Friday, January 22, 2010

Failures are Life's Lessons

It is through failure that we learn valuable lessons which ultimately lead to success. Don't be afraid of failure - it is but a stepping stone. Be more afraid of the lack of failure.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why I Blog and Read Blogs

I am an avid fan of blogging - both reading blogs and writing blog posts. Here's what I like best about blogs and why I keep at it:
  • I love reading interesting posts by people with a personality. I particularly enjoy blogs that leave you feeling like you're actually getting to know the author(s) personally. Posts that might be a little controversial or that show the human side of the author are best.
  • Having someone add comments to one of my posts. It's nice to know someone really does read the post, but especially care enough that they add a comment.
  • Learning new things, or hearing different perspectives on topics. There's no right or wrong, no black and white. Only lots and lots of gray and vivid color in blogging! Every idea and thought counts, particularly when it triggers active communication.
  • Reviews of movies and books are always fun to read.
  • To me, it's also a great place to capture my feelings and share them with like-minded (or not) individuals. 
  • Some day, my kids may look back and see why I did some of the things I did.
  • It's great writing practice.
What do you like best?

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Christmas International House - Day 13 and 14; Happy New Year & Farewell

    Day 13 – Happy New Year
    Traditionally, we take down our Christmas tree on New Year’s Day, and this year is no exception. Being a believer that today sets the “tone” for the year to come, I take time to write a blog post and work on some ongoing writing projects. My husband works around the house, and the kids and Ren Zhe hang out, play the Wii and other games, and everyone enjoys their day.

    Day 14 – Farewell
    We will miss our new and dear friend, Ren Zhe. Today we took her to the Greyhound bus station. While the CIH program kept us all very busy, it wasn’t overwhelmingly so (well, at least not most of the time), and we had a wonderful and special holiday as a result.

    Christmas International House
    A Holiday of Friendship with International Students

    This year in Houston, students were turned away due to the lack of participating host families. CIH is a wonderful program that I recommend, and it occurs in several major cities throughout the country. Please check it out and consider participating. My family and I benefited and learned so much . . . about the Chinese culture, our differences and similarities, traditions . . . we shared stories, played games, had lots of laughs . . . it really can’t all be put into words.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    Christmas International House - Day 11 and 12; Food and Trivia

    Day 11 – Market Day
    As we near the end of the CIH program, today the International students go to an Asian market to pick up supplies for the dishes they are preparing for the International Luncheon.  Since I have a lot of catch-up work to do after playing yesterday, another host family graciously agrees to pick up Ren Zhe at the end of their shopping trip, and let her hang out a few hours during the afternoon.

    I'm feeling down. We've kept so busy throughout the holidays that I've missed having time with my mom and dad, and my sister and her boys. Isn't the holiday season supposed to be warmly shared with family?

    Day 12 – Farewell and International Luncheon
    Held at a church, each International student prepares a favorite dish from their native country to serve to the host families. Ren Zhe fixes a tomato and egg soup, as well as a pork and tofu dish made with a spicy bean sauce. It is delicious and my favorite. We enjoy the foods prepared by all the students. What a feast!

    There is a Trivia game / Yankee gift exchange for the International students. First, they must answer a trivia question correct, then they can pick an unopened gift or select one that has already been picked and unwrapped.  All the students select new gifts (are they trying to spare feelings?) until it gets to Ren Zhe. She very happily “steals” a rice cooker and presents it to us, her host family, as a gift. That’s re-gifting made simple and very nice! Thank you Ren Zhe, and we are so enjoying our rice cooker.

    * * * * *
    Here is one trivia question that stumped everyone in the groupAmericans included! Let’s see how you do (send me an email with your answer and I will reply - click on the "contact" button at the top of this page). But no cheating and looking it up! No electronic devices or computers allowed – we didn’t have them for the game and neither can you!

    Who was inaugurated President of the United Sates in 1789?

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    Christmas International House - Day 10; Downtown Houston

    Day 10
    Woo hoo! This day I’ve been looking forward to for some time, as it is the day my daughters and I participate with the International students in their daytime events, and later my husband is joining us for the evening entertainment – a Rockets basketball game (and my first professional basketball game ever)!

    It is fabulously fun, despite the gray skies and intermittent rain. We take a Metro train ride from the Theater district to downtown Houston where our first stop is the City of Houston Visitors Center at City Hall. We watch a short video clip on Houston and browse their shop and displays, then move on to the Niels and Mellie Esperson buildings with their beautiful Italian Renaissance architecture.

    The Niels Esperson building is one of the oldest skyscrapers in Houston. As part of our tour, we ride the elevators to the 28th floor, then walk the remaining four floors to the open cupola at the top overlooking the city. This part of the building is not open to the public, and it is special indeed. We even get to see Mellie Esperson’s office, untouched and preserved as it was “back then.”

    Next stop, the 60th floor of the Chase bank building where we see magnificent city views. From here, we actually look down to see the top of the Niels Esperson building.

    Oh, and I almost forgot our yummy lunch. We eat in the downtown tunnels at Treebeards, another first for me and a place I will highly recommend.

    We arrive at the Toyota Center for a tour of the facility, and then finally, the Rockets game!

    What can I say? Ren Zhe is such a huge fan of the Rockets because of Yao Ming. She expects that even her father in China will watch the game, so we are all very excited and happy for her.  We have our faces painted to show our support of the Rockets and enjoy a wonderful victory over the New Orleans Hornets. A great ending to an already perfect day!

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Christmas International House - Day 9; Stressing

    Day 9
    I hate to whine, really I do, but I’m afraid that’s what's happening today. It’s back to another tension filled short holiday work week. Another short time span to get the full week of hours in – yea me.  What’s more, I even plan to take one workday off this week to partake in the CIH program activities.

    Since I’m shortening my 3 ½ day work week to 2 ½ - 3 days, I start work today around 7:00 a.m., stopping only to take Ren Zhe to the drop off point, then back to work. I’m happy today’s program includes both a lunch and dinner for the students at different churches, freeing me to work a little later.

    The International students take a Blue Bell Creamery tour, then spend a fun-filled day riding go-karts, playing mini-golf, and more.  The church hosting their evening meal provides Mexican food and a piñata for the students to break open afterward. Ren Zhe brings home a piece of candy for both my daughters from the piñata.

    While I love the CIH program, I wonder about future participation as it feels we’ve been so busy. And since I feel I’ve been neglecting the kids, I’m very grateful for the Wii the kids received at Christmas. Hmm. Not feeling like a good mother.

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Christmas International House - Day 8; Sleeping

    Day 8
    Today the CIH program resumes with a play at The Ensemble Theatre in downtown Houston, one of our nation’s largest and oldest professional African American theatres. The play is Christmas with Great Aunt, a contemporary gospel celebrating family. Because the play is on Sunday, the whole family is able to participate in this program event, following church and a nice lunch at our neighborhood Country Club.

    I must admit, many of the International students were not able to follow the play because the ethnic accents of the actors were too difficult for the students to understand. Overall, I think most of them got the gist of the play and enjoyed the music at a minimum. We lost a few of the students to slumber, however.

    I unfortunately end the evening with a huge headache and head to bed as soon as we get home. I guess it's a day for sleeping.

    Saturday, January 9, 2010

    Christmas International House - Day 7; A New Bear to Love

    Day 7
    We are now one week into the CIH program and getting to know Ren Zhe very well. She is bright and funny, and we all love having her around.

    Call us daring if you will, but today we brave the crowds and take Ren Zhe to the mall. Well, almost all of us do. My husband opts instead to stay home, as he isn’t much of a shopper and particularly not on a busy day. But alas, the crowds aren’t all that bad and we find some super bargains.

    Ren Zhe experiences Build-A-Bear for the first time as my youngest uses a Christmas gift certificate to create a new bear to love.

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    Christmas International House - Day 5 and 6; Christmas

    Day 5 – Christmas Eve
    Christmas Eve consists of dinner at my sister’s house, followed by a candlelight worship service at Woodforest Presbyterian Church. Our family tradition is to open one gift on Christmas Eve. For our kids, the gift is always pajamas so they have something new to wear on Christmas morning. For Ren Zhe, we give her a soft and fuzzy pair of socks with Shea Butter from Bath & Body Works.

    Day 6 – Christmas Day
    We spend Christmas Day at my mother’s house and enjoy good food and great company. The kids play games, and as always, Ren Zhe is an enthusiastic participant. She teaches them a card game she plays in China, and they call it "slaps" since Ren Zhe isn't sure the American name.

    Today, I am surprised by Ren Zhe's intuitiveness. We play the game, Loaded Questions, and on one of the questions she very easily answers correctly that "too much to do" is one of my worries. I guess I am pretty transparent when it comes to stress.

    I also learn that many of the people of Shanghai, China are Buddhist. There are many Buddha, unlike Christianity which has just one God. Taught to live a good life, Buddhist believe what they do in this lifetime determines what they will become in their next life, or rebirth. The worst is to come back as a bull or a horse, since everything is packed on their backs.

    In Shanghai, people may get together to celebrate Christmas but it typically only involves dinner and well wishes for a happy Christmas. It has no religious significance. Christmas trees and decorations are not usually used in the homes and most people work, as it is not a major holiday.

    Merry Christmas! While I'm not so sure I've done a good job preparing my heart during the Advent season, I am happy to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with my family and loved ones, and with our new friend Ren Zhe, from China.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    Christmas International House - Day 3 and 4; Language

    Day 3
    Today I drop off our student in downtown Houston, which requires a little less time on the road and no tolls. I’m still worrying about getting my work hours in for the week. The drop off is a little later in the morning and there is no dinner planned for the students this evening, so it makes for a short workday.

    Today, the International students are visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Natural Science, and the Houston Zoo, weather permitting. But the sky is gray and it threatens rain. Everyone hopes the rain will hold off, but they cancel the picnic lunch, just in case.

    Since I want to use all the day I can for work, I don’t plan or prepare an evening meal. We decide on KFC, and are pleased that Ren Zhe likes chicken.

    After dinner, we play Apples to Apples and I admire Ren Zhe. How difficult it must be to live in a home where the only language spoken is not your first language, yet be willing to participate in word games. We oblige her request to use her electronic Chinese English dictionary. What a very fun evening with lots of laughter.

    Day 4
    While I am thoroughly enjoying the CIH program and especially our student, Ren Zhe, by now I am also feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work to do in such limited time. Today’s schedule for our student - shopping at Memorial City Mall. This means a later morning drop off and early pick-up as the students have no dinner plans for the evening. And I still have five hours of work to get in.

    My wonderful husband comes through for me. He gets home early and starts dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, then offers to pick up Ren Zhe. What a blessing, as I am able to get my work done.

    Our evening consists of a movie, Ernest Goes to Camp, which is a corny comedy, but a favorite of the kids. We watch the movie with English subtitles for Ren Zhe, and have another enjoyable night.

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Christmas International House - Day 2; Freedoms

    Day 2
    OK, I’ll admit it. I’m already beginning to question how I’m going to get my job done. During our CIH student’s two-week stay, my husband and I both still have to work. Somehow, I’ve got to get five days worth of work done in three days because of the holidays, and also take time to drop off and pick up our student at the various planned events. What was I thinking when I signed us up for this?

    I take Ren Zhe to the drop off point, a 50-minute drive without traffic, and a $6 toll, each way. Fortunately, the students’ schedule is long today and includes dinner at a church, so the rest of the day is mine to work.

    It proved worth every minute, as we all enjoyed hearing Ren Zhe’s accounting of her day. They toured NASA and got to meet an astronaut who has been to the International Space Station and will be going again very soon. Considered a celebrity in China, it is a special event indeed to meet and speak with an Astronaut for Ren Zhe.

    I ask Ren Zhe is she has siblings, and learn she is an only child. China has a one-child policy. I had heard that before and should have remembered, but it seems such a foreign concept to me – having a government policy in place that says how many children you can have.

    I feel lucky and blessed to have the freedoms we enjoy in our country.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Christmas International House - Day 1; Welcome

    This year, my family and I participated in Christmas International House (CIH), a program designed to provide homes over the holidays for international students attending stateside universities. Colleges close over the holidays and many students cannot afford to go home. Through the Christian ministry of CIH, host families open their homes to these students, developing friendships, exchanging ideas, and cultivating peace with people from countries with different cultures.

    So many people have asked me about the program that I thought I’d share a day-by-day review here on the blog. I hope that it will answer questions for anyone contemplating the program, and provide insight for me as to future participation. I welcome and encourage comments and questions from those seeking more information, or from anyone who has a similar story to tell.

    Day 1
    After a day postponement due to an overbooked Greyhound bus, our student arrives.  She looks much like the picture she sent ahead of arrival, only she’s tired after the very long ride from the University of Missouri. Friendly and pleasant, the family likes her immediately. Her English is good.

    Our student, Ren Zhe, just barely has time to unpack and shower before we're off to the opening dinner for host families and students. Held at a church, the food was Japanese and very delicious. Families and students had the opportunity to meet and interact. We sang Christmas carols and Santa visited with a gift for each student. Then we broke into teams and had a Gingerbread House building contest. Ours didn’t win, but we sure had fun trying.

    Ren Zhe is from China. I learned that there is no English equivalent to Zhe. It sounds something like Gya or Djyal (with the d and l very subtle). I don’t know if I’ll ever pronounce her name correctly.

    Friday, January 1, 2010

    The REAL Christmas Season

    You hear it all the time. People say (me included),
    All the stores have their holiday decorations out already - and it isn't even Thanksgiving!
    Wouldn't it be nice if we finished one holiday before we started the next?
    Christmas trees are up already in the stores, and it's just Halloween!
    It's true; it gets earlier and earlier every year. But as quickly as the decorations go up, they also come down. It seems Christmas is over for most folks on December 26.

    But wait a minute! Doesn't that just further commercialize Christmas? Are we to buy into the idea that Christmas is simply the days leading up to and including December 25?

    During the children's sermon each Sunday during Advent, our Pastor has the children add figures to a nativity scene. It begins with an empty stable, of course, then animals are added each week. Mary and Joseph arrive, and finally on Christmas Eve, the baby Jesus.

    But it isn't over yet. The Magi ("Three Kings" or "Three Wise Men") have yet to arrive to visit the baby Jesus. This will occur during our Epiphany worship service. This, to me, better signifies the ending to the Christmas story. We don't have to be in such a hurry to un-decorate, as Christmas is not yet over.

    So, Merry Christmas (still)!

    As for our household, the decorations did come down today, New Year's Day, as a matter of convenience (we always have this day off) and tradition (well, we always do it then). What about you? Are you still celebrating Christmas?