May 21, 2008

We're Home!

OK, we've been home almost a week. Things have been soo crazy around here that I just haven't had time to sit down at the computer and post.
I started writing out the story of our trip home (it didn't exactly go as planned), just need to find a little time to sit down and finish it up.

I've been spending time trying to get things in order around here. The house is an absolute MESS! We never organized the kids room with their clothes & toys before we left, so that just adds to the disorganization. Thankfully I've got the major laundry out of the way, of course it probably needs to be done again.

Both kids have already been to the doctor... Cackie got to visit the Saturday clinic because we discovered some nice spots all over the back of her throat. We got her tested and it's just a virus, no strep. Owen had his first checkup yesterday and passed with flying colors. He has a little bit of an ear infection in his left ear but that should be cleared up after a couple days of meds.

Like good Memphians we've already introduced Owen to BBQ! On Sunday since we couldn't go to church because of Cackie's throat we went to the zoo and then had BBQ after. That was a busy day and both kids were in desperate need of a nap when we got home (mom, too!).

I think we're pretty much back on Memphis time. It didn't take too long, really. I think we would have been back on normal time sooner if it hadn't been for Cackie's cold and the fact that Michael & I were feeling a little yucky, too. I think getting home in the early evening and getting to bed shortly thereafter really helped with our adjustment.

OK, gotta get the day started. Lots to do... hopefully I can find some time in the next few days to finish my story of our trip home and post any pictures I missed. I've got hundreds of emails to catch up on, so I'm working on that, too.

May 14, 2008

Headed Home!

We have a very bittersweet feeling right now... we can't wait to be home, but we hate to leave China that has such a emotional bond with us. It's tough taking a child from their home country. I just hope that we can continue to teach Cackie & Owen to love their birth country.

We are packing our final items and will head out very early in the morning, so this will be our last update from China. I never got a chance to post the pictures, I'll do that once we get settled in Memphis.

We can't wait to see and hug everyone! We are soo anxious to get home, sleep on softer beds and get into a routine.

See everyone in Memphis!

Deanna, Michael, Cackie, Owen & Caryn

May 12, 2008

We're Safe!

Wow, we've gotten a number of messages about the earthquake and I can say that we are totally and completely safe!

We actually didn't even know about the earthquake until around 10pm last night when Caryn was checking messages and had an email about it. When it actually happened we were all napping and never knew a thing. Most of the places in China that felt it were much farther north of us and we're only on the 9th floor of a 20+ floor building located on an island, so any chance for us to feel anything would be minimal. We were surprised that we didn't hear anything about it when we went out last night. We took a Pearl River cruise and there were a couple small TVs onboard, but no one ever said anything about it.

We're glad that we are safe and from a quick check of some websites it sounds as if the orphanages in those areas are OK. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the people in Sichuan province and all the aid workers who are doing all they can to help.

Yesterday we had our first official business to do here in Guangzhou. Michael & I took Owen to get his photo taken for his US visa and then we went on to have his medical exam done. It all went well, but Owen seemed to be concerned with all the cries of the children who were there waiting with us. Owen's official statics are 14kg and 96.5cm (30.86 lbs and 38 inches).

After that we did some shopping and walking and then headed back to the hotel for a nap. We woke them up from nap a little early so that we could have some swimming time. The weather was a lot warmer and that helped because the water was still pretty cool. Owen once again screamed his head off when we got in, but we wouldn't give up on him and kept working with him. By the time we were done he was holding onto my shoulders and kicking his legs behind him or hanging onto the side of the pool and kicking behind him. We are soo proud of his progress!

We didn't have much time at the pool becuase we had to eat something quick and be ready to meet Kris, Jim, Austin, Owen and Jocelyn to do the Pearl River tour. It was soo cool! We're really glad we decided to take it. The whole waterfront was lit up and all the buildings were brightly decorated. The kids really enjoyed running around on the boat deck and seeing all the bright lights.

Once we were done with that it was time to get to bed. We thought we might actually get the kids in bed early, but of course that didn't happen. Oh well!

This morning was our consulate appointment, we didn't actually go but Jocelyn went for us to file our paperwork. Michael stayed in the room in case there were any questions and Caryn, Cackie, Owen & I went out and did a TON of shopping. After a while Michael caught up with us and we headed to the Starbucks oasis.

Right now the kids are napping and we'll be waking them shortly for our red couch photo. We all have new duds to wear and I'm hoping for good pictures.
I'll come back later and post photos. Gotta go exchange some money... pearl market shopping this afternoon!

May 11, 2008

May 11th Photos

Photobucket Album

May 10th Photos

Photobucket Album

May 9th photos

Photobucket Album

Happy Mother's Day from Guangzhou

Sorry that it's been a few days since I updated. We've been busy and travelling and there just hasn't been time to get on the computer.

For our last day in Tianjin Helen brought us Owen's passport! Yay! That was the last thing that we needed before we could leave Tianjin! Most of the morning we just spent in our room playing and starting to get our bags packed. For lunch Helen took us to a hotpot restaurant. It was soo good! We had never tried hotpot before, but we definitely want to do it again, Yummy!
On the way back to the hotel after our lunch we stopped in at a cross stitch shop and I got 3 great kits to make. Two of them are emperor and empress designs that I can give the kids when they get married and one is a beautiful flower design for me to hang in the house. Once I get done knitting Owen's blanket I hope to get started on that one.

After our nice long nap we met Helen and took a taxi to the Tianjin Cultural Street. It was full of little shops that sold all sorts of trinkets, most of them were little souvenirs but some were traditional crafts or foods native to Tianjin. We bought a couple of little things and Helen treated us to some candy and a twisted baked snack that is a local favorite. It sort of reminded me of a chinese pretzel with sesame seeds, very yummy! After wandering around there and playing in a park area a bit we decided to walk back to our hotel. It wasn't very far, but it was rush hour so that was a little nerve wracking. From there we went to dinner at a dumpling restaurant because eating dumplings is a lucky way to begin a new journey (this is why it is tradition to eat dumplings at Chinese New Year).

There are many things that I love and try to understand about the Chinese culture, but one that I will never get used to is the squatty potty. In my opinion they are just GROSS! Why women put up with this is beyond me! It doesn't help that Cackie has a potty fetish either! At the dumpling restaurant Cackie of course had to use the bathroom and it was the nastiest, dirtiest squatty potty that I had ever seen. It is not easy trying to teach Cackie to use it and the end result was wet pants and a sick mommy, yuck! Good thing I had enjoyed some dinner up to that point, cause there was no more enjoying after that!

After that we headed back to the hotel to finish packing and for the second night in a row the "hotel police" called to tell us to close our door (our rooms were not connecting, so we had to flip the latch to keep the doors open slightly to go between the two rooms). When that started we were REALLY starting to get ready to get out of Tianjin!

So, on Saturday we woke up early to get ready, pack the last minute items and have breakfast. We were ready a little early, but were anxious to get to Guangzhou so that was probably why. We headed to the airport and got there too early to check in. After waiting a little bit we got in line just a few minutes before the check in counter opened. Good thing we were there early... we had a number of luggage issues because they have changed their carry-on policies recently and ended up needing to check some bags that we had not intended to check. Then, they had Cackie's last name spelled "Wills" which was going to cause problems going through security and it took a while to wait for that issue to be fixed.

Once we got all the tickets straighted out we entered the security mess. They kept scanning our bags, making us take out certain items and insisted that we had lighters in our backpack (they were matchbox cars!). It wasn't as crazy as the train station (thank God!), but it was still crazy! Owen is very attached to his backpack and we couldn't get it off him to go through security without a whole lot of screaming so that didn't help matters.

We made it through security just in time to board the plane and get situated. There was a little delay leaving the gate and we finally left around 1:00. I was sitting between Cackie & Owen and Caryn & Michael were in the row behind us on the other side of the isle. Thankfully just before takeoff Owen crashed and Cackie was just a few minutes behind him. They both missed the meal service, but I think they really needed the nap more. Owen woke up about an hour later and Cackie was about 45 minutes behind him. We didn't arrive in Guangzhou until 3:30, so there was still quite a bit of time to keep the two of them occupied. Owen became facinated with the safety instruction card and Cackie liked the airsickness bag (we're so glad we didn't need either of them!).

When we arrived we gathered our multitude of luggage pretty easily and found our guide Jocelyn waiting for us. We loaded everything up into the waiting van and headed to the wonderful White Swan hotel. On the way Jocelyn went over our entire schedule with us and uttered some of the best words we'd heard in days... Papa Johns! (any guesses on what we had for dinner?) The ride was about 40 minutes, but the time passed pretty quick.

We were soo happy to arrive at the comfortable White Swan. Jocelyn was able to arrange connecting rooms for us and they are a lot larger and more comfortable than the room we had on our last trip. We immediately gathered all our dirty laundry and headed out to drop it off. On the way we stopped by the indoor waterfall and pond and ran into our friends from Beijing... Kris, Jim, Austin & Owen! We were soo excited to see them and catch up with them. They could totally relate to our train station frustration which made us all feel better. We were soo excited to see them we almost forgot about our laundry.

We finally gathered everyone together and headed to take our laundry and get a few things from the 7 Eleven. When we got back to our room we called Papa John's and ordered pizza and cheese sticks for dinner. It arrived via bicycle messenger and Michael went to the lobby to pick it up. When he came back to the room he was laughing hysterically because he had a bit of a language mix up when ordering the cheese sticks... they had asked him how many pieces he wanted and they told him there were 8 pieces, so he ordered 8 pieces of cheese sticks. As it turned out he actually ordered 8 orders of cheese sticks! Needless to say we got our fill of Papa John's! The kids ate at least two orders of cheese sticks each! Owen loved it!

With our bellies filled we fell asleep easily!

Today we woke up a little late and after getting ready went to enjoy the wonderful breakfast buffet. We really enjoyed it and the kids were pleased with the variety. After breakfast Caryn, Owen & I met Jocelyn and took a taxi to the local arts & crafts center. We did some good shopping, especially for items we wish we had bought last time and were back to the hotel just a little over an hour later. Owen was soo sweet the whole time, he rally wanted to be held and Jocelyn was nice enough to keep him busy while we were busy shopping.

After we got back to the hotel we gathered up Michael & Cackie and went out to explore the island a little. We stopped at Starbucks to get a little comfort fix and the kids enjoyed some hot chocolate. By then it was time to head back for a nap. It didn't take too long for the kids to fall asleep and we enjoyed the opportunity to do a little work in the other room.

When they woke up we got ready and headed down to the pool. Cackie of course dove right in and really enjoyed the little kiddie pool. Owen was very scared and timid at first, but we worked with him and after a short time he was splashing everyone and even walking by himself across the kiddie pool. It was fairly cool and overcast today and it didn't take long for both kids to have blue lips and start shivering. When we got out we enjoyed playing with some bubbles and we found out that Owen can blow! That's a good sign for a cleft kiddo and it was good practice for him to blow the bubbles.

After we were done at the pool we got dressed and headed back out to take the kids to the outdoor play area on the island. They both loved it, especially the slide. All that playing and we started to get really hungry so we headed back to the hotel to clean up a little and pick up our clean laundry. I had wanted to go to the great Thai restaurant here, but they were full so we ended up eating dinner at Lucy's. Owen cleaned his plate... the grilled ham and cheese was a huge hit. We had made a number of friends in the time that we've been here and they all seemed to show up at Lucy's just after we did.

We then decided to head back to the hotel and made a side trip to the playroom downstairs. The kids had a lot of fun, Cackie was wild and crazy and Owen was more reserved and paid attention to details. I think they are going to be a good fit for each other. When we had finally worn them out we headed back to the room to get ready for bed. They are now both sleeping in the other room like little angels. What a happy Mother's Day this has been!

I'll work on posting links to our photo albums. It's taking a little longer than I had hoped. Stay posted for those! We've loved hearing from everyone and send everyone our love!

May 8, 2008

Thurday in Tianjin

Wow, I can't believe that it was last week that we were at the Temple of Heaven! What a week it's been!

Today we woke up and got started late. It was nice to be a little relaxed. Cackie took a shower with me and then Michael was able to get Owen into the tub with him. It started out as a fight, but by the end of the bath he was laughing and smiling. Yay! Maybe that's another small victory.

We went down and had a really nice breakfast and Owen ate a reasonable amount. I think he's starting to realize that there will be plenty for him and he doesn't need to stuff himself.

After breakfast we pulled out the double stroller and went out for a walk. We walked to a little park that is attached to a hospital down the street and did some exploring and then we went down to the river that is nearby. They have a very nice river walk area with a HUGE ferris wheel on a bridge over the river. We had a good time just walking along and looking at the different people.

This afternoon has been lazy for us, first we had a nice long nap and then we've been hanging out playing and watching TV. Now we're trying to figure out what to do for dinner.

Just one more full day in Tianjin. On Saturday we head to Guangzhou where hopefully we won't draw as many crowds. It will be nice to be in a familiar place and see some friends.

Thank you for all the comments and messages! We love hearing from everyone and feeling connected to back home. Just one more week and we'll be back!

Another Day in Tianjin

I feel like all we ever do around here is eat! I guess it just seems that way because we're not used to being so lazy and relaxed.
Yesterday we got up early to eat breakfast so that we would be ready for lunch at 12:15 when we were to meet Robert.
Helen was not able to go to lunch with us, but thankfully Robert can read and speak chinese. Otherwise we would have been lost! We had a wonderful lunch with Robert and got the opportunity to learn some about the orphanage and how things work there for the children. He couldn't tell us anything about Owen's foster family, but did say that he's one of the first in his "kindergarten" class to be adopted and he figured that some of the other children would be adopted soon. It was really a good time and we are soo thankful for having Robert to share information with us and be there to help the children.

After lunch it was naptime and we all were able to get some good rest. I'm really getting used to these 2 hour naps in the afternoon! After nap we went swimming! Owen was really scared at first. We all went to sit on the edge of the pool, but he stood off in the distance near the lounge chairs. I coaxed him into my lap and we used his dumptruck to bring water over to dribble on him. I inched slowly closer to the pool and by the time we left he was sitting with me on the edge with his feet in the water. A smalll victory maybe?

After swimming we went out pick up the cameras that we had sent in care packages to Owen. Only 2 of the 3 cameras processed, but there are some great pictures in them. There are a couple pictures with Owen's foster mom, his teacher and maybe his foster dad. There are also a couple pictures with 2 little girls that I will share with the Tianjin group after we get home.

After that we did some walking around to see if we could find somewhere to eat. We had asked Helen about a "western" restaurant and she suggested McDonald's, not exactly what we had in mind. So, we did some walking to see if we could find a good place to eat. We came across a "western" restaurant and decided to give it a try. It wasn't exactly what we consider western... we had some sort of italian cod, chicken curry, beef & pepper stew and spaghetti with meat sauce. Thinking about it now, it's the craziest meal we've ever eaten! At least it wasn't too bad and Owen was introduced to spaghetti (sort of). The kids were being good (well as good as they could be) so we went to McDonald's to treat them to ice cream. The McDonald's was like walking into a sauna, it was easily 85 degrees in there, so the ice cream was VERY welcome!

We then headed back to the hotel to get ready for bed. It was nearly 10 pm at this point and we were all beat. We had a quick screaming session with Owen when we had to take something away from him, but then it wasn't too long before we were out for the night.

Sweet dreams from Tianjin!

May 6, 2008

All About Owen

Well, today is day 3 of life with Owen. I haven't had a lot of chance to write things down, but we only have one thing planned for today (lunch with Robert), so this gives me a chance to write down some things about Owen.

He LOVES his backpack! He's very attached to it and if we try to take it from him he can get quite upset. He carries a couple matchbox cars, a magnadoodle pad and his camera in it. He has worn out the batteries in the camera, mostly just playing with it, but sometimes intending to take pictures. I need to charge the batteries when we get a chance.

He can be quite insecure. We think that he's worried that things will be taken away from them and he'lll never see them again, so once something is given to him it takes a lot to get it back.

Occasionally he will show frustration with Cackie. She is having pretty rough time with all this. If Baba or I show too much attention to him she has to jump in and try to get us to pay attention to her. Sometimes when she does this Owen can get testy and will try to push her away.

He does not like cats or dogs. We recieved a letter from his foster family that said this, but we saw it in action last night when we went out for a walk. A cat jumped down from a brick wall and ran under a car about 30 feet away and he started to pull back and wouldn't walk forward. Then, later we were walking past a shop that had a dog sitting out front and she screamed and pulled away. (this is going to make life at home VERY difficult!)

He knows who MaMa and BaBa are and can point to us both in person and in pictures.

He's pretty tiny. He is tall and has a big belly, but his arms & legs are very skinny. On Monday we changed him into some shorts that I had from Walmart that said 24 mos, but they almost fell off of him. We had some other shorts that were 3T with elastic waist and they fit him a lot better. Unfortunately he had two messes and we had to make a trip to Walmart to get some extra drawstring shorts for him. So, we may need to do some shopping when we get home.

He has the cutest little dimples!

He is not fond of the bathtub. Monday night we tried to give him a bath and it ended up in a screaming match. Last night tried again, but he had his backpack on and wouldn't give it up.

He is a very neat little boy. If he takes something out he puts it away when he's done. If I open a drawer to put something away he does not like it if I leave the drawer open, he immediately comes behind me to close it. He also tries to close the doors at the hotel entrance whenever we go in or out.

He LOVES to eat! The only things so far that we could not get him to eat are soup and some broccoli at breakfast this morning. So far he has eaten corn, spare ribs, shrimp, asparagus, spinach, lamb, chicken, pork, eggplant, rice, noodles, eggs, watermelon, potatoes, carrots, snow peas, apples, bacon, sausage, steamed bread... pretty much everything we give him. He eats so much at one time that his belly is rock hard by the time we leave the table.

He is extremlely careful when walking around, especially on stairs. He probably hasn't had much exercise and his muscle tone is low, but that shouldn't take long to correct.

He likes cars, crayons, coloring and playdoh. But he really doesn't like things that make too much noise and this morning he freaked out when I brought out some light up balls that have tentacles like an octopus. He seemed to like the light part, but once all the tentacles came out he started screaming.

He has a VERY loud scream! This morning we went to wake Cackie up and something in the dark room scared him and the scream was ear piercing! A few minutes later someone from the hotel came walking around the floor and we had to wonder if it was because of his screaming.

He is a very sweet and loving little boy! He will walk up to us and and hold up his arms wanting us to hold him. He's even started giving us the cutest little kisses.
Yesterday we had to wake him up suddenly from his nap to go and take care of some paperwork. We thought we were going to do that today, but things changed and we had to move quickly. He was such a good boy, didn't cry, scream or anything. He just went with the flow and wanted to explore everything he could.

All our paperwork is now done. He's officially ours, we're just waiting in Tiajin for his passport to be issued. We should get that on Friday and then on Saturday we will head to Guangzhou to get his US Visa.

Here are our pictures from yesterday. The camera battery died, so we didn't get too many.

We have Owen!

We've been together for over 24 hours now and things are going really well!
We've been soo busy going here and there or trying to get kiddos to nap, etc so it's been hard to sit down at the computer and get this posted.

We went to the orphanage at 11 am yesterday and Helen brought us two bags full of stuff for Owen. One was full of all kinds of snacks and treats that he likes and the other had one of the boxes that we had sent to him with some of the clothes and toys that we had sent. The photo books that I had sent him were also in the box and some of the pages looked really worn, at least one of the pictures was even missing, so I think he was able to look at the books a lot. We were also excited because the Tiger doll that we had sent was dirty and looked played with.

We were shuffled from one room to another and then we were finally taken upstairs so that the orphanage director could speak to us. A few minutes later they brought in Owen and another little girl that was being adopted as well. I went to him and he just leaned on me. I know it was overwhelming for me, so it must have been for him. We pulled out one of the photo books and he pointed to his picture and said "HangHang", then when I asked him to point to MaMa and BaBa he pointed to our pictures.

We were only in that room a few minutes longer and then we were all shuffled out to leave. He started to cry a little while we were in the room, but one of the nannies came over to talk to him and that seemed to make it all better. When we got into the car I sat in the very back with him and he started to say a few things, but Helen really couldn't understand what he was saying. Helen did ask him if he was hungry and he said yes. It was past his normal lunch time, so we headed back to the hotel to drop some things off and then we went down the street to a restaurant for lunch.

We had told Helen that Cackie liked corn, so she ordered a corn dish for us that was VERY good and HangHang LOVED it! He easily ate 3 or 4 whole bowls of it, plus lamb spare ribs (right off the bone!), some sort of fried chicken, rice and steamed bread. The only thing that he had no interest at all in was the soup. Every time we tried to give him soup he would shake his head really hard! We couldn't believe how much of everything else he was eating! Now, looking back on it, I think he was afraid that we would take something away and that he had better eat while it was there.

We were able to get him to giggle and smile during lunch and we had a really good time. At one point Helen was able to get him to laugh with his mouth open and we were given an AWESOME surprise... his palate surgery has already been done! We had no clue about this at all!

After lunch we headed back to the hotel to try to lay down for a nap. We had to close all the blinds, turn off all the lights and Michael, Cackie, HangHang and I all laid down on the bed together for a nap. Good thing we were able to get a king size bed! We napped for not quite 2 hours and then we had to go out to meet Helen.

Before the nap we tried to let him take off his long sleeve shirt and sandals, but he would have nothing to do with it. After nap he allowed us to go ahead and change him into a tshirt, shorts & the sandals that I brought. I was soo glad we were able to do that, poor guy was getting really hot.

So, we met Helen and we all headed down to the McDonald's to use their play area. The play area wasn't much, but it was just enough for Cackie to run and have some fun and HangHang did some loosening up and playing. Helen treated us all to ice cream sundaes and it was soo cute to watch him eat it. He wouldn't let it out of his sight. Then Helen gave him a french fry and he loved it too! Nothing like creating a monster early, huh?

We played at McDonald's for quite a while, it was soo hot in there I thought I was going to melt. When we were done we stopped to buy a couple of drinks and we put HangHang's orange juice in a soft spout sippy cup for him. He LOVED that cup and wouldn't give it up. It seemed as if he was using it as a pacifier, but that was OK. He was riding on Michael's shoulders and loved it!

We got back to the hotel and none of us were really hungry (HangHang's belly was still tight!), so we just played a while. Then, Michael & I tried to give him a bath, but he definately did not like that! He watched Cackie take a bath after him and that seemed to help ease his fears. We'll try again later!

After bath we got the kids ready for bed and tucked into the big bed together. We tried sitting in the room with the lights out, but the two of them were getting into mischeif and wouldn't be quite. We finally got them to calm down, but they still laid there awake. Michael & I went out in the hall with the door propped open slightly and they seemed to calm down a bit more. We sat out in the hall until just after 10 and then got into bed with the kids. HangHang was still awake, but fell asleep fast once we were there with him.

I've attached two slide shows with all the pictures from the day

May 4, 2008

May 2 Pictures

Photobucket Album
the old train station in Beijing

May 2 photos

Here's a link to our photobucket album of pictures from May 2

Almost up to date

Well, we haven't had much opportunity to get online and then last night when we tried the internet connection in our room was not working. Michael has headed to the front desk to see if we can get it fixed, but meanwhile I'm in Caryn & Cackie's room where the connection is working.
I've posted what I've written about the last few days, but I'm still behind on pictures. Our camera takes such high resolution pics that it can take a lot of time to upload them. I'm working on it now and will post photos as soon as I can.

Right now it's 9:15 am on Monday and we are to meet Helen in the lobby at 11:00 am to head to the orphanage. I think it's pretty close by, so we should probably have Owen with us not too long after 11. Michael and I are both pretty nervous this morning and Cackie is being VERY talkative, so I suspect she is starting to realize that things are about to change.

I'm off to work on pictures and will send an update later as soon as I can.

May 4

Today was the most stressful day by far! I’m glad it is behind us and I’m praying that the rest of the trip is not nearly as stressful.
We got up at 6 am just like the last 2 days, but instead of eating breakfast at the hotel for $20 a piece we went to McDonald’s and we all ate for less than $10! We could just kick ourselves for spending so much those other days, oh well! Last trip we never ate at an American restaurant and we had really wanted to avoid it this time, but it just didn’t make sense to us to not go.
Across the street from McDonald’s was a bank and we got quite a shock when we saw the armored car “brigade” that was lined up out front. It was almost scary! Now that is some bank security!
After breakfast we headed back to the hotel to do our final packing and were ready early when Helen arrived at the hotel to get us. We had a LOT more luggage than Helen had planned on and we had trouble getting it all packed into the van. We headed to the train station and of course got caught in a traffic jam. Helen jumped out of the van to find some guys to help us haul all our luggage because as we found out later the train stations in China are not traveler friendly.
We got out everything out of the van and as we started heading toward the train station I asked Cackie to give me her hand so that I wouldn’t lose her. She has had more than her share of stubborn moments and decided to have one right there on the street. When she refused to give me her hand I grabbed it out of pure fear that she would get too close to the street and she started to throw an absolute fit! She was screaming and the whole moment became 100 times more stressful that it already was. While trying to contain Cackie in her fit, we were trying to keep up with Helen and the two dudes who had taken off with our luggage. Then as we entered the train station we had to put all our luggage through a luggage scanner, but everything was moving at 5 times the pace of what we went through at the airport. After hoping that we had gathered everything up we had to go up an escalator with everything, all the while Cackie is drawing attention to herself because she is screaming and Michael & I were starting to get very nervous that someone was going to accuse us of kidnapping her. At that point I was about to lose it and we put her in the stroller to help contain her. She was not happy about that, but we were now in a HUGE crowd of people and we were doing everything we could to keep it together.
As we headed toward the gate I can now understand why there were cases of people being trampled in the train stations earlier this year around Chinese New Year. I can now truly say that I know what cattle feel like when they are being herded! It is hard enough keeping up with 4 other people in a crowded place, but when you add in all the luggage it is crazy! Once we got into the gate for our train, then we had to rush down a huge flight of steps and race to the opposite end of the train to get to our car. We jumped on the train just as they were ringing the bell to let us know that the train was about to leave! We had to cram the stroller in a tight space and pray that the rest of the luggage had made it on the train.
The trip to Tianjin was just a little over an hour and the train was very smooth. We totally needed that after what it took to get on there! But, the fun wasn’t over yet… we still had to arrive and get off the train. Knowing that it was going to be difficult to get everything off we planned to split up and Michael & I would get part of our stuff and Caryn & Helen would get the rest. We were able to get everything off and Helen found two more guys who could help us to haul everything. This time we first had to go up about 3 flights of steps, turn a corner and then down 3 flights of stairs, not easy with all the stuff we had. Then, as we were trying to exit the train station amongst mass chaos a woman at the gate tried to stop me as we were going through. I pretty much looked at her like a crazed woman pointed toward Helen and pushed through the gate. I know she thought I was a lunatic pushing a double stroller with only one child and loaded down with 3 or 4 bags. Maybe tomorrow I can laugh at that thought!
Trying to get to the car wasn’t much easier. We were mobbed by people running toward us waving their keys trying to get us to hire them and other people who wanted to help us carry our bags, etc. We finally made it to the Buick minivan and we literally almost didn’t get everything into it. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the good ole Holiday Inn (how ironic is that for a family from Memphis?) and got checked into the hotel. We pretty much dropped off our stuff in the room and then met Helen back in the lobby to go out for lunch. The lunch was at a local restaurant and we really enjoyed the lamb, shrimp and eggplant that Helen ordered. Cackie had to go to the bathroom while at the restaurant and Caryn took her to the rest room to find a squatty potty waiting, yay!
After lunch we headed back to the hotel to unpack and relax. We met Helen again at 7pm, intending to go to dinner. We also needed to take some laundry to be done. So, we headed off to the cleaners and halfway there Helen tells us that the laundry in China does not do socks or underwear. We never had that problem on our last trip, so it was a bit of a surprise to me. Then she tells us that we have soo many clothes that we probably won’t get them back for 2 days. I only had one day of clothes left, so that started to get me a bit irritated. We had really good experiences with the laundry on our last trip, and I hadn’t really prepared for this. So, after that we decided that none of us were really very hungry and we just went to the store to pick up a few things and then head back to the room.
We sorted out the dirty laundry and washed it all in the tub. Cackie had a good time, but it was a little annoying to have to go through the process. So, now we’re munching on snacks and we’ll be heading to bed soon. We leave the hotel at 11am to go to the orphanage and we get Owen! I’m glad today is behind us and I’m saying my prayers that tomorrow is a much much better day.

May 3

Still getting caught up… So, what does someone who has developed a fear of heights do while in China? They climb the Great Wall in a thunder & lightening storm, of course!
On Saturday we met Helen at 8:30am and headed to pick up Kris, Jim & Austin at their hotel. It was very cloudy and much cooler than it had been on Friday. We were headed outside the city to visit the Great Wall and traffic was pretty congested. On the way there it started to rain and we were getting worried. But, first we stopped at a jade factory for a quick tour to learn some about jade and, of course, to do some shopping.
We loved all the jade at the factory and got a few very nice things to have as reminders of this wonderful trip. Just about the time we were leaving the jade factory it started to rain really hard and there was even some thunder and lightning, but Helen checked and was told that it was not raining at the Great Wall. So, we headed on. As we were driving it was like all of a sudden the scenery changed from city to country side and then to very tall mountains. The mountains were VERY steep and it was all soo beautiful.
We started to catch glimpses of the Great Wall and we all started to get excited. Of course, it had started raining by that point and pretty hard, but we were all soo excited that we didn’t think it would matter. The temperature had dropped a lot by that point and truthfully, we were not prepared for that. If it had just been cool it wouldn’t have been so bad, but the rain on top of it made it quite uncomfortable. We put Cackie in the backpack carrier on Michael’s back and each of us had umbrellas. Helen told us that she would give us 2 hours to climb up to the highest tower and back.
So, we started off… getting to the first landing wasn’t too bad. It was a little tough on Michael with the extra 40 pounds on his back, but we stopped at the first landing and took some pictures. From there it was pretty much straight up and none of the steps were the same height. We got about 1/3 of the way up the next section and Cackie started to complain that she was getting cold. She basically had long shorts on, so I could totally understand. Both Michael & I were getting soaked and it really was getting tough for me to breathe with this cold I have. Then some lightning flashed, thunder rumbled and we looked at each other and said “forget this”. By this point Caryn had gone on ahead of us and we were able to catch her attention to let her know we were headed down. The funny thing is that fighting the mass of people was just as hard going down as it was going up. When we finally got to the bottom we found the little snack stand and were able to get under some shelter. I went into the souvenir shop and got two really cheesy “I climbed the Great Wall” sweatshirts for Cackie & I because we were soaked and cold and found some hot tea to help warm us up. A few minutes later Kris joined up with us and we all found Helen in the van. We were soo happy to be in that cramped little van just getting warm! Not too much longer Caryn, Jim & Austin showed up soaked to the bone and looking beat. They had gotten pretty far, but not all the way to the top. After getting them some warm clothes we left to get some lunch.
Our lunch was in a restaurant that is attached to a cloisonné factory. First we got a quick tour and demonstration on how cloisonné is made and then we headed to the restaurant. We had a great lunch, tried a very strong Chinese liquor (reminded Kris & I of very strong tequila) and the kids even got to enjoy some French fries! After lunch we got to do some shopping for cloisonné and then it was back on the bus.
We headed back into Beijing and got the opportunity to get a quick driving tour around the Olympic complex. We couldn’t stop to get out of the van, but our driver tried to go slowly so that we could get some good photos. Unfortunately I was only able to get some video of this because our camera had gotten soaked and the lenses were pretty fogged over from climbing the Great Wall. The stadiums were all pretty cool looking. The venue where the swimming and diving events will be is really cool, it looks like water bubbles from the outside! The birds nest stadium where the opening & closing ceremonies will be is also amazing to see in person.
At this point we were all getting pretty silly and I did some filming of the crazy drivers in China and we had a lot of good laughs. We didn’t realize it, but before we knew it we were at our next destination. We arrived at a tea shop for a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. We tried a number of different teas and learned the proper ways to make them. Cackie had had her moments all throughout the day, but she was pretty good through the tea ceremony. She tried all the teas and liked the black tea the best. The favorite part of the whole ceremony for everyone was when they showed us the “happy baby” which is a clay figurine of a baby that has a “special” way of helping you to know if your water is hot enough for making tea. I soo wish that I had that on video! The kids were hysterical and put some pressure on us to shop when they found out that you get a free “happy baby” with any purchase. Of course, that wasn’t a problem… I love tea and was happy to get some to take home.
After the tea we headed back to our hotels to relax and get ready to leave Beijing for Tianjin. Packing all our stuff up was quite an ordeal! The majority of our clothes were dirty by this point, but we had done quite a bit of shopping and had 4 silk blankets that we had added to the multitude of other stuff that we brought. After we got most of our stuff packed we headed down to a restaurant that Helen had recommended and had a wonderful dinner. The beef & black pepper was fabulous and the broccoli was soo yummy. It was also a lot cheaper than the other meals that we had had and we kicked ourselves for ordering room service those 2 nights. Poor Cackie was extremely pooped by this point and almost fell asleep in her food. She crawled into Michael’s lap and was out in seconds. Poor kiddo had changed her body clock 13 hours and gone 2 days with no nap, it was all catching up with her and she just couldn’t take it anymore. We weren’t too far behind her, which is why I’ve been so far behind in getting this updated!

May 2

OK, I’m a day behind so I need to get caught up… On Friday we met Helen at 9 am and were very excited to get to meet Kris, Jim & Austin our travel mates. Austin is 9 and he and Cackie hit it off immediately! They are from Florida and are adopting a 4 year old boy from Dailin.
Within a few short minutes we arrived just outside the Tiananmen Square area. It was crazy packed with people and Kris and I were walking along trying to keep up with Helen and the kids, but talking the whole time getting to know each other. She asked me what we were naming our son and when I said Owen her mouth dropped open… they are naming their son Owen, too! How weird is that? We’ve decided that there is definitely a red thread involved and that we were all destined to meet. (now after spending 2 full days with them, we’re seriously thinking about an arranged marriage for Cackie & Austin, lol!)
So, anyway… we walked through Tiananmen Square and it was packed full of people. There was a very long, slow moving line in one area and Helen told us that it was the line for people to go in and pay their respects to Chairman Mao because his body has been preserved in a glass coffin inside. We would have liked to go in, but you can’t carry cameras, wear jewelry, etc. so it just wasn’t possible.
After walking across Tiananmen Square (where we got LOTS of curious stares from all sorts of people) we headed across the street to the Forbidden City. I’ve seen tons of pictures of the Forbidden City, but they are VERY deceiving! I’ve always envisioned it to be mostly the huge red building with Chairman Mao’s picture on it, that couldn’t be any further from the truth! The reality is that the Forbidden City is HUGE! Now I can fully understand why it was called a city. There are a number of different gates and courtyard areas that surround the different temples and buildings. The only disappointing part was that we never actually went into a building to do any touring. There was one area where we could see the personal living quarters of the Emperor, but only from behind glass.
Touring the Forbidden City was very exhausting, especially when touring with a hyper, rambunctious, cranky, thirsty 3 year old (note to self… always carry a bottle of water in China!). At other times it was comical and lots of fun because the Chinese people were fascinated with Austin. They treated him like a rock star, wanting to get their picture taken with him, etc. Cackie was also very interesting to them because she was obviously Chinese, but spoke perfect English, so she drew quite a bit of attention, too. By the time we were done we were soooo ready for lunch. Helen had arranged lunch for us at a local restaurant and it was very good. We had a super spicy kung pao chicken, Chinese cabbage, pork with vegetables, egg with mountain vegetables and soup. We really enjoyed it and were super stuffed when we left.
But, they day had just begun… after lunch we visited a silk factory and learned about the silk making process from cocoons to the final product, especially their famous blankets. Of course, after they showed us how the silk was made they had to sell us some. We bought some absolutely beautiful silk blankets with silk covers that I can’t wait to get home and snuggle in.
After the silk factory we went to tour a Hutong area. The Hutongs are the old traditional housing areas of Beijing. In the past they were where multiple generations of one family would live in separate housing units surrounding a single courtyard, but now they are multiple units each with a different family. The Hutongs have many modern conveniences, but no restrooms… that is shared in a common public area. We were invited into the home of one of the families and we got the chance to sit down and talk with them and learn a little about their lives. It was very interesting and extremely humbling.
The best part of the Hutongs was the Rickshaw tour that we got. We got a tour of the maze of the housing area, both to and from the home of the family that we visited. Cackie loved it and we got to see a lot of what life is like in the Hutongs.
When we were finished at the Hutongs we then headed to the Chinese acrobat show. It was AMAZING! Cackie was totally mesmerized by the whole thing. Unfortunately it was just before the end of the show that she totally crashed! Poor girl hadn’t had a nap all day and had been going and going non-stop. Michael carried her out of the theater (a major feat in itself) and he held her until we got back to the hotel, but first we had one more stop to make... Helen took us to a local restaurant that is famous for its Peking Duck. We had a number of other dishes, too (soup, beef & potatoes, duck liver pate, cabbage, chicken & vegetables). It was all very good, especially the duck. By the end of the meal we were soo beat that we could barely stay awake. Poor Michael was not only tired, but he was also carrying all 40+ pounds of Cackie!
Needless to say after dinner Helen took us back to our hotels. We got in, got Cackie changed and into bed (she hardly woke up for that) and then we headed to our room. By 9 pm I had crashed HARD! Apparently Caryn came into our room twice, one time used our hair dryer, but I didn’t know a thing about it, I was dead to the world. So, that’s why I didn’t get this written and updated on time. Michael took a TON of pictures, so now I’ll go through them and see if I can post some to share.

May 1, 2008

May 1

It’s Friday morning as I write this, so I need to catch up on what happened on Thursday.

Michael and I ended up waking early and that’s when I took advantage of the quiet to write about our flight here. My head was killing me at that point and I took a nice hot shower to help clear it. We woke the girls up around 6:45, they had slept well and were ready to start the day. After getting ourselves ready we headed downstairs to the breakfast buffet.
Breakfast was really good and filling, it included everything from pancakes, French toast and scrambled eggs to steamed pork buns, fried rice, egg rolls, noodles and pork dumpings (that’s what the sign said, let’s hope they just lost the “l” in translation since they were quite tasty).
We met Helen in the lobby at 9 am and she had our car and driver waiting. Cackie was in a much better mood and Helen could see what we meant about her being full of energy. We all climbed in our bus and headed for the Temple of Heaven. The Temple grounds were huge with lots of park settings and TONS of people everywhere. When we first walked in Cackie froze in her tracks, mesermized by some ribbon dancers. It was amazing to watch through her eyes the beauty of the dance. Then as we walked a little further we saw different groups of people practicing Tai Chi Bo. They were holding some sort of racquet and balancing a ball on the racquet while moving in a synchronized rhythm. It looked really easy, but I’m sure that it was MUCH harder than it looked. One man approached us with his ball and racquet, giving us the opportunity to try it ourselves. We all declined the opportunity to make fools of ourselves!
We saw a number of other groups gathered on the grounds, some were signing opera and playing musical instruments (Cackie really enjoyed this, too) and some were playing shuttle cock or hackeysack. The grounds were beautiful with lots of green grass and many beautiful large trees.
Helen led us into the temple and described the significance of many of the aspects of the temple. The tiles and much of the decoration is in a blue color to signify respect to the gods, this is in contrast to the Forbidden City which has lots of golden color to signify the emperor or royalty. In the areas where the emperor would walk or have ascess the steps and tile formations are all in multiples of 9 because 9 is a very lucky number in China and signifies greatness. But, in areas where the common people would walk the steps and tile formations were all in multiples of 10 because it is seen as less dominant than the number 9.
The Temple of Heaven grounds are actually made up of multiple different temples, each has a significance to give thanks for a good harvest. We didn’t visit each little temple, you can’t go inside just wander around and fight your way to catch a glimpse of what is inside. There were lots of steps and Cackie was in heaven when she was given the opportunity to run and be free. After exploring part of the ground, Helen took us to a small studio where local art students are given the opportunity to sell their work and earn some money. The artwork was all soo beautiful and we splurged and bought a gorgeous oil painting of a child in a traditional tiger hat. We bought a couple of other small items, each soo beautiful.
Cackie was really well behaved through all that, so Helen treated her to an ice cream treat. Let’s just say that Helen has definitely found the way to Cackie’s heart! We wandered the grounds some more and Helen took us to the area where the emperor would stand and speak to the masses of people. It is in a large circular area and there is a raised stone platform, just big enough for one person to stand on. There were lots of people gathered around it, each taking their turn to stand on the stone and have their picture taken. We tried to get Cackie to stand on it, but she started to get ornery and there was one man taking more than his fair share of time, so we left that area.
When we exited the park we were bombarded with people selling cheap souvenirs and books. There were even men with these oven type cookers attached to their bicycles and tons of baked sweet potatoes piled on them. They smelled soo good, but if you risked stopping to purchase one you would have been bombarded by the other vendors.
After a few minutes we found our car and driver and he took us back to the hotel. We had thought about going to lunch, but none of us was really hungry. By the time we got back to the hotel I was starting to feel really bad, almost like this stuff had gotten into my chest. So, at that point all I wanted to do was lay down and rest. It was time for Cackie to take a nap anyway, good timing all around. We went back up to our room, Cackie watched a movie on her DVD player and we turned on HBO to some Julia Roberts movie. We all just chilled out and relaxed, still trying to adjust to the time change. After a while Caryn & Michael went down to the little market for a few things and Caryn went off on her own to explore the Prada and Gucci stores. I think she quickly caught on that there wasn’t much she could afford and just enjoyed the window shopping.
Pretty much the rest of the afternoon we rested, Cackie took a good nap and didn’t want to wake up for anything. We tried to bribe her that we would go swimming in the hotel pool, but even that couldn’t wake her up. Finally, around 7 pm we got up and went out for a walk. We sort of followed the crowds and came to the huge shopping district here. It was really cool to be walking along enjoying ourselves, actually we were doing the same thing as all the local people.
About this time Cackie started acting up some, not wanting to hold our hands, whining a lot, etc. I think there are a lot of things going through her head, I can only guess what is going on but I suspect that she’s having some emotional trouble with things. Anyone who knows Cackie knows that she loves to be the center of attention and will do just about anything to be seen as such, but here that’s not the case. It’s Aunt Caryn, Mom & Dad who are the center of attention and I think some of that is hard on her. I also wonder if she’s starting to realize that although we are all people, she does look different that Mom & Dad. Here she shares features and can associate physically with the Chinese people, but she does not speak like them and cannot interact with them. I wonder if at some level this is bothering her and she just doesn’t know how to express it. She does get some attention, but I think it’s mostly because people quickly realize that she is adopted and they want to stare at the Chinese girl who has caucasion parents.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped in a tea shop to get some tea to take back to the room. Drinking lots of tea and staying on top of my medication seem to be helping me feel better, so I wanted to keep that up. After that we headed back to the room and ordered room service again. We ate western food this time, hamburgers, club sandwich and grilled cheese. The hotel actually has a very limited Asian menu and we wanted something different than the night before.
After dinner, I was feeling really bad and I think I basically passed out on the bed. I remember hearing Michael and Caryn take Cackie across the hall to their room and then the next thing I remember was the room being dark. Thankfully I got some good rest and am feeling quite a bit better this morning. We ordered room service for breakfast and as soon as it gets here I’ll take my meds. Hopefully that should carry me through the day. We have a very exciting day planned… Tianamen Square, the Forbidden City, a traditional lunch, Hutong tour and an acrobat show and Peking Duck for dinner.

Enjoy the pictures!