Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Transforming Power of a Family

I wrote this last week, but decided to wait until after Sunday to publish it. Some of the people who read my blog go to our church, and I didn't want the whole thing to be a repeat for them.

As many of you know, November is National Adoption Month here in America, and many churches choose one Sunday in November to be Orphan Sunday or Adoption Sunday. They dedicate some portion of the service to celebrating the miracle of adoption and encouraging members to follow God's command to minister to the orphans in our world. Greg and I have been able to participate in several Adoption Sunday services this year in a very small way. This coming Sunday, November 17th, is the Sunday that our church has chosen, and Greg and I each get to give a brief talk as part of the service. As I have been rolling my talk around in my head, I came to realize that it would make a pretty good blog post, and decided to lay it out here while my thoughts are fresh.

Children who do not have families are delayed physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. Without the family dynamic, they don't have the ability to experience so many of the things that we take for granted every day. These delays look different in each child. Some children may be nearly on target in some areas and very, very weak in others, while other children may be just slightly weak across the board. Children who come from institutions where they are given more attention and care are generally far less delayed than children who are badly neglected, but all institutionalized children are delayed to some degree. One of the most exciting things about being an adoptive parent is to watch the child transform as they become part of a family. This is a gradual process, and it is difficult for both children and parents. Sometimes, particularly with older children, it can be painfully slow. But it is also a beautiful process, and the transformation from an orphan into a beloved son or daughter is striking.

We were first a part of this miracle in 2010 when we adopted Mikaela from Ukraine. Mikaela has Down Syndrome and was significantly undernourished at the time of her adoption. She was 11 months old, but developmentally was more like a 3 month old baby. She couldn't sit up or crawl and didn't have any idea how to play. She spent most of her time lying on her back in her crib dangling something over her face for stimulation. When she couldn't find anything to dangle, she just waved her fingers or scratched herself.

Those were the only ways she knew to entertain herself. Because of her very young age, Mikaela's transformation was quick and smooth. She bonded with Greg and me quickly, much like a newborn baby does. She learned to nurse and that helped her to gain weight and grow stronger. After a few months, she learned to sit up, and then a little later, she learned to crawl. She began to laugh and play and talk. And finally with much work Mikaela learned to walk right around her third birthday. Now, after three years as part of a family, she is on target or advanced in every single area for a child of her age with Down Syndrome. We are so proud of her, and we love her so much.

Last year, God made it clear to us that He was calling us to adopt again, and this time He led us to Isabelle and Hallie. When we met them in China in August, Hallie was far more delayed physically and developmentally, but Isabelle was struggling more with emotional delays. She genuinely didn't seem to have any idea how to express affection for others. She played well with children and adults, but had no idea how to hug or kiss at all. She didn't even seem to know how to be held. When we held her in our laps, she sat with her body stiff and held away from us. Their transformation is just beginning, and we look forward to watching these girls blossom in their family. In my last update, I shared more details about the progress that they are making. We are encouraged, but they both still have a very long way to go.

One of the most beautiful and unexpected blessings with this adoption story has been watching Mikaela with her two new sisters. All four kids have done great and welcomed them, but there is something especially touching about watching Mikaela with them. I know that she can't have any conscious memories of her own adoption because she was so young, but she seems to have some clear idea that there is something that she has in common with Isabelle and Hallie that the rest of the family doesn't share. She is like a little ambassador. She is eager to share her toys and is almost obsessed with making sure they are never left out of any activity. She tries to explain things to them, she "reads" books to them, and loves to teach them new things. She taught Hallie how to blow her candles on her birthday last week.

My favorite Mikaela story happened just about a month after we returned home from China. I had taken the three little girls out somewhere by myself and had just returned home. I unbuckled Mikaela and helped her jump down out of the van onto the sidewalk that leads up to our house. She took off at a happy trot, eager to go inside and see the other half of the family. Next I unbuckled Isabelle and set her down on the sidewalk. She started up the path with her slow awkward steps, holding her hands out in front of herself in case she fell. I then turned around to get Hallie. By the time I got her unbuckled and out of the van, Mikaela had noticed how much Isabelle was struggling and had turned back to help her. I looked just in time to see her take Isabelle's hand and say, " 'mon Bibel. 'mon." Slowly and patiently, Mikeala helped Isabelle all the way up the sidewalk to our back door. I stood there holding Hallie and watching the other girls with tears in my eyes. Mikaela was once so weak and helpless and broken that she couldn't do anything for herself. Nothing. And now, by the grace of God through the love of her family, she is so strong, and healthy and full of love that is is able to reach out to her two new sisters and bring them into the family as well. If that isn't a picture of the miracle of adoption, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An Update on the Girls (But no pictures this time :-( ).

Isabelle and Hallie continue to blossom in our home, and it is now hard to remember what life was like without them. Hallie, especially, seems happier than she has ever been before. She is showing affection toward her brothers and sisters more and more readily, and seems to love each of the members of her family now. She is making both vowel and consonant speech sounds now, and even tries to say a few words. She will even initiate games of peek-a-boo or pat-a-cake with me or the other children. It has been wonderful to watch her grow and learn. Her feeding training is going slowly, but we are continuing to see progress with that as well. She will sit and watch me eat, and pretend to crunch and chew when I do, but she isn't interested in having any of my food in her mouth. She is willing (and sometimes even eager) to suck on pizza crust, crackers, or cucumbers now, but she doesn't try to bite it. We are so pleased with all the progress she is making, and we are having so much fun working with her and watching her.

Isabelle continues to do very well too, and she is a sweet and obedient child, but we both feel like she is a little bit uncertain about how she fits into our family. She doesn't seem as confident as Hallie in her interaction with us. She seems to hesitate a lot more before initiating play or affection with us, and she constantly looks back at us to see if we are approving of her. Many times each day, she asks us hopefully, "Good girl? Good girl?" No matter how many times we tell her that she is a good girl and that we love her very much, she seems to worry that she is not pleasing us. We feel bad for her, but we know that the only way to help her through this is to continue affirming our love for her, and that eventually she will be confident and secure with us all. It has been a little bit challenging to figure out how to treat her sometimes, because in some ways, she is so grown up, and in others, she is still quite a baby. We are struggling to find ways to let her be a big girl helper, because she seems to derive a lot of pride from helping, while still nurturing her as a baby. We have started giving her a little bottle of milk each night before bed, and she loves that. She curls up in my lap, and it is some of the best time we have together each day. It is the only time that she relaxes fully in my arms and snuggles with trying too hard. It feels so good to hold her when she isn't worried about trying to cuddle the "right" way.

All in all, they are both doing great, and we are so thankful for both of them.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Four Weeks at Home

How is it possible that we've already been home for four weeks? It seems, in some ways, like we just stepped off the plane a few days ago—the memories of the trip home are still so fresh in our minds—and yet our time in China seems like it belongs in another time-stream altogether. We were there for three weeks and were able to set up something of a normal life in each city we were in, but now that feels like a lifetime ago, even though it hasn't even been two months since we left! I think that part of the reason for this sense of disorientation is due to the fact that God had us jump back into our regular life with both feet almost as soon as our feet landed back in Cincinnati. The first week home was pretty restful, but the past three have gone at a nearly break-neck pace. That has made us feel like we never left, and in some ways, that has been good for us and for our kids. We've seen with them (and, indeed, with us) that the more routines we can maintain in daily life, the better everyone does. Day-to-day life isn't always predictable or consistent, but there are a few weekly rituals that we do that help to keep us somewhat grounded (e.g., church on Sunday mornings, pizza and TV all together for dinner on Friday). Most of those weekly mainstays are back to where they were before we left, and that feels inexpressibly good.

I want to say, too, that we wouldn't have survived this past month without our church. A few days before we returned home, a close friend of ours came over to the house with a couple of Kristie's sisters to clean our house and get things ready for us. But she didn't stop there. She cut our grass and then decorated our front and back porches with paper streamers and balloons, which brought both of us to tears when we saw them. Then, our church—small but growing church plant though it is—has blessed us with three meals a week for the past four weeks, and with all of the things that we have had going on, there is no way that we can properly thank everyone for this. We still have some meals in our refrigerator and freezer, which will carry us through this coming week. This has been unbelievable, and we are deeply grateful for their care, support, and friendship all throughout our adoption journey.
As for the girls, what can I say? Every time we think that we have them nailed down in some area, they surprise us. We might have mentioned this before but based on our time with them in China, we would have sworn that Isabelle would be a whirlwind that we'd struggle to keep up with, and that Hallie would be pretty calm and docile, if for no other reason than her immobility. Oh, how wrong we were! Isabelle's mobility has continued to progress nicely. She's walking more of the time, but she is very, very calm, sweet, and laid back. Kristie mentioned in her last blog post that Isabelle wants to be a big girl, and we've seen more of that from her, as evidenced by her ever-growing interest in having her hair fixed like Mommy, Mikaela, and Gabriela, and she has even asked Kristie for make-up on at least one occasion. Surprisingly, she has turned out to be a girly-girl. And she continues to surprise us in other areas, too. During our time in China, we began to suspect that she might not actually have Down Syndrome, but maybe some other syndrome. She didn't have the classic signs of Down Syndrome—her muscle tone is quite good for a girl who spent four years in an orphanage, her tongue control is nearly perfect, her enunciation is very good, and she is an incredibly quick learner—but there were some apparent physical abnormalities that we thought might possibly indicate another syndrome altogether. It got to the point where we were almost convinced that she didn't have Down Syndrome, but her chromosomal test conducted by the children's hospital here indicates that she most definitely has Down Syndrome. This surprised both of us, but apparently Isabelle is just a high-functioning kid with DS, and it'll be interesting to see what she will be able to do in her life. Based on discussions with therapists, Mikaela seems to be very high-functioning, but it's possible that Isabelle's ceiling is even higher than her sister's. We can't wait to see how they're going to challenge, encourage, and push each other over the years. Isabelle has already grown very comfortable in our family. In fact, she and Hallie both slid in almost without notice. If God hadn't made their transition as smooth as He did, I don't know how we would have gotten through the past four weeks. Both girls have bonded well with us and their attachments continue to deepen, and their sense of belonging here in our family with their brothers and sisters is quite strong. We thank and praise Him for that incredible blessing.
Hallie has also surprised us, as she bears almost no resemblance to the lethargic, frail baby that we met just seven weeks ago today. In that time, she has gone from sleeping 18-20 hours a day, being emotionally withdrawn, apparently having no idea how to play with any toys, being completely immobile, and being able to take only one 8-oz. bottle (packed as full of grains and nutrients as we could get it) in the course of a day, to an effervescent girl who sleeps like a normal three-year-old, laughs and giggles and coos readily, plays with a number of toys and initiates play with others, scoots and crawls all over the house with lightning speed, and takes four nutrient-packed bottles each day. She loves to disassemble things and to empty bins of toys from various parts of the house, preferably right after the rooms have been picked up. She is such a funny, charming girl, and it's a joy to see her true personality shining through. Her determination will serve her well as she'll have to work hard to close some of the developmental gaps that she has, but it also means that she can be a bit of a stubborn stinker. We've seen that from her at times, and we know that as hard as that can be, it shows that there's a good trait at root; it's just a matter of praying for her and trying our best to help her direct that trait—determination—to a good use. We're just happy to see how much progress she has made in such a short time.
I'll close this now, as it's midnight and I'd like to get some sleep before the morning. Here are a few pictures from the last few weeks, and I hope to post more in the coming weeks.

Hallie having fun at home

Isabelle coloring at our celebration dinner

Watching Beauty and the Beast

Gabriela's 4th birthday party

Saturday, September 7, 2013

First week home

Well I can't believe it, but we have been home a full week tonight. Things really are going very well over all, and the girls have slipped into life here. Isabelle loves the attention, and even Hallie seems to enjoy having so many other children around. She is developing a very special relationship with Josiah, and he can usually make her smile faster than anyone else. We were told that Hallie could crawl, but we didn't see it the whole time we were in China. We were beginning to wonder if they had been mistaken, but since we got home, she has been crawling all over the place. She is more and more curious about the world around her, and suddenly loves to make messes. Yesterday, she crawled out to the laundry room, pulled all the shoes off the shoe rack, and scattered them all over the place. She seemed very proud of herself when she had finished. Fortunately, Mikaela and Matthias cleaned them all up again (more or less). She still won't eat any solid food at all, but she is taking more by bottle. When we first met her, we could usually only get her to take one bottle to a bottle and a half each day, because the concoction we put in her bottle was so much more filling than what she was used to. She now often takes four bottles a day. She feels heavier and more solid than she did, and we noticed that her 18mo. pants actually stay up on her now. We were very concerned that she had a thyroid condition like Mikaela because she was so lethargic her first few days, but the doctor ran a blood test on her on Thursday, and her thyroid is normal. I think we were just seeing the effects of her undernourishment. She has a lot more energy now, and is developing a playful side. It has been so much fun to watch her blossom.

The changes with Isabelle have been far less dramatic, but she is doing great too. She is more independent than she was before, and really wants to be a big girl. This morning, she fed herself her whole pancake with her fork. I don't think she has ever done that before. One of her biggest problems is that she is so tiny she has a hard time reaching things. Even though she turned four in June, she is much smaller than Matthias, who is two and a half. She has learned to climb the stairs by herself, but she is afraid to come back down, because her little legs have a hard time reaching, and she feels unstable. She still cries when she takes her bath, but most of the time, she is a very happy girl.

We got the results of their parasite checks back this week, and neither girl has any parasites. That was a huge answer to prayer. Now they can bathe with the other girls, and we don't have to wear gloves when we change their diapers. It also means that they can start wearing cloth diapers.

On Thursday evening, we went out for our celebration dinner. Everyone had a great time, and Isabelle decided that she loves Italian food. All of the kids behaved really well. Getting them all six in and out of buildings is a challenge, but we have developed a system that seems to work. I carry Hallie and hold Mikaela's hand, while Gabriela holds Mikaela's other hand and carries Hallie's diaper bag. Greg does exactly the same thing with Isabelle, Matthias, and Josiah. We are slow, but we do get where we need to be. I'm sure we must be an amusing sight, though. :-)

I'm attaching a few pictures from our celebration dinner. From the pictures, you might think that Greg was feeding Isabelle, Hallie, and Matthias, but I promise I had Hallie until the very end of the meal. I just handed her to Greg right before taking the picture.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

U.S. Consulate: Finished!

This morning we had our appointment at the U.S. Consulate here in Guangzhou, and everything went very smoothly. Now, all we're waiting for is for our guide to pick up the papers and our girls' visas, which he'll be able to do tomorrow afternoon. That means that tomorrow will be another free day for us, giving us a chance to finish up our shopping and rest up before Friday night's flight back to the States.

We also had a FaceTime chat with our kids this evening, and they continue to do really well. We are all eager to be together in the same place, and even more so after watching Isabelle & Hallie with them tonight. Isabelle tried to dominate the conversation, not surprisingly, and we have very reason to think that she's going to slide right on with them. Hallie's adjustment will probably take a little more time, but it will happen.

Since the girls had gotten dressed up a little bit for this morning's appointment, we took them outside for a quick photo shoot, and we got some of the best pictures of them together yet.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Day of Shopping & Good Food

Today was another quiet, relaxed, slow day for us, and it was really enjoyable. We slept in just a little bit this morning, and in fact, we were afraid that we would end up getting downstairs too late to get the complimentary breakfast. Thankfully, we got there about half an hour before they started closing everything up, so we had a nice, calm breakfast to start the day. Then we ventured out to explore some of the shops on the island here. The first place that we stopped by sold a bunch of traditional Chinese outfits in kids' sizes. This is one of the things that we'd been hoping to get for our kids, and we found an outfit for each kid without having to dig for long, although I did have to run back to the room quickly because I'd forgotten to get money out of the safe before we left. But, we now have an outfit for each kid, as well as a few of the gifts that we want to get here. Oh, and this place is apparently a very popular spot for people to have engagement and wedding photos taken. I lost count of how many photo-ops we nearly disrupted on our walk today. At one point, I think we saw four couples having their pictures done, each with a dedicated crew. Crazy!

We stayed out for a little over an hour, walking around most of the island, and then we came back to the room for a quick lunch before putting the girls down for naps. I know that I say this pretty much every day, but it's unreal just how much they're growing. Isabelle's bond with Kristie has really progressed ever since our flight over here from Guiyang (that's one of the blessings from having endured such a long, crazy night just to get here), and Hallie continues to open up. Her eyes twinkle more with each passing day, and her smiles and laughs came more freely today than they ever have before. She's still freer with them for Kristie than for me, but we're getting there. We're still working on teaching Isabelle patience when it comes to food, but we are making progress. I really think that the poor girl must to some extent have been competing for food at the orphanage, and that's why she's so eager to take every bite of food in site. She really has no idea how to decide for herself when she's full, so that's something that we have to teach her over time. It took Mikaela a little while to learn how to recognize when she got full and then stop eating, but she did eventually attain that skill, and I'm sure that Isabelle will, too. Hallie didn't eat as much today as she has recently—only about 2.5 bottles total all day—so we're really glad that we've been able to put some extra nutrients and calories into her bottles for her. It's taken some creativity, but we've settled on a pretty good recipe: one scoop of the powdered milk given to us by her orphanage nanny, two scoops of formula, two or three spoonfuls of baby cereal, and half of a fruit snack pouch, all mixed with either water or a drink that we discovered here that's similar to the Propel flavored water back in the States. So, not at all a typical baby bottle, and pretty clearly more than she's used to getting. And even though she didn't take as much today as we would have liked to have seen, she still had a little bit of a puppy tummy when we tucked her into bed tonight. That's encouraging, but we definitely want her to continue eating well, and eventually eat with a spoon.

Only a few minutes after we put the girls down for their naps, Michael stopped by to let us know that he'd gotten the results back from the girls' medical exams. Thankfully, everything is good and we're clear to proceed with our Embassy appointment on Wednesday morning and then, hopefully, our plane ride on Friday evening. He also checked on us to see how we're doing and asked if we wanted to do anything tomorrow. I think he feels like he needs to make sure that we're not feeling lost or anything, and it relieved him to hear that we've been having a lot of fun exploring the island and getting to know the place a little bit. We'd like to spend some time with him, but he has an awful lot going on, and it's better for our girls to stay with just us when we leave the room. That's especially the case for Hallie, though Isabelle seems to be doing some emotional processing this week. We think that in the last 48 hours she might have come to the realization that she's not going to see anyone from her orphanage again. That would explain her increased fussiness and near panic at times when she thinks that we might be about to leave her behind somewhere. I think that she'll come through this just fine, though, and it's a good thing for her to deal with this now to the extent that she can.

After their naps, we walked over to Lucy's, a little bar and grill that serves a wide variety of foods. We had passed it while on our walk this morning, but I'd misremembered where it was, so instead of it taking us less than ten minutes to get there, I led us in a roundabout route that took about twenty minutes. It was worth it, though. We all enjoyed our dinners, including Isabelle, who devoured a grilled cheese sandwich, a healthy portion of French fries, and even a little bit of Kristie's dinner. At the table next to us was a couple who had just adopted a two-year-old boy from one of the central Chinese provinces. They're originally from England, though they've been living in Colorado for the past three years. They brought their five-year-old daughter, Charlotte, with them, and we had a great time talking with them after finishing our meal. It's a weird—but in a good way—to see so many other Caucasians on this leg of the trip, especially after having stood out so starkly in Guiyang.

Hallie playing with her drum at Lucy's.

Isabelle enjoying her grilled cheese sandwich.

Tomorrow should be another quiet day of shopping and walking for us, and then we'll have to get everyone to bed early because we have to be ready to leave our hotel at 7:30 Wednesday morning in order to get to our Embassy appointment on time. That will be a challenge, but after that we should be able to rest up until time to pack and head for home on Friday. This week of relaxation has been good for us, and we're grateful that God has given us this time as a family. And, we're obviously really looking forward to spending next week at home with all six of our kids. We can't wait!

~ Greg

Sunday, August 25, 2013

First Full Day in Guangzhou

It's been a few days since we've been able to post any updates, so we're playing catch-up here tonight. Bear with us, as these three posts will be lengthy when put together, but I hope that this will bring everyone up to speed and show why we haven't been able to post anything since Wednesday. We've been trying to keep up with our personal journal entries, so that has made it a bit easier for the blog entries. As always, thanks for the prayers!

I don't count yesterday (Saturday) as a full day here because we didn't arrive until 2:00 in the morning. Today, we took a very slow, easy morning. We didn't even get down to the breakfast buffet until a little after 9:30. Then we spent some time unpacking our suitcases and setting the room up for the week ahead. Everything feels much better now that our belongings have been organized and are readily accessible. That makes a much bigger difference than it seems like it should.

Once we were done arranging the room, we walked across the bridge and found the supermarket, which is located in a shopping mall, just like in Jinan. I still have never seen this anywhere else or even heard of it before, but there is something nice about it. We found most of what we wanted there, including fruit snack pouches, which was really important for us. Hallie takes them in her bottle and Isabelle loves them, but we had only a few left of the pouches that we had brought with us. We then went to Pizza Hut for lunch, and I think that Isabelle could get used to that place. She loves pizza, and I think that she'd eat as much as I do if we'd let her. (We think that this might be an indication that she has a parasite, but we obviously can't tell. It could also just be a survival tactic that she learned in the orphanage. Given that the nannies have to feed a lot of kids at once, the only ones who get enough to eat are those who eat quickly. Isabelle is only now starting to trust us to feed her, but we have a long way to go with her still. She gets very impatient if she gets hungry or starts to eat and then has to wait for more food. It's like she thinks that if she doesn't get something right away, she's not going to be allowed to eat. Either way, we feel bad for her and are working on teaching her to be patient and trust us.)

We had another good dinner of instant noodles tonight, and both girls are doing so, so well. Hallie took three full bottles today for the third day in a row, and her smiles came more frequently today than they've ever come before. Isabelle continues to amuse us, and she is really starting to bond well with Kristie. We're enjoying our stay here, and I have to say that it is nice to have a Starbucks that's only a three-minute walk from the front of the hotel. You can't beat that! But, we are missing our kids terribly, and we know that they're missing us and having a harder and harder time back home. They're still doing well, but the strain is getting to everyone. What I want most right now is to get on that plane and get back home to them so that we can all be under the same roof again. We haven't all been under the same roof since we started Isabelle's adoption a year and a half ago, and it will be a relief once we are all together for the first time. We're going to do another video chat with them on Wednesday, and then we'll be home on Saturday. The end of this week can't come soon enough.

(Sorry for the lack of pictures since getting to Guangzhou. We'll take more over the next few days, we promise!)

~ Greg

Guiyang to Guangzhou, and Medical Frustrations

It's been a few days since we've been able to post any updates, so we're playing catch-up here tonight. Bear with us, as these three posts will be lengthy when put together, but I hope that this will bring everyone up to speed and show why we haven't been able to post anything since Wednesday. We've been trying to keep up with our personal journal entries, so that has made it a bit easier for the blog entries. As always, thanks for the prayers!

Friday was fairly uneventful, except for the fact that we were both dragging a good deal while packing in the morning. Kristie, of course, was exhausted from not having slept the night before, and I was tired from the week that we had had. In the end, we had everything packed up and ready to go a few minutes before the bellboy showed up at the door to help us get our bags down to the lobby. Lucy met us down there, and we were able to check out and load our things in the van without any trouble at all. We got to the airport in plenty of time, got our tickets, passed through security, and arrived at our gate nearly an hour before our flight was to start boarding. Everything was going great, but boy, were we in for a surprise.

Our plane was just a few minutes late in leaving (I think), but we were making good time on the way to Guangzhou. We were scheduled to leave Guiyang at 18:40, and the flight was supposed to take around an hour and forty minutes. The girls' medical appointments were scheduled for the next day (we didn't know what time, but we figured that it would probably be in the morning), so we knew that it was going to be a short night. We had no idea how short it would be. Just as we were coming in to land at the Guangzhou airport, the plane suddenly started to climb again, surprising everybody on board. Poor Isabelle picked up on everyone's alarm and started sobbing. She had done great up to that point, but the unexpected change in direction really scared her, and understandably so. We managed to figure out that we couldn't land because of bad weather at the airport, and it looked like the plane was in a holding pattern around Guangzhou. No problem, right? Wrong. An hour later—about 21:35—we landed and started taxiing. Then we stopped, and no one got off. Later, we found out that we had landed at another airport, and the pilot was hoping that the weather back in Guangzhou would clear up enough to allow us to fly back there that night. I called Michael and told him what was going on. He said that if we could get to Guangzhou that night, we could still do the medical exams on Saturday. If not, then we'd still be able to do them on Monday and have everything done in time for us to make our Embassy appointment on Wednesday and leave on Friday. He asked that I call him back if/when we left for Guangzhou so that he could send the driver back to the airport.

A little over two hours later, we took off again and finally landed at the Guangzhou airport at about half-past midnight. By the time we got our luggage, found the driver, loaded everything into his van, and got to the hotel, it was almost 2:00 in the morning! By that point, Isabelle was falling apart. Hallie had slept for large chunks of time since leaving Guiyang, including the final, actual flight to Guangzhou, but Isabelle hadn't had more than a brief few minutes of sleep while we were sitting on the runway. Thankfully, she fell asleep in my arms in the van. Otherwise, I think that she would have continued sobbing, as she had when we landed in Guangzhou, poor thing. I hope that this doesn't bode ill for the flight home at the end of the week, but I'm afraid that it might. Anyway, we tucked them into bed, grabbed what was essentially a quick nap, because we had to be ready to leave the hotel at 9:30 to make it to the medical appointments on time.

The medical appointments were very frustrating for us. Hallie cried most of the time that we were there, which wasn't a huge surprise to us. She doesn't like loud places, and she already doesn't like the sound of Chinese. Her bond with us has come along quickly enough that she wants to hear only English, and that happened a lot sooner than we thought it would. Isabelle did well through most of it, until the unexpected happened. When it came time for them to draw blood, we found out that their policy was to take each child into the room individually, and the parents were not allowed in the room with them. Seriously?! That was maddening for several reasons, the most important being the bonding and trust that we have been trying to build with our girls over the past two weeks for Hallie and the last week for Isabelle. There wasn't anything that we could do, though, so we just tried our best to see the girls through them. Hallie withdrew inside herself a bit, and she didn't even cry. Isabelle, on the other hand, could be heard wailing through the closed door. She calmed down once I had her back in my arms, but she was very fragile. In fact, once she saw the Band-Aid on her arm, she became convinced that that was the source of all of her pain, and she started crying all over again. I ended up taking it off a few minutes before I had intended to, and as soon as it was gone, she stopped crying. Thankfully, Hallie started coming back to us while we were in the van on our way back to the hotel. The damage to our bond with them could have been so much worse, but it needn't have been challenged this much at all. I feel bad for them but am thankful that they are fine now.

After finishing up some paperwork with our guide, we ate lunch at the Subway, which is only one door down from the hotel entrance. We also picked up a few things at the convenience store in the same building, and then we all went back to the room and took naps. After eating a dinner of instant noodles, Kristie inflated the girls' tub and put it on the bed, hoping that this would help them get accustomed to it before their baths. She put both of them in the tub while it was on the bed. Hallie sat calmly but pretty still, as usual, but Isabelle thought that this was the best thing in the world. She washed herself some but spent most of the time washing Hallie, who tolerated it very well. So funny! You can see the video here.

~ Greg

Last Full Day in Guiyang

It's been a few days since we've been able to post any updates, so we're playing catch-up here tonight. Bear with us, as these three posts will be lengthy when put together, but I hope that this will bring everyone up to speed and show why we haven't been able to post anything since Wednesday. We've been trying to keep up with our personal journal entries, so that has made it a bit easier for the blog entries. As always, thanks for the prayers!

Yesterday (Thursday) was another good, and fairly quiet day. It was probably the most relaxing day that we've had since we got to Guiyang. Lucy took us for a walk around the city here in the morning, and we got to see the big city square. She was almost apologetic at how small it was compared to the squares in cities like Beijing, but it seemed plenty large to us. The main part of the square is accessed through a gate made out of metal fashioned to look like bamboo, with a lion on either side. On the other side of the gate, we watched a Tai-Chi class in session. It seems to us that Tai-Chi might well have some of the same physical benefits of yoga, because of the balance, control, and stamina involved. But the best thing about the class was the little girl—who was no older than 5, if that—who was trying to do it along with the adults. She was actually pretty good, so she must have done some of it before.

After that, we walked around the park for a little while, and we heard two different sets of musicians playing. The first was a man sitting by himself, playing an interesting instrument that we'd never seen before. (In hindsight, I should have asked Lucy what it was), and then we saw a man and a woman playing. She had the same instrument as the soloist, and he was playing something akin to a flute, though made out of some sort of wood, I think. While we were sitting and listening to the duo perform, an old Chinese woman approached us and asked about our girls. According to Lucy—and backed up by the woman's smiles—she was very enthusiastic and complementary toward us, but Kristie said later that it sounded to her like the woman was threatening to call the authorities on us for kidnapping two Chinese children. That made me laugh. It's always hard to decipher someone's attitude based on things like tone of voice when they're speaking a foreign language, and that difficulty is compounded exponentially when the language is a tonal language. The Chinese language is quite a different beast from English or anything else that I've ever studied.

We wrapped up the morning by visiting a Buddhist (or Buddhinist, as Lucy says) temple. We thought that this would be much like the Confucian temple that we walked through in Jinan, a sort of museum representing ages past. But that wasn't the case. Lucy bought some incense for all three of us, and she asked if we wanted to set some up along with the others that were there. We declined, not knowing exactly what offering incense would communicate, and the last thing that we wanted to do was to be caught up accidentally in some religious rite. I'm really glad that we declined, because not only did Lucy light the incense and place it alongside the others in the temple, but she also bowed down in a posture of prayer. We had no idea that she was a practicing Buddhist, but that certainly seems to be the case. In fact, she bowed towards most of the statues of Buddha that were in the temple. I've never seen anything like this up close before, and it was a bit uncomfortable. Somehow, I think that Hallie felt it, too, because she started crying really hard after entering one of the rooms in the temple. Kristie got her out of her stroller, and we started to make our way back out of the temple. On our way out, we met a group of Buddhist monks, and there were a couple of women there with them. Through Lucy, they told us how happy there were for us and commended us for the good that we had done in adopting Isabelle & Hallie. Once we left the temple, we got some lunch at a nearby shop and then went back to the hotel.

For dinner, we decided to try to find Highlands Coffee. We did find it, thanks to Kristie's careful eye. I had walked past it, but she spotted the sign, tucked back in a small street branching off the main street. They had some really good food there, and it felt great—albeit kind of weird—to be in such a Western atmosphere in a city that doesn't have very many Western features. On our way out, I ordered some drinks for us, including some coffee for Kristie. I opted for the caffeinated coffee over the decaf because it sounded like the better flavor, and I figured that she was tired enough that within a few hours she'd be able to go to sleep. She agreed, but that turned out to be a mistake. The caffeine kept her up all night, and that's not a good thing heading into the flight this evening. I feel really bad for having done this to her, even though she's emphatic that she doesn't hold me accountable for it at all. I disagree and still think that it's my fault. :-)

~ Greg

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A day in the Old City

Greg has been writing pretty much all of the updates since we left for China, so I decided that tonight it was time for me to do one. We had a really good day today, but we ran hard, so we are very tired tonight. Lucy took us down to the Old City, which is one of the major tourist attractions in this area. It is a city that was built about 400 years ago, and it has been restored by the government as a historical center and a tribute to the minority people of China. This province, Guizhou, has a higher percentage of minority people than any other province in China. Lucy and our driver both think that Isabelle is probably from one of these minority peoples based on her physical characteristics. The Old City is very near the mountains of Guizhou, and the view all around it is beautiful. We got some great pictures, but they are still on Greg's phone, so maybe we can post them tomorrow.The surrounding area is still active farmland, so we drove by some local villagers working in their rice and corn fields. Inside the city, all of the old houses have been converted into shops where people sell craft items of these minority peoples, or food items that are native to this area. One of the funny things was that Greg and I were two of the biggest tourist attractions there today. I don't think this province gets many Caucasian visitors, because people stare at us everywhere we go. It doesn't seem to be considered rude to stare a people here like it is in America, and we are getting used to it. Children in China study English at school, so parents kept bringing their children over to us to practice their English phrases. (Usually just "Hello, how are you?" and "Nice to meet you.") Several people asked if we would pose for pictures with them, and more than once, we noticed a crowd gathering around us. We feel like celebrities. :-) We were very brave at lunch time today and had a completely native lunch - tofu and pig feet. Lucy called them pig hands - the hands that you walk on. I thought the tofu was okay, and Greg didn't mind the pig feet too much, but neither of us is eager for a repeat of the meal. We were able to buy some neat items for Isabelle's box, and we sampled some local candy that is very good. We also found a toy that Hallie is interested in. This is huge, because we have been trying to find something that she would play with ever since we got her a week and a half ago. She was completely bored by everything until today. It was one of those little drums on a stick with the beads on each side. When you twirl it, the beads strike the drum to make noise. Unfortunately, Isabelle broke the drum off the stick as soon as we got home with it today. :-) Hallie still loves it, and spent most of the evening playing with it. She is very protective of it, and doesn't want anyone else to touch it. (That could have something to do with the fact that the one time Isabelle did touch it, she broke it.) We will work on sharing later. Right now we are just overjoyed that she is showing interest in something.

Tonight we decided that we had had enough of local cuisine for one day, so we set out to find the Pizza Hut in Guiyang. We knew where it was more or less thanks to Google Maps, but we learned in Jinan that often Google Maps is off by a block or two in China, so we weren't sure if we would be able to find it or not. To our surprise, we found it with no difficulty, but the place was packed, and their was a wait of more than half an hour. We wanted to order our pizza to go, but the workers at Pizza Hut didn't speak any English, so we didn't know how to ask. While we were trying to figure out what to do, a man brought his little son over to us and asked if the boy could tell us hello so he could practice his English. It turns out that the father speaks fluent English, and is actually leaving for Great Britain very soon to study to be an English teacher. We talked to him for a few minutes and asked if he would be willing to help us order our pizza to go. He was very happy to help with that. Then his little boy sang a little song for us in Chinese. It was really cute. Then, while we were waiting for our pizza to be done, we ran into three Americans who have been living here in China for two years. They are studying Chinese at the University here. One of them is actually from Columbus, Ohio, and knows the Cincinnati area very well. They gave us their phone numbers and told us to call them if we need any help with anything. They also told us about an English speaking coffee shop less than a mile from our hotel, so we plan to check that out tomorrow.

We are enjoying our time in China very much, but we have hit that point where we feel pretty homesick. We miss our kids a lot, and would like to go home now. We know that it will be a bit difficult to get through that last week in Guangzhou, so we would appreciate prayers for that. Three weeks is such a long time to be away.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Family of Eight

We are now officially a family of eight! Isabelle's adoption was finalized yesterday ( Tuesday), and the process here in Guiyang was much easier and more direct than it was in Jinan. When we went to Civil Affairs to get Isabelle on Monday, we went ahead and prepared all of the paperwork that would be needed. So, when we went back there yesterday, we only had to double-check the information one last time to make sure that there were no mistakes,  and then sign in a few places. That was it. And everything happened right there in that office. In Jinan, we had to go to Civil Affairs, the police station, and the notary's office in order to complete all the steps for Hallie's adoption. This time around, the notary came to the Civil Affairs office, and the orphanage had already taken care of the paperwork at the police station. In fact, once we were done at CA, Lucy stopped by the police station and picked up Isabelle's passport. We had no idea that it would be ready so soon. Now, all we're waiting for are the books from the notary, which should be done by Thursday. Assuming that there are no mistakes in those books, we'll be clear to leave for Guangzhou on Friday.

At CA yesterday, Isabelle got to say goodbye to the director of her orphanage, which was really good for both of them. It seems like she was very close to him, and that came as a surprise to us. In fact, she called him "Baba," the Chinese word for Daddy. When we left CA on Monday, she kept saying, "Baba bye-bye?" and looking kind of sad. Amazingly, when we got back to the building yesterday and stepped into the elevator, she put everything together, recognized where we were, and said, "Baba bye-bye?" She had never seen the building before this week, so we were blown away that she could recognize it so quickly. She continually impressed us with ow smart she is. And when we got to the office, she almost leaped out of my arms to go see the director. She played with him for quite a while, and we now know why she feels like all smartphones are her personal playthings: he let her play with his, and it clearly wasn't the first time. We let her play with him since she would never get to see him again, and we were very glad when she came back to us without protest at the end. She was clearly sad to see him go, but she was also happy to be back with us. Oh, and after she played with the director for a while, she spent a long while scrubbing the couch, first with a tissue. But when we noticed that she was wetting the tissue with her tongue, we gave her a wipe instead.

Hallie had started to withdraw again while we were at CA, and she clung to Kristie for dear life while we waited for the driver to come pick us up. She resented everything about Isabelle, and she was upset that Isabelle was coming back home with us. I think that Hallie had been hoping that we had gone back to CA to return Isabelle. No such luck! On the way back to the hotel, Isabelle reached over towards Hallie in friendly curiosity, and Hallie grabbed her hand and opened wide to bite her! Thankfully, Kristie and I both saw it happen, so we intervened in time. The look on Hallie's face showed that she meant business, and we're convinced that she would have drawn blood if she had succeeded in biting her sister. This resentment continued throughout the afternoon, but then we saw things starry to change suddenly. After I had bathed Isabelle and put her lotion on her, Kristie started getting things ready for Hallie's bath. (We can't bathe them together because of the possibility that one or both of them has parasites. We won't know for sure until we get back home and have them checked, so they'll get separate baths for now.) The girls were sitting on the floor just outside the bathroom, and we saw them pretending to put lotion on themselves, clearly doing it together! That was great to see, for a couple of reasons. This marked a dramatic change in Hallie's attitude towards her sister, and it also marked the first bit of actual playing that we've seen from her. She doesn't know what to do with any toy, no matter what kind, and we're both encouraged greatly by this sign of imagination. Then, as we were praying with them, Hallie reached up to stoke Isabelle's arm! Gone was the malice on her face from earlier in the day, and in its place was gentle curiosity. Not quite sisterly love, but we'll absolutely take it.

Isabelle continues to amaze, amuse, and baffle us. We brought along a baby doll for each girl, and Isabelle loves hers. She calls it "Mei Mei," Chinese for little sister. She'll entertain herself for long stretches of time by feeding her baby (she very clearly requested a spoon and bowl for her baby right away), swaddling the baby in it's blanket, and putting some of her own things—sunglasses, shoes—on the baby. All life's a comedy to this girl, too. When we went out to the store and to dinner, I put her in a baby carrier on my back. She spent nearly the whole time leaning back so that she could stare straight up at the sky. Then, as we returned to the hotel, she discovered that if she leaned back far enough, she could see Kristie. So, she did. And when I turned to exit the elevator, I bumped her head into the wall. I was afraid that she'd been hurt, but no. She started chuckling. And I think she might have wanted me to do it again. Goofy girl.

The orphanage workers told us that she ate rice and porridge, and that's it. Wrong. Dead. Wrong. She eats everything, and that's not an exaggeration. Yesterday morning, she ate an entire sausage link and some banana bread. And that was after having eaten her own breakfast of cereal and juice. At lunch, she ate almost half of my French fries and most of my cantaloupe, again after having eaten her lunch. But that's not all. We discovered after we got back to the room last night that she had eaten a small chunk of the baby carrier! Who's ever heard of that!!! She also ate some of the rubber coating—and the plastic underneath—off of the baby spoon we'd given her for Mei Mei!! And, to top it all off, we found that she'd chewed off most of the rubber bristles from the NUK teething brush that we'd given her!!! We've never had a kid explore things so ferociously by mouth before, so we have some work to do here.

Her adjustment continues to go well, and we are thrilled to have both of them with us. Today (Wednesday), Lucy is going to take us to a more authentically Chinese part of Guiyanf, and we're looking forward to that. We enjoyed seeing so much of Jinan while we were there, and it'll be nice to see Guiyang's culture, not just the Westernized portion of the city where our hotel is.

Monday, August 19, 2013

You Can't Expect the Unexpected

Over the past few days, I've been thinking about writing a post about the adoption process, specifically as it pertains to traveling to get your child. There are so many factors that go into getting to the right places at the right times so that the right papers can be filed with the right people, that it's impossible to account for every one of those while preparing for the trip. In the course of our adoption journey, I'd like to think that Kristie and I have become fairly good at expecting the unexpected, at learning to adapt to a rather fluid and sometimes seemingly unpredictable schedule. We don't usually get impatient when waiting on someone else to fill out their part of some particular form, and we're capable of handling ourselves in a foreign country, at least to the very limited extent that adoptive families are left to fend for themselves. (Truthfully, here in China, there isn't much at all that we have to do on our own. The guides take very good care of the adoptive families coming through here.) But, today I came to the realization that telling someone to "expect the unexpected" is just plain stupid. It's an unhelpful slogan, and it's semantically nonsensical. That is, it's a meaningless, contradictory statement. If you could expect the unexpected, then it would no longer be unexpected. What's more helpful, I think, is to abide by what seems to be the heart of the matter here, and that's to live with an open mind and heart that we are able to deal calmly and reasonably with unexpected twists and turns that come our way, with an eye on the bigger picture in life. That's not expecting the unexpected; that's knowing that you don't have control over every aspect of life, and that you need therefore to be constantly vigilant to learn lessons from God and to do what He calls us to do at each turn. This was really driven home for me today when we met Isabelle.

For months leading up to our trip, Kristie and I discussed how we should plan our time in China. It would have been possible for us to finish our trip in two weeks, but that would have meant splitting up once we got to China, with one of us going to Jinan to get Hallie and the other going to Guiyang to get Isabelle for the first week, and then all of us getting back together in Guangzhou for the second week. That was tempting, but we decided that it would be best for the girls' bonding with us to stick together. That meant that our trip would be three weeks, and so we began to talk about which girl we should plan to get first. Based on the limited information that we had, we expected Isabelle to be in worse shape developmentally than Hallie, so we thought that getting her first would probably be best. Hallie sounded like a real firecracker, while we had a mental picture of Isabelle as this frail little girl who would be far, far behind her Chinese sister. But, without a lot of hard evidence to go on, we decided to go with whichever plan our agency proposed. That's why we went to get Hallie first. And boy, am I glad that we did, because boy, were we ever wrong.

From the outset, Hallie has been very quiet and sleeps an awful lot (we strongly suspect that she has hypothyroidism like Mikaela, and we'll have that checked as soon as we can once we return home), and she has been very easy in almost every way. It has taken some time and effort for us to start to see her real personality, but she has been opening up steadily, especially over the past few days. Just this morning, she was giggling again as Kristie was bouncing her on her knees. In many ways, she couldn't be more different from Isabelle. When we walked into the Civil Affairs office this afternoon to fill out some paperwork and pick her up, we were astonished to see her standing up, and we quickly learned that she can walk with assistance and even take several steps on her own. Hallie can't even crawl yet. Then, we started playing with Isabelle and talking to her, and we can't believe how smart and capable she is. She's so much further along than we thought either girl could possibly have been under the very best of circumstances, that it took us by surprise. The things that we noticed about her came so fast that I'm not sure I can cover them all, but here goes:

* She loves being the center of attention. Whenever she does something that makes others laugh, she'll almost certainly do it again.
* She loves to laugh. A lot. And her giggle is extremely cute.
* She is a perfect little parrot. Even before we left Civil Affairs to come back to the hotel, she had started mimicking our words. Crazy!
* She's about as tall as Hallie, but much heavier. Her diet has consisted of mostly rice and congee, so her heft is almost certainly due to the empty carbs she's been taking in.
* She is exceptionally smart. We got out her Magna Doodle, and the first thing that she did after drawing a couple of lines on it was to try to write on her hand. When that didn't work, she tried writing on the Magna Doodle with her hand, and then with her foot, trying so hard to figure out why the little pen could draw and nothing else could. Oh, and she also learned how to erase the Magna Doodle after watching us do it only once.
* She is deathly afraid of her cute, stuffed, TSC lamb. She literally shrinks away from it in abject terror, poor thing. Who knew that lambs were so terrifying?
* She can drink out of a bottle, sippy cup, or a regular cup, albeit with assistance. And when drinking from the last, she likes to spit out the mouthful of water, pretending to cough so that she can get some sympathy and a laugh. Little stinker. :-)
* She like to clean up these water "spills". She'll take a wipe or napkin and carefully wipe herself off, and then dab at the wet spots on the furniture around her.
* She can't sit still for more than about two seconds at a time. I'd try to time her at this, but I doubt seriously whether I'd be able to start and stop the stopwatch with any accuracy.
* Another indication of her intelligence: tonight while sitting on our bed, she picked up a clean diaper and tried to put it on herself. Over top of her pajamas.
* She like to turn pages in books, but she has no patience for sitting still and listening to the story itself.
* She calls herself by her Chinese name, usually at random times.
* Her strabismus is pretty bad, so it's good that she already has an appointment with the optometrist set for this fall.
* She can throw a ball at least as well as Mikaela can.
* Her hearing is uncannily good, though I'm sure that she doesn't want us to know that.
* She was clearly loved and well cared for by the people from her orphanage. She actually called the orphanage director "Baba," which means "Daddy" in Chinese. It was hard for her to part from him today, and we expect tomorrow to be hard when she sees him at Civil Affairs again and then has to say her final goodbye.

In short, she might have more raw potential than Mikaela has, and that's saying a lot. Unfortunately, Hallie started to feel overshadowed today and began to retreat inside herself again. Kristie and I have already been talking about the kinds of things that we need to do over the next few days and weeks to make sure that we draw Isabelle in to our family while at the same time maintaining Hallie's stability and continuing to coax more of her real self out from the shell that she's been in for so much of this past week. Hopefully the adjustment period will go well for both of them, and I really hope and pray that they'll become inseparable friends not too far into the future.

Time to get a little bit of sleep before tomorrow morning. We have what will almost certainly be a very full morning tomorrow, although the fact that we filled out most of our paperwork at Civil Affairs this afternoon should make it somewhat shorter than this day was in Jinan. It'll be interesting to see, though, how successful we'll be with getting ourselves and both girls ready to leave at 9:00. I don't know what to expect for tomorrow—or for the days and weeks after that, for that matter—but I'm determined to enjoy each day that God grants us with our family and friends, and in HIs service.


I promise that Hallie's stretching her arm out in front of Isabelle's face, not punching her.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Quiet, But Good, Day

Hallie, trying out her hat for the first time

Yesterday was a quiet day for us. Lucy (our guide here in Guiyang) met us at our hotel after breakfast, and she took us for a brief walk around this part of the city. It turns out that she's actually not even from this province; she just comes over here when there's a family—like us—who travels here to adopt a child. We feel a little bad that she has to spend this week in a hotel, away from her home, but she doesn't seem to mind. She's not that close to 5' tall, but you'd never know it from the way she carries herself. She definitely sees it as her mission to take care of us this week. She can be a little bossy at times, but in an endearing way that clearly demonstrates how much she cares about us and our little ones. She's been guiding adoptive families for thirty years, so she certainly knows what she's doing.

On our walk yesterday morning, she took us to a supermarket, which is a perfect distance from our hotel (about a fifteen-minute walk). We picked up a few things, and in the process discovered how pushy sales people here in China can be. Kristie was looking for some baby cereal so that we can continue mixing that into Hallie's bottle (right now, that's the ONLY way that we can get any real nutrition into her), and the lady at the market tried very hard to get us to buy another kind of cereal, the most expensive one in the store. The container she was insistent that we use was about 400¥ ($65)!!!! As politely as she could, Kristie told her, "No, thanks" and put a far more reasonably-priced container in our cart. On a side note, the markets here in China tend to be located in shopping malls. Weird, but someow it seems appropriate.

After our excursion, we went back to our hotel room, and Lucy came up to talk to us about the next couple of says. Unfortunately, we didn't get Isabelle yesterday like we had hoped; we'll get her this afternoon (Monday). This turned out to be a good thing, I think, because it gave Hallie another day to get comfortable here. In fact, yesterday was the best day we've ever seen her have. When we arrived here, we expected that Isabelle & Hallie would follow the typical pattern for adopted children (based on others' experiences and what Kristie has seen with her own brothers and sisters) and bond with me first, and then her. It wasn't that way with Mikaela, who bonded just like a biological child because she was only 11 months old when we brought her home, and developmentally more like a 3-6 month-old. Well, since Hallie seems to be in the level of a 12-month-old, she has bonded with Kristie first. She is most definitely a Mommy's girl. She sticks to her at pretty much every turn, and while she likes me, I don't get the same kind of clingy hugs that Kristie often gets. She clearly likes me, but I'm not quite on the same level as Kristie in her mind. She's usually very agreeable when I hold her, so long as I don't try to kiss her cheeks very much. Our kids back home often tell me that I'm too scratchy, and in our running dialogue voice for Hallie, I've become "Scratchy Face Man" more often than Daddy. But, yesterday she showed more affection towards me than she has—giving me some clingy hugs nearly worthy of Mikaela's—even after I did the unforgivable and gave her a bath and washed her hair. All in all, she continues to open up and explore her surroundings more and more. Now, we can't wait to meet Isabelle, see where she is, and watch her open up. It's such an amazing thing to watch kids open up who have never received anything like enough attention of stimulation before.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Goodbye, Jinan. Hello, Guiyang!

This afternoon, we left our hotel in Jinan. While we're both excited to go get Isabelle, we're a bit sad at leaving Jinan behind. We have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves this week, and that makes it hard to say goodbye. But, I'm sure that we'll explore Guiyang some in the week ahead, and I want to make sure that I appreciate our time in Guiyang, because this will almost certainly be the only time that we'll ever get to be in Isabelle's birth province.
We ran into a few snags in getting to our flight this afternoon. First, we almost left Hallie's bottle at the hotel, which would have been an unmitigated disaster since that's the only way that we can get her to consume anything. It's the bottle that her nannie from the orphanage dropped off with her, and I don't know what we would have done if we had forgotten it. Thankfully, Kristie remembered that it was still in the refrigerator in our room as we were loading our luggage into the van. Then, at the airport, we were delayed in obtaining our boarding passes because Hallie's birthday had been incorrectly entered as being in 2008, and it took a while to sort that out. Then, we had to pay a fee of 490¥ because our bags were 20 kg over the weight limit. By the time we got in line at security, I was stressed because I thought that our plane was supposed to leave in about fifteen minutes. So, when we were held up again (I'm not even sure why this time), I really began to worry. We got through the check-point with ease, and then I hustles down to our gate. At that point, I realized at our flight was to depart at 16:45, not 16:00 as I had been thinking. And all this time, it was printed on our boarding passes! At least we got to our gate in time, but we again were delayed when we tried to get on the plane. There was some problem with Hallie's boarding pass, and while we're not exactly sure what the trouble was, we think that her seat might simply have been double-booked because they assigned us to a different row. But, we made it safely onto the plane.
Poor Hallie had a very hard time when she first boarded the plane. She didn't like the fact that the flight attendant made us put her in her seat and buckle her in (nor did we, for that matter), and she didn't like the pressure change during take-off. The poor thing cried pretty much the whole time, and she only settled down once Kristie was able to get her out of her seat and hold her. Then, she quickly fell asleep. She was really tired and probably a bit hungry, though she was so worked up that we couldn't coax her to take any of her bottle.
John had told us before we left Jinan that Lucy was running late and wouldn't be able to meet us at the airport, so the driver would take us to our hotel. Once we arrived in Guiyang, we gathered our bags and met the driver at the airport exit. She then ushered us up to the upper outside level, which meant taking a couple of trips up the escalator because the baggage cart wouldn't fit. Then, she asked us—through a series of hand gestures, since she doesn't speak any English—to wait there while she went and got the car. A few minutes later, she came back, looking frantically for her keys. Thankfully, she found them among our bags. She must have dropped them while helping us to get our bags to the upper level. I'm sure glad she found them! Then, she drove us over to our hotel, which is easily the most luxurious hotel at we've ever stayed in. It's almost like living in an Eastern-style European apartment. I don't think that we'd have ever booked a room in a place like this, but this is where our contact put us for this week, so we're going to enjoy it.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Native Music & Food

This morning, John picked us up at 9:00 to go get Hallie's passport. Thankfully, it was done and ready for us, and we were finished with our errand before 10:00. So, he took us to the tea shop that he and a couple of his friends own.

It was closed when we arrived, so he unlocked the door—and believe me, it was very well secured—and took us inside. He treated us to several different kinds of tea: red tea, a locally-grown green tea, a green tea from southern China, and an oolong tea. We also spied one of the traditional musical instruments (a guqin) that he makes lying on a table in the other room. It turns out that this was a factory-made model, not one of his handmade creations, but he treated us to a couple of traditional songs. The video that I got is of a traditional song from right here in Jinan. Amazing stuff.
Then, just as we thought that our time there was just about over, he asked if we wanted to have some roast lamb for lunch. We'd been kind of sad that we hadn't really had any local food this week, so we eagerly said yes, and boy, are we ever glad that we did! He ordered it from a street vendor just a couple of shops over, and about fifteen or twenty minutes later, the vendor came over with a plethora of lamb skewers, along with some deliciously-seasoned bread that had also been toasted. This is without a doubt the best food that we've had since we left home, and it's also the best food that we've had in recent memory. And, he wouldn't let us pay him for this, either.
After stuffing ourselves with lamb, bread, and some more tea, we sat and talked for quite a while. We can't say how much we've enjoyed his company this week, and we wish that we had more time to spend with him. He has made our time here in Jinan wonderful, and I don't know what we would have done without him. If he ever comes to the States, he had better look us up.
This is our last night here in Jinan. Tomorrow, we'll check out of our hotel at 2:00 pm and then head straight to the airport to catch our flight down to Guiyang. We suspect that it will be about a three-hour flight, so as much as we'd love to see Isabelle right away, in some ways it would be better if they would wait until Sunday to bring her to us, if they're going to bring her to us early at all. Hallie would probably do better with a night to get used to a new environment. Several times today she started to melt down, but Kristie was able to calm her down each time. She really relies on us and our hotel room for stability, and we're hoping that one night in the hotel in Guiyang will be enough for her to regain that sense of stability in a new place before her sister joins her. But, of course, if they do meet us at the hotel with Isabelle, we will be delighted to see her. I can't believe that we're already done here in Jinan. We're going to miss this place, but we are more than ready to meet our other little girl and start bonding with her, too.

Hallie, smiling at breakfast when I tickled her
John's tea shop

John, serving us some tea

Best food of the trip!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

She's Opening Up!

Well, today was a big day for Hallie. We took things very easy today, venturing out for a walk by ourselves (we gave John the day off, even though he seemed a little bit disappointed at not seeing us again today) down by the city moat, and trying to find the Western style cafes that he told us were just down the street from our hotel. We'd only been out for about half an hour when Hallie started crying, so we turned around and went back to our room. She calmed down pretty quickly once we got back there. She's taking a little bit more from her bottle than she did at the beginning of the week, and she's definitely staying awake for increasingly longer stretches of time. In fact, she didn't sleep at all this afternoon, which was a shock to us (especially given that both of us fell asleep for parts of the afternoon!). And, completely out of the blue, she gave Kristie her first smile AND her first giggle! We didn't think that we'd see her laugh until we got to Guangzhou, at the earliest, but sure enough, she was giggling while Kristie was tickling her this afternoon. So cute, and we're so excited about this! She's really opening up with us, and it's a great feeling to see her real personality starting to shine.
Then, when we went to dinner tonight (at a rather over-priced but still enjoyable restaurant here in the hotel), she had a meltdown while we were finishing up our desserts. Again, we'd been gone from the room for just over half an hour, and this time I think that she was mostly just tired. But, we think that she just wanted to be back in the room with us. Already it seems like hearing a lot of Chinese is upsetting to her; she seems to have a strong preference for hearing Kristie and me talk (definitely NOT in Chinese), and this is a good bonding sign. She's bonding more like a typical infant—very much like the way in which Mikaela bonded with us—and that fits with our impression of her as being much more like a 12-month old instead of a nearly-four-year-old. She really is our baby. Well, at least for a few more days until we get Isabelle. Then she might have some competition. :-)