Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Brief History

Lent is one of the oldest Christian traditions to remember Christ's 40 days in the desert and to prepare for the Easter celebration.  It starts on Ash Wednesday and ends with an Easter Day feast. To quote

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him.

In particular, Lent focuses on fasting, prayer, charity and scripture reading.  Today only the very orthodox keep strict dietary and spiritual rules.  For many people, Lent is either ignored or a time to try a temporary diet from things like chocolate or sweets.

My Position

I was not aware of Lent until I went to college.  However, since then, I have been one to use the Lent time-frame to diet or give up something (typically chocolate or sweets).  This year is no different except that I enter Lent with a slightly different purpose.  I feel like we live in a world and time period that we rarely restrain our physical or emotional indulgences.  Of course we wouldn't do the REALLY bad things - like eat the whole plate of brownies, alone, in one sitting.  But, very often our lifestyle is: if I want something, I give it to myself.  If I want to relax, then I plug in a movie. If I have a sweet tooth, I satisfy it.  If I'm tired, I just sleep in a little longer.  I have to ask myself... how often do I purposely chose to take the less desirable path and deny myself something?  No, there is no spiritual merit in self-denial for it's own sake.  We have been clearly warned in Colossians:

[these activities have] the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

So please be clear that I do not think denial increases my spirituality, however, I see that Jesus himself lived a lifestyle of self-denial.  How often does scriptures show that Jesus would spend all day with people and then be up in the wee hours of the morning to be with God?  Or how about the times when he would deny himself sustenance because he lived by the truth that "Man does not live by bread alone"?  I believe that when we ignore or reject taking periods of time to restrict ourselves from our bodily "needs", we miss out on opportunities to see, first of all, how tightly we hold to these activities, like eating, sleeping, entertaining ourselves, etc...  Secondly, we don't get to experience how God can meet our needs when we are weak.  

My Practice

There are many ways to keep Lent that are individual for each person.  I find that when an activity starts to take too strong a hold in my life, it is good for me to give it up temporarily. Being either pregnant or nursing for the past two years+, I have not been able to fast from entire meals as I might normally like, but I have removed all sweets from my diet, or... (this one is a challenge) I have cut off the computer for a week because I see it consumes too much time.  My husband and I have stopped watching a certain show because we were too consumed with thinking about it all day and wondering what would happen next.  

In reverse, there might be something that I need to add to my routine.  For some it might be getting up consistantly for a quiet time, exercising, taking time to reach out to other people. All these things, done in an attitude of honoring God and desiring our bodies to be "living sacrifices" ARE beneficial on a spiritual level.  

Lent somewhat snuck up on me this year, so I didn't have time to go into it with much thoughtful preparation.  Since I have found myself becoming more and more indulgent with sweets/snacks/desserts since arriving in England, I've decided this might be the best way to go.  It is neither good for me or my baby, nor is it good when I start getting to the point of thinking I NEED something sweet to make me happy or satisfied.  So, I will once again give up sweets for Lent.  I guess we all have our weaknesses.  However, I want to do this, not just as a form of diet or better health.  I want to recognize that these things should not have a hold on my life and I want to be willing to give up whatever might hinder me from loving God wholly.

Same-old; same-old.

   Monday - Babi Kecap; Egg and Tomato; Stir-fried cabbage over Rice

   Tuesday - Bunnies with Carrot Sticks

   Wednesday - Tamale Pie with Brussel Sprouts

   Thursday - Scalloped Potatoes and Ham with Broccoli and Cauliflower

   Friday - Homemade Pizza

   Saturday - Fried Chicken, Parsley Potatoes, Dressing and Buttered Mixed Vegetables

   Sunday - Left-over Lentil Soup; Grilled Sandwiches

Friday, February 20, 2009

YouTube - Okay, so everyone knows about YouTube - music videos, news clips, etc... but I have found it to be great educational tool for myself.  I have referenced it for a wide range of need-to-know topics: making homemade fondant for my sister's wedding cake (much tastier and cheaper than the store-bought stuff), filleting fish, planting vegetables and herbs, making rag rugs, cutting little boy's hair, making sour dough starters, sewing curtains and the list goes on.  

Freecycle - This is one of the coolest things that I have been introduced to lately.  Maybe this just shows how long I've been outside of the western world and how out-dated I am, but I'd like to think this might be new to other people as well. Basically, Freecycle is an online group you join where people offer items they are no longer using and it is free for the taking if you can pick it up.  I like this on so many levels.  I can get rid of things I've enjoyed to homes that will use them, I can receive free things that might cost a lot of money otherwise, and it is environmental because all that stuff doesn't just go in the trash.  There are networks all over the world, so sign up and find out what is being given away in your neighborhood.

Librivox - This one I'm borrowing from my cousin's blog.  She introduced me to this great source for free audiobooks.  All the books are in the public domain, so you won't find any new releases, but they have a good selection of classic books and poetry.

Blurb - This is a personal favorite of mine.  (The program is free, but of course you have to pay for the printing.)  While the idea of scrap-booking is appealing as a creative past time, I can neither afford all the supplies nor do I care to have to pull out and put away all those bits of paper and cute little doo-dads that people use.  There are definitely some people who do it well, and I admire them, but for me I have found digital scrap-booking to work best.  There are many programs out there that allow you to upload your pictures and create a book.  Blurb offers a free download of their program and the cost of printing is better than many I've seen.  They are constantly updating and improving their service as well. I wonder if it doesn't save you money in the end because you don't have to keep developing your pictures as you go along. Because I married a Mac user, I have benefitted from being able to use Apple programs to create my own pages and uploading them to the Blurb books rather than being confined to their lay-out options.  I've made three books so far and my hope is to make one for the first year of each child I have.  Hop over to their website at check out some of the amazing books people have created.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

With a little boy whose getting taller all the time and another baby on the way, it was time to graduate from the crib (or Pack-n-Play in his case).  We were going to have to buy a children's bed, but we found a single bed in the attic that our landlord said we could use.  We set it up yesterday and had a successful first night.  Eventually the comforter cover that is hanging in the window will either cover a comforter or get turned into curtains, but for the time being it is already looking more like a little boy's room.

Here he is... all ready for bed.
(The blanket on the wall was crocheted by his grandmother for his father when he was a baby.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Here is picture of the kitchen. It's hard to get a good angle on it.  As you see, I have an oven, washing machine and HUGE fridge!  We'll never fill that thing up.  There is also a good amount of cupboard and counter space, not to mention a nice view to the back yard.  I'm quite happy with it.  Above all, I can cook in a warm space, with high counters and hot water in my sink.  All things I didn't have in China.

Monday, February 16, 2009

It is nice to have a basic menu plan for my week so that I am not rushing to scrounge up dinner at the last minute.  This also helps me prepare my shopping list so that I don't have to keep running to the store every other day.  However, I do hold rather loosely to this menu plan as sometimes things come up or there are more left-overs than I anticipated that need to get eaten.


Most of the time for breakfast we just eat bread/toast.  Sometimes I'm a good wife and make my husband an egg or cut up some fruit.  Occasionally we will have muesli, pancakes, french toast, dutch babies or some other more exciting food, but most of the time it is just a simple German breakfast of bread and jam.


Typically we have either sandwiches or left-overs for lunch.

   Monday - Beef Stew with Homemade Rolls

   Tuesday - Potato Bar

   Wednesday - Ground Beef stir-fried with Peppers and Onions over Rice

   Thursday - Lentil Soup

   Friday - Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry over Rice

   Saturday - Taco Salad with Tortilla Chips

   Sunday - Chicken Parmesan over Noodles with Vegetables
We've been living in our new little home for almost a month now, however things haven't changed too much from when we moved in.  I thought I would take some "Before" pictures in hopes that some day I will be able to post "After" pictures.  (I was also motivated by the fact that today was cleaning day and the rooms were mostly straightened up.) Until Zhong Sheng gets a job, we are trying to limit our spending to necessities only.  It is amazing how many things are not necessities, but we just seem to NEED to have them.

Anyway, here is a tour of my home.  Come on in!

Entering the front door, you will be in our hallway with the stairwell going up.  
To the left is our very empty living room with it's exceedingly PINK couch (but, hey, we thought we would have NO couch.. and this one is quite comfortable AND pulls out into a bed.)

Straight down the hallway is our dining room.  (Please note the lovely rose bush my dear husband bought me for Valentines Day.)
To the side is my fancy-shmancy computer desk.  (I would like to state that I am ever so very thankful that we were able to bring my computer with us.  Especially since Mr. PhD is constantly using the laptop.)
If you go out the double doors in the dining room, you will find our pretty little garden, nicely tended by our landlord.  I hope I can find some space to put in some vegetable and herb plants since the landlord preferred we didn't mess with his roses and flowers too much.

Hmm.. the kitchen is one room that I have yet to tackle today, so let's head upstairs, shall we?

At the top of the stairs is the toiletting room, of course.  With a carpeted floor... Eew!  Why?! This makes potty-training a little more worrisome.
Next to that is the bathing room.  Why the British like to keep those two separate, I don't know. Obviously being able to use the toilet while someone is bathing is convenient, but do they not wash their hands afterwards?  It would make more sense to me if there were a sink in with the toilet rather than just in the bathing room.

Across the hall is the tiny, little room which is De Sheng's room.  He does have a closet back in there, don't worry.
Down the hall to the left is our very spare guest room/storage/baby room.  It will get filled up eventually.
Lastly we come to the master bedroom.  Sigh... we are back to pink again.
Pink walls... very pink carpet... I'm really hoping this room was decorated by the landlord's wife and not the landlord himself. I'm not sure if any level of creativity will be able to make this room less pink.  Perhaps the book shelves that Mr. PhD wants to line the walls with will make a difference... rugs?  Neutral drapes??  I'll take any suggestions. 

Lastly we come to Zhong Sheng's office.  This is the area I hope to improve first with a desk for the poor man.  

That's about it.  I look forward to adding nice touches like DESKS, a "big boy" bed, bookshelves, corner tables, drapes, rugs, wall-hangings, plants, etc...  It will probably be slow progress, but already it is "home" and we like it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When trying to think of a name for my blog, I kept coming back to the idea of "International Mama" because I think it describes who I am.  My entire life has been international in nature and my major occupation is being a mother.

From 8 months old until the age of 18 I lived in Indonesia where my parents work as missionaries in a remote jungle tribe.  I returned to America for college, attending Columbia International University where I graduated with a degree in Elementary Education.  After graduation, I moved to England for 6 months to do some voluntary work at a New Tribes Mission Bible School while I tried to figure out the next step in life.  I was accepted to teach with International Schools of China and moved there the following summer.  Four and a half years in China brought a lot of changes.  A friend from college moved to my city to start teaching English.  He's German.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was part of the reason for his choice to fill in a temporary teacher's position.  However, he made his intentions clear and after the typical ups-and-downs that we women tend to have regarding things of this nature, we started dating.  We were married a year and a half later, and our son was born (in China) just before our first anniversary.  Almost exactly a month ago we said good-bye to our friends and moved to the UK for my husband to start a PhD in Theology.  Our second child will be born in June.  The four members of my family will have been born in four separate countries.

As far as who I see myself to be... well, I believe that my purpose and place at this time in life is as follows:

1. A child of God - pursuing a life of knowing Him and obeying Him in every aspect of my daily activities
2. A wife to my husband - learning how to love him, serve him and submit myself to him
3. A mother to my children - striving to train them up to know and love God, sacrificing my wishes and desires to meet their needs
4. A servant to my community - finding how I can use the gifts God has given me to serve those around me - both to encourage the Body of Christ as well as to be a light to those who don't know the Lord

I have a long, long way to go to meet these goals.  Most often I fail, but I hope and pray that this is the path I am on as God works in my life. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I've decided to take the leap and start my own blogsite.  I've been inspired by a few other women who do it so well though I am sure I will not be as faithful (or as interesting) as them.  I think my reasons for doing this are threefold:

1. It is a creative outlet for me to practice writing and presenting my thoughts.
2. It will allow my family who is spread across the globe to keep in touch with my life.
3. It will be a journal for me to see how God has worked in my life and for my children to look back on with memories of their childhood.

I don't have a clear direction for this blog.  I think it will mostly consist of family updates as well as helpful tidbits that I have picked up here and there.  I imagine it will evolve as it goes along.  I hope that my blog will be an encouragement to the body of Christ, but I have rather low expectations as to how many people will actually pay attention or care to follow my amateur ramblings.

I have seen other people use pseudonyms on their websites for various reasons.  I'm not sure how "big and bad" the internet actually is, but I thought it would be fun to refer to my family members by their Chinese names.  If you read this, I hope you will find something of interest and above all, that God will be glorified.