Sunday, November 13, 2016

No Trick, Little Treat, Lots of Spirit...

So not sure if it's due to the fact that the girls are getting older, or that one was sick on Halloween and the other had a last minute cancellation of soccer practice that  she was prepared to attend, but this year we put very little effort into Halloween. So little that the sick one didn't leave the house, and the other wore her pajamas, only hitting up a couple houses.

However, that doesn't mean we don't have spirit. In fact, the previous week had been spirit week at school, so thought you might enjoy some photos from that.
Me as Professor Sybill Trelawney on Harry Potter Day
We rocked Pajama Day!
And not to leave out my boys...
Josh and Elissa dressed for a party as Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin and his crocodile catch!
Nailed Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation
 On a positive, we had very little candy around the house to indulge in! And it seems we all enjoy pretend play now and then! And with Halloween in the past, let the holiday festivities begin!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Trumpet Tribute...

Remember all the attention Jaelyn got a year ago regarding her robotic arm that the high school made her? She even made the Seattle news! Well a couple months after that all settled down, the robotics club made her a second arm, one that she could play the trumpet with. She has been playing the baritone since 5th grade, and is pretty good at it. She has been wanting a new challenge, and wanting to play more notes than the baritone plays.  So this week we finally stopped talking and rented a trumpet. She is loving playing it, and has appreciated tips from her dad, who played both instruments when he was younger. She's not allowing me to video just yet, but here's a shot of her practicing. Love the pink arm!

In less exciting news, Mike and I both quietly celebrated our birthdays over the past two weeks. Unlike the last two years, no birthday ended in zero.  Due to my frozen shoulder, I didn't accomplish the bucket list this year I had planned. I plan to fully recover over the winter, so stay tuned.

What do you get the ultimate Sounders fan? A Sounder license plate frame for his new toy!

A little dark, but my parents made me Seahawk earrings. I think Jaelyn loves her panda pajamas (both photos)

I also forgot to mention that Jaelyn is currently playing volleyball for her school. This is the last week of games, and I just now realized that I forgot to get any action photos! She has really been enjoying herself, and has racked up a decent serve. I'll try and at least get a photo of her in uniform, as both her games are away this week. Check back soon for those photos and trumpet noise....

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Off to a Great Start...

School is off and running, and so are we! Three of us are back to middle school, and one can't seem to get out of high school!  Mike is the only one making a big change this year, switching it up from math to science. He is teaching sophomore biology and AP physics this year.

What happens when a 12 yr. old gets a hold of your phone.

Gymnastics practice has begun for Kaia, but her season does not start until January. Her foot was x-rayed in August, and is fully recovered. Jaelyn has begun regular season play for club soccer, but is also playing volleyball on the 7th school team. She made the varsity squad and won their season opener last week. Guess who the referee was? Yep, me! Only one official ref showed up, which left the 7th grade game in need, which I happily filled. I also am score keeper yet again for the high school team, so despite being "retired," I'm getting my volleyball fill.

Jaelyn decided she wanted to be more involved at school this year, so ran for ASB Treasurer.
She spent almost all weekend making her posters (they were the nicest ones at school, and I'm not biased!), and she wrote a fun speech that even included a Hillary/Donald joke that got a laugh. Well it must have worked, because she won her race.

This weekend Jaelyn decided that she was tired of her long hair, so wanted a change. I flippantly suggested she donate her hair, to which she was intrigued. We did some research and found that Children With Hair Loss nonprofit only needs 8" of hair, compared to most other organizations 10" requirement, to make a wig, because it is specifically for kids. So that's just what she did! Tomorrow we mail off the 9" that she got cut off. And her new, spunky hair cut is adorable on her.
Her thick braided hair looks more like a horse tail!
Her hair has even more body to it now that it's short.
Kaia's turn to shine last week, was for her piano recital. In addition to playing, her teacher asked if she would emcee. She took it serious, and practiced saying all the names and pieces loudly and correctly. She did a great job as both emcee and performer. She played Lavender's Blue from Cinderella and Harp Song for her pieces, the first of which is shown below. She's been playing for about 1.5 years now and still enjoying it. We're really proud of how self-disciplined she has been regarding practicing...

Sunday, September 25, 2016

So Long Summer...

As fall is now upon us, I realized I never closed out summer. Typically American's think of Labor Day Weekend as being the last weekend of summer. However, teachers have an entirely different viewpoint. That being Labor Day is one last day to work before school begins the next day. So let me back up to our last weekend of summer.

I've mentioned my niece Hayden before, as she has been battling cancer since last summer. If you haven't' seen it yet, she keeps a blog of her journey titled The Merkel Miracle that is very inspiring. Check it out if you haven't already. Anyhow, we spent our last weekend of summer at her wedding! It was such a joyous occasion. The girls were so excited to be in it. And both of the boys were able to come, so it was a great, yet quick family reunion.


Please excuse the bright sunshine, but it was beautiful.
And after...

The morning we were leaving for home, we went out for breakfast with most of the family to celebrate Kellen's birthday. Can't believe he turned 25 already!
So the birthday boy was still sleeping; it was 7 am afterall!
We also gave Joshua his birthday present 10 days early. Last year he had shown me some artwork he really liked at a local arts & crafts show. When I saw the artist again this year, I decided to get him a piece for his birthday. It's definitely a different taste;  post-apocalyptic scenes of famous Seattle landmarks. Got him one of the Space Needle going down and had it framed...

Backing up, the girls and I drove down ahead of the rest of the family, who had school and work commitments. We were able to spend a few days with my family. While there the girls and I met their cousin Teagan for the first time. She was a premie but doing quite well now.
 We also got to hang out with my Grandpa. Always a delight.
We stopped at the beautiful Salt Creek Falls on our way down to the wedding. Such a beautiful place to stretch our legs.

Came across another summer photo I thought I would throw in here. Jaelyn and Kaia were to take nine weeks or so of tennis camp, two times a week. Well if you remember, Kaia broke her foot the first week school was out, so tennis was not going to happen. Jaelyn was nervous about going by herself, but was pleasantly surprised a friend from her old soccer team was in the same class. Jaelyn missed nearly half the classes due to our trip to China, but came home in time for the last two, with the last one being the final tournament. Jaelyn did great for missing so much, and even ended up in the championship against her friend.
By the end of summer the entire family was able to make it out to the court a few times. Finally felt good for me to get out and do something physical. Jaelyn taught me how to serve one-handed, and my shoulder even felt good enough for me to start doing some low tosses. Looking forward to more family tennis next summer...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Final Leg...

Getting out of Changchun turned out to be quite the experience. As I mentioned before, flying domestically, our guides can come all the way to security with us. We got to the airport 90 minutes before our short flight to Beijing. Thank goodness we did, because we needed every moment of it.  After waiting in quite a long line, we approached the check-in, only to be told we were not in the system. Our guide Kathy had us move to the side, then she quickly got on the phone, assuming to her employer.  After hanging up, she told us they were contacting the Beijing office, so it would be just a couple minutes. In the next "couple minutes," she made multiple phone calls, cut in front of other flyers to check back in with the ticket agent, and walked away to talk with someone at the information booth multiple times. Was definitely thinking to myself, "someone messed up." We were actually staying calm, as we had a "gut feeling" it would all work out.

Patiently waiting at the airport with our guide. Don't we look calm?
Finally, she had us gather our things and follow her around the corner to another ticket agent. When it was finally our turn up front, once again we were turned away and asked to wait to the side. Looking at our watches, we knew our plane was now to be boarding.  Suddenly the ticket agent was speaking in a more than usual rushed tone and waved us over. Our names had appeared in the system! We checked in and hurried to security where we came to a screeching halt! "Sorry, you can't bring the scooter through here." No, not again (as we watched another stroller go on through). Our guide pleaded for us, and explained we were in a rush, but to no avail.  Once again we rushed and paid to get it wrapped, but this time instead of to oversize luggage, we had to return to the ticket agent to send through (China x-rays your luggage while you're standing there, in case they need you to open it). We ran back to security, said goodbye to Kathy, and thankfully made it through without a hitch. We saw our gate, and fortunately they were still loading. We hopped in line and caught our breath. As we boarded the plane, look what we discovered...

Yep, we had first class seats!  What a blessing. The girls were giddy, as was I, as we had never experienced this before. Jaelyn had her first class slippers on in no time, and we had our beverages before we even took off. Hope I don't sound too ungrateful when I thought "Too bad this was our shortest of the 7 flights we had this trip."

Funny side note I meant to share in the last post. On one of our car rides, Kathy mentioned the driver had some questions for us. One of those was "Why did we adopt children with special needs?" That's a detailed answer to give a guide who struggles with comprehending us, to then interpret, but Mike and I gave it our best shot. We told her that God placed China on our heart, so we responded. We also, yet again, explained how we don't see our children's outside differences, nor place limitations on appearances. What's on the inside is what we want to cultivate, and that is limitless in everyone.  To us, through adoption, everyone gains.  I am not sure how she interpreted this to the driver, but I think we got our point across. I then noticed her typing something into the translation app on her phone. I cannot recall the word she came up with, but it was the name to one of the Buddhas, meaning virtuous Buddha.  She told me that's who I was. Mike laughed pretty hard at that one! 

Now back to Beijing. We met up with our new guide and driver, whose only job was to get us to our hotel, then back to the airport in less than 24 hours.  We were told the drive would take about 40 minutes. Wrong. Our driver cut that time in half by driving on the shoulder of a major freeway the entire time, surpassing all traffic! This, despite the sign stating to leave 3 meters for emergency vehicles. Oh my.

Our last hurrah for the trip was in meeting up with my good friend Ying. I have known him for nearly 10 years now, as we have been on eight or so trips together, working in orphanages. He lives half the year in Shanghai, half in the US. He is a very generous man who was actually returning from a Visiting Orphans trip to Siping, so our timing to meet up in Beijing was impeccable. We enjoyed one last meal with Chinese eggplant together.

Early the next morning we were off to the airport. This time our driver stayed between the lines the entire drive! We learned our lesson and had kept Kaia's scooter wrapped, and sent it through baggage from the start. Our tickets this year were the cheapest I had ever paid in any of my previous 12 trips to China. Part of the reason was the low cost of fuel now, but part was due to our return flight being multiple carriers. With the first leg being a quick flight to Shanghai on a Chinese flight that is connected with Delta, we thought it would be no worry. Let's just say they only had two ticket agents working in Shanghai, causing a long back up.  We ran, as best as we could with Kaia, once we finally had tickets in hand. When we got to security, there was actually a man holding a "Delta" sign, which allowed us to surpass the long line. Seems we weren't the only ones running late.

Fortunately the flight home was uneventful. Wish I could say the same about our drive. Kellen picked us up from the airport for our nearly 2 hour ride home, only for us to find ourselves sitting on the side of I-5 in Seattle, just a few miles away.  We found that car rentals won't pick you up on the side of an interstate, and tow trucks only carry two passengers.  Quite an adventure, but we finally made it home after hopping over the guardrail, down a hill of blackberry bushes, and through a gap in a fence, to be picked up at a physical address by Enterprise Car Rental!  Mike and Kellen returned the next day to pick up our van (our insurance would only tow within 12 miles) and bring her home.  Thankfully it was just the alternator, and not the transmission like we thought. We were planning on trading her in this Fall anyhow, so got an early jump on it.

Goodbye Vanna...
Hello Pearl...

And as difficult as it was for some of us to leave, we were all happy to be home and in our own beds. We know this was not a "Goodbye" to China, but a "See you later."

Monday, August 15, 2016

Jaelyn in Jilin...

Wish I could say our flight north went off without a hitch once again, but this time I cannot. You see, we've been traveling with Kaia's knee scooter, and as many rules/regulations in China are interpreted differently from place to place, evidently the familiarity of what her knee scooter actually is and how it is handled, changes too.  This time, as we were getting our boarding passes, we were told she could not bring it through security and on the plane. We were told we had to go to oversize luggage and pay to have it wrapped in cardboard, then smothered in giant saran wrap. Thankfully this wasn't an international flight, so we still had our guide to interpret for us. Funny thing is, as we were speed walking (didn't plan extra time for this excursion), we see a family with a HUGE stroller, one seat in front for toddler, one rear facing for car seat, going through security with no problem. What?  Good thing this is towards the end of our trip and Kaia could get along well on her boot alone. I don't believe there's such a thing as Chinese with Disabilities Act. Nonetheless, 84 yuan and two boxes of Costco saran wrap later (about 13 bucks), we made it to our gate on time.

This time our destination was Changchun City, the capital of the Jilin province. We were greeted by our guide Kathy, who immediately took Jaelyn under her wing. As we maneuvered through the airport, Kathy placed her arm around Jaelyn, making sure she did not lose her on our quest to find our vehicle. No worries though, as this is a much smaller airport than what we have been use to. Changchun is a small Chinese city of around 9 million, so has a different feel compared to the three previous cities we visited. We noticed on our drive to our hotel that this city has also changed quite a bit since we were last here. The city is currently under a lot of construction (what city in China isn't?), as they are putting in a subway.  On our hour long drive to our hotel, as we watched out the windows, Kathy was busy making arrangements for Jaelyn to meet her foster family the following day. There had been some confusion with which family we are to meet with, as two sisters have both had foster children from this orphanage, so it was difficult getting the right person on the phone.  Plus, the orphanage has moved an hour away from where it used to be, to where it is now. However, the files are kept at the old orphanage, which is now mainly used for office space and storage. We needed to decide which orphanage we wanted to visit. Since the foster family lives near the older facility, and we would really like to read her files, we chose to visit the older one in the morning, despite not children being there. I could already sense Jaelyn's anxiety. You see, she likes to know everything in advance, and often starts the day off with "Tell me what's going on today, Mom.," which means give me an hour by hour outline. A simple prayer with her was the best I had to offer.

Once checked in to the hotel, we were on our own for the remainder of the afternoon and evening. We realized we were not far from our hotel from the first trip, so we ventured out to explore. We found that it was now an empty building, but many of the shops we frequented were still there. However, the street vendors are gone, replaced by a giant, expensive shopping mall. Prada, Gucci, etc., huge named retailers filled this mall. All that's missing were the shoppers. Strange feeling as every store front had 1-2 workers standing in the entrance, as this foreign family of four strolled through the empty mall.
Another nearby mall, but this one busy, where we chose to get out of the rain and eat dinner, then have a blizzard for dessert. Minion statues are all over the mall; in fact, all over China!
Once again, we felt as if we are the only western foreigners that were in our hotel. Breakfast was served on the 26th floor, where there is a 360° view of the city, much like the Space Needle. Not sure if the breakfast selection is really poor, despite being a lot of choices, or I am just done with Chinese breakfast! However, someone enjoyed it. Who knew this girl loved shell fish so much? We live on an island, yet I've never seen her eat like she did this breakfast.
Breakfast with a view.
We left early and headed off for the orphanage, which was a good distance away. Where we weren't allowed to visit the orphanage back in 2006, our guide then did take us there, where we hoped we weren't seen as we snapped photos from afar. However, despite our second trip, we did not recognize the area we were driving to. We recalled a much more rural area with buildings far and few between. We were driving on some muddy roads, and definitely no high rises, but there were businesses and people all along the way. Our driver had to ask for directions a couple times, but as soon as we came around the bend, Mike declared "This is it!"

Very similar to Kaia's experience, we were greeted by a woman who looked very familiar. Turns out it was one of the two ladies who accompanied Jaelyn when we adopted her. She and Mike completed the adoption paperwork together, and she had told us back then that she had named Jaelyn.
On the right, Jaelyn is presenting the dress she made, along with others from school.

Just a short distance behind her, approaching a little hesitantly, were two ladies. Right away I recognized the younger one from a previous photo we had, and assumed the other was her mother. I was correct about this, but turns out our understanding of Jaelyn's foster care situation had been incorrect.  We had heard no mention of a foster dad, so we had assumed that Jaelyn lived with the foster mother (which we thought was the matriarchal mother), along with her adult daughter, and two foster brothers, each with cerebral palsy. This played into some of the confusion with our guide the previous day. In actuality, Jaelyn had been living with her foster parents since she was nine months old, but the grandmother also lived with them, as did their biological son (now 17), and a foster boy and girl, the two with CP. 

Whatever the situation was, it was obvious from the moment they approached Jaelyn, she had been loved! From the time we met until the time we parted, it was precious to watch the interactions take place. Jaelyn's cheeks were patted, hair caressed (her adorable curls were noticed), shoulders squeezed; they just couldn't get enough of her, particularly her grandmother (we've been told her name is Pearl). And they weren't the only ones smiling.  Jaelyn didn't seem to mind one bit that they were doting on her. In almost every photo we snapped, Jaelyn was grinning from ear to ear.
Jaelyn sharing a photo album of her growing up that we brought, plus a personal note from her. They brought with them the album we sent them through a friend in 2007.

We were able to ask more specific questions about Jaelyn, and had to chuckle when they said she liked music, would be the first to wake up, and was even tempered, yet could be a little naughty. We told them that these were all true of her today! It was such a special time to witness. I was teary eyed multiple times as I just sat back and watched the interactions.  Words were not needed to express the emotions being exchanged. We thanked them for pouring confidence and love into her early life; they said no, it was only 1.5 years of her life and said we were the ones to thank.  Even Jaelyn's foster father had tears in his eyes as we spoke.  Was tough to say goodbye, but so happy Jaelyn had this opportunity.

We stayed a bit longer to look through Jaelyn's files. We learned a couple more things about Jaelyn's first days, then headed back to our hotel to spend the rest of the day relaxing and absorbing the morning.

One thing that helped Jaelyn change gears was the fact that there was an unofficial pet shop on the street out front of our hotel. For the next two days she visited the area countless times to take on the role of "dog whisperer."  Dogs as pets have become quite popular in China, as the middle class has grown. Sadly, this impromptu store promotes over breeding and crowded care.  And strangely none were barking, nor had access to water. Most Chinese live in apartments, without a lot of areas for dogs to run.  Veterinarians are unheard of, and I doubt these dogs have had any shots. Nonetheless, they were adorable...

Really, a pet chipmunk?
 Our last full day we were completely on our own in Changchun. We grabbed a taxi and headed to South Lake Park, something we had done when we were here with the boys ten years ago. It's a well manicured park that is popular with the locals. Swimming, fishing, boating, and carnival rides are some of the activities going on here.  It's a huge park, so we definitley got our exercise in.
The girls were imitating lots of Chinese people posing in the area.
The girls got the chance to try out their new umbrellas, to shade them from the sun like the locals do.

Mike with his high fashion model pose.

I look like I have a pineapple top

I have no words...

Yep, wedding photos here too.
Swimming anyone? Look closely. I had to snap this shot because it is such an unusual site in China. Europe, yes, China, no. Jaelyn was laughing so hard as I snapped it without being noticed.

Like in Kaia's province, we returned to a restaurant we have fond memories of. Added some more walking to our day, but the Dumpling King was worth it!

Walked to another mall, but then we wisely decided to catch a taxi back to our hotel.  For our last evening there, we discovered that the street vendors we had looked for had moved to a new area. They were a bit more organized with their eateries now, with more vendors, and even seating down this alley.  One of my favorite photos from our previous trip had been of Mike and Jaelyn sharing dinner. They reenacted the photo for me, in an updated version. We weren't sure if it was beef or lamb (or ???), but right after I snapped this photo Jaelyn's eyes got huge, as we hadn't realized that these were covered in something extremely spicy. Mike loved it though!

This post is way longer than I originally planned, so I'm going to save the story of our plane ride back to Beijing (yep, another airport story),  our short time there, and returning to the States for another post. For those of you reading this to the end, kudos to you!