Friday, October 24, 2014

Happy 1st Birthday, Rachel!

Wow, I can't believe it's already been one year since this little girl made a very dramatic and very quick entrance into the world!

A few things about Rachel:
She won't go to sleep at night unless one of her sisters is in the room with her.
She wakes up with gusto - wriggling, kicking her legs, and talking up a storm.
She is incredibly independent.
She loves to be in the middle of the action, and there is plenty of that around our house!

Happy Birthday, Rachel!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Blessings Abound: Big Red

It's huge.  It's red.  And it's amazing that it is sitting on our driveway.

We, the Chew Crew, are pleased to present to you the newest member of the family.

Big Red.

After accepting a job offer at University of Virginia, Claude's and my thoughts turned toward the lack of heat in our van.  One day, as I drove past a large car dealership in our area, I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be great if God just bought us a new van for our trip?"  I laughed about it then.  But I'm laughing even more now!

As some may remember, last week we came to a crisis(ish) point with our Chrysler van.  I left that post with an addendum saying that the car was going to the mechanic because the repair might be about half of the original quoted cost.  It turns out that the mechanic was hopeful but not accurate.  Once he had a good look at the van, he gave us the news we knew to expect.

Everything.  Absolutely everything, from the dashboard would have to be removed.  The HVAC needed to be taken out, and one or two small, inexpensive parts would need to be replaced.  It would take 10 hours of labor to get it all done.  The mechanic even asked Claude if he really wanted to pay for this work since the van was barely worth the price of the repair.  But we didn't have another vehicle, so what else could we consider?

The question still remained, though.  How were we going to pay for such a pricey repair?

In the midst of all of this, Claude had emailed our church community and asked them to pray.  The problem needed some big intervention from God and we needed a lot of wisdom to make appropriate decisions.  So, our church prayed and we prayed and after a couple of days we thought we came to a solution.

We would get some heated blankets for the kids, rig up a space heater to warm the inside of the car in the mornings, and wait until some funds that we hadn't considered using before would be available to purchase a different vehicle.  This seemed like a reasonable solution that would work within our means.

On Sunday evening we were about to make an online order for electric blankets for the car when we received an email.

The Lord had provided a very generous gift to us to be used for the repair or to go toward a car that would fit our needs.  We were stunned.

As we prayed to thank God for giving so abundantly through His people, we started asking how we should use the funds.  I'm not sure what happened, but something switched in both of our thinking.  We sat down, ran some quick calculations, and realized that we could probably get a new van before we left Texas.

Claude hit the ground running on Monday morning, calling a dealer where we had found a van within our price range.  By the end of the day we had put a deposit on it and were getting our Toyota Corolla ready to be traded in.

Come Monday night, I was feeling a bit nervous about the whole thing.  What if we weren't supposed to be going through with this?  What if the cost ended up being too high?  What if the wheel covers for the Corolla didn't arrive in time for the trade in?  What if...what if...what if???

We even realized that we had a gap in our moving budget.  A gap that we couldn't close on our own.  I would be lying if I said I wasn't stressed out about this!

So, we just kept praying, knowing that God would do something.

About 11:00am on Tuesday morning I got an email from Claude.  His department at work had won some award or recognition and everyone in the department could expect a bonus in their next pay check.  The amount was for nearly the exact amount of the gap in our moving budget.  I couldn't believe it!

Five minutes later the doorbell rang.  On our doorstep were the wheel covers Claude had ordered just two days prior - wheel covers we needed to put on our Corolla to help out its trade in appraisal.  Again, I was blown away by God's timing.

Then came Tuesday night.  Claude came home to tell me that more had been added to the monetary gift we received word about over the weekend.  He put down two checks and an envelope of cash.  We were amazed!

Before the week was over, God provided again and again.  Envelopes from people at church, an email saying that someone was giving toward our move/car needs, and support from family and friends.

Needless to say, it is incredible that just one week from writing a post about coming to the end of our resources, there is a monstrous red van on our driveway.  For a few years Claude and I have been talking about our next "move" with a car.  We would love to have more children, and if the Lord gave us more then we would need more seats in our vehicle to accommodate them.  But we never imagined that it would happen like this or at this time.

This process has reminded me of how God gave me a violin back in college.  He could have been conservative in His provision, but He wasn't.  His gift, through a very generous believer, was extravagant.  With our heater situation He could have also been conservative.  We could have been driving to VA with electric blankets and a space heater.  We would have been warm and we would have been content.  But God didn't stop at just providing a working heater.  He blessed us above and beyond our needs and our expectations.

We praise the Lord for His abundant blessings!  And we are incredibly grateful to each person who played a part in the pouring out of His provision to us.  We don't even know who most of you are, but we want to thank you for being a part of God showering His love on us.  It has been overwhelming and so amazing!

The kids are calling the new van "The Big Red Van".  Jeremiah has deemed it "The Big Red Bus".  But I have been thinking of it as "The Blessing Mobile" to remind us of this time, when receiving the Lord's blessing has been like standing at the foot of a breaking dam.

And who knows.  Maybe one day the seats will be filled with blessings.  And no, that's not an announcement of more additions to the Crew.  ;)


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Blessings Abound: The Story of My Violin

There are times in life when God steps in and does something unexpected.  Usually these divine interventions coincide with a situation in which we can do absolutely nothing for ourselves.  We have reached the end of our resources, strength, or wisdom and God is the only one who can do anything in the situation.

I usually think that these situations will only be dire needs, and Claude and I have certainly been on the receiving end of God's gracious provision for many of our needs.  What strikes me, though, is that sometimes God doesn't stop at providing for the need alone.  He goes above and blesses us abundantly beyond what we ever dreamed or imagined.

Why does He do this?  Why in some situations does He leave it at meeting the need and other times heaps on blessings for no apparent reason?

I don't really have answers to those questions, except that I know God is omniscient.  And, surprising as it may seem, my knowledge is very limited.  I don't understand, but I can tell the stories and pray that God will be glorified and that His people will be encouraged.

One story that always sticks out to me as a blessing for the sake of blessing alone happened while I was in college.  Currently, Claude and I are experiencing God's abundant provision on steroids.  Just when we think the huge way He has provided for us is "it", He piles on more...and more...and more!  And each time throughout the days as I am blown away and reduced to tears over His great gifts, I remember a summer day back in 2001 when I was left to try and comprehend God's goodness.

Of course it goes almost without saying that God's greatest gift is the salvation He offers through His Son, Jesus Christ.  And I can tell of a spring day back in high school when I received that amazing gift.  But again, the thing that really gets me about God is that He doesn't stop there.  He just keeps going and going on the blessing front.

When I was in high school my parents gave me a wonderful gift - a new violin.  I had been renting one from the school for a few years, and after showing that I was committed to studying violin and had been in private lessons for a while, they decided it was time to own one myself.

Fast forward to my college days and I was "outgrowing" that violin from my parents.  If you are a musician, you have probably come to this stage with your instrument as well.  Every instrument has limitations and some are great for intermediate students, like I was in high school.  But I came to a point where a new violin was in order.

The problem was that I didn't have the money for it.  My parents didn't have the money for it either, and by this time I was becoming more responsible for my financial needs, so the ball was really in my court.  My resources hardly made a dent in the price of a new violin.  So I started praying about it.

The solution was to rent a violin from the university.  That in itself was pretty amazing.  The violin I had in my care was one that I couldn't have dreamed of playing, ever!  The rental, however, was for a limited time and once summer rolled around I was back with my own instrument.

I was planning on attending my all-time favorite music festival that summer, but before the semester came to a close I had the opportunity to play some new instruments for a friend who was in the market to buy.  She wanted to hear the instrument as well as play it herself.  I probably played 3-5 instruments for her but there was one that really stood out.

Even though I had no idea why I said it, I told my friend about this particular instrument, "You can't buy this one.  This one is mine!"  I know, it sounds pretty selfish.  Maybe it was, but I don't think I intended it that way.  Something about that instrument felt perfect under my fingers.

In the end she bought a different one, and that was the end of that.  While I didn't forget about the violin, I didn't think about it much because the price was way out of reach.

So, after attending the music festival, someone I knew fairly well approached me.  She had heard that I was in need of a new instrument.  We chatted about it for a while and then, as the conversation turned toward the cost and my lack of funds, she looked me in the eyes and said, "I'm going to buy you a new violin."

And then, she left the room.

I remember sitting there, wondering how to process this.  One minute I had a need, had no resources to meet that need, and was really just waiting on the Lord to do something.  The next minute I was left to figure out if I was dreaming or if I had in fact just heard someone say that they were going to fill this need.

Within a couple weeks of that conversation I was practicing on the violin I had played for my friend in the spring.  The one I had claimed was "mine" was actually mine!

I do wonder why God did that.  He could have been more conservative with His provision of an instrument.  He is all-knowing, and He knew that 15 years down the road I wouldn't be playing that violin very often.  He knew that my life would take a very different direction and focus than the direction I was headed in my college years.  And yet, He still blessed me with an incredible gift of a beautiful instrument.  Just because He could.  Because He is good.

And that, I guess is the crux.  God gives because of who He is, not because of who we are or what we've done.  I certainly hadn't done anything to deserve such an awesome gift.  While my violin playing had advanced to a certain point it wasn't as if I was some superstar.  I had prayed here and there about a new instrument, but I wasn't fasting or anything like that.  If I thought of it, I just put up a short prayer and moved on.  I hadn't given such a gift to anyone else that I deserved one in return.  And the person who reduced me to silence with an eight word statement had no reason that I could see to choose me to be the recipient of her extreme generosity.

That violin has been a reminder to me of just how much God delights in blessing His children.  It taught me a lot about His character - He doesn't just stop with the basics, He exceeds our needs and expectations because His love knows no bounds.  And what an expression of God's love that instrument has been over the years.  Over a decade later I am still stunned by God's generous gifts and the willingness of His people to be the means through which He provides.

It is humbling, astounding, and simply incredible!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pad Thai Recipe

In every family there are foods that become associated with special occasions.  When I was growing up, we always went to my Grandpa and Grandma Tino's house for Christmas and Easter.  Maybe it wasn't every year, but my memories are of enjoying lasagna and cheesecake on those occasions.  I'm fairly certain that I stained more than one white Easter dress with a nice slab of cheesy, melty, saucy lasagna.  Yum!

For birthdays my parents often let us choose the dinner meal.  I remember asking for spaghetti and meatballs on many birthdays.  Of course, we ate spaghetti about once a week, but there's nothing quite as comforting as those familiar dishes.

We also let our kids choose what they would like to eat for their birthday dinner.  The little ones - Jer and Abby - have picked whatever is on the schedule for that night.  Both of them had birthdays on Thursday this year.  Thursday is burrito night, and they both were thrilled that they would get to celebrate their birthday on their favorite meal night.

But, I think Claude and I have set a bit of a trend for the older kids.  We both had Pad Thai for our birthday meals this year and Joshua and Hannah followed suit.  It's familiar enough for the kids to ask for it, but since we don't make it every week or even every month like many other meals, it's a bit of a novelty.

Being Asian only by proxy, this is one dish that I make regularly enough for it not to be tedious to me.  I love eating Asian food.  It is prepared to be easy and enjoyable to consume.  But cooking it is another story.  My goodness!  Talk about food preparation.  You don't throw a hunk of meat and some washed veggies into the oven when it comes to Asian food.  You slave away...cutting, chopping, mincing, soaking, wrapping, steaming, frying, stirring.

So. Much. Work.

But so yummy!

Anyway...I thought that I would share the Crew's tried and true Pad Thai recipe, for posterity.  I find it to be pretty simple on the preparation end compared to some other dishes we have tried in the past.

The most uncommon ingredients, which you may or may not be able to find in a typical American grocery store are the following:

Tamarind concentrate or tamarind pulp can be found in the Southeast Asian section of any Asian grocery store.  Look for the picture of the tamarind fruit (as seen in the above photo).  The concentrate smells a bit sweet and tangy and looks like watery peanut butter.  It's normal for it to settle and separate, so mix it up well and scoop from the bottom of the jar to get all the good, thick stuff.  This is what gives Pad Thai it's distinct flavor.  Without it, you'll just have noodles cooked in fish sauce. sauce.  While I was adding this to the sauce yesterday, Abby, who was in a different room, shouted out, "Something smells like poop!"  Everything has to do with the potty around here.  :)  In all honesty, this stuff does have a very strong odor aroma.  But you just can't beat the distinctively Asian flavor of fish sauce, no matter how stinky it is!  If you don't have it, or can't stand the smell, you can substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce in this recipe.

If you wander into an Asian grocery store just look for an aisle lined with shelves of bottles.  Somewhere near the soy sauce you'll probably find it.  This particular bottle actually has some English.  If you can't find any familiar writing, look for a picture of a fish and a bottle that looks like light colored soy sauce.  You'll know if you got the right thing once you open it at home.

Here's what you'll need:

For the Sauce
1/3 cup white sugar
2 TB lemon juice (or lime juice if you have it)
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 TB tamarind pulp or concentrate

For the Noodles
1 12 oz. package dried rice noodles, medium-thick ones work best
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp garlic, minced
4 eggs
1 12 oz. package firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch strips
Soy sauce, to taste
1 1/2 TB white sugar

1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika (or chili least that's what I substitute.)
1 1/2 cups peanuts, ground

For Serving
1/2 cup green onion or chives, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
1 lime, cut into wedges
Chili sauce, to taste

1. Prepare the Pad Thai Sauce.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, blend sugar, lemon juice, fish sauce, and tamarind concentrate.  Heat it through until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Soak the rice noodles in warm water until soft, 10-15 minutes.  Drain.

3. While the noodles are soaking, chop the garlic, whisk the eggs in a small bowl, cut tofu, mix together sugar, salt, and paprika in a small bowl, grind/finely chop peanuts, chop green onion and cilantro, rinse bean sprouts.  You want all of these ingredients prepared before cooking because once the pan is hot, things move quickly.

3. Prepare the Pad Thai.  In a large skillet heat oil and add garlic and eggs.  Scramble the eggs and then adds the tofu.  Put a splash of soy sauce for color and added flavor.  Add noodles, a (very) little more soy sauce and stir constantly until noodles are cooked.

4. Add the Pad Thai Sauce, the sugar, salt, paprika mixture, and the peanuts.  Stir it all together.  Remove from heat.

5.  Add green onion, cilantro, and bean sprouts.  Serve with lime on the side.  Try some Sriracha chili sauce for a nice flavor and a spicy kick.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Blend Door Actuator Saga

Our 2003 Chrysler Voyager has been a great car.  It has low mileage, plenty of seats for everyone, and is in fine working order - except for the heater.  We bought the car in the spring of 2012 and with warming weather the thought of testing the heater didn't occur to us.  Dumb, I know.  With a very costly quote to repair it, we opted to leave the heater alone for the summer and tackle the issue when we might need heat.

Then we moved to warm, sunny Houston in October 2012 and we realized that we didn't need the heater.  Yay!  There has probably been one day that we actually needed heat, but otherwise it has been a non-issue.

Fast forward to the current day.  In two weeks we are moving again, back to cooler climates and at a time of year when the temperatures are dropping.  If ever our car needed heat it is now, and now we don't have it.  So, with a diagnosis from a couple years back and having put in a good deal of research since then, Claude and I started to tackle the problem ourselves.

A couple nights ago we went out to the driveway and removed part of the dashboard.  We were looking for something called a blend door actuator.  We read in many forums and heard from the original mechanic who diagnosed the problem, that this part might be what was broken.  If we replaced it the heater just might work.  But first we had to find it.

After removing the top portion of the dashboard, we found what we thought was an actuator.  This, for the record, is NOT actually a blend door actuator.

It controls the remote entry on our van.  Of course, we didn't find that out until we were locking up the car for the night.  You can imagine how disappointing that was.  We thought it was as easy as removing one piece of the dash, finding a replacement, and putting it in.

We weren't even close.

Not wanting to quit, though, we tried again.  This is what I did during nap time yesterday.

Pretty cool, huh?  I thought it was fun.  Well, aside from feeling a little bit awkward when the mail lady walked up the driveway to see me hanging half out of the driver's side of the car.

And this is what the older kids did during nap time yesterday.  :)

The efforts yesterday afternoon were successful.  We found the actuators!  There are two.  The one pictured here controls the temperature (the one we thought might be broken).  The other is just barely in the photo - it controls the vents.

They are in a hard to reach spot, as you can see from the picture below.  They are, however, still within our reach, but just barely.

If you don't know anything about cars, beware of the following sequence - you may be confused.  If you know a thing or two about cars, beware of the following sequence - you, too, may be confused because I have no idea what I'm talking about here.

An actuator is a motor.  The temperature control knob connects to the actuator that turns a gear that's wired to the blend door that opens to allow hot or cold air through the vents.

We thought the actuator was broken and needed to be replaced.  Come to find out, it works just fine.  Naturally, the "easy" fix turns out not to be the problem.

Claude made an interesting discovery, however, while he reached into tiny, tight spaces with big clunky tools.  First, he discovered that we needed smaller tools, which he procured from our local home improvement store.  Next, he found that a little gear kept being pushed back into the abyss of the center console of the car.

You see, only certain parts are accessible from what we opened.  Everything else is somewhere inside there.  Behind plastic and metal, in unknown (to us) territory.

Unlike the actuator and because we are not mechanics, this is very much out of our reach.

The little gear is possibly disconnected from whatever wires or other things it's responsible for turning.  Or blend door itself is the problem.  Supposedly it's not uncommon in our type of vehicle for these doors to be stuck so that only cold air can come through.  The problem now is that we have no idea what we're doing and taking apart more of the dashboard is daunting, to say the least.

When I'm stuck on something like this, I usually turn to Google.  Surely there are tutorials of how to access and replace the blend door in a 2003 Chrysler Voyager.  What we keep finding in our searches are forum posts that go something like this:

"Does anyone know how to access the blend door in a Chrysler Voyager?"
"Nope, sorry.  No can do.  Too much work.  Mine broke, too, and I'm sure glad it's a secondary vehicle because I can't afford to repair it and I can't spend two days taking apart my entire dashboard - it's way beyond my comfort level."
"Maybe it's not the blend door, maybe it's the actuator?"
"Try a space heater!"

Needless to say, these things are not helpful.  It's like a merry-go-round - you keep circling around to the same spot, never getting anywhere.

And for the record, we have tried a space heater.  The car was just as cold as ever.  Perhaps a better one would work??? 

I even tried to find out where the blend door is.  Maybe, just maybe, we can reach it on our own.  Perhaps this repair is within our resources and capacity.  But all I find are manuals for professionals who know what they're looking at and have an idea of where to find things.  No one takes pictures of the blend door or whatever else it's connected to, because very few people have gotten there.

Apparently finding a blend door on a Chrysler van is like trying to find the secret passage into Mordor - you need to go through a lot of junk to get there and you won't even get close unless you have an experienced traveler to lead the way.  Frodo paid for his guide by losing a finger...ours will cost the proverbial arm and a leg.

But now for a spiritual application.  Claude and I have been through countless situations where our physical needs have outstripped our resources by a long shot.  We were in crisis mode for several years and it gave us a lot of practice turning to God to provide for us.

Since moving to Texas, life has been comfortable in terms of financial and material provision.  Yes, we have needed to trust God for many things.  But we haven't actually reached the very end of ourselves in a long while.  We've been able to eek by, barely making it, but still remaining within our resources and capacities.  Like the actuator - difficult, but not desperate.

That's not what I'm talking about here.

This repair will cost just about what the van is worth were we to sell it or trade it in.  It is equivalent to the cost of the moving truck rental that we will need in just a couple of weeks.  And I'll be honest here, it exceeds our savings since God timed appendectomies and other unexpected expenses in the past couple of months.  Options for replacing the van are just as out of reach.

The conclusion we came to last night as we realized that the actuators work, but the heater still does not: We simply cannot do this on our own.

I realize that for some this is probably an uncomfortable thing to read.  It makes you feel worried, nervous, or uneasy.  But it's life.  And it doesn't matter who you are, how well you know the inside of your car, or what is (or is not) in your bank account - you will find a time when what needs fixed is out of your reach, out of your reckoning.

Bu praise God!  Because even blend doors aren't out of His reach.

Updated to Add:  I just received a phone call from Claude.  There is a mechanic down the street who quoted us half the cost of what we have been told previously.  Still more than we have to spend, but a HUGE improvement to the situation.  Hi, ho!  Hi, ho!  To the mechanic we go!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Birthdays Abound!

Apparently I am falling behind on posting birthdays here.  That doesn't mean they aren't celebrated in real time, simply that I don't get around to uploading the photos and sitting down to type up a post.

For now, our birthdays are split between the boys and the girls.  The boys come first in the line up - Joshua, Jeremiah, Claude.  And come September and October we're on a girl birthday run - Abby, Hannah, Rachel.  So, the pink and purple napkins I bought have been put to good use in the last couple of weeks!

Abby got a booster seat for her birthday day, which meant that the kids got a new seating arrangement in the van.  Rachel graduated from the infant car seat, Jeremiah gets to sit between his big sisters, and Abigail gets a window seat for the first time in almost 3 years.

Strong personality, stronger will, and goofier than the rest of her siblings put together,  Abigail is one dynamic little package!  She is great at rounding up her younger brother and sister, calming them down when they are upset, and enjoys getting them involved in all kinds of fun games.  I've always said that she is the life of the party around here.  That, certainly, has not changed!

Happy 4th Birthday, Abby Joy!  We love you! 


Hannah Girl.  It's hard to believe that she's already six years old!  She, like most of her siblings, has a will as tough as nails.  But her personality is soft - gracious.  She takes her time getting her jobs done, including schoolwork, but often goes above and beyond.  Hannah likes a good story and if she doesn't have her nose in a book, she's asking Claude and I to tell her about when we were young.

 Happy 6th Birthday, Hannah Girl!  We're so happy to have you in the Crew!

Houston, We Have a Walker!

Rachel has been working on this for 5-6 weeks now.  She spent the first couple of weeks fussy and frustrated because she couldn't take more than a few steps before toppling over.  Now she has found her walking legs and there is no turning back!

This video is from last week and her progress since then has been astounding.  She now prefers walking over crawling and can traverse the entire house without a fall.  Time to start running soon!

Walking by the Numbers

Joshua - 13 months.  Just in time for little sister's arrival.
Hannah - 12 months.  On her birthday she walked across a grassy hill and also said her first word that day - "pop".
Abigail - 10 months - I think???  She could easily walk up and down the street by the time her first birthday rolled around.
Jeremiah - 11-12 months.  Like much of what he does, this skill came without much fuss.
Rachel - 10-11 months.  Perhaps the most determined of all.  She has places to go and people to see!