Thursday, December 1, 2011

a few of my favorite things

Ok, I couldn't resist starting out with this adorable family couch photo. It's our first good family picture since Hope joined us. Every time I look at this I think there is just too much cuteness to handle. Really? Do I not have the cutest kids ever? I mean, other than your own, that is.

Now, on to my point. I just read this post and it inspired me to join in on the fun. Check out the blog Nesting Place for lots of great gift ideas. I've always wanted to do a link-up party. So here it goes.

Hope and family updates to follow but for now...

Here are a (whole lot of a) few of my favorite things:

1. This is my bedroom. I like it but wanna guess what I'm madly in love with? Hint...the fireplace is "fake". It's really just a mantel with black cardboard covering the opening.See it now?! {Ignore the cord, it's on my list to "hide" this week}
It's this electric fireplace/heater:

Be still my heart. I just bought this last week and am still crazy-giddy about it. I've always loved my "fake fireplace" but this cheap little "fake fireplace/heater" has just upped the fake-ness and loveliness of it all. I saw a similar one on QVC for about twice the cost. I had been thinking about how cute it may look but couldn't justify the price. Plus, I knew it would either look wonderful or just silly. I found this particular unit at Home Depot last weekend. At just under $55, I had to try it. And it is so worth every penny. The fake fire is nice and makes me think I have a real fireplace. And the heating element is actually surprisingly effective for as small and cheap as it is. Our ceilings are vaulted and it still manages to heat the room up in a just a few minutes. It even has a remote. So I turn it on at night when I get in bed and after about 20 minutes of Andy telling me that it's too blazing hot, I turn it off with my remote. He doesn't exactly love the heating part of it. I do. I'm telling you, I love this thing so much I'm picturing one in the basement too. How fun would that be? Watching tv in the basement by fake-firelight? Call me crazy, but I love the idea of it. Does that make me a redneck?

2. Don't make fun of my next item. It really does make me happy. And it is on my top 5 favorite things of all times. For real.

A cheap Scotchbrite mop and an industrial-style spray bottle of vinegar and water. I'll keep this short or I'll really prove myself to be OCD and looney. The short story is that I spent years using those expensive Swiffer Wet Jet pads to clean my laminate wood floors and could not justify spending so much $$ on them. Enter my good friend Angie to save my head from spinning trying to find a solution for clean floors with no streaks. I now clean my floors with a spray bottle in one hand and this mop in another. The floor is dry almost as soon as you mop it so no more waiting around for it to dry. Never any streaks. Cheap as cheap can get. And a little tip if you try this...add a few drops of lavender oil to take away the strong vinegar smell.

3. And one more favorite cleaning thing. I have five kids. I spend a lot of time cleaning. Things like this really do make me happy.

The Shark rechargeable vacuum for carpet and wood/laminate/tile. I don't even know the real name of this but it's the cheapest kind they make. Shark changes the colors and features every few years and usually increases the $$ as well. I use mine at least three times a day in the kitchen all year long. They tend to last about 2-2 1/2 years before the battery goes bad. I have no use for a broom in my kitchen because this does the job of sweeping in less than 1/2 the time and with way less effort. Can not live without this. Any mom would love this. I keep mine charged at all times right next to the trashcan.

4. Next is a coupon-find, well, sort of.

I had coupons for a different brand and loved them. They're basically baby wipes to clean your face. It makes me far less likely to not clean my face at night than if I had to use a washcloth/soap. Call me lazy, but sometimes that can seem too difficult by the time I make it up to my bedroom for the evening. This particular brand of wipes is at The Christmas Tree Shop for just $1.99 for a 60 sheets. The brands in regular stores like Target, Walgreens, etc are more than twice that for just 30 sheets.

5. The next item is a magnetic storage tin. Who couldn't use one of these? Or ten.

Perfect for things like, well, for anything really. I bought a few of these at Bed Bath & Beyond but later discovered that Meijer carries them for cheaper. I fill mine with loose leaf tea and flowers (for my tea). You could put spices in them or office supplies or all kinds of fun things. Super fun organizational tool for any age. My daughter has a few of these in a bigger size for craft stuff and hair accessories.

6. Speaking of tea...

This a clever teapot from Teavana. You put loose leaf tea in it, add hot water, steep and then set the bottom of the pot directly on top of your cup or mug or pitcher. The tea comes out of the bottom of the pot and the tea leaves stay behind in the pot. I use this every week to make a big pitcher of sweet green tea.

7. And one more favorite tea thing

Tea tumblers for those that love loose leaf tea. You put leaves directly in the tumbler and add hot water. There is a mesh "strainer" on top so when you drink it the leaves stay in the tumbler. I love that you can see all the pretty tea leaves floating around. Any tea lover will LOVE this. The one on the left is glass and is from Starbucks and the one on the right is plastic and is from Teas Etc.

8. Ordinary things-turned pretty make great gifts for anyone. $6 or less and it's the perfect gift.

This is much prettier in person. It's a painted glass nightlight from Kirkland's. I could have bought 10 of these and put them in the bathrooms, bedrooms, etc. One can never have too many accent lights, right?

9. Suave Spray Shine

I had a coupon for this Suave Spray Shine. I was hoping I could use this instead of the more expensive one I was using at the time. Not only did I make the change to this Suave brand, I actually like it better than the one that cost more. It makes my fly away hair stay put and makes my color look better. I go through this like water. Love, love, love it!

10. Ok, this very well could be my all time favorite, for real, it's #1 on my list of favorite things

Personalized Coasters {all lined up on my kitchen counter}

I'm not a genius. But I do have rare occasions of genius-ness. Most of my brilliant ideas come from others but not this one. I claim it all as my own. If I had more genius-ness in me I could probably find a way to become a millionaire by selling these to every mom in America. But I'll settle for the pure bliss I get from using them in my own home. I made everyone their own coaster and it is the only place, I'm talking in my mean-mom-you-better-believe-I'm-not-kidding-voice, THE ONLY PLACE that anyone puts a cup other than in front of their plate while eating. With a family of seven, you can imagine how many cups we could go through a day if I allowed everyone to use one and put it in the sink or "lose" it around the house. I made these from cheap tiles from HomeDepot. I ordered everyone's name from Uppercase Living and put the vinyl decals on the tile. That's it. You have to buy the tiles in packs of 12 but even then, I think it was only about $5 for a dozen. The vinyl lettering cost $1 per letter. I get comments on these all the time. Every mom thinks it's the best idea. It is. If I do say so myself.

11. Back to tea. Clearly, if I were really a genius, I'd know how to rearrange these photos into a better order.

I recently discovered Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Chai and was spending way too much on a cup here and there and here and there and. You get the $$ picture. My mom told me about this boxed chai and I now treat myself to a cup of it every morning. Just add milk and it is as yummy as Starbucks. And way less $$. You can find it at Target, Meijer, Kroger, and probably all the grocery stores in the tea aisle. Great cheap gift for just about anyone.

12. Another new find for 2011 is this...

I guess these are called "Hercules Hooks" but I just bought the generic version of them and they work great. I am forever changing furniture around which, in turn, ends up causing a domino effect that ends up leaving me moving around all my wall hangings/pictures. These clever hooks allow you to hang super heavy things without having to use a hammer. Again, call my lazy but to find a hammer AND a nail that is the right size is difficult.

13. Kirkland's Cherry Blossom Light ($39.99 from Kirklands)
I don't know. Maybe this looks silly to some of you but it is seriously one of my newest favorite things. It's an LED lit cherry blossom light and gives off so much light/glow that I use it in my entry way instead of the stark overhead chandelier. I love unexpected lighting and this is just a fun way to add some decorative light. Kirklands now has a red and yellow version too. I'd love the yellow one for my bedroom. (Yes, that is an empty frame. And I'm a bit embarrassed to say it's not the only empty frame I have around the house. At least this one doesn't have random fake-families in it).

14. Framed Menu Board

Can't claim this one as my own idea. I stole it from a friend. All you need is a frame. I bought this black one from Goodwill but had I been smarter I would have used one of the two dozen frames I have sitting around and spray painted it black. A trip to Goodwill seemed easier at the time. You design your own "template" on the computer and print a copy. Just pick a nice font and center "Menu" at the top and the days of the week down the left side. Frame the copy and use a dry-erase marker to write on the glass. So simple. So cute. And {when I keep up to date on using it} it saves me a million and one questions about what's for dinner.

15. Country Blossom's Lip Balm of the Month Club

Lip Balm. I'm addicted to it. For real. I've used the same Blistex Silk & Shine for years. Until now. I recently discovered Country Blossom's Pumpkin Cheesecake lip balm. Homemade lip balm sold on Too many flavors to choose from? Yes, definitely. Solution? Lip Balm of the Month Club (click here). Seriously, how great is that?!!! I thought it was just the perfect gift for someone who loves lip balm. And I could think of no one who would appreciate it more So I signed myself up for the club. Merry Christmas to myself. Some things are just too good to give away. Did I just say that out loud?

16. Young Living's Thieves Spray

This is a great alternative to hand sanitizer which I have always detested. For some reason my hands always feel dirtier after I use that. This, on the otherhand, has a great scent and is the perfect size to keep in your purse or car.

And that, my friends, is my list of favorite things.

Monday, September 5, 2011

there's no place like home

And we made it home. It wasn't a pretty trip {that's the understatement of the decade} but we made it. Shall I even go into the ugly details? Sure. It may very well be the last flight from China we ever take.

We only slept about five hours the night before we left. Not a good start. Should have known then. We drove about 45 minutes to the airport. We checked in. All good. Except it was raining. And so like every single flight that we've ever had in China, the flight was "delayed" which in Chinese can be translated to "You're in for a long wait so get comfy." But to make the wait even longer, let's get you on the plane first and then tell you it's delayed. {Cue memories from two years ago when we sat on the Beijing tarmac for 3 or 4 hours before our 13 hour flight to Chicago.} So this time we end up sitting on the plane for an hour and half or two hours. And thus began my migraine headache. We fly to Hong Kong and barely make our connecting flight to Chicago. We actually had to run to the gate, no bathroom stop, no time to eat lunch or get snacks for the plane or breathe really. I had to carry Hope and run through the airport b/c she decided she didn't want to walk. I arrived to the gate sweating and completely out of breath. Not a great way to begin an 11 and 1/2 hour flight. Not good at all.

We were actually a bit happy when we boarded the plane to Chicago b/c it had individual screens to watch movies. Our flight to China didn't have that and it made the long flight seem 10 times longer. But this time we had a good plane and thought it would make the flight a bit more bearable. Hope, however, thought the screen looked like a toy and began playing with it before Andy and I even sat down. Thus began the 11 and 1/2 hour battle of the tv screen.

I realized after about 20 minutes that my seat was broken. Every time I sat back it shifted into reclining position and every time I moved a bit it would shift back up. It was the window seat which was the one place we wanted to avoid having Hope sit b/c it caused so many problems on our other flights w/her. But there was no choice but to have her sit there. Thus began the battle of the window shade. Up. Down. Up. Down.

We thought we'd plug Hope into the headphones and have her listen to a Chinese Disney movie. Hope broke the headphones within about 1 minute. We pretended it didn't matter and hoped she wouldn't notice. We tried to get the Chinese language to come up on the screen only to find out it was only subtitle which would definitely not keep Hope's attention. Then it was on to "let's mess with the tv screen" time for Hope which ended in her completely messing up the screen/almost breaking it. And we were only 30 minutes into the flight.

By then my migraine was almost unbearable which left Andy on Hope Duty for about five hours. I owe him big time. But time off from Hope and the fact that the plane dimmed all the lights helped my migraine and finally I didn't feel like I was going to throw up. It was about 7pm China time which meant Hope had been awake for over 13 hours with no nap. She didn't end up falling asleep until after 9pm. But not before she pooped in her diaper 6 times and spilled a whole glass of water all over Andy. By then Andy had a major headache and we still had 5 hours left. I never ended up watching any movies b/c of my migraine so the "we got a great plane with movie screens" excitement never turned out to matter. Andy tried to watch one or two but was always distracted by Hope. The flight was one continuous "keep your seat belt fastened due to turbulence" flight. It was bumpy almost the whole time.

We arrived in Chicago and were told by an airport security officer to make sure we let the immigration officer know that we were an adoptive family. He told us that we should be able to skip the long line b/c Hope's papers just needed a quick stamp as opposed to a longer process that everyone else in that line would need. I thought, "Really? A short line?! Could this be real?" No, it wasn't. The immigration officer looked at us like we were begging to cut in line and placed Hope's paperwork behind a long line of other more complicated cases. So we sat there for an hour. Hope was running on about 4 hours of sleep. We were +20 hours into our trip so 4 hours of sleep was bad for her. Really bad.

We had a 6 hour layover in Chicago so we tried to get an earlier flight home. Turns out that we needed to try and fly stand-by which costs an extra $75 per person to do. Since when did flying stand-by cost extra? I said, "But if we get on a flight we're taking a seat that is empty anyway. Why the extra cost?" Uhm, dumb question to ask b/c there is no answer other than, "Because it just costs extra." At that point we really didn't care what it cost. So we rushed to a gate for a 5:00 flight. We missed it by 3 people. Then it was off to get the next flight which happened to be on the complete opposite side of the airport. As in a totally different terminal. Love. ly. So we almost run to get there and when we get to the new gate it is obvious that there are some major air-conditioning problems. It was hot. Just one more thing to add to the drama of it all. And it didn't help that Andy had changed into sweat pants when the spilling-the-cup-of-water episode happened. So I'm hot, Andy is sweating and trying to dig out his shorts from his backpack to see if they have dried, and we're waiting to hear if we make the flight which would get us home two hours earlier. We find out that we can get on the flight at the very last second. Then we are told to quick get on the plane b/c it is waiting on us. Uhm, nothing "quick" happens with us when we're trying to navigate an airport. And sure enough, the plane is so tiny that we have to walk outside to get to the plane. Down an elevator. Across the runway. And up some metal steps to the plane. By the time we get on the plane Hope has one last freak out moment and then takes off her pants and falls asleep. For a 30 minute flight. Not good. We have to wake her up when we land and she flips out about putting her pants on and is all out of sorts. She literally falls asleep as we have her standing up trying to get her pants on.

There was a group of friends and family gathered at the airport to greet us. Hope didn't exactly appreciate it. She starts sobbing. But does manage to fully wake up just by the time we get home, are completely exhausted and ready for bed. She is in hyper-mode and doesn't go to sleep until 1:00am. Ahh, sleep after about 32 hours of basically no sleep. Ya, right. In. My. Dreams. She wakes up every hour until 5:00am so no real sleep that night. In fact, we've been home 4 nights now and Nathan and Caleb are the only ones in the house who have slept more than a few hours at a time. Between jet lag and Hope waking up from fear and from being disoriented as to where she is we haven't slept much.

But we're home. In our own beds. I'm sitting on my comfy couch. Hope has toys and siblings to play with and a yard to run around in. It's good to be home. No matter how crazy it is here.

Click here for pictures of Hope at home. {Hope fell down the stairs the first morning home, thus the major rug burn bruises/scabs all over her face. Welcome to the crazy house, Hope. Welcome.}

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

day 18

Today was really day 20 out of 21! We made it. There were days we didn't think we would. Strangely, our time here in Guangzhou has been so easy and enjoyable that it flew by and I could probably survive another week here. But I'm glad I don't have to. Too bad we didn't get one week in Beijing and two here.

This will need to be a quick post because we leave tomorrow at 6:45 and I never sleep well the night before we travel anywhere, let alone across the world. If we arrive home on our scheduled flight we will be traveling by car, plane or sitting in an airport for nearly 28 straight hours. Pray for all three of us, please! It is an exhausting trip.

This morning we took Hope swimming and she hated it at first. It took her a long while to stop screaming but she eventually enjoyed herself. We took photos at the White Swan hotel lobby which is traditionally where all adoptive families take photos of their child. She loved wearing her new Chinese dress and was all smiles and poses until we had to leave and by then her swimming had caught up with her and she was exhausted and threw a massive fit in her stroller all the way back to the hotel. She ended up sleeping for 3 hours. We had one last dinner with friends and celebrated her 4th birthday with a tiny cheesecake that was as close to a b-day cake as I could find here. I think she had no clue that it was her birthday. She definitely had no clue about blowing out the candles on the cake but she had a blast doing it once Andy showed her. She giggled and smiled and loved having us all sing Happy Birthday to her. She pretty much loves being the center of any one's attention.

And so now our hotel room looks like a tornado went through it as I'm about 3/4 of the way done packing but still have tons of things in piles and corners all set to be packed.

We are scheduled to arrive home at 10:30pm on Sept 1st but are hoping to get an earlier flight from Chicago. We have about a six hour layover there as of now. Some of you have asked about coming to the airport and you are welcome to do that if you are up for a late night! You can email our home address or call our home phone and be put on the list to call if we do get an earlier flight. The kids have a "airport welcome home party" list of people to call if our flight changes.

Thanks to everyone who has prayed for us during this whole process. This is not a journey one wants to take alone. There are so many of you who have had a part in us being able to be here to get Hope. You know who you are and we are grateful for you.

Almost a year ago we quietly and a bit fearfully started this adoption process. At the time we we didn't even know who we would be adopting. But God had a little girl in His mind half way across the world named Liu Jiajia. Our journey to her has at times been a breeze. At other times it's been difficult. It's always consisted of small faith steps along the way. We haven't mastered the art of being faithful. We have complained. We have had fear. We have been tired. We have been overwhelmed. But God has provided for us exactly what we have needed at every step. So although Liu Jiajia will now be our Hope Jia Schmidt, she is, in a way, a part of many of your families too. She is here with us because others have come alongside us.

There are so many blessings you see when you walk the road of adoption. God's redeeming love and grace have at times seemed almost tangible to us during this journey. I hope it has been to you too. Because the story of little Liu Jiajia is really the story of all of us. We're all lost. We all long to belong. We all are made to be loved. And we are all broken. We all need a savior. And like Liu Jiajia experienced on August 14, 2011, there is a God who comes to us in our weakness. Who loves us despite our brokenness. Who delights in us even before we can ever do anything for Him. We are all Liu Jiajia. I am. Andy is. We've been given a new name. A new life. A secure future and an eternal hope through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It's the reason we're sitting here in a somewhat icky hotel room in China this evening. Because He loved us, we will love others in the same way. And loving like Jesus isn't easy. It costs us our time, our energy, our comfort, our money, our life. And sometimes it costs us three weeks in a country on the other side of the world. We counted the cost and chose to pay it. I'm so glad we did. Because God has taken what we have handed Him, what seemed like a sacrifice at the time, and given us a blessing in one sweet little girl named Hope. She may seem like the one with all the new blessings in life. But, actually, we are.

Thanks for being part of our miracle.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

day 17

Today was August 30th, our Consulate Appointment Day. It's a pretty big day in the adoption process. It's basically the end of it. We left our hotel at 7:30 this morning to get to the U.S Consulate for our 8:30 appointment. We took an oath with about a dozen families to care for our children and promised that all of the info on our paperwork was true. I kind of smiled at that point because the paperwork had been checked by the U.S and Chinese government ten million times over the last 10 months. It better be true.

While eating lunch at Subway, we met a family that lives in the Indpls area and just adopted their son from the same orphanage Caleb was in. Such a small world. Then Andy spent an hour and half standing in line at the bank to exchange money while I started packing for our trip home and Hope watched some Chinese shows on t.v. Then it was naptime and dinner. We had dinner at our new favorite Chinese restaurant here. I still don't know the name of it. It's referred to as "the restaurant above Jorden's store". And anyone who adopts from China knows who Jorden is and where his store is so I guess it doesn't really need a name. There were 10 of us that ate dinner together (our Madison friends and our new Indy friends) so we were able to eat in our own little private room that had a large round table. We are appreciating getting to know some new families here. Two weeks of semi-solitude will make you very grateful for things you usually take for granted. Like social interaction. And sharing life together with other Christians. Life just isn't as good if you live it alone.

Our adoption guide goes back to the U.S. Consulate for us tomorrow to pick up Hope's visa and then we're done. Like really done.

And how fitting is this...Hope's 4th birthday is tomorrow. August 31st. Our last day in China. We're going to get a traditional Chinese cake from a local bakery and celebrate with our new friends at dinner tomorrow night. Dinner at "the restaurant above Jorden's", of course. And thus will end our three week stay in China.

And our new life as a family of seven will begin.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 16

It's Monday evening here. Day 16. But technically it's day 18 of our trip. A few days got lost in the shuffle at the beginning of my blogging. So we only have 2 full days here left and one travel day. I can honestly say that that the last two weeks have gone by quicker than the first 3 days in China. It is odd because on one hand it feels like we've been here forever. But on the other it feels like it was just yesterday that we arrived in Beijing. So it's gone fast and dragged on forever at the same time.

Today was another great day. I checked to see how hot it was here because I knew it was 100+ degrees. Well, it was actually 99 degrees. But you know how the weather people always factor in the humidity and extra stuff and tell you it really feels a whole lot hotter. That is so true here. Even Andy was sweating profusely today. His arms were dripping in sweat from just standing outside. It is awful. I'm not pouring concrete but it is hotter than concrete weather (for my Mexico mission friends!). Anyway, point is: It's hot. And we were outside for most of the day today at the Safari Park. My kids would be shocked. I was at the zoo. And it was blazing hot. And mommy didn't cry. Or melt.

We went to the most amazing zoo. I took way too many pictures of animals but I was trying to show how incredibly close we were to them all. We took a train through a safari area and saw all kinds of animals that were literally just a few feet from us. It was actually a bit scary for me. I don't know much about animals but I do know that tigers and lions and cheetahs can jump and the small ditch that separated us didn't seem too safe. But I hid behind my camera lense and all was well.

We ate at a Mexican restaurant after the safari park. Other than the fact that they didn't serve chips and salsa for free, it was a nearly perfect Mexican meal. In China. Weird. But there is only so long a girl can go without having Mexican food. 18 days. I think that was a record for me.

For some reason our taxi driver thought we needed to get to our hotel in record time so he drove as if he were competing in the Indy 500. Andy and I both closed one eye and said that he'd be great if we were competing in The Amazing Race but we weren't and we kind of wanted to live for another few days. We've become used to crazy driving but not so much fast driving. In Beijing the traffic is so bad that you never really end up driving very fast. It's mostly stop and go or go and stop. Guangzhou is different b/c the drivers can actually go fast and that is not good. Yikes-a-rama we were scared.

Then it was another evening of walking around the island here and talking to some local shop owners. And now we're all tired and ready for bed. G-night from Guangzhou.

Click here for photos from today

day 15

Day 15. Sunday. Another pretty great day. If the weather were about 20 or 30 degrees cooler, it would qualify as a perfect day.

We went to church on a the island. It's the same church we went to two years ago when we were here so we knew what to expect. Besides the family that is with us now, we were the only white Americans there but it was a Chinese/English service so we were able to understand most of it. We had to leave early just into the sermon b/c Hope had reached her limit of sitting still. Actually, she had reached her limit before we even sat down but we bribed her with snacks and that bought us about 40 minutes worth of church. Sometimes you just do what you need to do. You know?

We met our guide at noon and went together with the other family to a shopping area in town. We stopped at McDonald's first and enjoyed it more than one really should ever enjoy any of their food. And we had a coke with ice. It's the small things that make us happy here. We walked around the shopping area and I restrained myself and bought just a few things. One thing I bought was a fancy umbrella. The women all carry umbrellas in China not to keep out of the rain but to keep out of the sun. While we aim for darker, suntanned skin, they all desire light skin and try to stay out of the sun as much as possible. The umbrellas they use are all fancy and sparkly and shimmery. So if you happen to see a tourquoise-ish umbrella blinding your eyes one rainy day, it will be mine. It is gawdy and lacey and sequined and I love it. And if I attract some odd stares from people it will bring me back to my days in China and I'll smile.

The shopping area we were in was crazy busy and pretty much put us all in sensory overload. I had a headache when we got "home." There was a whole street full of traditional Chinese medicine stores. There were stores and stores selling things like live scorpions to cook (apparently they are "good medicine" for some ailment I don't remember) and dried leaves and berries. It was like walking back into time a few hundred years. There was also a whole street full of stores selling animals and pet supplies. Hope loved seeing the dogs and cats and rabbits and chickens and fish and squirrels and turtles and birds.

We got back in time for Hope to take a nap and then went out for dinner to a very small local Chinese restaurant. It was on the fifth floor of a building and the only way up was to walk. Walking up five flights of stairs when it's 100 degress is not an easy walk. But it ended up being the best Chinese food ever. It may, just may tie with my dumpling restaurant as the best restaurant in the world. And it only cost us $10. We had a chicken and peanut dish, a fried noodles, potatoes, fried but not really fried, more like sauteed green beans, and rice. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I took pictures. And I will dream about dumplings and this meal for years to come.

Click here

and here to see photos from today

Sunday, August 28, 2011

day 14

Ahh, Day 14. Such a good day. Although just about anything would qualify as "such a good day" compared to the day before.

Yesterday's highlight was that we met up with another Madison Adoption Associates family here in Guangzhou. They are staying at our hotel and I can not tell you what a difference it makes to be able to have another family here with us. You kind of take for granted how nice it is to be able to interact and just talk with people. Don't get me wrong, Andy and I have loved spending time together but two weeks is a long time to talk to basically no one but each other. It is so nice to be able to share things here with another family. It makes the hard things more bearable and the nice things much more fun.

Our day looked like this yesterday...

Breakfast. Not nearly as grand or as good as our last hotel which is rather disappointing but probably a good thing. I know I've gained weight since we've been gone and that is pretty unusual. Most people lose weight while here. Too many dumplings for me. You'd think that as much as I've walked and sweat during the last two weeks that I'd be skinnier. Oh well, the dumplings were worth it. Totally worth it.

After breakfast, we met Leslee and Matthew and their daughter and newly adopted son and went to the Guangzhou Medical Clinic. Part of the final adoption process is for Hope to have a medical exam here. It is a stretch to even call it a medical exam as the "ENT exam" involves squeezing a rubber duck and then checking a box indicating that child's hearing is ok if he/she turns his head toward the sound. Not the most accurate way to check a child's hearing. Most of the pictures from the day were from this clinic. It was nice for us to be able to see and talk to other American families that have adopted children. Really, it is hard to explain how wonderful it is to not be the only white, American, English speaking family with a Chinese child. Ending our trip here with other families like us is so refreshing.

We ate Subway for lunch and we pretty much forced Hope to take a nap. After that, we walked around the area with our new friends, had lunch at Lucy's, and had the kids play on a playground.

We're on a rather quaint "island" of sorts. It is really just considered an island b/c a bridge separates it from the next street. It is not a typical island but it is a beautiful area that is free from traffic, stop lights, and crowds. After having spent two weeks in the middle of Beijing, it seems like heaven. It is so charming here that it is a prime location for fashion photo sessions as well as wedding photos. Traditionally, the Chinese bride has her photos taken well before the wedding (like days or weeks before). So the random pictures of beautiful Chinese women that are all dressed up are brides having their pictures taken. Keep in mind that it is probably over a hundred degrees here with as much humidity as is possible. You stand outside and literally just start dripping in sweat. And these brides are all glammed up and smiling and acting as if they have no idea it's a million degrees outside.

Speaking of heat and humidity. I would normally be locking myself in an air-conditioned room in weather like this. But after spending a week in Mexico last month on a mission trip, I can honestly say I'm not so much of a wimp anymore. I don't love the weather here. At. All. And I still gravitate toward air conditioning. And I can't eat outside here b/c I don't like sitting in puddles of sweat. And when I think I've reached my limit with the heat, I find myself thinking, "At least you're not shoveling rock and making concrete in Mexico." And I somehow feel cooler. And I survive another day in miserable weather with a few less complaints than normal.

Click here for photos from today

Friday, August 26, 2011

day 13

Day 13. Travel Day. We'd all rather forget this day.

Any travel day in China is trying. Yesterday was no exception. Can't even remember when the troubles started. Oh, I do. Yes, it was at the check-in counter at the airport. We had seven suitcases plus a rolling computer bag, Andy's backpack, my purse, a stroller that doesn't steer anymore and is literally falling apart due the number of miles we've logged on it, and Hope. We expected to check six of our seven suitcases (two per person) and were told that for domestic China flights you are only allowed to check one bag. So we had to decide if we should pay the extra money to check the three bags or not. We decided we'd just carry them on because they were "small" enough to count as a carry on. Well, "just carry them on" turned into a nightmare. I couldn't push the stroller b/c it doesn't steer. And Andy was stuck having to carry/roll/fumble with four suitcases, his backpack and the computer bag. We had to go up stairs, escalators, through security, and felt like we walked those bags to Guangzhou. Then we finally got to the gate and the fight was delayed b/c of thunderstorms.

By then Hope has had it so we let her out of her stroller. Mistake, but what's she going to do? Sit in a stroller for hours at the airport and then sit for a 3 hour flight and an hour drive to the hotel? So we let her run around like a crazy girl at the airport thus attracting even more attention to ourselves. We're used to being stared at so it half way didn't bother us. But the other 50% of us was still annoyed by it. They finally announced that our flight was leaving and I begged and pleaded to be seated first so we could bypass the hundreds of people standing, pushing and shoving their way into line to get on the plane. We were allowed to go to the premiere/business class/priority seating line only to find ourselves walking down the tarmac to an elevator that leads outside to a tram/bus-like thing. We stood there while the bus was literally jam-packed with people and then drove to the plane which was on a completely different side of the airport. Then we had to lug all of our stuff out of the bus-thing and up a huge rolling metal staircase on to the plane. As we were trying to get off the bus-thing we were literally pushed and shoved and pushed again by every single person. Hope got pushed away from us, Andy was struggling to maneuver the 4 suitcases, computer bag and backpack and not one person had even a tiny bit of pity on us. Not one. Then we were staring at a staircase that was literally impossible for us to get up with all of our things. It was still raining and the stairs were metal and all slippery and it took all my effort to get Hope up the stairs without her falling. I dropped the stroller in front of about 5 or six airport employees that were all staring at us and figured one of them would eventually have to pick it up and follow me. One did. I don't know how Andy physically got the rest of the stuff on the plane but he did.

By the time we sat in our seats we had had our fill of crowded China and seriously did not know how we were going to make it here another week. But we had no choice so on it was to Guangzhou. Hope did fine for a while but just as she was about to fall asleep, I'm talking like she was on her last blink or so before she was out, they started serving food and she spotted it. Nap delayed. Lovely. She did eventually fall asleep and would have been out for the rest of the flight but they required that all the window shades be opened during the last 30 minute descent. We opened her window, the sun shined directly in her face, she woke up not really ready to be awake and started screaming and yelling. We didn't know what she was saying but it was pretty clear she wanted the window shade down. We were told it had to stay up and I was thinking, "Who really needs to see out this window? The pilot? Come on. Give the girl a break and let me close it." After about fifteen minutes of ear piercing screaming, we moved her away from the window and she settled down.

After the shoving/pushing/we almost lost Hope episode on the bus-thing, we had decided that when the plane arrived in Guangzhou we'd wait until every single person was off the plane before we even stood up to get our things. If we were pushed and shoved one more time, Andy and I may have both lost it. So we were the last ones off and we casually left the plane. As we were about 1/2 to the baggage claim, Andy realized that he's one suitcase short. He couldn't remember if he carried three or four bags on the plane and he only had three at the time. By this time I can't remember either. So he runs back to the plane but it's left and the short story is that someone must have found it b/c it was at the baggage claim. We actually get to baggage claim just as the airport security people were loading our bags onto the "unclaimed luggage" cart. Catastrophe avoided.

Then it was nearly an hour drive to our hotel. We walk in our room and it is small. Way too small. Like you can't even walk around the bed, there is barely room for us to get our luggage in the room, and Andy and I don't say a word. But I almost cry. We decide to postpone the "what are we going to do and how are we going to live in here for a week" discussion until after we eat. We go to The Cow and Bridge restaurant which was our favorite restaurant in Guangzhou from two years ago. We walk in expecting to see other adoptive families, but no. The place is empty. Literally empty. Hope is done with sitting of any kind and is a handful to control. We go back to our hotel and decide we have to get a larger room. So we get all of our luggage moved to a bigger room. But not before Hope knocks a glass off the bathroom sink, shattering it all over the bathtub. Joy. To. The. World. Is all I can sing to myself to keep myself sane.

We get Hope ready for bed and we think she'll just crash. But no. We're trying to unpack and get things out for the next day and figure she'll eventually get tired of watching us and fall asleep. I called to get an extra bed sheet to lay over the couch b/c I'm dying to sit down on a couch, not a bed or a hard office chair which is all I've been able to sit on for two weeks. I have germ issues and like to cover any upholstered chair or couch in a hotel room with a sheet. Call me crazy. I know. I am. Anyway, I get the sheet delivered and Hope sees me lay it over the couch and she starts whining and then crying and then screaming and crying. We realize or think we figured out that the white sheet reminded her of the white comforter that she used to sleep with in Beijing. The room here has a brown blanket which was fine for her until she saw the white sheet. So I call housekeeping again and ask for an extra comforter like the one on our bed that Hope is now trying to pull off the bed. The lady doesn't understand me so I ask for the housekeeper to just come here so I can point and tell her what I need. The housekeeper comes bearing a "comforter"...a brown blanket like the one Hope won't even touch by now. Andy and I are like, "Seriously? Can things get any harder?"

Why, yes they can. We take the second brown blanket b/c there is no way to communicate what we really need. I point and touch and show the housekeeper the white comforter on our bed. She doesn't understand or just won't give us another one. So on to our next issue, we have to get Hope to sleep. Andy ends up having to lay with her on the floor so she settles down. But since she went to sleep that way she wants him there whenever she wakes up, which happens to be several times during the night/morning, I lost track. It was a long night. I'm talking l-o-n-g night.

And thus ends our Day 13. We survived. But, really, we had no choice but to survive. So no awards for us. And absolutely no pictures from the day. The camera stayed hidden in one of the four suitcases that Andy lugged around Beijing/Guangzhou. It never saw the light of day.

Sneak peek: Day 14 has been better. Much better!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

day 12

Day 12. Our last day in Beijing. We went to the Beijing Aquarium which is actually in the zoo but is a separate building. We spent about three hours in the aquarium. One could probably see the whole thing from corner to corner in about 40 minutes but there was really no where else to go since it was raining. I think half of the 15 million people in China were at the aquarium too.

By the time I stood in the rain to buy tickets I had reached my limit of being in public spaces with hoards of people who culturally do not value personal space as I do. After I bought the tickets and was nicely trying to shove my way out of the mass chaos only to move into an enclosed aquarium that was just another mass chaos situation, I got spit on. On my open toed shoes. And it started dripping between my toes. And I seriously, for real, I'm not kidding about threw a tantrum like a two year old and cried to go home. I have handled almost everything here pretty well. But the spitting makes me literally shiver with disgust every time I hear it. I'm not sure why but spitting is as common here as it is breathing. Ask anyone who's been to China. It kind of ruined the rest of the day for me because I had run out of grace and patience for spitting of any kind. Spitting while walking past people. Spitting while standing in line to get food. Spitting from a moving car. Spitting from the top of a two story moving bus. Spitting in the mall. Spitting at restaurants. Spitting outside. Spitting inside. I mean, really, I just don't get the purpose or need. It is one thing I will not miss about China and hope to never here again. And Chinese spitting isn't just spitting, it's a long process of hacking and snorting and heaving the spit as far and as forcefully as one can. It sounds like a gunshot to my ears and if you secretly watched me walk around the streets and in crowded shopping malls you might think I had a tic of some sort b/c you'd see me twitching and tilting my head and quickly shrugging my shoulders. It's what happens to me when I hear spitting. My body literally starts convulsing with disgust. Oh my, it officially became my breaking point today. I so badly just wanted to get home. And never hear spit again. There is only so much a girl can take. And someone else's spit on your toes is way, way, way past the limit. And it was only 10:30 a.m.

The rest of the day involved Andy trying to keep Hope attached to his hand or in her stroller. I was in charge of pushing the mostly empty stroller and mentally getting over the spit episode. Laugh all you want but until you've lived with spit in the back of your ear for 12 days, you really can't understand. It can be somewhat traumatic. Anyway, we looked at fish. And then looked at them again. We had lunch at the aquarium and made the mistake of ordering American food. We've learned that anything that is made in China but supposed to taste like our food will be terrible unless it's from a chain restaurant and even then it's different. Andy ordered a cheeseburger and it was so bad he couldn't eat it. I only mention it b/c we took a picture of it. The hamburger was so small it was funny. Remember the Where's the Beef? commercials. It was like that. Oh, and the day before I think there was a picture of a chicken sandwich from KFC. It had random bits of corn and carrots or veggies of some sort in it. Weird. And the pizza from Pizza Hut has no sauce on it. When we asked for some pasta sauce to dip it in (they sold spaghetti and lasagna so we knew there was pasta sauce on the premise somewhere) we were given a plate of ketchup. Anyway, back to my original Day 12 story, we made it till about 3:00 and then went to an indoor shopping mall b/c we had missed the naptime window and needed to keep Hope awake for the rest of the day. We had our last dinner in Beijing at Pizza Hut. And here we are waiting for Hope to fall asleep so we can start packing for our big move tomorrow. We fly to Guangzhou for the last week of our trip. We're looking forward to seeing other American families that are adopting as all U.S families end up in Guangzhou b/c the U.S. Embassy is there. And we'll be one city closer to home!

Click here to see photos from today

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

day 11

Today started out as every single other day. We ate breakfast. And I have to tell you that although the buffet is amazing and varied, I have had had the exact same thing every morning. If you know me at all you are not at all surprised. And because I know I will forget this one day, I have an omelet, one piece of bacon, and potatoes for my first plate. The potatoes here are on a three day cycle and day three is my favorite, a homemade version of mini hashbrowns. I think they probably use the leftover potatoes from the two previous days and mush them all up and make them into pretty little mini potato cakes but I don't mind. It's the best potato concoction I've had. Well, for potatoes involving no cheese, that is. Anyway, then I start to drink my black tea b/c until then it's too hot to drink. I eat a small chocolate pastry with it. "Chocolate" is a bit of a stretch b/c it tastes nothing like chocolate but it's decent enough to fulfill my daily sweet fix. Oh, and speaking of chocolate. It's the one thing China fails miserably at. They have no appreciation for chocolate here. None. The preferred dessert of choice here seems to be fruit on a stick (most notably, cantaloupe) or tiramisu. Weird, huh? Then I end my meal with a yogurt. Yogurt that is almost like milk b/c it's so watery. In fact, it took Andy and me nearly a week to realize that you are actually supposed to poke a straw through the lid (think yogurt cup/juice box mix) and drink it. We probably looked like fools trying to pull off the plastic top each morning. We kept wondering why it was so hard to do. Uhm, that would be b/c you're not supposed to do it that way. You drink yogurt here. Who knew?! As you can see, breakfast has become somewhat of a serious Groundhog Day experience except every two to three days we realize that all of our familiar faces have been replaced with new guests in the hotel. Andy and I say to each other, "Oh, look, the whole place is filled with new people today." We feel like the breakfast buffet room has somewhat become our own home/kitchen and I deny my urge to welcome all the new people and tell them things like, "Hey, wait for tomorrow's potatoes!" or, "You should really skip the pancakes, they're soggy." or, "Yogurt? Use a straw it'll save you five minutes of trying to tear off the top." And that's our excitement for the first hour of day. That and french toast day. Again, it's on a three day cycle with pancakes and waffles. The french toast is good and replaces my fake-chocolate danish. Only one more french toast day left. Friday, our last morning. Groundhog Day excitement.

Ok, enough about food. But I know I'd forget all those details someday and I'll look back and laugh. Today we went to the Temple of Heaven. We spent the morning walking around the park areas and it was lovely. It was way less crowded than the Summer Palace. It was the most peaceful, quiet place we've been to so far. And there were no strangers asking us for pictures and pretty much no stares from people. It was nice. Hope started talking to a sweet little boy at one point and I took a lot of photos of the two of them. They were running around and just being silly together. She is used to being with children 24/7 so she was probably thrilled to be able to interact with someone other than adults, aka, Andy and me.

Hope loves the camera. She is hilarious about getting her picture taken. She starts by putting her hand on her hip, tilting her head and smiling the biggest smile ever. Then she tilts her hip the other way and moves her head a bit as if she were a supermodel just waiting to be photographed. She is all serious about it and then can't help herself and starts giggling. She takes control of every impromptu photo session by moving around to various locations and repeating the hand on hip, head tilt routine. Thus the reason I took a million photos today.

Conveniently, the Temple of Heaven is right next to The Pearl Market which is the store we went to yesterday. It isn't just a pearl store, it's a muli-level indoor shopping extravaganza with everything from junk Chinese touristy-trinkets to fake designer purses, clothes, and watches to real pearls and jade and on and on. We walked around there to cool off and take a few photos since we didn't have our camera with us yesterday. Then it was back to the hotel for nap time. I had an almost-migraine headache by then and desperately needed to sit in a dark, quiet room. Uhm, dark happened, quiet didn't. Hope did her best yet to fight nap time but Andy won in a last second shot. Thank you, Andy!

We had dinner at my dumpling restaurant and I savored every bite. Only one more meal there tomorrow. I'm sad already. Then we went to a tea store that is next to our hotel. We asked to sample some teas and had a somewhat relaxing time having a tea party. Thankfully, there was a fish pond in the store so we had some entertainment for Hope. She loved the fish but loved all the ladies that gave her attention and talked to her in Chinese even more. She cried when we left the store.

And that was day 11. Tomorrow is our last full day here and we can honestly say that in some ways we feel like we just got here. Part of that may be because our first day here seemed a lot like today and it has all just blurred together into one long day. But then another part of us feels like we've overstayed our welcome here and it's time to go. We were remembering how crazy it felt the day we checked in to the hotel and the hotel lady said, "You are here for 13 nights, correct?" Andy and I looked at each other and thought, "Uhm, yes we are. Can we do this? Can we do 13 nights? We've never stayed 13 nights in a row anywhere but our own home." But we did it. Well, almost. And there have been definite Get Me Out Of Here moments, days, really. But all in all we've made memories and have experienced Caleb's and Hope's country in ways we'll never do again. And a few years from now I know we'll look back and think it was the most wonderful time ever. I have two million pictures to prove it was wonderful. Pictures...they're funny, aren't they? They make life look so much grander and perfect than it ever really is. If you want the grand-lovely-we're all a perfect family-version of our day...

Click here for photos from today, {part 1}
Click here for photos from today, {part 2}

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

day 10

10. Double digits. A milestone. And shopping day for me. My favorite day thus far. Part of it has to do with the fact that I didn't sweat much at all today. It was the first day that I haven't had to take two showers. See, shopping IS therapeutic. And it does make things all better.

We paid Angela, from Ladybugs n Love, to take us shopping today. I had a very specific list of things to buy and I wanted to make sure we didn't pay too much so it was worth paying her to help us find good deals. And we, I did. Andy pretty much sat off to the side and entertained Hope while I shopped. I was in a major shopping mode and got everything I needed in less than two hours and two stores. Probably still seemed like torture to Andy. He seems to not understand or appreciate good shopping skills. I'm not sure any male does.

Hope immediately latched on to Angela. She is Korean and speaks Chinese. I think Hope was just thrilled to have someone around who could speak her language. Our adoption guide and our tour guide have both been male so this was the first time a female has been with us for a day. And Hope could not get enough of her attention. She was a non-stop Chinese chatterbox. The funniest thing was at lunch when Hope raised her small water glass and says in Chinese to Angela, "Cheers!" and tries to clink her glass with Angela's. Angela starts laughing and tells us what she said. Where in the world did she get that?! Angela thought maybe she was in a foster family at some point and saw that or it could have just been something she learned while playing with kids at the orphanage. Andy and I could not stop laughing.

Can't share too many shopping details b/c that might spoil some surprises. So that's all about that. Hope took a two and a half hour nap today. I swear I heard the Hallelujah Chorus in my head when she finally dozed off. Ah, I love nap time. It's almost as good as shopping.

Then it was Groundhog Day from about 4:30-8:00...try to stay as long as possible in our air-conditioned hotel room, walk, eat, walk. No pictures today. Imagine me shopping and Andy and Hope waiting. I'm smiling. Andy is not. And Hope is bouncing off the walls and running. Heaven for me. Not heaven for Andy.

Two more full days left in Beijing. I think we're going to the Temple of Heaven tomorrow b/c it has a nice park area. Will post when we get back. Off to bed now. G-night.

day 9

Day 9 was Summer Palace Day. That's what we declared in our own little world here anyway. We took a taxi to spend the morning/early afternoon there. We went there in 2009 so it wasn't new for us but it was a new change of scenery for us now. It is a gorgeous park with historical buildings and such but yesterday we just wanted to see some grass. We stayed in the park and lake area and enjoyed not having to dodge cars every few feet. We found a spot where Hope could get out of her stroller and run around. Actually, we found a spot with a park bench for us and it happened to have grass nearby. We all won. Hope loved having some freedom to run and play. We loved that she could run without us worrying that she'd crack her head on the concrete. She's had her share of falls so far...Great Wall, hotel ceramic floor, sidewalk, off of chairs at meal time, you pretty much name it, she's fallen on/off it. But grass counts as pillows around here so she fell a ton and all was well.

We attracted a ton of attention at the Summer Palace. Think Angelina/Brad attention. Andy said, "I think this is how celebrities must feel," to which I thought, "No. Celebrities get whisked away to the pretty toilet section here, I'm sure." I had been searching high and low for a decent bathroom to use and couldn't find one. So, for the first time this trip, I used the "squatty potty." My kids have been asking if I've used one yet and I've been happy to say no. Until yesterday. And I won't give details here but I will say that I considered for several minutes peeing behind a tree. That's how utterly disgusting they were. I held my breath for longer than I thought humanly possible and almost fainted. When I finally walked out, I saw Andy standing there smiling and surrounded by several Chinese people who were posing with him for a picture. And I think, "Really? I just had one of worst bathroom experiences ever and you're out here posing for pictures like you're Brad Pitt?" Yes, he was. He's nice like that and wouldn't tell them no.

You see, apparently Chinese people rarely, if ever, see white parents with a Chinese girl. Andy thinks that they thought he was an NBA player. Uh, ya. The Chinese are obsessed with the NBA and Andy did have his Pacer's hat on so maybe so. Uh, double ya. Whatever the reason, we saw our share of stares, glares, snickering, whispering, not-so-whispering, and nudges they all gave us or each other. We get those all everyday while walking around our hotel but at the Summer Palace, it went to a whole new level. The park was at capacity, I'm sure. That's how crowded it was and nearly early every single one of them gawked at us. And then they would try to discreetly take our picture by either standing somewhere near us and acting as if they were taking a photo of themselves but the camera was pointed at us, not them. Or they'd take the more direct approach and grab our arms and motion and point as if to say, "Can we take our picture with you?" Or, best yet, was when we were eating lunch. We were sitting near an open window area overlooking a pathway, a crowded pathway that was filled with people who were looking at us as if we were in a zoo. It felt like we were there on display. And people would whip out their cameras and take photos of us like we were a new baby panda exhibit. So a whole lot of Chinese people will have photos of Andy eating a hot dog and me eating dumplings in their "My trip to Beijing" album.

We were back to our hotel in time to try and have Hope take a nap. She's a strong one and won yet again. No nap, take 3? 4? I've lost count of how many "no nap" days she's had now. We walked to the WuMart again. Exciting stuff. Ate dinner. Oh, dinner with the best Asian noodles I've ever had and a new Chinese dish that is something like an eggroll in the shape of lasagna. "Meat Pie" is what it was called and I'm eating it again before we leave. Walked. Day done.

Click here for pictures from today

Monday, August 22, 2011

day 8

Yesterday was Sunday and our big event for the day, actually, our only event for the day was to go to church. I'm not sure we've ever been more excited to go to a church that wasn't our own. We've felt very alone here as hardly anyone speaks English and we attract a lot of attention and stares b/c of Hope. More about that tomorrow. We were given a name by someone from our church of a young Brazilian-Korean lady who was in Beijing for this weekend. She told us about a church here called Bejing Christian International Fellowship. We took a taxi to the hotel where the church meets and met her there. By the way, our adoption translator/guide has been out of town since Wednesday so Andy and I have literally been on our own. We think we're both pretty big deals now that we can navigate around Beijing by ourselves. For two mid-western folks, we're doing pretty well here.

Anyway, the church is a registered Christian church in Beijing. We think it is only one of a handful of churches allowed in Beijing. We have read a lot about the persecution of Christians in China so we were a bit perplexed as to why this church is even allowed to exist. Here's what we found out. The only way to even enter the church (which rents space in a large hotel) is to show your passport. Basically, the church is for internationals and Chinese people who are in Beijing for school, business, etc. It is not a church that your average Chinese national can go to b/c your average Chinese person doesn't have a passport. So it isn't your typical "local church." It's filled with students and people who are, for one reason or another, here in Beijing temporarily.

We asked why the "underground Christian church" isn't allowed to be registered with the government. The lady (a member of the church for about 15 years) said that to be registered you have to comply with whatever the government tells you to do. A lot of times they just refuse to register the church. Sometimes they require things like having the pastor turn in his sermon a week before he preaches it and denying the right to preach/teach about certain Christian beliefs (Jesus' second coming, etc). Basically, they require things that a Bible believing church could not agree to do. However, this church wasn't required to do any of those things. Andy and I were under the impression that the church we attended was allowed to exist b/c it isn't a local congregation. And by requiring passports to enter the facility, the government maintains control of who is there and who isn't.

As far as what the church service was like, it was casual, held in an auditorium, and had the feel of an old Campus Crusade for Christ meeting at IU in the mid 1990's. In other words, a few songs with guitar or two, a short devotional/message, a hokey object lesson/demonstration about the church's mission statement and a closing song all in less than an hour. It was certainly not what we expected. We expected more of a of Chinese/local congregation and more involved/deeper Bible teaching. Either way, it was good to worship together. It makes us look forward to being at home even more though.

Other than that, the day kind of got lost into a hotel-walk-eat-walk blur.

And that was day 8. And to prove how incredibly uneventful it was, I only have one picture from the whole day. Shocker. I know. And it's blurry. Kind of how the day felt after about 10:30am.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

day 7

Day 7. One third of our way home.

We had originally scheduled to tour a historic village in China on Monday. But after yesterday's experience with Hope in the van (the torturous ride for all involved) we opted to skip the village. It was going to be a two and a half hour drive one way. And although at the time we booked it we thought it would be a good way to fill up a day with something different we knew our sanity was more important than a few good photos of a village.

Here's what we ended up doing today:

We rescheduled to have our guide/driver come today instead of Monday and went to the Beijing Zoo and a Taoist Temple. I'm not a fan of zoos in general. It wasn't really on my top 500 things to see in China. But it was shaded. And beautiful. And different than the streets surrounding our hotel. And Hope absolutely loved it. It was the first thing that we've done in 7 days that was actually age appropriate for her. She was probably thinking, "YES! At last. Something for a kid to do!" Poor thing, we've been dragging her around to shops, restaurants, and government offices for almost a week. She literally squealed with joy at the first site of an animal. And then she repeated the squeals for almost two hours. She was more entertaining to watch than the animals. Well, for me that isn't saying much because I could care less about staring at animals. But still. She was that funny. And loud. But it wasn't loud in a restaurant and it wasn't loud in a hotel room so we let her be loud. And she loved every second of it.

We had lunch and then went to a Taoist Temple. Again, zoos, Taoist temples...not exactly on my top 500 list of things to see here but our guide suggested it would be a good place to get away from the crowds and we could use the stroller and have some shade. There were definitely no crowds. Hope sat in her stroller the whole time because she was so tired from the zoo. It was actually quite pretty. And shaded. {Shade, my happy place in China.} Our guide gave us a brief overview of the Taoist religion as we watched people burn incense and bow to the golden Buddha statues. The guide also told us that many Chinese people have no "religion" at all but will still come to temples such as these when they have problems or need answers. There were Taoist monks (I think that's what they're called?) living in the facility which was basically a collection of courtyards each filled with rooms devoted to different gods. We felt odd being there. We felt burdened for the people that were bowing to golden images that were not alive and could not offer them what they were seeking.

We got back to the hotel about 3pm and tried to get Hope to sleep. She won. No nap. We won at bed time though because she was asleep by 7:30 as opposed to her normal 9:00. Ahh, not sure who needed bedtime to come quicker. Her. Or us. Who am I kidding? It. Was. Us.

Click here to see photos from today

day 6

The highlight of yesterday was The Great Wall. We drove to the Mutianyu section. It was about an hour and half outside of Beijing. Beautiful drive. Breathtakingly beautiful views. We picked this specific area to see because it was different than the area we saw two years ago and this one featured a cable car ski-type lift to the top and a toboggan slide down. Sounded all fun and exciting and I was really looking forward to it. But somehow it never crossed my mind that my fear of heights may come into play in the whole situation. Like never crossed my mind until we were standing on the stairs about 10 people away from the cable car and I realize there is no way I can get on it. Andy looks at me like I have two heads and at the time I felt like I did too and they were both spinning. Do you know how high up the Great Wall is? It's on a mountain. It's high. And the cable cars looked like matchbox cable cars going up the string, I mean cable. Not that those exist but if they did they'd look like these. And I almost throw up. And I made myself not. And I put one foot in front of another and I pretended I was getting into a taxi. And it worked. Our guide advised us against going down the toboggan because people had been injured on it before. He said he wouldn't go on it himself. I was kind of bummed but after riding up the cable car I realized there was no way I would have ever been able to go down on a toboggan. So I was glad it was unsafe. Whew. Saved me from another near panic atack. I never asked about how safe the cable car was because it was the only way up. And I really didn't want to know the answer anyway. If he had told me it was safe, I wouldn't have really believed it and had he told me it wasn't, I would have missed out on a great day at the Great Wall.

Hope, on the other hand loved the cable car. It was probably like a Disney ride to her. She was all giggles and screams and laughs. She was hilarious to watch on the way up and down which served as a great distraction for me. Once to the wall, though, she only enjoyed it for about 3.5 minutes and then was done. Andy got a workout carrying her and dragging her along the wall and back. We have a ton of great photos but, again, photos never tell the whole story. You can't hear her whining or see her legs go limp when Andy tries to make her walk on her own or see her fall nearly on her face as she tries to escape from his grasp or how she fake limped her way up the stairs after she fell with enough drama thrown in that she probably deserved an academy award. The girl doesn't lack in drama. It makes our days pretty entertaining. As is with most hours of our days we're either laughing at her and her cuteness or going crazy in our heads. I won't even bore you with the details of the 3 hours in the car. It was basically torturous for us. Hope acted as if we had overdosed her on caffeine and was literally, like literally, bouncing off the van walls. And seats. And floor. And any other space in between those.

We got her "home" and she took a nap. Then it was out for dinner and a walk. I took tons of photos of all the crazy food that they sell at the famous night market that is just a block or two from our hotel. Most of it is on a stick and it is worth traveling to China for just to see. Snake on a stick. Sheep heart on a stick. Beetles on a stick. Bee cocoons on a stick. Silkworm on a stick. Centipede on a stick. Starfish, crickets, and too may icky things to even list. But it's all beautiful in a sick-to-your-stomach sort of way. I couldn't stop taking pictures. Maybe one day we'll muster up the strength to actually taste something. I got splashed with juice from some squishy sea monster of some sort when the vendor waved it front of my face. That may be as close as I'll get to any of it.

See pictures from today here

Friday, August 19, 2011

day 5

For those of you who are still following along on our Groundhog Day Blog Chinese Style, here's a recap of Day 5.

Honestly, today is day six and I have to think really, really hard to even remember what we did yesterday. It is all seeming like a big blur. Doesn't help that on a normal day in my life I can't remember why I called someone by the time they answer the phone. My memory is bad on a good day. Yesterday was not a good day.

Hope was (and still is but I'll think about that later) in full on I'm-going-to-battle-and-make-everything-difficult-for-my-so called-new-mom-and-dad. She pushes every single limit that we set. But keep in mind we're setting them in English with a whole bunch of overly exaggerated facial expressions and hand gestures. We think that she is just sick of hearing us babble on and on with stern faces and just decides to laugh and make a big joke of it. Again, repeat from day 4 and 3 and...I can't really blame her. But we end up feeling like we're stuck in some bad parenting demonstration class and we're the examples. The class is called "What not to do as parents 101". I think we've moved on to the masters classes now. And we're still the bad examples that people look at and shake their heads. Or at least that's what the Chinese people do while we're at a restaurant with Hope and she is dropping things off the table left and right and eating with her hands and falling out of her chair and a million other things. They not so quietly look over their shoulders and whisper things to each other. She does, however, have this incredible redeeming quality and it is called cuteness. She is beyond cute and everyone knows it. Including her. If we aren't being stared at b/c she is flipping out and making us crazy, she's being stared at b/c she's so incredibly cute. She sits in her stroller and waves a pageant-like wave and bats her eyes at everyone she passes. Which in China is like 15 million people. She loves the attention and we just love that at the time she's not causing us any problems.

For the last two years I've told people that ask us what it's like to bring a four year that speaks no English into your family that it's not easy but it's way easier than giving birth to an infant and going through those first several months. But I'm beginning to second guess myself on that one. I sort of feel like I'm in labor, emotional labor, and it has far surpassed any labor pains I've had with all three of our other children combined. And Day 5 was my breaking point. And Andy's. And Hope's. Not a good combination. So I'm glad to be on this side of the day and be done with it. It was hard. Today hasn't been much better but I'm not writing about that for now.

As far as what we did to keep ourselves busy, we went to the Panjiayuan Antique Market in the morning. And I bought nothing. That's how out of sorts I was. I. Bought. Nothing. Mark it in the record books. Then we had lunch and it was less than ok. It actually kind of made me gag. It was a duck restaurant but I wasn't in the mood for eating duck. I'm not sure when I will be but it is on my list to do before we leave here. There weren't a lot of options to choose from so we ended up here b/c the menu had English on it. Anyway, the chicken we ordered was something like cashew chicken but some other nut. But I could not tell which parts were nuts, which parts were the meat of the chicken and which parts were the random "parts" and fat they mixed all in it. Oh, it makes me want to gag just thinking about it. I left hungry. Andy left still in shock that I hadn't bought anything in the market. And Hope left a mess because 50% of the food she eats ends up on her clothes, skin, and hair.

Then we took a taxi to Beihai Park. It was beautiful but hot. It's cheap to get in (like $3.00) and close to our hotel so we only stayed a little while. We ended our day eating at a new restaurant and walked around in the evening. Kind of how we end every day. Eat. Walk.

Click here for today's photos

And that was the day that looked lovely in photos but kind of didn't feel lovely.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

day four

Ah, day four. We're moving right along. Day four consisted of what we thought was one quick government appointment but ended up being a few things. The funny thing is that everything our guide told us would take "just a minute" took an hour. Maybe not a real hour but an hour in standing-around-with-a-toddler time. Whatever it was it was longer than a minute. Like two containers of animal crackers, two suckers, four cookies, a bottle of water, and 20 trips up and down the escalator hour. And the things that he said would take 20 minutes took a minute and a half. I'm not sure what kind of time they use here but it's definitely not what I'm used to. When we were in Mexico on a mission trip a few weeks ago the missionaries kept reminding us to be patient and flexible b/c things in Mexico change a lot. They called it "Flexico" time. I think China uses a similar clock. Only they reset it at random unexpected times so you think you're back on real time but actually aren't.

So here's what we accomplished today. It was a lot of hurrying up and waiting but it took up our whole morning so that's good. We appreciated doing something other than walking around the block(s). First we went back to the Civil Affairs office to pick up our paperwork that we either dropped off two days ago or they started two days ago. Not even sure what the "paperwork" was but it was important. We were on our way to the Notary's office next but realized I didn't have my passport with me. Our guide got really big eyes and declared we must immediately go back to the hotel to get it. So we did. Then we went to the Notary's office and stood/sat around for a long time. Again. Time warp China time. Then we got a very important folder handed to us (with a ton of notarized papers in it) and went to some government office where you get passports. Hope had her picture taken for her passport and we stood in line and another line and paid $30. Turns out we never needed our passports so I'm not sure why the guide had us go back to the hotel and get it earlier. Another you-just-do-what-you're-told-in-China moment. And that was it for our morning. Hope was about as good as any child would be which isn't that good. But again, who can blame her? This whole process just kind of sets her up to be bored and get in trouble.

Which brings me to lunchtime. Otherwise known as dumplingtime for the next 10 days in Beijing. And any frustration I had from the morning quickly disappeared with every bite. Nine dollars for two plates of dumplings (beef/carrot and pork/cabbage if you're dying to know and I know you are, right?!), steamed broccoli in some sort of amazing soy sauce-sauce, and two cans of room temperature Coke. The best deal in the world despite having no ice for the Coke. That's how good the food is. I seriously may shed a tear or a million when I eat my last meal there.

Random Chinese thought of the day...Traffic. I tipped our driver extra today because he hasn't gotten us killed in a car accident. The fact that anyone survives driving on Chinese roads is a miracle. Actually, it is amazing that anyone who walks, rides a bike, or is standing near a curb survives a day here. It is unbelievable. The thing that's weird about it is that is seems super chaotic and crazy but it isn't. It's like every Chinese person expects it and knows where every bike, pedestrian, car, bus, and random dumb American like me will do next so they all somehow avoid major collisions at the very last second and none of them seem taken back by it all. It may be by only by a millimeter but I have seen my share of close calls the last few days. I keep thinking we're on some Hollywood set where the car starts driving and you hear, "Cue the bus that almost sideswipes the car" and lo and behold the bus shows up and does exactly what it was told to do. Then the director says, "Cue the sweet old lady on the old metal bike" and poof! there she is and she does what she's supposed to do which is to nearly get run over by the car and she looks as if she's taking a leisurely bike ride in the park. She doesn't even blink. And then the director yells for the finale and every bike, pedestrian, car, bus, moped, and taxi takes to the street and they all play their parts and follow their paths to a t. Paths that seem chaotic but never actually are. That's what it's like here. But it's the finale every single minute of the day. Amazingly controlled chaos. I did, however, almost get hit by a motorized bike today and I was definitely not given a script to follow. We were crossing the street. A one way street and we looked a mile down the road before we crossed to make sure we were safe. But we neglected to look the "wrong way" down the road where no cars should be coming. Ever. Because to us a one way street means a one way street. But there was a nice old man on a very quiet motorized bike who was going the wrong way against traffic and he got to within an inch or so of the empty stroller I was pushing. I didn't even hear him till I smelled him. That's how close. And he casually smiles at me and lets me walk on and goes on his way. Give me a heart attack and then smile and bike away. China.

click here to see pictures from today

day three, but it seems like day 30

Ever seen the movie Groundhog Day? Well, that's what we're living. I swear we've been here a month. The only thing I will probably never tire of and seriously miss when we're home is the food. Maybe that's why I took a ton of food pictures today. I love it. Like I will probably gain 10 pounds while we're here despite the fact that the only other thing we do other than eat is walk a million miles. You'd think one could walk off a lot of pounds walking miles in the heat. But I'm pretty sure breakfast buffets, dumplings, noodles and a bit of Dairy Queen ice cream will trump calories burnt walking.

Speaking of dumplings, I think I'm going to dream about them tonight. We found the best dumpling restaurant in the entire world today. It was the one time we didn't have our camera with us so no dumpling pictures but I'll get some tomorrow. And the next day and every Groundhog Day after that too. Poor Andy and Hope will probably end up hating dumplings but I seriously could eat them every day. And they're pan-fried. And my chopsticks eating skills increased 100 fold b/c I wanted to eat them so quickly. Not kidding. I am a master at chopsticks now. You can be too if you ever find yourself at this restaurant.

Now, let's move away from the food. Today was another one of those, "Did we really just spend a whole day here for this?" kind of day. Today was "Go to the bank" day. That was our entire agenda for the day. Banks in China are generally very crowded so Andy went alone w/our guide. An hour and a half later, they came back unsuccessful b/c they didn't have the number to wire the money to the orphanage. Hope is obsessed with Andy and pretty much just tolerates me. I was working for her affection or at least for her to not completely reject me 24/7 while they were at the bank. Animal crackers, Google Translate, and a sticker book worked for about an hour and twenty three minutes. Two minutes before Andy came back from the attempts at the banking she realized that he was gone and was started screaming BABA, BABA (repeat a million times at a very high decible). So for the third attempt at the bank, Hope and I went along. And the bank was next to the dumping restaurant. See, all things lead to dumplings in my world here.

After lunch we had Hope take a nap. I tried to sleep. Andy tried to not sleep. And we both felt miserable by the end of the afternoon. Worst jet lag feeling yet. We forced ourselves to get out and walk around. We forced ourselves to eat. And I didn't have to force myself to eat Dairy Queen after dinner. By then we both felt better. Not sure if it was the time of day, the dinner or just a good old blizzard from DQ that did the trick but whatever it was it worked. We bought a Beijing tourist book and are going to try and get a taxi to take us to some different areas over the next few days. Really, it's a week and a half but I'm pretending it's just a few days.

Let me backtrack a minute so you know what the daily photos are. Before all of this we had breakfast at the hotel as usual and I took a ton of photos. You really can't imagine the breakfast buffets here in China. It is actually funny. There is everthing from cereal, fruit, omelets, breakfast stuff galore as well as mini hamburgers, baked beans, cheese and sausage and crackers, soups, salad bar, chinese noodles, stir fry, steamed cabbage and veggies, wontons and basically lunch and dinner both American style and Chinese style. It is a bit odd to be serving yourself some french toast while looking at and smelling the baked beans next to it and the stir fry pork next to that. After that we walked. See a pattern? Eat. Walk. Eat. Walk. Anyway, we found a Chinse Walmart-ish store called WuMart. I kid you not. WuMart. It was a huge grocery store and everthing else store just like Walmart but w/a Chinese twist. I took some photos but you really don't get the full picture from just photos. Too bad there's not a way to send smell through the computer. Someone should invent that.

Hope is just a doll and either charming us with her beauty and cuteness or making us crazy with her opposite-of-charm-and-cuteness. Pretty much similar to any other almost four year old. Only she does show huge signs of being completely overwhelmed with all the change in her life right now. She is desperately afraid Andy will disappear from her sight. She is leary to begin bonding with me. She is friendly and outgoing to just about any person that will look at her until they speak to her and then she freezes up and gets all shy and timid and looks for me or Andy. She seeks our attention by testing our limits. You see, no matter how much this all looks like a happy we're-all-a-family-now kind of story, this is a very traumatic time for Hope. Probaby second only to the day she was left by herself on a train at the age of two and a half. When I think about how she must be feeling I can't help but be filled with grace and compassion for her. This is not her happy ending. At least not that she can understand. She was literally told, "Say I love you to your new mommy and daddy. Give them a hug. Get in the car with them and be a good girl" just two days ago. Can you even comprehend someone telling your three or four year old that? For us, these three weeks are the end of an adoption process we've been working on for nearly a year. For Hope, this the beginning of a new life that no one told her she would be getting. Just as she was getting used to living in an orphanage and learning to survive and cope there, she is thrown into a completely different world. Considering the circumstances, she's doing great. And she's beyond cute...wouldn't you say?!

See pictures from today here

Monday, August 15, 2011

day two

Jet lag makes blogging hard. I have a ton of things to share but this computer sits about a foot from the bed and I'm tired. Well, I'm not tired from about 3:00am-6:00am but thankfully Hope is (she slept 10 hours last night!) so my only "fully awake" time is still spent in bed. Anyway, here's a recap of some of the last day or so.

To begin with the funniest story, today we went to the Civil Affairs office to officially adopt Hope. I think. I don't know, everything is in Chinese and done through a translator so I may be completely misunderstanding what we're doing but I do know we signed a bunch of things, answered more questions (that we've answered 101 times along the adoption process anyway!), and all three of us left with red ink-stained hands/fingers b/c in China a signature is only good when a fingerprint is next to it. Then we needed to get a family photo taken for..again, I don't know what for. For something important. We just say yes and follow our translator. So we walk in the rain (mist, really, but but it counts as rain to me) to a Kodak shop a few blocks away. We are ushered in to this tiny store and have our picture taken in front of a red backdrop. All good. Hope doesn't smile for any picture but looks adorable anyway. Then we move to the computer to pick the best one. Kind of like the Target photo store only it's hot and there are 6 people in the room that probably only should be holding two. They photos seem all the same expept Hope's eyes are looking in a different direction in each one. Andy and I have this plastered fake smile kind of look but Hope looks adorable so who really cares, right? Well, we just point to one and say, "that one." Then the Kodak worker saves the picture on the screen and we think we're done. But we look at the screen again and there is a major close up of my forehead. Like full screen close up. And we realize that the Kodak man is photo shopping my wrinkles. And pores. And literally starts pointing and clicking at every inch of my face. And Andy and I start laughing and no one standing around seems to think it's funny. He makes me look porcelain-like and says he's finished. And doesn't even take a second look at Andy's face. Or gray hair. Nope, the adoption family photo ends up being an untouched photo of Andy. A deer in the headlights kind of photo of Hope and a five minute photo shopped picture of me. Oh my goodness, we could not stop laughing. But while in China, you just do what you're told, don't ask questions and keep thoughts like "seriously, this is all we got accomplished today? We signed papers and took a photo...and erased all of Julia's freckles, wrinkles, blemishes, pores, and basically 39 years of living off her face?" All for the small cost of $50. And two hours.

Now, on to the star of the blogger-show. Hope. She is currently walking the halls of the hotel with Andy b/c she woke up from her nap just sobbing uncontrollably. He took her out to try and settle her down. Poor thing. She is having a hard time today. She hates being in the hotel room and I can't blame her. There isn't much to do in here and things like turning the lights on/off, trying to open the door, playing with the phone, tv, and basically anything that does not involve doing what she is allowed to do is what she chooses. But I kind of feel the same way. There is only so much time you can sit in a small hotel room w/out going crazy. We're not even done with day two and we've all had our fill. I think she woke up from her nap and saw these hotel walls and just flipped out.

She, does however, love to be in the stroller and about anywhere but in this room. Yesterday we walked around for a few hours and she just sat in her stroller pointing and telling us all kinds of things. We have no idea what she was saying but she was loving it. We had lunch at a small restaurant down the street yesterday and she sat perfectly still for the whole time. Andy and I kept saying to each other, "There is no way she's this perfect." Caleb was a nightmare-ish crazy kid during every single meal we had with him in China. I'm talking running around the tables, throwing food, refusing to eat, yelling, bouncing off the walls crazy. Hope was the complete opposite. Yesterday, that is. Today she is likely dealing with all kinds of grief, sadness, confusion, and who knows what else and she is basically either a handful (lunch was a Caleb-like experience today minus the running around but plus a broken porcelain spoon) or sobbing. Thank goodness this is our fifth kid and second adoption or we might be acting the same way. Our heart breaks for her. We keep telling ourselves that Caleb did a lot of the same things while in China but was completely different once we got home. So we're looking forward to home.

Speaking of our 5th child and 2nd adoption. While sitting in the Civil Affairs office answering questions and promising to love and care for and never leave Hope, she drops an animal cracker on the floor. I lean over to get it but our 23 year old male translator beats me to it and picks it up. He tells her in Chinese something to the effect of "It's dirty. You can't eat it." He's really sweet about it and just trying to help. But she tears up and starts whining/sobbing. I'm thinking, "Seriously, fake-wipe it on your pants and just give it to her." I can guarantee you a million dollars Kara never ate a fake-wiped animal cracker or any piece of food that had ever come close to the floor let alone the floor of a government office in another country. That kind of thing would have sent me on a germa-a-phobic frenzy back then. Today? Well, my thoughts were different. Like 5 kids and half a world away different. But I laughed at the irony of wanting to give her the dirty cracker as I had just made a promise to the Chinese government that I would take extremely good care of her. Probably wouldn't have looked so good for me to have picked it up and fed it to her.

Click here for photos