Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Belated Travel Diary - Days 1-3

In honor of my very good friend who is landing in China in just a few hours, I decided to finally pick back up the blog and tell about our trip. We flew United through Chicago to Beijing and aside from a six hour delay in Chicago, it was a really enjoyable flight. Child #1 did not drink enough or use the bathroom enough and ended up throwing up in the Beijing airport. It was a really long trip and immigration took a long time, so I totally understood why. Child #2 did surprisingly well. We prepared him ahead of time with YouTube videos of what it looks like in the plane and what the toilet sounds/looks like. We did carry on only on the way there and they all had to lug their own backpacks and carryon suitcases. They did really well. We used David Wang (find him on FB!) for all the Beijing pick ups and touring, and his driver was waiting right there for us.

This was our 1st lesson in Chinese culture, they walk FAST. And they don't check behind them to make sure you are keeping up. And the Beijing airport going to what seemed to be parking was HUGE. This was the second lesson - parking in China is a relative term. There aren't really designated spots that I could tell. Heck, traffic lanes in China are a relative term. Lesson three - the drivers will share lanes, turn together, use the horn liberally, occasionally brush side mirrors with the car, but they are ridiculously talented drivers. Also, they don't get mad. They honk louder but remain completely calm. We had an enormous amount of fun riding around Beijing (and later Wuhan).

The next morning we went on a whirlwind tour with two other families we knew. It started with a

temple just north of the Forbidden City. I really loved it and would have liked to stay there longer. There were seniors doing water painting and grannies square dancing. But we had to get to the Great Wall! We went to the section that has the open gondolas going up and the toboggan going down. This was my favorite stop. We had such a fun time, but it wore me out! Husband and Child #1 made it past the tallest tower, but Child #2 and I were gasping at the second to last. So close but Child #2 refused and sat down. And I did get him one tower further than he said he would go... I cannot describe the view. It was breathtaking. We got a rare sunny and slightly less smoggy day. We had an amazing lunch at the restaurant just down the hill. I don't know what all the foods were, but it was the best food we had during our whole trip. Next we all went to the Summer Palace. I had really been looking forward to this, but it was crazy crowded. Lesson 4 - get used to walking/standing/sitting closely to people. I cannot describe how crowded it was. I kept hold of my teenage boys because we were walking through swarms of people - all of them

Chinese and many staring at us. But we were moving so fast they couldn't stare for long (see lesson 1). I think the Summer Palace was beautiful, at least what little I saw of it. Between the people and fast walking, I really only remember the pretty lake and marble boat and of course, the long walkway. I took photos of them, so I could look better at them later (that statement seems so sad). We finished around six and ate food I had brought with us. Lesson 5 - bringing food in your suitcase is a really good
idea. We were way too tired to find dinner and it was so nice to have tuna sandwiches and oatmeal. I think we found some cup ramen somewhere too.

On Sunday morning, we were picked up by David's niece and taken to the Beijing train station. It was amazing and I loved every minute of the train journey. The station was huge! But it was all well labeled. His niece walked up to our gate which was much appreciated because we were one of the only western families there and nobody spoke English. I had a fun time finding out how much the bananas cost (10 yuan for a bunch of six) and this seemed like a great bargain compared to fast food.
The ladies were so nice and laughing as they first tried showing me on their fingers then with the calculator. Turns out calculators are VERY common for bartering or showing prices when you don't speak the same language. Go figure. (see what I did there ;) When it came time to give our tickets and go through the gate, we were rocks in the stream. Seriously, a stream of people moving quickly and we were bumbling with our suitcases and tickets. A kind man that had kind of talked with us earlier soon disappeared around the corner with his elderly mother. They all had suitcases and tickets too, but they all moved way faster, even the seniors. Nothing like a trip to China to make you realize how slow and overweight you are. Which is odd because I'm not really slow or overweight. Sidenote, there aren't escalators going down to the train, but there is a whole messload of stairs, so you better know how you are getting your suitcase (or your son and his suitcase) down the stairs. Quickly. A very kind man helped my son. He didn't even look at us really, just picked up his suitcase and carried to the bottom of the stairs. Ah the train! We took the bullet train to Wuhan and sat in firs
t class (there is another class even better than first class but why bother, first class was awesome). The seats were huge. They reclined way back! They had fold out tables and fold down footrests and coat hooks! There was hot water in the back of the car for the cup ramen you bought in the train station! There was even train attendants dressed like they did for Pan Am in the 1960s with meal carts. They gave us snacks and drinks and we bought a full meal for 50 or 60 yuan (about $8). Three of us shared it. It was a lot of food. We averaged 300 km per hour. The thing I loved the most was seeing the countryside. Sometimes I would stretch my neck as we got really close to a neighborhood, but then a big wall would pop up. I don't know if that was to protect people or hide ugly buildings. We passed a few of what looked like ghost cities. Great monoliths of apartments and skyscrapers rising in the gray sky with over a dozen cranes for each area, finished roads, finished neighborhoods, but only one or two cars driving down an eight lane road. If you build it, they will come? The rural and agricultural areas were beautiful, but eerie. Everything was in rows or squares as far as the eye could see. Many of the small dirt roads had trees perfectly spaced on each side. Very pretty, but a little... off. Much of the train ride, I kept thinking how much the scenes outside looked like something out of a dystopian novel. Everything was covered in a hazy, smoggy gray, so you couldn't see too far and it was always
overcast. My favorite area was an hour away from Wuhan we started to go through mountains, quite literally through them. There were still terraced rows on the mountains, but the few homes and neighborhoods looked a little more wild, like they hadn't been razzed and renovated yet. I was the only person on our train car looking out the window. Everyone else was on their phones. Although I did see one person with a magazine. And suddenly, we were there - Wuhan, Hubei. We would meet Child #5 tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Almost there!

We had Article 5 pickup 2/21 and got Travel Approval a week later. The hard copy finally came today. I am in a flurry of preparation and packing. I'm trying to catch up on laundry and cleaning (pretty unsuccessfully). The boys room is finished. The Legos have been relocated to a safe location. New spring chicks are being fed and watered in the garage. Doctor's appointment has been made. Still so much to do! He's finally coming home soon!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Full Speed Ahead!

Boy, things sure changed quickly. January was a pretty awful month all around until the very last week, then everything got much better. The sun came out again during the day and Orion and the big dipper shone bright at night. The dog remembered that she is indeed housetrained and the rooster decided he values his life more than fighting with me. I even got my broken tooth repaired today. Our I800 got approved the day it got on the officer's* desk (after 3 weeks of transit time), and I got the GUZ 1 week later, filled out the DS260 late that night and got the RTF (PDF) email the next morning. We had to wait a few days because it was still Chinese New Year, but we had Article 5 dropoff as soon as they reopened. Now there is nothing to do but wait and prepare. Art 5 is always 10 business days for dropoff (plus another day for Presidents Day... could we possibly hit any more holidays?). I should not be impatient; my to do list is very, very long. But I would really like to be able to buy the plane tickets now while they are still cheap and have my arrangements made. I am so excited! We are SO close! But then I get queasy when I think about all the unknowns. And when I think about having a medical emergency in a foreign country. Or taking child #2 on a plane. Or how our new son will react to us. Mostly, I try not to think about unknowns, otherwise my stomach churns and I break out in cold sweats. This is where God stretches me and molds me. This is the really hard part for me. I am trying to control my excessive researching and over preparing. I know staying up until 2am reading China travel tips and Trip Advisor hotel reviews is not necessarily helpful, but it gives me a false sense of control. When I realize how little control I have, I have to breathe
deeply and remember that God set the path before us and we are following it. He holds us in the palm of His hand, and I have to trust Him to provide everything for this journey. And my how He has provided! I cannot believe all the ways He has shown us that this is His plan. The support, the smoothing of the details, the ladybugs, and the dates are all little pictures that God gives us that encourage and sustain us. The date numbers are pretty amazing and hilarious. My husband thinks I am a total geeky dork for being so excited by the dates. See, I noticed Child #5's birthdate at almost the same time I noticed his smile and his name. Our kids birthdays are all fifty days apart and Child #5's birthday is fifty days before that. So he would fit right into birthday season. Also, his birthdate has the numbers 1, 2, and 3 in it, which isn't all that spectacular, but the way our dates have fallen has become downright fascinating and comical at the same time. As we were keeping track of dates on FB, I started to see something funny.
LID 11/2
In Review 12/1
LOA 12/23
I800 Received 12/30
I800 Approved 1/23
Am I the only one that thinks that's kind of cool? You would too if you knew when our Article 5 pick up is scheduled and when our proposed Family Day should be. I can't wait to tell you!

*officer - I just want to say that I am pretty sure I got the sweetest USCIS officer there for our I800. Officer F., if I could have kissed you through the phone I would have. I was going to send you cookies, but I wasn't sure they would make it. Also, I didn't want to make my husband jealous. From all of us adoptive mommas, we know your name on the message boards, and we love you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Don't Poke the Bear

This has not been a very good couple of weeks for us. Last week, everything I tried to accomplish, did not want to be accomplished. If possible, things worked backwards and my to do list grew longer. Not to mention, USCIS took FOREVER to even open the envelope that I worked SO hard to overnight to them (from the Podunk FedEx office). Seriously, they took two full weeks to send me a confirmation text (should only take 2-3 days). I also lost a piece of my tooth last week. It just broke off. Add that to the to do list. And my rooster decided that he wants to kill me. He has gotten so cocky! It really is time to introduce him to the stew pot. Except none of us can figure out how to catch him. Here are some more highlights of the last week....

We went to get our last few agency forms notarized and instead of our normal notary, we got the SLOWEST, nosiest notary ever. She was actually reading my forms! (A few of them were contract forms that had prices and agency practices.) She kept telling me how to sign - like I have not already done this 20 times! She asked nosy questions about what the forms were for. She took over 30 minutes. I gave her very clipped answers to her questions. My husband could tell I was very unhappy and busied himself with the one child we took along. She probably took 30 minutes because she kept talking to Child #3 and asking her questions. Finally, finally we paid, took our forms and got out. Keep this in mind when you read about what I did next.

I had been trying to get our applications finished for the Chinese visas, but the new photo requirements totally had me stressing out. We went to Walgreens right after that awful notary to get new photos that would fit their requirements (no smiling, no jewelry, no accessories, no logos, must show ears, no glasses, etc.). We took up a good chunk of the poor Walgreens photo lady's time as we had her make them just a little smaller so they would fall within the required millimeters (which are NOT the same measurements as a passport photo, they are just slightly smaller so as to make you go just slightly crazy). Still a two by two photo, but your face and shoulders have to fit in it. Anyway, there was a couple waiting behind us - we'll call them Chip and Buffy. Chip was waiting to get a passport photo and they decided to make small talk with us, a decision I'm pretty sure they came to regret. "Are you moving to China?" he asked.
"No, no. We're adopting." My husband walked away to put away the ruler we were borrowing to measure the faces in the photos.
"Is it a little girl?" he guessed. "No actually, a boy. Our second adoption, fifth child..." I proceeded to unload my pent up frustration on them with a verbal tirade about paperwork and how this was three times as hard as our first adoption with all the minutiae and requirements and notarizing, etc. My husband returned around the end of that and gave me a funny look. Chip got his photo taken and smiled very wide. The Walgreens lady told Chip to have a neutral expression.
"No smiling. You're not allowed to smile." I contributed. He finished and came to stand by Buffy, smiling again.
"Well, it's a real good thing you're doing." Poor guy. He was trying. I looked at Buffy as we left the store.  She was a deer caught in headlights, total shell shock. I looked at myself and started giggling as we drove away - no makeup, sweat pants, tennis shoes and an attitude. Oh dear, I don't think I have been this effective as a birth control advertisement since my last trip to Victoria's Secret with young children (was that seven years ago, mom?).

I finally started to cross a few things off my to do list on Monday, so I decided the tide had finally turned in my favor and went to FedEx. I had carefully organized each Visa application according to the six pages of instructions from the courier along with our payment check and actual passports (yes, the ACTUAL passports). I put all of that with a cover letter inside an envelope which I then put inside a Ziploc bag. Once again, I did not get my normal FedEx person. She can't make it fit in the normal envelope. "Could we just take it out of this to make it fit better?"
"No. Definitely no. Don't you have a slightly larger envelope? I've used one before."
Oh yes, look at that, she found a larger envelope. I told her I also needed an airbill to put inside for it to be shipped back to me. "We don't do those anymore. FedEx is going totally paperless now." After a lot of back and forth and actually calling the courier it was going to, we settled on me creating one online later and emailing it to the courier.
"I need a piece of tape across the top also." I told her. Twice.
"I will." She went back to entering the information in the computer.
I had to call FedEx customer service to have help creating an online label without a specific date that I could email. I asked about them going paperless and doing away with airbills. They had not heard anything of the sort. "Maybe it's just that location." Of course. Of course it is. And I never saw her put tape on it! So I had a minor panic attack that she later opened the envelope and stole our passports.

I have been an emotional basketcase this week. Anxious to bring our son home, excited to travel, impatient to get through all these steps, fear of being in a foreign country and having an emergency, fear of anything going wrong. I cried yesterday and I don't remember which reason it was. I cried Friday when I finally received our text from USCIS. I'm really trying not to think about the I800. So much of our timeline rides on when we get approval. I have heard horror stories of lost paperwork and weeks of delay but also most others have approval within two weeks (obviously not this month because of all the holidays). I want to make packing lists and shopping lists, but I feel like I can't get excited or start planning until we have approval. If you have a moment, please pray it would come miraculously soon and take that stress away. Anyway, that's where I am right now. I'm hoping January gets better and better. At least my husband finally seems to be over the pneumonia and bronchitis so that's something!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

January Already?!

Let's face it. I am not a natural blogger. My apologies.
So what did you miss during the last month?
During December, my niece got into a sweet routine with our family and my girls loved spending every day with her. It took all the squabbles away. The hectic month peaked in mid-December when we hosted a Christmas party for our adoption group. It was the first time I ever hosted anything, so I was really nervous. I remember vacuuming and dusting and sitting on my island filling a giant crack with wood putty. I remember windex-ing the light fixtures on the ceiling and wiping the dust of the pot rack as my mom hand painted the wood putty to match the wood grain. I don't actually remember much else from that day. I think it went well. People showed up and they laughed a lot and stayed longer than an hour, so I'm going to take that as a success. I even got compliments on the food and punch. I told my husband I might consider doing it again next Christmas. Maybe. Definitely not sooner. Of course, I was planning so well that I coordinated that my brother and his family would come stay with us the next day. As it happened, my husband, who had been traveling during the week and developing a flu, got very sick Saturday. He had a fever that went on all day and he stayed in bed for about 24 hours. He briefly got up Sunday morning then went back to bed. My brother and his family had a good visit, short but good. I only got marginally angry at him and had a very hard time saying goodbye to my niece.

My husband started to improve a bit once they left (coincidence?) but still had a nagging cough. We had a little bit of breathing space in the week before Christmas, and we received a phone call and an email an hour apart from two grants. I was stunned. Just a couple weeks before we had gotten approved for a matching grant and I was filled with gratitude for that. I really wasn't expecting any direct grants. We had already been denied by 3 or 4. I cried on the phone call. I don't know if she was expecting that or not. Hopefully she was. On the 22nd, we found out our dossier had moved to matching. That was as good a Christmas gift as I could hope for. I had been praying for LOA before Christmas, but matching was the next best thing.

Christmas Eve we all did stockings then I stayed up way too late staging the photos for the great Elf Present Scavenger Hunt. Every year some wily plush villain steals the presents and gets chased around the house by our elf leaving a present for each kid and a photo clue at every spot. This is the problem with creativity. You do it ONE year, then your kids expect it the next year and the next and the next... Then it is tradition and legend and lore that the kids discuss before Christmas morning. Secretly, I have a ton of fun but every year I think, "Couldn't I have planned this earlier so I'm not up at 1am Christmas morning?" To be fair to our heroic elf, he is pretty lazy the rest of December. He didn't show up until the 16th then he only moved TWICE. He doesn't bake cookies or decorate or anything that other crazy people's elves do. No wonder he gets so active on Christmas Eve.

So the day after Christmas we packed everyone in the minivan and drove to my dad and stepmom's house in Oklahoma. Now Oklahoma doesn't normally excite me and there are whole stretches where I get NO cell phone reception, but where they live is like a little paradise with green hills, giant trees, peaceful breezes, a big lake and lots and lots of birds. It is lovely and I always oversleep when I am there. The second day we were there I received an email that we had soft LOA from China. I called for details and found out they actually issued it right before Christmas. That meant the hard copy would be arriving at the agency anyday. We had to make some plans about where they could FedEx it. That was fun. As it turned out, my husband along with my dad and son had to drive about an hour and a half to a place where it could be overnighted to. Thankfully it came around lunch, so they had time to hotfoot it back to meet me in the little town we were in. There in the tiniest, strangest FedEx outpost I've ever been in, we had fifteen minutes to sign and date the LOA, photocopy it, and send the photocopy with our I800 application overnighted to USCIS. We did it though! BUT we forgot to take a photo of us signing it!!! Admittedly, it was hard to remember much of anything in that little shipping office. I had four kids in various states of obedience and volume, "Stop touching that!" I was trying to remember what I needed copies of to send with the I800, "Don't hit your sister!" I was not allowed to use the copier so I had to have the young lady working there copy all those precious documents, "Don't touch anything!" I kept correcting my kids while keeping half an eye on my papers. It occurred to me fifteen minutes after we drove away that I hadn't even read the LOA or checked it for errors. This is SO not like me! My middle name is Preparation and my other middle name is Research. I read through it and finally felt the import of what that paper said. (Thankfully everything was totally correct on it and as I triple checked all my papers, I had included all the correct docs for immigration.) There were our names at the top. There was his name and birthdate with the title "foundling". We check marked the box that says we accept. AAAAHHH! The original is on it's way back to China while the copy and bulk of the paperwork is back with USCIS waiting for their stamp of approval once again. The time we weren't running after documents, we spent with my dad and stepmom doing puzzles, playing board games, going in his new Jacuzzi, riding horses and going for a brisk walk to see the area. Also there was a lot of eating too. We headed back home and my husband's pesky cough seemed to worsen a bit. Three days later, his side was hurting so bad he couldn't take in breaths. So I drove him to a doctor. She listened to his lungs and frowned deeply. She quickly wrote off five different prescriptions, had a nurse bring in a nebulizer and put it on him and as soon as he finished the breathing treatment, he got a steroid shot in the butt. She listened to his lungs again and sent him straight to get chest x-rays. Turned out he had pneumonia and bronchitis. It really knocked him down. He kept working though. Of course. He seems to be improving now.

While we wait for I800 approval, I will leave you with the adventures of our elf...