August 30, 2013

Two private celebrations

Private celebrations.  So far I've had two.

The first was when I was in college.  I was a senior, in the English department, already engaged to be married to a man half a country away.  In other words, I had nothing much to do. 

So I decided to retrieve my violin from my parents' house, have it serviced, buy a fresh cake of rosin, and take private lessons.  Having been 12th chair, second violin (or something like that) for most of high school orchestra, I decided I was unwilling to retire the instrument entirely until I had mastered it.  Or if not mastered it, at least accomplished it.

When I started private lessons through the music department at Hope College, I was terrible.  Truly.  In high school I had squeaked by (quite literally) by pulling my bow across the strings ever so slightly so as not to be heard.  By now, three years had gone by since I had even cracked the case, and so I sounded as awkward as I felt.

But still, I was undeterred.  Even when the piano accompanist who was assigned to me (poor girl) actually shook her head during one of our rehearsals, I was determined to become proficient - in fact beautiful - at playing the only instrument I had ever enjoyed.

So all through the cold winter months of my senior year, I could be found in one of three locations: sitting in the closet on the phone with my fiance, cuddling on the futon with Liz Schofield, or standing in front of a music stand in a practice room on campus, playing my violin.  I stopped practicing with the accompanist, for she was very busy, and so instead I played with a recording of her, matching my pitch, rhythm, and style to hers.

I practiced.  And I practiced.  And I practiced.  No one but Liz, and Daniel (who was almost 800 miles away) knew what I was up to.

Until at last recital day came.  It wasn't a recital so much as it was a test, before an empty auditorium save for my private instructor and two of her colleagues, who were holding critique sheets in their hands and skeptical looks on their faces.  They had heard me at the beginning of the school year, and they had copies of the piece I had selected to play that day, and I could tell their confidence in me was weak.

And then there was my accompanist, who took her seat at the piano bench like a sheep going to slaughter.  Poor dear.

But all at once, I lifted the bridge of my instrument and lowered my shoulder quickly, pulling my bow across the string and cutting through the silence of the empty auditorium.  The note was in perfect pitch, with a chilling vibrato, and my accompanist heartily joined in until we were making music together; precise and lovely music.

I nailed the last note, letting it hang there in the air, as if bowing, and then I brought my violin and bow to my sides and faced my critics.  They were smiling, and my instructor was beaming.

I looked at the piano, where my accompanist gave me a grateful grin.

And then, in absolute silence, I left the auditorium, stepping out into the hall.  No one was there to congratulate me.  No one at all.  And so I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, congratulating myself.

The first of two private celebrations.

The second came much later.  Eleven years later, in fact, when on August 18, 2013, at exactly 11:05 p.m., I finished my novel.

Daniel was out of town and unreachable by phone.  The hour was too late to call my friends.  I could have called someone in America, and indeed I considered it, but then I remembered the feeling of standing in that hallway after a near-perfect violin performance back in college, and I decided G0D was giving me another chance for a private celebration.

And so it was that I typed the last word of my first book, in the stillness of my apartment, on a quiet night, all alone.  And the word seemed to echo, hanging there in the air, as if bowing.  And my keyboard seemed to give me a grateful grin.

And my heart beamed.  

August 29, 2013


Our daily schedule (so when I am 55 years old and can't remember why my 30s are a blur, I can refer back to this post)

6:30 a.m.
I wake up to a morning radio show murmuring softly in Chinese from my antique Chinese nightstand.  I get out of bed, take my supplements, get dressed, start my coffee, and read my Bible.
7:00 a.m.
Little boys in underwear and T-shirts emerge from their blue bedroom, with blue blankies in their grips.  I enter the pink bedroom to retrieve my little girl from the crib she still sleeps in (because she tends to get out of bed all night long otherwise and we don't need another battle to fight).
7:30 a.m.
Breakfast; oatmeal, or home made bread, or scrambled eggs.  Sometimes cookies and milk, using a graham-cracker-type cookie called a "digestive cookie" (sounds appetizing, doesn't it).  Cereal is imported and too expensive.  Daddy teaches B1BLE during breakfast.
8:00 a.m.
Kids get dressed, brush teeth, pick up toys they have strewn everywhere in the last 60 minutes.
8:30 a.m.
School bell rings!  I have a desk clerk bell that I sound so I don't have to shout.  Four kids enter the school room.  Third-grader and first-grader get to work on phonics, spelling, math, and handwriting.  Meanwhile I teach Brave and Jubilee the difference between diagonal, horizontal, and vertical; as well as the importance of working top to bottom, left to right, coloring in the lines, staying in their seats, not talking out of turn, etc.
10:30 a.m. 
I take turns sitting on the couch beside my big kids while they read aloud to me.  The other big kid enjoys his screen time, and the preschoolers have free play. 
11:00 a.m.
Family recess!
12:00 noon
Lunch; leftover casseroles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chicken nuggets from the freezer section at the bulk grocery market...pretty much the same stuff your kids eat for lunch.
1:00 p.m.
Time alone with G0D.  Bright reads the Word, Zion listens to it audibly at the computer, and I read from a kid B1BLE to the preschoolers.
1:30 p.m.
Preschool nap time, whether they need it or not!  Also Chinese language tutor arrives for the big kids (on Wednesdays and Fridays).
2 or 2:30 p.m.
Creative writing assignments, history, I read a book to them, science (they are in difference sciences this year, so while I teach one kid science, the other works math flashcards), and finally "Extras," which follows the following schedule:  Monday - piano; Tuesday - typing; Wednesday - diary; Thursday - geography; Friday - studying a hero of the faith.
3:30 or 4 p.m.
School's out.  Recess/free play...while I cook dinner.
5:30 p.m.
Daddy comes home!  We eat.
6:30 p.m.
Relax and enjoy each other (usually involves wrestling and/or making a huge mess of the apartment).
7:30 p.m.
PICKUP.  Daddy calls it "jobs."  We all do our part, and the place is tidy in no time.
7:45 p.m.
Clean up, brush teeth, pjs, get in bed.
8 p.m. 
Kids go to bed.

Parents collapse.
An example of what we do (listen to Pandora) when the school books are shelved and its time to have fun.

August 28, 2013

Runs in the family

Zion is not our only budding artist.  It must run in the family;)

I can't exclude my other preschooler.  If you know my dad, Jerry, you have seen this look before.  It appears that goofiness also runs in the family!

August 26, 2013

top picks

I thought I'd share some of my current faves.

Best new parenting tool.  We now use it every morning after breakfast.  The kids are learning to pray!

Best new home school find.  I'm not one to promote plunking kids in front of a screen, but this math program rocks!  For grades 3 and up.  Check it out.

Best thing on my cooking rotation.  Pioneer Woman doesn't disappoint.  PERFECT gravy every time.  30 minutes and dinner is done.  I use the biscuit recipe, too, cuz it's such a snap.  Add a quick chopped fruit salad and some orange juice, and everybody's happy.  Thanks, Ree!

Best hairdo for long hair.  Put a stretch headband on your head, hippie-style, and then pull your hair up and tuck it in (fold and tuck several times if your hair is as long as mine).  I posted this one of Facebook the other day, too, because it is just so easy...and comfortable!  Thanks, Mom, for taking a picture of this hairdo worn by that clerk at JCPenney:)

And here is a picture of my favorite lovebirds, my big brother Kody and his girl, Carrie.  Cupid hit the mark with these two, I tell ya!

August 25, 2013

Bright at 8.

He can use a drill to drive in a decking screw.  He can run a jigsaw along a curved line.  He can sand a smooth edge.  He can hold up his end of a decking board.
He has chest muscles.  He won't use a kid cup at dinner.  His portion sizes are larger than mine.

He thinks rationally, loves decidedly, and lives openly.

He is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  I'm loving Bright at 8.

August 23, 2013

God's awesome self esteem

I have been following this story, about a girl in India whose adoptive mom thought SURE she had been healed from her lifelong HIV; but as it turns out, the negative results were a fluke and she still has the disease.


This "unanswered prayer" story has hardly left my mind these past 48 hours.  How - or rather why - would G0D raise a family's hopes like that, affirming a mother's great faith to the point that she would announce her daughter's healing to the world and even order 200 celebratory bracelets?  Why would He embarrass her like that, and even, dare I say, embarrass Himself?


But in order to become embarrassed, one must have frailty.  And GOD does not.  GOD'S self-esteem is perfect. 

Whenever something seems theologically fuzzy to me, I think about the cross...for most matters were settled there.  And when I look at the cross, I see a G0D who let everybody think He was powerless to stop what was happening to Him.  I see a G0D who let everybody think He was a fraud, a mere mortal, a liar, in order to accomplish that which was best for all mankind.

He had nothing to prove; He had something to do.

With G0D'S awesome self-esteem in mind, I think about little Arumai, and her HIV non-healing, and I can only assume that G0D is up to something bigger than healing her blood disease.  We all know He can heal a little girl, don't we?  That is what we expect Him to do, isn't it?  But a G0D who would not heal a little girl?  Now that would be a G0D with some guts.

So it is with great admiration that I consider the faith of a mother who would order 200 celebratory bracelets before the final HIV test results came in, and it is with great humility that I worship a G0D who would allow His creation to murder Him so that they might all... healed.

August 20, 2013

To the grave in full vigor

Last week we lost a friend.

Actually, he was a friend of a friend.  A hamster - named Flynn - who had been placed in our care when Jim and Rachel moved back to the States quite unexpectedly.  Flynn was a consolation prize, really.  We figured if we couldn't have Jim and Rachel and their kids Collin and Jackie, we would take their hamster.

But with the passing of time, the little guy grew on us.  I used to marvel at the tiny perfectness of his hands, the way his soft gray fur pulsed with his breathing, and the way his shiny black eyes, so small, were able to transform light into brain waves the same as ours.

Each living thing God has made is its own universe of cells and energy, amazingly alive, day after day.

But, as Bright learned in Biology last week, all living things grow, change, reproduce, and die.  Death will come to us all, just as it came to Flynn.

And so it was that I found him, lying stiffly on his side, in a bed of cedar chips, his open eyes sticky and dull.  Just the day before, he had been running circles in his cage, foraging for buried seeds, scaling his ramp, and hanging his pointy head from his hut window.  And yet there he was, motionless.

As I tried to comfort Zion and Brave (while Bright looked on courageously, and Jubilee stared curiously), I remembered a verse from my Bible reading that morning:

Job 5:26 says, "You will come to the grave in full vigor, like sheaves gathered in season."

I smiled, thinking about how perfectly Flynn exemplified "coming to the grave in full vigor."  Zipping around in the wood chips one day, out cold the next.

Isn't that how it should be?

So thank you, Flynn, for being so alive for a time, and then for modeling Job 5:26 in the way that you died.

May I, too, come to the grave in full vigor.

August 16, 2013

free samples

Does your neighborhood IKEA store set out open bottles of Absolut with paper cups for you to sample at your leisure?

Cuz ours does.

I didn't partake.  I promise.

August 14, 2013

she wasn't always mine

Two years ago today, my husband and I walked into a government building in Guangzhou, China, to receive our daughter.

As we entered the building, my thinking was fuzzy on account of little sleep.  I had spent the better part of the day (and night) before twisting my hands, sweating, and even vomiting, thinking about seeing and holding Jubilee for the first time.

A lot of people celebrate this day, which has been given the cute name, "Gotcha Day," but due to the fact that this is the first week of home school and things are a bit frenzied at our house, August 15th crept up on me.  Feeling like a terrible adoptive mom for not having rented a circus clown and baked three dozen pink cupcakes, I phoned Daniel at work.

"Let's just celebrate next month, Honey," he suggested.  "On a certain day next month - I can't remember which day but I have it in my calendar - Jubilee will have been home longer than she wasn't."

I agreed to that plan, and so Jubi's 2nd Gotcha Day will go uncelebrated...though not entirely without event.  Poor thing chose today, of all days, to become lactose intolerant (I was wondering when it would happen, since only 1% of Asian adults are able to digest lactose).  After I made her drink all of her milk at lunch, because I always make the kids drink all of their milk, she turned a terrible color yellow-green, grabbed her belly, and bent over the trash can with her mouth hanging open.

After ten minutes trying to throw up, with no success, she tried getting the milk out of her system a different way, requesting to be placed on the toilet.  This is a picture of Jubilee, miserable on her Gotcha Day:(
For me, this picture is a reminder - on this very important day - that I am not her biological mother.  I am not lactose intolerant.  I am not Asian.  She was not always mine.

In fact, until the day next month which Daniel has marked in his calendar, she has spent more time as a child known as Hong Hong than a child known as Jubilee.

I forget that.  I forget it when she's getting under my skin and I'm short with her.  I forget it when she touches me lightly on the arm with her nimble fingers and whispers, "I love you" in my ear.  I forget that I am not entitled to her; that before August 15th, 2011, I had no claim to her at all.  Even now, she is on loan to me from God - as are all of our children - and I am ashamed of every moment with her that I have taken for granted.

While I watched her trying to throw up today, championing the pain all by herself (though I quite ineffectively tried to enter in by rubbing her back), I looked at her.  Really looked at her.  Her Chinese eyelids, her poofy lips - the forerunners of her profile - sticking out beyond her tucked-up nose.  I looked at her brown, brown skin, the color of bread crust, and I felt so distant from her.

I felt silly for imagining myself to be her mom.

And then quickly...very quickly, for I knew it must be swift...I banished such thoughts from my mind.  You are her mom, I scolded myself.  You are the only mom she's got, so you better stop dwelling on her "adoptedness" and the fact that you just poisoned her with milk (because of course that was unintentional) and scoop her up and kiss her nauseous face.

And so I did.

Because she is mine now.

August 12, 2013

feel the love

A handful of people I love, and a few people I would love if I ever got the chance, have commented or emailed after my last post.

And now I want to amend my previous sentiment: if blogging because I like it is enough, YOU people are more than enough.

If even one or two of my nearest and dearest gets a smidge of enjoyment from what I write, then my goodness, the blogging is on.

I hope you feel the love.
Lydia and I embracing last summer, after two years apart.

August 11, 2013


So this deck my hubs is building?  It is extreme.  Extremely challenging, and extremely impressive.  However, once it is finished, it will look so much like part of the landscape that virtually no one will think a thing of it.  Guests will undoubtedly come for dinner and stand around on the deck munching on a grilled burger and be thinking about everything but the deck they are standing on.

"That's OK," Daniel said, when I pointed this out to him the other night.  "Craftsmanship should go unnoticed.  If it is noticed, that's when you know there's a problem."

So insightful, don't you think?  That Daniel Rupp.  He sure is a smart feller (or as my dad would say, a fart smeller).

The next day, my friend Nancy sent me a link to a blog post that was fantastic (and timely, Nancy, so thanks again!)  The blog, which I'd  never seen before, is written by a gal not much different than myself, with one notable exception: her post had drummed up 77 comments.  77 comments!

Immediately I'm comparing.  Immediately I'm thinking I should stop blogging.  Not enough people read it, I say to myself.  Nobody cares.

But then I remembered Daniel's words.  Good craftsmanship should go unnoticed.


Not only that, but I thought about why my husband is up there every night measuring and sawing and sweating in the late summer swelter.  Quite simply, he is enjoying himself.

And I, too, am enjoying this blog.  I'll never have 77 comments.  I'm not interested in joining the blogher network, or whatever it's called, and I don't run adds on the sidebar.  I've never learned to take pictures of food I've cooked (any picture I have taken of food makes it look as appetizing as chewed gum).  I'm just me, doing what I like. 

And I'm pretty sure that is enough.

carton conversation

At the breakfast table this fine Sunday morning, my husband, while eating Nutella on homemade bread, posed the following question to the rest of us:

DANIEL: If you were on a game show, and the grand prize was a carton full of any one thing - of your choosing - what would be in the carton?

ME: How big is this carton?

DANIEL: Half the size of this table.  Or, say, a cubic yard.

BRIGHT: Mechanical supplies.

DANIEL: Good one!

ZION: A carton full of best friends.

BRIGHT: If I were a best friend, I'm not sure I'd want to be kept in a carton...

BRAVE: All things juicy!

ZION: Like bugs?

BRAVE: (who missed his nap yesterday, unfortunately)  NOOOOO, NOT BUUUUUUGS, ZION!!! begins wailing

JUBILEE: I want a rubber ducky.

ZION: A rubber ducky half the size of this table?!

ME: I would want a carton full of utterly superb novels to read.

DANIEL: (nodding his head in mock agreement) Superrrrrrb novels.

BRIGHT: What would you want in your carton, Daddy?

DANIEL: Guys, I have to say, I'd choose diamonds or gold or something like that.

BRIGHT:  (shaking his head with pity) Putting all your hope in material things...

Brave riding with the lumber for the deck.  No logging industry here.  Wood imported from Russia.

August 10, 2013

clipped it, cooked it, loved it

I am not a food blogger.  But in a way, that is to your advantage, because if I am taking the time to post a recipe, it's GOOD.

This one comes from Better Homes and Gardens. 

(Spicy) Chicken Corn Chowder

8 slices bacon, chopped
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cups red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped sweet onion
(1-2 fresh jalapeno peppers, finely chopped)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup flour
6 cup chicken broth
2 large Yukon gold potatoes,chopped
2 cups fresh sweet corn kernels
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
(1/2 t. cayenne pepper)
2 bay leaves

In a 5-6 quart Dutch oven cook bacon until crisp.  Remove bacon and set aside, reserving 1 T. drippings in pan.  Add chicken to pan.  Sprinkle with 1/2 t. each salt and black pepper.  Stir over medium-high heat until chicken is no longer pink; remove chicken and set aside.  Add red bell pepper and onion to pan.  Cook and stir until tender.  Add (jalapenos) and garlic; cook and stir 3 minutes.  Add flour.  Stir and cook 1 minute.  Add broth and potatoes.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat.  Cook, uncovered, 10 minutes or just until potatoes are tender.  Stir in chicken, corn, cream, (cayenne), and bay leaves.  Simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Discard bay leaves and serve, topped with reserved bacon.

I omitted all the spicy elements, save for a dash of cayenne, and then I chopped up fresh peppers from our garden for the adults.

Yeah man.  This was GOOOOOOD. 

August 06, 2013

swimming like sanctification

Bright and Zion took swimming lessons for two weeks last summer in America.  They learned how not to drown.

People get saved in much the same way.  They say the salvation prayer and weep for an hour, and they have learned how not to go to Hell.

I am convinced the only real way for kids to learn to swim - as in, become one with the water like the fishes are - is to keep them near a swimming pool for the entire summer.  This has been easy for us to do, since there is a kidney-bean shaped pool in our apartment complex for us to use, and it is too hot and muggy to do anything else.  Now they are swimming like the staff at Sea World.
Brave can't swim without floats, but it doesn't affect his self-confidence one bit.
Jubilee had a fever yesterday:(
I am always looking for ways to help my children understand matters of faith, and I think swimming is a good representation of the sanctification process.  If all a person ever does is learn how not to drown, and never spends time near the water, he's not going to become a stronger swimmer.  He will probably prefer, in fact, to steer clear of water altogether, letting his swim trunks collect dust in his closet. 

We've got to stay close to the pool, friends!  Let us learn to enjoy the feel of water in our ears.  How tragic to let our Bibles collect dust in the closet.

Because learning how not to drown is only the beginning...

August 05, 2013

"fire underwater"

by Zion
An eel chowing down some purple fish, and a dragon breathing fire.  I love the artist's depiction of fire underwater.  Proud of my creative Zion man.

I never go to Hong Kong

I still remember the moment, at the dining room table, when one of our then-two-year old son Zion's eyes clunked in toward the bridge of his nose.  It scared us to death (especially when the ophthalmologist, on the phone ten minutes later, started throwing around words like "brain tumor"). 

Daniel took Zion, who was still in diapers, to the airport early the next morning and boarded the first available flight to Hong-Kong.  As it turned out, Zion had no brain tumors, just an incredibly lazy left eye.

And Zion has been flying to Hong-Kong on a regular basis ever since.  Sometimes he and Daniel take Bright, but never have they taken me or the other kids:(  Flights are too expensive, and a room big enough for all of us to bed-down in for one night on the skyscraping island metropolis of Hong-Kong would put considerable strain on the budget.

So, I visit the great Hong-Kong vicariously through my son(s) and hubby, and drool over the pictures of burgers and Turkish menus they show me.  Lucky ducks.
Triple-O's is their FAVORITE spot to eat in Hong-Kong.  Apparently it is a legend in western Canada??
I'll take the Mixed Bbq Kebab, if you please!

August 01, 2013

cubby-holes at the gates of Heaven

Our preschoolers (we can no longer call them "The Toddlers," now that they are 4) have recently been learning their Bible trivia...finally.  That's the way it goes, isn't it?  The firstborn kid knows the name of all twelve tribes of Israel (and where each tribe was camped around the tabernacle) by the time he is 3, while the third and fourth kids don't know the difference between the Garden of Eden and the Olive Garden.

I finally decided to buckle down and teach them a thing or two.

Our most recent lesson?  Storing up treasures in Heaven.  Now, this concept really got their attention.  Prizes? Waiting for us in Heaven?  Ooh, la, la.

Prizes around here come in the form of care packages, sent by doting grandparents and devoted friends from back home.  When Daddy comes through the door at the end of the day to kick off his filthy shoes (because shoes get filthy here), if he happens to be carrying a cardboard box fresh from the delivery man, all the kids come running, screaming, "Packaaaaaaaaaaaaaage!"

We love our care packages, even if they often come to us looking like this.

Which brings me to this morning.  Today and tomorrow, Daddy has these two stinkers in Hong Kong for Zion's eye appointment.

Which leaves me at home with these two stinkers.

Daniel and the big boys left for Hong Kong this morning before dawn, and so the preschoolers and I breakfasted just the three of us, chit-chatting over our bowls of oatmeal.  Jubilee brought up the topic of treasures in Heaven.  She worded it the best way she knew how.

"What's gonna be in that care package in Heaven?"  she asked me.

"I don't know, Sweetheart," I said, smiling.  "We'll have to wait and see."

Brave put down his oatmeal spoon and looked across the table quizzically.

"Will we have to take our shoes off when we get there?"  he asked.

I smiled again.  Sweet 4-year-olds.  Sweet Asia-dwelling 4-year-olds, and their cute ideas of treasures and proper etiquette.

"Maybe we will, Honey," I responded, trying to take his question seriously.  "Maybe there will be rows and rows of cubby-holes for all our shoes, so we won't tramp mud on the streets of gold."
Two of my earthly treasures.