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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Cora - Two Years Old

Every year around my kids' birthdays, I've written a few paragraphs about them -- an attempt to freeze the stage of childhood they are in before it slides on by. They are my favorite posts to re-read.

The recent loss of three little ones who we loved has reminded me in new ways of how precious, precious, precious every little child is.

Cora is no exception.

Even with loss and grief nipping at my heels, a rambunctious, full of life, just-turned-two, toddler is underfoot. So, I pause to savor her.


What is Cora like these days?

Cora is very sweet and snuggly. She loves sitting in a lap and reading a book. After her evening bubble bath, we often tuck her into our bed. She lies there snuggled under the sheet in our 90+ degree bedroom looking out the window watching the branches of the tree out back sway in the breeze. When Cora gets hurt, all she wants is to be be scooped up in a parent's arms, her head on our shoulder, snuggling away.

Cora is also a very playful, silly, goofy girl. Cora loves rough housing and she loves the adrenaline rush of a free fall (that ends without getting hurt, of course). When I put her down for a nap, I sing, "Goodnight bunny-wunny. Goodnight Cora-bora." She laughs without fail every time at the silly, messed up words. Sometimes at dinner, Michael and I will get to laughing over a funny story from the day. Cora is too young to get the humor, but when she sees us cracking up, she joins in laughing too.

Cora's favorite things these days include...

Peeing on the big, white potty just like everyone else. Not the little, green, toilet training potty. Cora has started going on the toilet a few times per day. Whenever she is successful, she beams a goofy, proud grin. I couldn't find undies that fit my tiny girl, so I bought her 100% cotton newborn diaper covers. They fit great.

Whining. Whew. We are working on getting her to stop this one.

Wearing her things. Almost every day, Cora tells us, "Cora want her things." By this she means a butterfly purse, owl bag, doctor kit, and bead necklace. She puts them all on and says, "Cora is ready to go to the flower shop." Then, she takes them all off and does it again. Cora has never been to a flower shop nor do we talk about flower shops, so I don't know where this comes from!



Building towers with duplos and magnetic blocks.

Wearing Mr. Potato Head's accessories. When she does this, we call her "Professor Cora." She calls herself "Pwofessuh Cowuh."


Flowers. Cora picks a flower or two whenever we go out. She holds onto them surprisingly long. She once fell asleep in church lying across both our laps with a crumpled flower clutched in her hand.

Helping out around the house. Her favorite little chores include picking up toys (may this stage last forever!), throwing things away, and getting things in and out of the fridge.

Her gray bunny/blankie and pacifier. The dentist here told us to stop giving her her pacifier when she turns two. Not happening.

Her big sister, Grace. I remember when Cora was a little baby, she would lie on her stomach all day, head held high in the air watching everything her big sister did. At seven months old, she surprised us by saying, "gah! gah!" every time Grace entered the room, so we count "Grace" as her first word. This love for her big sister has continued. She (usually) lets Grace boss her around, she likes playing tag with her, and she likes giving toys and food to her. These days, their sibling relationship brings Michael and me endless joy.


Our family. Cora loves the concept of our family. When one of us returns from work and the four of us are reunited, Cora sings, "Mommy, Daddy, Grace, and Cora" to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," pointing to each of us as she says our names.

Cora, mommy and daddy love you so much. You are perfect for our family. It is such a joy to be your parents!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Life in Our Corner of Bangkok

I've always wanted to lug my camera around my neighborhood with me to take high quality DLSR pictures. But, I usually have a kid or two with me, am in a rush, or just feel too overwhelmed to do anything more than iphone pictures. Also, being very tall and very foreign, I feel like I stick out enough without a large camera in front of my face, so I've always felt a bit too sheepish to do it.

My sister and brother-in-law visited a few weeks ago. My sister didn't feel the least bit sheepish, doesn't have kids, wasn't overwhelmed or in a rush, so she took lots of pictures of our stomping grounds.

Here they are! 

*Photo credit on every single picture: My sister, Andrea.*

Our girls at the top of the "concrete hill" down the street where they love to play.


The large street that we live off of. Can you believe that jumble of wires on the poles?


Grace goofing in her Uncle Jason's arms while I buy sweet soy milk, 25 cents per serving, comes steaming hot in a bag which I'm sure is not BPA free! We buy this at least three times per week. Behind Grace and Jason you see the ornate gateway at the top of the street leading down to our neighborhood's nearest temple.


Huge pots of various soups and curries. The front right one, not so good. The front left one, we've eaten dozens of times.


This fish is stuffed with lemongrass, encrusted with salt, and grilled. It is so moist and fresh. And comes with a big bag of the spiciest sauce. When we moved here, I could hardly add any of it. Now I can spoon on a fair amount.


Our pad Thai guy. He cooks it right there scooping each ingredient from the plastic buckets in front. We order seafood pad Thai from him a couple of times per week. Just ordered it for dinner tonight. $1.15 per plate.


Our night market. People come to shop here after work to buy dinner pre-made and/or ingredients to make their own dinner. We do the same multiple times per week.


Fruit for sale.


This woman makes some of the best fried chicken. Puts KFC to utter shame. Yum.


Ordering grilled pork skewers and sticky rice for breakfast to fuel up before heading out to tour the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. All three places are worthy of a Google Images search.


Andrea and Jason drinking Thai tea. It's always handed to you in a bag with a handle. This is so you can dangle it from your scooter handlebars for the ride home.


Riding home on a song teaw -- a pickup truck with two benches and a roof. 25 cents per person per ride. The kids ride free. When you want to get off, you press a button on the roof, the truck stops, and you drop 8 baht into the driver's hand. Not a safe way to get around town, but very cheap and fun.


Preschool girls.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Remembering the Pals

Over three years ago, we sensed that God was inviting our family to move halfway around the world from the USA to Thailand for the big picture vision of sharing the hope we have in Christ with Thai people and for the more particular vision of working with a nonprofit that restores women coming out of prostitution. In our social network in Southern California, we didn't know any young families doing anything like this.

Enter: the Pals

Last summer, our family attended a two-week training in Colorado with our missions organization, WorldVenture. I remember we were running late on the first day of the training, so we slipped into the back of the room and sat down at the first table we saw next to another couple that looked about our age. We introduced ourselves, found out that they were Jamison and Kathryne Pals, they were indeed our age, they had two kids our kids' age, and they were headed to Japan.

We were thrilled to meet another young family who shared our passion. (Though, after getting to know Jamison, I must say, his passion far exceeded ours!) We instantly clicked. We sat with the Pals through all the training sessions, hearing each other's vision for moving to Japan and Thailand, swapping parenting stories and advice, and praying for each other.

By the end of the two weeks, the quality of their character, the gentleness and patience of their parenting, and the passion they had for Japanese people to find joy in Jesus deeply impressed us. We felt close to them and hoped to keep up with them over the years. I remember feeling giddy when we found out that they felt similarly about us. We said goodbye and went back to our homes in Minnesota and California.


Over the past year, Kathryne and I have kept up a sweet friendship thanks to a few Skype/phone calls and numerous emails. I remember when we moved to Thailand last February, I had very little margin and my kids were struggling quite a bit with the adjustment. Kathryne would always remind me to rely on God for strength hour by hour. I remember one time a couple of months ago when things were particularly hard, rather than reminding me to rely on God every hour, she told me to rely on him for strength each minute! I believe this was the key to her gentle, patient parenting -- she constantly relied on God for strength.

Last fall, Kathryne found out that she had a large cyst growing in her lower abdomen. At the same appointment, she also found out that she was pregnant. As I prayed for God to protect Kathryne and her baby, I marveled at how a tumor and a baby could grow right next to each other, vying for the same space. For me, it became a parable of life: evil and death so often share the same space with joy and life. The suffering and brokenness of this world so often intertwine and overlap with the great joys of life.

The surgeons successfully removed the tumor and six months later, baby Calvin was born. The parable continued: Yes, one day all evil and death in the world will be removed and Life will be fully born.



On Monday evening here in Bangkok, Michael and I saw Jamison's mom's Facebook post: "Dear friends, our hearts break as we let you know that our son, Jamison, his wife Kathryne, Ezra age 3, Violet almost 2, and baby Calvin, just 2 months old were all killed in a car crash yesterday (July 31). They were travelling to their final month of training before going to Japan as missionaries. They were stopped at a construction site when a semi rear ended, rode over them, and consumed their van in fire. They are now in the presence of our Lord. Job 1:21"



In my life, I have never been slammed with so much shock and grief at once. The evil, death, suffering, and brokenness of this world was at hand; it had taken five people that we loved; and the pain cut so deep. And I constantly remember that the loss we've experienced this week is just a fraction of the loss that their parents, siblings, grandparents, and closest friends are feeling.

And yet, even now, next to this malignant tumor of grief and death I see joy and life starting to form.

Numerous news stations and newspapers have sent the story of their love for Christ and their hearts for Japan far and wide. Some people have expressed the desire to go to Japan in their place. Jamison and Kathryne's parents are saying "no" to bitterness and are extending forgiveness to the truck driver. Jamison's wise, eloquent words on his blog, Joy of Japan, are being read by thousands upon thousands of people.
** 8/7 update - Their story has easily stretched to hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions. People.comJohn Piper's funeral prayer **

The sorrow of losing this precious family is still so fresh. We were looking forward to years of friendship and co-laboring in Asia. Yet there are inklings of the joy and life that is to come. I am reminded once again that, just as the doctors extracted that deadly tumor allowing Calvin to grow and be born, one day, God will remove all brokenness, suffering, evil, and death in this world and a joyful, life-filled new heaven and new earth will be born. And this time, nothing will ever take it away.

Someday, we will all be reunited, and we will share and hear stories of how God worked this tragedy out for unimaginable good. I cry and grieve because the death of loved ones hurts, and yet I cling to these promises with great hope and expectation -- someday death will be swallowed up in victory!

Jamison's blog: joyofjapan.org
My favorite post on his blog was when Kathryne wrote: click here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

48 Hours at the Beach


Five months of Bangkok had me wound up tight. On Friday afternoon, I found out Grace's preschool was closed for a Buddhist holiday on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so we hightailed it to the beach.



I remember beach vacations pre-kids -- spreading a towel over the lumpy sand; pulling a novel out of my backpack; reading, snuggling, and chatting while listening to the waves and feeling the breeze.

Nowadays, our three-year-old and one-year-old come along. We slather the sunscreen on thick, build sand castles, help our preschooler overcome her fear of waves, hope the toddler doesn't poop in her swim diaper, hunt for seashells, and poke a dead jellyfish (One finger! Gentle!) -- thanks, Dory and Marlin, for teaching me that the tops don't sting.




In the midst of all the work and play, play and work that is vacation with little kids, we managed to all return feeling refreshed. This is the good, hard, blessed, tiring, joyful life of raising children.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Things I Learned in June

I moved from the U.S. to Thailand a few months ago, so I learn approximately fifty new things every day. Here are just a few of the things I learned in June...


Playgrounds in Thailand have all the unsafe but super fun equipment that's long been banned in the USA. Things like merry-go-rounds and see-saws. And my daughters love it all, of course.

video

Tropical storms are fun! The thunder rumbles deeply and sometimes cracks so loud my heart drops. A single storm can bring dozens of bolts of lightening. The rain falls on our car park's tin roof so forcefully, I have to close the front door to be able to video chat with my parents. When a thunderstorm rolls in, the wind picks up and the temperature cools. After a storm, the air remains cool but becomes oppressively humid and we all sweat buckets. I am loving it all. Except the sweating buckets part.



The Thai word for "socks" is "foot bag." Perfect!

Trying to buy a car in another country is a time sucking, frustrating experience. Thank you, Lord, for easy to use public transportation.

I'm intimidating. I've noticed that when I walk toward a Thai man, he often gets a frightened look on his face and will sometimes even back away! This doesn't always happen, but it's happened often enough for me to notice. 

Why do some men act this way? Are they afraid of me? Am I misreading them? What are they afraid of... that I'm going to start speaking English and they won't understand? Why don't women act this way toward me? 

Street food is ruining my taste buds. I eat Thai street food once or twice daily. Almost every dish I eat is either sweet, sour, salty, spicy, or some combo of the above. Now, when I cook old favorites from life in California, they taste really bland. My husband and I dump on salt, red pepper, even spicy fish sauce to try to bring our old favorite dishes up to our new taste bud standards.

I'm not the only girl with a huge crush on my husband. My one-year-old is obsessed with him too. If I try to take her out of his arms, she screams at me. Daddy's girl through and through.



When I study Thai, I should always pull the eraser first out of my "keep clam" pencil bag. I make so many mistakes. But, that's how you learn, right?



This exists. A few weeks after I took this picture, I sent my daughter outside to put her shoes on. (Shoes are stored outside here.) When I went to help her, I saw one of these nasty critters about a foot away crawling right toward her little hands and feet! And did I mention they're poisonous? In the tropics, always look before you send very young children outside by themselves. Which leads me to my next lesson...




Always look before you pee. The news recently carried two stories of snakes slithering through plumbing into people's toilets. And they weren't garden snakes. No, no. One was a 3.5 meter long python and the other was a one meter long cobra. The python even bit a man's... you'll just have to read this article. Yikes. Always look before you pee.

My three-year-old is brave. When my now three-year-old was three months old, she became very anxious around strangers. Her fear grew and grew until she would scream and cry with anybody but me. I remember when she was one, we tried to get her to accept the church nursery and she cried so hard she threw up!

By God's grace, a lot of hard parental work, and good old-fashioned passage of time, she has mostly outgrown stranger anxiety.

Last month, she started attending Thai preschool. Everyday, she walks half a mile (in this hot, humid climate!), bulky, much-too-pink backpack bouncing on her back, all the way to school. She stays three hours immersed in a language she cannot yet understand and a culture that is so different from our own. She has cried a few times, she tells us she doesn't like it, and yet she keeps going. She has learned to be brave! I am so proud.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Riding the Roller Coaster of Toddler Emotions

As I raise my kids, ages 3 years and 21 months, I notice that any given day can oscillate rapidly between them being ridiculously cute, to moody, to silly and playful, to screaming in rage, and back to cute again with shocking speed. Sometimes the monster moments and the melt your heart moments come right on top of each other with hardly a breath in between.

I recently stumbled upon this vignette of motherhood and toddlerhood that I wrote about six months ago when Cora, my second kiddo, was 15-months-old. I think it captures the often-overlapping challenges and joys of parenting.

~

Last night, Cora was a hot mess.

She had napped well in the afternoon -- almost three hours ending at 4:30. However, by 6:30, our little firecracker was completely melting down. There were moments where she bowed low, forehead plastered to the ground screaming. Toddler D-R-A-M-A.

I gave her some space to see if she would just get over it. I tried to hold her. I tried to play with her. Nothing worked, she continued to cry hard. Finally, I took two deep breaths, scooped her up, and began her bedtime routine early.

As I carried her upstairs, brushed her teeth, and gave her a pacifier and blankie she calmed down realizing that bedtime was just around the corner.



I dressed her in striped green and blue second-hand baby boy pajamas. Her hair, now that it was finally released from her top-of-the-head firework hairdo, was loose, sticking up straight and wild. Her dark brown eyes were content and heavy and regularly drooping closed. She held her pacifier in her mouth just below her tiny button nose rhythmically suck, suck, sucking. She clasped her gray bunny blankie with both delicate hands holding it up to her nose, breathing in the smell and feeling the soft, gray fur.

I scooped her tiny body into my lap. I barely felt her there, not because she's so tiny (though she is) but because I am so used to her being there I don't even feel it when she is. We whispered our way through Goodnight Moon.

I pressed her little hands together between my hands like a Cora hands sandwich with Mommy hands bread. I prayed for her and she listened enraptured looking at her hands pressed between mine.

Then, we sang a little song and off she went to sleep without a tear.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

These Are the Days Of

I have a habit of always looking ahead and asking, "What's next?" I often think things like, "Once my kids are in school, my life will begin." Or, "Once I am conversational in Thai, I will have arrived."

I forget that there is never a point when "real" life begins or a point where I've "made it." I forget to recognize the small things (good things, great things, and hard things) in my everyday life.

When I notice myself straining ahead to the future, I stop, grab a pen and journal, and make a "These Are the Days Of" list to draw me back into life as it is. Here's today's list:

These Are the Days Of...

My entire life lived in a compact corner of a city. Within about five to ten minutes, I can walk from home to:

  • Work
  • The coffee shop where I meet up with my Thai tutor
  • Dozens of food, drink, and dessert vendors
  • Two pharmacies
  • A veggie market
  • A fruit market
  • Two convenience stores
  • Two 20 baht stores (the equivalent of the American dollar store, except everything is 50 cents)
  • A car mechanic
  • Two hair salons
  • My daughter's preschool


As we go about the same stalls and markets and greet familiar faces day after day, I begin to feel like I live in a village, not a large, crowded city.

Noticing fine lines around my eyes and on my forehead. In ten years, I'll probably look back on photos of myself and think, "Darling, that was NOTHING!"

Learning to split things 50/50. As we pursued moving to Thailand, the thought of being a monolingual, stay-at-home expat mom/wife made me die inside. So, my husband and I decided to spend equal time studying Thai our first twelve months or so. Splitting our language learning, childcare, chores, etc. roughly equally is a crazy juggling act, but it's worth it.

Feeling weary every evening from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. Immersion in a new culture, learning a new language, taking care of little kids, walking everywhere in crummy sandals…each of these things alone is enough to make a lady tired. Taken together, I find myself weary by the end of the day every day.

Eating fruit all day, every day. Miniature bananas, sweet pineapple, crispy rose apples, fragrant mangoes. Still haven't tried durian.



Learning patience. I wish I could become instantly conversational in Thai. Learning a new language just a few new sentence structures and a few new vocab words at a time is slow, hard work. Like raising children. Like building a lasting marriage. Like anything worthwhile.



Eating out daily. In the U.S. my family went weeks without eating out because it was too dang expensive. Now, we eat out every day because it's affordable and delicious. For example: a large, grilled, salt-encrusted, lemongrass stuffed fish with brown rice and veggie soup costs about $5. It feeds our whole family. It's one of the more expensive meals we buy. This is one of the huge perks of life in Bangkok.

Living in a dirty home. In the middle of all this, the last thing Michael and I ever want to do is clean. Our house is usually dirty. Especially the kitchen floor. Yuck. Note to self: look into how much it would cost to hire someone to clean the house for us.

~ The idea of making a "these are the days of..." list came from Emily Freeman's book, Simply Tuesday.

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