Back to Chiangmai

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We spent the last two weeks (May 9-23) in Chiangmai, Thailand.  Our girls are pros in the airports and on planes now and usually can be seen just as above…two playing a game and one reading a book.  They have learned to politely tell the flight attendant they don’t want the meal but would love the rolls. More often than not, the workers bring them extra rolls and butter!  They really are at an easy age and a pleasure to travel with.

Cameron had some classes he needed to take to continue working toward his degree and a group of kind-hearted couples felt the Father put it upon their hearts to fund this trip for on the field workers.  So, all of our airfare (4 of us, but our home club has a fund especially for Cam’s schooling, so it helped with the rest!), our hotel, and a food budget was covered.  While Cam had classes all day every day, the girls and I got to go explore the city.  We ate a lot of all-beef hot dogs, milkshakes, Auntie Anne’s pretzels, A&W root beer, and Schweppes sparkling manao soda.  This dream of a drink is made specifically for Thailand, but let me tell you, the rest of the world is missing out!  It is refreshing and limey and oh so fabulous!thai2The other times we have been to Chiangmai, we have been there with friends.  Girlfriends mean that there is always someone willing to go together for a super cheap massage.  I didn’t know anyone this trip, so Gracie got bumped to massage partner, and I don’t think she is willing to give the spot up!  She had her first Thai massage and was bent into a pretzel and wrapped around the Thai lady, all with a smile on her face.  We had loads of foot massages, even introducing Faith and Ellie to the wonder of a good foot rub.  Poor Cam…4 girls all wanting massages means his free time was spent getting his feet rubbed too.  I like to think it helped him relax (and judging from the sound-asleep pose he took on, I think he would agree!).

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Little bit of random

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Sometimes I get in the mood to make something fancy, something like, say, beignets.  I don’t know how to pronounce it correctly nor have I actually eaten them.  I wasn’t completely set up for success, but I had two of the cutest helpers and a free Saturday morning.  I got an itch to bake the night before, so I had the dough ready in the fridge, waiting to be rolled, cut, and fried.

Y’all.

Make them.  Make them for yourself, your neighbor, your mom.  Someone.  Just make them.  You won’t be sorry.

bible study

I also started this five week study with a foreigner friend that lives in my complex.  She is an 18 year old nanny, here just until August.  On our first session, I couldn’t go empty handed because it was a bible study.  Bible Studies all have sweets and coffee, right?!  It’s a good excuse for flavored coffee and sugar in my world anyway.  When I have “events” to bake for, I usually try a new recipe because my family really likes me to not try new things out on them.  These, however, they were all very willing to try!  They are baked churros that are rolled in cinnamon sugar while still hot.

Melt in your mouth.  Paired with Cafe Ole‘s “Houston” coffee, it can’t be beat!

MOVIE

I am blessed with friends who have kiddos in this city (there is even another!), so we all loaded up and went to see Home in 3d for a skipping-school-because-China-has-a-holiday morning.  The glasses were huge, the theater was boiling hot, but the friendships that are growing are a gift that I couldn’t be more thankful for!

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Dinner Party

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We wanted to invite one of our sweet friends over for dinner since we hadn’t really gotten to connect with her in a while, but when we invited her, we found out she had sold her house and bought a new one (seriously, it had only been 3 weeks!) and moved in with a friend while her new house was finished.  So, we extended the invitation to her roommate, who is also a friend of ours and was moving at the end of the week to Shanghai.  It turned into a goodbye meal of sorts.

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Then, while we were at that seaside birthday party, Cameron invited one more lady to come.  She, in turn, made the decision to invite a few more friends.  I think we were up to seven at this point.

I kept thinking, “this would never happen in America!  You don’t just invite people to come with you!”

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We cooked and cleaned and moved tables to accommodate the crowd.  Keeping the menu simple with grilled chicken gyros, pita, hummus, and veggies, there was still a bit of anxiety about our guests enjoying the meal.  One lady, we found out while eating, doesn’t eat meat.  She, however made an exception and tried the chicken, much to her friend’s surprise.  They also said she only eats healthy things so she usually brings her own food, but since this meal was so healthy, not cooked in oil, it was great for her.  Stranges for the win!

I made some chocolate chip cookies for a sweet thing to follow the meal with, thinking that they wouldn’t be too sweet for our guests.  When I noticed they were eating a bite of cookie chased by a bite of cucumber to cut the sweet, I realized I was wrong.
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When our group of friends, old and new, arrived, they came with gifts.  They brought me a HUGE bouquet of flowers that smelled glorious and looked like art and each of my girls received a fresh flower headband, tied on with a ribbon.  Cameron got a bottle of wine that we aren’t sure what to do with, but the box and bottle are also beautiful.

After dinner, it was like show and tell for my girls.  Having people to our home usually brings this out in the girls.  In America, we didn’t allow it, but in China, our friends really like the glimpse into their world that it shows.  They also like to learn how to do all the crafty things that Faith usually drags out.  She brought out one of the special books that Shawna (our sister-in-law) sent us, and the crowd went wild!  They all asked if she could come to China to teach them how to make the books.  I think it’s a fabulous idea…dinner6Although our intimately planned dinner for 2 friends turned into a table full of people we didn’t know well, we couldn’t have planned a better night.  It is such a testimony of how their hearts are opening to us.  We were honored that they wanted to extend the invitation to others and that they came with smiles, laughter, and a willingness to share their life.  This night will always provoke warm feelings in my heart and was definitely a night that I see as one of the turning points of our life in China.

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Chocolate Cake Recipes

I told you about the chocolate cake I made with a friend.  Here is the recipe for both the cake and the cake balls that resulted from the messed up first cake.

Chocolate Cake (from here)

1 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare pan with crisco (or butter) and flour.

In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt, and water and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring, just until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking soda. Add half of the melted butter mixture and whisk until completely blended. The mixture will be thick. Add the remaining butter mixture and whisk until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until completely blended. Whisk in the sour cream (or Greek yogurt) and the vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert onto a rack. Let cool completely.

I used unsweetened, plain greek yogurt in the cake that I made.  It was great simply dusted with powdered sugar!

German Chocolate Cake Balls (adapted from here)

Make cake from above and crumble into a large bowl.  Mix together:

6 ounces evaporated milk
3/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup butter
2 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoons vanilla

Cook about 10 minutes until thick and golden.  Stir in:

1 1/3 cups shredded coconut
3/4 cups chopped pecans

Once the mixture is cooled, pour over the crumbled cake and stir.  Refrigerate for an hour, then use a spoon to shape into cake balls.  Keep covered and cool when you aren’t devouring them!

These were probably the best version of german chocolate cake I have ever had.  The negative is that they are small and you eat way too many before you realize how many you have had!

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The Year of the Husband

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I got a phone call one day asking me if I would help two friends bake a birthday cake.  Of course, I was happy to help and we arranged for them to come over that weekend.  I was little nervous because it has been awhile since I’ve taught someone how to bake in Chinese, and well, Chinese people don’t like sugar.  These women don’t speak English, but are so very gracious to me with my attempt at speaking their language.  When the appointed day came, only one friend showed up (the other wasn’t feeling well), and I found out that the birthday cake was actually for a mutual friend of ours!  I had tried out a few new recipes for cake that week before she came, due to the whole not liking sweets thing.  I printed out a couple pictures of decorated cakes and gave her some flavor choices.  She chose chocolate with cream cheese frosting, which thrilled me because the frosting was already made and one step less is always a good thing.  She made the cake, with me telling her how much of each ingredient (and making sure she actually put that amount in.  She wanted to just put “about” that much instead of measuring).  While it was baking, we decided to make a little topper for the cake to kill some time.  When the cake was cooled, we went to dump it out, and the whole thing literally crumbled to pieces!!  I have NO idea what happened.  This recipe made a beautiful cake the first time!  So, I quickly started a second cake that we could throw in the oven.  It worked fine and other than my pride being a bit hurt, the cake was a success (and the crumbled cake made the BEST german chocolate bites I’ve ever eaten!)Jday2

During the cake making process, we were invited to attend the surprise party of our mutual friend.  If I would have known that the cake was for a party, maybe I would have given her different choices!  Ha!  The party was by the water at a barbecue place. I say bbq only because that is the closest english word we have but in reality the only thing in common is a grill.  We had clams, chicken wings, fish, shrimp, squid, other sea creatures that I’m not acquainted with, tofu, and spice.  Lots of spice!  The little red cans you see are a super sweet tea that kills the burning sensation in your mouth so you can eat more.  I drained my can and would’ve loved a second!  The food isn’t anything I would have ordered on my own before this night, but it was really fabulous!  Watching the boats come and go, and seeing the waves while hearing laughter and joy all around us was priceless.Jday3

Before we ate, the birthday girl (above with the flowers) asked Cameron to come pray.  One would assume he would be blessing the food, but instead they asked him to pray that Father would send her a husband this year.  The request for a husband was so sincere. they asked someone different to bless the food so Cam’s could be focused on that one thing.

We had a special evening out celebrating with these dear people who are slowly but surely letting us into their lives and hearts.  I am so thankful He is giving us friends to do life with, that make us feel a little more like this is home.

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That sums it up

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Our time with David and Kelly was such an encouraging time for us.  To get to share your overseas life with family from home truly can’t be described.  It allows them to understand more of what we talk about and imagine those events happening.  It gives them a glimpse of both the trials and the triumphs that come with live over here.  It helps them to know how to intercede for us.  It gives us all a different kind of bond and an arsenal of “inside” jokes.  It blesses our hearts immensely that they love us enough to sacrifice not only vacation days and finances, but even their comfort to come see us.  We know that there are so many other exotic places in the world they could have chosen to visit, and we are so thankful that they chose us. We love y’all and can’t wait for the next trip!npbeach2

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The Spa, Chinese style

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We had a girls day, Chinese style, the day before Kelly left.  We went to get a facial, or face wash as it translates.  It is one of my favorite things to do here!  They massage your face and gently wash and moisturize it, but the best part is when they cover your eyes with a heated foam that hardens as you experience a glorious hair wash and head massage.  When all of that is done, they massage your back and arms then blow-dry your hair.
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It takes between 60-90 minutes, start to finish, for less than $10!  For the most part, the salon (I use this term lightly) is the same as what you would find in America…except it isn’t very clean, the toilet is a squatty, and there are strange contraptions hanging from the ceiling that look a little like torture devices.facial2

Regardless of the differences, you always leave feeling a little more like yourself with clean, shiny hair and a relaxed body.

And would you look at Kelly?!  Beautiful!  I really don’t know why she ever wears makeup.  If I had her gorgeous, glowing skin I would go natural every day!facial5

After the spa, we headed to lunch on a 3 wheeled covered cart.  Those are always a fun experience, and this time didn’t disappoint as we all got to experience Kelly’s reaction to traffic you could touch.  We chose to eat at a Muslim noodle shop that makes their noodles to order and offers coca-cola in a bottle, followed by some McDonald’s fried apple pies and Starbucks.facial4

Once we were refueled, we taxied over to the nail salon for some gel mani/pedis.  Again with the same but different description.  Not so clean, big, or efficient as American places, but the price makes those little details not so important!  It cost about $60 total for 3 gel polish manicures and 4 gel polish pedicures, all with nail art.  You can’t beat that!

You also can’t put a price on the memories made and the fun had on our girls day.  We all went home smiling, wishing that Nanny could stay just a little bit longer!

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Got a little Romance

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There is a tourist attraction in town, Romance Park, that we experienced for the first time with David and Kelly.  I love that our memories of this place will always be entangled with memories of family!  It was a lot like a regular theme park in America, except…not. Romance1It had a lot of cultural moments that are pretty indescribable.  It made me realize how many people groups live in this area, and how cool their customs appear to outsiders!  I recognize fully that these seemingly awesome dances and traditions are rooted in evil, and it made the task before us even more real than it was before this moment.

romance7We noticed a group of people standing around a stage area, so I asked someone if there was going to be a performance.  She told me in about 10 minutes it would start, so we decided to wait there to see what it was all about.  About ten minutes later we heard loud banging and saw a parade of colorfully dressed people marching toward us carrying someone on a wooden litter.  They were chanting and dancing, performing what appeared to be some dating ritual of jumping over moving, clanging sticks while handing out alcohol to bystanders (picture on the left).  Our hearts were beating in time with the music and the excitement flowed through our bodies as we witnessed such an interesting custom!romance8

Romance Park is known for its big main performance, and while we were thrilled just to walk around and see the impromptu, small performances, including a flash mob to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, we were truly anticipating the main show.  When we got to our seats, we soon realized that we had some of the best seats in the house!

romance9It started with a clown performance that had us all giggling, then moved to a love story riddled with war, prancing deer, pretzel-like women, trapeze artists, piercing arrows, soft rain, flower petals dropping from the sky, and dancing flowers.  Due tous not being able to understand the story, we got to make up our own story line and just enjoy the show!romance6

Our seats were in a section of moving seats, so at different times in the performance, all of our seats would shift to the left and the floor would rise in between our section and the one next to us, revealing magical things.  The photo way above with Cameron’s head shows how close the performers were when this happened!  If you look closely to the blue picture above (on the far right) you will notice shapes of bodies.  An enormous water filled ceiling moved over our heads with bikini clad women propelling themselves from one side to the other…I am not sure what this had to do with the story, and it was slightly disturbing in a sensual sort of way, but it was nonetheless fascinating!  The end of the show featured all the warriors dressed as flowers in tights.  They were all very unhappy men, and I truly wish that I could have captured their facial expressions for you, but I feel their humiliation was enough!

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The show itself is reason enough to experience Romance Park, but there are so many other things it offers too!  There was a man-made mountain that you could walk up (on winding stairs) or via a swinging ropes course to reach the glass overlook.  My littles were my brave ones and ventured onto the glass floor with me.  Cam was too chicken.

romance3There was also a floating water course that you could run across and try not to fall in the water.  I was too chicken for that.  Something about Chinese water is just gross.  The girls thought it was a blast though!  And the bleacher seats gave us a prime people watching location to witness the stupidity bravery of all the adventurous adults attempt the water course while keeping an eye on our very agile children.    romance10One of the first activities we participated in, other than as a spectator, was the typhoon simulator.   Kelly was the smart one and said she didn’t want to do it, but we talked her into it, so she obliged us.  We chose to wear ponchos after asking the attendant if it was really necessary and his reply of a resounding yes.  They were more like red saran wrap trash bags with a gathered face hole that trapped all the heat from the sun inside next to your skin.  I think we may have sweated off a few pounds in those 5 minutes!  Once it started, we realized the error of our decision.  The “wind” started blowing, then the water came.  There was screeching and howling and…wetness.  It was blowing up, down, and all around.  Stupid, worthless ponchos.  Faith and Elle chose to brave the storm with no protective gear, and it was interesting to see the way they reacted.  Faith ran around in circles squealing.  Ellie hid by the door where the water didn’t reach.  She, without a poncho, was the driest of us all!

The park also offered a haunted house experience, but as we went to the entrance to check it out and saw all the mutilated, blood-covered body parts, we decided that we weren’t all that into scaring our kids, which would lead to sleeping buddies in the nighttime.   romance5

Once the sun sank into the sky and the moon and stars were our only light, the park lit up with fluorescent light and fire torches.  It added to the magic of our evening, leaving us all a little breathless with the memories of such a fantastic day that will forever remain in our minds as remember that time we went to Romance with Nanny and Papa…

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Resurrection Sunday

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As I previously wrote, we were at the beach for Easter Sunday.  We woke up early and headed down to the beach to catch the sunrise while we worshipped the resurrection of our Savior.  While we didn’t have a wholly unobstructed view of the sun, what we could see was magnificent in its beauty.  I do believe we have started a tradition that we would like to see carried out year after year!  It was intimate and lovely with a focus on the King and the blessings He has so richly given to us.Strangeeaster2Later in the day, after we returned from our beach getaway, we met up with our friends for a fun game of Find the Eggs!  We had a big group of smiling children that couldn’t wait to get their hands on some candy.  We even got to try out some Italian cookies made by Giacomo, our Italian American friend (pictured with Gracie).  While all this seems incredibly normal by American standards, we know it as a true answer to so many prayers.  Our girls have friends.  We don’t take that lightly, or for granted!

Easter 2015 sure looked different than any other Easter we have ever experienced, but it definitely is one that gives me the warm fuzzies when I think back on it.  I am so thankful we go to experience it with family…our Texas and our China family!

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Nanny and Papa at the Beach

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Not too far from home is a lovely hotel with an out of this world pool and a beach right across the street.  We decided to go there for a little weekend getaway and fun in the sun.  strange2One of the drawbacks of living so far away from family is that we don’t get to see them often enough; we celebrate holidays while separated; we reach milestones from across the ocean; we don’t get to touch them or feel their hugs.  However, when family comes to visit, it is an intense time filled with goodness that outshines the time we spent together when we lived just down the street from them (which we totally took for granted!).  There are months and years of time to make up for in only a handful of days!

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Getting to show off the awesome mermaid tails that were a Christmas surprise from Nanny and Papa was priceless.  The girls have LOVED these tails and have swam with them weekly (sometimes daily!).  But as cool as the tails are, I know they would trade them in, in an instant, for more time building sand castles and catching waves with their grandparents.
Strange4The hotel had a pool with the little fish that carnivorously tear into your dead skin and eat it all away…David was finally convinced that his feet could benefit from the little monster fish.  And since it looked so fun, Kelly joined in and the girls all got to “try it”.  Faith was the only one of the kids who could handle it, but if you were to judge by her scream/giggle, you would have thought she was being tortured!  I promised I wouldn’t share pictures, but since I so creatively added the censored sign, I am thinking he won’t mind too much…and if he does, well.  Well, I’m in China and I can hide before he gets here to get me back!  But he totally asked for it with the faces he was making.

We had such a lovely weekend that we will forever remember with a smile.

And with a little frustration…we experienced our first run-in with theft.    I got Cam a GoPro cam for his birthday (David picked it up for me and brought it).  It was in the camera bag sitting on our beach bag.  I had the big camera taking pictures.  The whole family was standing right around our things, but no one was actively watching. Someone ran up and snatched the camera bag, getting away with the GoPro cam.  It was eye opening and disheartening, but the joy of having our parents here by far outweighed the sadness of losing something material.

Did I mention this was Easter weekend?  It, however, deserves a special post of its own…

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