Life

“Forgive me for being so ordinary while claiming to know so extraordinary a God.” -Jim Elliot

Thanksgiving in China ’17

IMG_9413

This hasn’t been most ideal Thanksgiving. With the passing of my mother-in-law, it’s kinda thrown our family out of sorts. JK and Eloise are still in the States spending time with family trying to help with organizing the estate while the rest of came back to China about a week ago.

None-the-less, we’ve made the best of it and have enjoyed our Thanksgivings separately. Honestly, I think between JK and me, we both kinda envy each other. I wish we could be with her and her family for yearly Thanksgiving tradition of heading to her brother’s house. And she wishes she could be here to be a part of our community Thanksgivings meals. On Thursday, our small group had a meal, and then again on Saturday we got to take part in a progressive dinner.

For the progressive dinner, at the first house, there was soup and bread. That’s where I contributed my secret recipe – buying store-bought food. From there we went to the 2nd house where we had chicken (couldn’t get a turkey), sweet potatoes and even cranberry sauce, and more main course items. Finally, we headed to the third house where we had a plethora of desserts. At the end it was a 4 hours well-spent!

Lucas and Micah’s Drawings

Every week our 3rd grader brings home a movie from the school’s library. One particular DVD they bring home is called Angel Wars. Honestly, I can’t say I’m a fan. The topic of destruction is a heavy one and the animation and story line are lacking. But, the boys like it and I can just leave the room when I’m annoyed at it.

AngelwarsSo, this week when they brought home another DVD from this series I was again disappointed, but then, once we put it in, I realized it was actually a “how to draw angel wars” DVD. This I can handle. I happily set them up with paper and pencil and let them at it. I wasn’t expecting much. The boys don’t particular like to draw nor have they made any spectacular drawings. But, they actually did a pretty great job!

IMG_9392

IMG_9393

IMG_9391

IMG_9390

This reminds me of a regret of mine. I was in kindergarten and boy named Justin was an excellent drawer. I remember all the kids would huddle around him as he worked on and displayed his latest works. At one point I was chatting with him and he said, “Drawing is easy. I can show you how. Would you like to learn?” (I don’t know if that’ exactly what he said. That was like 1986…). And I, for whatever reason – shyness?, said “no”. I’ve literally regretted that decisions forever. I still do. (Don’t worry, it’s not something that keeps me awake at night. Just when I think about it, I feel regret.)

Funeral of Vangie Smith

Although it wasn’t surprising, it still hurts none-the-less. My mother-in-law has passed away.

She lived well and she loved hard. She suffered through her cancer with dignity and strength. She died well.

Many wonderful things were said about her by her family that I agree with whole heartedly. I’ve told many people that she was an excellent mother-in-law. And it’s true. In-law relationships are often spoken of with disdain, but Vangie broke that stereotype in the way that she treated all of the spouses that her children chose. She often gloried in the fact that God provided the perfect mate to each of her children. Though we certainly didn’t eye to eye on every aspect, she treated me with respect and respected what I felt God was leading us to do.

IMG_3433

As the days were looking more and more sure that she was going to pass, JK went ahead to try and be by her side and by her siblings’ sides in the hospital room. After a very rough 40 hours of traveling, missed flights and sleepless days, she and Eloise made it back. We’re grateful that she got to be with her mom for the last 2 days of her life.

I and the 3 older children followed only a few days later. Our travel was smooth all the way. But that didn’t mean that there weren’t some tired children. I was quite literally dragging Lucas through the airport as we went through immigration and awaited our luggage.

IMG_9340

The funeral was really amazing. I’m so happy that my children got to be a part of healthy funeral and be a part of the celebration of the life of their grandma. I’m also proud to be a part of the family. Jacquelyn’s siblings and extended family are amazing. They handled the death of their mother, grandmother, aunt, sister and friend with grace, giving honor to our Father. Looking back, it seems odd that we even Facebook Lived the funeral. I was a bit worried that this would be insensitive when I suggested it. But the celebration that took place made it obvious that this was exactly the right thing to do. This type of hope and joy in the home going of one of His children should be shared.

Here’s the Facebook Live (via Youtube):

IMG_5812

Here’s the slideshow we showed at the funeral service:

IMG_3814

Below are some photos taken by Jacquelyn’s cousin, Steve. These are just the ones that have our family in them. He took a bunch more.

Chaos at the Weighing Station

In China, as in most places, most fruit and vegetables have to be weighed before you can buy them. Normally, you grab a little plastic bag, pick your veggies and then immediately go the person at the weighing scale right there in the produce area. Then, when you get to the register, he or she just scans your item and you’re done. Now, this is different than what I’m used to in the States. In the States nobody is going to pre-weigh your item. You simply bag it up and take it to the cashier to weigh it for you as he or she scans it.

So, today, when I grabbed my produce, I looked around for the weigher person, but there was none to be found. There was a weighing scale, but no weigher. Another customer was also there wondering where the weigher was and was calling out, “who can weigh my stuff?” I kinda just hovered around waiting for her calls to beckon someone over. But when nobody came, I just continued shopping and figured I would come back when I was done with everything else.

A few minutes later I came back and found that 3 or 4 other people were wondering where the weigher person was. By this time there was an employee there pointing people towrad the front of the store and saying they don’t weigh it here anymore. It’s normal for me not to exactly understand stuff here and to follow where people point me to. I just headed in the direction that she pointed hoping to follow some of the other people to the news, secret weighing station. But everybody else was as confused as I was and wandering arund aimlessly looking for someone to help them.

Eventually, I realized what might be happening. They are now weighing everything right at the counter. So, I went to the register and saw that they indeed have scales to weigh items. So, I got in line, hoping this was truly the case and that I wouldn’t be wasting my time once I got to the front of the line.

But as I get in line I can see that there is utter chaos at the register. Not only are customers annoyed at the new produce system, they’re also trying to figure out the new mobile app VIP card. The lady directly in front of me spent about 5 minutes with the cashier getting her account set up. She was also annoyed that the seaweed she wanted wasn’t in the system and therefore couldn’t buy it. There was a man, perhaps a manager, that was running between the 4 cash registers dealing with problem after problem. He was sweaty and looked tired. It was going to be a long day for him.

Here are some of the reflections of this event:

1. It’s best to let the locals deal with the problems. Life as a foreigner can be frustrating. There are so many things that are different than what we’re used to. But I try to take cues from the locals as to how to deal with it. Is this different and frustrating just for me? Or is everyone thinking something is strange? Traffic on the roads flows differently in China. But you quickly learn that the only person doing something wrong is yourself when you try and force your own experiences on the traffic.

2. Good communication goes a long way. The most frustrating thing about the experience wasn’t that they changed the system. Changing it is not a problem. In fact, weighing my produce at the cash register is what I’m used to. But the communication was poor. There were no signs or people pointing people in the right direction. The one person that was there wasn’t very helpful. She kinda just waved us “over there”.

3. Changes take time. I kept thinking back to the day when the States made changes to the way things were done with produce. I don’t remember that day. It must’ve been before my time. But it had to happen at some point. Fast forward to how ever many years later, and it’s simply the way things are done. It’s more efficient for the grocery store and the customer doesn’t have to wait in line multiple times.

4. I’m happy the store is trying new things. Despite the obvious struggles that it was to change the system, this particular chain of grocery stores is working hard to change the status quo. They’re making the system better. They even have their own version of a self checkout! You use your phone to scan your own items and then pay with your mobile phone, too! That’s great stuff! That’s still a system in progress as the time it takes to get that done is significant. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Lots of good ideas get trashed by poor execution. Produce weighing at the cash register is a great idea, but it might get thrown out with the bathwater if it doesn’t get executed better.

Eloise’s 3rd Birthday

Eloise had a great birthday! It started on Friday when JK and I brought in cupcakes to share with her class. 

She had fun handing them out to her classmates. 

A couple days later on her actual birthday she got to go to a water park. And then that night she had some friends over. 


It’s hard to believe our little girl is 3!

Dragon’s Head. Where the Wall Meets the Sea.

Recently, on a trip out of town for a training, we got the opportunity to go to the furthest point East of the Great Wall. It’s where the “dragon’s head meets the sea”. 

It’s not our favorite part of the wall that we’ve seen because there wasn’t much wall to walk on, but it was still pretty cool. 

Flower Face

 #

Last week we had to end the work and school day early because we had imposed traffic regulations because of a major sporting event in our area. 

We took advantage of the time and got together with friends outside. One of our friends brought out the face paint. Each of the kids got something. The boys got fire drawn on their arms. 

But this was by far the cutest:

Don’t tell jokes while driving

Here in China, just like everywhere else, they place important messages on street signs to remind you of driving safely. These messages are about driving after drinking, talking on your cell phone, or driving while drowsy. But the message Jacquelyn and I recently came across made me double back to make sure I read it right. 


It says this, “Cracking jokes while driving endangers safety.”
While my kids might agree that listening to my jokes is dangerous, it’s not usually limited to the car. 

So, keep the roads safe, people! Don’t drive while joking. 

Ode to Brown Leather Belt

You have served me well, brown leather belt.
You’ve been hugging my hips for a long time.
You definitely hold a record for longest lasting belt – at least in my life.
Although you were distressed from the years of use, you matched almost everything.
You never got mad when I occasionally wore a black belt. And we won’t even speak of the time I tried to wear the fabric belt.
When you broke the other day I was heartbroken.
I can’t bear to part ways with you yet, though I’ll never use you again.

IMG_9071

Ghost Festival

IMG_9064

It’s quite common practice in China to burn fake money to appease or give money to ghosts or ancestors in the afterlife. Lately, I’ve noticed alot of people burning piles of stuff in the streets. It turns out we’re in the middle of holiday called the Ghost Festival.

Going to a market near our house, many people were selling decorations for the holiday.

Fixing a Bike

The nice thing about biking in China is that it’s very common. On the one hand there are a ton of obstacles to go around as hundreds of bikers maneuver around traffic, but on the other, it also means you’re never that far from a bike repair cart set up on the side of the road. When I blew up Jacquelyn’s bike tire today, I just walked it over to the old man at the cart and he hooked me up with a new inner tube and tire for only about $8, or ¥50.

Lunch at School

Having my office at the school building means I get to see my children periodically throughout the day. I don’t get to my oldest as much any more because, now that she’s in middle school, she’s on the other side of the building. But, now that my 3rd is in elementary, I do get to eat lunch with both him and my 2nd!

IMG_9047 (1)

Welcoming New Staff

On Saturday we held our annual Welcome Dinner. It’s a time that we kick of the year with a party and especially focus on getting to know our new staff.

This year we played a gameshow-like game and gave out lots of prizes. It was quite fun.

IMG_8984 (1)

Meanwhile, the children played on a bouncy castle and did crafts and other fun things.

IMG_9017 (1)

IMG_9004 (1)

Helping Make Oatmeal

Micah really likes oatmeal. He would eat it everyday if I let him. Well, actually, he would eat cereal everyday, but he knows I won’t let him do THAT, so oatmeal is his secondary pick. So, he really wanted to learn how to make it, so that I can’t use the excuse of not being able to because I don’t want to cook it.

Afterword, Lucas also wanted to know how to make it. (Or maybe I just wanted him to learn to make it.)

IMG_8898

First Day of School ’17 #2

FullSizeRender 3

Today was the first day of school for the rest of the children. Each one was excited and seemed to fit right in with their classmates. It’s kind of a milestone for us. All of the children are in school now!

The photographer at school got a really great shot of Anna and her friend. 

First Day of School ’17 #1

Our youngest started school today! She’s starting in the school’s ECC program. We’ll probably send her 3 days a week. We’re excited for her to go, but we’re expecting some separation anxiety.

The other children will start tomorrow.

Shopping

Shopping in China is always a challenge, but add 4 kids dangling from each of your appendages and it makes it even more fun. 

Today we grabbed a few things, mostly yogurt, from the store. But the boys were most excited about getting super hero tissues. Tissues are very important here (I’ll have to post about that another time), so, might as well have as super hero tissues. 

Meet our Solar Water Heater

 …at least the digital mechanism that controls it. We’ve never had anything solar powered before. So when I went to take my first shower I was a bit frustrated to find that that it was only at 78 degrees. Surely, that’s not hot enough for a shower, I thought. I turned the water on and turned it all the way to hot just to be sure. Nope, no hot water. 

So, my first day in my new apartment I’m not able to take a shower after traveling for 24 hours. That’s a problem. And since I couldn’t find my deodorant, it was also a problem for everyone else. 

I pushed some buttons and hoped it would be hotter when I came back later. 

Nope. Still not hot. But at this point I absolutely had to take a shower. So, I just took a cold one. Brrr. 

Afterwords, when it still wasn’t reading any hotter, I called the person who used to live here and they told me that 78 was plenty hot. Oh, yeah, it’s Celsius here. I went back and turned the hot water on. Still no hot water. Then, I turned it the other way. You know, the way for the cold water. And sure enough, it was hot. 

Yep, I took a cold shower for nothing. 

Breakfast Takes too Long

For the last two mornings I’ve made breakfast. Eggs yesterday and pancakes today. When I make food, it usually takes a long time. I’m just not as familiar with cooking as my wife is. But the last two mornings took about twice as long as usual. All our stuff is in disarray. I’m not good at finding stuff in the first place, let alone when I literally have no idea where stuff is. And then, when I think I do know where something is, it turns out JK has already moved it to a new location. 

And if one thing is true about jet lag, it’s that when it’s time to eat you’re starving. But in the end, breakfast worked out pretty good once we were eating it!

img_8866

The Summer of ’17

The last 2 months have been pretty crazy, with lots of driving, visiting with family, and too many activities to list here.

It’s good to be back home in China, but it doesn’t quite feel like home yet. Over the summer we moved…or rather, we were moved, while we were gone. We moved to a different complex. It’s a great place that’s a bit closer to the school with lots of area for the children to run around, but our apartment is going to take some time getting set up.

Looking back at all the pictures from our trip, we fell blessed to be able to spend so much time with everyone. Thanks to all who made the effort to hang out with us!

Biking in the Big City

img_5958

Today we rode our bikes to fellowship. This is the second time we’ve ridden there on bikes since Lucas learned how to ride his bike. The first time we went, it was pretty much without incident. This was the farthest Lucas had gone, so he was understandably slower and got tired. But this second trip was a bit different. We had several incidents. All three of the kids crashed from youngest to oldest.

Driving in Tianjin is crazy. We’ve learned the basic biking rules of the road of a big city in China, but there are bikes, people, cars, and scooters everywhere. The good news is that cars seem to be well aware of all the bicycles, so they do well to maneuver us. Bicycles have been a big part of their culture, especially in the past. However, they’re probably not used to a procession of 6 foreigners on 5 bikes. Nonetheless, we really haven’t had too much of a problem with cars. Our biggest issue is with bikes and motorized scooters coming the wrong way on our side of the road. There is usually enough room to go around them, but it just means that you have to be aware of the traffic all the time.

Micah

Micah, especially, has caused a couple of freakout moments from the perspective of the oncoming scooters because he waits until the last second to move out of the way (something which we’re addressing). He was the first to go down today, but it wasn’t because of another vehicle. He ran into a pole because he was distracted talking to mommy about needing a water break. It wasn’t bad, but his knees hurt a little from the spill. He was a bit out of sorts this morning, so the fall seemed a bit more dramatic than it really was.

This is Micah’s rendition of what happened.

micah-bike

Lucas

Lucas, being the newest to riding a bike, has the most trouble keeping his eyes forward. I’m often reminding him to look ahead and not at his feet. Still, this incident can’t really be blamed on not paying attention. He ran into a motorized scooter carrying 3 people (husband driving, wife in the back holding a baby). The speed was quite slow for both Lucas and the scooter, but still it was kinda scary. Lucas hit the other driver’s leg and did a face plant into his arm.

I saw the whole thing from about 3 bike lengths back. It was a very busy section near a market entrance. There were bikes and food carts, pedestrians, cars and scooters everywhere. Jacquelyn was leading the procession and went left around a lady. Lucas went right. Because it was so busy, Lucas just couldn’t see the scooter behind the person. His reflexes are still a bit slow at this point, but he did try to hit the break.

There was a pretty big scene. The driver stopped and several other people surrounded us to make sure he was ok. One man in particular really made a big deal of making sure he was ok by helping Lucas to do exercises and stretches until he new he was ok. Surprisingly, Lucas never cried and jumped back on the bike ready to finish the trip. We were almost there by that point.

Here’s Lucas’ rendition of what happened.

lucas-bike

On the way home Anna also had a crash. Hers was the most surprising and the funniest. Anna is a pretty good at bike-riding, so we really don’t have to watch her too closely. I was leading the pack this time so I didn’t actually see it, but she apparently ran smack-dab into the back of a parked taxi-cab. When I turned around the driver of the car was talking to Jacquelyn and Anna and gruffly just waved them on.

She didn’t really do any damage to the car, her bike or her self. Initially she wouldn’t say how it happened. She said the taxi just appeared out of nowhere. But later on in the day I was able to get her to tell me what really happened. She was not paying attention to the road because she was watching her own shadow. I cracked up laughing about this because it made me remember when I had done that very thing when I was about her age. In my instance I ended up on top of the truck of the car and in a bit of pain.

She’s also blogged about the experience here.

And here’s Anna’s rendition of the experience.

anna-bike

Playing Chess

img_6063

The other day we went to a friend’s house and my children discovered a Lord of the Rings chess game. Anna pulled it out and asked me to remind her how to play. I coached her through a game and she did quite well. I had taught her the rules some time ago, so it wasn’t brand new.

However, what I didn’t expect was Lucas to, first of all, be interested in the actual rules of the game, and secondly that he would stay focused enough to stick with it. I mean it is Lord of the Rings themed, which is super fun, but throughout the entire game that I was coaching Anna, I was noticing that he was following along quite well.

On the way out the door, our friend decided to just give us the game because they didn’t really have an interest in it. So, as soon as we got home, Lucas and Anna played a game together. What impressed me the most was that Lucas not only understood the rules without me actually directly telling them to him, but he also understood the concept of sacrificing a piece to be accomplish a different objective. That seems like an abstract concept to me.

Later, Lucas and Micah wanted to play a game, too. Micah really just liked the Lord of the Rings pieces and wanted them to fight. It was a bit frustrating for them to play together because they kept calling to me from the other room saying, “Dad…he’s not playing right!”
Or, “You can’t do that!”
“Yes, I can!”.

On one such occasion Lucas came in and was trying to give me the full description of what was happening. I bent down and said, “Lucas, Micah isn’t really ready to play this game and really just wants to pretend fight with the pieces.” Lucas immediately nodded his head, ran back out to the room and completely switched modes to just making up rules and fighting with the pieces. I thought it was a pretty amazing transition.

At this point, both Anna and Lucas really need some coaching, but I’m very impressed at their interest in this game.

Lucas Riding a Bike

We’ve been working with Lucas for some time now to be able to ride a bike. He’s been so close! But I wasn’t willing to say that he could ride a bike until he could take off from a stopped position on by helpself. Besides internal motivation, one thing we have been struggling with is the size of his bike. Micah’s bike is a bit too small for him and the one we recently bought for him is too big, at least for someone still learning. So, we finally made it out to the bike market and spent an hour test driving bikes. We came home with a bike that doesn’t leave much room to grow on, but it’s perfect for him to learn to ride.

The same day that we bought the bike we took him outside and gave within 10 minutes he was officially riding a bike! Check it out!

Immediately after this video he said, “Can I go upstairs and play on the Wii now?”

Like I said, he’s missing internal motivation…

Selfie at a Crowded Beach

When I had the opportunity to go to Qingdao on some business recently, one of my goals was to get Bathing Beach #1 to take a selfie. This beach makes the international news every year because of the throngs of people that come to it. Though I lived in Qingdao for 4 years, I never actually saw this beach at the height of tourist season…because who wants to cramped up together with 100,000 other people? But as I see it hit the news every year, I wanted to say that I’ve been there. So, that’s what I did. I joined in the masses.

img_5752

Check out a couple of the the sites where the beach was recently featured.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2690558/Summer-Shandong-Province-Thousands-pack-beach-Chinese-city-Qingdao.html

http://www.businessinsider.com/china-public-beach-massive-crowd-2016-8

Jacquelyn’s Mom’s Visit

We’ve had an incredible visit from Jacquelyn’s mother. She joined us and helped us greatly in getting settled into our new apartment. We also got the chance to check out some of the famous sites of Tianjin!

jkmomeyestand

View these photos and more on my Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/jalopyhead/

We’re so thankful and blessed that she would come out to visit us. This is the third time she’s come to China and we’ve been in a brand new city each time she’s come out.