But Her Sense of Smell is Quite Functional. (We forgot her birthday.)

I was going to begin this short story by telling you that our Cal-girl will soon be eleven years old. Her birthday is the fifteenth of October. However, being that it is currently the eighteenth of October, and I am just now remembering as I type these very words that her birthday WAS THREE DAYS AGO!, I will have to admit that her eleventh birthday came and went in the most uncelebratory manner. We forgot her birthday. 

And now, the story that I am about to tell on her makes me think we really deserved it after all and that she knew exactly what she was doing….

She was the sweetest puppy. And beautiful. Her apricot coloring with the star on her forehead, paws, and the tip of her tail made nearly everyone fall in love with her. I still remember seeing her for the very first time. Keep in mind, I am the animal lover in this marriage, but it was my husband that first fell in love with her. (When I saw the mother of Cali’s litter I clammed up; I could tell she had a good deal of pit-bull in her.) She laid in his lap on her back for nearly forty-five minutes. She was so good-natured, the kind of puppy that didn’t yelp for attention or paw at you for continuous tummy scratches. And she wasn’t a licker. Check, check, check. But something didn’t settle with me about the pit-bull lineage. We thanked the rescue agency workers and left. Sometime during the car ride home, my husband said to me, “Okay, on the count of three, let’s say yes or no.” He said yes, I doubtingly said no. Already, I was beginning to feel the twinge of regret. Her little face, those soft ears, that wonderful temperament! Long story short, we called the agency to tell them we had changed our minds. They, to turn the tables, were now unsure about us. “We just really want to know that you really do want her,” they said. We really did. We supplied the required references and paid all our dues. We held our breath during the home visit. Finally, she was ours. 

Years after her puppyhood, people assumed that Cali was still indeed a puppy. She appeared to have a diet consisting of part lamb, part fountain of youth. Slowly, over the last year or two, her age has snuck up on her. Her beautiful apricot coloring has begun to turn white, especially around her muzzle, and she moves at a much slower pace due to hips that are nearly out of socket. (Our last trip to the vet made me cry.) Her hearing is going. Or selective. I vote for the latter. I vote for the latter because our neighbors from Kensington Drive would always rave, absolutely RAVE, about Cali’s obedience. “We would just let her have the run of the yard for awhile and then, when it was time to go in, we’d call her once and she’d come running! We don’t believe you that she doesn’t obey,” they’d say with a serious smile. (Also, we know that her hearing is going because we practically have to yell at her to stop her snoring, which has also gotten worse over the years.) 

Call her once? Running? Cali? 
Who are we kidding here.
But I digress.

What I am happy to tell you is this: her sense of smell is in wonderful condition. Wonderful.

Late Saturday evening, her birthday mind you, my husband and I were talking about how to help our children with the long car ride to church the following day. We put careful thought into making up a bag for them full of coloring pencils, paper, new library books, and snacks. To be specific, Annie’s bunny-grahams and beef jerky, all neatly placed in three separate ziplock bags to prevent any bickering. I leaned my oversized, open-top tote up against the back of the couch, walked past a sleeping Cal-girl cuddled up in her bed, and climbed contentedly up the stairs, feeling like mother of the year. (smile) 

Early the next morning my husband tiptoed downstairs to see if we had any snow that had been forecasted. Back he came with no happy news: No snow. No snacks. “Whatttt?,” I practically whispered-shrieked. But there it was. And there she was. And she knew I knew. Ziplock bag shreds all OVER the floor. One bag of Annie’s bunny-grahams survived but there wasn’t one single hint that beef jerky had even existed. 

The elderly have a few extra things going for them. For the most part, they can say things they shouldn’t and do things they shouldn’t and get away with it. I have found that the same is true for my Cal-girl. We told her that she was naughty and left it at that. And, now that I think about it, the poor thing honestly deserved a little bit of jerky and organic bunny-grahams for reaching eleven years without even the slightest acknowledgement from her family.

Did you hear that, Cali?

The Needed Intersection

It’s a warm August afternoon and we’re loading up our van with the essentials for our California road trip, our boys hauling in the non-essentials like packrats in a competition. Early the next morning, with steaming cups of coffee and chai in our hands, my husband and I whispered to each other as the Odyssey rolled along the highway, meeting the sunrise as we neared the sleepy town of Grant’s Pass. We pushed the reset button this summer. 

Purple skies and wispy clouds delighted my camera shutter. Click, click, click. More clicks. Our little Wren Margaret began to stir and I instinctively put down the noisemaker into the middle console, turning around to see her heavy eyelids close once again. My husband and I probably exchanged relieved glances at this point but my memory fails me. I settled back into my seat. There were so many things on my mind. And yet, there was nothing on my mind.

The next couple of days would be spent with family and although the days were busy they were absolutely delightful. Our little ones, along with their adorable cousins, experienced an authentic Southern Pacific train ride along the Sacramento River. As we chugged along, the scent of the eucalyptus trees brought back childhood memories including those of an unfortunate humpback whale who had found his way into the Sacramento River. I had always felt sorry for him. Her? I can’t recall. Nonetheless, we were both born with a terrible lack of directional sense and I could relate to the poor creature in that way. Anywho, we finished our time with my husband’s sister and her family, complete with fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies for afternoon treats and happy, raucous water fights between the boys and their cousins in the evenings. On the morning that we left to travel farther down California, my husband’s sister sent us off with hot coffee and banana bread, all prepared the night before. Aunt Brooke spoiled us all!

We arrived in southern California late that evening, anticipating a friend’s wedding the next day. The boys carried in their sleeping bags while I carried in a nearly sleeping Wrennie. My poor husband carried in all of the afore-mentioned essentials plus all of the non-essentials, which by this time had become THEE essentials to our children: (what seemed like) every stuffed animal they owned, bags of smuggled toys, and this, that, and the other. It seemed that merely opening the door of the hotel room gave all of our children an immediate and miraculous second wind. After sleeping bags had been arranged and re-arranged, all stuffed animals had been accounted for, and sips of water had been gulped down, we–– the ill-fated, no second wind getters–– finally pillowed our heads and pulled up the white, down duvet around us. 

John Harvey was a graduate student at the University of Oregon. He showed up at our church on a Sunday morning last June and ended up at our dinner table that afternoon. Later that evening he sent a text to my husband expressing thanks for the meal and for the joy that he had found in our home and our children. Last but not least, he wanted my husband to know that, for as long as he had in the area, he would be there to serve our body of believers and to encourage us in ways that he could. And he did. I chased a happy Wren Margaret around the grounds of the infinitely beautiful Foothill Ranch Golf Resort in Corona the next evening, all while listening to John and Euna’s wedding vows exchanged farther down the green. Later, at the reception, when my husband and I would take turns going in and out with our little ones, in an attempt to run off their energy, I would be overcome with tears–– John washed Euna’s feet, promising to love and serve her.

As I left the reception, I caught John’s father’s hand and thanked him for how he had raised his son. I told him of the body of believers in a small, unincorporated town in Oregon and how his son meant a great deal to us. “We love and appreciate your son. We were thrilled to be here today," I said. “Thank you for sharing that with me,” he replied. I walked away and prayed silently that his eyes would be opened to the gospel.

The next day would hold a special surprise for our children–– we were headed to Legoland! (I’ll share more about this soon.) We debated: should we go to Disneyland or Legoland? Somewhere amidst the long miles of our road trip Graeme said to us, “what’s Disneyland?”. And, at about the same time, I received an email from Legoland offering free tickets in exchange for a bit of social media advertising. So, it was settled: Legoland it would be!

A few days later we would pull into our driveway, unload every single stuffed animal, piece of luggage, and leftover McDonald’s happy meal toy, and the realities of our reset button would begin to settle in.

My husband resigned from his position in the middle of July. It wasn’t something that we completely expected or wanted but we saw, and continue to see, the goodness and providence of God through it. It isn’t as simple as that. It’s never as simple as that. 

Paul Tripp, in his book New Morning Mercies, writes that “true prayer happens at the intersection of surrender and celebration.” We are finding, sometimes through pain, sometimes through joy, that true life, yes, truly living, happens at the same intersection. Last year I led a women’s bible study through the book of Romans. One of the barest truths of that book is this–– be thankful! How had I missed it before? This kind of thankfulness isn’t blind or irrational; it calls us into deeper Relationship and beyond our ability to understand. It doesn’t hide from the hurts and losses of reality; it faces them and still says: Father, you are good and only have our good in mind. Thank you for this. (Romans 8:28-30)

Something loved lost? Thank You. Unexpected time with our children, extended family, books upon books, projects long put off? Thank You. A cabin in the woods surrounded by immense Oregon beauty? Thank You. Our next step in life unknown to us? Thank You. Things given, things taken away? Jesus, thank You.  And in the times when it is difficult for us to say and live the words "thank You", Lord, please help us. Amen.

I am not dependable - confessions from motherhood .

In January my oldest son began working on a Character Project, a school assignment that involved a few different steps and commitments, character developments really, over the course of several weeks. It was a delightful project to watch unfold. He first chose a character trait that he (or, rather, his mama) wanted to work on implementing more into daily life. And then, we set to work. We developed a chore chart to help him with the trait of dependability. And, despite the fact that we used the age-old and very non-creative idea of a chore chart, it actually worked. I began seeing changes in my six year old that were encouraging and beautiful. 

(A moment of hilarity–– we arrived on the last day of school, our buttons bursting with pride at his character board, and dropped it off at the presentation hall. I had that sneaking suspicion a few days before the project's due date that I might've gotten his character trait mixed-up. I mean, January was a terribly long time ago. But I fought off the feelings valiantly and he wrote in large Sharpied letters across the top of his presentation board–– D E P E N D A B I L I T Y. And then, I saw it. There it was, printed out underneath his name, sitting on the table in front of us, the word obedience. I felt terrible. Really, the two work so well together. They're kind of the same thing. Right? I gently tucked the bottom piece of the paper under so that only his name showed. And then his teacher and I had a good laugh over my terrible mistake. He passed with flying colors, still. Thankfully.) 

A few months after we began using the chore chart we also implemented an allowance system that a friend of mine shared with me. Our boys receive money each month that matches their age. The boys seem to understand the principles of this system and how we've broken it down into three typical categories–– give, save, spend. 

Last week, after a few months of receiving allowance, our boys made their first purchases from their spending jar: nerf guns. It was so delightful to watch this process. Somehow, I knew Job would end up going to bed that night with zero darts left, but, to my surprise, he kept one. It looks like their next spending purchase might be for replacement darts. 

I've only lost two picture frames so far.....

The top photo is Graeme's presentation board. I am so proud of him. I loved his cut-out illustrations and his handwriting has come so far this year. The second photo is a nerf gun war in action. And dirty feet. (wink)

Wren Margaret – twenty one months young

Wren Margaret / twenty one months / happiest at home / loves animals, especially birdies that come to the feeders PopPop hung up on the back porch / loves her doggy the most, though / smiles on command now / explores everything and everywhere / has no fear / is learning the meaning of no / would spend every moment outside if she could / loves her snacks / talking and running / gives tight hugs and very slobbery kisses but only when she feels like it / her hair is getting curlier by the week / working on her last two teeth –– hallelujah! 

Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work. ––Clive Staples Lewis.  There's a lot of heart work going on in my life concerning my little ones. ( I know I mentioned this in my last post. ) One of the things that I am laying out before Jesus daily is my desire to grow in my love for and towards my children. For me, at this stage of my mothering, that love can be pared down to and defined as this: time and intention. I've had to make some decisions over the last couple of months that have drawn the line in the sand, if you will, concerning how I will go about carving out more time intentionally for my children. ( I'm staying largely vague here in this public space, but if you wrestle against what our world tells us we could be as mothers –– that we can be boss ladies and boss mamas and the whole nine yards –– my email address is on my contact page and I'd love to talk through what God is teaching you. This subject can easily turn into a legalistic one. One where we call each other out on what should be, quote unquote, given up for our children. That's not what I'm talking about, though. I'm talking about how God removes good things from our lives at times because he wants us to see the best things he's already given. He's after my heart and he wants me to see and know his in every matter of my life. ) This heart work has been hard. When you pray for God to weed the soil of your heart, he shows up. He always shows up, of course. I thought his showing up might look differently but, as it turns out, he brought a shovel and he is overturning things. Thank God, he is overturning things. 

The other day my Lulu found a puddle that had formed from the water-hose. She was delighted by it. And I thought to myself how this, right here and right now, is God's work in and for my life –– that he is answering my prayer as a mother, even if it looks and feels differently than how I thought it would or should. 

Motherhood reshaped by Love .

Prayer is asking God to incarnate, to get dirty in your life. Yes, the eternal God scrubs floors. For sure we know he washes feet. So take Jesus at his word. Ask him. Tell him what you want. Write out your prayer requests; don't mindlessly drift through life on the American narcotic of busyness. If you try to seize the day, the day will eventually break you. Seize the corner of his garment and don't let go until he blesses you. He will reshape the day.  ––Paul Miller, A Praying Life

Throughout the past year, I've wrestled with many aspects of motherhood. And, because of that period of uncertainty in my life, I began writing down and praying through specific things pertaining to my relationships to my children.

One redeeming quality of darkness is that it makes the stars all the more beautiful. Sarah Williams, an English poet from the 1800s, wrote–– I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night. I get that. The mind-stopping thing is that I'm loved by a good Father who hears my prayers that rise out of the darkness in my life. And, he answers them. Paul Miller writes, "If you wait, your heavenly Father will pick you up, carry you out into the night, and make your life sparkle. He wants to dazzle you with the wonder of his love."

I don't have all of the answers for this broken and beautiful journey we call motherhood. But, I'm telling you, I'm being carried out into the night by a good, good Father and he is not letting go.

A big thank you to my kind husband who always take these pictures on Mother's Day for me. I love them. I love him.

This is my Father's world, oh let me never forget .

Isaiah 40:26-29 Look at the night skies: Who do you think made all this? Who marches this army of stars out each night, counts them off, calls each by name –– so magnificent! so powerful! –– and never overlooks a single one? Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, "God has lost track of me. He doesn't care what happens to me"? Don't you know anything? Haven't you been listening? God doesn't come and go. God lasts. He's Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn't get tired out, doesn't pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out.

John Piper wrote an article several years ago that made such an impression on me that I cannot forget it now eight years later.  He titled the article, "10 Resolutions for Mental Health." In it, he gives a simple yet eloquent account of a lecture from a favorite and well-loved professor. These two resolutions, numbers six and ten, especially made my mind ponder the beauty, majesty and omniscience of our God ––   ( 6 ) I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their "divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic" existence.  ( 10 ) Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

I took my little ones to the coast this past Thursday, all on a complete whim. It was a beautiful day, with the weather reaching eighty degrees –– a rare treat for the Oregon coast in April. For two hours we wandered down the beach, collecting shells and being dragged into the water by Lulu. ( Yes, you read that correctly. She is our adventure seeker and our darer. ) This was our little girl's first time to walk the beach on her own and she loved every moment of it. I smiled, watching her pitter-patter down the coastline, lovingly holding her McDonald's happy meal doll carefully out of reach from the water.

Thank you, Father, for showing us your glory through skies and seas, through joyful children and quiet, windy roads. 

A Meaningful Transformation – Our Sunroom

Ellie Holcomb sings these lines in her song titled Marvelous Light–– then you gave my heart a home / so I walked out of the darkness and into the light. Every time I hear them I think about lots of things but they even, oddly enough, draw me into thinking about the transformation of our house into a home. Today, I wanted to share one more piece of our home with you. They say that looking back and seeing your starting place, measuring it up to where you've journeyed to, can be very encouraging. And, I am indeed here to say that, yes!, I'm encouraged. When we purchased our home a little over a year ago, we immediately fell in love with what we now call our sunroom, even with its dark demeanor, water-damaged paneling, dingy ceiling tiles, and, don't miss this–– red and blue blinds. Somehow, through all of that, it still spoke to us and we knew that by a slow and steady transformation it would become our most loved and used space. And we were right.

One of the first decisions that we made concerning this space was to tear out the existing carpet and install pine flooring. Next, we decided to drywall the ceiling and walls. ( Although our original plan did not include spending part of our budget on drywall, extensive water damage made that decision for us. ) This past November, while here visiting, my dear dad purchased and then installed new trim around every door and window. ( love you, dad and mom! ) The new trim made such an immediately visible difference in this room, especially after it was painted. 

During Christmas break, we buckled our three little ones into the van and took a field-trip to a wood shop. My husband's grandma had sent a cash gift for Christmas and we decided to use it to build an eight-foot long work space. We chose two large cuts of maple and on New Year's Eve my husband built my design and we've been enjoying it ever since. I love that nearly every time I sit down to use it I think of my husband's grandma. ( I designed this desk for two purposes: to give us plenty of work space and, most importantly, to hide ALL THE CORDS. All the OCD smiles over here. ) This work space is plenty large to support the boys and I and is often crammed full of Lego creations all.day.long. I love it. 

For months I imagined an oversized cork board hanging above this desk. I scoured thrift shops for the perfectly sized board but came up empty-handed. Then, as I was browsing the aisles of Home Depot, I came across a 4'x6' piece of concrete rebar mesh. It was perfect. A few days later, we picked it up on our valentine's day date and laughed as we tossed it carefully into the van –– it was the best seven dollar valentine's day gift ever!

In early January, I worked with Josh and Abigail at Blinds.com to configure shades for the windows. This was a nerve-racking decision for me. I desperately wanted to get it right and leaned towards simple white shades but feared the room would lack character. I worried that my Graeme-bear would be sad at the sight of more white! ( I'm still trying to convince him that white is actually a color. In his defense, there's a lot of white! And, to put things in perspective, you have to bear in mind that four out of six windows in this room measure over five feet wide, not to mention three sets of sliding glass doors. ) I settled on their Light Filtering Cellular Shades in Glacier White and when they arrived I knew, thank goodness!, they were the perfect fit for us. After nearly a year of living in our new home, our sunroom renovation was coming to a close. Finally, we could close up this room at night, we could cover the view of the gigantic hot tub directly out the window, we could feel at home in our own space. 

It's fair to say that our sunroom is our happy place. Filled with bright light, a large workspace, family photographs and special notes, and a cozy stove, it cheers us up even on the dreariest days. I was chatting back and forth with Abigail the other day and I told her –– thank you so much for making our house a home. And I mean it. We are very grateful to have worked with Blinds.com over the last year ( see our living room shutters here and our bedroom shutters here) and we do not take these gifts from both family and Blinds.com for granted. You know what they say–– anything worth having is worth waiting for? This space, this feeling of completeness, it was worth waiting for. It feels so good to call it home.

p.s. Here's a short and fun(ny) video we made for Blinds.com about the installation. Oh what fun it is to hang window coverings with three busy little ones. . .

Easter Thoughts

Psalm 118:29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! I've been stuck on this verse this week –– this psalm is the song that Jesus sang before he entered the garden to pray, before he was crucified on the cross the very next day. This is extremely convicting to me.

"At the center of a biblical worldview is this radical recognition –– the most horrible thing that ever happened was the most wonderful thing that ever happened. That moment of sadness welcomed us to eternal joy of heart and life. The capture and death of Christ purchased for us life and freedom. The same God who planned that the worst thing would be the best thing is your Father. He rules over every moment in your life, and in powerful grace he is able to do for you just what he did in redemptive history. The hardest things in your life become the sweetest tools of grace in his wise and loving hands. So be careful how you make sense of your life. Your Father is committed to taking what seems so bad and turning it into something that is very, very good." ( Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies ) 

Psalm 118:29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

Wishing and Waiting.

Home isn't built in a day. I need that reminder. My littlest ones are napping and my husband whisked Graeme off to church with him this morning. The house is quiet, aside from the kitchen fan whirring away the smell of a (yet another, forgotten about) boiled-over chai and the rain falling on the sun-room roof overhead. 

We went away this past week to Seaside. The moderator at the conference, a friend of ours, jokingly made remarks about the more-fact-than-fiction idea that our children would be heading home sick at the end of the week. We all laughed and nodded our heads in agreement –– it's just the sad yet somehow-always-true outcome of many, many children coming together for playtime in the middle of the winter. And so, I write that to tell you that this morning, as I sit down to record some thoughts, my little Job Hudson is fast asleep on the sofa behind me, his body resting from whatever it is that it is diligently fighting.

I'm sitting here today, writing out these dreams and thoughts, because my heart needs this time. It needs the reminder that it is a fine thing to dream, and it is a wonderful thing to plan, and, sometimes, it is wise and needful to wait on those dreams and plans. My husband and I, like so many of you I am sure, have dedicated our home to a no-debt policy. Every purchase and renovation that we've made has been with cash. This isn't a policy that we like, yet we have deeply appreciated it over time. 

We are incredibly grateful for our home. We have found immense joy in making it ours through literal blood, sweat, and tears. For those of you who have waded through the grueling seminary years or similar extended years of schooling, who have found yourselves renting more than buying–– if you, like us, have finally found yourselves in a place of dreaming and setting down roots, you'll understand the beauty that all of it brings. And the beauty comes from those years of wishing and waiting. That's where we find ourselves once again! And, we knew we'd be here. There are only so many dollars to cover a home that needs so much attention. But we are here to stay until God moves us. And staying takes planning. I want to make this home OUR home. I want us to LOVE living here. So, bear with me as I do a little bit of wishing here today, a little bit of planning for the future. Dreaming is good for all of us.

From top left –– Ultimately, we plan to tackle a couple of large and necessary items that I won't even go into detail here. Items, for example, such as saving for a new heat pump (since ours is living on borrowed time) /// Next, we'd love to replace the counter top in our kitchen with something that will last. We plan to tile our kitchen walls in lieu of a matching marble back splash and finish off the kitchen cabinets with a fresh coat of paint (I've fallen in love with Farrow+Ball's color, Pigeon) and some simple brass knobs and pulls. /// I'm not even sure where to begin with our bathrooms. When we first moved in I hoped for complete overhauls but after thinking things through I believe we'll make small changes like taking down wallpaper and painting, possibly painting the existing tiled floor in lieu of replacing it, and, somewhere down the fourteen-year-plan, (smile) possibly replacing the tub and tiling. I love the idea of making a simple wooden support for the sink and for holding towels. (We recently replaced the toilet and installed flooring in our tiny master bathroom. It feels so wonderful to have actual flooring! Also, we've toyed with the idea of reglazing both the master shower and the tub in the other bathroom instead of replacing the tub.) /// I've been dreaming of a farmhouse table for years. We currently use a picnic table in our dining room but too many people have nearly fallen trying to get in and out of it. Also, we'd love the opportunity to fit a few more people at our table. My husband is very excited about building me a table like the one pictured above but we also need to consider the expense of chairs! /// This list could go on and on with details such as –– house numbers, outside lights, landscaping, replacing windows, finally buying a bed frame!, uncovering and refinishing the fireplace, creating an outdoor eating space with one of our covered decks, etcetera etcetera. The list literally is endless with possibilities. 

The bottom line is this –– we are incredibly grateful for our home. It is something that we talk about nearly every day. It is an absolute gift from God and we have thoroughly enjoyed this process of making it ours. And, from the looks of my list, we will be doing so for quite some time!

Home again, home again .

Last month, my husband took a trip out of the country for ten days. We missed him and tried to keep our minds busy while he was away. Near the end of those days I decided, very last-minutely, to take my little ones to the coast for a day trip. It was very chilly, but we were given beautiful sunshine and the boys happily parked themselves up in the dunes for most of the time, away from the cold wind and water, and played with their shovels and buckets. We marveled at the sea foam which was in abundance that day, Wren Margaret laughed at the sea gulls and begged her brothers for their toys, and, in the end, we were all contented with promised treats that we picked up for the short journey home. And, in the very end, we were extremely happy to see our husband and daddy walking out of those airport doors.

p.s. My husband shared this story with me and I laughed so hard that I thought sharing it here might bring some cheer to one of you–– Apparently, 7-Elevens are quite popular in Taiwan. My husband had stepped into one to grab a snack and noticed a mother with her three children staring at him. She was urging her children to go and talk with Stephen. He could hear her prodding them to say, "How are you? How are you?" Finally, all of them came over and she said with a little bit of hesitance, "Welcome to........China! No, no, welcome to.........Japan!" Stephen smiled and said, "Welcome to Taiwan!" And they all laughed. It turns out they had just arrived from another country and were a little bit confused about their current surroundings. (smile) It's so good to have my guy back. There's nobody else that can cheer us up and make us smile like he can.