making rag dolls

This was such a fun & even relaxing project that was inspired while we read through some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books together. Laura has a rag doll that her grandmother gave her named 'Charlotte' and it was a treasured gift that Laura loved with all her heart. There is something special about it being handmade!! Our girls love their unique dolls!!

This was my second doll - gifted to a little girl in town named Emma who was turning six.
Things I used around the house
  • an old pair of children's tights (light colors work best)
  • yarn for hair
  • embroidery thread
  • buttons for eyes?
  • cotton stuffing
  • old clothes or scrap material
  • a needle and lots of white thread
The foot of the tights becomes the head & body - the heel becomes the bum (on the backside of the doll). I first stuffed the head & body, shaping the head as I went - and making the doll pretty snugly stuffed. I sewed the neck by zig-zagging the stitches. Then I cut the legs, by splitting the tights up the leg in half. I stuffed each leg as I sewed them, trying to make them symmetrical. I made the arms with extra material from the tights, stuffing them as I went - and attaching them across their backs. I also double stitched each seam for strength. Then I added yarn for hair (the part/seam down the middle seemed to be the best for making braids or pigtails). The face can be done with colored embroidery thread, or buttons for eyes. I tried to match the hair/eye colors with each little girl, which made them extra special. The clothes were made from old clothing that the girls had grown out of, and some elastic hair bands for the elasticized skirts. You get creative when you can't leave the house (because of riots in your city).

Here is the third doll I made for our neighbor friend, Amina: for her fourth birthday!

Here are Eden & Sydney's dolls that they got for Christmas, with matching skirts for the girls & dolls! Someday I will get a sewing machine again...which will make these projects a bit faster. Each doll took about 2-3 days, after the girls were asleep. Maybe 9 hours total?? They were so fun to make. Next doll: for my niece Jordan's birthday. I already have some new ideas.


Chia pets -- Chinese style!

Do you remember having your very own Chia pet when you were little? Well, if not - you can live vicariously through my girls. We found these nifty Chinese versions of the "Chia pets" at the flower market last week - and they have been a huge hit in our home. They cost 6 kuai each (about 88 cents) and you just add water!

Of course we had to give them names.
I bet you could make your own if you were extremely motivated. I will just spend 6 kuai.
  • some women's nylons
  • sawdust
  • grass seeds or chia sprouts
  • string
  • decorative flare
After this we gave them all haircuts.


Sydney is THREE!!

Five months ago Sydney began counting down to her 3rd birthday. She has been waiting a L O N G time for this day! She expressly told me that she wanted a "Love Puppy" birthday party....so mom had to get creative. What is a 'Love Puppy' you ask? ...aka Sydney! She has given herself the nickname - and it has stuck! ...and Sydney loves people - so we invited all the youngsters we could find to share in her big day. Here she is modeling how to feed the Love Puppy.

The kids colored pictures of puppies, fed the puppy a bone, and ate puppy cupcakes. Are you sensing a theme? Sydney was such a HAM the entire party - making silly faces and giving lots of hugs. She soaked in all the attention!

I look at our little girl - and am amazed at how mature & verbal & animated & outgoing she is for a three-year-old! She is still very petite, so she still seems young (tiny) to me! This year she learned to use the potty on her own, get dressed on her own, sing new songs alone, stop taking naps!!, and so many new things. How quickly kids want to be independent/grown-up and branch out on their own! She still loves to snuggle, ride on our backs, play 'the baby' in every game, pet animals outside, go to the market with mom, smile at new friends, all things 'puppy', and dance with her sisters! Each of our daughters are so different, and they teach me a new facet of Dad's character, refining me and pushing me to love Him more! Thank you Sydney for teaching me to rest, to pretend, to laugh & giggle, to sing aloud and spin in circles....and be more outgoing too!! We love you so!!

Here are some more pictures of her special day as queen:

You are so loved little one!!


Ramadan feast - Rosa Eid

At the close of the month of Ramadan (رمضان) is a special celebration to break the 30-day fast! Many families will buy a single sheep that they will slaughter for the feast, to commemorate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. The meat is then divided into three equal parts to be distributed to others (1/3 to the family, 1/3 to other relatives, friends & neighbors, and 1/3 is given to the poor as a gift). This year we were privileged to share the holiday with one of our employees & her family. Here are some pictures of the yummy foods we ate!

You can see Polo (aka Pilaf = rice & carrot dish), some Pickled cabbage & carrots, and also Fifila (mutton & rice balls) which the kids love.

This is a famous Uyghur soup called Chuchura. It is filled with lamb dumplings, vegetables, cilantro & the perfect spicy broth!

We are always treated with the best hospitality - and wonderful times of laughter!


winter is coming!!

We had our first snow on November 10th this year....and the weather is getting quite nippy these days! Pretty soon we will all wear long-johns and warm, poofy jackets to stay toasty outside. Our winter weather is pretty consistent with Minnesota winters, since we are along the same latitude. We are making the most of this non-freezing weather while we can....since it will get way below zero soon. Our apartment is heated by radiators, which do a great job keeping us toasty indoors.

Here are the girls dressed up outside our door, for a walk to the market. This is pre-snow!
(Asia - 6.5, Eden - 4.5, Sydney - almost 3!!)


costume party 2009

This year we decided to host a Costume Party at our apartment with some of our friends. There ended up being over 25 kids and 20 parents that came! We transformed the house into a carnival - with different games and activities in each room! The girls also helped me make a pumpkin pinata and fill it with prizes.

Eden dressed up as a rabbit/lamb, Sydney was a dragon, and Asia was a princess for the 6th time. Here is Eden with her close friend Amina (as Spider-woman).
I was so busy running around that I didn't get many pictures - but we had 2 bean-bag tosses, pin-the-patch-on-the-scarecrow, darts, basketball slam-dunk, bobbing for apples, a tunnel/maze in our bedroom, fishing, and three mystery boxes (filled with slimy objects) which Justin himself created. We were so tired afterwards....but I think it was a success!!

This is one of my new friends (she came dressed as a tree). I tried to put together a cow-girl outfit!! If you haven't noticed....I really enjoy hosting parties at our home!


dish duty

I thought these were so cute....I had to share. The girls have become eager to help me with dishes, which has been quite exciting for me! They take turns rinsing and stacking in the rack, while we sing together. Of course it takes longer, we get some water on the floor, and all my dishes are plastic - but the memories & values instilled are priceless. They are such beautiful gifts....

Sydney was taking a nap.


momma-jamma in China!!

My mom is here! The girls call her 'jamma' which fits so well. She is so energetic and full of adventure! We are so glad she made the long trip to be with us for 2+ full weeks! Here are some highlights of our jam-packed, fun-filled visit:

Jamma with E&A at NanMen GongYuan 南门公园 (the People's Park)
Here she is making friends with our favorite fruit-stand lady & being her friendly self!
E&A atop Hong Shan mountain 红山with Jamma-banana! (Red Mountain)
Visiting an ancient city with 1000 Buddhist Caves outside of Turpan - mom made another friend with a Uyghur musician. He was so sweet!!
Reading lots of stories on the couch....
And one final picture that just shows how she has impacted us all:
We love you SO much mom and we had such a blast with you!! Thank you with all our hearts for taking the time to join our clan in the wild west of China. Thank you for loving our girls with all your heart, and being so easy-going with all the cultural differences out here! We know how shocking it can be! You were incredible!! We miss you so much already!



Blogland is a strange and beautiful place. I actually really miss it. I feel like I have typed 17 million beautifully crafted posts in my brain over the past 4 months. And its amazing that time has flown by so quickly without a tangible post on this 'community journal' of mine. I am humbled that others want to read my heartfelt thoughts, and I love that I can share more about the people and land that we call home.

I have been visiting the States for the past 5 days, and its a taste of heaven to me. Seeing people who have shaped me, poured their lives into me and challenged me to live beyond myself - has been so therapeutic. I have cried lots of tears: joyful ones, healing ones. Thank you for listening, lifting, and asking deep questions. Being here for my sister-friends' wedding was perfect in every way. I am so grateful for this trip - and for Justin gifting it to me. I haven't been away from them ever....so this was a restful haven, and a wonderful time of reflection for me. Yet I miss them like crazy!!

I am leaving in about 24 hours, and I haven't even updated this blog like I had planned (in my brain). Its kinda on the bottom of my list, since the face-to-face connections rank above an impersonal online journal. Maybe someday I will have full access to the lovely internet once again, and I will catch you up on the happenings of our foreign lives. Also, know that we will stay safe. We are taken care of in such intricate ways. Our bodies and hearts are held by a Strength that none can fathom. We will do our best to communicate in creative ways as I go back, so stay tuned. The adventure is not over - and you know how we LOVE adventure! As I depart, I will paste something I wrote about the riots in our city, so you are aware of our situation. We love you dearly, and I return with hope & peace, feeling loved and encouraged. Thank you with all my heart. ~ Alia (my Uyghur name)

07-05 Riots in Urumqi

This afternoon, major riots broke out across our city. We never imagined anything like this could ever happen here. Many people have been killed, wounded and now arrested. This is the scariest thing we have ever gone thru in our short lives, and yet – because of secure nature of this country, we are not going to share much about these events on our blog. We do not want to share opinions or details of events without being able to share the entire story. Please take time to scour other news sites to get a better picture of the history of tensions out here. You can find more about these events on other news sites. Thanks for thinking of us!

The most recent news I could find: CNN Sept 8th, 2009, and China Daily.


a common sight these days....

When I walk behind these guys, I feel pretty safe.


some melon love

Melons in Western China!!

Did you know that China is the world’s largest watermelon producer? Western China is THE place to grow melons!!

In the summer you can buy melons straight off the picking truck! The more common melons are Watermelons (xigua 西瓜), Hami Gua 哈密瓜(cantaloupe) and Tien Gua 铁南瓜(Honeydew). I have never tasted a fresher, sweeter melon than here in Xinjiang. During Melon season (May-June-July-August) we are inundated with melon trucks all over town. Right now the prices are pretty low – about 1-2 kuai per kilo. I can buy a large Watermelon for 6 kuai, which is less than a dollar! We buy a melon about every 2 days – and eat them all summer long. They are perfectly sweet, juicy and easy to eat! We love them best chilled in the fridge, if we can wait that long. They are also quite healthy – with high levels of Vitamin C, potassium, beta carotene, lycopene, fiber & B vitamins! …yet mostly water & sugar!

The Hami Melon (Hāmì guā哈密瓜) is famous here in Western China, originally from the city of Hami, in our beloved Xinjiang! In America, you would call it a Cantaloupe – with the peachy-orange flesh, and white/green rind. The bigger the melons are said to have a sweeter flavor. Melons taste best at room temperature, but they can keep for up to 3 weeks without refrigeration! Hami-gua melons now thrive in California!

How to choose the perfect melon

  • Ask the grocer when they arrived
  • Pick a large one, it should feel heavy for its size
  • Check out the stem – should look newly picked
  • Look for a yellowish “field spot” – area where the melon rested on the ground
  • Avoid soft melons, and rinds with scars or bruises
  • Avoid melons that are on the bottom of the stack
  • Buy whole melons, not cut ones

Taking care of your melon

Uncut melons can be kept at room temp for up to three weeks. Once cut, melons can be hazardous food. Always refrigerate cut melon with saran wrap or in a sealed container for best quality. Do not eat cut melon after 2 hours being outside. Cut melon only lasts about 2-3 days in the refrigerator. Always toss if the flavor seems off.

Hope you are inspired to eat some delicious melons!! (or come visit us next summer!!)

(I wrote this post last summer....just catching up in 2010)


turning SIX

Asia Nicole turned SIX this year, which feels unbelievable to me. With each new year, I am always caught by surprise at how old she seems. Of course, six is still young – but she amazes me with her grace and compassion at such a young age. This past year she has grown in leaps and bounds – I have seen huge motivation in her desire to learn. She really loves school (so far) and doesn’t see it as a burden (which I am striving to maintain!). She also has a kind, nurturing heart, and is becoming more independent each day. She loves to learn how things work, and is full of questions too. She is quite the jokester, scheming with her sisters, or leading the way in their adventures. Both of her sisters look up to her greatly. She also loves to help in the kitchen, baking goodies, stirring sauces, rinsing dishes – she really loves to help! Asia is full of empathy – she cries when her sisters cry – and is very sensitive to others’ pain. She loves to dance, draw, read and ride her bike outside.

This year – she planned her birthday menu herself, and helped make her own cupcakes: chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting (filled with whip cream)!

She woke up to a barrage of gifts, skype phone calls from America, and waffles with strawberry syrup! She was queen for the day (well, maybe the week!) as we celebrated with face painting, soccer, pizza party @ the park – and a slumber party! Asia loves parties – and she can practically plan them herself. This was her first slumber party – and the anticipation was out-of-control. Two of her little girlfriends came to stay the night. We played hide & seek with flashlights and they stayed up late giggling. We were so tired, that we all took naps the next day!

We love you sweet Asia, and we are so blessed by the joyful little girl that you are!!


restaurant packaging arrived!!

This may not sound exciting to you – but it has taken us WAY TOO LONG to purchase ice cream buckets so that we can sell larger quantities to restaurants! We finally found a place to order them – and got our first shipment today! They were delivered to our door – just like this! One of these buckets of ice cream sells for 55kuai ($8.00). It holds about 3 liters – which is 3 of the half gallon buckets you can buy in any store in America. That’s a great deal, don’t ya think?? We will see how long this first 500 buckets takes to sell.

It only took 4 months - even in this economy! I think Ice Cream is a great business!


mellow times

In the afternoon, we attempt to have a mellow time while little Sydney takes a nap, and mom gets some down-time too. Our mornings are quite full with homeschooling, chores, friends to visit, baking, lunch and all the normal to-do’s. By the time lunch is done – mom is also ready for some mellow time! If I plan my day right – I will have some quiet activities for A&E to engage in while I escape to read or put my feet up for a bit (I am starting to sound kinda old, huh?).

Their most favorite activity these days is to plan a Tea Party for two. They set up a small table with tiny stools or pillows for chairs, and get the table ready themselves. I let them use my little China teapot & cups – complete with a bowl of rock sugar to sweeten the tea. They choose a mix of tea leaves/flowers – and even make their own concoction of Chinese tea (decaf!). We also have bowls of fruit and nuts to compliment the party. Other days they will pile up pillows and blankets to create a soft nook in the corner and read stories. Asia has been so intense about reading – and Eden is always asking her to read more!

They also love to bead necklaces, draw pictures, mold with play dough, build forts with blankets, or master a new puzzle. These are all great quiet activities that help mom stay sane. I love the stage they are both in – and how wonderfully they get along. How long does this last??


neighbor friend turns 7!!

We were invited to our neighbors’ home for their son’s seventh birthday – with only a few hours notice. We went to an underground market and found him a neat fake-Lego spacecraft: perfect for him! We arrived on time, but the party didn’t really begin until hours later. We got to chat with the family lots, and help GeGe (哥哥 big brother) put together his new toy. The grandmother made an incredible vegetable soup, and we all were given heaps of cake with neon icing. I love that we are getting to know our neighbors more, yet not so fond of the smoking.

absorbed in a book....

I love this kid!! She gets lost in books all the time. Its so fun to watch her absorbed in a new book, and then reenacting the stories with her sisters! They love to pretend they are Mary, Laura & baby Carrie from "Little House in the Big Woods." Its so precious.


flower girl bliss

My sweet little flower girl looks so grown up. She loved curling her hair, painting her toes, wearing make-up and her new white dress and shoes that matched the bride. I hope every little girl has the chance to be a flower girl once in their lives – it is a magical event. The anticipation and excitement was almost too much for her, as the bride & groom were over 2 hours late to their own wedding! Asia waited eagerly, trying to stay clean before her debut. She practiced walking down the carpet, carrying the basket…and smiling for strangers. She stood up front a long time, video cameras going, cameras flashing – and she smiled so brightly the entire time. I am so glad she had this moment – and that she handled all the pressure so well. She got SO much attention, being a blond/blue eyed Asia amongst a sea of Asians. She is so adorable.