Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coming Home {Hong Kong, 10.30.2012}

So excited that we are at the stage of the “coming home” blog post! Woo hoo!!! We cannot wait to hug the littles at home as well as properly thank the Grandmas, Jon and Rita, Jennie and all the others for loving on the littles!  What a blessing to be surrounded by friends and family who love our kiddos!
Today, we packed up our things, did a little more exploring of Guangzhou (including taking the subway!), picked up Nora’s visa and made our way to Hong Kong (via a van/driver).  Little Miss was not a good traveler today!  We are praying she was just getting it out of her system in preparation for tomorrow’s long travel day!!!

Hey, guess what?  I’m coming home!!!

Thank you all for your prayers and sweet comments, it is amazing to think that we are at the point of coming home!     

Monday, October 29, 2012

US Consulate and Shopping {Guangzhou, 10.29.2012}

First, Happy Anniversary to Jon and Rita!  So thankful for the two of you and so much gratitude to you for taking the kiddos these past two weekends, it is obvious they were well loved on!

Today we had our US Consulate appointment where we had to sign Nora’s Visa application and take an oath on her behalf.  Her Visa should be ready tomorrow afternoon and then we are on our way to Hong Kong.  At the US Consulate, cameras were not allowed beyond this point.

We are here with one other family from our agency, here is the token group photo at the hotel after the Consulate appointment.

This afternoon we went shopping with Ann from Red Thread (the woman who coordinated Nora’s care packages).  We went to jewelry markets and were successful in finding some jade for gifts!  The amount of jewelry and number of shops was insanely crazy!  I know no other way to describe it!

Nora continues to do well, and feedings are going better.  She only has formula at this point, but I have a plan to try to take her through a fast and furious feeding plan when we get home – baby cereal, the fruits and the vegetables.  We will see how that goes, I may be overly optimistic!  Our challenge right now is sleeping, she is being a bit “particular” with how she falls asleep and while she still finds comfort in her thumb, it seems she has, in just a short time, become dependent on falling asleep in our arms.  I am not complaining about this, not at all!  This girl has “missed” out on 15 months of consistent cuddling!

Awe, Mom, not another photo!

It is a bittersweet to think that this leg of our journey is nearly to an end.  We miss everyone at home immensely, but I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that “re-entry” into our daily lives scares me a bit, it is a bit overwhelming to think about how our everyday lives are going to change.  We will continue to pray for our hearts and the hearts of the kiddos as they meet their baby sister!  I know that there will be extreme highs and also times of trial.  But, I also know the One who goes before us.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shamian Island {Guangzhou, 10.28.2012}

How amazing to say that we have now been with Nora one full week! As the days go by, I continue to be in awe of her beauty, and I wonder how we will part with her amazing smile once home and once surgeries begin.  This girl is amazing, so strong.  And, quite exceptionally beautiful.  Like the way I felt when I cuddled Jack, Samuel and Lydia as infants, I have the same infatuation with this little one, I marvel at how God made her to be ours.

Today we went to Shamian Island.  This is where adoptive families used to stay while in Guangzhou, and it is home to the Swan Hotel (currently under renovation) with the historic and well-known red sofa where many, many adoptive Chinese babies and children have had their photos taken.  It is also where the US Consulate used to be. The Island isn’t really an Island, but it is surrounded by the Pearl River.  On the “Island” there are many little shops, restaurants, a park and historic, colonial buildings.  There were also many brides being photographed, some were truly brides being photographed in advance of their weddings, and some were for advertisements.

The “Island” also has the famous little statues of children that many adoptive families have photographed.

And, you can find many locals and adoptive families eating at the “famous” Lucy’s, a grill and pub.  This is where we also chose to eat lunch today!

It was a fun day!  Tomorrow is our US Consulate appointment, after which we should get Nora’s visa on Tuesday and then off to Hong Kong!  We are in the home stretch!!!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Medical Appointment {Guangzhou, 10.27.2012}

Today we had Nora’s medical appointment.  The girl is 18.2 kg (with her clothes on) which is approximately 18 pounds, seriously top heavy (in an adorable way of course).  So, our very sophisticated measurement of 17 pounds earlier this week was fairly accurate.  She did really well and let the doctors listen to her heart, check her belly, and check her ears and throat.  There were many other adoption families waiting for appointments as well (and many other adoption families at breakfast as well).  It is such a blessing to see so many families with these little ones, and so many different special needs and ages.  In these surroundings, it is especially evident that adoption is God’s gift to us.

This afternoon we met a woman at the 7-Eleven around the corner (yes, there is a 7-Eleven around the corner) who was adopting their 10th child!  Amazing!!!!  They have adopted one child domestically (US) and nine internationally (Vietnam and China).  All of their internationally adopted kiddos had either cleft lip and / or palate.  Amazing where God leads!!!

Little Miss continues to do really well and has been showing us quite a fun personality.  And, those eyes continue to captivate … we are going to be in serious trouble if she figures out how enamored we are with her eyes … the girl will be able to get away with much mischief!

And, oh how she is going to love hanging out with her big brothers and big sister. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Travel Day {Guangzhou, 10.26.2012}

Today was essentially a travel day.  We left our hotel in Lanzhou around 9:30 a.m. and drove** an hour to the airport.  Our flight left Lanzhou at 12:20 p.m., and we landed in Guangzhou at 3:20 p.m.  What a difference here!  We went from cooler temps and being in the mountains to warm and humid temps and being in a tropical setting (there are even palm trees!).  Once we landed, we drove** approximately 45 minutes to our hotel, and what a welcome sight!  There is a Starbucks in the hotel and a McDonald’s right next door.  Our guide here told us that even Papa John’s delivers to the hotel!  Crazy!  And, there are many English speaking individuals here, and we even have TV channels in English.  Wow, such a change from Lanzhou!

**Clarification, when I say we drove, I clearly mean that someone else drove us … there is no way we could drive in these cities!!!

Nora did really well with all of the travel today!  Just some fussing here and there but nothing too unmanageable.  At the airport in Lanzhou we had random individuals come up to us, speaking in rapid-fire Chinese.  My dazed and confused look must have alerted them that I couldn't understand a word they were saying so they resorted to speaking in rapid-fire Chinese while using hand gestures.  The hand gestures typically included pointing to Nora, pointing to her lip, pointing to their lip and then a thumbs up.  Not every Chinese person agrees with foreigners coming in and adopting their babies, but it was so clear with these individuals that they were grateful that we are giving this little one an opportunity.

At one point when Nora was fussing, she was given this little key chain by a teenage girl sitting near us on the plane.  So sweet!  And, this little keychain occupied her for quite some time!

Tomorrow we have Nora’s medical appointment, and then we will work with our guide on some of our paperwork in preparation for our US Consulate appointment on Monday. 

Nora and Her Daddy

We are more than halfway to being home!!!  We are missing the kids like crazy, and while I think they are missing us, they have a super fun weekend planned with Jon and Rita so our return home will be here before we know it! 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Last Day in Lanzhou {10.25.2012}

Today was our last full day in Lanzhou. Tomorrow we will leave Nora’s province and head to Guangzhou.  While we are eagerly looking forward to the next part of this journey, it is bittersweet leaving Nora’s province, not knowing if she will ever have an opportunity to return.

We spent our morning at Five Springs Park and the zoo.  Five Springs Park was beautiful (it’s on the side of a mountain), so many local people doing such a variety of activities ~ singing, playing instruments, dancing, playing badminton and doing tai chi, just to name a few.  When the tai chi group saw Melody they swarmed around us to admire Nora and ask questions.  They were so very sweet, giving us thumbs up and saying thank you for taking Nora back to the US with us and giving her an opportunity.  It was really very sweet.  We took a lot of photos in Five Springs Park, I’d love to post more, but the speed (or lack thereof) of the internet here may be the death of me, so these will have to suffice for now.
Five Springs Park ~ Select Members of the Tai Chi Fan Club

A View from Five Springs Park

The Zoo ~ Jason Riding a Camel (The Fact that He Got the One with the Pink Bear was Just an Extra Bonus – ha!)

Little Miss

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Free Day {Lanzhou, 10.24.2012}

Today we had a free day with no appointments and no planned sightseeing so we walked to the “expensive” mall. Melody warned us! She was right, it was the “expensive” mall! Aside from a small toy for Nora, no purchases made. The mall is a nine story mall in a square with welcoming green space. There is also an area where locals were exercising, and there was an area where a “leader” was playing music over a speaker system and people were dancing. We were tempted but resisted! Many of the sales persons would approach, look at us, look at Nora and speak in rapid fire Chinese. Between that and the same thing happening every time we go to the grocery store, it does get a little unnerving.

Tomorrow we will do some additional sightseeing and hope to get Nora’s passport. And, on Friday we leave for Guangzhou where we will finish up all of our appointments and paperwork. The weather has been mostly in the 40’s / 50’s in Lanzhou. In Guangzhou, we are expecting high 80’s. That will be a change, but we are looking forward to our next stop which is rumored to have a McDonald’s (which I don’t even like, but it sounds good!) and a Starbucks. Need I say more? Haha, we are getting a bit homesick.

Locals Exercising in the Square

The Nine Story Mall

We continue to fall more and more in love with Nora every day. I can honestly say that everything is going really well, praise God for his grace and his gifts that he would choose this little one to be our daughter. Today little miss would only nap if in the carrier or in our arms. While some might say this is a challenge, at this point, we consider it a blessing that she feels comfortable with us. We did have some inconsolable times of crying today which we suspect is due to a bit of sensory overload, adjustment and grieving. During these times, my heart breaks as the ways I comfort her and the words I say are not at all what she is used to. One day we will just know, and until then we will keep looking up.

Will I Never Tire of Photos of Little Miss Sucking Her Thumb?

One week until we are home and reunited with the rest of our crew! We are missing the kids like crazy, but they are very clearly being loved on and well taken care of. So thankful!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Exploring Lanzhou {10.23.2012}

This morning our masterful driver, Mr. Chen, and our lovely guide, Melody, took us on a little tour of part of Lanzhou, a “quiet” city of 3 million.
Nora with Sweet Melody

Per Melody, Lanzhou is known for four things, all of which we experienced today.

Number One:  Lanzhou is known for the Yellow River running through it and the Water Wheels.

Number Two:  Lanzhou is known for its sheep skin rafts, invented by Muslims, these are real sheep skins filled with air. Much to Melody's disappointment, we could not be convinced to do the "raft ride".

Number Three:  Lanzhou is known for its stretched noodles with beef. (No photo for this, but we did go and have this dish for lunch.)

Number Four:  Lanzhou is known for its gourds (locals paint them with zodiac signs and sell them … and, by the way, Mom, you are a Monkey, just like Samuel). 

It was a fun morning of exploring and a nice afternoon of continuing to bond with Nora.  She is learning to trust us and has even started looking for us and whimpering a bit if we walk away.  No worries, girl!  We won’t leave you!  

At this point, I would say the hardest thing is feedings.  I’ll spare you the details, but we are finding our groove.  And, I know we’ll figure this out more as we go along.  Plus, I’m happy to say that the girl is not as small as I thought she might be.  In fact, by our scientific method of weighing her (i.e., Jason weighing himself, then weighing himself holding her and doing simple math), she is approximately 17 pounds. Albeit, she is definitely top heavy (the girl has a big head!  Again, she will fit right in with our family) with petite little legs! 

Back on the home front, the kids seem to be doing great.  They had a wonderful weekend with their cousins where they were loved on.  And, Grandma has been loving on them this week.  So blessed to know that they are being so well taken care of! 

Thank you to all for your sweet words in comments and in e-mails … your prayers and encouragement mean the world to us!

And, on that note, I’ll leave you with some of today’s photo shoot pictures, the reason we are here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

She’s Ours! {Lanzhou, 10.22.2012}

Today was a big day ~ in the eyes of China, Nora is officially ours.  No longer orphan, but our daughter.  We spent the morning at the Civil Affairs office completing paperwork and after a quick stop at the police station for a “family photo” we found ourselves back in our hotel room.

Making It Official (The Red Thumbprints)

The Traditional Photo with the Orphanage Director (Love Nora’s Expression as the Director is Restricting Her from Her Beloved Thumb)

It has truly been a day of discovery and getting to know our little miss.  The girl has definitely got some tricks. 

Top ten discoveries today:
  1. Nora can do amazing splits (Ellison, she may have you beat – sorry, girl!).  We will have to work on this though as little miss needs to seriously develop some hip muscles and control!
  2. As mentioned before, Nora has an endearing comfort mechanism of sucking her thumb.  It really is beyond adorable.
  3. And, not only does she find comfort in sucking her thumb, she sticks her tongue up into her cleft lip while she sucks her lip.  Cute, cute, cute!
  4. AND, she sometimes will take her other hand or her index finger on the hand of the thumb she is sucking, and she will rub a dry spot on her lip.  That she could figure out these comfort mechanisms, genius!
  5. Nora has a “stork bite” on the back of her neck.  I nearly lost it when I saw this ~ so typical of God’s design in all of our LilyKids!
  6. Nora is afraid of her reflection.  The Orphanage Director’s wife told us this yesterday, and it is proving to be true.  This surprised me as one of her best friends in the orphanage is a beautiful cleft kiddo!  Breaks my heart, we will be working on reassuring her that God made her beautiful, she is fearfully and wonderfully made.
  7. Nora has a few tricks, she army crawls and walks a bit beside the bed.  And, we are working on teaching her to clap.  She is a quick learner.
  8. The girl has amazing eyelashes (Ellison, you have her beat on this one, but Nora’s are still amazing).
  9. She has a hearty belly laugh that is contagious.
  10. Nora’s eyes sparkle and say so much about her and her personality, the sweet little personality that we are just beginning to unravel.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gotcha Day {Lanzhou, 10.21.2012}

Typing one-handed folks as I have a certain little someone sleeping in my arms, yes, in my arms!  Hmmm … I wonder if this is the first time she has ever slept in someone’s arms (aside from during her 6-hour car ride to get from her orphanage today)?

Jason and I flew out of Beijing this morning and got to Lanzhou in the early afternoon.  Our guide and a driver met us at the airport and brought us into the city to our hotel.  The drive was absolutely beautiful, mountains surrounding us (some are even snow covered).  Truly a remarkable landscape, so proud to say that this is where our daughter is from.  Our guide is wonderful and has already taught us many things about this area.   We are excited to continue learning and to sightsee this week.

Once checked into our hotel, we did our money exchange (it could have been a scene from a movie), and then we walked to a nearby Walmart-type store for bottled water, some fruit, and diapers and formula for little miss.  The store was crazy, so many people, and we felt that all eyes were on us, the only two blue-eyed people in this area it seems!  Not looking forward to the attention we will likely draw when we are out and about with Nora this week!

It seems that while we were heading back to the hotel, Nora was arriving so we got shooed to our room and then our guide came up 5 minutes later with the orphanage director, her driver and NORA!  We then got to ask the orphanage director questions about Nora ~ I, however, was quite distracted by this dark eyed beauty on my lap so found it quite hard to focus on the questions.  Jason to the rescue!  He just video-taped it.  After our Q&A with the director, we headed out to get passport photos taken.  We had to have a family photo taken and a photo of just Nora!  That was crazy as the photo had to be just so!  Finally, we were back at the hotel – more paperwork and then our guide left, and now it’s just the three of us here.

Jason got so many giggles out of Nora, so many!!!  She certainly looks at us curiously, likely wondering who we are and what we are saying and why we are here.  While I just want to keep snatching her up, she is much preferring to have us hang out on the floor together, and she definitely is finding comfort in sucking her thumb which is a “tad” bit adorable!  I do wonder how long before she will long to be comforted by being held … hopefully not long as I’m not sure how long this Mama’s heart can take that!

So, without further ado, a little glimpse into our first few hours with Nora …

Tomorrow will be another busy day, Nora is technically in our “custody” right now. The adoption will become final tomorrow when we have our Civil Affairs appointment. After tomorrow’s appointments, the rest of the week will be sightseeing in Lanzhou as we wait for Nora’s passport to be completed. And, of course, it will entail getting to know this precious daughter of ours. Be still my heart...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Beijing {10.20.2012}

Today we spent the day sightseeing in Beijing.  We walked through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and then went to the Great Wall.  It is certainly grand, amazing to think that it was constructed by hand, minimal tools.  We set out and trekked up to the highest point.  Phew! Below are a couple of photos from today.  The photos of the Wall really do not do it justice, it is simply amazing!

And, one more shout out to Jack today on his birthday!!!  You are loved!  And, we are so thankful for all that is being done with you and for you today to celebrate you!!

We leave Beijing early tomorrow (Sunday) morning for Lanzhou to meet our princess!  Thank you for the sweet notes and love and prayers you have been pouring on us!  Until tomorrow ...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Our Birthday Boy {10.20.2012}

Here, on this side of the world, it is Saturday, October 20th - the birthday of a special someone!!!  An ocean apart, we are thanking God for the gift of this boy!  Happy 11th Birthday, Jack!  We are so thankful for you!

We celebrated Jack's birthday party last weekend and while we are apart on this day, we know that Jack is being loved on and celebrated back home ... and for that, we are very thankful.

Happy Birthday, Jackers!  We love you!

We Made It!!!

Super tired, but we're here!  Full day of sightseeing planned for tomorrow, and then off to Little Miss's province on Sunday!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

From Years to Months to Days to Hours

Friends, the countdown has dramatically changed.  In less than 12 hours we will board a plane that will begin our physical journey to Nora.  The emotions are crazy out of control, so much joy!  But, also heartache as I anticipate how Nora's life is going to change ... forever.  This brave little girl experienced loss as a newborn, when all that was familiar to her ... the sound of her family's voices, the smells ... was forever changed.  And, on Sunday, she will again experience great loss as once again everything changes, as she is placed in our arms, arms of strangers. 

Oh, how I want her to know that she is exquisitely beautiful and loved and that this is it.  This is forever, we are not going anywhere.  I know this will take time, and I know that not everything will be storybook.  But, I also have been reminded by wise friends that God goes before us.  He knows.  He knows the paths ahead, the paths of beauty and grace.  He knows that paths that may frustrate, challenge and deplete us ... giving us hope as we look to Him and gain strength.

When reviewing our itinerary, I cannot help but focus on Sunday, October 21st, Gotcha Day, the day we will meet our daughter, see her face to face.  But, I mourn Nora's loss, never knowing her birth family.  I do treasure the little glimpses into what we know of her past, the pieces we can share with her someday, the pieces that speak to the overwhelming love her birth family had for her ... to wrap their precious daughter in a pink blanket and travel, from who knows how far, to purposefully place their daughter in a location where they knew she would be found and cared for.  Oh, we are grateful for the love so clearly evident in this.  But, as I celebrate becoming a mom again, my heart breaks for Nora's birth mom.

Yet, I am grateful for this bittersweet time.  This time that God is working in me, in our family and in Nora.  So, I will choose to embrace it all, the hard and the over the top bliss, all of it.  Mourning.  Anticipation.  Fear.  Joy.  Grief.  Celebration.  Thank you for your prayers, encouragement and for loving on us and joining in our excitement.  Please join us in praying for Nora's heart and her healing.

So crazy excited for the next stage of this journey!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gratitude ...

God calls us all to defend the fatherless, to care for the child that has no family.  This can look very different.  It does not mean that we are all called to adopt a child.  It may mean so many things for so many people.  We see it happening around us. 
We are feeling encouraged, blessed and loved on in many unexpected ways … around us many are helping an orphan, our orphan … our little miss, who in less than two weeks is going to go from orphan to daughter … 

And, because I don't want to forget, a laundry list, of sorts, of some of the encouragement and blessings surrounding us:

Family graciously stepping forward to take care of and love on the kiddos here while we are gone …
Friends and neighbors offering carpool and other assistance with the kiddos while we are gone …
Encouraging cards …
Friends supporting us through purchasing adoption tees
A friend hosting a jewelry party and donating commissions (and friends and family purcahsing the jewelry!) …
Unexpected donations toward “bringing Nora home” …
A friend giving us her “gently” used (not expired!) awesome car seats (totally a God thing – thanks, friend!!!) …
An offer of frequent flyer miles and hotel nights (while this didn’t work out, the offer was beyond humbling) …
Gifts from friends I have yet to meet in person …
And, of course, prayers …

And, with that, I have a specific prayer requests.  Please join us in praying that God may be preparing Nora’s heart for what will forever change her, going from orphan to precious daughter, in less than two weeks.

This is it, in nine short days we will be leaving for China to meet our daughter.  Travel plans have been confirmed, and flights are booked!  Now, we just need to pack, continue preparing the kids here, and celebrate Jack’s birthday early!

And, because no post is complete without a photo, and many of you know how I am obsessed with adore monogramming … this was a gift from a sweet friend that I have yet to meet in person.  Yet, our daughters spent the first months of their lives together at the same orphanage.  So sweet, we cannot wait to cuddle Nora up in this after bath time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Travel Approval, Color Coded Lists and Crafting

As I eluded to below, we now have a better idea of our timeline to Nora as we received our Travel Approval this week (on Monday, October 1st) ... yippee!!!  Seems the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) cranked through paperwork before this week's National Holiday in China.  It was such a sweet surprise to get that phone call Monday morning!  So amazing to know that it won't be long until we are holding our baby!

Because of the holiday this week, we do not have definitive travel plans yet as we are waiting on confirmation of Nora's Visa appointment at the US Consulate in Guangzhou which will determine our exact travel dates. As of now, however, our agency is having us prepare to leave on October 18th.  Again, so amazing!!!  Because the Consulate is still closed on Monday, we should expect to know more on Tuesday.  More waiting and sweet anticipation ...
As I have heard from so many once you get to this point the process seems to move at warp speed.  So, we continue our preparations.  You will not be surprised to know that my manner of preparing includes a few color-coded spreadsheets and lists that have been edited and reworked and reviewed many times! In addition, I have found myself crafting (perhaps not the most productive use of my time when I could be ... well ... reviewing and working on my lists).
Little thank you tags to include with the traditional gifts we are bringing to China ...

As we prepare our home, our kiddos and our hearts, I pray for our sweet Nora.  I pray that God is preparing her heart ... all that she knows will be changing in a matter of weeks.  This is big ...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Middle of the Night Awakenings

This past week has included middle of the night awakenings with either the persistent calling of “Mommy” or just good old fashion crying coming from down the hall from a certain little princess who is getting over a cold and has two molars coming in (and who, frankly, I think just likes to be snuggled in the middle of the night).  Last night was one of those nights and while I love an uninterrupted night of sleep, I am trying to cherish these fleeting moments of being able to rock my baby (yes, 30+ pound toddler) back to sleep.  And, I can’t help but think about little miss Nora and wonder, does she cry out in the middle of the night?  And, for who?  And, who hears her sweet cries? 
Baby girl, we are {literally}* counting down the days until we can hold you and love you and hear and answer your cries.
Photo is NOT from Nora’s orphanage but is representative of a typical crib that would be in a Chinese orphanage – with metal rungs and wood slat bottom (no mattress), likely for sanitary purposes.
*Yes, we are literally counting down the days now ... more on that real soon!  God is good!!!