Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Slideshow

In case you didn't catch it, I added a bunch of photos from Christmas. The slide show plays automatically on the right. I'll have to see about adding captions in the future.

Snow in Saigon





A few years ago Daniel's sister gave me these snowflake ornaments for Christmas. I like to hang them in the window to catch the afternoon light and to remind me of Michigan winters.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Holiday Hiatus

I'm sorry for the long pause between blog posts. I have been busy with all the normal holiday activities--cooking, eating, wrapping, unwrapping, making messes, cleaning them up, waking early, going to bed late, and so on, and so on. We had a nice Christmas in spite of illness. Daniel and Caleb came down with dengue fever a week ago and are both still recovering. Things should be back to normal in another day or two. I'll write more then. I hope that you had a blessed Christmas and that you are enjoying these last days before the new year.

Heather (for all of us)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Caleb's Commentary

Caleb and I went to the supermarket yesterday. He is fun to take along because he gives a running commentary on everything we pass in the taxi. (We don't own a car and I'm not ready to let the boys ride on Daniel's motorbike. Just call me paranoid.) Most days, life in Vietnam is simply life. We're so used to it, that things don't seem strange anymore. Yesterday, Caleb's commentary reminded me that we are indeed in a place very different from where we grew up. How many three-year-olds in the States make the following observations on the way to the local grocery store?

"Grass, Mama, grass!!!" (A few scrubby clumps poking through the broken concrete outside our gate.)

"Look, flowers and fruits and eggs and peoples." (While passing the outdoor market at the end of our alley.)

"Mom, look...a dragon!" (Adorning the gates of the Buddhist temple at the end of our street.)

"There's a baby on that motorbike." (Held in his mom's arms.)

"Look, flowers are on the bus!" (Wedged behind the front bumper and roped to the dashboard in an attempt to solicit good luck and avoid fender benders.)

"A puppy!" (Again on a motorbike.)

"That's a loud motorbike." (After some maniac sped by us with his engine roaring.)

"Santa Claus!" (A plastic, automated Santa parked at the entrance to the supermarket--some things truly are universal.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I must confess that I often let Caleb finish his breakfast in the living room. He is NOT a morning person and life is much less stressful if I let him get going in front of a cartoon (usually just one...or maybe two). These days we've been putting cinnamon (or "cimmanom" as Caleb would say) on toast, sliced apples, pancakes, carrots, chicken, oranges... (the latter few are the boys' invention). We can't seem to get enough of it. Apparently, Nathan is equally a fan. He found Caleb's unfinished pancake on the floor, polished it off, and then proceeded to lick all of the cinnamon off the plate. That's my boy! Honestly I would do the same if I didn't have an adult sense of propriety (aka. fear of walking around with cinnamon all over my face).

Jesus on the Go

In case you were wondering, Jesus gets around on the back of a flatbed truck driven by a Lego fireman. The truck even makes beeping noises when backing up. Safety first, you know.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Off the Cutting Floor

I thought I would give you a behind the scenes peak into our attempts at a family Christmas photo. Here we are just starting out. Daniel is fiddling with the camera, trying to get it properly focused and ready to snap a picture in "delay and dash" mode. Caleb is at his most subdued. We were waiting for Nathan to wake up from his nap. In the meantime, the rest of us were getting increasingly tired and hungry for lunch. This was mistake number one.

Here is an early attempt. The focus is off and Nathan is only half-awake, but Caleb is still smiling. Maybe we should have quit while we were ahead.

Hmm, all four facing the camera and three out of the four smiling...not too bad. Unfortunately, the angle makes me tower over Daniel. Why didn't we figure this out before the boys started losing it?

Angle's better, but now I'm completely losing it. Did you catch the gritted teeth?

Here is the picture we finally decided would have to do. (At some point you lower your standard.) A little photo editing goes a long way!

Merry Christmas from All of Us!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to Catch Santa Claus

When you live in a country that has only just begun to celebrate Christmas (mostly for its commercial potential), it takes a little extra effort to generate holiday cheer. In my fervor to reintroduce the nativity set and the Advent calendar and the Christmas story, I somehow forgot about Santa Claus. He got lost in a flurry of holiday baking and decorating and online shopping. Now that the dust is settling, I've suddenly remembered him. I know it's hard to believe, but the portly old fellow slipped through the cracks.

I understand why some parents choose to ban Old Saint Nick. I also sympathize with parents who don't want their kid to be the third grade know-it-all who spoils the fun for everyone else. I probably should have stronger opinions, but somehow the grand Kris Kringle debate hasn't hit our household. Like I said, we live in the land of no-Christmas. If I want our boys to believe in Santa, it will take initiative--like buying a fake velvet suit and padding Daniel with pillows. It will also require creativity and storytelling genius. Unfortunately, I'm already too busy answering a million and one miscellaneous Christmas questions to add another topic to the pot. (Yes, Jesus had a dirty bottom. No, her name is not "Mary Christmas." Yes, the lights are pretty--DON'T bite them!) For better or worse, Santa is destined to be lost in the shuffle.

Forgetting Santa does make me a little sad since he featured so large in my childhood Christmases. We had a plastic Santa with a light bulb for innards on our front porch every year. I loved coming home to his friendly wave and glowing pink cheeks. He was our Christmas beacon. Santa also decked out our Christmas tree. Every year the branches were hung with a collection of dancing Santas that my mom originally bought because they were toddler friendly. Most of them had been well-chewed.

My favorite memories, though, are the schemes my dad came up with for catching Santa red-mittened in the act of distributing our loot. My dad went to great lengths to encourage our belief in the jolly, old elf, including braving frigid Christmas Eve temperatures to pass under our windows with a red light and jingle bells. Every year he came up with a new plan to prove once and for all that Santa was the real deal. Our chimney was clearly not large enough for a cat, much less a man of Santa's stature, so our schemes usually centered around other points of entry. One Christmas my dad taped a nail pointy-side-out in the frame of the front door. When we woke the next morning we found a piece of wool from Santa's coat snagged on the tip. Zonkers! It worked!!!

Another year my dad scavenged a pair of jumbo-sized snow boots. Just before we went to bed on Christmas Eve, he took a brand new bag of flour from the pantry and shook it out all over the front porch. We were lost. How could flour possibly trap the big guy? When we woke up the next morning the carpets were covered with massive, Santa boot prints. The path from the front door to the Christmas tree was especially well-traveled. Ha! Santa thought he was just walking though snow. Little did he know he was leaving incontrovertible proof of his own existence. We were a bit puzzled, however, when my mom seemed less excited about Santa's flour trail. My dad spent most of Christmas morning cleaning it up.

Ah, these are fun memories. Maybe someday we will get around to promoting Santa Claus with our own kids. Let's just hope I muster the energy soon. Before we know it, Santa will be a lost "Claus."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Five Sure-Fire Ways to Douse the Christmas Spirit

Here are some suggestions for those of you who are feeling a little too intoxicated with the Christmas spirit. If you need to tone things down a bit, unplug the twinkly lights, turn off the Christmas music, lay off the egg nog, and read on.

Five Sure-Fire Ways to Douse the Christmas Spirit

1. Take your kids Christmas shopping for each other. We tried this yesterday and it was a perfect show stopper. We took a twenty dollar taxi ride to the other side of the city where many of the other foreigners live. We were attending a morning worship service in the home of a friend. After the service we grabbed burgers at a Korean fast food chain that could almost be mistaken for McDonald's except that in place of Big Macs they sell Lotteria Burgers with Bulgogi sauce. Three doors down from the burger place was a toy store. Since I wasn't planning another twenty dollar taxi trip in the near future, I decided to postpone naps a little longer in order to find a gift for Nathan.

Red flags should be flying. Postpone naps to take a tired baby and an ornery preschooler toy shopping... I know, I know, sometimes we get what we ask for. We were in the shop all of fifteen minutes. By the time we left, Nathan was screaming because he had pinched his fingers in a display and Caleb was demanding loudly, "Caleb have Nathan's tractor! No presents for Nathan. I want them all!!!" It was a beautiful moment--one I will cherish always.

2. Try relaxing to Christmas music during karaoke night at the cafe next door. "O Holy Night" and "Big Big Girl" make a spectacular medley.

3. Sip hot cocoa with sweat dripping down the back of your neck. (On the other hand, it's very nice iced with a big dollop of whipped cream on top. Who needs marshmallows anyway.)

4. Decide you've had enough fiddle-faddling around and start potty training in earnest during the holiday season. Spend every spare minute keeping puddles away from the Christmas lights.

And the top spirit douser for the season...

5. Try to get a family Christmas photo for the newsletter. We attempted the press-the-button-and-run method. After thirty or forty shots Daniel was sweaty and ready to call it quits, Caleb was crying and refusing to cooperate, Nathan was staring wide-eyed at all the chaos, and I felt like I'd just finished my arms and abs workout trying to keep both boys in order. We still don't have a Christmas picture.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Anticipating Christmas

The advent season is all about anticipation. It is the one time of year when we celebrate waiting. No, I don't mean waiting in long lines at department stores or waiting to cut off a red mini-van and a green sedan in an attempt to snag the last parking spot within a half-mile of the mall. I'm not talking about waiting for all the good things that come on Christmas morning: piles of presents, sugary pastries, and candy-filled stockings. (Though the pastries are especially worth waiting for.)

Each year we wait symbolically for the baby Jesus to make his grand entry into replica mangers placed carefully below high voltage stars. We sing the songs the angels sang and read the familiar story many times over. We try not to think too long or too hard about Mary and her ordeal in the barn. Like the shepherds, we always find the baby born, wrapped, and glowing. This is how babies should be found.

If Christmas is all about celebrating God's gift of his son, then Advent is about anticipating that gift. We wait expectantly, eagerly. Three weekends ago we put up our tree and twinkly lights and Christmas decorations. Caleb helped me unwrap each of the nativity pieces. The paper has been wound and unwound so many times that it is soft, almost like fabric. He was remarkably careful for a three-year-old. Each time he uncovered a new piece he would squeal with delight, "Mama, it's a shepherd!" "Look, Mama, it's the angel!" "Ohhhhh, it's a chicken!!!" He took the whole entourage to bed with him for several nights (the figurines are made of plastic), and we could hear him making up songs for each character. My favorite went something like this...

The shepherd came.
Oh-whoa, Baby Jesus,
Baby Jesus you peed in your bed.
Oh-whoa, Baby Jesus.

(I love Caleb's enthusiasm...and his theology. Yes, Jesus was fully God AND fully man. None of this "No crying he makes" business.)

As we anticipate Christmas, I find myself thinking about Christ's next coming. After all, isn't Advent a concentrated version of the Christian life. We are waiting for Christ to return again and for God to "wipe away every tear" and for "death to be no more" (Revelation 21). In the meantime, we celebrate; we obey; we try to remain faithful. This is why Advent and Christmas are so important to our family. It is a once-a-year reminder of what we're all about...waiting. Caleb obviously doesn't need any encouragement to enjoy the season, but I've been trying to find ways to help the rest of us anticipate Christ during Advent. What does your family do to celebrate and remember? I'd love to get some fresh ideas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Six Quirky Things

I was "tagged" this morning. In the blogging world this means that I've been asked by a friend to write about a specific topic. The topic is "six quirky things about myself." Hmmm...only six? Let's see...

#1. I have two great fears in life--talking on the telephone and driving on the highway. Actually, I have the same problem with both. I don't know how to get on and I don't know how to get off. Believe it or not, I plan out phone conversations. The closer I am to the person, the rougher the plan. For instance, if I'm calling my mom I may only think of a handful of things I want to tell her. On the other hand, if I'm calling friends to invite them to dinner, I'll think through the conversation in advance with a contingency plan for the answering machine. I'm really thrown for a loop when someone calls me.

Driving in highway traffic is just as terrifying. I grip the wheel at ten and two praying desperately that God will part the sea as I come careening down the entrance ramp. Getting off is even worse. I ended up in Indiana one time trying to get from Wheaton to O'Hare airport mostly because all of the exits looked too intimidating. I will go to great lengths to avoid driving on major highways (including spending an extra hour stopped at red lights every two blocks). When I know I can't avoid highway driving, I get an ulcer anticipating it. It's the thing I fear most about returning to the United States someday. Blast Roosevelt and Eisenhower and their interstate highway system!

#2. I dread hair cuts. You never know what you're going to walk out with. I normally carry a ball cap in my bag so that I don't have to run from door to door secret-agent style. It always takes me a week or so to reconcile myself to a haircut, even when it's just a trim.

#3. I have a forked tongue. (Yes, forked, kind of like a snake.) I was tongue-tied when I was born and still have a little slit in my tongue to show for it.

#4. I am completely inept at anything involving numbers. I haven't balanced a checkbook in over a decade. When I was working and had to choose an investment plan for my retirement funds, I played "eany meany miny moe" with the informational brochure. Daniel has tried to explain our budget multiple times. In the end we decided that putting all the household money in an envelope each month was the best solution. When it's gone, it's gone. I can live with that.

#5. I love butter. REAL butter. A little bread is okay too.

#6. I am a compulsive hand washer. When I am cooking, I usually wash my hands about 300 times. The routine goes something like this: Crack an egg, wash my hands. Beat the egg, wash my hands. Toss the shell, wash my hands... You get the idea. Needless to say, my hands are perpetually dry, red, and cracked. I have to go on vacation and spend a week eating out for them to rehydrate.

Phew! I think that covers it. I'm not sure how "tagging" works, so those of you who also write blogs are off the hook for now.