Sunday, November 27, 2011

One month closer

The months are moving along and we are now one month closer to meeting our little girl. We have had a fun Thanksgiving weekend and are enjoying an afternoon of reading while sitting next to our Christmas tree (which doesn't smell so much like off gassing plastic like last year, but more like Bath and Body works "balsam home fragrance spray"). We had to rearrange our living room furniture to accommodate for Christmas decorations and I still have a few things that had to go back in storage as we just don't have space.

" Khamis & Fatima" our ornaments from Egypt

Brad put up the tree and lights and I put up the ornaments, last year Ruthie helped....we miss her this year.
Rudy thought he would help me since Ruthie wasn't here to help...although at first he though the gold balls were a toy :-)

New pregnancy developments
* Four months to go!
*Baby moves around like a crazy acrobat
*We are pretty sure on a name, although we will keep it a secret until she is born
*Bending over is getting more difficult, which I forget about until I am trying to pick something up and just can't do it :-)
* I can't fit through spaces anymore and get stuck, which makes me laugh
* I feel like I eat all day long. My only cravings are: passion fruit bubble tea, hot chocolate and honey nut cheerios (which I can't get I can't wait until Christmas break).
*I get seats in the MTR a lot, which I appreciate!
*Students come up, pat my belly and say "hi baby", which I think is very cute

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

We have made some great friends while here in Hong Kong and this Thanksgiving we have been blessed with THREE Thanksgiving dinners this weekend (plus a Canadian Thanksgiving back in October). If I wasn't putting on the pounds rapidly this weekend sure has helped :-) I am really bad about remembering to bring our camera to take pictures of our everyday life here in Hong Kong, but thankfully I was able to "steal" some pictures off some ICS colleagues who are good about taking pictures.

I am very thankful for so many things in life and as I watch the news and hear stories from friends and family my list of thankfulness grows. Maybe it is being pregnant and the nearing Christmas season but I have been thinking a lot about Mary and Christmas from her perspective. I keep thinking about the beginning of her prayer...."My soul magnifies God because He has done great things for me...."

God's love in sending Jesus * my loving& caring husband who takes care of so many things * our health * our healthy baby * our car* our jobs* that Rudy gets to live with us* Brad always taking out the dog * laughing with Brad* Brad taking care of our finances * friends in HK and around the world who speak words of life to us * always having more food than we need * "fall" weather * stability of the government in HK * great medical care in HK * ability to travel * trip to the US for Christmas * my mom coming out for the birth of the baby *12 weeks of paid maternity leave* skype & internet so we can stay in touch with our family that is so far away * our roof top garden * our comfortable/cozy home * drinking hot cocoa without the AC on * Christmas music * Christmas traditions * God's provision of our needs

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sugar and spice and everything nice....

that is what little girls are made of.

You guessed it, we are having a baby GIRL.
We found out this fun news last night and have enjoyed sharing it with our family and friends. It was exciting to see our little girl jumping around on the ultrasound. She has been very active, which Brad says is because she is my daughter. The doctor spent a long time measuring and checking everything. We are thankful that our little girl is developing and growing at a normal rate. We enjoyed watching the heart beat see the ventricles and atria. She gave us a little thumbs up which was fun to see.

Her little leg and foot.

"Hello world!"

Our favorite 3D picture of our baby's profile. Doesn't she have the cutest little nose and lips? Parts of her face look strange in this picture because on one side she has the umbilical cord (right) and placenta (left) on either side of her.

We are both enjoying this part of the pregnancy. The first few months went by really slowly (probably because I was so sick) but now it is hard to believe that it is half way over. It is crazy that we can already love a person that we have never met, but we do love her a lot. My belly is getting bigger and am feeling very energetic, despite sleeping being quite interrupted. I guess that is part of becoming a mom. Brad has been able to feel the baby move, which he thinks is cool and weird. I have been constantly hungry and so it is fitting for us to post a picture of us eating dinner on the roof.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mongolia: Our 40th Country!

It is now exactly four months since we visited Mongolia and we're only just now getting around to writing this post. A lot has happened in our lives in the last four months (including the great news that our little family is growing!). Still, we feel a little guilty for not having finished writing about our summer adventure. I hope that the amount of time elapsed does not diminish the novelty of the topic. Mongolia was a spectacular experience (Emily describes it as "the most surprisingly beautiful country" of our whole trip). It's certainly off the beaten track.
We arrived into Mongolia from Irkutsk, Russia in the evening. Above is a picture of the border crossing (see the arch above the tracks with the Mongolian flag painted on it?). Border crossings can be hectic even under favorable circumstances, but when you're passing between two developing nations (whose underpaid bureaucrats are unmotivated even on their best days), things can grind along at a maddening pace. We sat in the Russian border town of "Naushki" for hours, enjoying overpriced lukewarm pepsi along with the rest of the train's sweaty passengers (it was close to 100 degrees farenheit that day).

The Mongolian border guards finally finished inspecting our train car around midnight and stamped our passports. We retired for a short night's sleep (we were scheduled to arrive in Ulaanbaatar at 6:30 the next morning).

We were met at the train station by a smiling Mongolian driver in a Russian van. He spoke no English, but cheerfully hummed and whistled as he drove us out of the capital to our destination: a "Ger Camp" in the Gorkhi Terelj National Park (less than 100 miles from Ulaanbaatar). It was about lunchtime when we arrived. Here's the ger that was waiting for us:
Here's the inside of our Ger:
We had the ger (tent) all to ourselves, although we did share "bathroom" facilities with the other gers in camp. Over the course of the summer, we found that the term "bathroom" took on a lot of different meanings from one country to the next. In our Mongolian ger camp, it meant "outhouse and a tent with a wood stove and buckets of water." Emily demonstrated the shower process for those of you who have never before showered in a ger:

Other than about 10 other gers of similar size, we had no neighbors. Just wide open space. (there's plenty of that in Mongolia: it's the least densely populated country in the world).
Our Ger camp was quite small...
...and the neighbors were very quiet:
(that white speck in the distance is the tent of a nomadic family living near our camp).

Apparently the neighboring nomads provided all the dairy products to our kitchen tent. They also provided horses for the tourists to ride. (below is one of the neighbors' herds of livestock):
The days passed very peacefully in our little Ger camp. We spent a lot of time reading and we took naps every afternoon. We also kept active (the company running our ger camp offered excursions during the daytime). On the first day, we went for a horseback ride:
Above is the herd of horses that the nomadic neighbors brought over for our horseback ride. I had told them ahead of time (through a lengthy pantomime, as no one spoke English) that I was an inexperienced rider. On the morning of our ride, they offered me a bicycle helmet to wear and led me to a mare that looked as if she'd lost the will to live. As the ride wore on, I discovered a number of things:
  1. Horse, like dogs, enjoy sniffing one another's backsides (at least mine did)
  2. Horses, like people, have a pecking order. My horse was apparently very unpopular. (I think this fact is linked to fact #1).
  3. Mongolians make their saddles out of wood. This is fascinating as a piece of trivia. It's appallingly uncomfortable in practice.
  4. My wife is an excellent equestrian.
As you can see, I had a lot of time to think while we were out on our ride. This is owing to the fact that our guide kept a close eye on me and my fine steed. He even went so far as to give control of my horse to his 12-year old younger brother. Throughout our 4 hour ride, my middle-school aged minder stole glances at me, chuckling to himself. I'm sure that a grown man who cannot handle a horse is something of a rarity in Mongolian society.

I actually had a very entertaining ride. I get the feeling that our guides found it entertaining as well.
After we finished riding the horses, our guides set them loose to roam free until the next time they were needed. Apparently, most Mongolians let their horses roam freely throughout most of the year (they graze freely, making it unnecessary for families to find feed for them):

On our second day, we took a raft trip down the nearby "Tuul River." Our hosts arranged a Yak cart to carry us and our raft upstream a few kilometers. We then put the raft in the water and paddled our way back to camp (with the help of the current, of course). We were accompanied on that excursion by a lovely French family. We chatted happily as we drifted along with the current. I have decided that rafting is far more comfortable than horseback riding (Emily and I were both sore for 3 days after our morning's ride).
We skipped rocks in the river while we waited for the yak cart to come back to pick us up:
Here's the yak that carried us upriver. His name (as near as we could figure) was "Rambo." That seemed to suit him.
Rambo's friend was always close at hand. He didn't have a name (at least we didn't hear him called by name). If you'd like to suggest one, feel free to do so in the "comments" section of this post:
Our excursions always finished by early afternoon, allowing us ample time for naps, afternoon walks, reading books, and (most exciting of all), watching sunsets. The sunsets in Mongolia are breath-taking. We looked forward to them every night:
On our last full day at the camp, we went for a walk around the nearby meadows to photograph wildflowers. We tried to capture the experience of the Mongolian countryside in video (note the flies):

The variety of wildflowers in Mongolia was startling. We were told later that it had been the wettest summer in Mongolia in over 50 years. We felt very blessed to have visited during such an unusually beautiful summer.

We've only included one wildflower picture in this post. We have so many photos of flowers that we thought it best to make them into a separate post. Check back in a week or so to see our next post: "Wildflowers of Mongolia."

We ate our last dinner by candlelight in the "kitchen ger." Emily captured the Mongolian dining experience on video (ok, so this probably isn't how most Mongolians eat dinner):

After dinner, one of the neighbors dropped by for a visit. We persuaded him to sing us a Mongolian love song (the video is shot in low light, but the audio is good):

On the last morning, we awoke to discover that it had been raining throughout the night. Our tent was leaking a bit (not too badly - we were still cozy and warm under our yak hair blankets). What we didn't realize was that the rain would make our drive back to Ulaanbaatar very interesting. Most of the journey was over very informal "roads" (little more than dirt wheel ruts in the grass). The rain had turned many of these into rivers.

Our driver (above) testing the depth of a river that had sprung up overnight right across the road. Here's a video that I (Brad took) while we were waiting for our driver to pick the best spot to ford the river (in our Hyundai mini-van):

Eventually, we made it back to Ulaanbaatar safely. We checked into a hotel for the night, did a little shopping (mailed a postcard or two), and generally just killed time until our train left the next morning. Here's what Ulaanbaatar looks like:
There are a few old temples (built mostly in the 19th century when the Chinese exercised control over Mongolia).
And there are more than a few drab concrete buildings - the legacy of Mongolia's 70 years as a Soviet satellite state.

After one night in Ulaanbaatar, we were eager to board our train:
That afternoon we meandered across the Gobi desert as we slowly made our way towards the Chinese border town of "Erlian." It was hot (as you'd expect), but actually quite a pleasant journey. We stopped in a number of very run-down settlements as we moved towards China. Each station we passed through had its fair share of local children selling all manner of souvenirs and snacks.
We even saw a unique monument leftover from the Soviet years - a statue of Mongolia's only cosmonaut:
The landscape changed dramatically as we went. Near Ulaanbaatar, we passed through lush green pastures:
But as we got closer to China, we began to see the Gobi desert:

As you can see, it became quite desolate. Still, it was a pleasant (albeit sweaty) afternoon. We played cards quite a bit:
Emily took a nap:
Our First Class car was very comfortable and we took strolls from car-to-car when we got bored:
(strange... no one seemed to drink much of the boiling water in our train's samovar):

When we finally passed into China (again, around midnight), we had one more surprise waiting for us: "Bogie-changing." You see, Russia and Mongolia (being former allies) operate on the same "Gauge" (or width) of railroad track. China on the other hand (and the rest of Russia's neighbors) uses a slightly different gauge (width) of track. Some say this was intentionally done to prevent "The Russians" (queue ominous music) from invading by rail. I don't know whether or not that's true, but I can say that the bogie-changing process was fun to watch. While we were still in our car, they raised us about 15 feet above the ground, rolled away our old wheels, and brought in new (slightly narrower) wheels.

Here we are in the "Bogie-changing shed"
When we finished the bogie-changing process, the Chinese customs officials boarded our train (to inspect our cabins and stamp our passports). They worked much more quickly than their Russian or Mongolian counterparts (and actually spoke some English!). Around midnight, we officially entered the People's Republic of China. We will write all about that portion of our trip (Beijing) in our next post.

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