Friday, September 26, 2008

Last Night In China

As I sit here, open luggage all around me and Aidan playing rambunctiously in her crib, I am feeling humbled and amazed. While the swearing ceremony was indeed quite informal, I found myself strangely emotional and exultant. The diplomat that led us in our pledge (that all the information provided to the US gov't during the entirety of our adoption process is true and accurate to the best of our knowledge) was very kind and touching in her opening remarks. That started the water works, and by the time we were done and everyone around me was cheering, I was working really hard to gain some composure.

I am humbled, as I said in today's earlier post, at the tremendous honor and privilege that the US gov't, the Chinese republic, and ultimately my Father has given our family. One of my fellow bloggers called these children "China's national treasures," and I couldn't agree more. As the saying among adoptive parents goes, though she was not formed and knit together under my heart she surely grew in my heart over the course of these two and a half years of the journey.

I'm amazed at the ferocity of my love for her.

Sitting in that nondescript American consulate office, I'm amazed at the emotion and joy that flooded my heart just at the sight of the American flag. No breeze waving it majestically in the air, no trumpets blaring or fanfare at all. Just the beautiful red, white and blue standing like a sentry at the door to the consulate's office.

I am humbled and amazed.

This is my last post from China. The next time I check in with you all, its will to be from the comfort of my own living room, as I sit cradling a hot coffee with sugar-free hazelnut creamer in my Tigger mug. But not until I've got all the hugs and kisses that the rest of the Gang can stand from me.

Until then, thanks for the support and encouragement in the form of comments, emails and prayers. The Boss and I both have felt carried and covered for the entirety of the journey.

Just one more prayer request?
Please pray for safe travel and a sleepy, happy baby. The other passengers will thank you!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lazy Hazy Day

The only commitment we had all day Thursday was an 11 a.m. phone call from our guide, Judy, to verify that our final documentations were in order for Friday's swearing ceremony (which I hear is less ceremonial and more informal than one would expect for a vow taken before US officials to raise this child as our own). So we rose early but lingered in the room to wake slowly and enjoy some good old fashioned cuddle time with Aidan. When we finally made our way to the breakfast buffet (which by the way, is out of this world!) we were treated to this view of the indoor water falls and koi pond to the right of our table.

To the left of the table we had a spectacular view of the Pearl River and all it's freighters and cruise boats. But the sun was shining too brightly off the water and our pictures kept white-ing out too much to enjoy the scenery. But at the center of our table, we were treated to this view. I ask you, who needs the scenic Pearl River, when they can look at this for all of breakfast?!

This is another view of the indoor water falls, with the streams of koi running underneath it all. Aidan was truly in love with those big fishes, and again, amazed by Daddy's imitation of fish lips. Her giggle echoed throughout the whole lobby, bringing a smile to anyone who was blessed enough to hear it.

After a quick nap in our room, Aidan woke up very cheerful and HUNGRY. I must confess, those seem to be the two predominant emotions this child experiences. If she wasn't so pleasingly plump, I'd be worried about the hunger and what it might mean for her care in the orphanage and foster home. But those thighs cannot lie - she's been well-loved and fed!

While Daddy fed her a hearty lunch of peas, peaches and watermelon (this child LOVES LOVES LOVES watermelon!), I started organizing our suitcases and purging out the things we will leave behind. Hopefully, our guide will see to it that these things be offered to other travellers who really need them. Everyone is so gracious and shares what they have and we are happy to pass it on in the same manner.

After lunch, we told Aidan that we were going for a walk and to do some little souvenir shopping. Doesn't that face just scream "Shopping?! I love shopping!" Just wait till she gets a load of our two-story mall :) :)

One must always head out for an afternoon of shopping equipped with the proper eye-wear.

After an exhilirating afternoon of bargaining and bartering (I really got into it and had a blast doing so!), we finished the day at Lucy's. I'd heard about it from my friends who have adopted, but until you see it yourself, you don't really know what to believe. I believe. I believe. We ate our first meal on the Island here at the beginning of the week and it was awesome to eat just plain old American comfort food. Last night was no different. This little hole-in-the-wall dive is more American diner than most of the diners on actual American soil. There are posters of American celebrities all over and the cd boombox was blaring Frank Sinatra tunes last night. It's become a gathering place for adoptive parents from all over the States, seeking a touch from home!

We found yet MORE fellow-believers while we ate dinner, seated next to us. And had another small world moment: one of the couples used to live the same region of Central PA that we did and the wife worked in our former town. Seems he is a youth pastor and that was where they served in their first church. They went on to talk about the various fund-raisers they'd done for their adoption journey and we couldn't help over hear some of it. It was neat to hear their story of faith and walking in obedience when they couldn't see the next step or the finances coming in. It was so encouraging to hear what God did for them in the journey and exciting to hear how closely it mirrors our own story. Of course, the icing on the cake is that these precious girls are all now in loving godly homes that will point them to the Gospel and teach them of the Father's love.

Had a bit of a rough night with Miss Aidan, as a late phone call woke her just before she fell into a deep enough sleep. Boy, that child has a will of steel. Which, when wrestling her to rock her to sleep is deeply exhausting. But when I was rocking her and singing "Jesus Loves Me" and "Great is Thy Faithfulness" over and over, I found myself thanking the Lord for that strong will. It's that fiery spirit that kept her surviving and thriving, in spite of the circumstances of her life before us. At one point earlier in the day, while playing with her and just drowning ourselves in her giggles and growls, I said to The Boss,

"Can you imagine how quenched and squelched 
this spirit would have been had she been left
in the orphanage for her whole childhood?"

The very thought makes me want to weep with joy that we have been given the honor and privilege of nurturing, channeling, and fanning into flame the exuberance that lies within this child. I'm so grateful that the Lord and the many loving people in our lives have nurtured and fanned into flame our dream of coming to this child. The Lord knew that there was an Aidan (remember, it means little fiery one!) just waiting to be brought home to grow and flourish. I'm so glad He's giving her to us to grow and flourish with The Gang.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Now This is More Like It!

After the crazy and slightly nauseating adventure of this morning, we got Aidan down for a long (late) nap and rested in the room with her. We got refreshed and recharged and headed down to the play room to let Li'l Empress burn off some energy. The play room, sponsored by Matel, is chock full of all kinds of great toys. Aidan was really excited by the majority of the toys, but by far and away she was most captivated by a Fisher Price toy that had mirrors, lights, music and a really good beat. That's my girl :) She's gonna love Mommy's iPod with Bose speaker docking station - at full blast when we dance together to David Cook, Keith Urban and Third Day. Throw in a little Josh Groban and Michael Buble for some class and my girl will be rockin' the house right along side of me!

Come on everybody, let's sing!

We met Brittany, Bayley and sweet Addie and walked to this great little Italian place for Wednesay's dinner. By then, the waters had receded back to their places. The rain had washed most of the debri off the streets. Shopkeepers were out in full force, drying their wares and luring in gullible travellers. The restaurant was crammed full of people, likely adoptive families like us, anxious to get out of their hotels after a long day. We heard earlier that the owner was a gentleman from Capri, Italy and that the food was very authentic. We heard right! All 6 of us thoroughly enjoyed the meal and it was really fun to be surrounded by families who were all celebrating their blessings right alongside of us. In fact, behind us was a group from Bethany Christian Services, including a couple from Lancaster County, not far from us. Turns out, we have a mutual friend, one sweet SH who has been faithful prayer and encouragement support to me during the long wait to Aidan. SH had told me to look for this couple, and until they introduced themselves after chatting about the Lord and all He's done for us, I had completely forgotten their names.

The famous White Swan, as viewed from the shopping thorough-fare

After dinner, we strolled back along the main shopping street. The thorough-fare looks like a tropical resort town, with beautiful architecture and iron scrollwork. It reminded The Boss and I of a long-ago trip to Tampa. The palm trees were swaying and the streets were bustling with tourists, adoptive families, and business people catching dinner after work. We stopped by an adorable little shop called the LadyBug and got an adorable two piece traditional red silk outfit for Aidan. Suitably royal for her royal cuteness, don't you think? We also stocked up on diapers and wipes, having found formula earlier in the gift shops of the hotel. Brittany and Bayley went off to find a new suitcase and we met them later for the traditional photo session on the red couches. I learned about this late in the game, but it seems that there is a tradition among guests at the White Swan to dress up their new children in traditional silks and pose for photos on the beautiful red couches. We couldn't figure out exactly which couch was "THE" couch, as the hotel lobbies are all equipped with red couches. So we chose the ones down by the play room in front of two gorgeous Chinese silk painted screens.

Pretty little Empresses

Hey, girl, gimme a high five!

We ended the evening quietly after parting ways with Brittany and her girls. They had some serious packing to do, as they had to leave the hotel at 5:30 a.m. to catch a flight to Hong Kong and then on to Newark. Please pray for them - they only had one hour in the huge HK airport to catch the flight to Newark and once in NJ, they have an 8 hour layover till they can get onward to Maine. That's a long, long 30+ hours with a toddler who has already experienced a ton of change this week and last. We haven't heard yet about how they did on the connection, but we should know soon. Our guide has offered to help us out with some alternatives, if that connector is too hard to make. There are some options we can work on.

While you are at it, pray for us - that same leg, minus the 8 hours in NJ will be US in just two days. I can't believe I just typed that! In two days, we will be on our way home, to the sweet arms of our gang. To our own soft beds and clean water. And to a steaming Tigger mug full of hot coffee with sugar-free hazelnut creamer. Oh, I can hardly wait!
Oh, and Uncle TS?
Happy First Day of Fall - belated.
I know I missed it. But I was, well,
in China and I've been a little busy :)
All you CCC'ers, make sure
Pastor T knows I gave
him a shout out here
with our traditional annual greeting :)

Not An Adventure I'd Care Repeat. EVER.

So, when I left you this morning, it was with a quick update that our guide had called to say that the consulate was adamant we do our medical exam this morning. Period. So we gathered the bare essentials together and put on the cruddiest shoes we had. When we got to the lobby to meet our guide, she recommended that The Boss wear the extra hotel slippers that she'd purchased rather than his sandals. I wasn't keen on that, thinking that the soles of his feet needed more protection than slippers but I was outvoted.

We headed out the doors of the White Swan, promptly stepping into water up to my calves. Yes, I know that my calves are a lot lower to the ground than most peoples' calves, but no matter my height, the water was that deep. And warm and gray and swirling. As far as I could see, it was only swirling with twigs and leaves. So far.

We trekked out to the main shopping strip for a quick stop at a photography store for Aidan's visa photo. Not working, due to power failure. Due to flooding. Great. So we headed back out to the street and walked through the deep, dirty waters. All I could think was the multiple verses that I've learned over the years about every where my feet tread and many waters not consuming me and the cleansing sanctifying power of the Blood of Jesus. Literally, I just keyed in on The Boss's back, held my umbrella and followed. Within 10 minutes of walking, my capris were soaked up to my butt. The Boss held Aidan tightly while we walked, and for once she sat quietly in his arms. I just watched his back, prayed continuously and walked.

Through a maze of alleys and little courtyards we trudged. It was horrifying. Seriously. I know I've been given to some light-hearted exaggerations in the past, to spice up the stories here on my blog. But this trip needs no spicing up. The farther from the hotel we got, the more horrifying the sights. The earthworms were (NO LIE!) about 12" long and so hugely bloated with water that they looked like something from a bad sci-fi movie. (I couldn't help but giggle a little remembering JanBug's aversion to earthworms in college. These were waaaay worse than those, dear. Waaay!) As we walked the waters became muddier and muddier and I saw awful things floating by. Things I will not even detail here. Let's just say that right about then, I was really, really regretting that the ONE thing that fell through the cracks in our preparations was those immunizations.

I tried my best to keep my eyes on the goal for which we were trudging but it was getting harder by the minute. It didn't help that at one point, even our guide freaked out a bit and couldn't take one step further. It's like she all of a sudden was paralyzed - standing there almost hyperventilating. I didn't even want to know what, if anything, she saw that triggered that. I just prayed and pressed on.

Finally, next to the medical clinic, we found a photo shop that did an instant photo with several copies for Aidan's visa. I was privileged to meet another blogger in person, Cindy and her hubby with little Naomi. They are from New Orleans, so the flooding and wind and rain didn't faze them quite like it did us. Plus, this is their third adoption from China and they have seen and experienced sooo much that I'm sure this felt more anecdotal! (Maybe I'll feel that way someday about today, too!) The photos all got snapped and we walked on to the clinic.

Aidan did great at her medical exam. They checked her ears, throat, lungs and nose - all clear. They weighed and measured her - about 21 lbs. And they checked her hearing. Sorta. They noted her special need and we signed more paperwork. It was particularly pleasing to this Momma that when she was tired of all these strangers taking her off Daddy's lap, she only wanted to cling to Momma. And cling she did!

We were done quicker than ANY doctor's office visit I've ever been to! So quickly that I said to The Boss, "they made us walk through ALL OF THAT for this?" And we headed back out to the street. By then our guide had decided that she WAS. NOT. walking through all that again and that we'd walk back via the main street as far as security and the local police would allow us. It seems that the White Swan does not allow any foot traffic in or out of their main entrance and that the line for taxis earlier was "too long" to consider waiting for a ride to the clinic. Hence the walking through who knows what.

(I must add at this point that she made that decision without consulting us and without informing us that there was another option potentially available to us. Even after I asked her twice if there were any other options beyond walking. Considering the health risks, we would have preferred knowing all the information up front. We would have been ready earlier and been willing to wait. It would have been better than wading!)

We walked out the main street of Shamian Island, now blocked to car traffic, and on to the main entrance to the White Swan. At the guard station, we hailed a taxi and drove in to the main entrance for just a few cents. When we got out of the car, I looked at our guide and informed her that if at any time in the coming three days the roads were like that again we would be taking a taxi and we didn't care about the price. She redeemed herself by splitting the cost of this ride with us. And by telling us that the consulate appointment is off the island so the next time we had to go out we'd be going by bus with a bunch of other families. At no charge.

It was obvious to us that she was totally still freaked out by the water and she dropped us of with the barest instructions for tomorrow's responsibilities and stern warnings to shower and wash up really well. As if we needed that sage bit of advice. We took turns in the shower, trying to pacify Aidan while we washed off things we dare not even imagine. I literally soaped up head to toe twice and broke down crying in the shower. I'm sure it was the stress. And believe me, there was plenty of stress. My shoulders and neck are still achey with the tension of the morning. It's taken me all day to be able to write this out without feeling totally angry and grossed out at the re-telling. Seriously.

As soon as we finished our decontamination process, I broke out the Cipro for both of us. Believe you me, we'll be dosing ourselves with that for the rest of the trip. We are sooooo grateful our doctor sent us with meds! We crashed for the afternoon in our room while Aidan napped and spent the rest of the day enjoying dinner and some light shopping with Brittany, Bayley, and Addie. I'll post later about the rest of the day - and leave you with a teaser picture of our little Empress to hold you til then!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Water, Water, Everywhere Water!

Okay, a quick geography lesson for you. We are in Guangzhou, a south-eastern city north and slightly west of Hong Kong. Formerly called Canton, Guangzhou is famous for its Cantonese foods. It's what most of us Americans think of when we order Chinese take-out. Within Guangzhou's city limits, there is a small island, surrounded by the Pearl River called Shamian Island. This is where we are. The White Swan hotel is a huge complex full of elegant gift stores, fountains, the famous play room, and fancy restaurants. And because of its reputation for catering to U.S. families adopting Chinese children, it's also regularly full of all sizes and shapes of gorgeous families glowing with happiness. The atmosphere of the hotel is usually quite festive, and we find ourselves greeting total strangers and striking up conversation about hometowns, loved ones left behind, and what we all miss about "home." It's exhilarating for all of us - from those who've come and gone to those that are here with us now, that seems to be the common feeling.

However, this morning, we all woke to a slightly different atmosphere. Dark cloudy skies, blowing winds. Employees bustling about quickly, carting hand trucks full of sandbags, pushing mop carts and toting pylons. We were blissfully unaware of the reason behind the hub-bub, until we finished stuffing Li'l Empress with french toast, soft boiled eggs, peaches, oatmeal and watermelon. On the way out, we chatted with a lovely family from NJ and she warned us that our plans for the doctor's appointment were likely in jeopardy. Seems the coming typhoon has already flooded down-town Shamian - in the direction we were supposed to walk to the clinic. Yes, I said supposed to.

With this change of plans, our guide Judy, came to the room to do all of our visa and exit paperwork instead. We are now waiting to hear from her about whether the waters have receded enough to allow us to walk and do the medical exam and visa photos today. In addition to that, we are also waiting on information about how to re-stock our supplies of formula, diapers and wipes. We may have to get a little aggressive over that particular issue, as Judy seemed to adopt a "well, I'll see what I can come up with" attitude. A little too laid-back for Mama Bear's tastes.

So, please pray for us. These delays brought on by the weather can cause complications with our Consulate Appointment. Pray for our friends, Brittany, Bayley, and Addie. They're scheduled to fly out tomorrow, but the weather is not looking too cooperative. And please pray for south eastern China. The coming typhoon (yes, I said typhoon!) is bringing heavy winds and heavier downpours. It could mean some serious destruction for outlying areas. The worst of it is expected to be over by tomorrow morning. In the meantime, we're sticking close to the hotel as much as possible!

These two shots are of the Pearl River, from our 12th story room. Yesterday, it was full of all kinds of boats and freighters. This morning, it's empty and the waters are very rough and choppy.

These two shots below are both from the front door of the hotel. Water is up to the steps and the employees were providing towels for the floor while businessmen and women bustled in and out with their pants rolled up to their knees, carrying their socks and shoes. It seems to be business as usual for most of them, but our guide is strongly opposed to us walking in those dirty waters. She said she's known too many families who have gotten sick or infections from the water. We wholeheartedly agreed!
UPDATE! Our guide just called and we will have to brave the waters no matter the depth. We will put all our other appointments in jeopardy if we don't do this one now. So pray for us and for divine protection over our feet. We have to walk, as they are no longer allowing taxis or vans onto the island. We'll update you later!

Guangzhou At Last

We have had a long day. Little Miss woke up with us at 6:30 a.m. for our early flight out of Xian, and Did. NOT. Nap. till we got here to the White Swan at 3-ish. She did great on the flight however, laughing and making friends all around us. She was enthralled with the tiny baby across the aisle. I swear, that little guy was the size of LadyBug's baby dolls! She kept pointing and saying "Wah Wah" which our guide in Xian told us means baby. Incidentally, she also points to the baby food jars and says that. And then tries to kiss the wah wah on the jar. While I'm feeding her. Makes for some messy jars!

So, we are here. We settled in, re-connected with Brittany and Bayley (our LH friends from Beijing) and went with them for a great American meal at Lucy's (yes, it's as fun and full of Americans as my forum friends all said it would be!). We also visited the play room here in the hotel. We've already met two other Christian families from the West Coast while our babies all played. And now we are taking showers and getting to bed early for some real sleep. Tomorrow is our medical exam, where the doctors check Aidan's records and clear her for the final steps with the US Consulate. We'll also have to re-stock on things like diapers and formula and wipes. I'll be able to share more later about the hotel, Guangzhou, and Shamian Island (where the hotel is situated).

Before I forget, several of you have emailed me to ask about the formula that Aidan is using. We had gotten the report in July that she was on stage 2 Nestle formula, so that is what we brought from the States with us and also what we re-stocked with in Xian. It does not appear that this formula is among the tainted milk products. However, because of the nature of Aidan's special need, we have renal testing and evaluations on tap for her future anyway.

You see, when a baby is developing in utero, the ears and the kidneys form and grow at the same stage. Because Aidan's right ear is not fully formed, the doctors at CHOP will do a complete examination of both of her ears as well as extensive reviews of her kidney function. In fact, her first appointment with the International Adoption program will be within a week of returning home to the States. From that appointment, we will work with the docs to chart the course for any medical treatment or testing she will need. Plus, we've been in touch with our doc quite often these past 4 days, with how stuffy and cough-y Aidan had been.

So, thanks for the kind inquiries and prayers for her safety. We are so blessed to be surrounded by such a community of support. Even on the days when there were multiple distractions and oppositions leading up to this trip, we felt such prayer covering by all of you. When the milk recalls were being announced, I was of course concerned (and quite a few of my blogging friends are being effected by this), but I felt such peace and safety in knowing that My Father has His hands on all of this story.
And because I know you can't stand a day without pictures, I'm throwing this one in for ya, free of charge. She shows all the signs of being well-loved and cared for by her foster parents, and gives out these sloppy open-mouthed kisses rather freely. Additionally, she is showing all the signs of being another Daddy's girl, just like her big sister :)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The 8th Wonder of the World!

The trip to the TerraCotta Soldiers Museum started with a stop at a local pottery making site, where they make the replica warriors for sale in the gift shops. We got the obligatory Soldier shots, which totally cracked Miss Aidan up - she really got a kick out of seeing us appear up there and the other tourists got a kick out of her delight. Complete with smiles, giggles, and kicking feet.

I'm pretty sure the real soldiers didn't grin like we did, but who could help it?! We knew it was gimmicky, but it was fun.

This worker is closing up a the stone and coal-fire kiln with local clay. Just like they did when the original soldiers were being crafted. Emperor Chin had all these soldiers made to protect him in his afterlife, confident that he was going to rule over all the dynasty from there, too. Pretty cheeky of him, eh?

Here are some replicas in different stages of being dried. Our guide at the factory said that many people buy them in various sizes for yard or garden ornaments, and that some Chinese restaurants in larger U.S. cities buy them for guards at the door to the restaurant. Wouldn't one of those look crazy in our front yard?! Those adorable new neighbors of ours might wonder what they've mortgaged themselves into :)

The replicas get pressed into molds and dried in separate halves for a little while. Then they are pressed together, dried some more and fired in kilns like the one above for 4-5 days at 900 degrees F. They are made hollow like the originals to allow them to dry adequately without blowing up in the kiln.

In the gift shop, Aidan was the center of attention. One sweet Canadian lady stopped and wanted all the scoop on our sweetie. Turns out, she adopted domestically in Canada 47 years ago. She commented that Aidan was a lucky baby. When I said that we felt like the lucky ones, she agreed - and said that adoption will do that to you!

From there, we hopped back in the van and drove to the museum. Along the way, we passed many roadside stands of farmers selling pomegranates and corn. The pomegranates were huge. It was hard to get good pictures, as our driver was clipping along.

We also saw the man-made mountain that houses Emperor Chin's tomb and underground castle. It's the biggest tomb in the world and has been left untouched by archaeologists. Jo mentioned that this is because there's not technology available yet to help archaeologists open the tomb and preserve its contents quickly enough given that it was covered and sealed in 210 B.C. I kinda like the idea that the site is left untouched - it lends itself to the mystery surrounding the man and his empire. Did you know that he tried to keep the building of the TerraCotta soldiers and guards for his tomb a complete secret? He forced the soldiers and farmers and peasants into slavery to build all of this for his empire and at one time there is thought to be over 700,000 workers involved. Sadly, when one got sick or died, they were often thrown right into the pits with the soldiers they were creating. The whole story gave me shivers, thinking of the parallels to the Israelites and their slavery in Egypt. Greed and power look the same, all through history even through current times, don't they?

This is Pit One, the largest and most populated of the three pits. In this pit alone, there are over 6, 000 soldiers in varying stages of repair and restoration. It's not likely that they will ever get to restore all of them. We came away from this particular pit astounded at the breadth and intensity of one man's vision for his kingdom. Each soldier has a different face, carved and formed by the life-experience of the worker who crafted him. Some of them were stern and harsh, some were watchful, some were scared. You could see all the ranges of emotions. There are four different ranks represented in this museum, but this pit was mainly infantry man and some cavalry soldiers. We learned that these clay soldiers all carried real weapons of the Chin dynasty. When the emperor died and the local farmers and peasants revolted, they broke into these pits, destroyed the soldiers and stole the weapons for their uprising.

The TerraCotta Soldiers were originally unearthed by a common farmer while he and his family were working their fields and digging a well for their family in the mid 1970's. We saw the original location where he was digging in the corner of this pit. Imagine, if he's dug just a few more feet away - this whole treasure might still be under layers and layers of sand and dirt. These buildings were built right over the original pits and their finding locations. There are three pits, named in order of their finding.

We bought a book in the gift shop and got the autograph of the farmer. He used to allow pictures and conversation with a translator. But Jo said over the years that has become wearisome for him and he's very rude to tourists. So they just have him sit there and sign book after book. The books are available in about 10 different languages and are quite beautiful.

This is a completely restored general, one of only 7 that they have been able to find and fix up. He was so stately and imposing up close! According to the ties on his front and shoulders, he is the equivalent of a five-star general.

This is one of two miniature bronze chariots found in Pit 3. One was for guarding the Emperor's spirit and the other was for escorting that spirit to the afterlife. The fine, intricate detail on these horses and the chariots was truly a sight to behold. It's easy to see why this site is considered the 8th Wonder of the World.
It was a long ride home, about 1 1/2 hours, and Little Empress was well beyond her nap time. However, as you can see below, that did not deter her from silly games and funny faces. Oddly enough, I think I have a picture of all 5 kids with their pants on their heads now, too! Some more recent than others, right Dr. D? :)

It was a gorgeous day for all the walking and sight-seeing we did and we feel as if this particular tour gave us a deeper appreciation for our daughter's culture and heritage. We were especially pleased to learn that the famed panda bears are found in the mountains around Xian, and so we bought a delicate little porcelain and bamboo tea set as a gift for Aidan to remember her province. It's painted with scenes of a little panda family. And yes, boys, we got you all your very own TerraCotta soldier. Just not big enough for the front gardens. Believe me, there's no soldier mighty enough to guard that against all the weeds I hear Grandpa has been pulling for you! :)
We just heard from Jo that Aidan's passport will be ready for pick up at 3 p.m. today! Praise the Lord. That means that we can catch the early flight out to Guangzhou (which incidentally falls over Aidan's nap time!!!) and settle into the famed White Swan well before dinner time. We're very excited to begin the next leg of the trip. However, it is a bit bittersweet, as we know that this means Aidan will be leaving all that is familiar to her. We smell differently, we act differently, and we speak differently than everything she's ever known. At least while we were here, she's still had plenty of Xian-ian exposure and attention. We are so grateful for this beautiful land that our daughter came from, but we know this moving on is God's plan for all of us. We feel honored that He chose us to be the ones to walk her through these big changes into her new life!
Since we have to leave the hotel so incredibly early tomorrow, this will be our last post from Xian. We hope you have enjoyed our journey, the good the bad and the ugly, as much as we have enjoyed sharing it with you all! Pray for smooth flights and a sleeping baby tomorrow, please :)

Friday's Site Seeing Wrap Up

Okay, let's get back on track with the beautiful scenes from around Xian. Below is the drum tower, followed by the bell tower across the plaza. These towers were used in ancient times (remember, the city wall around Xian was built over 600 years ago) to signal the opening and closing of the city gates at the beginning and ending of the days. They were also used to send other warning signals or announcements of sorts throughout the city. We walked from our hotel to this plaza area on Friday afternoon, after our visit to the South Gate and the City Wall and after Aidan and The Boss got a good nap. No matter how tired I am, I can't seem to sleep in the afternoons here. The Boss on the other hand, sleeps every time we sit down on the couch for more than 4 minutes :)

Below is the De Fa Chang Dumpling restaurant. Check out the banner announcing their title under the Chinese characters. No small amount of pride there!

The courtyard in front of the restaurant and its neighboring stores was full of people enjoying the cooler air and breezy evening. There were vendors with kites, fans, t-shirts, hats, and all kinds of toys. Little kids were riding their bikes and it seemed as if everyone was watching the Western couple with the gorgeous Chinese baby. Everywhere we go, we get smiles and nods, questioning glances, and even some older folks patting the baby and making eyes at her. She smiles away, clapping and waving - as if she's used to the entourage.

This is the entry way to the dumpling restaurant. None of the dumplings shown here are real, but meant to show interested diners all the different varieties available. Our guide, Jo, had called ahead to make a reservation for their "dumpling banquet" and specified that we preferred nothing too exotic or "scary." Yes, she used the word "scary." I didn't even ask what she meant, but she offered anyway: no animal organs, no frogs, and no dog. Yes. She said dog. What a great start to a new culinary adventure.

This is a big, golden dumpling. No, Shaggy, it is not real and you cannot take it home and eat it. :)

Here are our non-exotic, non-scary, non-dog dumplings. They were filled with everything from chicken and peppers, to veggies and tofu, to pork and leeks, to walnuts with almonds and brown sugar. My favorite was the pumpkin and roast pork dumpling. The Boss liked them all. Aidan liked the pork and leek ones. I cut them up in tiny pieces and she picked them up a little at a time between bites of mashed bananas and green peas. Funny story: even the waitresses here noticed that Aidan ate non-stop from the time she sat down till we left. This girl has earned that little belly she's sportin'!

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am totally impressed by The Boss's bravery in sampling all the new foods put in front of him. I am equally impressed with his chopstick skills - he has not left one meal hungry and uses those things almost like the natives! I excuse my lack of dexterity and gracefulness by making sure I'm cutting up food for Aidan all the while that I'm feeding myself. Can't very well cut up a dumpling with chopsticks, now can ya?!

It was a great experience. We are a big dumpling loving family, so this was a special treat for us to be able to enjoy. However, I must agree with our guide, Jo, on this: the dumpling banquet is a fun experience to be able to have. But at the end of the day, the common man's dumpling of pork and veggies is my favorite. Steamed, fried or boiled, just dunk me one in a bit of soy sauce or teriyaki and I'm a happy gal.

Next post, I'll share our amazing day at the TerraCotta Warriors Museum. It was a long drive out there, but well worth the trip. We loved every single minute of it.

Finally, thank you all for your prayers for Aidan, and for The Boss and I. We woke this morning feeling refreshed and Aidan is less stuffy. Her cough is still fuller than I'd like, but we are pleased with her progress. We should be fine for the 2 1/2 hour flight to Guangzhou on Tuesday. Please pray that her passport is processed and finalized early tomorrow to allow for our flight out. The tickets for that flight can't be purchased till we have the passport finalized.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Friends, thank you so much for praying for this family. Their blog is NOT private any longer and I've been keeping up with Leslie and their story via the blog and emails. The news today is nothing short of miraculous. Take a moment to go there and read the story. It will encourage you and set your heart to dancing. God is so Good. All the times that I was in prayer over them, I kept hearing the old hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness," over and over in my heart. I have been singing it over them in my spirit all week. I am so happy to report to you that they are moving forward. Oh, just go read it for yourself. It's too good to read it in her words!
We are off to the TerraCotta Warriors this morning, after a bottle and breakfast. Aidan slept better, as did we, and I think the coughing is less "gaggy" and her breathing is less "snuffly." In fact, I actually got up at 6 to be sure she was still breathing! She was so quiet for so long. (Don't laugh, I know you other mothers and some daddies have done it too!)
If any of you see Baby BlueEyes today (the 21st in the States) please give him a huge shower of hugs and kisses from Mommy and Daddy. Our big boy is 7 today. We are so blessed to have him for our son. He is a light and a joy to all who know him and fills our hearts and our home with much laughter and love.
Happy Birthday, Buddy. We love you and thank God for you every day. We'll call ya later!

Friday, September 19, 2008


Baby BlueEyes, Aidan loves the pink
light-up toothbrush you guys picked out for her :)

We've been in contact with our doc at CHOP all morning and with her consent, we are going to try and ride it out here by doing the saline nose drops, steam showers as needed, and Benadryl a few times a day. We feel fairly confident that it's a head cold and are treating it as such. Please keep praying and we'll keep you updated.

It's been a hard 24 hours, as the homesickness is setting in. Sleep deprivation and sensory overload is weighing on us also. Add to that Li'l Miss Stuffy Nose and I'm finding myself near tears too frequently. We took a quick walk out to the local KFC for take-out lunch and faced with all Chinese writing and no familiar pictures of my favorite fast food, I had to turn away to stem my tears. I hate that! And on the walk back, I caught a pick-pocket going after Todd's cell phone, apparently after finding nothing of interest in the camera bag, which was open too. I yelled at the pickpocket (out of character for me in a public place) and teared up again.

We plan to spend the rest of the day hanging out here at the hotel, reading and napping and watching bad HBO and time-delayed CNN. We may treat ourselves to the Western buffet in the hotel tonight also. I brought along Pastor Dave's new book, Hope Beyond Reason, and it's been really ministering to me. Someone, please share that with him. Additionally, I am so grateful for all the work Shaggy did to load up my iPod with great tunes. I spent yesterday's nap listening to my favorite hymns and felt refreshed and built up. Our Bibles were too heavy to bring, so The Boss's iPod daily casts will have to suffice. I'll be soaking some of that in this afternoon also. As I was typing this out, my precious darling said "MaMa" for the first time. Whether she knows what she's saying or not, I'm taking it as a gift from My Father, reassuring me that I'm in His hands. She spent the next 15 minutes before her nap, babbling "MaMa" and giving us that little scrunchy-nose smile. Thank you, Lord!

Thanks for your prayers. I'll share the adventures of last night's dinner at the dumpling house soon. Be warned, the pictures will be of tasty treats :)

Please Pray

For the past three days, Aidan has been battling a stuffy runny nose. We knew to expect this, as the change over to air-conditioned air can be very hard on a baby's sinuses. But now she is coughing a full, icky cough. She has slept through the majority of the coughing the first two nights, but of course Todd and I have not slept well at all.

Last night, it got so bad we had to steam up the bathroom and stand in it with her for about 1/2 hour. I gave her a mini-dose of Benadryl and she finally fell into a sound sleep until about 5 a.m.

But this morning, she's coughing again and slightly feverish. She's a bit out of sorts but still pretty pleasant. However, our doctor from CHOP has advised us to seek treatment for her. It is essential that we guard against ear infections in her hearing ear and imperative that the congestion be dealt with so we can safely fly her to Guangzhou on Tuesday.

Please, pray for our baby girl. It grieves us to see her so uncomfortable and we are wiped out.

Scenes From Xian

This morning started with a big change of plans. Now that we've carried the Li'l Empress for three full days, our backs and arms are aching. We weighed her last night and discovered that she's a whopping 22 lbs! No wonder - it's been years since we've carried a baby that size for so many consecutive hours and back then, we had months to work up to it! And now that I think about it, when BBE weighed 22 lbs, he was walking, er, running all over the house on his own two feet. So, we met our trusty guide Jo and asked her to help us find a light-weight cheap stroller.
Instead of going to the TerraCotta Soldiers Museum today, we spent a little more than an hour hunting down an umbrella stroller. Thanks to advice from our LH friends, the Alkemas, we made our way to this brand new supermarket (think Super W*lMart on steroids and stilts!) and found a mini-chariot for the empress. Wow, my back and my arms and my shoulders are so relieved.

She seems quite content in it. We were a bit concerned about spending the money only to have her hate being in it rather than in our arms. I'm so glad we waited a bit to build her trust and comfort first. She's had a lot of new things in her last 3 days and we didn't want to freak her out with another one, but this was a necessity. We have heard over and over from our fellow hotel guests that the TerraCotta Soldiers Museum is huge and a lot of walking. We're thankful for Jo's flexibility, and grateful that the stroller was inexpensive.

Occasionally, she puts her thumb in her mouth and sucks on it a bit. Wouldn't it be great for LadyBug to have a fellow thumb sucker in the family? NOT that LadyBug still sucks her thumb. I promise :)

Our driver brought us to the South Gate of the famous Xi'an City Wall. The wall was built in the Ming Dynasty, over 600 years ago, to protect the city and defend the dynasty. The South Gate is the one that is most beautifully restored and hosts many tourists every day. We met folks from Australia, England, and Canada there today.

One of the first defenses of the city is its moat system. This picture is from the drawbridge, showing one of the many bridges that have been built over the moat to handle the traffic. Xi'an has over 7 million residents and more than 1 million tourists from all over the world every year.

This is the Watch Tower on the wall. We walked up to the middle balcony to view the city from all around. There are 4 original gates into the city: North, South, East and West. Each gate has similar watch towers. Inside the tower there is a museum and gift shop with beautiful Ming era porcelain pieces and furniture. The replicas are just as beautiful and intricate. The attention to detail in the architecture and the craftsmanship are very impressive. And the colors, as I said before about Beijing, are so rich and saturated. I love the contrasts of the colors against the hazy drab skies.

This is a view of the City Wall from the balcony of the Watch tower. On the left, you'll notice that the wall is higher and there are battlements notched in to the wall. That's the outside of the City Wall, were the soldiers and guards stood to defend the city. On the right, the wall is lower and looks over the inner workings of this ancient city. The City Wall itself is about as wide as a US city street and only bikes and walking traffic are allowed up there. The air was cool and breezy and it was so peaceful up there, looking over the fascinating mix of ancient and modern inside and outside of the original wall's perimeter.

This is one of the restored cannons used to defend the Ming dynasty's treasured city. Xi'an used to be the capital city of all of China, when the Ming family was in power. The capital's location changed to Beijing when the Ming family lost their power and their dynasty was taken over. This wall and the beautiful gates are testaments to their long and prosperous rule.

All the sight-seeing and the history lessons proved to be too much for the Li'l Empress by late morning. Apparently Mommy and Daddy missed her cues because half-way through her morning snack, she pitched a royal fit of screaming and crying. We laughed while she tried to poop and then she got really mad. It took all three of us adults to change her diaper and then Daddy scrambled to make a bottle while I rocked and soothed her. She promptly fell sound asleep in the middle of the bottle and we scrambled to the van to head to the hotel for a rest.

On tap for tonite: the famous dumpling restaurant. We saw a special on the Travel Channel before the Olympics by Samantha Brown. She did a whole hour on the city of Xian. One of the sites she highly recommended was the De Fa Chang Dumpling Restaurant. By then, we knew we'd be traveling to Xian for Aidan, so we made that a big priority to visit when we spoke with our guide. Jo has told us to just eat a snack mid-day because it will be a big spread tonight.
Last night, Jo took us to a wonderful little Chinese restaurant by the Bell Tower. The table was full of tender beef in a tomato sauce, garlic steamed broccoli, spicy chicken and peppers, pineapple flavored sticky rice, and fried aloe. There was also a mushroom filled broth but neither of us enjoyed that very much. Aidan surprised us by inhaling as much of the steamed broccoli as I could cut up for her. She loved the beef in tomato sauce - I think I'm going to find a recipe for that one. It was amazing. The Boss really enjoyed the spicy chicken, but I steered clear. I think the kids would have really enjoyed the sticky rice, too. Maybe I'll try to find a good recipe for that also. Most surprising was how much we both loved the fried aloe. It was in a light tempura type batter and soooo sweet inside. Jo said that the Chinese eat a lot of aloe, and it has great medicinal qualities for inside and outside. It went down easy and we were all happy.
I expect tonight will be no different. And Shaggy? While we are completely unable to box up the left overs and bring them home to you, I promise to take pictures and give you a full report of the eating extravaganza! Remember, no drooling on the keyboard :)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Rainy Day

It's raining here in Xi'an and we just came home from a little walk to a local mall. The mall here is like 8 stories high and arranged like a very upscale open air market. All the stores are arranged around the escalator and there's not really an official opening or doorway per store.
I have had so much to process and think about that I decided to share with you all the stuff going on in my head. Be afraid. Be very afraid! These are just some of my observations of traveling to another nation, all the way across the globe. Are you ready for this? (Keep in mind, most of it is typed with my tongue firmly in my cheek and there is no offense intended!)
  • My beauty regime and daily preparations to "face the world" are meaningless in this land. Once they get done staring and poking each other to look at my big, wild red hair, the natives' gazes immediately drop to my feet. I'm guessing it is to see what fashionable, middle-aged white women wear when abroad.

  • The boxes that they pass off for beds here make me feel older than I ever thought possible by the time I drag myself out of bed each morning. My bones feel bruised and my joints ache by 4 a.m. They warned me about the hard beds. I knew it was coming. So far, the only good thing I can glean from these hard "beds" is that Aidan doesn't even feel me sliding out from under the covers in the mornings.

  • One great thing about a daughter who doesn't hear from one ear is how deeply she sleeps. Seriously, her habit is to turn her head onto her hearing ear when she's really asleep, so The Boss and I don't really have to soft-shoe around the sleeping baby. This bodes well for Shaggy's drum practice and Dr. D's French horn rehearsals :)

  • If I loved my front-loader washer and dryer before I came to China, I am absolutely crazy about them now. I canNOT wait to wash every single thing we brought with us. Packing light by utilizing only 2 or 3 color schemes was a terrific idea. I am now sick of aqua and brown and rust. And I may never wear those brown capris again. Or at least for a couple weeks!

  • I am thankful for my flip flops. We had been warned that, while the hotels are very nice and almost luxurious, the management doesn't have the same concern for clean floors that we (I?) do. I am also grateful for my Sw!ffer and Mr. St*nley Ste*mer.

  • I am actually beginning to miss the smell of my town. For those of you who know where I live and what piggy place is nearby, you may really think I've gone off the deep end. But trust me, facing all these foreign smells is challenging at best. The thoughts of the land of pig processing is strangely comforting. (Seriously, it's mostly that industrial diesel smell, but on a rainy day one can really smell the sewers here.)

  • After more than a week of old HBO and time-delayed CNN, I am thinking that I might spend Sunday after our flight home just watching about 14 shows at once. In English. With no Stallone anywhere in sight.

  • I am seriously grateful for Uncle Bob D's blackberry tip. He knows what I'm talking about. It has rescued The Boss and I numerous times from gastrointestinal distress of varying kinds. And Uncle Bob? While I've not seen any fresh peaches any where since we've arrived, I think this land is some kind of Coca Col* nirvana. Brilliant stroke of marketing on their part but really unfortunate for The Boss and I. We've gone over to the dark side and become P*psi people (you can blame The Boss, he started it!). Can someone get me a Diet Wild Cherry P*psi please?
Well, that's not all. There's plenty more crazy thoughts like these running through my head almost every minute of our time here. Except for when we're crossing streets. Then all I can think is "Please don't let me get hit. Please don't let me get hit." But seriously, my mom commented earlier in the week about sensory overload - that's my brain. I canNOT shut it off. Many of these thoughts make me giggle, and so I'm sure the Chinese people are quite entertained by the crazy white lady with the frizzy red hair laughing to herself as she walks down the sidewalks. Hmmmph. Welcome to my life :)

So, I know why you are all here and I won't make you wait any more. Prepare to feel the sweetness running through your veins. There should be a warning on pics like these: "Warning! Cuteness Quotient Likely to be Exceeded When Viewing Pictures." So don't say I didn't warn you.

The obligatory shampoo mohawk shot. I now have one of all 5 of my kids :)

My new favorite - she's a Water Baby!

Now she smells like a Gang baby - fresh, clean and all Johnson & Johnson-y.

There, were they cute enough for ya? We're off to catch the show at the lobby fish tank. Scared of it at first, she is now completely entranced by the colors and motion. And by The Boss's imitations of fish lips. Personally, that's the part that scares me. Just a little.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It's Official!

At last, it's official in the eyes of the Shaanxi provincial government. Aidan Hope BoNing is ours!

We left the hotel this morning to hurry up and wait at the local Civil Affairs office, where we met Aidan yesterday. The director of the orphanage, Mr. Wang (pronounced Wahng) met us there with his wife and one of Aidan's nannies from the orphanage. I felt sad for Aidan because she didn't seem to know what to do with the fact that these sweet people kept smiling at her and beckoning to her to "come." And all she really wanted to do was stay in Baba's arms. They were very sweet and understanding and all got a real kick out of watching her play with him. Even funnier to them was when she kept leaning in for me and then leaning in for Daddy when I had her. She definitely likes getting reactions out of people and if she can make them laugh, she is ALL OVER that behavior.

On the left, Mr. Wang and on the right, one of Aidan's caretakers at the orphanage. We learned today that she was in foster care from April till two weeks ago. It's obvious to us that this orphanage and the foster mother modeled loving relationships for Aidan. We are so grateful for that!

Once the official got in for the appointment (late!) we had an official interview where he asked us about our home, our family, our desire to adopt, and our ability to care for 5 children, given her special medical needs. He seemed satisfied with our answers and commented that it's obvious we have a great love for Wang, Bo Ning and that he can tell she will have a wonderful loving home to grow in. He has NO idea!

We took the vow to never abandon or abuse her and to be mindful of the laws of China regarding adoption of abandoned orphans. Then we went to the hot and humid lobby to wait some more. This time it was for the passport photos and the official adoption certificate with our first "family" photo (minus my other four sweeties!).

We tumbled into the waiting van to be driven to the Provincial Security offices where The Boss held Aidan up for another passport photo and our guide Jo ran to the bank for the wire transfers of monies to the orphanage donations and provincial paperwork fees. At that point, the Li'l Empress was getting cranky and I think the other waiting customers got a giggle out of watching us try to prepare a bottle from a backpack and a thermos. I know they sure got a giggle out of her resounding burps that came after the first 4 ounces!

Poor Jo (our awesome adoption facilitator), on the way back into the van, she smacked her head ridiculously hard on the opening of the van door and really hurt herself. She wept quietly while I prayed silently and offered her some acetaminophen for the pain. She finally took me up on the offer later in the errands. I'm hoping she's okay - it was a seriously hard hit.

From there, we headed to a local supermarket. It was several stories tall and super clean and organized. Both stores, W*lM*rt and this one, had staff swarming everywhere cleaning shelves and dusting and mopping. When is the last time you saw one of the employees in your neighborhood grocer completely empty a shelf to wipe it down with steaming water and cleanser, then dry it and re-stock it? I don't know about you, but even my beloved G!*nt has never been caught by me in such an act of cleanliness.

We purchased more formula (cuz you know, this girl eats!) and some other little necessities to help the week pass more cheaply and comfortably. We also bought a cute little noisemaker phone for Aidan, so she can call her jie jie and gu gu's to say Ni Hao! She charmed every clerk we passed with her scrunchy nose smile and backward waves.

Finally (can you believe we did all this by noon?!) we headed "home" to put Aidan down for her nap. Please pray for her cute-ems: she's not adjusting to the AC in the hotel very well and is stuffy and runny today. We've started her on saline nasal drops and are checking her temp. frequently. It's not uncommon, but I hate that it's bothering her. Once she went down, The Boss ran out for Big Macs but forgot to order "no onions and no lettuce" - so pray for us all! We were famished and the price couldn't be beat. I scraped most of my veggies off but The Boss toughed it out. We were warned not to eat any fresh fruits or veggies (except bananas and maybe watermelon) and absolutely NO ice. Guess what else The Boss forgot to say when ordering our drinks? I skipped the drinks and stuck to my bottled water. He's asleep right now, so we'll see if he suffers any ill-effects.

I've tried to nap, but with all my racing thoughts and fervent prayers over my new child, my family in the US and my blogging friends who also were united with their babies, I didn't have much success. I'm particularly burdened to pray for this family ( They are in an excruciating situation. We are members of the same special needs forum and had been chatting on-line for weeks about our coinciding trips, planning a face-to-face meet up in Guangzhou (where all US adoptive parents end their China travel). Suffice it to say, they are in crisis mode with their intended daughter and are seeking God for a miracle. Please, please. Pray for this family. She was a great source of encouragement to me during our long and crazy ride to Aidan and I'm honored that she reached out to me and others for support and prayers now.

Well, it sounds like our beauty is waking from her nap. Time to fix another bottle (I WILL get the hang of this schedule and the novelty of making bottles! I am determined!) It's almost "waking up time" there on the East Coast and I wish all of my loved ones a glorious morning. We miss you more than words can say here. Thank you for the love and support. We couldn't do this without you.