Sunday, May 31, 2009

Almost Done

Two weeks ago, we started our journey to China, and now we have only a few days left and just one more item to check off on the adoption checklist before we head home. Today was the medical exam, required by the U.S. Consulate, and it went as expected for little Kate. She's not really keen on strangers, so I knew she wouldn't like being poked and prodded very much.
We know one thing....

Her lungs work.

Other than that, we are having fun haggling with the shop owners, picking up some awesome treasure for the girls to have for later in life, playing hard on the playground, and spotting all the stunning brides. Guangzhou is a historical city that looks very similar to Savannah, Georgia with beautiful courtyards. On every corner, there is a bride and a groom having their photos done prior to their weddings. So gorgeous!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oh, The Games We Play

We flew into Guangzhou early yesterday afternoon, and have now set up camp at the Victory Hotel for the remainder of our time in China. We really like our hotel room--- it's a Japanese-style suite with a separate sitting room, which is great for the girls to run around and play. This is especially important today, as a steady rain has set in and dampened (no pun intended) any thoughts we may have had of going to the pool or walking around the area to visit the various shops.

Not to worry, though... we are continuing to use this time together as another opportunity to let Kate get to know us better. Kate loves to tease, and she created a game that she likes to play with us--- sort of a staring contest, where she tilts her little head forward while still staring at you with a very serious look, then quickly raises her head up and screams while she smiles. We played it for 10 minutes straight last night, and today Melissa was able to get a brief session on video. Also, be sure to check out Leah putting on her Mommy's makeup in the background.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A smile goes a long way

Shawn...It's hard to express how nice the people have been to us over here. I guess a smile is the universal language, and we've exchanged many with the locals over the past week.
However, out of all the nice people we've met,
three have made a particularly deep impression on me.

The first is a shopkeeper who operates a small kiosk near the bridge in the park we visit every day. Today I found out his name is Lee (which is my Dad's name, and Leah's namesake--- pretty cool, huh?). He has humored my feeble attempts to communicate in Mandarin and has been very patient with me. Every day we visit his stand to buy ice cream for Leah and a bag of some kind of potato chip/twist food called "Lonely God" for Kate. I guess the taste is heavenly (Hello? Is this thing on? Please tip your waiters and waitresses). He is a very kind man, giving both of the girls lolipops today and helping other curious park visitors understand who we are and why we're here in China. He even posed for a picture with us and my Western Red Towel... quick explanation: WKU's Alumni magazine encourages alums to take their red towels with them on their travels, then send a picture in for publication. I've never really thought about doing this before--- probably because the most exciting locations I visit on a regular basis are the big towns of Waddy and Frankfort on my drive to work every day, and I'm pretty sure Western graduates have visited there before. However, although I've seen shots on the Great Wall before, I doubt anyone from Western has ever been here, so my sister Jennie and I (also a WKU grad) thought it would be fun to plant the flag here like Neil Armstrong. That's one small step for man, one giant leap for Big Red (you can quote me on that).

The second friend we met was the guy who runs the paddle boats. We have played on the paddle boats for the past several days, and when we showed up today the smallest bill I had other than about 23 yuan in loose bills was a 100 yuan bill (the ride costs 40 yuan for all five of us). He did not have change, so he accepted the 23 yuan rather than not letting the girls ride, and he didn't want to take the 100 yuan in full. We paddled around for awhile, then tried to dock but all of the slips were full and our friend was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, we saw a series of steps on the opposite shore than came down to the water, so I put the boat against the steps and the girls all got out and we agreed to meet after I docked the boat. I wish you could have been there--- it was truly an astounding display of nautical skill, the likes of which haven't been seen since Columbus' time. After dropping off the girls I paddled back to the dock and found our friend again, who created a spot for me to tie up the boat.
I tried to pay him again, but he politely refused. I felt pretty bad about this and told him I would get change and return, although he seemed to be telling me that it was OK. I found another kiosk nearby and was able to break the 100 yuan bill, then returned to the paddle boats. He again refused the money, but in English pointed to some chairs and said, "Please sit." He sat down next to me, with a big grin on his face, and we began talking to each other about anything and everything. I pulled out my handy-dandy "Just Enough Chinese" pocket-sized book with English and Chinese characters, and we pointed and talked to each other for 10 or 15 minutes. It was pretty amazing--- two men from very different backgrounds, neither speaking the other's language, that fate had thrown together for a brief period of time to become fast friends. It may sound funny, but I was deeply touched by this man's gesture... so much so that I had to write it down like Doogie Howser on this little blog/diary so I could remember the details, although I know I will never forget the experience.

The last friend I will mention is a gentle old man we met yesterday who speaks very fluent English. After awhile other people came up to Melissa and Jennie and began speaking to them, so this man and I found ourselves speaking alone. After talking about our families and homelands, he looked me in the eye and said, "The world is getting smaller, and China and America are good friends.
I hope to see you again one day."

I hope so, too.

Daddy Day in China.....

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is worth repeating that Melissa and I are extremely proud of how Little Bitty (Leah) has adjusted to her new life on this trip. It's pretty hard to start sharing the spotlight with someone else after ruling the roost for the better part of three years... kinda like how Arnold probably felt when that little redheaded kid and his Mom Dixie Carter moved into the Drummond household in the later years of Diff'rent Strokes (OK, bad analogy, but I thought it more fitting than using the example of Oliver, the kid who started showing up in later episodes of The Brady Bunch. I mean come on... did anyone really like that kid? Who was he, anyway? Funny what things you think about after being in a hotel room for over a week).

Anyway, she has been great, but that doesn't mean that she hasn't had her moments of wanting some undivided attention. Therefore, yesterday (Monday), Leah and I headed off to the local park for some quality father/daughter time while Melissa put Little Bird (that's become our pet name for Kate) down for her nap. Back home we call these "Daddy Days," which we usually spend together every other Monday on my day off while Melissa is at work, and we always look forward to spending some time together to just talk and play. If you've ever met Leah, you know that she is 3 going on 30--- we have to catch ourselves sometimes to remember that we're talking to a 3-year-old because she is so insightful and mature for her age. Thank goodness for Google, otherwise I wouldn't know how to answer half her questions. It makes me wonder how Mom and Dad ever did it for me!

We had a great time, walking through the paths and looking at the beautiful flowers, eventually ending up at a small amusement park with a carousel and helicopter ride that spins around while playing a pretty catchy little tune. Since it was Monday morning the park was pretty deserted, so we had the run of the place. Next, we stopped at the paddle boat rides and were one of only three boats out on the river. Finally, we visited our shopkeeper friend near the bridge (I'll write more about him in another post) and bought an ice cream cone, then headed back to the playroom at the hotel for more fun.

What a kid. What a morning. What an honor to be her Daddy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

In the Eyes of the People's Republic of China...

She's ours....

Today our adoption was finalized and the paperwork has been cleared so we can officially be called a family of four today. We have one more day in Zhengzhou and then we fly to Guangzhou for another week to complete America's portion of the adoption which will make her a citizen of the United States when we land in Los Angeles. Although we all would rather be on our way home, these days in China are precious. It's your one chance as a family to be in a complete bubble without the chaos of everyday life to just bond and learn about each other.

We feel so finally have the family we've always wanted. It's amazing to think that just days ago, Kate was terrified to come out of the bathroom of our hotel room, and she is now running to me from down the hallway with a huge smile on her face and arms outreached, yelling "Baba!!" with a grin when she sees her daddy, and is trying to immulate everything her big sis does and hugging her every chance she can get. It's just fascinating to me how quickly this has evolved, love sure is a powerful thing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hangin' with the Locals...

Today was another beautiful day in Zhengzhou....we absolutely love it here! The park is very close to the hotel and it takes your breath away with the beauty of the landscaping, the music, the art, the people. It just happened to be the day the locals practice english at the park so when they saw us, we were bombarded with people trying to practice on us. We feel like rockstars, we've had our pictures taken more times than I can's hilarious and we are eating it up! Speaking of eating, Shawn is really having the time of his life right now. He tends to eat rather safe "American" meals, so he had big plans to loose 10 pounds on the trip...but all that boy has done since he's gotten here is eat, so we wouldn't be suprised if he came back to the states 10 pounds heavier! He can't get enough of the food. Last time I was here, I pretty much survived on cheese crackers, but there is a fabulous restaurant inside the hotel, so nobody is starving (don't worry Mom and Dad, I'm eating this time!).

Shawn is enjoying practicing his mandarin on the locals as well, most of the time they laugh at him, but we are making friends right and left. It's been a joy to converse with these wonderful people, they are so kind...just beautiful, beautiful souls.

Kate is continuing to just blossom in front of our eyes, she's pure sunshine. She's uber attached to me, I definitely have a clinger, but today was a huge breakthrough in that she finally let Shawn hold her. She's a bit of a jokster and loves to play games, especially with her big sis and she just thinks it's the funniest thing to put on a pair of Mama's shoes (see pic). She has been flashing a million watt smile at us all day long, so I think she's starting to really enjoy all the love and attention. Our hearts are so happy.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Walk in the Park...

First...thank each and every one of you for all your support and encouraging words! We really appreciate it and every word feels like home to us. Shawn helped me out a fews days posting because after all the traveling and dealing with a little broken-hearted soul, I have been physically and mentally wiped out...I wouldn't have been able to make logical sentences! But it's the magical "third" day since we have had Kate now and she is making great strides. The first couple of days were a little rocky, she has had bouts of grieving and bouts of giggles and smiles evenly. It has been incredibly hard to see her go through what she needs to in order to let us in her heart.

We are crazy in LOVE with this precious little bird. She's absolutely beautiful in every single way. She can do some incredible things already with her blows our mind. She's amazing and we are so lucky to have her in our life, she''s going to teach us all so many lessons!

Kate prefers to be held by me most of the time still. She really loves Leah, comes from behind and just gives her a huge bear hug. Leah is a fantastic big sister...I mean FANTASTIC in the biggest boldest lettering I can find. She's patient and tender with her, makes her laugh and has put Kate at ease numerous times...I am so glad that we made the decision to bring her, it was the right one without a doubt. She's helped not only our little Kate, but the other babies in the group transition better. She's deserves a metal of honor for her ability to know just what to do to make the babies feel safe.

Today we had a paperwork-free day and went to the local was gorgeous! We have a few days left in Zhengzhou so we can't wait to go back tomorrow, there was an amusement park that was also there that we didn't get the chance to see yet. Many people stopped to ask us about the girls and with Shawn's basic mandarin that he's learned they were able to figure out our story and they were just so sweet and encouraging to us, it's been such fun for me to see Shawn experience what he missed the first time.

All the locals that we spoke with told both girls how beautiful they were numerous times, and Leah has picked up a little mandarin as well from those conversations and says "Ni Hao!" to anyone that comes up to greet her, she's not at all scared to talk to them. I think she has a much better feel for what China and the culture is and this trip will stay in her memories for many years to come and help answer questions she will have about her own story.

There was a calligrapher in the park and invited Leah and Shawn to draw with him on the pavement, so Shawn drew his signature Mickey Mouse face, and with that, he gathered an audience of lots of thumbs up and laughter, we made a lot of friends with this universal was so cool! We are feeling very, very blessed on this miracle day, our little family is starting to mold together.

Here's some photos from today's adventures....

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Land of Oz...

All of my girls are now safely tucked away in bed after our first full day with precious Kate. I think we can say it was a pretty successful day, with Kate continuing to come to grips with the fact that her not-already-uneventful life has changed big time once again. She woke up this morning, took a quick look around, and promptly started crying, probably thinking that she was going to wake up like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and find that it had all been some sort of a dream. However, after seeing us in living color instead of black and white (and realizing that her new Daddy, although unshaven today, doesn't bear even the slightest resemblance to Bert Lahr... a fact that both I and, I'm sure, Burt Lahr, greatly appreciate) she quickly calmed down and the game of "Coax Kate Out of the Crib" began. She was very comfortable in her little 3' X 5' bubble and it took some serious negotiating to get her out.

On the plus side, I can now tell everyone that I traveled to China and successfully negotiated a high-stakes deal with one of the locals... and don't think I won't embellish that story to include some sort of nuclear warhead-angle if I ever run for public office. Hillary Clinton, eat your heart out.

Speaking of skillful negotiating, Leah heard Kate start to cry and promptly walked over to the phone, dialed Aunt Jennie's room (she knows the number by heart), and said, "Um... I want to come to your room." She then grabbed her deck of "Go Fish" cards and headed for the door. I guess her Momma didn't raise no dummy...why listen to crying when there's good spoiling to be had next door?

But I digress. The main order of the day was a walking trip to the local Kodak photo shop to take Kate's passport photo, followed by a trip to the Notary Office. Our merry little band of Americans left the hotel grounds this morning and strolled up and down several side streets, really getting a feel for the area. My only experience with international travel prior to this trip was a quick stop in Mexico during a cruise (thus putting my foreign policy experience on par with George W., although I hear he claims the time he once ate breakfast at an International House of Pancakes as "training for the big show"). No, no... love ya, W, if you're reading this, but I'm digressing again.

Anyway, if you've never been to a foreign country it can be a real shock to the senses. I was expecting the sights and sounds to be different, and was even expecting the polite stares (we tend to stand out a little bit), but the unique smells of the area are difficult to prepare for and even harder to explain. It's certainly nothing unpleasant, just a little different to my Western olfactory senses. Actually, there was one notable exception to the "not unpleasant" rule, and that was when we walked past a sewer. It's actually comforting, in an odd sort of way, to know that some things--- like the delightful scent of raw sewage--- are the same the world over.

Although my breathing is actually a tremendous level better here than at home (that had been one of my biggest concerns about this trip), I already know what street to visit if I need my sinuses opened quickly.

Well, back to the main story. At the Kodak shop, Kate had her picture taken alone, then she was joined by the two of us for our first "official" family photo at a portrait studio. Actually, it's not an official family photo yet, as Leah decided not to join in the picture and instead chose to hang out with Aunt Jennie in the lobby. Next, with Leah perched high on my shoulders and Kate attached like glue to Melissa (that little girl has quite a grip!), we walked a few blocks back toward the hotel to the Notary Office, where we climbed six flights of stairs to reach a conference room to sign more paperwork and have another picture taken with the Notary in front of the Chinese flag. As someone who is interested---some might say obsessed--- with government and its many facets, I was very intrigued to see the inner-workings of a Communist government agency up close and in person. Pretty cool stuff for someone like me, especially considering we were likely the first few Americans to ever visit this particular office. Quite an honor.

Later in the day we visited the local equivalent of Wal-Mart, a three-story building covering a block or more of ground and featuring a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet on the first floor. Man, talk about sensory overload! Half grocery, half department store, and half yard sale/flea market (my apologies to Yogi Berra for the math in that last comment--- although I've always believed there are three types of people in this world: those who are good at math, and those who aren't). Go ahead and let that one sink in... I'll wait.

Mattel and Disney will be glad to know that they are doing a thriving business over here in Barbie dolls and Mickey Mouse items, as the toy section was covered with them. You'd think that since the darn things were built here they would be a little cheaper, but that wasn't the case. I paid the equivalent of $18 bucks for a Barbie doll today, which I guess explains how Barbie can afford a Malibu beach house and Corvette with no visible source of income. And before you ask: no, the doll was for Leah and not for me, but I'll go ahead and clarify that since I know that's probably what many of you were thinking. However, I was tempted to buy the counterfeit copy of the new Star Trek movie on DVD that was prominently featured in the video section downstairs, but since I have no desire to see the inside of a Chinese prison I let that one slide.

I think I better close this little missive for now, because if you're still reading this lengthy post you can tell that I'm apparently still not quite over the jet lag. Kate and I seem to be making headway in getting to know each other--- she let me give her a bottle and hold her hand walking down the hall today, which are big steps for these little children. Most haven't seen men before now (the nannies at the orphanages are mostly women), so she doesn't know just exactly what I'm here for other than to make her laugh playing "peek-a-boo."
If she thinks that's funny, she should just wait to hear one of my knock-knock jokes. :-)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kate has Arrived!!!

This posting is from Shawn--- I'm temporarily filling in as Melissa is otherwise occupied right now, holding one very beautiful but very exhausted and upset little girl.

After several years of waiting and many miles traveled to arrive here in Zheng Zhou, Melissa, Leah, and I were finally united with Kathryn Mei Lin this afternoon at approximately 3:34 pm local time (3:34 am Louisville time). Little Kate put some significant miles under her own belt this morning, taking a four-hour train ride from her orphanage to meet us here at the hotel.

It was certainly love at first sight from our end but I don't think she knew what to make of us at first. Fortunately, we have become accustomed to polite stares of curiosity over the past few days, so her look of, "just who are you people, anyway?" didn't surprise us. She was immediately attracted to Leah, who has been an incredible little partner to us every step of the way. We are so proud of Leah... every day I am more and more impressed with that little girl's spirit and ability to adjust to anything that comes at her. I know she will continue to help Kate make the transition to her new life.

I'll close for now, but will post some more comments as time allows over the next day or so. Kate is grieving and will need some time to process everything that has happened today. Thank you for your continued prayers and support of our family throughout this process.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Last Day As A Lonely Only...

We've made it finally to the Henan province. In the past two days, we've been in three states, three countries, two lengthy quarantine inspections and one earthquake. It's been a doozie of a 48 hours, but we made it.

I need to give major props to Leah...considering all that she's been through over the past few days, she's a rockstar. I couldn't have asked her to do better, she was fantastic and very mature through it all. She just got in the "zone" and did what she needed to do. I am so proud of her and am very glad she is here with us. When I asked her what she thought of China, she replied, "I think it's wonderful! The colors are so pretty and there are so many people!" She proudly told everyone in our travel group that she was born in China.

Kate arrives tomorrow via train and she will delivered to us in our hotel room. Ack! That makes me nervous for her, I prefer it to be in an open area vs. just being dropped off, but I'll work with whatever we can do too.

Thank you so much for your prayers, we have definitely felt them. Keep Kate in your thoughts tomorrow, it's likely to be a rough one for her.

Link to photo stream

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Love's Journey

On Sunday, May 17th...Shawn, Leah, Aunt Jennie (Shawn's little sis) and I embark on a life-changing trip to bring our precious girl home. I've never asked this of anyone before in my life...but I feel like I really need to this time.

Please pray for Kate to bring her comfort, she will be frightened of her new life until the trust can set in, which can take days, months or years.

Please pray for Shawn & me, to give us the strength we need emotionally, physically and mentally, not only during this trip, but when reality sets in and we are home.

Please pray for Leah, to protect her heart, to know that love is not divided, but multiplied, and adding Kate into the fold will not diminish our adoration for her.

And lastly, please pray for everyone on that plane that sits within a 50 feet radius of an almost 4 year old with a majorly extroverted personality (and who can't sit still to save her life) on the 16 hours that we will be in the air.

Pray especially hard for that last one.

And thank you from the bottoms of our hearts--the support we've received for this adoption has been absolutely phenomenal. We are just flat humbled by your offerings to help pack, to cook meals, to mow our lawn, to give donations, to give of your time, and to give us encouragement.

We feel so blessed to know such incredible people, you've given us the gift of pure joy.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Peas & Carrots

I remember every little detail about May 8, 2006. Leah's Gotcha Day. One of the best days of my life. Also the most nerve-wracking. I was so unbelievably antsy to meet her, to hold her in my arms, to call her my own. I couldn't believe it was actually happening, it's such a surreal experience.

When our adoption group walked in the room that day, all the babies were surprisingly already out in their walkers, waiting for us. I didn't even consider how stressful it would be to figure out which baby was her based off of three little photos I'd stared at for 8 weeks.

In my months of waiting, I'd watched tons of Gotcha Day videos and every single one of them had the parents name called and then a child was brought to pressure. I didn't expect to be put to the challenge right off the elevator.

Well, I failed my first "Mom" test. Miserably. I guessed wrong, like, three times! I couldn't figure out for the life of me which baby was Leah. In my weak defense, she was getting her diaper changed.

I failed my second test when later that night, I got her back into the room and changed her diaper...put it on backwards, and not just once, I did that a couple of days before I figured it out. Got pictures to prove it.

Note Exhibit A:

I failed my third test when I tried to make her a bottle and shook it without holding the nipple at the top and formula sprayed all over the room.

I failed my fourth test when I didn't bother to relearn any nursery rhymes or songs to soothe her in the 18 months I had waited...the only thing Mom and I could remember the words to were "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in those two weeks in China. So we sang that. A lot.

I was so green. Still am. I learn as I go, still make mistakes. But Leah...she's the forgiving type. Thank God. We are like peas and carrots, always have been since she quickly sunk into my arms that day, ready to love and be loved.

Easy, breezy, lovey, and deliciously cute to boot. She's hilarious and smart and all the things I want to be when I grow up. That's my girl. I love her with every single fiber of my being.

For the one person who might care to look (Hi Mom!), I put the video of our journey to Leah below. Good times. :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

China or Bust!

Holy Cow!!!!!!

We got our travel approval today....hallelujah, praise the Lord! We are either leaving May 13th or 15th...just days from now! We're just waiting on the confirmation of our consulate appointment to determine the date, which hopefully we will know tomorrow.

For our little family, the timing of this is so significant. Shawn and I met 10 years ago on the 15th of May. We truly can't believe the adventure we've been on the past decade, I would have never dreamed this up!

Shawn had caught a very bad case of the flu that landed him in the hospital while we were making travel arrangements to get Leah, so he was not able to travel to China with me. On May 18th of 2006, he was finally able to hold her in his arms for the first time...

This is likely the same day we meet Kate.

Amazing. Simply amazing.

Friday, May 1, 2009

I think we're okay?

Iyiyi...what a roller coaster of a week. I foolishly thought this was going a slam dunk after we received Kate's referral and the fast PA, LOA...oh, silly moi!

However, at least as it stands this minute (since things are changing on the dime), it looks like we will still be allowed to travel and hopefully should receive our travel approval from China next week so we can start making arrangements to get our girl. Thanks so much for all your encouraging words and e-mails, it's been such a comfort with the uncertainty of the situation.

Happy May Day and to my fellow Kentuckians...Happy Derby...where all the beautiful people hang the first Saturday in May.