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Monday, January 22, 2018

Top Five Books of 2017

As my husband and I have added more children to our brood, I find that more and more of my former hobbies have died. Or at least taken a backseat for the foreseeable future.

Except reading.

Every night, without fail, I read for a little while before I fall asleep. I don't think I could fall asleep without this ritual. In 2017, I read about two dozen books, cover to cover.

Here are my five favorites.



Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton 

publication date: 2006

genre: spiritual formation

description on Amazon: "Picking up on the monastic tradition of creating a "rule of life" that allows for regular space for the practice of the spiritual disciplines, this book takes you more deeply into understanding seven key disciplines along with practical ideas for weaving them into everyday life."

why I liked it: This book entered my life in a season when I was feeling tired and worn. The spiritual practices, particularly silence and solitude, helped restore my soul. This was by far my favorite book of the year. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to grow spiritually.



The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

publication date: 2009

genre: murder mystery

description on Amazon: "'Chaos is coming, old son.' With those words the peace of Three Pines is shattered. Everybody goes to Olivier's Bistro―including a stranger whose murdered body is found on the floor."

why I liked it: I've slowly been working my way through the New York Times bestselling Chief Inspector Gamache murder mystery series. This book is my favorite so far. Though, if I say why, I'm afraid I will ruin it for you!



The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

publication date: 1931

genre: historical fiction

description on Amazon: "Paints an indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century."

why I liked it: I love stories that make me think. This rags to riches story of a Chinese peasant won the Pulitzer Prize shortly after it was published, was influential in the author earning the Nobel Prize for Literature, and was featured on Oprah's Book Club. The author lived in China for many years as a missionary kid and as a missionary. The book is written in a classic Chinese novel style (read the Wiki article). Her writing is filled with compassion and respect and the book transported me to another world and another time. Though, some themes in the book, particularly the oppression of women, were difficult to read about.



The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery 

publication date: 1926

genre: fiction

description on Amazon: "All her life, Valancy Stirling lived on a quiet little street in an ugly little house and never dared to contradict her domineering mother and her unforgiving aunt. Then she gets a letter―and decides that very day things need to change. For the first time in her life, she does exactly what she wants to and says exactly what she feels."

why I liked it: I've been a fan of L.M. Montgomery's famous "Anne of Green Gables" series since childhood. This lesser known novel is regarded as her best work of fiction. It did not disappoint. I enjoyed the character development and the twists and turns of the plot at the end of the novel.



Widen by Chris Rice 

publication date: 2016

genre: poetry

description on Amazon: "Recording artist Chris Rice, well-known for witty and thoughtful songwriting, offers up his first collection of ninety new poems. Themes of faith and doubt, childhood and aging, the cosmos, the passing of time, the natural world, color, and the power of words fill these pages."

why I liked it: I've been a fan of Chris Rice's poetic songwriting for almost 20 years. His poems are equally witty, thoughtful, and deep. I normally don't have the patience for poetry because it's often too convoluted for me, but this book of poems was accessible and lovely.



What are some of the best books that YOU have read recently?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Isaiah - Three Months Old

The past three months since Isaiah was born, life has been full. Scratch that. Life has been crazy. We have...
  • Had visitors in Bangkok. My brother and his family visited for two weeks. We tromped all around Bangkok with five kids ages five and under.
  • Gone to the ER. (Five stitches in the back of Grace's head, she's fine.)
  • Attended a week-long conference with colleagues from Southeast Asia. Isaiah attended too.
  • Moved out of our rental home of almost two years in Bangkok. We packed up all of our belongings and have them stored at our friend's house until our return in April or May.
  • Made the 28ish hour journey from Bangkok to Denver as a family of five. Michael got sick to his stomach and we almost missed our trans-Pacific flight.
  • Jet lagged with a four-year-old, three-year-old, and newborn. (By the way, the first couple days are nuts, but they adjust fast. Don't be afraid of international travel with young kids.)
  • Gone to the ER again followed by a four day hospital stay. (Isaiah, bronchiolitis, it gave us a scare, but he's doing great now.)
Having a newborn in the middle of all of this sounds like a terrible idea, but Isaiah has seamlessly slipped into this busyness and his chubby, smiley little self has brought us so much joy.


I've always heard of the mythical "easy baby." Now I know that they do exist. Isaiah is calm and happy. He doubled his birth weight in two months. He started smiling at just two weeks. (We didn't even know that was possible!) He (usually) sleeps often and well. He's content to sit in his rocking seat or on a lap watching and listening to the chaos and noise of his two big sisters. When we scoop him up, he is all smiles, cooing and ah-gooing, gurgling, and giggling.

Being parents the third time around, we know these things have very little to do with our super duper parenting. This is just the way Isaiah came, so we thank God for gifting our family with this sweet, baby boy.

~

Ten days old and freshly approved for his Certificate of Birth Abroad, U.S. Passport, and U.S. citizenship.



Sometimes, Isaiah has three mommies.


Isaiah started smiling at two weeks old and hasn't stopped since. Here he is four weeks old and beaming and cooing at his daddy.



Isaiah has been growing so quickly. He started just shy of seven pounds and wore newborn sized clothing. He doubled his birthweight in two months and now at three months old, he's outgrowing his six month size clothes and I'm pulling out nine month size clothing. Someday, he will be taller than both Michael and me. Possibly much taller. Here he is about six weeks old and already packing on the pounds...



He loves his baths.



Both girls have very readily welcomed him into our family. Cora in particularly loves her baby brother. Isaiah really enjoys sitting in his baby seat or on a lap in the middle of the sounds of his sisters singing, arguing, yelling, talking, and bickering. He particularly likes the sound of me scolding them!



Pic #1: about an hour into our journey to the U.S. Pic #2: about 24 hours into our journey to the U.S.



Two months old and napping with his great-grandpa, Arno.



One of several morning naps under Nana and Papa's Christmas tree.



At two months old, Isaiah came down with a cold which turned into bronchiolitis. On December 23rd around noon, I was nursing him and putting him down for a nap when I noticed the color on his face was not so pink and his breathing was rapid. I remember my last words with my nurse practitioner mom while rushing out the door to the ER, "What do I do if he turns blue?" "Small puffs of air, call 911, I'll be right behind you." He perked up on the ride to the ER (phew), he was put on oxygen and hospitalized for four days right over his first Christmas. It was hard to have a baby so sick. It was hard to look forward to being with my family for Christmas for so many months and then to miss that. But, I'm so grateful for the nurses' amazing care and many people's prayers that carried us through.


Back "home" at Nana and Papa's house with his two big boy cousins, Malachi (14 months old) and Jackson (just a day older than Isaiah).


I admire these beautiful eyes every day.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Welcome, Isaiah

Our third child arrived on Saturday evening, October 7th, here in Bangkok after a lightning fast and super smooth labor. He weighed 3.14 kg (7ish pounds) and was 51 cm (20 in) long.

Here's the story of his birth and his name.





Our first two kids came early (38 weeks) and very quickly (2 hrs and 4 hrs). So, this third time around, we were prepared to rush out the door at a moment's notice starting at about 37 weeks pregnant.

I remember feeling crampy and injured the day before and the day he was born due to my OB stripping my membranes without asking for my permission or telling me what she was going to do. (culture. shock.)

I remember the afternoon before Isaiah was born, receiving texts from my sister, Andrea, saying she thought she was in early labor but not sure yet. My sister and I had overlapping pregnancies with our babies due just one week apart. It was such a joy to be able to share this experience. But, all of our sharing was via texts and phone calls because we live around the globe from each other. In the joy, there was the heartache of not getting to give each other awkward pregnant hugs, feel her baby kick, or sit down in the same room to swap pregnancy stories.

I remember waking up overnight to waddle to the bathroom and checking my phone and seeing texts about Andrea's progress at the hospital. Her baby was on its way...

I remember waking up Saturday morning to pictures of Andrea and Jason's newborn son, Jackson, born Friday afternoon in Colorado. What a gift!


Looking forward to holding this amazing little man in December.
I remember going out to dinner for my mother-in-law's birthday on Saturday. I remember continuing to feel tired and crampy, but I enjoyed the distraction of a beautiful, fun meal. My contractions were still so irregular, there was nothing to time and no reason to head to the hospital.



I remember arriving home from the birthday dinner at about 6:30pm and lying down in bed to rest because I felt awful. I lay there listening to the happy sounds of Michael bathing our daughters and I wondered what life would be like with a newborn in the mix. 

I remember 7pm when I was overcome with one huge contraction that felt like I was already mostly through labor. I remember yelling through the closed door, "Michael! We need to go to the hospital NOW!" and Michael's parents jumping in immediately to take over the girls' bedtime routine.

I remember the contractions slowing down while driving to the hospital and feeling relieved that our son wasn't going to come as fast as I feared.

I remember checking in to the hospital at about 8pm, the doctor doing the first internal check, and guessing it would be about two more hours. I felt greatly relieved because the pain was already so intense.

I remember the pain being so great, I didn't know if I could do it much longer. I looked up at the large digital clock in front of me, saw that it was 9pm and I told myself to just hang in there for 30 more minutes. 

I remember Michael encouraging me and holding my hand and telling me our baby would be here very soon. I discovered that vigorously rubbing my face helped the most with the pain. Weird!

I remember at almost 9:30pm the pushing contractions started. This part is always THE WORST.

I remember the doctor telling me right away that she saw his head. I responded in disbelief, "Really?!" The pushing contractions were so intense, I felt like I must be injuring my son and I asked, "Is the baby ok?" And the doctor responded, "Yes, he's fine." This exact exchange happened with all three kids.

I remember Isaiah coming out at 9:33pm and first noticing how healthy he looked and that he was indeed a boy!

I remember after cleaning him up and stitching me up, Isaiah was placed cheek to cheek with me for our first picture. I remember crying with relief over being done with pregnancy, done with waiting, and done with labor, with a healthy baby boy.

I remember the doctors whisking him away saying "hospital policy" was for newborns to be separate from their moms for 3 hours post-birth. (Culture shock again!) The prospect of being separated for three hours was the hardest part, more difficult than labor. Michael followed the doctors as they wheeled my crying boy to the nursery and advocated hard for Isaiah and me to be reunited. 

I remember about an hour after he was born, they finally brought him back and I got to hold and nurse him. The love was instant.

~

Isaiah means "God is salvation." He is indeed salvation in every way. Isaiah's middle name, Arun (อรุณ), is Thai for "dawn" and is a direct reference to Isaiah 60 where God comes like the dawn bringing an end to the perpetual night that we live in and Isaiah 58 where God promises that when His people pursue justice, their light "will break forth like the dawn."

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Cora - Three Years Old


This past year was full of big milestones for Cora including becoming fully potty trained (last September), learning to ride a bike with training wheels (January), switching from a crib to a "big girl bed" (February), giving up her pacifier (February), and starting preschool five mornings a week (May). That's a lot for one year!

Some of Cora's favorite things these days include:

Our family. Cora adores each member of our family, even her soon-to-be-born baby brother. She gives snuggles to the baby (aka my belly) every day. When Michael or I come home, she runs to the door, excited to have our family back together. When we drop her off at school, she insists on getting a hug and a kiss. When we pick her up, she comes out of her classroom bouncing and giggling and plasters herself to our legs. Also, she loves her stuffed gray bunny so much, he practically makes the cut as a family member.

Grace. Cora particularly loves Grace. (And Grace loves her back.) She started preschool in May five mornings a week with hardly a tear. We were so impressed by her bravery. Then, Grace was slammed with sickness and missed many days of school in a row. Cora's bravery crumbled quickly and we realized that she was fearless because she knew her big sister was in the same building. Since then, I've noticed more and more just how much she looks up to her big sister, following her and copying her and riding off her bravery. 



Scotch tape. Cora loves taping everything. She even taped a colored pencil to our bathroom door. She also loves stickers, paint, crayons, markers, etc. Besides her art supplies, Cora's favorite toys are Michael's big bucket of Duplos from his childhood, her IKEA train set, and her doctor kit. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up.


Doing everything by herself. It's very difficult to force Cora to do anything she doesn't want to do. But, when she wants to do something on her own (which is often), we cannot intervene or she will scream. She has figured out how to do many surprising things -- like pull in most of our family's laundry from the drying rack, button her school uniform buttons, and peel her own fruit. 

Perfect example of this fierce independence: When she was approaching two years old, she was showing all the classic signs of potty-training readiness, so we attempted to teach her. She utterly refused, so we stopped trying. Then, about three days after we gave up, she decided on her own terms that she was ready and she potty trained herself. Just a month later, we were able to ditch her overnight diapers too!

Provoking us. Cora loves to tease and provoke her big sister... probably because Grace reacts so well. She is by and large a very good kid, but she can be really naughty, doing exactly the opposite of what we tell her to do with a mischievous glint in her eye. She definitely has a strong, classic "threenager" streak in her.

Singing and talking and being silly. Cora's voice is very raspy and cracks a lot. She loves to sing out all the songs she knows, particularly Thai preschool songs, loud in her raspy, unsteady voice. When she acts silly and makes us laugh, she throws her head all the way back, laughing with delight. But, she doesn't talk and sing and joke all the time. Sometimes, she gets lost in her play world of coloring, blocks, and trains and she's absolutely silent for long stretches.



Eating. Cora is tiny. She has been since the day she was born. But, she eats so, so much. Today, she plowed through an entire adult sized portion of chicken and rice plus many pieces of guava for dessert. At the beginning of the school term, her preschool teacher told us almost daily, "She ate two whole bowls of food for lunch!" If only she knew we usually have to give Cora a snack when she gets home too.

Cora, you are one-of-a-kind and we love you just the way you are.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Things I Learned This Rainy Season

We're about halfway through the six month rainy season. Here's what I've learned this rainy season so far...

Fresh lychee is so flavorful.

I'd previously only had the canned stuff that you can put on your frozen yogurt at Yogurtland in Southern California. The fresh fruit has a wonderful, bright, concentrated flavor.



Feeling the baby kick is still the best thing, even the third time around.

Though recently, the kicking has morphed into more of an uncomfortable scraping sensation. I will be so ready for him to get out of me in a few weeks!

You can get great baked goods in Bangkok

My current favorite place: Coffee Beans by Dao. Their lemon meringue pie and cheesecake are exquisite.



Arts and crafts with kids is FUN

The idea of arts and crafts with my kids used to terrify me. I envisioned 20 minutes of mommy prep time for every 5 minutes of kids being busy time followed by 15 minutes of mommy clean up time, scraping Elmer's glue off every surface and glitter out of every orifice. 

Several months ago, I noticed my daughters loved coloring with crayons. So, I threw watercolors in the mix and taught them how to set up painting all by themselves. They loved it. So, I gave them scissors. Then, scotch tape. They now spend at least an hour a day cutting, coloring, painting, and taping. And the best part is, I don't have to do much! They set up their projects by themselves and clean up mostly by themselves. I just have to keep the supplies in a handy drawer. And the final products are amazing, entertaining, and adorable. Or sometimes gross. Here's "poop with dragon fruit seeds in it" done with watercolors.



My 4-yr-old and I have the same hair.



How to cloth diaper the Thai way.

We (mostly) used cloth diapers on our daughters when we were living the U.S. We found them easy enough to use and we loved the cost savings and the planet earth savings. With another baby on the way, a washing machine that only does tepid water, and no clothes dryer, I thought we might have to switch to 100% disposable diapering with the new baby. Boo!

Then, at our girls' preschool, I noticed a mom had her baby in cloth diapers. I began asking her all about them and she taught me how to cloth diaper the Thai way using one large, thin, square cloth folded up. I plan to try to use our old, cloth diapers from the U.S., but if they just don't come clean here, it's good to know the tried and true Thai method.

I can buy fried cocoons and fried crickets at my local market and my friends tell me they taste good

But, I think I will stick with the grilled fish, tropical fruits, pad thai, fried chicken, etc. Thank you.



The green pastures of Psalm 23 do not refer to lush meadows but to arid hills

And the sheep need the shepherd to lead them from tuft to tuft of grass so that they have enough to eat. This imagery of constant reliance on God fits the realities of my life so much better than the imagery of resting in a green buffet. This video is such a good watch.

Heat + humidity + pregnancy = exhaustion 

I don't remember feeling this worn out either previous pregnancy. As my pregnancy progresses, I set our AC lower and lower to give myself the energy boost I need.

Finding a Thai name for our son is hard.

We've had our son's first name chosen since June, but really we've liked the name since I was pregnant with our first kid five years ago! As for the middle name, we wanted to give our son a Thai middle name to celebrate his 1/4 Thai heritage, his upcoming birth in Thailand, and the fact that he will likely spend a lot or all of his childhood here. But, most names sounded a bit too strange to an English speaker's ear or had strange meanings. 

Last week, we sat down to talk about his middle name and within just 15 minutes, we stumbled upon a name we love. We'll let you know what it is when he arrives!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Unplug


"I am noticing that the more I fill my life with the convenience of technology, the emptier I become in the places of my deepest longing.

"I long for the beauty and substance of being in the presence of those I love, even though it is less convenient. 

"I long for spacious, thoughtful conversation even though it is less efficient. I long to be connected with my authentic self, even though it means being inaccessible to others at times.

"I long to be one who waits and listens deeply for the still, small voice of God, even if it means I must unplug from technology in order to become quiet enough to hear." 

~ Ruth Haley Barton "Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation"


I'm always learning and re-learning this one. You too?

May God form us into people who are strangely forgetful of our devices and who are present to our spouses, our children, our friends, our work, our passions & longings, and the still small voice of God.

Amen.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Celebrating Small Victories

"I worked so hard today, I got nothing done, and I am so tired."

This was the constant complaint out of my mouth for the first half of 2016 as we adjusted to life in a new country. In California, we operated fluently in the language, culture, and everyday life. When we moved, we stripped away most of our competency. In Thailand, everything was (and is) foreign and new. We worked hard those first months to complete the simplest tasks. The systems are different here, so moving required constant learning for several months.

At the end of most days, complaints were on my lips. "Michael, can you believe it took me three hours to get the grocery shopping done? I could do it in a little over an hour back at home with both kids in tow." "Michael, I only got in an hour of Thai study today because Cora wouldn't nap!" "Michael, today I got nothing done."



Enter: the outlook changing practice of acknowledging and celebrating small victories.

After a few months of complaining, we decided to begin talking about all we accomplished rather than all that we didn't get to that day. We would take turns most evenings. One of us would list out for the other all we did and the other acknowledged the hard work that went into each of those victories no matter how small.

Our lists were simple, "Today, I reviewed my Thai tutoring session, learned where to buy the shoes Grace needs for preschool, and called my mom." (Though I must admit, it took at least a month to reach that level of productivity in a single day!)

When we acknowledged the hard work that went into even a small victory, at the end of the day, we felt proud. We felt grateful each evening for the progress we had made in learning to operate in a new language and culture.


Even today, we sometimes feel frustrated and tired at the end of a day or week that appears to be fruitless. So, when we notice our hearts bending toward dissatisfaction and complaint, we stop to acknowledge and celebrate small victories together.

For you, it may not be moving around the globe with little children that has taken away your competency. But, there may be something else that has stolen your ability to produce -- becoming a parent, starting a new job, coping with chronic physical or mental illness, etc. So, I encourage you. When you are able, try listing out your victories, large and small, to a friend or even to yourself. I hope it's a game changer for you too.

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