Thursday, April 25, 2013

To "csmith"

Thank you for reading and commenting, "csmith." I have no other way to connect with you, as your profile shares no contact information or email address for a more private conversation. So I'm going to address your valid concerns and questions here. The questions you pose are too important to not address, as I do feel very strongly about attachment and bonding and how we choose to facilitate healthy adjustment. Hopefully other readers will also glean from the conversation (albeit a fairly one-sided conversation).

First, I appreciate you reading and following along. I appreciate that you are interested in learning and growing and preparing for your own adoption journey. I hope you have a great community of adoptive parents similar to what I am blessed to have. The sharing and learning that I've enjoyed with those folks has equipped me and encouraged me more than I will ever be able to articulate.

Second, with regard to your inquiry about our homecoming and settling in: I didn't take offense, nor did I receive it as criticism. But I do think you are only seeing a tiny glimpse of our life, the tiny portion that I choose to reveal and highlight for the sake of sharing our journey. I would caution you to remember that when reading any blog, there's huge parts of back-story that you aren't reading or may never fully grasp. In light of that, I've been writing here about adoption for a long time now, and I have many, many times addressed the very issues which you are questioning. Both in my own thoughts and in sharing links and writings of other adopters I read and follow.

So let me get to the heart of your inquiry, in my view. You said that the traditional wisdom you've been hearing is to:
"avoid crowds, not let others hold them or feed them, stay home as much as possible, in order to create really good bonding and establish you as the primary caretaker. You guys seem to be out and about a lot, sharing her with others (not that I blame you)."
Let me assure you, with the exception of the very important family day on Sunday that was planned far in advance of our travel plans, we have done just that. I mean, we can't avoid the crowd that IS our gang, but we have been very intentional to pull away, hibernate, and "shrink our world." If you follow either of the links I've just highlighted, you'll see what I'm talking about. Further, if you search the label "attachment" (see the "cloud" on my left sidebar) you will find lots of similar conversations I have had over the years since our wait for Li'l Empress.

By "out and about" I can only assume that you mean our "on the go" day this past Sunday, after only being home for 24 hours. (I'm assuming you cannot mean the actual trip time in China, as staying in the hotel room for hours on end is not a good plan for anyone.)

In point of fact, attending Sunday's events was a calculated risk that we knew would potentially have some hard consequences (and indeed, the fussy cranky baby and grumpy momma were not pleasant the next day!). But we also knew that Sunday was about more than just "The Gang" and our journey. The day was about honoring what God is doing in and through my brother, his wife, and their ministry. In a family as big and busy as ours (both immediate and extended), we often choose the bigger picture of the "wholeness" of family over the immediate of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This was one of those choices, and I'd make it again.

In the midst of that choice, no one but The Boss and I (with some occasional help from LadyBug) held her or fed her all day long, not even my siblings or my parents. We are very intentional that right now, even the kids are barely participating in her physical care. We let them offer her finger foods and sit with her while she eats but they aren't giving her bottles or spoon-feeding her. It would be a lot easier for sure, especially since she is in "adoration of big sister mode" right now. But we know the link between providing for that basic need and establishing trust and confidence in our ability to meet that need for her so we are soldiering through.... though I must admit, yesterday's dish of yogurt was offered with drooping eyes and very little meaningful interaction on my part. I could.not.wake.up!

To your point that we seem to be "out and about alot," we've actually done no other socializing. We are in full hibernation mode (as we did in the fall of '08 for our first adoption). Yes, we step out to pick up Li'l Empress from school. To run to the grocery store. To get the banking done. And {sob, sigh}to say good-bye to my brother and his family as they load the truck for the big move. But it's limited. It's guarded carefully. For just short trips. And we make a big deal about coming "HOME."

And frankly, I'm loving it! I'm puttering in my kitchen, hanging out on the floor with my baby, folding laundry, and enjoying the absence of regular responsibilities. It's a short season of our life, and I fully intend to enjoy it while I have it.

Except for the necessities of school for four of the kiddoes, work for The Boss, and the older kids' events (to which they drive each other and themselves), we are pulling away from the world for the foreseeable future. It's a little pathetic how much fun I have saying "No" to requests for help or involvement and definitely a little sick how much joy I had on Sunday night when filling out our weekly family calendar. It was so empty! And it is likely to remain so for the rest of the school year.

If I thought I could get away with it longer than that, you can bet your bippy I'd sure try! So, thanks for your inquiry. I hope that you continue to learn and grow in your journey to your child. And I hope that you continue reading here... I'm going to continue to share snippets of our life together and be real about our journey. I hope that you do the same for your own journey.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wordless Wednesday {legacy}

This chair was a gift to my parents
when I was a baby.

I sat and played in it as a little one.
All three of my siblings sat here too.

When I was expecting Shaggy,
my mom passed it on to me.
And now all 6 of my children
have enjoyed rocking in my little chair.

That little chair holds legacy every day.

Obviously Wordless Wednesdays are rarely that.
Wordless, that is. But click over to 5 Minutes
for Mom and join the fun anyway!!!!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Redeeming and Redefining.

Over the 6 years we've been part of the adoption community, I've had a lot of time to learn and think about the good, the bad, and the ugly of adoption. A lot of time to mourn the broken-ness of our world at large and the losses in Li'l Empress' and Mei Mei's little worlds that brought us all together. To think and pray about how God would have us intentionally go about redeeming that broken-ness and loss. It's not the easy part of adoption to dwell upon but I've chosen to "go there" in order to more fully understand and thus be more available to participate in my daughters' healing and growing.

Yesterday, as the household was returning to the normal week-day routine, Mei Mei was bewildered by all the activity. After all, the first two days since she's been home we've spent largely on the couch or on the floor together, propping our eyes open with toothpicks and watching her play with the kids. (It's actually kind of amazing how quickly she has gotten used to having an older sibling at her beck and call during the waking hours of her day!) But yesterday she was noticeably unsettled. It took me a while to catch on, as I was puttering around the kitchen and reveling in my coffee.

First, Dr. D left. She kept reaching for him but didn't really cry.

About half an hour later, LadyBug was ready to catch her bus. Mei Mei didn't want to be put down but LadyBug toughed it out and said good-bye while Mei Mei cried a little bit.

Then I ran up to hop in the shower while The Boss supervised Baby BlueEyes and Li'l Empress as they prepared for their day. The Boss walked them out to the bus and the good-byes were likely more painful for BBE and Li'l E than they were for Mei Mei, as she was busy taking in the big yellow thing and the fresh air and green trees all around her.

Twenty minutes later, The Boss put on his coat and started doling out the hugs and kisses. He was trying to say good-bye and she was having no part of it. We walked him out to his car and she was crying like her little heart was breaking. Reaching for him, calling "Baba!" and arching her back to get out of my arms. It was pitiful. Just so sad. 

To her, this was another good-bye. In a long line of good-byes over these last two weeks.

I've been particularly mindful of all the good-byes we've been logging since we met her.

Good-bye to the nannies in her orphanage. Who likely doted on her, as reports indicate that she was a favorite with her charming little smile and teasing sense of humor.

Good-bye to the orphanage - the only home she knew from about 2 weeks old, for 21 months.

Good-bye to the familiar sights, smells, and sounds of those 21 months of her life.

Good-bye to the familiar routine and rhythm of her daily life.

Then, good-bye to our guide in Beijing, with whom she thoroughly enjoyed flirting and teasing.

Good-bye to the hotel room where she had just started to feel noticeably confident and secure.

Good-bye to an environment where her emerging baby-babble actually made sense to the Mandarin-speaking folks around her.

Good-bye to Beijing - on to Guangzhou.

Good-bye to yet another hotel, another city.

Good-bye to China.

Now a good-bye to all these great new playmates who jump when she says jump. And who sit right where she tells them too when playing the magnet game. Who fall all over themselves and each other to make her giggle, smile, or best of all, offer a rare kiss.

Worst of all, good-bye to that new, big man, that Baba who kept her safe on all those big moving vehicles she had to endure for the last two weeks. "Why, oh, why, are they making me say good-bye to him?!"

But as I was simultaneously giggling and empathizing with her pouty face and big crocodile tears and trying to soothe her little sobs, it hit me.

"This is the day we begin the process of redeeming all those losses. Today, she will learn, even if she forgets it tomorrow, that when the kids go away, they come back. When Baba leaves, Baba always comes back."

This is the day we get to redefine "good-bye" for our girl.

I can't promise either of  my daughters that they will never suffer loss or heartbreak now that they have been planted in our family forever. I can't promise them that the broken-ness that brought them to the place of adoption will go away and never touch their hearts or minds again.

But I can promise them that in this family, good-bye is not forever. Good-bye can also mean another opportunity for a joyful and loving celebration of "Hello again."

I held her tight against my heart and whispered in her ear, "Don't worry. Baba will be home later. He will come back soon. Baba always comes back home."

And I thanked the Lord that I get to be part of redeeming the losses for these two gifts He's given us to parent. It's a privilege and an honor that carries a huge responsibility - may I be mindful of it, no matter how good, bad, or ugly it gets in the process.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Home Sweet Home

Mei Mei slept right through the excitement
of landing on American soil!
She actually traveled extraordinarily well
considering how ridiculously active and busy
this precious little one is!
Thank you all for praying for us
over this specific concern.

First sight out of the baggage claim gates!

The Gang is FINALLY All Here!!!!

We arrived home late on Friday evening, after a delightful dinner with my brother and all 6 of our kids together at a little Irish pub near the airport. Mei Mei was charming and pleasant through the whole meal, eating off of anyone's plate that would share with her. You know what they say, "Food is love!" And man, the love was abounding in that pub. The rest of the crowd was captivated with the news reports of the capture of the final suspect in the marathon bombing, but we were loopy with joy at being reunited with our kids and exhaustion from traveling for 24 straight hours.

Mei Mei and LadyBug formed an immediate
attachment, within minutes of our arrival and reunion.

Watching this boy of mine fall head over heels in love
with his new sister over the course of their first evening
together is probably one of the most precious memories
I will carry from our arrival.

We finally left the restaurant and drove 2 solid hours, The Boss fighting sleep all the way, through driving blinding rain. I prayed almost non-stop for that whole drive. Unfortunately, Mei Mei slept the whole way home, so The Boss and I took some time to unpack and settle in. Then he headed off to bed and Shaggy, Dr. D and I stayed up with Mei Mei while she wore herself down. I got both suitcases unpacked, a load of laundry started, and a space in the pantry cleared out for diapers and supplies. I was so exhausted but she was going strong and I knew I'd need her to sleep for more than a teensy 2 hour nap, so I pushed through.

Saturday was really low key, napping off and on, cleaning out the fridge, hanging with the kids, and enjoying the time together to re-connect. Mei Mei took some great naps, I think mostly because all the new toys and new games with her siblings were so overwhelming. But the kids are so great with her and it was so much fun to watch them all attach to her in their own unique ways.  Later in the day, my parents stopped by on the way to my brother's house to meet her, but she napped through the whole first visit. So they came back on their way to my sister's house and got a peek at her little impish smile and sweet nature.

We spent all day Sunday "on the go" as it was my brother's last Sunday to preach at the church here in town where he pastors. He was honored and commissioned off to their new church plant in Maryland and we really wanted to be there to honor what God is doing in their lives. I hate that they are moving so far away but so incredibly proud of the call on his life and the way that he and his wife walk that out. After the service and light snacks, we crashed at home for a couple hours and then joined the family again at my sister's for a family dinner. It was a really long, hard day for us and for Mei Mei but whatever wear and tear it took on our bodies, it must have been the "flip switch" that we needed. The three of us slept from 10-6 last night and she's just now waking up from a nice long 3 hour nap. She's regulating to the time change much more graciously than The Boss and I have so far, but it really feels like today was a good turning point.

In fact, I hear her stirring now, so I'm off! I'll post soon about some of the other stuff going on here. To remind myself, I had some interesting observations this morning as the family all slipped into regular weekday routines... hopefully in my jet-lagged state, that reminder will be enough to capture the thoughts that are swirling!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wrapping It All Up

Wow, we've been trying off and on all day to get our internet connection to last long enough to be able to post here. I can't say that I'm sure the connection will last but I'm gonna try my durndest to make this last post from China a good one. NOT that we did a ton of really monumental stuff but it IS the last post after all.

After a late lingering breakfast at the heavenly buffet, we sat and chatted with friends for a while, enjoying the giggles of the little girls as they played. We felt like we really clicked with this family and we look forward to keeping up with them as we all settle in to the business of regular life outside the adoption trip bubble.

Then we headed back to the room to begin the packing process. Silly me, I can't seem to efficiently or effectively pack unless I empty the suitcase and start "from scratch." So that is exactly what I did. For my clothes. For Mei Mei's clothes, for all our toiletries, for my carry-on. For it all. As I packed, I pulled out excess of things we either didn't use or wouldn't need at home. I gathered them all up and made a bag up for our guide. We asked her to use them for her family's needs or to share them with other coming adoptive families. It's our prayer that the general prescription and over-the-counter meds serve someone well in their times of need. We are terribly grateful that we had no need of any of it, (except the Imodium for The Boss's food poisoning episode!) but also very thankful for doctors who prescribed it as good contingency plans.

While we were bustling about packing, Mei Mei had her own ideas of how to help.  Literally, everything had to be moved to the middle of the king-sized bed - once I discovered that my neatly folded piles of socks and tees were being snatched and thrown into the suitcase across the room. Unfortunately, the middle of a king-sized bed is also pretty much out of reach for me! My body got quite a great "P!lates" style stretching work-out.

Once the clothing was out of reach,
she moved on to the bag of dirty laundry.
No matter that there are at least five noisy
toys scattered around the room.
Putting her little legs in Daddy's t-shirt
armholes is way more fun!

She was temporarily distracted from
the dirty laundry fashion show
by snacks and juice in her stroller.
But only temporarily!

She is totally mocking me.
Lets me put a cute hair clip in.
But JUST when I think, "Oh, YAY! She's gonna leave it alone,"
she smirks and slowly, gently pulls it out.
Even when I keep my expression blank and neutral.

After a hard-core hour and a half of packing and cleaning up, we met Vicki and her sister Kelly, along with 2 of Vicki's daughters for lunch. She and I have been reading each other's blogs for years now, having found each other by way of  No Hands But Ours and Ni Hao Ya'll and our common interest of parenting adoptive children with hearing loss. They are here adopting Claire, a delightful and spunky little girl with a quick smile and a blooming, blossoming heart. Her daughter Ava came along for support and is so sweet and loving - I got a hug before I was even properly introduced the other day!

It's 7:20 p.m. here in Guangzhou. We are staying in, finishing up the random left-over foodstuffs and finalizing travel plans. Please pray with us that we get bulkhead seating for the extra space and the baby bed it offers. Once she falls asleep, she sleeps through pretty much anything. (For example, the crazy loud radio alarm we didn't know that she set for 6 a.m. today when she was playing with the clock last night. Sigh. On our ONE morning to sleep in a bit!) It would be awesome to have that break for our arms.

Daddy lovingly bit off the skin of this apple
(I inadvertently threw out the plastic knives I found when re-packing!)
for his little bit. She LOVED chowing down on it!
Hopefully, all the random left-overs sit well on her tummy
and fill her up at least till we get in the van tomorrow morning!

So, that's it. Our last day in China. Nothing terribly exciting except that it was all spent getting ready to come HOME! Oh, how I love that word. HOME. Hugs and kisses from my gang. Familiar germs. Land of Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi, uncontaminated chicken and eggs, and drink-able water from the tap. OH! And coffee with sugar-free hazelnut creamer in a great big Tigger mug.

I'm not a complicated momma and these simple things of my life will be even more treasured than previously. Especially when enjoyed in the comfort of my own home, surrounded by my gang. I can't wait!!!!!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Last Official Appointment And Shopping!

This morning, April 17th, was our Consulate Appointment, the last official appointment of our adoption paper-chase! We met our guide, Lily, in the lobby at 7:40 a.m. and drove off to join a bunch of other adoptive families in the waiting room of the American Consulate. The whole process was very quick and anti-climactic considering all the hoops and obstacles and reams of paperwork we tunnel through to get to this point, but I still found myself choking up when taking the vow on behalf of my daughter. The vow is nothing more than an "I swear that all this documentation is as true today as it was at every step along the way" kind of oath but still, it is "THE" official oath that all legal immigrants must take before entering into the United States of America. And just like that, our daughter is now an official immigrant to the United States. When we arrive in Newark on Friday and hand over her legendary "brown envelope" to the Customs Officer, she'll no longer be an immigrant but a citizen!!!! Only two days till then. YAYAYAYAYAYAY!

Once that was over, we headed over to do some shopping and strolling on Shamian Island. For those that followed last time we adopted, that is the island where we stayed for this part of our trip. That is the island that flooded so badly that we had to trudge through about 12" of muddy, dirty, sewer water to get to our medical appointment. So you'll understand when I say that I was so glad for the sticky muggy but NOT RAINING weather that I could have danced in the streets. I didn't, but I sure could have!

The island is spotted with this kind of lovely little statues in many
of the open courtyards between streets.

Mei Mei wanted to make friends :)

The Boss and I were on a mission to find a little artist shoppe in particular. When we were here in '08, we had a lovely piece of art made with Li'l Empress' name on it and we really wanted one for Mei Mei. We had heard that the island was much less busy and many shoppes had closed since the famed White Swan Hotel closed two years ago for construction. But then yesterday we also heard that this particular artist was still working on the island. We were sooooo excited to find the shoppe where he works right away and we commissioned a pretty piece for Mei Mei.

While he worked, we wandered around the island, peeking in shoppes and enjoying the fact that Mei Mei LIKED the stroller our guide lent us. She's tiny but when she's squirming like an octopus, she feels like she's 25 lbs. heavier! Plus, it gives me hope that she will adjust quickly to the car seat at home. Of course, while we peeked, we lightened up The Boss's wallet a little bit. Can't have him being weighed down by all that Chinese currency now, can we?! I won't spill the beans about all that we purchased, as I'd like the kids to have some fun surprises.

However, I will tell you that we found a wonderful little store others had spoken very highly of and tried to purchase what we could from them. It's run by an organization that donates to Chinese children's charities and features a lot of beautifully hand-crafted items made here in China. I love that they are equipping craftspeople to care for their families and turning around and investing in the children of this rich land. For those of you traveling in the coming months, heading over to Shamian Island JUST to shop at A Gift From China is well worth the trip!

Once we knew the artwork would be ready, we headed off to pick it up. When we got there, the artist was just finishing the piece and he treated us to another style of his work - all done with ink and fingers. It was beautiful to watch the mountains and trees appear as he placed fingertips and parts of his hands... I was amazed.

We made sure to tell him how much we loved the one
he'd made for us in '08, and how Li'l Empress loved it too.
I can't wait to frame this and hang it in their room!

From a blank card to the beginnings of a double
waterfall surrounded by trees. I don't have an artistic
bone in my body so I am always completely intrigued
that he can see this in his mind and then make it happen.
And with no tools beyond what God gave him at the ends of his arms!

By this time, Mei Mei was BEYOND ready to call it a day. She had skipped her morning nap because of the timing of the consulate appointment, so we hurried off to catch our driver and get lunch in the room before an early nap. We're pretty excited about tonight - we've put together a little group of us to head to an Irish pub about 10 minutes from our hotel for dinner. And tomorrow, we are meeting a fellow blogger friend for a nice Chinese lunch. And last night, The Boss and I ate here at the hotel, enjoying freshly made personal gourmet pizzas. I swear, I'm going to be so spoiled by all this international cuisine that I will be a cooking fiend for weeks. Once the jet lag wears off, that is :)

Tomorrow is a down day for us, likely spent packing and re-packing and off-loading the "excess" that we don't want to cart home. We've collected quite an assortment of stuff that was great to have while living in a hotel or two but I'll be just as happy to pass it on to our guide or the families from Living Hope that come in behind us. And all of it will be for one singular purpose - getting HOME to our other five kiddoes. I can't even believe how much I miss home. And tap water. And sugar-free hazelnut creamer in a Tigger mug. Can't wait to hug my gang and get on with the business of our completed family!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Catching Up A Bit

Today is Tuesday, April 16th. We are in Guangzhou, settled into the luxurious and elegant China Hotel (a 5-star Marriott). The place has a bit of a resort/vacation hot spot feel to it - the trees are green and lush, the air warm and humid, and tons of Westerners all around. Many of these Westerners are fellow adoptive parents chasing around multiple Chinese children in multiple ages and stages. It's a very festive feel and today we got to meet in person several of the families with whom I've been connecting via some of the adoptive moms sites on F@cebook. After our medical clearance exam (which Mei Mei passed with flying colors and NO SHOTS!), we ran to W@lmart for supplies and then horned in on a group of folks from Bethany Christian Services and joined them for lunch. Such fun!

While Mei Mei is napping this afternoon I wanted to be sure to back track and document our wonderful adventure on Sunday with Dion. We had requested one more sight-seeing type of event, with something fairly historical or culturally significant but also with a low-pressure, easy-paced tone. Man, oh, man, did he deliver! We had the best afternoon with him, enjoying a little gem tucked away in the heart of Beijing.

We spent the afternoon in an ancient Hutong village, in the shadows of Beijing's Forbidden City, flanked by the city's Drum Tower, and Bell Tower. Each little series of alleyways and winding streets hold scores of courtyards and off each courtyard are little homes. The entire village is only one level - nothing was ever allowed to be built to a second or third story in the scope of the Forbidden City of the Emporer, to ensure his privacy and separation from the common peoples at all times. Originally the courtyards were shared by family groups but now the courtyards have been further divided and many unrelated families live in the spaces around the smaller courtyards.

The front gates of each home tell the status and story of those who dwell there. Each of those round beams at the header of the door speak of their financial status - and their financial status determined how they went about arranging the marriages of their children, among many other important functions. Four-beamed families need only seek sons of other four-beam families for their daughters. Eight-beam families are the wealthy and powerful, usually a government or royal official.  The ancient beams of this entry way indicate a four-beam family. Note the intricate hand-painting and high thresholds. The ancient Chinese believed that the evil spirits would be kept out by high thresholds.... those little devils must have had short legs!

As part of our tour, we took our first rickshaw ride, bumping and jostling through the little alleyways while our guide rode a bike behind us and shared the stories of the hutong. Mei Mei loved the bumps and giggled often at the jostling.

This hutong is teeming with life - such a juxtoposition of ancient and modern throughout the whole village. Audis and BMW's parked alongside old, rickety bikes you'd see from the 50's. Old men and women carrying baskets for market shopping and young men loading a flat screen tv onto a hand truck. It was fascinating to take in.

Many families have lived here for generations and the young people go to school here, raise their families here, and enjoy Beijing's modernities right along side of the old world feel. It's a small, tight-knit community and we got to visit a home, enjoy a small sip of tea, and hear from the "lady of the house" about her husband's familial home. His family has lived in this particular courtyard for four generations, originally fitting 8 people in a "house" that is only the size of my dining room and living room combined. Eating, sleeping, living all together for generations. Currently, only this woman and her husband and three year old daughter live there and she said she feels lucky for so much space!

She shared that her husband's hobby is collecting ancient Chinese artifacts. We got to see an ancient scroll of beautiful hand-written calligraphy on rice paper, some amazing antique benches and bureaus, a couple of very old and intricate prints of Chinese opera puppets. It turns out, he is an artist on the side of his government construction job - he had hand-drawn in colored pencil some roly-poly Chinese children in traditional style clothing playing an ancient stick game together. It was beautiful work! It was an honor to spend a half hour in her home, asking questions and hearing about their life in the hutong.

In the space between the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower is a community park. It was a Sunday afternoon, so families were out enjoying the day together. Kids were playing hacky-sack, moms were chasing toddlers, young people were sipping coffee and listening to music, all on this large open space. The park had a series of little shops and markets all around the perimeter and people were shouting back and forth, visiting and enjoying the gorgeous weather. It was obvious by the atmosphere that this is a strong community and the values of traditional Chinese culture were really shining through on this day. Respect for family, honor for tradition and appreciation for the future - we got to experience it all in this little village.

The Drum Tower

The Bell Tower

Dion picked this trip for us so well - showing us a tiny slice of "regular Beijingers' lives" and we walked away with a great appreciation and respect for this city. It was such a high note on which to end our time in our daughter's province, to be able to walk among the very people from which she came and store it all up for sharing with her as she grows.

The weather was so nice we decided to walk the shop-lined streets that surrounded the village area and check out the sites. We got our first taste of milk tea and I might be hooked! We saw our fair share of tiny Chinese hineys, as lots of families with young children were out and about and split pants abounded. Tee hee, I feel silly admitting this but it is one of my favorite things about walking around the streets of China - all those little buns peeking out!

One of the shopkeepers had this little guy out on display - not sure what kind of store it was, as this was the only critter in sight. But it was enough of a sight to keep ME from entering the shop!

And just when we thought the day couldn't get any better, Dion whisked us off by taxi to a tiny little hole in the wall restaurant that specializes in Uyghur food. It's pronounced "wih jer" - or something close to it. The Uyghurs are a people group of China's most western province, bordering countries like Afghanistan and Russia. Their religion is predominantly Sunni Islam and their food is a great mix of traditional Middle Eastern style and Chinese style. We had huge plates of thick chewy noodles, a spicy chicken and potato stew, round-spaghetti-like noodles in a thick tomato-y sauce, spicy chicken kebobs, and two different kinds of lamb kebobs. I am not exxaggerating when I say that these lamb kebobs were THE.BEST.LAMB. I have ever eaten. This was the one and only meal that I came even close to over-eating. Not that the other meals weren't fantastic, because they so far all have been. But this dinner was just so amazing. I can't even describe it and do it justice. And you can BET I'll be searching the web once the jet lag fog clears for some Uyghur recipes for lamb kebobs for home. I can't wait!

It was a perfect day for us. Mei Mei was happy and giggly, charming all the passers-by and shop-keepers with her smile. We got to enjoy some beautiful weather and we had a peek into a way of life that we might never had seen or even know about had we stuck with the ordinary and more well-known tourist hotspots. And best of all, we got to spend it with Dion, who has become "family" to us in this important week for our gang.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

One Week

Wow. It's been a full week with our girl today. I can hardly believe it. On the one hand it feels like yesterday that this dream was just that - still a dream. And on the other, it feels like she's been with us forever. She's doing really well in the days since we met. She's very independent and opinionated but I am more so, so I am confident that I can out last that to teach her healthy dependence and loving relationship.

Remind me of that when we've been home awhile
and she's still not "getting" that the tantrums on the floor
don't wash with Momma. Heh.

Yesterday I was talking with Lily about why we were spoon-feeding an almost two year old, explaining that we were trying to "re-wire" her brain and her heart for a new understanding of "family." We want her to eventually grow to be a strong, confident woman who is able to care for herself fully, but we want it to come from the right place. A place of strength and healthy identity. Given the director's descriptions of how the healthy, capable children in the orphanage are encouraged to care for themselves, we want Mei Mei to know that she doesn't HAVE TO care for herself right now. That she has Momma and Baba and a bunch of big siblings who will help her and support her. We want her to be released from self-reliance and survival mode and live in the freedom of healthy dependence, healthy reliance on the people God has given her in this new life. Our intention is that this path will lead her to more fully and more easily trust in the unseen Father to provide all she needs.

Indeed, it is some big aspirations and hopes, but we know that God equips us and sustains us and we look forward to showing her and telling her in the years to come that HE is our source and our strength. I consider it an honor and privilege to be able to parent yet another little gift in the ways my parents taught me. I'm not sure that they ever dreamed that they'd have now 16, soon to be 17 grandbabies learning the lessons that they taught the four of us but isn't that the awesome thing about God's economy? He more than multiplies the blessing when we walk in His favor. I am so grateful that The Boss and I both come from a heritage of faith as the bedrock of our homes.

This adoption trip-hotel home-visit China bubble won't last much longer and I'm trying to enjoy it while I have it. When I think back to how long it took last Sunday for her to trust us enough just to change her diaper, and how sad her face was all that day and the next, I'm really humbled that I get to be part of her healing process, of her blossoming into the little girl God created her to be.

I wasn't laughing at her pain, honest.
I just couldn't get over how much hair she had.

One layer of clothing off, about three more to go.
Poor little thing was just so tense and stressed.
And sweaty. So, so sweaty.

We see her opening up a little more every day and what a privilege it is to be a part of that process. Her eyes are clearer, her smile comes very readily, and she's completely comfortable, even a little naughty (in a completely cute, impish sort of way!), in allowing us to care for her, even in her most vulnerable state. Our learning curve with her medical issues has been a bit steep but we are getting the hang of it and she's so far been very patient with us, now that she's not so wary of what we are doing.

Her health seems to be quite improved from our first day or two together. She is no longer coughing and rattling in her chest when she breathes. Her nose has stopped running and her color is excellent. In fact, we've had quite a few comments about her beautiful skin tone. She's pretty fair-skinned and her hair is very dark brown with only a few shades of jet black. Yesterday in the van, we were commenting that it's actually very similar in shade to Li'l Empress's hair. The texture is NOTHING like her sister's, leaning more toward thick and coarse than Li'l E's hair.

It's amazing to me, even having done this once before and having seen scores of friends experience the same journey, just what an incredible difference LOVE makes. What a treasure it is to be part of that, to have my own heart expanded yet again to take in this love that she is learning to give. Looking over this past week, I am brought low by the gift of being Momma to this gang of mine. All 6 of them.

One week later, Mei Mei was too busy waving to every passer-by
to smile for Baba's camera, as we walked through an ancient
A post on that tour will come later!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Living Hope International

Saturday was a really priceless experience for The Boss and I. We had the honor of spending all afternoon with Lily Fang and her daughter Elizabeth. For those who aren't familiar, Lily and her husband Samuel are the founders/directors of Living Hope Adoption Agency. This is our second adoption with LHAA and after 6 years of interactions, they really feel like family to us. Their passion for bringing families together by adoption has obviously touched our lives. But further than that, what I find most admirable about this family is the scope of their work through Living Hope International.

As you can tell, our itinerary has been a fairly flexible and loosely set one. We had originally planned to go to The Great Wall, in addition to visiting LHI, and join the other LHAA family that arrived on Thursday. But we felt that it would be too long a day for Mei Mei and that we would be pushing her too hard if we tried to keep up with the pace they had planned. It's a good thing because their plans all got changed and shifted by the orphanage from which their child was coming. So we still haven't met them but we rejoice that another little one has met her forever family as of Saturday evening! And not walking The Great Wall twice is no big deal - we're still among the few folks we know that can say we did it once!

As I was saying.... LHI is a beautiful training center for children who have no family that can raise them. Run by a large board of directors from all over the world, and headed up by Samuel Fang, this home focuses on educating them while giving them a place to live during the school year that is safe and provides for all their needs so that they can learn well. The kids are all given regular school curriculum, music lessons, language lessons, household chores, and vocational training when they are of age, all in a family-style atmosphere in the process. In the past, I've talked a lot here about LHI and what they do so it was a great treat to see their operation in person (again.)

Last summer, one of their campus sites was destroyed by flooding. A new location was imperative. And boy, did God provide big! So much so, in fact, that the facility that we toured in '08 has been combined into the site we saw today. This one houses about 40 school-aged kids, various staff members, and still has room for guests of the organization. In fact, The Boss and I had thought about staying on site but with the great distance and so many unknowns about Mei Mei's medical needs, we thought easier access within the city would be wiser for us.

Lily picked us up from the hotel on the way back from violin lessons for some of the children. It was such a treat to see a familiar face from home. We all joked that it is pretty sad that we have to travel all the way to China to spend the day with someone who literally lives just across our little town.

Once we arrived, the staff had a hearty lunch waiting for us. Mei Mei just ate, and ate, and ate. We couldn't believe it, especially since she had a late breakfast and a snack before Miss Lily arrived! They got a kick out of her and her very spunky (demanding!) insistence on "MORE!"

This is the cafeteria where everyone eats together
for all their meals.
There's also a big screen at the end that they
use for presentations and so on.

Shaggy, I just had to snap this picture of all the rice.
I know how much you love rice!

Then the staff, Elizabeth, and Lily took turns showing us around the campus. It was great to see Elizabeth "in her element" - she is such an engaging and mature young lady - I just know God has great plans for her!

Around this center "family room" they have a computer room, a conference room, a beautifully stocked library (YAY!), study rooms, and a nice open "family room" for group gatherings and movies together.

This "family room" is in the center of the main
building and offers lots of seating, a very large fish tank,
and a roomy place for "movie night" for the kids.
All of the classrooms, guest rooms, library and conference
rooms are on the perimeter of this center space.
This large tree-looking structure
used to be a fountain but they have it decorated
like a Christmas tree.
From this vantage point, the kitchen is off to the left.

This is the main entry to the center.

The courtyard out front is wide and spacious and
several boys were playing dodgeball when we drove in.
Wouldn't it be nice to see a basketball court set up at one end of it?!

As we were walking, I was asking Lily what LHI needs the most right now to keep functioning well and keep meeting the needs of even more children. Her response was so gracious and telling of the heart behind this organization: "We don't really need more things from America like clothes and so on. The kids have enough things." But she went on to share that they are regularly in need of prayers for protection and safety, as this new location is governed by officials who are not empathetic to the mission of the school. Further, they are in need of regular monthly support to be able to run the facility, afford the rent and expenses, and still pay for high quality, skilled staff members to train the children for productive adulthood. The lessons for violin, voice, and vocational training do not come cheaply but in this culture, they are vital to making sure that these kids leave this boarding home well prepared to support themselves and their families.

I promised Lily that we would indeed pray and that we would work to share the word about the physical needs of the organization. If any of this tugs at your heart and you feel led to support what Living Hope International is doing, please go to their website (CLICK HERE!) and check out what they are all about. You will be making an investment in the eternity of several young lives that could change the world!

Thank you, Lily and Elizabeth, 
for a fabulous day and for showing us
the amazing work you are doing there
at Living Hope International!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Another Delightful Day!

Yesterday (Friday, April 12th) was another "delightful day with Dion!" Seriously, this guy is a gem - we are so grateful for the blessing of his companionship and guidance through this part of our journey.

We had requested to visit the LHAA offices here in Beijing so after a nice leisurely morning with Mei Mei and lingering over breakfast, we met Dion in the lobby and whisked off to the local Carrefoure, which is the local "carry it all, at decent prices" kind of store. We needed a small suitcase since the in-country flights have a lower weight limit than the international ones and we were looking for a few food items to help our voracious little one make it between meals. Like right now - I'm sitting here trying to type this and Baba is cutting up some fruit for her - no matter that we finished breakfast less than an hour ago. She's had no adverse reactions so far to any of the foods we've offered, we just find that she is always, always, always hungry for something. As tiny as she is, I'm sure that she has some nutritional catching up to do....

Anyway, we whipped through the store fairly quickly and grabbed a taxi to go to the offices. Miss Grace, the newest facilitator who was with us on Gotcha Day and Adoption Day, was working from home. But we got to meet Zhang Mei, who is the in-country gal that has been feeding us our updated pictures of Mei Mei. She runs this office and all of the parts of the processes for the Living Hope families. I joked with them that "this is where the magic all happens!"  The Boss got a chance to chat on the phone with Samuel Fang, the director of our agency when we first got there, as he was on a business call with Zhang Mei

It was incredibly gratifying to see the humble little apartment where they work and to meet her and thank her in person for all the help and the pictures and information they were able to get us on Mei Mei. I reminded her of the blankets that should be coming in small bunches for the orphanage that we made and thanked her for taking care of delivering them on our behalf.

I don't have the pictures of our time with her and Dion yet, but while we were there, The Boss snapped this cute one of Mei Mei falling asleep after the excitement of taxi rides, long walks in the sunshine and shopping at Carrefoure.

She had a death grip clutch on that snack cup - those whole wheat puffs we brought are almost gone and the dried yogurt snack chips are completely gone! We tried to find more at Carrefoure but will have to keep looking as they had none. 

After shopping and the visit to the offices, we dropped off our load here at the hotel and headed out to find some good old fashioned pizza. The Boss is fully recovered and that is what sounded good to him so that is what we found.  The Pizza Hut was crazy - soooo many foods on the menu beyond pizza. We ordered and enjoyed it all immensely!

Unfortunately, we returned to the hotel to find that we had new neighbors. LOUD, CHAIN SMOKING, RAUCOUS neighbors. The noise didn't quit from when we arrived around 4 till literally 4 a.m. And the room still feels dark and foggy with their smoke. We spoke to the manager about it once last evening and they agreed to contact the guests to remind them that this is a non-smoking floor. But we had to go to the manager again this morning to let them know that one of the rooms had to be moved - ours or theirs. With Mei Mei just recovering so recently from pnuemonia, we can't take any risks with her. Just now (11 a.m. on Saturday, our time) the manager asked us to let them clean our room more thoroughly (deodorize, etc) and to check back around 6 to see if a room had opened elsewhere that would be smoke free.

Soon, we are heading off to one of the Living Hope International Training Centers to tour the new orphanage facility and visit with Samuel's wife Lily and their daughter Elizabeth, who are here in China for an extended visit to work. I'm so excited to see someone from home - we just love the Fangs so much and are so grateful to have the relationship with them that we do. It's one of the things we love the most about our small, family-style agency. It's shaping up to be another slow-paced, easy going day and we're very excited to spend it with Lily and the kids.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Out and About In Beijing

Today was a great day for the three of us. Daddy woke feeling much better so we got ourselves up and ready for breakfast while Mei Mei slept in a bit. She's still a little surprised to see my face each time she wakes but is settling into it more easily and even smiled a bit at me when I got her calmed down. And surprise of all surprises, she polished off a 6 oz. bottle of formula! Granted, it was seriously doctored up formula but she drank it and we can correct the bad habit later. Thanks to my reader-friend, Amy, for the tip of adding stuff to the formula. Apparently, I got the recipe right!

After a simple and bland breakfast in the hotel buffet, we did a quick load of hand-washed laundry while we waited for Dion to pick us up. And then we were off!

Our first stop was about an hour away, on the outskirts of Beijing, at a beautiful jade factory and store. We got a personalized tour as we were just about the only ones there during the lunch hour. We learned about the 8 different categories of jade quality, the ranges of colors and translucency of jade, and the traditional meanings associated with jade. Then we got to wander around a huge show room of jewelry, statues, statuettes, more jewelry, showcase furniture, and home decor. The intricacies of the carved pieces were amazing.

This huge boat is ENTIRELY jade.
It was magnificent.

A beautiful table and four chairs of jade.
I'll bet it's too heavy for my dining room floor!

The Boss, Shaggy, Dr. D, and Baby BlueEyes....
forever enshrined in jade!

After that, we hopped back in the van and Dion asked if we'd be interested in visiting the Olympic complex. Interested?! ME? HEH! Uhhh, yeah! We're interested! I spoke for the both of us. (And yes, I know there's no Olympic games going on now. Yes, I know that I got to see the complex in 2008. But this is OLYMPIC stuff guys! And we all know how crazy I am about all things Olympic!)

We got to walk right into the campus, stopping on the way for a little snack from a street car. YUM! It was a tortilla like wrapper filled with shredded veggies and a bit of a kick in flavor. Mei Mei, The Boss and I all shared one - which Mei Mei was NOT a fan of at all. She really does love to eat - pretty much anything we offer. (Don't worry, I'm careful not to overwhelm her system with all the new things and I keep an eye on quantity while we're learning her signals and cues!)

This was our first attempt at using the Ergo
carrier that my friend, Lisa, lent me.
She resisted at first, which I'm getting used to,
and then snuggled in to enjoy the sights from a safe perch.

I'm still pinching myself.... I got to stand at the foot of
The Bird's Nest! Aaaaaaaaaaah!

The Ling Long Pagoda, where
most of the broadcasting studios for the games
were located, including The Today Show.

The Water Cube from across the complex.

This sculpture is called "Olympic Torch Relay."
One side was smooth and intricate, the other very rough and primitive.
It is really amazing and beautiful to see up close and personal.

After the ooohing and aaahhing over the Olympic sites, we hopped back into the van and headed to a little noodle house for a "light lunch." Heh. We're learning that there's no such thing when eating out with Dion. He ordered for us and our driver, plate after plate of local deliciousness. We had stir-fried cabbage, noodles with a sweet Peking sauce and veggies, sauteed eggplant with green beans, fried rice, and a chicken dish with little wraps and bamboo shoots. So fresh and flavorful - all of it was just amazing! I really need to hit the internet when we return home and do some recipe research.

Next door to the noodle house was a traditional tea house, where we got a mini-version of a tea tasting ceremony. We tasted about 6 or 7 different teas and learned about the health benefits of each featured tea. Just my luck, the one noted for its slimming and healthy heart properties tasted the worst! I was tempted to buy a tea set for Mei Mei while there but we could tell it was a bit more upscale and we wanted to avoid the hard sale. Big spending at the jade house was enough for one day!

This was our hostess for the ceremony. She was so patient
with all of Mei Mei's interruptions while explaining the right ways
to drink tea and to hold tea cups.

Through all of this activity, Mei Mei did great - even though she was skipping a nap. But man, sitting back in the van for the hour drive through rush hour traffic was no picnic. It was like wrestling an octopus at points. Granted, she's easily distracted and was pretty pleasant tempered about it all but I am sure glad we use car seats in America to restrain our kiddoes. Letting her loose in a car on errand day would be downright insanity! 

Finally, because I know most of you are really only here to see her and her sweet little face, here's one that The Boss snapped of us while we were admiring the blooming forsythia.

It was a beautiful day and I love that we got to spend so much of it outside in the beautiful weather to enjoy our time here and each other. Tomorrow, we've got a lighter schedule so hopefully nap time will still happen at a decent hour. We'll all need it for Saturday's big trek to The Great Wall!