Saturday, February 25, 2017

Grace - Four Years Old

Our little Gracie is about to turn four. When I think back on this past year, three words come to mind to describe her. She is organized, creative, and brave.

Watching the clouds roll into the mountains in Northern Thailand.
Grace is organized. She loves order, structure, and logic. This is the quirkiest and funniest part of her personality.

One day I asked her little sister what her favorite color was. She answered "Pink." Then, I asked Grace. She responded, "Red. And my favorite color tomorrow will be orange. And after that, yellow." And so she continued through all the colors in rainbow order.

Grace enjoys creating countdowns for big events. Several weeks before her 4th birthday, Grace told us she wanted to create her birthday countdown 11 days before her birthday. Every day or two, she would check in to ask how many days until her birthday.

One day, I told her that there were 14 days left until her birthday. The next day in the bath after not mentioning it all day, she told me out of the blue, "Mommy, there are 13 days until my birthday. Tomorrow there will be 12 and then the next day, there'll be 11, and then we'll make a countdown!" Lover of order, structure, numbers, and logic to the core.

Grace has also been working hard to figure out how reading works. She knows the sounds of English and Thai letters and she has started to sound out English words. I remember one day after her bath, she asked me what was written on the toilet. "Mogen," I said. She practiced reading it everyday. Then, one day, she read it backwards accurately, "Negom" and laughed. That's when I knew she had figured out how reading works.

Grace is creative and imaginative. Grace loves to talk. She always has ideas, stories, memories, and questions brimming out of her. But, if we give her art supplies, she stops talking (!) and gets lost in her own little world of imagination and creativity. She draws pictures of gardens, the beach, rainbows, and clouds. When she's finished, she sometimes gives elaborate explanations of everything going on in her art.

Grace also loves music and dancing. She particularly enjoys learning Thai kids' songs, even more than English songs, and she loves having dance parties after dark with the lights off, the music loud, and her light up rings flashing.

Grace is brave. I've never felt more proud of Grace than this past year as I've watched her go from being a toddler living in America to a preschooler growing up in Thailand. It's been a hard transition, causing nightmares and category five tantrums. Watching her persevere through all the difficulties and learn to enjoy life here makes us so proud.

Because of her bravery, she's gone from knowing just a few Thai words to being able to understand everything her teachers tell her and beginning to speak a little bit. This past year, she also learned how to ride a bike with training wheels, she went down a water slide all by herself, she rode a pony, and she fed an elephant and a giraffe at the zoo. She is naturally very cautious, so all of these new things were scary to her, but she decided to be brave and ended up enjoying them all.

Grace, Mommy and Daddy could not have thought you up. We love everything about you from your passion for numbers and structure to your love of music and art. We think you're an amazing kid!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Why I Still Forget the Thai Months of the Year After 11 Months of Study

I was hanging out at the preschool playground after school with my little girls when another mom asked me how old daughter #2 was. 

"She's two years old," I answered in Thai.

Little preschool buddies playing after school together.
"What month was she born?"


I struggled to remember how to say the word "September." I had learned the months of the year in Thai nine months earlier, had reviewed them multiple times, and yet still could not remember them well.

Since I couldn't recall the word, I responded, "The ninth month. What is the ninth month called?" 

"กันยายน" she said. 

Yes, of course. How could I forget. I wanted to roll my eyes and let out a grunt of exasperation, but refrained since the poor woman would probably think it was directed at her.

I felt so frustrated. Why does it take months for the Thai months of the year to stick in my brain? Didn't it take me about one week to learn the months of the year in Spanish in 8th grade?

I started comparing the months in Thai to the other three languages I've learned -- English (native language), Portuguese (my other native language: born in Portugal, lived there until I was six, I've forgotten almost all of it), and Spanish (studied it 8th-12th grade). I then had my "Aha!" moment. Follow along.

Months of the year in: English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai
. (Thai has five tones, so each syllable below has either a low tone, middle tone, high tone, falling tone, or rising tone. It's a bit like singing. Sort of.)
  • January, janeiro, enero, มกราคม (mo-ga-raa-kom)
  • February, fevereiro, febrero, กุมภาพันธ์ (gum-paa-pan)
  • March, março, marzo, มีนาคม (mii-naa-kom)
  • April, abril, abril, เมษายน (meh-saa-yon)
  • May, maio, mayo, พฤษภาคม (prut-sa-paa-kom) the "u" in "prut" is a vowel sound that doesn't exist in English.
  • June, junho, junio, มิถุนายน (mi-tu-naa-yon)
  • July, julho, julio, กรกฎาคม (ga-ra-ga-daa-kom)
  • August, agosto, agosto, สิงหาคม (sing-haa-kom)
  • September, setembro, septiembre, กันยายน (gan-yaa-yon)
  • October, outubro, octubre, ตุลาคม (tu-laa-kom)
  • November, novembro, noviembre, พฤศจิกายน (prut-sa-ji-gaa-yon)
  • December, dezembro, diciembre, ธันวาคม (tan-waa-kom)
Thai is so different from English, right?! I find that new words and new grammar structures just don't stick as readily in my brain because it's all so different from the other languages I've learned.

I'm not the only one who has noticed this difference. The U.S. government has ranked which languages are the most difficult for native English speakers to learn. On a scale of 1-5, Portuguese and Spanish are ranked a 1 because they are closely related to English. Thai is rated a 4+. Only Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, and Arabic are ranked as more difficult than Thai. Yikes.

As I've slowly come to realize more and more how difficult Thai is, I've taken more and more of a patient, marathon mentality approach to language learning. Every day and every week, I make sure to put in my hours of reviewing, using, and learning Thai. I trust that after a few years, it will all add up and I will be (hopefully!) speaking well.

In less than three weeks, we will pass our one year anniversary of living in Thailand. Perhaps my goal should be to have the months of the year down solid by then.

** Interesting tidbit: Did you notice that months with 31 days end in "kom," months with 30 days end in "yon," and all the months... err... February ends in "pan"?

Sunday, January 29, 2017


When I press my ear against my daughter's chest,
And I hear her heart beating - quick and strong,
And I marvel that it's been beating since she was the size of a sesame seed,
And will beat until the day she dies,
And that her life depends on this little, toddler fist-sized organ thumping away,
I realize: life is so fragile but so strong.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


For the past several years right around my birthday, I have written a reflective post on the past year. This past year was rough, so I found myself wanting to just move on rather than stop and think about it. But, I stopped anyway. So here's my 31st year, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

What was the best thing that happened this past year?
Simply being alive, being Michael's wife, and being Grace and Cora's mommy. These are the most basic, everyday things and they are the best.

What was the most challenging thing that happened?
For the first half of the year, the most challenging thing was saying goodbye to people and places in the U.S. and adjusting to life in a new country.

The second half of the year, the challenges of adjustment were overshadowed and compounded by the news of our good friends' deaths. The loss of any one of them would have been difficult. The loss of all five at once was, at times, unthinkable.

What was an unexpected joy this past year?
I've always loved nature. When we decided to move to the concrete jungle that is Bangkok, I thought I would have to just get used to life without much green. Then, we discovered an enormous park with trails, gardens, a lake, and a huge playground located just a twenty minute drive from home. The first time I went, I almost cried, it was so beautiful and I felt so grateful!

What was an unexpected obstacle?
This was the year of obstacles, most of them unexpected. I could probably list 100. Here are the first few that come to mind: mold, rats, diarrhea (gross, but true!), navigating the world of Thai preschools, hunting for a car without understanding how car purchasing works in Thailand, and temporary deafness caused by a bad ear infection. I'm hoping that working through all these obstacles made me a more flexible and resilient person!

What image best captures this year?
I love this picture Michael got of Grace sitting on a wall. This year has been all about our family adjusting to a new life in another country. This picture captures some of that entering in.

With whom were your most valuable relationships?
This year, there were so many people who lovingly cared for us. Just a few who come to mind… 

  • Each and every kind Thai person who helped us figure out life here all the while being patient with our poor speaking skills. Especially our Thai tutor, Khruu Sasipa.
  • A few women in the U.S. who regularly prayed for me and cared for me from so far away (one of whom was Kathryne Pals).
  • My siblings and our parents too who are a constant source of support and prayer.
  • Friends/colleagues here who have become like family.

What was the best way you used your time this past year?
Digging deep into the Thai language; video chatting and emailing with people in the U.S.; taking trips to the beach; and spending time with God praying, writing, reflecting on the past, and visioning for the future.

What was the biggest thing you learned this past year?
God is completely good and sovereign (in control) of everything. Even events that look like detours, accidents, and tragedies are a part of his big plan. I have found so much peace in this truth.

What days will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I will carry the memory of our first weeks in Bangkok and the memory of the Pals family for the rest of my life.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
The enormous progress I've made in learning Thai. A year ago, I knew just a couple dozen, mostly food terms. Now, I can converse with people (up to a point). A year ago, the script looked like gibberish, now I can slowly read it.

What did you get really, really, really excited about?
My new nephew, Malachi. So far, I've gotten him to smile at me three times while video chatting. I also got really excited about visits from both our parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and good friends.

What kept you sane?
My husband's calm, hardworking, always willing to help spirit. Coffee/tea. The large park and gardens near our house. Line, Facebook, and Skype for keeping in touch with family. Monthly calls with my spiritualdirector/amazingfriend, Larissa.

What are you looking forward to the most this year?
Adjusting more to life in a new country, becoming a better Thai speaker, learning more about Thai culture, and thereby making Bangkok feel more like home.

Here are my posts from when I turned 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, and 25.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Favorite Books of 2016

This year, I read and finished 20+ books. Here are my five favorites.

I've included at the bottom a couple honorable mentions and my two kids' favorite books of 2016. I always love to hear what others are reading, so if you've read a good book recently, please share in the comments.

Fun fact: after compiling the top five list, I noticed they were all written by women -- two Brits, one Nigerian, one Asian-American, and one Canadian.

And shout out to my husband for making the graphic.

Happy reading!

Still Life by Louise Penny

Still Life is the first book of the wildly popular, twelve book (and counting) Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series. The author built up so much suspense, I lost a lot of sleep while reading this one! Engrossing, suspenseful, well-paced, lots of twists and turns. And her sumptuous descriptions of food made me hungry almost every time I read.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca, a mystery/romance/gothic novel, was an instant success when it was first published in 1938 and today is considered a classic. I found the first fourth of the book a bit slow, enjoyed it after that, and then for the last fourth of the book, I again lost a lot of sleep and could not set it down. I can't tell you why because that would ruin the mystery, but I found it engrossing, dark, disturbing, and wonderfully written.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a love story that explores many big themes including feminism, culture, immigration, race, and power. The reader follows the main character, a wealthy Nigerian woman, as her life takes her from Nigeria to the U.S. and back again. The book was engrossing and very well-written, though I did not like how the love story turned out and at times it felt like the author was pushing her agenda rather than just telling the story. But, still the book stuck with me. I found myself thinking about it long after I read it.

Parenting Without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh

This nonfiction parenting book explores some of the pitfalls of American culture's version of parenting and compares these pitfalls to other, often better, parenting practices around the world. Utterly fascinating. This book helped to broaden my perspective of what parenting can be like, though I would have preferred it if the author had examined more than just a few countries and socio-economic classes to make it a truly global book.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling; illustrated by Jim Kay

This was my fourth time reading this book, but my first time reading the illustrated edition and it was just magical and beautiful. Bonus: the illustrator's re-imagining of the characters helped me finally get that Ron Weasley actor's face out of my head while I read. DO NOT get this on Kindle. Purchase it or borrow it from your library and enjoy the visual art in its full-sized glory. Chamber of Secrets is also available illustrated, but I haven't gotten my hands on it yet.

Honorable mentions:

The Martian by Andy Weir
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Grace's (3 yrs old) Favorite Books:

A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer
What Makes a Rainbow? by Betty Ann Schwartz

Cora's (2 yrs old) Favorite Books:

High Five Magazine created by Highlights
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Things I Learned This Rainy Season

Since moving to Thailand nine months ago, I have lost seasons as I've always known them. There is no summer, winter, fall, and spring here in the tropics. Rather, we have hot season, rainy/monsoon season, and "cool" (aka not-quite-as-hot) season.

Hot season comes in April and May. School is off and the smallest exertion makes us sweat buckets.

June through October or November is rainy season. We get almost daily rain and some wild thunderstorms.

They tell me cool season has started and will run up into hot season. But, with highs around 90 degrees + humidity, it's still hot to me!

What did I learn this rainy season?

In Bangkok, September is dragonfly month.

One day in September, while watching my little girls play at our neighborhood's dinky little playground, I looked up and saw dozens and dozens of dragonflies flitting around just a few meters over my head. For the next few weeks, while walking down the sidewalk, I would occasionally look up and there they were: hundreds of dragonflies. Then, after a couple of weeks, they were gone. I look forward to dragonfly month next rainy season.

We all need awe and wonder in our lives.

For Thanksgiving, I wrote about allowing our gratitude to turn into awe and wonder over the mystery of what the God who gives us all good things must be like. Many people really connected with this idea and expressed their need for a life lived in adoration of God.

My three-year-old is fairly athletic.

My first-born, Grace, took 15 months to learn how to walk. At that point, she was already speaking in two to three word sentences. From that point on, I assumed she was a smart, not athletic kid.

Six weeks ago, we got our hands on a tricycle and little bike with training wheels. She had never ridden a trike or a bike before. Nevertheless, on day one she mastered the trike and on day two she was pedaling the bike everywhere. I remember watching in shock at how quickly she learned it.

Here's to not labeling very young children, but rather giving them opportunities to try all sorts of new things and allowing them to surprise us.

I missed cooking.

For the first six months after moving to Thailand, I rarely cooked and we relied on super cheap, super yummy, super high sodium street food to carry us through. In August, I began cooking simple, healthy meals for my family of four again. I really enjoy being able to do this again for my family.

I am learning to ask God throughout my day what it means to be faithful to Him in the present moment, and I am learning to ask Him for the strength to do it.

Sometimes being faithful means tackling a pile of dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher) and practicing new Thai grammar while my kids nap. Sometimes, especially when I notice anxiety creeping into my soul, being faithful means setting aside my language study for half an hour to brew a cup of tea, pray, and rest.

I am so grateful that God doesn’t call us to be successful. In most areas of my life, success isn’t entirely within my control. Instead, He calls his followers to be faithful people who rely on Him. With His help, that’s something I can do.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

From Gratitude to Adoration

"I'm thankful for my husband and my kids. I'm grateful that we're all healthy. I'm thankful for my house, my friends, my books…"

This was how I used to pray when I reflected on the good things in my life.

Then, a couple of years ago, I came across two sentences that changed the way I view the gifts generously dumped across each year of my life.

"Gratitude exclaims… 'How good of God to give me this.' Adoration says, 'What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!'" -C.S. Lewis

Moments of joy and things that are beautiful are just distant and brief coruscations (glimmers and sparkles) of the indescribably awesome Being who is behind it all.

Now, in addition to thanking God for things, I am drawn into awe and wonder over who He must be.

When I enjoy the simple goodness of watching my two-year-old swinging ("Higher, higher!") and singing every nursery rhyme she knows at the top of her lungs, I thank God for my healthy, second-born and I wonder in awe, "How good and playful must the Being be who thought up children and swings and songs?"

When my eyes close and my brow furrows in concentration to hear the subtleties within the richness of a new piece of orchestral music, I thank Him for music and I wonder in awe at the richness of the creativity of the Being behind it all.

When I walk home from the market, see storm clouds coming, and hear the sound of thunder rumbling deep and powerful like a growling cosmic dog, my pulse quickens as I realize this is just a glimmer of the most powerful of storms and the most powerful of storms is just a far-off coruscation of the power of God.

When, in the middle of a busy day, I tell my husband my back hurts from scrubbing black mold off the walls the day before and he massages the sore spots, I thank Him for Michael and wonder, "How tender and good must be the Being who thought up the tender, loving care of a good husband?"

This Thanksgiving, by all means, be thankful for all you have. Then, marvel at how all those things are but a brief glimmer of the good, good Father behind it all.

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