Wednesday, March 18, 2009

She's a U.S. citizen!

It's official - Julia is a U.S. citizen and we're cleared to go home!! There's not much to post in the way of pictures from the swearing in ceremony because cameras were not allowed past a certain point.

Tonight will be low key and we'll have dinner with some friends before doing some last-minute shopping and packing to come home. We leave the hotel to fly to Beijing very early tomorrow morning so we can catch our flight to the U.S. so this will probably be my last post before we get home. We'll try to get some new pictures on the blog but if we run out of time you'll be able to meet Julia soon enough!! Thanks to our family and, of course, Beverly's family during these last couple of weeks. We look forward to seeing you and letting you meet the new addition to our family.

We'll be getting in to Atlanta around 10:30 p.m. on the 19th, assuming our connecting flight from Newark leaves on time.

Love to everyone,

Gwen, Jason and Julia

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Loving our little empress



Julia is quite the drama queen, but a very cute one at that. She's still doing good and overall is a very happy little girl. She hasn't done any major grieving that I can tell and that makes me wonder a bit what her life was like in her foster home. Maybe her young age has something to do with her easy transition so far but there's really no way to know for sure.

So far her favorite things to do are to take us on walks, play with the toys we brought with us and laugh at the funny faces we make at her. She hates having her diaper changed, her clothes changed, and water poured over her head during her bath. She becomes quite a little fireball.

We come home in two days and we can't wait. Jason is craving basic food such as a ham and cheese sandwich and I crave being able to order something without having to point to a picture. I love China, but it's been an exhausting couple of weeks and we're ready to come home and settle in with Julia. China actually has - believe it or not - Papa John's pizza (at least in this area) so we ordered some at the hotel tonight for a taste of home for a night.

Not too much else going on these last couple of days. Yesterday we did the traditional red couch photos at the White Swan and today Julia's visa paperwork was submitted to the U.S. consulate. Tomorrow she gets sworn in as a U.S. citizen and will receive her visa! After that we're cleared to leave for the U.S. and our flight will leave early on the 19th for home.

As great as our trip has been, it hasn't been without its hiccups. Julia got a cold that's been working its way through the families in our group and it turned into an ear infection. We took her to a clinic that is in the hotel and was put on an antibiotic. It's one I hadn't heard of before but I checked with Dad and he said it was fine. Hopefully it will be enough to help her until we can get her to our pediatrician at home.

Also we found out that Anna has had a seizure while she was at Beverly's home. It's crushing for me to think that I was halfway around the world and unable to help her, but I also know that she was in good hands with Beverly and my family. It's impossible for me to be able to express the amount of gratitude that I feel towards Beverly and her family for keeping my sweetheart safe and watched over for me. There's nothing that I could ever give her that could show that. I'm also thankful for my family being there and driving to the hospital from Athens to be with Anna. I'm lucky to have such a wonderful family.

We miss everyone at home sooooo much and can't wait for Julia to meet our family and friends!



Julia showing her little personality before the red couch photo. She's just too cute for words! (She knows it too!)



The red couch photo - try getting 11 screaming children to sit still for a picture. This is what happens.


Hanging out with Ma Ma and Ba Ba.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More pictures of our newest princess




















Julia's still doing great. We haven't done much these last couple of days since the orphanage visit, which has actually been pretty nice as everyone is tired (parents AND kids). Plus, the weather has been cold and rainy so we've stayed at the hotel a lot. We wanted to explore more but we'll wait until we get to Guangzhou where the weather will be in the mid-70's. Speaking of which, we got Julia's Chinese passport today so we leave for Guangzhou tomorrow morning. We will be staying at the White Swan hotel while paperwork for the U.S. consulate is completed. We can't wait to get to WARM weather.

We are absolutely LOVING Julia and we know she will be perfect for our family. I already can't imagine my life without her. I can't wait to get back so she can meet the rest of the family, particularly Anna, Kaitlyn and Robbie.

Julia's really showing off her little personality and she's getting into everything. I love it. Oh, and Kaitlyn was curious about the squatty potties that I mentioned in an earlier post, so there's a picture of one just for you below along with other pictures of Julia.






Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Updates

It's been a couple of busy days, as to be expected with a 14-month-old. She's doing very well despite having her entire life changed in a matter of hours. Her little personality is really starting to show and she babbles quite a bit. She doesn't cry nearly as much now as she did in the beginning, which we are VERY thankful for. At first she didn't want us to put her down at all and would get upset if we would even sit down while holding her. Our guide told us that she didn't feel safe at first which was why she was getting upset. Such a change - yesterday she was even feeding us Cheerios. One of the waitresses at lunchtime wanted to hold her and Julia reached back for Jason which is a very good sign of ongoing bonding progress.

Almost all of the babies seem to be adjusting very well so far. One of the babies, a 2-year-old, is grieving particularly hard but the parents are doing a great job with her and being very patient. Another child, a 5 or 6-year-old, also is giving his new mother a run for her money. It's pretty amusing on our hall of the hotel and I feel sorry for the other guests. At any given time there's usually a baby crying somewhere.

The day after we got Julia we went back to the civil affairs office and finalized her adoption - she is officially ours! We're done with the China paperwork and just waiting for her Chinese passport so we can go to Guangzhou and complete paperwork for the U.S. so we can go home.

Yesterday we went and visited the orphanage where she stayed for a short time before going to foster care. We were able to take some pictures outside of the orphanage buildings but once we went inside we had to put away the cameras for the privacy of the children. Most of the children from this orphanage are in foster care and most of the ones that are still there are young babies that have not yet been placed in foster care or severe special needs kids. It was sobering to see the conditions there. It was very clean and the kids appeared to be well-cared for but it's still an orphanage. It's hard to describe what it was like unless you see it for yourself. There was a nice therapy room for the special needs kids which was good to see. Doctors were actively working with several of the children there. One of the things that Jason and I are keeping in mind is that what we saw at the orphanage is what China wants us to see. There are other parts of the orphanage that were off limits so we don't know what else may have been there. The orphanage director was very gracious though and seemed to be pleased that so many children now have homes.

After we left the orphanage the bus driver took the families to the finding spots of their children. Julia was left at a children's hospital so the bus took us by there so we could take pictures. I think these pictures will be valuable information for Julia as she gets older and tries to understand what happened.

Overall things are going very well here; better than I could have hoped for. I can't wait for everyone to meet her. Here are some pics from the last couple of days.








She's ours!! We're at the civil affairs office holding her adoption certificate that makes it official.

This is a close-up of the certificate.

On our way to see her orphanage.




We're going to the babies' room at the orphanage. These are some of the only photos we were allowed to take.
This is the children's hospital where she was left when she was only a month old.

Monday, March 9, 2009

We've got her!!

Today has been a huge day. We have her and she's doing great. We all went to the civil affairs office at 9 and they brought the babies in together at once. When they handed Julia to me she didn't do much of anything, just looked around. She was calm the entire time we were at the civil affairs office and during the walk back. However, once we were at the hotel she began to get upset and cried on and off until she fell asleep. She drank a little milk though. Julia napped for about an hour and when she got up she was in a much better mood. (Well, that is, until we changed her clothes and she didn't like being messed with.) After we got her changed we went to the hotel restaurant and she ate a big bowl of congee, which is pretty tasteless rice soup. We then went and got ourselves some pizza in another restaurant in the hotel, which actually was pretty good. She was great during that entire meal and she snuggled with me and Jason while we ate. We then went back to the room and she enjoyed sitting on the floor playing with stacking cups and a few other hand toys. She began babbling to us while she played and, of course, we were quite pleased that she's obviously becoming more comfortable with us.

While we were at the civil affairs office the reps from the orphanage gave us a picture book with pictures of her at her foster home, which will be great for her to see when she's older. We also got back the toys we sent her in the care package and the disposable camera that we sent for her foster mother to take pictures. We'll develop it within the next few days.

It's been a great day. I think she's going to adjust just fine and she is cute as can be. We've attached a couple of videos of us getting her at the civil affairs office.

Oh, and we just discovered she likes Cheerios!!!!



video



video

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Today's the day!

Yes, it's not even 5 a.m. here and we're up already. We actually woke up at 4 and couldn't go back to sleep. We get Julia in four hours! The crib is already in the room and ready to go. Please keep Julia in your thoughts and pray that the transition isn't too traumatic for her. We're gaining a daughter but she's about to lose her homeland, culture and the only family she's ever known.

I'll write as soon as I can with pictures and video of her.

By the way, Anna's doing great and I'll be eternally grateful to Beverly for watching our sweetheart for us. It gives us peace of mind in a tough situation.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Great Wall and tomorrow is Julia day!!!


Jason and I right before we trekked up the Great Wall.


I haven't been able to post again until now because today was a travelling day. We're now at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Zhengzhou, which is the capital city in Henan province (Julia's province). Tomorrow at 9 a.m. we go to the Civil Affairs office to get her! We're very excited and can't wait. I think it goes without saying that I probably won't sleep well tonight. All of the parents-to-be in our group are on pins and needles right now.
In the meantime, I'll fill you in on yesterday. It was another extremely busy day and we toured for approximately 13 (!) hours. We left the hotel just after 8 a.m. and didn't return until after 9 p.m. Jason and I were so tired that we ordered room service dinner and went to bed.
We started the day by going to the Jade Factory. The jade was so beautiful and we were very tempted to get a large piece for our home but I doubt it would have made it back to Atlanta in the same condition.

We then went to the Great Wall, which is just unbelievable. Our guide told us the Great Wall is about 4,000 miles long. Jason and I did pretty well with it even though we're a couple of out-of-shape police officers. We made it to the second tier and I don't exactly know how far that is, but someone mentioned the distance to the first tier was more than 600 steps, to give you an idea. The steps were uneven and very steep, so it was quite a challenge. The effort was worth it though because the view was fantastic.

After the Great Wall we went to lunch at a local restaurant. The food was very good but we didn't try anything out of the ordinary this time. After lunch they took us to see the Bird's Nest and the Cube which, of course, was very neat to see. We couldn't go inside this time because a delegation from the Chinese government was in town.

We then went to a local spa where those who wanted a massage paid $45 for a 90-minute full body massage. Jason and I opted to walk around the local neighborhoods and soak in the culture. It was very neat to watch people in their daily lives without the tourist distractions around. People were very nice and curious, of course, as to why these crazy Americans were in their neighborhoods. The area had a very cozy, neighborly feeling to it and we were very glad we went. We also found a newpaper/magazine stand on a street corner and bought a Disney Mickey cartoon magazine in Chinese, which was wrapped in plastic and we will give it to Julia.

By the time the others finished their massages it was time to go to the acrobatics show at 7:15. By that time we were so tired that we dozed off during part of it. The show, or what we saw of it, was very good though.

So, that was our day. Below are a few more pictures that we hope you'll enjoy.
Jason and I at the end of our climb. See, we don't look like we're about to pass out, do we?

This is the section of the Great Wall that we climbed. We made it to the second tier (third from the right).

This picture gives you an idea of how steep the Great Wall is in some sections.


China has some very interesting architecture. This building is actually an upscale hotel across from the Bird's Nest. The guide told us Bill Gates rented the top penthouse here during the Olympics.

The Cube where the swimming competition was held during the Olympics.

The Bird's Nest, of course. By the way, it wasn't an overcast day. That is the smog.


This is one of the neighborhoods that we walked through. No, we didn't stick out AT ALL.

Friday, March 6, 2009

More notes from the day

I'm up early again today, so I thought I'd add a bit more to our post from last night.

- If you ride a bicycle you take your life into your own hands here, unless you're in the bicycle lanes which many are not. It's amazing the way people drive. Traffic lanes and lights are merely a suggestion. The interesting thing is that we didn't see any accidents, whereas in the states people run into each other all the time. Go figure.

- Many of the signs are in Chinese AND English, which presumably was done for the Olympics.

- Our guide told us that China, which still is a communist country, is also gradually moving more towards a capitalist society instead of socialism.

- I haven't seen any chocolate here. What's up with that???

- I've mastered the squatty potty. It's actually much more practical once you figure out how to maneuver around your pants and figure out how to keep your balance without ending up in the bowl. Think of it this way: it's much more sanitary than sitting on a toilet that hundreds have sat on before you.

- I'm just not coordinated enough to maneuver chopsticks. Jason, on the other hand, is quite good with them. They haven't slowed down his eating at all.

We're off to get some breakfast and meet up with the group at 8. I hope everyone at home is doing well. Group 2: We all wish you could be here with us.



-

Ni hao, y'all

Wow, what a day. We're totally exhausted. It was a long day but we had a great time and learned a lot. After breakfast we met up with our group at 8:30 a.m. and we toured all day until 6 p.m. We didn't get back to the hotel until 7 because traffic was so bad.

We started off by going to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. On the way there we couldn't help but notice how clean and new most of the city was. Pretty much every car we saw was a newer model. Later our guide told us the reason all of the cars are new is because of the economic boom in China during the past couple of years and now many people can afford cars. We also thought we were going to see a coat of smog over the city but it was a beautiful day and the skies were blue.

We then went for lunch and that was very good. One of the dishes served was shrimp cakes (it was fried and looked like a crabcake) and Jason really liked those.

The guide then took us to the silk factory so we could see how silk was made and, of course, buy souvenirs. After the silk factory we took a rickshaw tour of the Hutong neighborhoods and that was quite interesting. There was definitely some poverty that we saw here and it really makes you appreciate everything that we have at home; however, what was impressive was that despite the poverty the people have a lot of pride in themselves and their homes. Someone that lives in this neighborhood let us see his 200-year-old home.

We then visited a porcelain shop and were able to buy some souvenirs here too. We bought a jade "family ball" which is a ball with several other spheres inside it. Each layer is supposed to symbolize a generation and the outer layer holding all of the spheres together symbolizes unity.

After all of this we finally made it back to the hotel and went to dinner at the hotel restaurant. We were too tired to try to find anything else. Tomorrow we're going to the Great Wall and the jade factory. Our guide also said she was going to take us by the bird's nest too (the stadium from the Olympics). We're going to the acrobatics show tomorrow since everyone was too tired today. Here's a few pics from our day:



This is the lobby of our hotel.



Jason and I in the Forbidden City.



Part of our group at lunch.



This was taken at the beginning of our rickshaw tour. Yes, it was very cold.




One of several McDonald's in the area. No, we haven't tried it yet.


That's about all for now. We're extremely tired so I'll add more later.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

We're up early, so ...

Thought I'd post a few notes of interest that I didn't have a chance to mention yesterday. It's 5:30 a.m. here, but I've slept as much as I'm going to for the night. It was actually quite comfortable but we're not yet used to the time difference. Jason went walking around the lobby this morning and he said the bellman and waiter were asleep in chairs. :-)

- It takes some getting used to being considered the foreigner. We haven't been outside the U.S. much so it's definitely unusual for us. Even at the airport the lines through Chinese customs were for "foreigners." It was funny though - when you go through the representative's line at China customs there's a button panel to rate the service you receive. There were four buttons with smileys on them. Each button was for very satisfied, satisfied, waited too long or poor service. Can you imagine if they did that in the U.S. to check customer service??? Ha.

- The hotel room has some interesting amenities. In the bathroom there's the usual assortment of soaps, shower cap - and a condom.

- Our guide told us that cars here are actually affordable but the car tags are extremely expensive. He said the government does that on purpose to keep everyone from owning cars and making the traffic much worse than it already is. Maybe they should do that in Atlanta? I've seen some bike lanes around Beijing and it's a common way to get around. Again, Atlanta should take a cue from other countries.

- Beijing, at least, is by far from being a third-world country. It's a developing country and from the little I've seen so far it's a mix of the historical/traditional combined with modern advancements. There is a lot of construction going on downtown.

- Jason told that during his stroll he found a massage room in the lobby where you can get a 40 minute full-body massage for about $35 and a foot massage for $15. I may have to try that later.

Post more later after our tours. Hopefully we'll have pics for you then too.

We made it!!

Jason and I are in Beijing now at the Qianmen Jianguo Hotel. We're exhausted, to say the least. We left Atlanta at 8 a.m. and made it to Newark for our connection with no problems. We landed in Beijing on time at 3 p.m.

The long-haul flight was very pleasant .. about as pleasant as a long flight like that can be. We flew Continental and were lucky enough to get bulkhead seats so we had some extra room, which was nice. There were also individual entertainment systems at each seat which helped pass the time, along with several naps. The flight was smooth until we were landing in Beijing and hit some rough air pockets. I heard that a few people on the plane actually did toss their cookies.

Three other families in our adoption group also were on our flight. After the plane finally landed we all met up with the adoption agency guide who escorted us back to the hotel and helped us get checked in. The hotel is very nice, although the beds are hard as a rock. The guide told us the nicer the hotel, the harder the beds. It doesn't matter; we're so tired we could sleep on an actual rock right now.

The traffic here was bad, of course. It reminded me of traffic in New York City minus the constant honking and yelling. You risk you life as a pedestrian if you don't watch where you're going. :-) Beijing is going to be fun to tour though .. I can't wait to see more of it.

The rest of the evening will be pretty uneventful. We're going to meet several families for dinner soon and just relax. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day with a LOT of touring, so we need to rest while we can and adjust to the time zone difference.

Hope things are well at home .. I miss my Anna already!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Leaving my heart behind

As thrilled as I am about finally getting Julia, after such a long wait for her, I'm feeling a lot of agony because of having to leave my big girl, Anna, behind. Anna will be staying with her daytime sitter, Beverly, while we're gone so she can still go to school and receive therapy. I trust Beverly and I know my family will be nearby, but I've never left Anna for more than a night. Realistically, I know that taking Anna to China would have been too hard on her and us and she'll be much happier at Beverly's where she can play and sleep without being cooped up in a plane for 18 hours each way.

So, tell me, how do I do this? Leave half of my heart at home while I go pick up the other half? We'll have access to Skype so we can make webcam calls home from our hotel room. Still, it's not the same.

I'm going to miss her badly.

Our itinerary

We're almost ready to go, just finalizing last-minute details and paperwork. I'm nervous, but mostly about the northeast being affected by the snowstorm because we connect through Newark. Cross your fingers for us that the weather stays clear Tuesday and Wednesday!

Here's our in-China itinerary:

3/4 Leave U.S. for Beijing.
3/5 Arrive in Beijing.
Go to the Qianmen Jianguo Hotel.

3/6- Tour Beijing.
3/7

3/8 Depart Beijing for Zhengzhou on China Southern flight CZ 3180 (11:40-13:00). Go to the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

3/9 (Monday) Receive Julia this morning!

3/10 Complete the Adoption Registration in the morning (adoption finalized!).

3/11 Free time or rest. Optional tour to the provincial museum.

3/12 Free time or rest. Possibly visit child’s orphanage.

3/13 Free time or rest. Receive child’s passport in the afternoon.

3/14 Leave Zhengzhou for Guangzhou on China Southern flight CZ3971 (10:50-12:55).
Go to the White Swan Hotel.

3/15 Sunday. Free time. Rest, tour, shop.

3/16 Have Julia's visa photo and physical completed today.

3/17 Today is the appointment at the U.S. Consulate.

3/18 Go to the U.S. Consulate to take the oath in the afternoon.

3/19 Leave Guangzhou for Beijing, on Air China flight CA 1330 @ 09:25.


We're in for a busy couple of weeks. I can't wait!!