guilty for judging them all these years.

"On the flip side," Daniel went on, "when we sit there and gently jaw our bites behind pursed lips, they think, 'Geez, would you get a load of this guy!  How rude and ungrateful of him.'"

"Oh," I said again, feeling very guilty now.

"Do you smack when you eat with them?"  I asked.

"No," Daniel replied.  "No need.  I always buy."

And that's where we left the conversation, until yesterday, when Daniel got home from a lunch meeting with a local brother and announced, beaming, "I smacked, like a mad man, all the way through lunch!!"

"Oh honey, that's great!  Why the change of heart?"

"I let him buy," he said.  "He paid, I smacked."

And there you have it.  Crossing Cultures 101.  You can send me a tuition check in the mail.  Scratch that, it would probably get stolen at the post office.

March 12, 2012


The kids need their clothes changed out again.  Brave needs to be in a 3T top, 4T bottom.  Jubilee needs to be in a 3T.  Zion needs to be in a 5T.  Bright needs to drop the "T" and start wearing youth sizes.
But for now, they are all showing bits of midriff and too much wrist, and the cuffs of dorky socks are peeking out from behind short pant legs.  All because I hate pulling down rubbermade bins and going through closets.  I'd so much rather be blogging.

Not only that, but it means that they are growing.  I have mixed feelings about that.  Oh, its true, I dream of going for walks in the cold night air with my husband after dinner, instead of being confined to the couch after 7:30 p.m., trying to decide if we should put in a comedy flick that probably won't make us laugh or play Scrabble and eat brownies.  The city pulses all around us every night, and here we sit, listening for coughs or whimpers from behind the closed doors down the hall.
And yet, the thought of these floors growing silent makes me sad.  The thought of windows without finger smudges, and living room walls void of coloring pages which have been taped proudly at toddler eye-level...well, it makes me want to run in there right now and curl up beside my kids, taking in the smell of bubblegum toothpaste as they breath slowly into their Thomas the Tank Engine pillow cases.
And yet, no matter how I feel about them growing up, the undeniable fact is, that is exactly what they are doing.  Every day.  Jubilee will want to wear lip gloss and Bright will want a mohawk and Zion will be requesting salad with his dinner and Brave will want me to sign him up for kungfu.  I will be taking away phone privileges instead Play-Doh privileges and we'll be advising our kids on career paths instead of teaching them how to share.
Oh dear me.

I better get those bins down this evening and put my little darlings in the proper sized clothing, and kiss them a few extra times tonight before bed.  I suppose it will be nice, after it has all been said and done, to take walks in the evening with my husband.

March 10, 2012


A picture says a thousand words.  Or, in some cases, just one word, "Huh?"

There is no telling what kind of pictures are going to show up on Daniel's camera.  Sometimes, I don't even ask.

March 08, 2012


Early in the morning, I stand in my window looking out at the dawn sky.  My hands are shoved in my pockets and my chin is touching my chest.  I am quietly listening to G0D as he reassures me.

He tells me he loves me.  He tells me to trust him.  I tell him I love him, too.  I tell him I'll try.

We say goodbye.  I start my day.

And we're off to the races.  I direct little people to the potty and help them get dressed.  I feed them breakfast.  I hold them.  I thaw meat for dinner.  I start bread.  I open math books and teach Zion how to tell time, Bright his times tables.  I crack eggs and stir wheat germ into yogurt.  I check email.  I put underwear away in six different underwear drawers, some with Lightning McQueen and some with bows and some needing desperately to be replaced.  I apply mascara if I remember to.  I spread peanut butter.  I peel apples.  I make lists.  I apply bandaids and assign time-outs.  I spank sweet butt cheeks.  I wipe tears.  I smooth back hair.  I drink hot coffee.  I keep track of Lego sets and dole out reading assignments and monitor computer usage and mop up spilled milk and give out rewards and select background music and bake cakes and wash hair and scrub teeth and put pressure on bleeding cuts and hunt down favorite blankies and bring drinks of water and sing songs and turn out lights and close doors.

And collapse.
And the whole day, I am remembering that place at dawn, where He tells me he loves me, and he tells me to trust him.  And I tell him I love him, too, and I'll try.

I go to bed happy, at least where it counts, and I wake up and go to the window again.

March 07, 2012


One can learn a lot about a person's personal and social life by reading their text messages.  Here are a few of the texts that I have received in recent days.
"Ordering cheese and butter tomorrow.  Need any?"

"Tomorrow morn we will have gym class again!  Taking my che [electric bike] and all my kids to field right past ren min lu.  There is prob a bus that goes near.  Let me know if u can join us!"

"I love you.  You're going to make it.  It's going to be ok.  The kids are doing really well.  Remember your job is to love them, everything else will take care of itself.  I'm proud of you baby."

"Need a cooler that will hold two 5 liter Tubs.  Anyone have one that big?"

"Hi.  Can i bring by some mail today for daniel to give to the vt?"

"What's the name of the best dish at beruit?  John wants to know.  Thanks baby."

"Date night?"

"Anyone interested in some fresh milk straight from the cow?  50 for 2.5 liters.""

"We are in courtyard playing come down!"

"Hi.  The milk guy will only sell if we buy 10 liters total.  There are 3 of us that want it.  Is a little over 3 liters too much for you?  About 66 kuai."

"Going out to play in courtyard.  Bringing sand/rice table to play w.  Join us if u can!"

"The party has been moved.  Teresa's Pizza (The one on the corner) on WenLinJie @ 5:00p.m."

"Hey baby, can you check on people with Celiacs and rice?  Love you!!!!"

"Do you know who we are studying tomorrow night?  Tamar or Eve?"

"You guys are such a blessing to us.  Thanks for filling our bellies and hearts tonight!  See you this summer."

March 06, 2012

men are uniquely equipped to adopt

"REALLY?!" Daniel replied, "I don't...ah...have that."

I had just explained to him that "thing" that mothers have.  You know what I'm talking about.  From the moment our children are placed in our arms, before they have written us a single love note or colored us a single picture, they have our whole hearts.  Unconditionally.  My mom recalls her teenagers (that includes me, I'm sorry to say) screaming hatefully in her face, and all the while she felt nothing but a steady, and even welling, love.

"You feel love for the kids when they hurt you?" Daniel asked, clarifying.


"Weird," he said.  
There is a reason why mothers usually stay, and fathers (too often) run. I think it is nature - G0D'S way of making sure that children get raised, because otherwise moms and dads would be ducking out the back door.  Even when our bones are so tired they are splintering away within our limbs and we are crazed with frustration and weighed down with defeat and undone by exhaustion and gripped with loneliness and paralyzed with self-pity, we moms stay.  Whereas a father with half an inkling to get out of dodge and half a reason to do so, can, and often does.

Dads who don't leave, stay because they have firmly made up their minds to stay.  G0D may not have given dads a compulsive, obligatory line to their children, but he gave them, instead, the ability to come to a decision and stick to it, no matter what.  That is why men fight to their deaths in war.  Even with one limb blown off, they do not waver in their commitment to the cause, because they decided they wouldn't.  

Daniel and I talked about this quite a bit.  He told me that when one of the children is throwing up in the night and I ask for his help, it doesn't come "natural" for him (like it does me) to run in there with wet towels and a loving touch.  He runs in there to uphold his commitment to them. So interesting.

Similarly, when Daniel and I went into the "baby waiting room" at the government building in GuangZhou, China, to pick up our daughter, his eyes were peeled for Jubilee.  He was thinking, 'OK, which one of these little ones is going to be my daughter?'  When he saw the girl who matched our pictures of her, he locked in.  Right then.  He would have lost a limb for her at that very moment.  He was made that way.  Did he love her at that moment?  I say, by definition of the kind of love that lasts a lifetime,"Yes, he did."

You see, his concept of "loving" Jubilee is no different than his concept of "loving" me or our sons.  He decides to love us and he does.

If you are a man who is considering adoption and you are afraid you won't love your little peanut as much as you love your other peanuts, fear not.  Even though not all dads attach in adoption as easily as Daniel has, many times dads have an easier time attaching than moms.

Here's to dads, and the wonderful decisions they make.

March 02, 2012

"Slow Dancing in a Burning Room"

John Mayer's song title (though not the song, so much), could be the alternate title of my blog.  "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room" is basically how the psalmist describes life when he writes, in chapter 39,
4 “Show me, L0RD, my life’s end
   and the number of my days;
   let me know how fleeting my life is.
5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
   the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure."(NIV)

What then should we do? (since the room is burning and all)  Should we jump from the window?  I've halfway considered it.  Should we crouch in the corner and cry?  I've done it.  Or (to be cliche) should we dance? 

Daniel and I had a rare midday conversation today.  He admitted that he spends too much time forgetting, and not enough time remembering, that he is living his dream.  When the local people and their Eastern ways drive him crazy, and when he calls his sister 20 times on her birthday and he can't get through, and when the washing machine suddenly crushes its own legs because it was made too cheaply, his life doesn't seem to him much like a dream.

I can relate completely.  When I have to start wearing a whistle around my neck to maintain order in my own home (yes, its true), and when I burn the granola because my oven won't work below 200 degrees Celsius, and when my new daughter tries to hurt my feelings because she suddenly realizes she can, my life doesn't seem to me much like a dream.

And while he is forgetting, Daniel dreams of a "normal" life.  And while I am forgetting, I dream of a quiet life.  And we dream of simple dinners with friends and being able to complete an entire sentence without being interrupted with, "Hullooooo, you from the America?" or "Mommyyyyyyyyyy, I have to poop."

And he and I forget that all we ever wanted to do in life was woo aching hearts to their Redeemer (and get pregnant a few times in a row and settle into the business of making sweet memories with our children to the gory of G0D).

But instead of living our dreams, we focus on the flames, and the fact that life pretty much sucks, and the fact that all of this is wasting away anyhow.  And we grumble and we displace and we eat chocolate and we snap at the ones we love the most.
I want to be different than that.  I want to be like my sister-in-law, who made sure that her daughter learned to sit up and play with toys and put weight on her legs.  Because really, we are all dying, are we not?  We are all "going down," as John Mayer sings, and everyone is "but a breath," as the psalmist says, and if none of us ever picked up a guitar or an ink pen or a rolling pin or a good book - if none of us held our children close or winked at our husbands or emailed a friend who came to mind in the night - then what in the world are we doing here? 

What was Glory doing in the hospital all those months?  Was she dying?  I say, "No."  She was living.

She was dancing.


Baked a chocolate cream cheese bundt cake today.  Took a hot bath.  Taught Jubilee not to laugh when other people are crying.  Not sure if she got it.  Watched my husband cry today.  Heard him complimented for being a good leader.  Couldn't agree more.  Wrote three letters to my son today.  Read three letters from him.  Cried.  Had my water turned off today.  Not an uncommon occurrence around here.  Made Amy Hedden's Toffee Bars today.  Ate three of them.  Remembered why we are here.  Cried again.  Read my kids six books today.  Applauded Bright for finally memorizing 8 + 8.  Assured Bright he IS a good boy and he DOES deserve a piece of chocolate cream cheese bundt cake.  Lured him out of timeout with a strawberry.  Read my kids two chapters from a book called "The Chocolate Touch."  Asked Bright if he said his prayers.  Looked at old pictures of my parents today.  Wondered what makes a person want to be vegan.  Made macaroni and cheese with cut-up hot dogs today.  Kissed Brave's chapped cheeks a thousand times at least.  No wonder they are chapped.

Ate four Tums.
Maybe I should look into the whole vegan thing.
Blogged, if you can call it that.
Went to bed.