Monday, September 12, 2016

Party Central!

These past two weeks we've had three celebrations going on around us.  So here's the skinny on each of them, along with a few pictures....

Our 7th Anniversary in China
On September 4th, our family celebrated the 7th year that we've lived overseas.  Each year, we let the kids pick what they want to do in order to celebrate this auspicious occasion.  They ran through quite a few options (including some of their favorite parks, a movie, a trip to the mountains) before all agreeing that going out for hot pot would be their first choice.  Unfortunately, it was NOT Kevin's first choice, so he convinced them to go out for kabobs and noodles (the local favorites where we now live) instead!  So everyone was happy, and I made one of their favorite desserts (which includes some import ingredients, like chocolate pudding) to top off the evening.  We did some talk time, reminiscing on the 7 years we've spent here, and the blessing that it is each year to celebrate one more!

Eli's 11th Birthday
Bday banana pudding!
I can't believe my second-born is already 11 years old!  Oh, how the time flies.  While I enjoyed my kids as babies and toddlers, I must admit, I LOVE this phase of life with them!  Somehow, mom and dad are still cool enough for them to want time with us, and the conversations and activities we can do together are such a blast.  Eli is developing into a young man of rich character--it's really neat to see his personality and his gifts coming out.  He's my regular handy-man.  When something needs fixing, I turn to him before anyone else (don't tell Kevin!).  He loves to pull out the tools and see what magic he can work.  He got my fan taken apart and completely cleaned out last week (and put back together again) and then got the hose re-installed under the (one!) bathroom sink yesterday.  I don't know what I'd do without him!  And he loves running to the market stores for me to buy groceries.  It's really fun to send him out with money and my shopping cart and see him be able to communicate enough now in Chinese to get the job done.  And his heart for littler kids is really sweet.  His gentle spirit and tenacity are the perfect combination for him to befriend and win over some of the young kids in our community (like our Crossfit coach's son, who is present at the workouts in the mornings when we are there).  I'm so thankful for my kids, and it was a fun day to celebrate the young man Eli is growing into!

Eli on his bday "throne"
Eli's Hero workout
So Eli was celebrated early on his birthday morning with having a Crossfit Hero workout named after him!  The coach put together a workout designed with Eli in mind, with each of the numbers of reps and sets being connected to his birthdate in some way.  I think Eli felt really loved and honored by the whole thing!  When we came home from the workout, the house had been decorated by Karis and Noah (who had stayed behind with Kevin) with balloons, streamers, and signs.  So sweet to see his siblings serving him without so much as a suggestion to do so on my part!  He got to open his presents after the workout, and Kevin and I both marveled at one of the positive aspects (I think!) of the life we live overseas.  It's just really hard to find gifts of good quality for a decent price (it's normal for the price to be doubled or tripled on most import products--like Legos).  So we usually go pretty light on birthday gifts for the kids.  This year Eli got a pretty large Lego set and a pair of binoculars (he also got money from grandparents to spend as he wishes--which will be in some on-line shopping).  That's it!  He knows he has a camo shirt (for hunting, which he can't wait for!) at my parent's house waiting for him in Dallas, but other than those few things, that was it for his birthday presents.  And I don't think I'm being naive to say that he really was content!  He spent the afternoon putting together his Lego set, saying thank you several times, and I really think that overall, our kids have just learned to be content with less "stuff" than they ever were before.  Fewer tortilla chips on taco Thursdays, fewer boxed brownie mixes, fewer pair of shoes to chose from to wear each day.  And they're okay with that!  Now, please don't get me wrong--they have a LONG list of things they're excited to do, buy, and eat once we get to the US.  But for where we are now, and most days, they are content with the more simplified life that we (by necessity) are living.  Talk about grace!

Then in the afternoon a group of 4 of his friends came over (all Korean kids who are still here in town).  The kids all played virus tag outside for almost two hours, snacking in between some, and then came in for dinner, Nerf gun battles, and a viewing of Zootopia.  He had a blast, and again, I was overwhelmed with thankfulness at this group of kids and the blessing that they have been to my kids these past few months.

our apt complex's sheep pen
The celebration that is taken most seriously--maybe even more so than Ramadan--by the people who live around us is taking place right now.  The holiday lasts a full week, but the first day or two are the most intense (mainly because that is when each family is supposed to sacrifice a lamb (but we would call them more of a ram, because of the size and the horns).  It's absolutely intriguing--and a bit disturbing for those who are animal lovers.  The day before the holiday begins, you see pens of the lambs all over (this is a new practice; last year the lambs were required to be kept outside of the city limits, but there was a lot of push-back from that because it makes it so hard to bring a lamb home if you can't just walk it there; we saw lots of hilarious scenes with lambs being hauled around town in the back of open taxi trunks!).  Then the day of the holiday, you see lots of people (an entire extended family is supposed to work together to do the slaughter and the butchering of the animal) working together to kill the animal and then prepare it (you're supposed to eat all the edible parts, then you bring the skin, head, and legs to the mosque or give them to the poor).  I was just outside with the kids when we paused to watch one sacrifice as it was taking place.  I'm not totally sure, but it looked like all the family members came and squatted down to lay their hands on the beast as it's throat was cut (you can see the group around the animal in the picture).  And then there's a specific order in which you're supposed to visit friends and neighbors during the week, starting with your closest family members and then moving outward in your circle of friends.  So I've been baking and we purchased some other gifts (like honey and specially boxed jams) to bring to neighbors and to the one friends' home we're going to tomorrow evening for dinner (which is a bigger invitation when it includes a meal, rather than just a drop-in visit).  It's a really neat time to be able to learn more of the culture of those around us, as well as to engage in more meaningful conversations about deeper topics.
butchering of the ram

laying hands on the sacrifice

So that's it for the celebrations!  I must confess, I'm feeling weary.  Four weeks from today we'll be on a plane heading back to the US, and I'm trying not to count down the days!  I'm ready for a break--mainly from the things here that just seem to take so much time that could be short-cut in Stateside living.  I took a picture this week to illustrate--spinach.  In the US, I LOVE to go to Sam's Club and buy one of those huge tubs of spinach, then keep in in the fridge and use it for salads for a week or longer (oh, and don't get me started on feta cheese, or my mouth might not stop watering!).  Here, I can buy spinach, but the amount of time it takes to get all the dirt off, soak it to kill any parasites, and dry it to make sure we're not getting to much of the sink water in our systems makes spinach for salad more of a delicacy than it would ever be in the US!  Sigh....soon enough!  I'll be eating mounds of spinach and letting my kids indulge in slices of cheese (you can find mozzarella here, but it's expensive enough that you can't just eat it freely; and any other type of cheese is a rarity for sure!) in no time!

kids w/ their favorite "stray" dogs