Friday, January 29, 2016

Emergency crafting

There's always that point in adding new children to your family where life hits its nadir. (At least I hope we're at the nadir.) It doesn't matter if it's a new biologically related baby or older, adopted children, there comes a point when life just seems to spiral out of control and everyone is more than a little unsettled. I always find the third week postpartum to be that point when I've brought home a baby. Everyone is sleep deprived, the baby hasn't settled and has to a ways to go before settling happens, and those hormones are still doing cha-cha all over my body. With older, adopted children, the three week mark still pretty much stands, which for a China adoption timeline, puts you at about one week home. This is the point at which everyone really begins to understand that this is permanent. The existing siblings also have lived with the new brothers or sisters for about a week and the shine has worn off more than a little bit. The excitement of the new has faded, but everything is still so new it doesn't feel right. Plus, the language issues are still huge and frustration on both sides is very near the surface.

This has been us the past couple of days. Our fun times have included melt downs of various degrees from the vast majority of family members. Normally, this would be enough on anyone's plate, but we like to do things bigger over here, so we've added some other fun stuff. Most of us are fighting head colds, which at the moment seems to have bypassed the new girls, thankfully.

And then there is the dog. Neither J. nor I slept well last night because we were so hyper-aware of her breathing. When we were getting ready to go to bed last night, Gretel just didn't look good. She is nothing but skin and bones and is eating, but not with her usual healthy appetite. Her breathing is a bit labored due to some fluid around her lungs, and she is quite weak. Every time the dog barks we all rejoice because for a barking dog, she has been eerily silent. We are very worried about her and the vets are completely baffled. So, when we went to bed last night, we were not entirely sure Gretel would still be with us in the morning. We spent the night worrying when we heard her breathing and worrying when we didn't hear her breathing. It's not restful. She made it through the night and this morning, seems a tiny bit better. Emphasis on tiny, but enough to allow me not to watch her constantly. We've started to prepare the children that Gretel is very sick and we just don't know what her future is.

Plus there is the background grief of losing my dad and the planning for heading to Arizona in April and figuring out how we will get college students out there. A. has surgery next week for her knee, giving her the honor of having family surgery number 11. And a man who is very like an uncle to me is in ICU in Arizona. I know you are all jealous and just wish you, too, could have this much fun.

But life goes on and a houseful of discombobulated AND unoccupied children would not help things a bit. So, this morning I headed upstairs and raided my craft area for something... anything... that I thought this group of children could manage, would keep them occupied for more than a few minutes, and that wouldn't be too labor intensive for me given my head cold and level of general fatigue. That wasn't too much to hope for, was it?

Enter a huge package of foam sheets that I had bought for school last year, but then never got to the project I had planned. It seemed like some good start. Then I found a site that had a bunch of free, printable templates for various flower and animals, that were actually easy to print. I printed a selection for them to use if they wanted, got out some scissors, and glue sticks and let them go at it.

It was actually a huge hit. Some people used the templates, others just made up their own creations. I knew my usual people wouldn't have much trouble occupying themselves with the craft supplies, but I had no idea about my new girls. Y. once I helped her a bit, quickly figured out what was what and ventured out into her own territory after having made a flower using the template. R. had an impromptu scissor-usage-coaching session. She cut and then together we eventually made a mosaic-type picture with the scraps. She really enjoys coloring, I'm not sure she really saw the point of our multi-media creating this morning.

I didn't get pictures of everything, but here are a few that I did.

TM's... though I don't think flowers should have quite so many eyes.

Y.'s... The flower was part of the template, and then she added the corner decorations and the grass.

D.'s... Who went off to find a piece of scrap matboard so that he could create an entire Pacman game with his creations.


Will it surprise anyone to hear that K. made vehicles? A police car, a fire truck, and our van pulling out trailer.

Of course, creativity and occupied children does come with a small cost. Here is the aftermath of the morning's activities. But, the children all helped clear it up while I made some lunch.

So far, today is already better than yesterday was. Here's to hoping that the nadir of adjustment has been passed and we are on our way upwards.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The reality of reality

Other than the jet lag, the downside of coming home is scheduling doctor's appointments, which is what took up most of the morning and involved both me and J. Among our accomplishments...

  • Scheduling basic physicals with the pediatrician, which involved creating two new charts and having the familiar discussion of why I need an interpreter present when my English is so good.
  • Beginning the search for a new neurologist who a) has experience with linear nevus sebaceous syndrome and b) whom I can work with. (The translation of that is, a doctor who will actually listen to me and not discount my not-so-crackpot ideas.)
  • Starting to schedule the next round of treatment for K. and his clefting
  • Taking A. to the orthopedic surgeon and scheduling arthroscopic surgery to fix the torn cartilage in her knee.
Next week will be a lot of fun. 

And as not-interesting as all of this is, trust me when I say, it makes far better reading than a blow-by-blow account of the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day that has been happening here. I'll leave it at, settling into a new reality is difficult for all parties and the fatigue of the new is starting to kick-in in full force. 

Is it bedtime yet?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Books make everything better... or making new friends at the library

We successfully navigated the library for the first time yesterday. This was no small feat and our travelling circus now seems to draw even more attention. Probably this is due in no small part to the fact that we have added one child who likes to shout, "I love you!" at random strangers and another who uses a walker. (An aside... the walker we are borrowing from a friend has been great. Y. obviously knew what it was and while she doesn't want to use it in the house, she used it without a complaint for a trip out. It gives just the right amount of stability so that she can be pretty independent. And even with our very short trip with it, I am hyper-aware of people's reactions. I'm sure this will turn into a blog post at some point.) Of course, there were also the nine children I had in tow which was probably a factor as well, though most of the staff at the library are used to us. To their credit, not one of them batted an eye that I had a couple extra this time.

My experienced library users took themselves off immediately to their favorite sections to search for their favorite books. There are some books we check out with such regularity that I'm pretty sure they spend more time on our shelves than on the library's. I took the new girls with me and went in search of Mandarin picture books for Y. There are a lot of Mandarin speakers who use our library due to its proximity to Northwestern University. Many Chinese students come to NU as visiting scholars, often bringing grandparents with them to watch their children. The library is a favorite destination for these grandparents and grandchildren. Because of this, I was correct that there were children's books in Mandarin, and Y. was happy to pick some out.

Now came the tricky part. How do you communicate to your non-English speaking child that these are library books, and that while we can take them home, we will also be bringing them back after a while. My tiny Mandarin vocabulary does not stretch to the level of communication. At this moment, I realized that I have become a different person. In college, I so detested speaking to people I didn't know that I would actually take a lower grade rather than speak in class. Shy doesn't even begin to describe me at that point in my life. These days I constantly surprise myself. Yesterday's incident was when I saw Chinese man who was at the library with his toddler daughter and I walk up and ask if he speaks English... in Mandarin (one of the very few things I can ask.) He says yes, and I introduce him to Y. Well, let's just say his English was not as fluent as my Mandarin. Eventually, with the aid of the translator app on his phone, I think he figured out that I wanted him to describe how libraries work to Y. At least he spent a long time telling her something...

I leave the Y. and R. looking at books in the care of older children and go take care of a little more library business. When I return, our new Chinese friend is talking to Y. again. He is very excited when he sees me and comes over to double check that Y. is from Urumqi. I say yes and he says he is from Urumqi as well. With the aid of the phone, we decide that the next time we are going to be at the library, I will email him so that he can bring his wife (who really does speak English) and we can meet at the library again. We have made a new friend.

One reason he was so interested in meeting with us again is that we did baffle him a bit. (Heck, we baffle fellow Americans much of the time as well. I'm used to it.) Eventually, he managed to ask, indicating Y. and R., "Why?" When I answered, "JeSu ai wo. Wo ai ni men/Jesus love me. I love them," (in some combination of Mandarin and English, though I'd like to leave the impression that I was confident enough to use only Mandarin), he paused, thought for a bit, and replied, "Now I understand."

Probably one of our more eventful library outings.

And once again, I am overwhelmed at how right Y. is for our family. You know that bedtimes have been extremely difficult for her. Well last night, she was looking at one of her library books when it was time to head for bed. She wasn't thrilled about it, and continued to hold onto her book. As I tucked the other girls into bed, she continued to look at her book. When it was her turn, I tucked her in and she clearly was gesturing if she could keep the book. I said yes, and after looking a little surprised, happily went back to her book. A little later, H. told me this morning, Y. was ready to close her book, so H. got a bookmark for her. If books comfort this little one, then she has landed in the right spot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

It's more fun to talk about food than grief

Well, you know the old saying, "Pride goeth before a fall"? That was me last night. In my last post, I sounded pretty darn chipper about they way R. was processing her grief. Yesterday, after spending some time looking at her photo books that her foster mother had made for her, it hit full force. Night times are hard. When you are tired, it is more difficult to hold your emotions in check, and often it is when you miss that special person the most because they are one who tucked you in and made you feel safe. Last night J. and I were comforting two grieving children as they worked through the magnitude of their loss.

Grief is hard and doesn't make for terribly entertaining reading. While we are over here dealing with grief, you don't need to continually read about it. Instead, why don't we talk about food? I meant to write a post about food in China, but never got around to it. Here it is, just a little late.

Since food is one of the necessities of life, it is one of those things one thinks about a lot when travelling, especially because you can't take your kitchen with you. Deciding where and what to eat for each meal becomes one of those things that take a lot of brain space. This is doubly true when travelling in another country with a very different cuisine and language. Each meal becomes a little mini-adventure. When you throw in how food is tied in with our emotions and feelings of well-being, then it add even more pressure to the daily challenges of eating.

Breakfast in China, especially when staying at the fancy-schmancy hotels we had to, is the easy part. Vast breakfast buffets are a big deal and you can find just about anything your heart and palate desire. It is really an obscene amount of food that is placed at your disposal. J. enjoys trying new things and made good use of the various buffet selections. He even tried smoked horse intestine at one hotel. For me, while I'm willing to try new things at other times of the day, breakfast does not find me at my most adventurous. My ideal breakfast is good, strong coffee and a brioche with butter and jam. Outside of France, brioche are a little difficult to come by, so I will also be quite content with a good croissant. This was my breakfast for three weeks. I never really tire of it and my only complaint is that the Chinese do not seem to really understand coffee addiction. It always took a little effort to track down a server to get my cup refilled. R. and Y. seemed to get the most out of the breakfast buffet. They had noodles and congee and eggs and lotus root and fruit every morning, but the favorite item for both of them was the sauteed green beans. Both girls really like green vegetables.

And then come the other meals. The meals not included in your room package. The meals you have to go out and find yourself. There are always three different choices. First there are the hotel restaurants. This is rarely our choice since they are always overpriced and usually pretty mediocre. It is easy, though. There is English on the menu and bilingual serving staff, plus you don't need to go outside. Second, are the ubiquitous American fast food chain restaurants which are everywhere... KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut. It is the rare place that doesn't have at least one of these close by. Sometimes we would choose this option, even though the only time we consider eating in them at home is when we are travelling on turnpikes and have little choice. We chose them because they were easy. Usually they were close, we knew what the menu was, and it took little effort to obtain food. On some days, you don't have the emotional energy to deal with more unfamiliar things and you just need easy.

The third option is to go out and find a restaurant nearby. This was usually our favorite option. The food is usually quite good and pretty inexpensive and it just feels more real. The other two options always felt a bit like cheating. It is a bit more effort, though. We ordered more than a few meals by looking at pictures on a menu and pointing, never being quite sure at what we would get. Rarely, though, did we end up with something we just couldn't eat, and we have decided that R. and Y. are right in loving lotus root. It's pretty good. In one restaurant (one we chose only because it smelled good as we walked by and many people were eating in it), the pictures and menu printed on the wall was a bit washed out and we couldn't really tell what things were. In that case, we looked around at what other people were eating, chose a few dishes that looked good and ordered by pointing to what they were having. Part of the effort involved in eating out is coming to terms with the fact that you will stand out, you are clueless, everyone else knows your clueless, and accepting that you just have to go with it.

One interesting thing is that this time we ended up eating in quite a few Muslim restaurants. This was especially true in Urumqi which has a fairly large Muslim population. In talking with our guide, Muslim restaurants are very popular with the Han Chinese. They are good, tend to be clean, and everyone trusts their meat. We also ended up in one in Guangzhou. (It was the one that smelled so good we stopped in.) It was doing a booming business and the food was very good. We kind of wished we had found it a bit earlier in our stay. I don't remember being as aware of this when we were there four years ago. Just an interesting bit of trivia for you.

I also happen to think it is a very good thing for adoptive parents to have to experience the uncertainty of what food you are getting, wondering if you will like it, and adjusting your tastes to vaguely unfamiliar ones. Plus, it is important to experience that mild longing for something familiar and the vague discontent with the current options, because this is what our new children will experience once they are home. It will be a long while before they are truly comfortable with the food options available.

We've had a lot of rice around here the past four days and it is what Y. has been most happy with. (R. is a more adventurous eater and I think has been exposed to a wider variety of foods than Y. was.) We have found one thing in our Western kitchen that appeals to Y. Ketchup. She love ketchup. For the past few days, at least once or twice a day, her food of choice has been a ketchup sandwich. Are you familiar with the book, Mrs. Pig's Bulk Buy? It is the story of a mother pig who, tired of her children always wanting more ketchup, buys a huge amount of the stuff and feeds it to them for every meal. In one scene she is heating it up as soup for them; I'm almost tempted to try it myself. Anyway, the ketchup sandwich is amusing me and will probably be one of those things I miss a little bit once she is able to become a little more adventurous.

Today is J.'s first day back at work, and to fill in the afternoon a bit, I think we are going to try heading to the library. This could either be a terrific idea on my part, or a disaster of epic proportions in the making. I'm hoping it's the former rather than the latter.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Not the mama... at least the right one.

I'm happy to report that J. and TM made it back from Iowa yesterday and we are all together again. A very good friend offered to do the driving so J. didn't have to in his exhausted state. The jet lag has been rotten this time around. Even after waking up in the morning I feel tired, my brain is pretty darn fuzzy, and I'm not even hungry at the right times. About the only thing I've been able to focus on (besides children) is working on the laundry. The last two days have pretty much gone like this. Take some time waking up, get children fed, put in a load of laundry, sit down and stair vacantly into space for a while, read a story to a child, move laundry, stare vacantly, play a game with a child, move laundry, fall completely sound asleep, struggle to wake up, move laundry, etc., etc. Good times.

For the most part, the girls are both doing well. They seem to love their new brothers and sisters and the feeling is mutual. This is especially true of H. and R. I had hoped that they would hit it off and understand each other as no one else could, and I think that is going to be the case. When they first met at the airport, they stared at each other a moment, smiled, said hi, and joined hands. It was sweet.

This is picture that J. took tonight after dinner. Interestingly, we all have a new and profound appreciation for the huge (enormous... gigantic... ) gains that H. has made in the past four years. When you live with someone day in and day out, it is easy to forget how things were, and even if that person is making slow but steady progress, you don't always notice it right away. Enter R. In many ways, though she is very much her own person, she shares many of the same traits and behaviors that H. did when she first arrived home. I am more aware than ever now at how very present and participatory H. is in life. She has an awareness of things around her, opinions of her own, appropriate and real emotions that she shares. It was all there before we left, but I see it so much more clearly now. I've spent a lot of the past couple of days just smiling and hugging her because I am so excited for her. She has already proved to be extremely helpful in being able to figure out what R. is telling us. I'm pretty sure she does not remember a lot of Mandarin, but she seems to 'get' R. like no one else does. It makes me so happy that these two girls will have each other from now on.

We haven't seen a lot of typical grieving on R.'s part, but I wasn't really expecting it. What we have seen, though, is her version of it, which I take just as seriously. She has spent a lot of time asking where her foster mother is. She knew she was getting a new Mama, but I'm not sure she really caught the part where she wouldn't be with the old one anymore. I'm thrilled that we are in contact with her foster family so I can show her photos and we can send messages back and forth.

Y. has had a slightly more difficult transition. Yesterday was tough on her to begin with because J. was (inexplicably to her) gone all day and still wasn't home at bedtime. To top it off, she fell down some stairs yesterday and really banged up her face. She will be fine, but it hurt and she has some bruised and raw places on her nose and cheek. Plus, she really, really doesn't like the way her injuries look. Bedtime for the past three weeks had been a little tough on her, but the past two nights have been really hard. There is no easy road around the grieving and it is gut wrenching to listen to your child cry for her foster mother (to her, her real mother) for over an hour while you rock her. It is necessary and appropriate and hard. Just hard.

And for me, there is still the unfinished grieving on my part for my father. Being in China, it was easy to compartmentalize my life a bit. Everything was different, there were a lot of demands on my time and attention, there was nothing there to remind me. That's not the case here. I have my own grieving work to go through. And I appreciate the hard road I'm asking my daughters to walk in a very tangible way.

Having arrived home from a major trip, we are now beginning to work out the details to get everyone to Arizona for the memorial service. (For my friends out there, it's April 9. Contact me if you want more details.) It's no small feat to get this circus on the road for a 2000 mile trip. And once again, we will be driving cross-country with our newly adopted children. I don't think we've had an adoption yet that didn't require a major road trip after we arrived home.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Home Sweet Home

After approximately 24 hours of travelling we have made it home. It was quite the welcome, but before I go there, I need to go back a day and fill you in on all the gruesome details.

Since the most economical flights tend to all leave out of Hong Kong, there is a whole system in place where vans pick you up from your hotel in Guangzhou and drive you two hours south to Hong Kong and drop you off directly at the airport. For a family travelling with not-entirely-mobile children, this seemed like a much easier option than taking the train and having to navigate luggage and cabs and so forth. And in theory, it is, depending on your driver. We evidently drew the short straw this morning. (Yesterday morning? Time can be so tricky.) There were moments when J. and I were both utterly convinced that we were not going to end up in Hong Kong alive. And we pretty relaxed travelers, not easily freaked-out by non-Western driving practices.

The game changes, though, when you realize your driver is falling asleep at the wheel and your first real indication is the large truck which your driver narrowly (like really turning the wheel at the last possible moment) misses. He did stop for some Red Bull, "For safety," he said. J. and I started having very loud conversations about literally nothing in the back seat, while J. contemplated asking to take over at the wheel an I contemplated dope-slapping him on the back of the head every minute or so. To top it off, we managed to get in a crazy-long hold-up at the immigration stop between mainland China and Hong Kong. I'm pretty sure it was over an hour we inched our way forward. And then there was the accident on the road once we were in Hong Kong which slowed us down even more. It took us four hours in that van with the crazy driver (whom I had taken an inordinate dislike to) to get to the airport. It should have only taken us two.

As time ticked on, J. and I were individually doing the time checks in our heads. Our flight was due to leave at 11:10. We needed to check our bags, go through security, and get to the gate in time to board (and not lose our seats). If any of you has actually flown through the Hong Kong airport, you will understand why we were increasingly nervous about making our plane. The airport is enormous. I would not be surprised to hear that it is larger than some of our smaller states. I mean it has over 500 gates. To get to our gate, a lower number... a mere 65... we had four escalator rides, one train ride, and one moving sidewalk.

We are almost ready to laugh about it now, but we looked like the crazy family. J. had Y. on his back, I was carrying many coats and bags, and P. had two backpacks plus R. by the hand so she would keep up and we wouldn't lose her. I'm not sure J.'s back and shoulders will ever be the same from the panicked sprint.

But we made it. Barely. We arrived at the gate after the call to line up had been announced. We did our documents check, got in line for five minutes, and then boarded the plane. It was not a six hours than either of us ever want to repeat.

The plane ride was pleasantly uneventful. (And for those keeping score, there were only five lavatory visits.) Fourteen hours is just a long time on a plane and flying east, the jet lag is rough. But, it was so good to be home. We were greeted by our family and friends (we were sadly only missing TM who will get picked-up tomorrow.) It was quite a crowd of some of our very closest friends who were there and brought our children as well. Seeing all those beloved faces made the past 24 hours worth every single misery.

We arrived to a clean house, food in the refrigerator, and dinner ready when we were, all thanks to family and friends. The dog is still alive, and may be improving, and the cat is thrilled to have P. back and P. is thrilled to have her cat. R. and Y. seem to be doing OK. It's a big transition and now their really hard work starts.

Thanks to everyone for praying for us and helping us and our children as we brought these two new daughters home. It is the ending of one great adventure and the beginning of a brand-new one.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Ending on a high note... or continuing our tour of China's dead people

On our last day in China we spent a leisurely morning. We were slow to wake, took our time at breakfast, and just relaxed. It will be a stark contrast to tomorrow morning when the alarm goes off at 4:15 am. After lunch, we decided to get out and do something, so opted to head around the corner to a museum which is very close to our hotel and by which we have walked dozens of times between this trip and the last.

Well, we should have visited it sooner. It turns out to be the "The Museum of the Nanyue King of Western Han Dynasty". (Their translation, not mine.) Essentially, in the early 80's, when a mountain was being leveled to build apartments, they uncovered a tomb from the Han Dynasty, c. 120 BC. It was a multi-chambered king's tomb, complete with king, concubines, treasure, and human sacrifices. The unusual part is that they left the tomb where it was and built an entire museum right over the top of it... and you can walk right in! How cool is that? Also, it's just a beautiful museum and very well done. Even better? Adults were just $2 per person to get in and children under 18 were free.

Some pictures:

The entrance hall

The view from outside of the enclosed tomb area

Stairs going down into the tomb itself

J. and children in one of the side chambers

I won't show you every picture, but this is too amusing to pass by. If you can't read it, it says, "Remains of (name) a concubine," and pretty much it looks like a pile of dirt. P. is convinced that's all it is.

The view of the tomb area from above

But wait, there's more. The treasure portion is housed in a separate building.

This is part of the king's sarcophagus (my term, not theirs). Same difference, though.

This was the king's burial covering. It is even more impressive when you look closely and realize that each of those green sections is a piece of jade sewn together with silk. It is comprised of over 2200 individual pieces of jade. Oh, and he was buried with a pearl-filled pillow and with a bag of pearls in his mouth.

One last item before we move on. This is part of a crossbow that was one of a dozen found in the tomb. Some of them had a gear mechanism which shot the arrows farther. Remember the tomb dates from ~120 BC.

Once again, I'm quite sure that J. and I enjoyed the museum far more than the girls. They'll appreciate that they were there some day. After the museum it was time to head back and pick-up the little items that were the sole reason we were in Guangzhou at all. Here they are... nice little visas in their passports that will allow them to enter the US and become citizens upon landing.


We ended the day with a very nice dinner at an Italian restaurant with two other families from our travel group. It was certainly the fanciest dinner we've had in the past three weeks and it was the perfect way to end our time here.

Adoption travel is exhausting and sometimes overwhelming, but we have also had a wonderful time. Our new daughters are amazing and fantastic, and we have made quite a few new friends on this trip. Never before have we been treated to so many wonderful meals by so many wonderful people. Thanks to every single one of you, if you are reading.

Our bags are nearly all packed, though I hope they hold together. At 5:30 we will leave Guangzhou for a two hour or so van ride over to Hong Kong. Once there, we will catch our direct flight home to Chicago. The next time I check in with all of you, it will be from home! R. is just excited to go on another airplane, while Y. can tell something is up and about to change in a major way. She's been a little on edge today. We'll just keep them moving in the morning until we get to the plane, and then they can crash again. Well, except for the multiple trips I will be taking to the lavatories. Anyone want to start a pool as to how many times I will make that trip over the course of 14 hours?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

All we have left to do is wait

This morning, bright and early, was our consulate appointment where we officially applied for R.'s and Y.'s US visas so they can enter the US and become citizens. After all the paperwork we have filled out and sent in, it is more of a formality than anything, but you still need to make sure all the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted. Ours were and after J. had his fingerprints scanned yet one more time, the official behind the window said, "Congratulations! You can pick up your visas tomorrow." Actually our guides will be picking them up, so other than meeting with them to collect the documents, we're done. After over a year of working to bring these girls home, I can hardly believe we have reached this point.

Just for fun, I bought the girls matching dresses for the occasion.

You'll notice that suddenly the shoes are a big hit.

When we arrived back at the hotel, it was time to do group photographs. There was a lot of waiting around for everyone to gather, and so Y. grabbed the camera.

First we did individual families.

And then photos of the entire group.

Finally, one of the children who had been newly adopted.

With the realization that we were leaving in less than 48 hours, came the sudden panic of needing to pick up some gifts. The afternoon was spent shopping. One of the places we like to visit is the pearl market. Other than it is just cool, we give our daughters a strand of pearls on a major birthday, and well, we have two new girls and I needed supplies.

This place is truly amazing. It is stall after stall of pearls (or amber or jade or various other precious stones.) Do you see all of those bags on the shelves? They are filled with pearls of varying sizes and colors. You pick the strand you want and then while you wait, the staff turns it into a necklace (or bracelet or earrings.) The pearls are hand knotted onto cord and then you choose which findings (fastenings) you want and then they are attached. I find them all so beautiful and fascinating, it is good I come here with J. to keep me sane and so I do not spend buckets of money on a suitcase full of pearls.

Our shopping is done. Our paperwork is done. And we are definitely done with living in hotels. P. is really, really done with eating in restaurants. Tomorrow is our last day. The weather is really not cooperating, so our plan of going to either the safari park or the zoo is out. Neither would be fun in fifty degree drizzle. I think we'll have a leisurely morning and then try out a museum of ancient Chinese history which is down the street from us. (It's inside!) Oh, and we need to figure out how everything is going to fit back in the suitcases. The situation is even more dire than it was leaving Zhengzhou.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

And we still haven't found the statue of the five goats

There is a lovely park across the street from our hotel and we thought it would be an easy morning to go walk around in it. There is supposed to be a fairly well-known statue of five goats and the last time we were here, we spent a long time walking around looking for it and never did. Well, we didn't find it this time, either.

The weeks of travelling have begun to take their toll on these girls and both of them had complete and total meltdowns in the park. We ended up with J. carting R. out on his back and P. carting Y. It was not our most successful of outings. 

Here are some pictures I got before our little nuclear reactors went off-line. Since the lunar new year is very soon, everyone is getting ready for it. There is evidently going to be some huge doings in this park because we saw huge amounts of decorations being constructed. I kind of wish we could see it.

I also continue to appreciate the degree to which the Chinese people make use of their parks. There are groups of dancers or people doing tai chi. People playing games. And this group of musicians who had set up shop and were playing traditional Chinese music.

We managed to get the girls back, gave them some lunch, and then they rested. Life was much better after that. They went to the outside play area and blew some bubbles for a while, while I waited in the room to hear the results of their TB tests from yesterday. They were both negative, so no chest x-rays needed. Hooray!

This evening we had dinner with some families from our travel group at a restaurant that serves food from Macau. Macau was a Portuguese colony and their food is a mixture of Chinese and Portuguese... it was very good.

At bedtime, J. happened to be looking at a science article that included a clip of Glenn Gould playing piano. Y. became transfixed. Utterly and completely transfixed. So, we looked up other pianist playing on You Tube. She sat through a Bach prelude, a Mozart sonata, and a Rachmaninoff concerto and complained when we wouldn't show her any more. She watched intently, sometimes clapping if something really appealed to her, and sometimes moving her head to the music. Every so often she would point to herself and then point to the picture of the piano. She is an unusual child.

Truly, though, do you want to hear my best part of the day? Y. has not really wanted to have very much to do with me over the past couple of weeks. She will take me in a pinch, but it is grudging and she much prefers J. and P. I seem to be a tolerated nuisance. As a result, I've been keeping my distance and trying to only have positive interactions with her. Well, multiple times today this child has come to seek me out and give me a hug. Tonight she kissed me on the cheek when I tucked her in. I cannot even begin to tell you how happy this makes me.

R. seems to be over the worst of the effects from the impending seizure and we did catch it in time. She definitely improved over the course of the day and was back to being her sunny self by dinner time. J. and I agreed that the emergency drugs are riding with us in our carry-on for the ride home.

Tomorrow morning we must be in the hotel lobby at 7:30 am (gah!) to go to the US Consulate for the girls' visa interviews and the oath. It is the last step of a very long process. The count down until we can come home is starting.

Oh, and in the continuing saga that is Gretel's existence, whatever all of you are praying, keep it up, as it seems to be working. She had some more tests done, and though her platelet counts are low, she does not seem to have other terribly dire things wrong with her. The vet (who has been wonderful and has been keep five different people, all with different email addresses in the loop) is now thinking that it is a tick born illness and has given her some strong antibiotics to see if they can knock it out of her. Pray that these drugs will (finally) do the trick and we can stop worrying about the dog on top of everything else!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Two little fish eat hummus in China

The morning was spent doing the visa physical.

There is not much I want to say about it except, sadly, it was very nearly an exact repeat of our experience here with H. four years ago. If you are really dying to know more, I'll just send you to the post I wrote back then. Substitute R.'s initial for H.'s and you'll get the idea. That horrible sound you heard? That was me grinding my teeth in fury. Oh, and I came close to wanting to make use of this handy vending machine in the lobby of the clinic.

Can you see what this is? It is a liquor vending machine... full bottles of wine and Jack Daniels. It was so very odd.

But we got all the medical paperwork signed and made it back. We picked up P. from the room and found some lunch and then spent some time resting. (P. didn't want to come to the visa physical appointment. Can't imagine why not... ) Resting was desperately needed by everyone. Eventually we thought a visit to the pool might be in order. First we showed the girls the pool and both seemed very interested, so went to put on swimming suits. I have no idea if either of them had ever been in a pool before, but they both adored it and didn't want to leave. Look at the smiles in these pictures.

But don't worry, we were careful and didn't dive. I'm not sure where our juries are, but we certainly didn't want to be crippled in them.

The day ended with dinner at a nearby Middle Eastern restaurant. You know, because when you're in China, the very first thing you think of is, "Gee, I bet I'll get some really good hummus and baba ghanoush when I'm there," yet it was really very, very good. J., P., and I enjoyed it immensely, and P. was particularly thrilled to not be eating noodles. R. and Y. tried some and while there were a couple of things they ate, I wouldn't say they loved anything. Well, except the French fries. They loved the French fries.

The girls are both getting along much better these days. More than a few times we have noticed them giggling together. R. can still annoy Y., but Y. is much more patient about it than before. It is good to watch.

To continue to be truthful with my blogging, I also have to tell you that this post was written in bits and pieces in between comforting R. She had what seemed to be the beginnings of a seizure, which for her are really not great. Thankfully, she does have an aura that she can tell us about and we were able to get the rescue medicine into her before things progressed too far. (An aura is some sort of physical indication that people who experience seizures can have as an early warning that one is imminent. H. does not seem to have any auras as far as we can tell, but in comparison to R., her seizures are extremely mild.) We are also thankful once again for the excellent preparation we had from all of R.'s care givers in advance of adopting her. This would have been 1000 times worse without that. She is now resting, so I hope things will remain calm.

These girls are both such treasures and I am pretty darn in love with them. I cannot wait for them to meet everyone at home and for everyone at home to meet them. Friday is going to be a great day. Well, the part of Friday where we arrive at home, not the part of Friday that drags on and on while we sit on an airplane. Three more days until we head home!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Off the beaten path for a while before being loaded on the roller coaster once again

(You'll understand if the first part of this post needs to be a little circumspect.)

There were no stained glass windows, no organ, no pews filled with many people, nor and understood (to us) language, but there was a somewhat bare room in someone's apartment building, some folding chairs, a guitar, and enough people. On the outside the two places couldn't have been more different, but in many ways they were very much the same. The same text, the same love, the same God. It was a wonderful experience, even if we didn't exactly understand everything that was said. When you are brothers and sisters in spirit, there is a commonality that transcends language. We made some good new friends, were given an extravagant lunch, and even spent some time discussing various educational options, particularly the one we have happened to choose. And once again, what I thought I knew about this country has been turned on its head. This group had children... many children. I spent time visiting with parents of three, sometimes more, children.

There is also an urgency to their message that I'm afraid we do not have in our comfortable Western existence. I was humbled that I couldn't say I had met someone at a bookstore and brought that person with me on a Sunday morning, which is one of the stories we heard. I was also frustrated that I couldn't speak more of the language so that I could dismiss the need of a translator to really chat with people. Stories were told, emails were shared, and we left reluctantly.

But leave we must because we were due back for a paperwork session to prepare for the girls' visa physicals in the morning. Traffic here is Guangzhou is fairly nightmarish as far as slowness and congestion. We barely squeaked back in time. Thus I was already feeling a little rushed and discombobulated when I sat down to work on paperwork. This feeling did not improve on discovering I left some important papers at home which we will need tomorrow morning. I think we have R.'s all taken care of now, but B. and A. will awake to multiple frantic messages that will require instant action on their part. Assuming technology doesn't fail us, I think we will be OK, though in terms of general stress it is ranking right up there with realizing we brought the wrong passports to the airport. Consider it a gift from me to you, my readers, so I can give my little narrative just the right amount of dramatic tension. Even-keeled happiness just doesn't make for interesting reading, Tolstoy said so. Well, not in so many words, but the gist was the same.

We also woke to news this morning that Gretel seems to be going downhill again with what seems to be the same illness that she had before Thanksgiving. Pray she improves because I hate to saddle M., B., and A. with decisions they would rather not have responsibility for, and because truthfully, the well is dry. Very, very dry.

Fatigue and an over abundance of emotion are starting to take their toll on all of us, and it will be good to go home and rest and regroup and have everyone together again. But J. and I are both torn. We love traveling and love meeting new people and seeing new things. We want to enjoy every minute of the time we have available to do those things. It's been an amazing journey so far.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

An inauspicious welcome

We have arrived in Guangzhou. If I were feeling nice, I would leave it at that. I am not feeling nice. Evidently, the change of venue from province to Guangzhou for the visa paperwork is my own personal nadir in the adoption travel schedule.

I was really hoping it would be different this time. Our flight didn't leave at the crack of dawn, it wasn't delayed into Guangzhou (a minor miracle), and we were arriving in the middle of the day. We were set-up for it being a pretty smooth transition. Except...

This is probably not news to anyone, but China is not set-up as a country that makes life navigable for people with mobility issues. I was thrilled when we left Zhengzhou and actually were able to make use of a jet way to board the airplane. This was a marked improvement over the typical way of boarding aircraft here, which is get on a crowded bus with approximately five seats and take a ride out to the middle of the tarmac where you climb metal stairs to board. Often, when planes arrive at a terminal, we've also had a jet way, so I thought we were set. I got my hopes up too soon. No, this time, we arrived (possibly in Hong Kong and taxied back to Guangzhou) and stopped on the tarmac. This meant we had to descend the metal stairs and enter a bus to take us to the terminal. Now, while a pain, this is really not a problem if you are able bodied. Traveling with my two new daughters makes this far more a circus than it needs to be. J. was carrying most of the carry-on bags, and I had Y. by the hand with R. right behind me. This meant that we spent what seemed forever as I walked behind Y. holding her hand to keep her steady and to stop her from plummeting down the stairs if her legs suddenly buckled, while encouraging R. to keep moving and not just come to a dead stop and refuse to move. Like H. when we adopted her, R. seems to have some significant issues with depth perception. This makes doing things such as going down metal stairs that feel treacherous to begin with, feel really, really scary. R. tends to freeze when things feel scary. I was holding Y.'s hand, so I couldn't hold R.'s. It took us a long time to get down those stairs, with nearly the entire plane waiting behind us.

The bus was then navigated and we made it to the terminal without a disaster happening. Add in collecting luggage and helping two vaguely disregulated girls in the restroom with only Asian toilets, and I was wiped out even before we finally boarded the bus to get to the hotel. I was looking forward to getting to our room, settling in, heading down to the less-expensive hotel restaurant for dinner. (We had lunch on the plane, with breakfast hours earlier, but well, it was plane food.) We were hungry and tired. And trust me, things don't look so rosy when everyone is hungry and tired.

This could explain why my loathing of the Marriot China Hotel continues to know no bounds. It is a very nice looking hotel. Five stars, looks impressive, employs more people than some small countries... a pretty typical five-star hotel. (And I apologize if this sounds like sour grapes.) But, if you are an adopting family(or any family), it really kind of sucks. (Yes, you can tell by my language exactly how unhappy I am.) The rooms are pretty small, you are nickel-and-dimed for everything, despite the steep price tag, and we had to spend the first half an hour informing the front desk of everything that wasn't working. Most got resolved... the safe now works and there is a roll-away squeezed into the last empty space, but the sink still drains more slowly than the price tag warrants and some of the charging outlets still don't work.

Well, we got all that settled, squirreled the bags away in every available nook and cranny, and decided to take our overly tired and hungry children down to the restaurant. A pretty average-for-the-price and the only affordable restaurant in the hotel. (Did I mention it was now raining?) Except when we get there, we are told, rather rudely, that there are no more tables available. We can't eat there.

Just. Great.

I'll just spare you all the drama and end this sad saga by saying for the second visit to Guangzhou in a row, we have eaten McDonald's (which is not even a place we go to in the US, much less want to eat in China)for a late dinner in grumpy, grouchy moods in our hotel room. There are some other things that have made me tetchy, but this isn't the venue for them. I'll leave it at I'm just not good at top-down directions and schedules.

Tomorrow will be another day and we will sort ourselves out again. It's not a city that has over-done the welcome, though.

On another note, we have noticed that when Y. helps to push the luggage carts, she is far more stable and can go a lot faster than when she is trying to walk on her own. It makes us think that until we get her seen by the appropriate doctors and get her the appropriate braces and such, that a pediatric walker could make getting around outside the house so much easier for her. Do any of you, my faithful readers, have a pediatric walker just kicking around your house that we could borrow for a bit? Or know of where we could borrow one?

I'm going to stop here and go to bed now, and spare you all having to endure anymore of my bad mood.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

(The first of a couple of bonus posts. There's not a lot to do in a hotel room while people sleep. I guess I fill my time by writing.)

One of the most difficult things about adoption travel is that usually not everyone in the family gets to go. This means that to bring home your new child (or children) you have to say good-bye to your other children for weeks at a time. It kind of stinks. A lot.

This trip, we have children spread out hither and thither, making it that much more difficult to check-in with and keep track of them all. TM is with my brother and sister-in-law in Iowa at their farm. M. is at her apartment and opening up another show, thus requiring her to spend endless hours on public transportation gathering props. B. and A. are holding down the fort at home. H., D., K., G., and L. are staying at our very, very good friends' house. My inner sheep dog is not happy.

We do talk to them all fairly frequently via Facetime or Skype, but the time change and internet access makes this challenging at times. For the most part, everyone is doing alright. I think B. and A. have had the most excitement. At one point we received a message from A. which essentially informed us that the cat was giving the dog seizures.


This isn't exactly the type of news one wants to get when you are half a world away. So, B. and A. dragged Gretel to the vet so she could have yet more blood work done. And once again, the vet isn't entirely sure what is going on with her. The best guess at the moment is that her episodes (or whatever they are) are not seizures, but that she is fainting. Is that better or worse? I don't know, either. We've been having on-going email conversations with the vet for the past couple of days. We do know that neither animal is entirely happy with so few people to interact with.

B. and A. also got to argue with hospital staff one afternoon. That would be a people hospital and not an animal hospital. A. has been having some trouble with her knee and hip since last summer and I had scheduled an MRI for her while we were gone. (This despite the fact that I've told everyone that two surgeries on M.'s knee used up the family quota and that no more knee issues were allowed. No one ever listens to me.) Now, it's hard to attend your daughter's MRI if you are an ocean away, so I didn't go along. This did not make the staff happy. Long story short, after 45 minutes A. finally convinced the staff that no, she had never, ever stepped on a pin when she was younger and that there was no metal in her body. MRI done.

TM has been helping with farm chores in extremely cold weather. I think he's enjoying farm life, especially since my brother and his family recently brought home a new little rescued donkey. TM has pronounced him pretty cute. I also think life is a lot quieter there with just two cousins than it usually is at home.

The other littles are hanging in there. I think G. and L. particularly, are having a difficult time, which does break my heart. Bless my friends for coping with their distress. I know that K. and H. have also had some sad days. We'll all need to just loll about at home together for a while and share lots of hugs and stories. It's nice to be able to talk to them and see them over the internet, but what I really want to do is reach out and hug them. If my children weren't half a world away, I could happily continue to be a travelling nomad, staying in one place long enough to learn the language, and then move on. If I could just bring them all with me...

So, that is the state of things at home. Keep my little ones in your prayers as we finish up this last week. I cannot wait to give them all huge hugs and kisses at the airport. One more week.

A subway, a park, two passports, another trip to Walmart, and Chinese take-out: We hit our stride

The day was another free day, and the weather was slightly warmer, the sky was blue and pretty darn clear. See?

We decided to take advantage of it and spend some time outside. There is a park a ways down the road that we visited last time we were here and we knew the girls would love it. We are also in a different hotel than last time, so it was going to be a little bit farther hike. But, we had a new option this time around: the subway! Zhengzhou has changed so much in the last four years, even though we are relatively in the same area, that there is very little that looks the same. A massive building campaign has been going on which includes large, multi-level expressways and a subway system. The first of five lines is completed and conveniently, it runs right along the road where our hotel is. We decided to try it. (This is not actually as adventurous as it sounds since we had already figured out the Guongzhou subway system and the ticket machines have an English option.)

But first, we needed to get ready to go, and this included doing hair. I consider it no small improvement that Y. agreed to let me do her hair for her. I am no hair stylist, but I managed to do this with her super-short haircut.

And then we off. We navigated the subway and arrived at the park. The first thing we came across was an open area where many small children and their parents or grandparents were playing, many of them playing with fancy bubble wands. Y. and R. looked highly interested, so J. went to find the vendor. For 20 cents US, he was able to make the girls' day by giving them their own.

Y. when she realizes that her dad bought her one.

Happy girl


Y. and R. - They've been getting along a little better today.

We also let them ride on some of the little carnival rides which are in the park.



We spent the rest of morning wandering around and enjoying the weather.

A pigeon coop


We found some lunch and meandered back to the hotel. We leave tomorrow for Guongzhou and this means that all the items that exploded out of the suitcase must somehow be crammed back in. We have also acquired more items, so there was a brief moment when we wondered if yet another trip to Walmart was going to be needed to purchase another suitcase. I think we've made it work. I hope. The suitcases are not closed yet, and since they need to be outside our room at 7:30 am, it will be a little too early (or a little too late?) to go get another one. 

The other big news is that R.'s passport was delivered this afternoon. She is set to get her visa and head home. But wait, there's more big news. A half an hour later, we got a phone call that Y.'s visa had just been delivered to the hotel. Hooray! This is a big load off my mind as I wasn't quite sure that Xin Jiang province was quite on board with the need to process her passport quickly. Both girls are now good to go. One huge step down.

To celebrate (and because we needed to), we headed to Walmart. I'm pretty sure our new girls think that our sole purpose for living is to go to Walmart. P. can't figure out why we just can't get everything we need at one time and be done with it. (Hey, don't judge. It's something to do, especially when the weather is rotten.) To entertain herself on our needless (in P.'s opinion) trips to Walmart, she invented a new game. It's kind of like her own little Amazing Race challenge. The store is on two floors, with a funny inclined moving sidewalk that moves people between them. (It's so shoppers can take their grocery carts on it... stair steps, like an escalator, wouldn't work.) Anyway, on either side of the moving walkway are bins with special deals so shoppers can see them and do a little impulse shopping as they ride between floors. P.'s game is to see how many of these items she can return to the correct bin on the ride up or down. Once Y. figured out what P. was doing, Y. decided to add to the challenge by handing yet more items to P. to repatriate. It was pretty hilarious. In fact, it was so hilarious that none of us realized that the end of the moving walkway was coming up and there was a brief pile of ridiculous Americans at the top for a moment. As far as I know no one took any pictures.

After picking up the few things we needed, we stopped at our new favorite take-out food stand. We bought these:

We couldn't read the sign, so the first time we tried it had no idea what it was. It is yummy... and cheap. Five of these set us back 25 RMB. (The exchange rate is currently ~6.2 RMB to the dollar, I'll let you do the math.) We later found out later that they are Chinese hamburgers. The bread on the outside is like a panini while the filling is chopped (not ground) meat with peppers that they grill right there while you wait. 

Now that we've got ourselves sorted out here, it's time to move on. Guangzhou, warmer weather, and many visa-related appointments are soon to come.

(Look for a couple of other posts in the next day or two. There are several other things I want to write about, but to put them all in one long post would be too much, even for me.)
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