Thursday, January 12, 2012

Once Upon a Fall

I found these pictures I never got around to posting last fall.  It was my attempt to get pictures of the boys frolicking in fall-like fashion.  But then my camera & I got in a fight, I told it how much I wanted to upgrade (does anyone have a spare several thousand dollars lying around for me?), and ended our session with zero shots of Sam.  Oh well.  Such is life.

Well, that was fall.  Where coats were optional.  Where going out didn't involve so many stinkin' accouterments.  Where random strangers didn't seem so compelled to approach my kids to "help" me by pulling their hoodies over their heads.  Now this is how we roll (when we do go out at all, which, to be honest, isn't all that common!):

Layers, layers, and more layers.  In order for children to qualify as warm in this country, you not only have to make them look warm but feel warm.  And I don't mean feel as in you're not shivering and your fingers aren't numb.  I mean you have to make sure your children are ready to be squished by a passerby and that they will find sufficient layers.  Otherwise, your kid is cold.

I once heard a story a few years ago that I would never have believed unless I lived here.  The story goes that there was a child in our city who was accidentally drug behind a moving car down a busy street.  I wouldn't believe this story unless I He survived the incident unscathed.  Why?  Because he was dressed in so many layers that he just bounced along.  That is what it means to feel warm.  

So are we counting down the days to our warm getaway to the sunny south in a week?  Are we looking forward to the Texas winter we will be enjoying in a month?  Yes, yes, I think you could say that we most definitely are!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Crazy Times, I Tell Ya

Crazy, fun times were had by all on this side of the globe the past few days.  On Saturday, Kevin & I whisked away to the fancy-schmancy Hyatt they just build in town.  It was like living in the lap of American luxury for 24 hours--my first workout in weeks (while watching some weird show called The Dog Whisperer on National Geographic), a bath AND a shower with hot water that lasted through both of them (I think I beat my regular weekly bathing quota in the matter of a day), English TV (because who doesn't want to spend their anniversary being further enlightened on the turmoil in Dagestan?), and Papa Johns pizza delivered to my door (and Kevin even got the thin crust because he loves me a lot).  We split the boys and left them in the care of the most amazing, most servant-hearted friends a set of parents could ask for.  It was our first night away from the little buddies, and word on the street was that they both did great.  If this picture says anything at all, I'd say that just about sums it up accurately.

Thus concludes the only picture you will see on this post because the rest is just a summary of the craziness that ensured after departing from our little get-away.  Thirty minutes after returning home, our social worker arrived from Shanghai for our 6 month adoption post-placement meeting.  6 months?!?!  Has it been that long already?  6 months of squishy cheeks & big bellies, 6 months of a lot less free time & a lot more laughter, 6 months of striving to create a home & attitude toward my family that exudes joy in the gospel.  We've loved it so much we figured we'd just go ahead and add on another little person...  

Our meeting with our social worker went great.  We love her, and it's more like spending time with a friend than with someone who has the authority to determine your fitness as a parent.  Perhaps if I was a little more intimidated by this reality, I wouldn't start as many statements with, "I probably shouldn't be telling you this but..."  Because we've all let our children almost fall off the platform at the train station, right?

Monday was another "festive" day for the Peek clan.  Once a year, we have to go to a government office to apply to extend our residence permits.  It really could be worse because lots of ex-pats are forced to leave the country every 90 days.  No thank you.  I'll take a day in a government office over packing suitcases and trucking children to the airport.  And that's exactly what it entire day!  We spent two hours there in the morning, only to find out that what they wanted for the boys did not exactly exist.  I wish I could tell you the details of it all (well, you probably don't wish I could because you'd most likely find it incredibly boring) but I was too busy chasing one baby, entertaining another, and answering questions from curious onlookers such as, "So do you perm your baby's hair?"

But my marvelous husband and our superhero local friend Lynn figured out everything we needed in order to legally remain in this country for another year.  The only downside was that I had to bring the boys back up to the government office later that afternoon by myself.  Can I just emphasize the "by myself" part?  Oh how I'm looking forward to American when I can just walk my little people to my driveway, snap them in a car seat, and zip off to my destination!  No more strapping one baby in the Ergo (over my ever-increasing belly I might add!) and walking the other down a moderately safe alley in order to find a taxi.  Nevertheless, we made it, took care of what needed to be done, and caught the bus home.

Kevin will be gone tomorrow in another city to take his final language exam (go, hubs, go!), so I get to be solo-mama all day long.  As my racing bibs from yesteryear used to read: Go, Beck, go!  

Maybe things will slow down sometime soon...who knows but it sure is a fun & wild ride!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

6 Years Later...

...and I'm still this happy...

...still this smitten...

...still love looking up, up, up into the face of this man...

...and still love me a little of this too...

(Yes, for all of you who weren't fortunate to attend our shindig of a wedding, that is a stool I'm standing on.  My maid-of-honor & I had hidden a little wooden stool on stage so when our pastor, Oren, pronounced us man & wife, all I had to do was scurry on top of it to make our first married kiss a little less awkward.  Because, as we all know, there is nothing awkward about kissing a man while standing on a stool.  Nothing at all.)

 This is still my favorite picture from our wedding because I find it to be so symbolic of what we want our marriage to represent.  We want everything about us--where we live, the children we raise, the way we treat one another, the decisions we make, how we spend our money--to be framed by Christ.  We believe it's only in this way can we love life & each other to the full and make Jesus look good to all around us.  I hope & pray that as this next year of marriage is upon us, we can continue to learn how to do that better & better.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Happy 3rd China-versary!

Today marks the three year anniversary of our new life in China.  Three years.  

Three year since we said goodbye to family, friends, and Jason's Deli.

Three years since I drug my marathon-weary legs through multiple airports. (Though I will still contend that it was not a mistake to run that race three days before leaving.)

Three years since everything we owned in the world fit inside these suitcases:

 Three years since I gloried over successfully making my first "real" meal in my new kitchen--naked, baked chicken, steamed broccoli, and a big hunk of bland bread served on paper plates.  Funny how our diet hasn't diverged all that much since then...
(I know I look a bit "rough" in this picture but if it's true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then you get the idea of how "rough" it is to transplant your life internationally!)

Three years since surgeons on bikes & pee puddles in the elevator were a shocking sight...

Three years of learning, growing, changing, my worldview shifting, my comfort stretching, my awareness of our Father's great care deepening.  Yes, it has most certainly been a very good three years.

And to maintain tradition, I'll leave you with the highly anticipated, world renowned, widely acclaimed...
Top 10 List of How You Know You've Living in China for Three Years

10. The more your language develops, the more you realize you know nothing at all.  Like when you call the store up the street and ask them to deliver bread and they bring you donuts.  

 9. Nevertheless, when trying to hold a conversation with non-Chinese speaking Americans, your speech is still punctuated with awkward pauses in an attempt to search for the correct English word.

 8. You use your kids' Chinese names to address them as much as you use their English names.  

 7. You feel a need to tighten the purse strings when your weekly grocery budget exceeds $50.  

 6. Your husband's choice breakfast consists of Chinese gruel and bread purchased off the street.  

 5. You can't sing, hum, or even identify a single Justin Bieber song (and would be pretty pleased if things stayed that way).

 4. Since you've spent the entirety of this new decade outside of America, you're not 100% sure how to pronounce say it in English.  Do you say two-thousand-twelve or two-thousand-and-twelve or twenty-twelve?  

 3. Your driver's license has long since expired, and your free time has recently been devoted to studying the Texas Drivers Manual in order to reclaim said license.  

 2. The phrase "Expect Nothing, Appreciate Everything" has become a benchmark to your life.

 1. There is still no place you'd rather be than where you're supposed to be.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Proof that Pregnancy Brain Exists

The busyness of Christmas has passed.  The tree has been put away.  The house is starting to have some order again.  There aren't dozens of people streaming through.  The boys are getting solid naps & full nights of sleep.  And this mama now has a chance to look back at the craziness of it all and wonder how I stayed sane.  There were moments, I will confess, where things weren't so pretty.  One in particular, which is definitive proof that there is a connection between what's going on in my belly and what's going on upstairs.

It is not uncommon for random Chinese people to contact us out of the blue during Christmas and ask us to throw a Christmas party for them.  We're more than happy to oblige, and we had seven eager college girls with us to help with those very things.  One such opportunity came about on Christmas Eve.  A week or so before (because that's how planning & scheduling go on this side of the world), I agreed to put together a Christmas program for 40 kids that would be held at a KFC 10 minutes from my house.  With a few college girls tagging along to help, I figured it would be a tame morning.  We planned to tell the Christmas story, sing a few songs, do a few crafts, play a game or two--we even had centers designed to control the madness.  It was supposed to be easy.  It was supposed to be fun.

But then pregnancy brain kicked in.

Kevin also had a commitment outside the house the morning of the program, so we figured we would each take a kiddo with us.  I didn't plan to stay long since both of the boys were a bit snotty and would have benefited from a quiet day at home.  As I was getting Sam ready to go, Kevin asked me to which KFC I was headed.  I answered him quite confidently, to which he inquired if that was the one at the university city an hour away from our house.  Thus began a flurry of texts with the guy in charge of the party (who in fact confirmed that Kevin was right about the location), waking up the college girls with a frantic phone call exhorting them to get in a cab NOW, and begging a friend to come over last minute to keep our boys so I didn't have to drag them along.

I raced out the door, found a cab, and breathed a sign of relief as a nestled in the back, somewhat looking forward to the hour plus ride without a child climbing all over me.  But then I got the phone call from the college girls saying their taxi driver seemed clueless about where to go.  I handed the phone to my taxi driver, who attempted to give detailed instructions to their driver.  When their driver still didn't seem to get it, my driver offered to wait for them in order to lead the way.  So despite the fact I was already running late, I sat on the side of the road for 15 minutes waiting for the other cab, while my driver offered kind exclamations such as, "That driver is stupid to death!  (Loose translation) Do you understand what I'm saying?"  Yes, dear driver, I most certainly do.

Finally, we were off and, true to expectation, we arrived about an hour later.  Our host, a vibrant, young Chinese guy who had chosen the English name Luck, met us on the street.  He led us to the KFC, where two kids were waiting to welcome us by shooting fake snow in our faces.  I was trying so hard not to inhale for the sake of our little Lao San that it took a few moments for the shock of what lay before me inside the KFC to truly set in.

We were told 40 students but the ENTIRE restaurant was filled with screaming, Santa-hat wearing, camera-wielding Chinese kids, who were more than excited to see a real, live foreigner.  That's when we knew that we would never be able to pull off our centers.  

The morning went by in a blur as Luck reappeared wearing a Santa suit complete with a scraggly beard.  It was somewhat difficult to take cues from him in that get-up but the party went on.  We attempted to tell the Christmas story, attempted to talk about American Christmas traditions, attempted to sing some songs, attempted to play a game...are you picking up a theme here?  At one point, the KFC kicked us out into the parking lot in freezing temperatures, where we joined in on a choreographed dance performed by a KFC employee.  Good times were had by all, and then we went home.  For some reason, Luck & his colleagues were so appreciative of the terrific program we put on.  All we really did was show up and be foreign but that counts for something around here!

Pregnancy brain convinced me I knew where I was going.  Even though I know that I know that I know where the university city is and that it is no where close to our house, pregnancy brain believed otherwise.  Pregnancy brain took what was supposed to be a laid back morning and turned it into a stressful situation.  But as Kevin comforted me on the morning of, I'll look back at it later and laugh.  He was right.  I'm laughing now, and I hope that maybe you are too!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011 Year in Review

2011 has come and gone.  Another new year.  Another chance to look back at our Father's goodness to us in the year passed.  If I could choose a theme verse for our family this year, it would be Joel 2:25-27:

I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

2011 was a year of unprecedented blessing for us.  Welcoming two sons into our family, carrying a healthy pregnancy 20 weeks so far, becoming more & more comfortable in our China life...the Lord's gracious hand has certainly been evident in our lives. I think that 2011 has been so sweet because 2009 and 2010 were filled with a lot of struggles.  The babies we grieved, the cultural barriers we seemed to smack into everyday, the arduous task of "recreating ourselves" in order to figure out how to do this ex-pat thing...not easy.  Against the backdrop of the difficulties of the past two years came the restoration of this year.  But what I've learned is that just because something is not easy does not mean that it is not good.  Our struggles, just as much as our blessings, are from the Lord so that we can praise Him more and know that there is no one else but Him.  During those dark days, His goodness to us did not shift or change.  The blessings of this past year do not make Him a "better" God.  In fact, I doubt we'd appreciate the gifts of today without the trials of yesterday.

I know that the promises of Joel haven't yet been fulfilled.  Joel is speaking of a future day when Christ returns and all that is wrong in the world will be healed.  But in a small way, 2011 reminded me to hope and reminded me to long even more for that day when true restoration comes.

So here are a look at the many happenings of 2011...

Celebrated 5 fab years of marriage to this dude 

Listened to my last chorus of "Niao, niao!" ("I have to pee!") from my pre-school English students as we finished the last semester of classes 

Good times were had during a rockin' visit from a dear friend 

Actually stayed in country for the celebration of Chinese New Year & Lantern Festival (and, to be honest, despite the craziness of it all, I liked it!)

Took a solo trip to a nearby beach city (which, in hindsight now from my mama perspective, was pretty darn awesome) 

Celebrated my friend Lynn's wedding

Said a whole lot of goodbyes...
to local friends...

to American friends...

to American neighbors

 Said a whole lot of hellos...
to my babies...

to our growing family...

to our growing-some-more family...

and to a set of new American friends

Enjoyed my babies' early days vicariously through other peoples' pictures

And then got to bring them home and enjoy them every single day...

Had a wild ride getting introduced into motherhood, including Sami's seizure issues and a subsequent three week stay in Thailand

 Played beach bum with the fam for three weeks in Hawaii so the boys could become official Americans (instead of just the fake kind)

Celebrated birthdays

Celebrated.  That pretty much sums up the year: celebrated.