April 20, 2015

On Learning to Live Light and Free

I'm releasing perfectionism. I've been releasing perfectionism for over ten years now, but it just keeps creeping back in. My parents are visiting soon (Thursday!!) and I've been a total mess trying to get everything "just so" for them.

The huge problem is that I live in China with a toddler and two boys...so nothing is ever just so. But, I sure was going to make it that way so my parents could come see how I had it all together. Then, things started falling apart. Ha! As I got one project in process (repairing the couch that's been ripped for about eight months) another rip appeared on the duvet cover of my bed. As I got a part for a bike that's been broken for two and a half years (we just keep putting the petal back on knowing it will fall off in about a half a mile), the other bike...the one I just finally got around to ordering a baby seat for...turned up "missing."

So, doing the Velvet Ashes retreat in the middle of my planning and preparing helped me to see all the crazy expectations I'm putting on myself and think others have of me. Like my parents are coming here expecting to see my house in perfect order?! They never said or implied that at all! Don't get me started on the clutter. Oh, there are piles that have been there for a YEAR. And this is the month when laundry refuses to dry because the heat has been turned off and it's just frigid and wet. There's laundry everywhere. Dirty, clean, damp, semi-damp, folded, crumpled, creased...But in the midst of all of that, I hear God saying "I love you and I'm well pleased with you."

Then, there's the barf stain on the rug. I was going to buy a new rug, but the couch project got expensive and the new rug seemed less necessary and it's all the way over at IKEA and, well, the toddler is just going to paint the new rug with yogurt and pee on it once we start potty training, so buying a new rug to impress my parents isn't really the deal. We probably won't even get around to rotating the dirty rug so that said stain is under the couch where you can't see it.

As I was thinking about this rug nonsense, I was suddenly overcome with gratitude that I'm only scurrying around trying to cover up clutter and wear-and-tear messes on furniture. It could be so much worse. I'm not trying to cover up a worn and torn and falling apart marriage or relationship with my kids. What a blessing! Our dwelling may be less than ideal, but our family is doing great! I am so thankful! How awful would it be to live in a spotless, designer magazine house that would impress every guest, but in the meantime be hiding a pending divorce or disdain for my kids or substance abuse or an adultery? Bring on the dirty carpet and ripped couch!!!

April 9, 2015

Be Still

We had a wonderful staycation in Manila. Since we were trying to maximize every dollar...eh...peso...we didn't end up at a beach. Since we live in an overcrowded Asian city, we weren't that excited about being out and about in an overcrowded Asian city (that is fun at times, but we just weren't in the mood). Enter a resort residence...it's a brand new place (actually still under construction, but most amenities are open) where there's a man-made beach and wave pool! Just what we were looking for. A reasonably priced place to stay with tons of entertainment options for the kids.

Here's where I start to feel guilty. We flew all day with our children to a foreign country to STAY. We've never been big fans of resorts, but this time we just felt like we needed a break. As I was preparing for this trip, I felt God impress this verse on my heart:

"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

I can get super anxious about a trip and try to plan every second and fret about hotel choices and food and, and, and...just as I began doing that, God put this verse in my path. "Be still, and know that I am God." So I stopped second guessing my choice of accommodation, stopped fretting about whether or not Violet would sleep in her pea pod, stopped worrying about getting my passport stolen, stopped anxiously imagining scenarios of being stranded without a taxi and I just stilled my heart before God.

Thankfully, God had given me this word because a day before we left, we noticed a SUPER TYPHOON was storming through the ocean headed toward the Northern Philippines. All the weather reports said that the storm would weaken and become a tropical storm by the time it hit the Philippines and that Manila would only get a day of rain and gusty winds. I found out about it the afternoon before we left. What in the world? I found myself packing my bags to haul my three young children to an island where we could be stuck in the middle of a hurricane. WHAT?! the WHAT?!

Friends on the ground said the storm wasn't a big concern. (up to 20 typhoons pass over the Philippines each year, by the way) I tried to settle my imagination as I packed, trying not to daydream about hunkering down for a storm in a hallway of a tall apartment building in a foreign country in the middle of the night with my little kids. Then, I remembered: BE STILL. We had this trip planned a long time ago. People on the ground and all the weather reports are not concerned. Trust God and go.

So, we prayerfully went. One thing we kept mulling over was the fact that storms don't always do what people and computers expect them to. Manila was close enough to the path of the storm to be in big trouble if something crazy happened. We thought about canceling and just going on a daytrip to Korea so we could get our exit stamp, but we really felt God's peace in the situation. In the end, the storm ended up going even farther north (extremely best case scenario for us) and Manila was hardly affected. In fact, it was actually a blessing because temps were in the low 90s due to the passing storm instead of the upper 90s! I'm thankful for this amazing reminder that He is looking after us and truly guiding our paths. Even when it looks like we're flying into a hurricane, we can trust Him!

November 29, 2014

Last But Not Least - Ninjago Birthday Party

Birthday season is officially over. Oh, wait. Nope. Tomorrow is actually Corbin's birthday. Note to self: don't forget to make birthday pancakes in the morning. Birthday season is almost over. It's been fun, but I'm pretty much out of creativity.

The theme of Corbin's party was Ninjago. The boys love everything Ninjago and can play for hours with their little Ninjago Lego men. (ninja + lego = ninjago) This cake was almost the death of me. Mostly because I had to make the cake with everyone at home. All of us at home at the same time is challenging enough when there's nothing that has to get done. The place is on the cozy side, so I can get claustrophobic and stir-crazy really fast when sharing the space with the whole family. To top it off, we celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday and the party was on Saturday. We didn't host Thanksgiving, but it was potluck style, so there was cooking to do. I also needed to bake cakes that morning (2 square and 1 small round) from scratch. Each cake had to bake separately since the oven isn't that big. That was almost 3 hours of baking time. As soon as that was done, it was time to do stuffing (1 more hour of baking time which caused me to fear for my oven's life) and broccoli salad (enough to feed 15 adults).

No wonder I was freaking out by Friday afternoon when it was time to make the cake actually look like something! All the while, having the kids watch and comment on how I should do it and how it looks weird and how I'm using the wrong colors. I may or may not have had to go on a "Mommy timeout" trip down and back up the stairs. Lesson learned: do not decorate cake while children are at home (unless they're sleeping). Do not. If the birthday falls the weekend of Thanksgiving break, do the party a different weekend. Seriously.

All that said, we woke up Saturday morning 2 hours until party time, rushed around and got it all done and I'm so glad we did it. It was a blast! The kids had so much fun and I loved seeing them enjoy it all.

We had a few party activities. Color the Ninjago guy and decorate a ninja throwing star (shout out to Jeremy for helping me make them last night!) Then, we took turns throwing ninja stars at a target. I was surprised by how big of a hit this was. After they all had a few turns, we made it a little harder by spinning them around a few times and called it spinjitsu (just like real Ninjago guys).
Next, Sensei Wu made an appearance and led us in a game of "Sensei Says." Before he left, he also let us borrow his hat and his beard for an awesome photo opp!

Isn't this hat awesome? I saw this idea on some random blog and thought it would be fun, but had no idea where to get the hat. I posted a pic on FB asking if any of my friends here happened to have a hat like this. Not even an hour later, a hat was secured for the party!

Then, it was time for cake! I love how excited the kids got when they walked in and saw the Green Ninja cake. It made all that craziness of Thursday and Friday totally worth it. They all loved it when we took his head off to cut the cake as well.

To keep the kids entertained, we let Corbin open his presents. This is always a debate. Do we do the party British style and set the presents aside, opening them after everyone has left or do we just let the kid dig in, American style? I totally understand the British style, especially when the kids are too young to realize why only one kid is opening presents (and you skip the risk of your kid saying that he doesn't like this or that and embarrassing everyone).

This party only lasted an hour and a half. It was just perfect. Not too short, not too long. Everyone arrived and left happy. Good day!

November 23, 2014

Party Number Next

Three birthday parties, three weeks in a row. This is insane. Two down, one to go. I'm hoping there's some creativity left somewhere inside of me to pull off the last one. Here's a quick recap of party number two: Kanyon's Taekwondo party!

Kanyon doesn't do anything he's truly interested in halfway. If he's in, he's all in. So when he signed up for Taekwondo as an after school activity this year, he's been all about it ever since. He wore his uniform for Halloween and also wanted a Taekwondo themed party. I liked the simple cake and red and black accents. He wanted a green belt on the cake because he thought it would look better than a white belt and taste better than a black belt. He also wanted to decorate the cake himself. Yikes. Maybe next year??

We kicked off the party by saying "Sensei says." It's like Simon says, but Simon is Sensei, not Simon. Got it? Ok. "Sensei says, 'Say Cheese!'"

Next up, we had a scavenger hunt to find Taekwondo belts. Each clue was hidden inside a "punch box." To get the clue, you had to punch through the paper on the box and find the clue inside which led you to the belt. The belts were in order by color and when each one was found we learned about the meaning of each color. The punch box was a big hit and a few of the boys punched a little harder than I was anticipating...almost punching through the back of the box! Jeremy quickly reset the box with fresh paper and a new clue inside as the herd of boys went off to locate the next clue.

After the scavenger hunt, the boys got creative and decorated a ninja cookie with edible food markers. I had to talk them into it (because we all know how much seven year old boys love to color) but they quickly came around and found they really do like coloring on food.

I was surprised that this little group was more interested in playing together than eating snacks and having cake. The time flew by, and before we knew it, we were busting the pinata, handing out goodie bags and saying goodbye.

November 16, 2014

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom! How'd it happen so soon?!

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom! How'd it happen so soon? We celebrated Violet's first birthday this weekend. The theme comes from the children's book "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom." There were so many fun photos, I had a hard time choosing just a few...so here's more than a few.

The boys were excited to help decorate and get ready for the party!

I had fun making this cake! The top tier was banana bread (less sugar for the babies), but no one actually ate that part. We shared it at fellowship the next day. The bottom tier was classic chocolate! I found the alphabet cookies at a grocery store and covered them with royal icing. As I worked on this cake, I had to remind myself that perfection is not the goal. I'm happy with how it turned out. It's whimsical and fun, and you can tell it's made with love by me!

When the guests arrived, the kids made birthday crowns using paper and stickers I found at the stationary market.

To get us all in the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom spirit, we read the book together. Then we went on a hunt for coconut trees, set them up and played coconut tree bowling!

Next, it was time to make our own coconut trees out of some of our favorite Chinese snacks, some leftover icing and letter cookies from IKEA.

Group photos with this many little ones are a challenge, but I think this one turned out nicely.

We didn't practice blowing out the candle, so Violet was kind of clueless. No problem. The whole family stepped up to help!

The birthday girl wasn't so into the cake since she was still enjoying her snack. But she tried her best to humor us. I'm just really excited that she kept her birthday crown on.

Finally, it was time to open presents. Once again, Violet was clueless, so brothers stepped in to help. Thanks to our awesome family for sending gifts across the ocean, and for friends here with us who came to celebrate!