Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In the Lion's Grove Garden

This Suzhou garden was built in 1342 during the reign of Emporer Zhizheng of the Yuan Dynasty. It's famous for its artifical hills and caves of different styles. It was fun to climb up the narrow rockery stairs and in and out of little caves. Do you see the lion's mouth open in a roar in the picture below? It was so neat to be back in Suzhou with my dad and mom!
Checking out a bonsai display in one of the little courtyards.
The parents of this cute little guy wanted a picture of their son with Madelyn... nothing new to her. Chinese people are always touching her face (they love light skin) or hair and admiring her, and she has been asked to be in photos a number of other times. Gwen jumped right in!

Beautiful carved wood inside this building in the garden.

Scott was having fun with the zoom lens...

Another roaring lion!

Girls In Suzhou

Yesterday we took my parents to Suzhou for the day. We visited two very different gardens. This picture was taken in the Lion Grove, where many of the rocks supposedly resemble lions.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Seth Update

Seth is doing so well. First of all, very fat lip, stitches, broken tooth and all, he helped lead the singing in children's church last Sunday less than 24 hours after his fall as if nothing had happened. He went to school Monday morning and stayed after Monday afternoon for his violin lesson. Basically this injury has not slowed him down! Yesterday we took the bandange off of his chin and were able to see the stitches. It looks to me (expert that I am!) like it is healing really well. By this morning his lip was looking much less swollen. Tonight at bedtime he told me he is really looking forward to his doctor and dentist appointments on Thursday because he's anxious to know about his jaw, which is still painful if he opens his mouth very wide. We're hoping they will be able to do more thorough x-rays to look at this and the tooth as well.

The tooth that broke off happens to be in the same space as the baby tooth Seth chipped as a toddler that slowly died and got darker and darker over the years until two years ago the dentist found a small infection behind it and had to pull it. It took a while for the permanent tooth to grow into that space, and so for a long time he had a bit of a jack-o-lantern look, with one big tooth and a space and then a stub growing into it. Now he says with the broken permanent tooth he's back to that look!

Uncle Justin, don't you be egging him on about landing that trick he tried when he got hurt!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Seth's Smile

Yes, he is still smiling. That's Seth for you. He's that kind of kid.

This smile doesn't look quite the same as the one I posted a week or so ago. That's because he took a pretty nasty spill doing a trick on his rollerblades yesterday, a trick that involved high speed and a steep ramp and jumping. He didn't land quite right and now is the proud owner of stitches in his lip and chin, and we are all mourning the loss of half of his permanent top front tooth.

When he came home from the doctor and dentist yesterday late afternoon, he was feelin' pretty poorly. Scott told him he'd be happy later that he had a picture of how he looked right after the injury, and he managed this little smile.

The good news is that although yesterday he couldn't even drink any water and I had to just drip a little at a time into his mouth for him, by noon today he had creatively figured out how to eat a cheeseburger and fries. The bad news is that the nerve is exposed in his broken front tooth, and it's possible that the tooth may die. We are praying that the tooth can be saved and capped, rather than needing an implant. We have to wait for his lip to heal before the dentist can do x-rays and a more complete exam.

The broken tooth has been quite sensitive, yesterday at the dentist just a puff of air on it was extremely painful. Tonight I asked Seth how it felt. His answer~ "Short".

That's our Seth!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Worlds Collide

Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow morning, my parents will be here! They are ending a 3 week tour of China, and I hope we are the final touch on a great trip for them. We are anxious to hear about all their travels, and of course we are so excited that they will be here with us in our home!

Madelyn said, "I can't believe Grandpa and Grandma came 14 hours just to see us." If only she knew how anxious they are to see her!

Last night I told a friend in Chicago that having my parents here will be having someone from our old life... she said it's like "worlds colliding", to quote a line from Seinfeld. However, unlike George Costanza, for us it will be a good thing to have the worlds colliding. Somehow it validates our life here.

We are hoping that my dad and mom are only the first in a long line of visitors from our "old life." We have too many things on our list of things to do with them to get to them all in just ten days. And there are too many conversations we'll want to have...

Won't some of you come walk the streets of Shanghai with us too?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I found this at the grocery store today and couldn't resist buying it, just for interest. It is a bar of laundry soap. I guess it would be used if you were doing your washing by hand (many Chinese people do) and you rubbed it directly on the clothes as you scrubbed them. It cost 1 yuan, 8 jio, which is less than a quarter. I think we can use it for spotting clothes before putting them in the washing machine.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Caleb's Trip

So I've been wanting to post something about Caleb's class trip last week.

Saturday evening Caleb, Seth, Scott and I sat together on the couch while Caleb talked us through a slide show of the 15o some pictures he had taken while they were in Yangshuo. There were plenty of typical junior high pictures of kids having fun on the plane, on the bus, in the hotel, etc. But there were also pictures of things like rice paddies, and cormorants fishing off of a boat at night, and kids repelling off of cliffs... and pictures of amazing landscapes.

I hope I have whetted your appetite for these photographs. They are coming soon!

Caleb was required to keep a journal during the trip. Over the weekend, after returning home, he was recording his final thoughts about the experience. I asked if he would mind if I read through the journal. He had no objections, and it was such a treat! Not only did I get the sequence of what happened when, I also got a little peek into how my junior high boy thinks about things. What girls were annoying. That he always thought he hated cooking, but that the Chinese cooking they did on the trip was so fun. That his knees felt wobbley before some of the challenging physical activities they did. That he was pretty pleased about his accomplishments, especially completing some of the rock climbing that was really tough. That junior high kids like to "hang". That "sick" actually means really cool. That he can have fun with a girl if they are playing the new card game that everyone likes. That the long, difficult hike they had to complete in silence was so worth it when they saw the view from the top.

Good stuff. I'm so glad he wanted me to know it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007


Scott left just a moment ago, at 11:50 pm, to go pick up Caleb from school, where he and the rest of the eighth grade will be returning to from the airport after their trip to Yangshuo. Seth's group returned late this afternoon, and he was full of stories.

His favorite activities were repelling, from quite a high cliff, and kayaking.

He made new friends, and admitted that Ernest, the boy he roomed with who bothers him by singing softly during math class, is really an okay guy.

He related to me the details of the funny skits the teachers did for them at night around the campfire.

He taught me the little tongue twister chant that one of the ChinaClimb leaders taught the kids... I told him he must remember it to tell his own children when they someday ask him at bedtime to tell them a story about when he was a kid.

He learned how to stick his thumb through his ear from someone who's name may have been Nick, and he taught several kids his own levitating trick.

He ate a lot of Chinese food. He told me he didn't have any vegetables the whole time, but he did have a lot of fruit, especially oranges. There were orange groves within view of the place they stayed.

His face is a little pink from the sun, but not bad considering he forgot to wear any sunscreen, and he was happy to brush his teeth tonight when I suggested it, because he realized he hadn't brushed them the whole time he was away.

He made the catch on the Leap of Faith activity, which involves climbing a vertical ladder about 25 feet up to a tiny round platform where he had to stand and then leap off to catch a hanging trapeze. The kids were in a harness for this activity, by the way!

He was very happy to get into his own bed.

I am anxious to hear Caleb's stories!

Faces on the Street

All of the following pictures I have taken on the streets right outside our apartment complex in the last day or two.

The plant guys... they are outside one of the entrances to our complex most days... they sell both cut flowers and large house plants. We've purchased both from them. Two of the large house plants are no longer with us, but the other two seem to be hanging on okay. The cut flowers are inexpensive and such a treat to have around the house.
Just a nap.
Selling DVDs... usually about 5 yuan a piece (60 cents).
One man loading what appeared to be bags of flour onto another man's head and shoulders to carry up to a little shop. The man carrying managed three bags at a time.
This man was cutting small tiles in half for a construction project amidst a pile of rubble on the sidewalk.

One of the many pedal cart riders carrying an impossibly large load.
Cooking at a tiny stand.
Two sets of women on the street... very common for them to walk arm in arm.

Cleaning some type of greens in a tub of water.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


So just now Seth left. Just got on the elevator outside our door, to go get on the school bus alone (Caleb is on his trip) to head to school where he will get on another bus to travel to another part of China (Nanbeihu) for three days. As I hugged him good-bye and the elevator door closed, I marveled at what he is doing... and how I am handling it. I've met his teacher several times and really like him. I attended the parent meeting about the trip several weeks ago, and a friend of ours was a chaperone for the sixth grade trip last week, which was to the same place, so I heard about it from him. But basically, I have sent Seth away with people I hardly know, to a place I've never been, in a foreign country where we happen to live, to do things that will challenge both his body and mind.

Having homeschooled the boys for the years that we did, control is a big thing for me. I realized it more as the years went by, that part of the reason I wanted to homeschool was not only for the extra time with them and the individualized academic options, but also so that I would have more control over what they learned, who influenced them, what they heard, who they played with. I remember one time perhaps four years ago pondering sending Caleb to school and almost physically shuddering at the thought of losing that much control over his days. I really had it bad, didn't I?! But at that same time, as I thought about the school option, I prayed that God would show me very clearly when the time was right for him to go to school. I felt that day like God challenged me with the question..."Don't you think I can take care of him? I love him so much more than even you do." Ahhhh. At the time it was a wonderful revelation for me, but the time wasn't right yet for traditional school. I tucked the thought away and saved it.

And so now we fast forward to today. Caleb is a several hour flight away, in southern China, and the elevator doors have just closed on Seth who is heading off to his own adventure. And me, well, I feel pretty good about the whole thing. I'd say that's progress. But I'll still be praying.


I just got off the phone with Caleb. He is in Yangshuo, in the Guangxi province, on his eighth grade class trip all this week. He was tired, as they arrived quite late last night and had a full day today, but he wanted to tell me about the events of the day. (This makes me Really Happy, that he chose to call me to tell me these things!) Today they biked among the karsts that this area is known for... karsts are strange and beautiful limestone rock formations (I have seen these on our "Big Bird In China" dvd). They also spent some time at the Yangshuo Cooking School today, where they learned to make and then ate a number of Chinese dishes. This evening they hung out at the ChinaClimb headquarters (ChinaClimb organizes the trip for the school) where they participated in a workshop on juggling and had fun on the bouldering wall. Tomorrow is kyaking and watching cormorant fishing, among other things. Caleb still had to write in his journal about the day... they are required to keep a journal throughout the trip that they will use as the basis for some extensive writing projects when they return.

I am so thrilled that he has the opportunity to go on this trip and see another part of China, quite different from where we are in Shanghai. Seth leaves for his three day fifth grade trip tomorrow morning...

Monday, October 15, 2007


A man dressed in drab old clothes rides a rusty, thirty-some year old bicycle. He chats on his cell phone as he pedals down a busy Pudong street.

Everyone in Shanghai has a cell phone. Really.

Have I mentioned that 10 years ago in Shanghai, due to lack of phone service, the main form of communication was the telegram?


Looking In, Looking Out

Wow! We were so excited to get to see these guys outside our dining room window today... their ropes have been hanging around the buildings in our complex for a week or so, and we wondered when they would get to our windows. We understand this happens only about twice a year, so we were thrilled to get to see them in action. You can see that they have a large suction cup in their left hands to hold them in place while they wash and squeegee with the right hand. Great entertainment!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

At Least I Have Something

This morning I was in the Chinese grocery store that is right outside our apartment complex. We were hunting for a rain poncho for Caleb, who is packing to leave for his class trip later today. This little store sells everything, including shoes, bikes, pajamas, etc., in addition to food. A little like a Super Walmart... but Not Really. Not at all.

Anyway, as we were browsing through the rain ponchos trying to find the right size for Caleb (no small task, as rain ponchos are a big deal here, especially for bike riders), I noticed that I recognized the tune of the song playing over the store loud speakers. It is common for Chinese stores to play American music, but somehow today it struck me funny to sing along with ABBA to "Dancing Queen" in this little Chinese grocery store. I felt like doing my own little dance right there in the aisle. It made me feel at home.

I may not be able to find things I need in the stores here, I may not be able to read the labels, I may have to guess at what a certain product is, I may not know where and when to get my produce weighed... but I WILL sing along with the music they play!

Thai Heinz

I guess every culture wants its ketchup. This restaurant had both Heinz ketchup and chili sauce on the table. How many languages do you suppose the Heinz label is manufactured in?

Last Night In Thailand

We ate in a little open air place right down from our hotel. We were the only ones in it, save for one couple. Despite the small crowd, there was live entertainment. Our girls thoroughly enjoyed the music, which was mostly American 80's pop music, and I think they made the two marginal singers' evening by dancing with abandon to one number after the next.
The dancing queens!

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Beach

I remember many summer mornings at a little creek near our house in Ohio.... all I had to bring was a bucket and a little fish net and the boys would be happy for literally hours, catching minnows and crayfish. That little boy desire to capture a living thing is still in Caleb. He told me so, on the beach as he watched the waves wash forward and back, revealing sand crabs and little shellfish that he ran to catch before they quickly buried themselves in the wet sand. He got caught up in the chase, so intense and excited, and when he'd catch a little crab, he'd hand it to me to hold while he went after the next one. I loved watching him, seeing the little boy that still lives inside him.

Nap on the beach... doesn't that sound good? Of course Gwen wasn't thrilled about it, but we were all pleased that she did fall asleep while we were out so that we could stay and play while she napped. It worked out this way for her to nap at the pool a couple of days also.There were teeny, tiny jellyfish in the water, about the size of my thumb. They didn't seem to sting at all, just floated along. Here Gwen is holding one up to Scott, although I don't think it's visible in the picture. Playing with friends on the beach... we ran into a family that has their kids attending the same school that Caleb and Seth attend... one of their boys is even in Seth's class! We enjoyed an afternoon chatting with them and playing on the beach. We were actually in Thailand during monsoon season, which made some beaches quite dangerous to swim in. The one closest to our hotel had this sign posted. I was nervous for the kids to go in past their ankles. There were other more sheltered beaches that were safer.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


These funny little trucks are the taxis of Thailand. They really are called tuk-tuks, at least that's how it is said in English. We all had fun riding in them!

Thoughts From My Bike Seat

Yesterday as I was riding my bike, Gwen in tow on the baby seat in back, I pondered what impressions of China she will end up with, after spending these early years here.

We were making our way towards a place we can see from our apartment, and that we often pass in the car, but that I had never ridden to before. It's a giant sculpture of some kind that looks sort of like a wire top resting on its side. We've named it the sun dial, although I really don't think it's meant to be one.

As we wove our way through traffic and crowded sidewalks, little shops and high rises, I wondered what Gwen will remember of China. It depends, of course, on how long we stay here. The general plan is that we are here for three years, give or take some months, but nothing is set in stone. But if we leave in the prescribed time, Gwen will be six years old when we move on from the land of her birth.

Will she remember the intricate dance of taxis, bikers, buses and pedestrians, all turning and crossing and weaving around each other? Will she remember the many older people who come out for their daily shopping wearing only cotton pajamas or the bare chested men that wear only boxers out on the street in the heat of summer? Will she recall the smells of the street, with all the cooking at tiny stands, and people eating great plates of noodles at 10 o'clock in the morning? What about the strange mix of glass and steel office buildings alongside tiny closet-sized shops selling bottled drinks or miscellaneous cleaning supplies? Or the bike carts, their riders laboriously pedalling along with enormously huge loads of garbage, heading who knows where? There are beautiful flower gardens lining Century Avenue, meticulously cared for. Will she remember them?

I hope that Gwen is getting a sense of this place, from her view on the back of my bike. It's certainly not representative of all of China, but it's something, and I think that having little bits of it in her heart is a Good Thing.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Kai Nok Island

There are many small islands around Phuket, which is the large island where we were staying in southern Thailand. After a slow start, we had what turned out to be a great day on a snorkling outing off of Kai Nok island. We took about a 15 minute speedboat ride out to the island. There were so many small, beautiful islands on the way, each like a miniature mountain protruding from the Andaman Sea.

Blown in the wind on the boat ride!

Gwen enjoyed her fried rice and fried egg lunch on the beach. The snorkling company provided the lunch.
The reason we chose this island was because it was advertised as having fish that came up into the shallow water so that even small children could enjoy them. This was certainly true... there were schools of striped and rainbow fish that clustered around in the shallow water. The kids found that if they held a slice of watermelon out in the water, these fish would gather around and nibble at it!

We discovered some little tide pools in these rocks that had little creatures in them. Caleb was bent on trying to capture them.

We snorkled right off of this beach at first, struggling to get masks and snorkles adjusted so that they didn't have water leaking in from everywhere. About an hour after we arrived, the snorkling company took us out into deeper water to snorkle off the boat over a reef. Scott stayed on the beach with the girls so that I could go out with the boys off the boat. My favorite part of it was hearing Seth's muffled exclaimations coming through his snorkle as he saw the wonders below the surface! No underwater pictures, sadly! We were pretty sure we spotted Gill (from Nemo!) and several of his relatives.