April 30, 2013

sweet girl

After her bath.  Awwwww...

April 28, 2013

This is where we live

I hadn't realized it until I started seriously studying the language this spring, but for the past five years of living in this country, I've had my head down.  Oh, I tried at first - to learn the language, to enter in - but I had two kids already, with one on the way, and they were dealing with so much culture shock that I didn't have time to mess with it myself.  Instead, I put up an invisible wall between myself and everything I didn't understand.  It worked.  I lived comfortably that way, and probably could have continued to live comfortably for years, maybe even decades.

But this spring I've torn down the wall (or at least I've built a door in it) and I am letting in the world around me.

And boy, am I culture shocking!  I'm annoyed, anxious, and homesick.  Linguistically speaking, I'm more frustrated than I was before.  The more I learn of this language, the more language I realize I have to learn.  Socially speaking, I feel more distant.  I used to think they lived next door to me, but it turns out we live on separate planets. 

But all of that said, I know this is normal.  It hurts to pull off a Band-aid, right?  I will adjust, as Daniel did, and as the kids have done since they can remember.  We live here, after all.  This is where we live.

April 26, 2013

56,000 words and counting

I can't stop now.  The average first novel is 80,000 words, which means I am nearly three quarters of the way through mine.  There is momentum, unresolved conflict, joys yet to be felt, and celebrations yet to be had.

Rachel leaves Tuesday for her new home in the greater Washington D.C. area.  Her poetry keeps getting published, and she keeps reading my fiction with the loyalty and diligence of a true friend.  How come we just met?  How come she leaves now, at the beginning of things?  So much left to share with this new friend of mine - this woman who shares my taste in clothes, my taste for international cooking, and my love of words.

Ugh.  My heart is slumped over this weekend, knowing it is the last I'll spend in close proximity to Rachel.

But we won't stop there.  56,000 words is no place to call it quits.  There is more to be written, more to be celebrated, and more to be learned.  I will write on, and she will write on.  This is one story that shall not ever conclude.

April 24, 2013

Ms. Candle

If only Ms. Candle could have taken this shot!
In Louisiana there lives a young woman called Ms. Candle.  Her actual name is Candace, but back when Jubilee was still learning English, Jubi confused the name Candace with the word candle.  Honestly, there couldn't be a more appropriate nick name for my friend, Candace.  Check out her personal blog here, and her amazing photography blog here, and you'll see what I mean. 

Candace is known for her light.  Her personal blog is titled, "This Little Light of Mine," and for good reason.  Her whole life is an endeavor to chase away the darkness from our world. 

And Candace's photography is also full of, you guessed it, light!  She finds light, holds light, even seems to bend light, until the subject of her photograph looks so real her blog might as well be breathing.  With her little shoulders pulled up and her little elbows drawn in, my friend hides her beautiful smile behind the lens and fires away, capturing what few others are able to capture.

This blog post is for you, Ms. Candle, because you gave Jubilee this night gown, and you gave Jubilee her precious "Lamby," and you have left your impression on her little heart.  And thank you, too, Anna Grace, for giving up your little lamb so that a 3-year-old in East Asia might be able to snuggle up with it every single night. 

April 22, 2013

between aftershocks

The liquid Benadryl is still on our hutch, but the biggest aftershocks seem to happen in the middle of the night.  Saturday night, for example, I awoke to my glass of water hopping across my night stand.  The folks at the epicenter have been hit by roughly 30 quakes since the ground began to move.  Over 200 people have been reported dead or missing, thousands injured.  The roads to the epicenter are still blocked except to emergency vehicles, but when they clear, volunteers from nearby cities like ours will start going there to help in any way possible.

Between aftershocks, we keep living our lives.  For example, here is a picture of Jubilee offering up her disappearing-eyes smile.

And here is a picture of Zion at the science museum to which Daniel took the kids on a field trip while I was in class.

April 20, 2013

our first earthquake

This morning was eventful for us, but it was awful for the folks who live 70 miles southwest of here, where a 6.9 earthquake killed handfuls of people and injured hundreds more.

Today started out a sunny Saturday morning in our enormous city.  Some people were asleep.  Others like us, with small children, were up and breakfasting, but we were all groggy and unkempt, getting our bearings after a long work week.

During our devotional time at the breakfast table, while Daniel was reading about Goliath in his boxer shorts (Daniel in his boxer shorts, not Goliath) the earth began to shake.  Actually, I would describe it as more of a roll, like we were riding on water. 

First, I gripped the wobbling dining table with both hands, my eyes wide and alert.  Next, I released the table, grabbed the two kids nearest me, and ran for the front door.

"Stop!" Daniel shouted, "everybody come together in the doorway."

So we huddled there, the six of us, in the doorway leading out of our apartment, until the biggest waves of movement had subsided.   We could hear things falling inside our home.  When we felt that the quaking had lessened, we hurried down the seven flights of stairs, in our bare feet and pajamas, with nothing in-tow but our kids.

Once on the ground, we met up with hoards of neighbors, all in their pajamas, most in bare feet.  I take that back, our neighbor Alan was not in his pajamas.  Alan had put on his pants and belt, and hat, and had thought to grab his emergency bag, which he keeps on-hand.  Alan, who reminds me a lot of my dad, stood in stark contrast to my own dear husband, who was still in his boxer shorts.

Another friend had thought to grab a carafe of hot coffee on his way out, and was passing around little Dixie cups of strong brew.  I was more than happy to partake, since my own mug of coffee sat un-sipped and cooling on my dining room table on the seventh floor.  Actually, it sat in a pool around the mug, for it had sloshed everywhere during the quake, but I wouldn't know that until later.
That's my husband in the red shirt, in his underwear.
Coffee, anyone?
For almost an hour, or so it seemed, we milled around outside, laughing at each others' pajamas, petting our neighbor's pet bunny (which they remembered to grab on their way out; our George Fuzzy was left to fend for himself), and letting the kids crawl in-and-out of our parked van to occupy themselves.

But it wasn't all fun and games.  The local people, gathered around us in clusters for as far as the eye could see, were somber and some of them crying, remembering past and recent catastrophic earthquakes which affected many people they knew.

One group of very old gentlemen stood waving their arms and ducking their heads as they talked, each of them in turn telling and acting out stories of long-ago quakes.

Finally the crowds dispersed, and we mounted the stairs to our home once again.  A vase had fallen from the top of our dish hutch, pictures were cockeyed on the wall, bottles had fallen inside the pantry, and of course my coffee had spilled everywhere, but otherwise things looked pretty much the same.  We washed our filthy bare feet and sat back down to finish our now-cold breakfast.

The rest of the morning had the feeling of water boiling; all of us jumpy, everything eerie.  Our city, which is usually quiet and serene for its size, was buzzing with a million murmurs as people along the streets below our window talked and talked and talked about the quake, and quakes before it.

The aftershocks came.  We placed a bottle of half-empty children's liquid Benadryl on top of our hutch.  If we thought we felt the apartment moving, we could look at the bright red liquid inside the Benadryl bottle;  if it was sloshing, we knew to get under a doorway.  If it was still, we knew to carry on.

The shocks are slowing now, as the reports pour in of the damages at the epicenter.  We are praying for the survivors.

Today's earthquake reminded me of why we build our lives on G0D and nothing else.  When the very ground beneath our feet begins to roll like its made of liquid, G0D stays completely still.  Guaranteed. 

April 18, 2013

the rules have changed

Rules change, as people change, situations change, and time moves on.

I had a strict rule for myself (for example) that I would not let the scale go past 52 kg.  It was fairly easy to do, for two years, by simply stopping when I was full and choosing a piece of citrus fruit instead of a bowl of ice cream.  Not really rocket science.

Bright's new nanoblock Chrystler Tower set.
But then we moved to a seventh-floor apartment in a building with no elevator (imagine carrying groceries and four children with their riding toys up and down all those stairs each day).  Furthermore, I have recently started school at a local university, to which I bike with my classmate and friend, Alisa, three times a week.  Consequently, some of my old soccer muscles have stretched and yawned and come out of atrophy, adding weight to my frame.  The scale is no longer at 52 kg.  Oh no!  I've broken my rule!  But then, the purpose of my rule was to keep me healthy, and presently I am healthier than ever.  Rules change.

Take my boys, for example.  Thomas the Tank Engine, who's little toot could be heard whistling around Sodor from morning until night, has long-since pulled into his shed for good.  In fact, we're having a toy sale in a few weeks, and Thomas and friends will surely be among the items to go.

Now all I hear about is Star Wars.  They make light sabers out of pvc pipe and practice their Jedi mind tricks.  Zion has a growing stack of completed marker drawings featuring C3PO with his arm cut off, X-wings flying through the sky, and the Death Star blowing up in vivid color.

There is no more Good Night, Moon being read in our home.  Nope.  Now its Encyclopedia Brown by booklight until he falls asleep, him barely blowing us a kiss as we close the door.  I used to say to my preschoolers, "Don't hit or punch or kick, that isn't nice," and now I say things like, "Don't hit or punch or kick until you've first cleared it with your opponent that he is ready and willing."

People change, situations change, and time moves on.  "Honor G0D with your lives," has become our one, unchanging rule to live by.

April 16, 2013


My camera-card-thingy in my computer is broken; or rather, I tried to pull the camera card out with a pair of needle-nose pliers the other day and I broke that part of the computer.  Oops.  And since blogging doesn't work so well with ipads (and I've tried all the gimmicks, I'm pretty sure), and since Daniel doesn't really like to bring his computer home each night so I can tinker with my silly blog, I've been MIA from the blog scene lately.  Bummer.

But I had to get on here and say something about Bright's 8th birthday last week, because hel-lo, 8 is a big year!  I remember turning 8.  My parents gave me a diary, with a lock and key.  Ooh, I felt like such a grown up.  I filled those vanilla-colored pages with pencil-printed exclamations of love, friendship, worries, joys, and all the things a 3rd-grader thinks about.  That book is priceless to me now.
And my firstborn child, Bright, is priceless to me.  I can't believe I am old enough to have an 8-year-old, when it seems like just last week I was scribbling in my little pink diary.  It seems like just a few days ago that I was checking in to the hospital in Lexington to give birth for the first time, with our portable CD-player in tow.

So much has happened since I was 8.  So much has happened in the last 8 years!  There are more memories pinned up on the bulletin board of my heart than I would have thought possible in a lifetime.  My son, Bright, lives up to his name in many ways, not the least of which the way he lights up my our home, and our lives, with his sweet, solid, pensive spirit.  We love you, Bright!  Happy, happy, happy birthday.

(wish I had a picture of the party, but something about a pair of needle-nose pliers, ya da ya da ya da...so here's one of Bright and his daddy looking tough for the camera)

April 11, 2013

to be forgiven

Yesterday evening, at my own son's 8th birthday party (happy birthday, buddy, and I'll get to that in the next post), I said something incredibly stupid and jeopardized our TREASURED friendship with another family here.


The person to whom my offense affected wouldn't have known my folly if my own husband hadn't (unintentionally) spilled the beans.  This led to an argument with Daniel, after the kids were in bed, during which the two of us tried to keep our voices down, so as not to bother a different set of friends who are sleeping on our roof this week.

"Why didn't you cover for me?" I asked, my voice laden with hurt.

"Why didn't you do the right thing in the first place?"  he countered.  Darn it, he was right!

It all came to this:  I am a sinner, I sinned, and I needed to say as much to the victim of my stupid utterance.

So last night, very tearfully, my hands shaking a little at the wrists, I typed an email of remorse to our friends.  It was devastating to me.  It was embarrassing.  I felt like an absolute boob, and worse, I felt deep sadness and worry because we really, really care about these friends.  I prayed that all would go well, hit "send," and tried to get some sleep.

Then this morning, I avoided the computer.  I didn't want to read our friend's response, if there was one.  I tried to stay busy with the kids, but I was a nervous wreck.  I needed to know.  So, midmorning, I caved and logged in.  My inbox loaded it's messages, the blue bar creeping across the screen. I literally looked away, took a deep breath, and then looked back at my inbox.

And there it was.  The Response. 

Before I lost my courage I quickly opened the email, and my worried eyes fell upon the most beautiful words I could have read.  Words of pardon, words of forgiveness; even words of undeserved kindness, encouragement, and assurance of the security of our friendship! 

I jumped out of my seat (this is no exaggeration), ran into the hall, scooped up the first kid I saw (who happened to be Zion), and twirled him round and round shouting, "I'm forgiven!  I'm forgiven!  I have been forgiven!" 

My skin was warm and prickly, my heart full to bursting, my face creased with an enormous grin, and my eyes wet with tears.  There is nothing like being on the receiving end of grace.

April 06, 2013

Strawberry Village

We drove out to the edge of the city, past the tall ginkgo trees, past the migrant workers planting flowers in the median, until we reached Strawberry Village (or at least that's what I'll call it, for it was, indeed, a village built entirely on the growing and selling of strawberries).

We knew Strawberry Village was close when we saw strawberry growers standing on the side of the highway in droves, each waving a cardboard sign to advertise his or her particular farm.  One old woman with a happy face drew our attention, and so we pulled over, letting her lead us all the way down the road and around the bend, over a bridge, through the village, past the vendor selling brightly-colored kites, past the tiny outdoor cafes where fish were being disemboweled, and slaughtered chickens were being held over smoking bundles of twigs to remove the last of their feathers.

At the very end of the road, at the edge of the village, the old woman stopped her motorbike and directed us to park.  We unpacked our kids from our minivans, grabbed baskets, and headed out into the rows and rows of bright red berries.

It was a fantastic, and delicious way to spend a Saturday morning.  And I now have a huge container of home made strawberry preserves in the fridge.  Mmmmm.

April 03, 2013


I have three boys.  Give them a toy snake and a toy rhino, and the rhino will charge the snake while the snake tries to eat the rhino.   Give Jubilee the same two toys, and the snake will be taking a nap under a blanket while Jubilee builds an enclosure for the rhino out of Jenga blocks.

Boys and girls are different.  Which brings me to yesterday's veterinary adventure.

I won't lie, I am incredibly fond of our little pet, George Fuzzy, a floppy-eared, 2-lb furball who makes our apartment smell the slightest bit like a petting zoo.

But when three weeks ago, he started acting strange, I was dismayed.  First of all, he took a strong liking to me, hopping around and around and around my feet and grunting.  Yes, I said grunting. 


And second of all, he took a strong disliking to the boys, particularly Zion, and began biting and scratching at them when they came in close to snuggle like they've always done.  Zion noticed he was being singled out and he was crushed, crying, "I feel like George Fuzzy doesn't like me anymore."

A simple Google search pinpointed our problem.  Our bunny needed to get snipped.  His behavior with me was a typical rabbit mating ritual called "circling" (GROOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSS) and he was showing aggression toward the boys because he felt threatened by them.

Good news for us, there is a Canadian veterinarian in town, who lives here to work on the pandas and help farmers with their livestock, but who also works on pets like George.  Yesterday, we loaded George into a taxi, with the kids and I all crammed in the backseat, and headed across the city to get him neutered.

Today, George is not circling.  George is not grunting.  George is not biting or scratching.  He is moving rather slowly, in fact.  But even after he has healed, the doc assures us that George will be a different, more docile rabbit.  The doctor even showed me the white, furry sacks which now hung limp, crusted with blood, from George's underside.

"I cut these sacks open," the doc told me, "and removed the source of your bunny's aggression.  They should heal on their own now, without sutures."

Back to the illustration with the toy snake and the toy rhino.  What would George do, if you gave him those two toys, now that the "source of his aggression" has been removed?  Well, he'd probably chew on the toys, because he's just a dumb rabbit, but that's not the point.  The point is, boys and girls are different.  They have very different roles to play on this planet.  I saw the blood-crusted evidence of this yesterday.  There is only one way to have "equality" between the sexes - if you consider the word "identical" to be synonymous with "equal" - and that is with a strong anesthetic and a scalpel. OUCH.

Don't neuter the hearts and minds of the men in this world.  (I refer now to all the maddening hubbub on Facebook these days)

Do neuter your male rabbits.

I'm done now.

April 02, 2013

night train

My dream weekend getaway would be to hole myself up alone in a charming stone cottage in the English countryside, with a lovely view of the sheep and the fog, an ample stock of popping corn, black coffee, and milk chocolate, and nothing to do all day but write on my laptop and go for brisk walks in a good pair of shoes.

Or a weekend of flea market shopping with my mom. 

But if neither of those things can happen, I'd like to ride the overnight train with my beloved husband and four awesome kids to spend Easter weekend with our dear friends, the Heddens. So that is what we did.  Incidentally, there was plenty of black coffee, and plenty of time to write on my laptop.  Not to mention laughing until we cried, in typical Rupp-Hedden fashion.  We were so glad we went!

The view from the train.
Our room on the train.  We were in this room for 21 hours, one way.  We loved it, though.  Truly relaxing family time.