Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Family Favorites

Happiness is . . .

A triple batch

of Rice Krispie Treats!


Saturday, January 28, 2012


At times it takes Mr. Franklin Covey himself to keep track of all the extra-curricular activities.

But now?  Right now? 

It is actually quite simple.

Just think one word.  One sport. 


Here's our calendar for the week:








It's a good thing I believe that team sports are an integral part of life.

and it's a REALLY good thing that basketball is my favorite sport!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Posts and Painting

Elizabeth, one of my favorite bloggers over at Ordinary Time, has an excellent post on adoption and disruption

Elizabeth and I are on the same time-line for our current adoptions, so we hope to meet up in China!

Today I am working on the great bedroom switch of 2012.  It has gone from a simple bedroom swap to an all-out room redo.  We are painting Kim's new room (Lizzy's old room).  Goodbye brown!  Hello beautiful blue!

And we are also painting Lizzy's old loft bed for Patrick.

You see, Patrick is getting Lizzy's bed, and Lizzy's taking over Patrick's bed; Kim is getting the bed from the guest room, Rose is switching to Kim's bed, and Rose's bed is being passed to Mei Mei. 

Did you follow that?  I'm not quite sure I did either.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

P4#10 Video and Packing

Since it's Chinese New Year, all the offices in China are closed, so we won't hear any major news this week. 

We did hear that Mei Mei is doing well, and we hope to receive new pictures soon.  We also sent  her a video depicting a "day in the life" of our family.

I had the kids hold up time cards,

and then we would show her an activity for that time frame.

We showed our house, school, local stores, the library, and various activities.  And we have the advantage of an in-house translator!

I hope it will give her a sense of security, knowing more about our family.  I think about her constantly, and wonder what she's thinking. 

On another note, I packed medicines and first-aid supplies to take to China.  I made a list for our trip to Vietnam, which I simply go back to, then refresh the travel kit. 

Little did I know how many times I would go back to that list!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gong Hey Fat Choy! Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

Happy New Year!  We welcomed the year of the dragon in full style! 

I cooked up a delicious Vietnamese and Chinese feast!  We had spring rolls, dumplings and potstickers; chow mein, orange and mandarin chicken.  And fortune cookies of course! Yum!

Yep, it was a lot of work navigating my way through all those complicated Chinese recipes the Panda Express drive-up window! 

For the record, I did actually get out of my car to buy the Vietnamese food. 

The evening included red envelopes filled with money and chocolate coins,

reading our favorite books on Tet and Chinese New Year,

and eating moon cakes (white lotus seed and red bean)! 

Happy New Year!  The Year of the Dragon is said to be extra lucky!  It will be!  I can feel it! 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Two Brothers Need A Home--The Dynamic Duo

These two make me smile!  I can only imagine the joy and excitement these boys will bring to a household!  I am so glad they are being placed together.  Boys are WONDERFUL!!!!  Full of life, and joy, curiosity and LOVE! 

Everyone who has met these boys wonders why they are still waiting--they are sweet, kindhearted, fun-loving, healthy, and "their teacher's favorites."

Please consider if these two boys belong in your family.

A Dynamic Duo, Still Waiting (from the Holt blog)

Shen Ying, 10, and Shen Jia, 9, grew up in the same foster family. We are seeking a family to adopt both of them. They are this week’s featured waiting children.

DOB: 8/1/01 and 3/3/02, Jilin, China
by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

Shen Ying (left) and Shen Jia (right) grew up together as foster brothers.

Two years ago, in November of 2009, we received the following email from Sue Liu, Holt’s (beloved) office manager in Beijing:

Two weeks ago, I went to Jilin (province) where we have had a foster care program for three years. I met three boys whose files are in the CCAA now… All their information has been released many times online, but, for some reason, they have not been matched. All these boys have very good personalities, they like to help others, like to share, like to go to school and get along well with other kids.

All three of the boys were older, and two of them – Shen Ying* and Shen Jia* – grew up together in the same foster home. About these two boys, Sue wrote:

I saw them at their foster home, and both of their foster parents were at home also. They are very close to their foster parents, especially their foster mom. They told me they just call their foster mom “Mom”, and foster dad “Dad”. Every day, after school, their foster mom stays with them and watches them finish their homework. Then they have dinner together. Then, they go walking. All the people think they are a family. Shen Jia and Shen Ying are very good friends, and they call each other “brother.” They are good at math. Like all the boys, they love to play with cars and so one.

At the end of her email, she wrote that she would visit them again soon. She also asked us to help advocate for their adoption, writing, “I do hope we can find families for them, Please!!!”

In March, she wrote again, inquiring about our progress in finding families for these boys. No luck so far.

The following summer, in July of 2010, I traveled to Jilin province with Sue Liu and Jessica Palmer, Holt’s waiting child program manager. Here, we met Shen Ying and Shen Jia. In the months since Sue first wrote about the boys, she had visited them again several times, and they had grown very fond of each other. Upon seeing her, Shen Ying and Shen Jia – dressed exactly alike in matching striped Polo shirts – ran up to Sue and threw their arms around her. They then ran off to play with the other children in the room.

It was a sweet, sincere moment.

Although not biological brothers, the two boys resembled each other. A year apart in age – one 8, one 9 – they both had telltale scars on their upper lip from cleft lip and palate surgery. Both abandoned within days after they were born, they came to live at the same social welfare institute before joining the same foster family. They had a lot in common, and they grew up, as Sue said, calling each other “brother.”

During our visit, they showed distinct differences in their personalities as well. Although both friendly and exuberant, the older of the two – Shen Ying – seemed a bit more outgoing and expressive. He took more interest in us, and hammed it up, using the props at his disposal – a humongous stuffed bear, a scarf, a long tube – to make us laugh. The younger brother, Shen Jia, kept more to himself. In child reports, social workers describe Shen Jia as independent, “inner-directed,” disciplined and athletic. They describe Shen Ying as talkative, polite and “good at imitation.” Both boys are described as intelligent, quick learners and diligent, enthusiastic students.

Their foster mom, a warm, youthful woman with long, shiny black hair, also came along for the visit. She seemed proud of her foster sons, and shared with us that they are both their teachers’ favorites in their 2nd and 3rd grade classes. They are, she said, very popular with the other children, have excellent manners and help at home. They also sometimes fight “as brothers do.”

“Does he know anyone who’s been adopted?” Jessica asked Sue of Shen Ying, standing nearby.
Sue then turned the question to Shen Ying, who through translation told us that he loves his foster mother very much, but knows he may be adopted someday.
As we were about to leave, the brothers ran up to hug all of us goodbye – including Jessica and I. They seemed like such good-hearted, intelligent boys, and they left a strong impression on both of us.

A week later, we returned to Oregon and immediately stepped up our efforts to advocate for their adoption. We featured them in the Waiting Child photolisting and on the Holt blog.
But again, no luck. No family. A year passed, and the boys turned 9 and 10.
In December, Abbie Smith – Holt Director of Clinical Services – returned from a trip to China. While there, she also had the chance to visit Shen Ying and Shen Jia and assess their potential for adoption. She visited them at home, with their foster mother at their side.
Her impressions of the two boys reinforced our earlier impressions. She describes Shen Jia as more athletic and less emotionally expressive than his brother. “He acknowledged that his brother is better at relationships,” says Abbie. “He’s better at sports.” She says they seemed very close and accepting of each other, and both expressed the desire to join the same adoptive family.
When the topic of adoption came up, Shen Ying would tear up and briefly leave the room. He feels sad about leaving his foster mother. His brother, meanwhile, was less expressive in his feelings about leaving China, and seemed more resigned.
“Their foster mother wants to stay in touch with the boys after their adoption and it was clear that they want to stay in touch with her,” writes Abbie, who recommends finding a family who “can support their love for their foster mother while they are learning to love their forever family.”

I recently asked Jessica what she remembers about them. “I remember they were super sweet boys, active but not overly so, as active as you would guess for an 8-year-old boy,” she said. “I remember they played well with the other younger kids, and were very attached to their foster mom.”

Without a doubt, Shen Ying and Shen Jia have charmed all of us. They are sweethearts who deserve a family to love and support them in all their endeavors, throughout their lives. Two years after Sue first wrote that pleading email, they are “for some reason” — unknown to us — still waiting.
Who wouldn’t love to raise these boys?
Shen Ying and Shen Jia need a family who can provide them with access to a craniofacial team to follow-up with speech therapy and further surgeries they will most likely need. Their family should also have experience with adoption and parenting past their ages.
To learn more about Shen Ying and Shen Jia, contact Erin Mower at erinm@holtinternational.org.
* names changed

Thursday, January 19, 2012

$ Give It To Me In New, Unmarked, 100 Dollar Bills $

I always wanted to say that! 

Chinese New Year is quickly approaching and you know what that means?  Red lanterns, dragons, firecrackers . . . AND . . .

the perfect time to order new bills from the bank.  In fact, while most banks previously allowed customers to order new bills throughout the year, many banks now only allow it right before Chinese New Year.

When traveling abroad, banks are notorious for only accepting crisp, clean, and preferably new bills.  Big bills.  Like 50's and 100's.  The exchange rate will go down (or be non-existant) for older looking bills. 

For the record, we didn't have brand new bills the last time we went to China, but we did only take bills that looked new (although this took a few trips to the bank to keep exchanging).  We primarily used travelers checks and credit cards. 

A few thoughts on money in China and Vietnam--from our limited experiences. 
  • We didn't exchange any $$ before going overseas
  • Airports offer exchange services, often with the best exchange rates
  • Hotels offer very good exchange rates--sometimes higher than banks
  • In Vietnam, you immediately become a millionaire-- $1~20,000 VND (dong)
  • In China-- $1~ 6.5 RMB (yuan--pronounced more like "yen")
  • In China, counterfeiting is rampant.  Only exchange bills in banks, hotels, and airports
  • For fraud reasons, try to pay with bills requiring little cash back--otherwise you might receive counterfeit bills as change (in other words, don't pay for a pack of gum with a Y100RMB)
  • Chinese banks and hotels accept travelers checks (hotels more easily than banks--I suggest you avoid banks if possible as it can be quite the experience!)
  • In Vietnam travelers checks can be your worst nightmare (tho nice hotels usually accept)
  • Make sure you use a brand of travelers checks that is readily accepted (we used American Express)
  • In China, many establishments (even small stores) accept Visa/Mastercard (a percentage fee usually applies)
  • Credit cards less accepted in Vietnam
  • ATMs readily available in China--less so in Vietnam (fee usually applies)
  • In Vietnam, we found US $$ to be readily accepted in most establishments, restaurants, street vendors, taxis etc. 
  • In China, we found the exact opposite--US bills were only for exchanging into RMB
  • Save some bills to keep as souvenirs--both countries have beautiful money!
  • Save a little bit of money for your wait in the airport pre-flight
  • At the end of your trip, if you have excess dong (Vietnam) or yuan (China), apply it towards your hotel bill--then pay the rest with credit card or travelers checks
  • Note:  I said "excess dong" without laughing.  Actually, that's a lie.  I just laughed.  Again. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

P4#10--Prepare, Prepare!

PREPARE is my new mantra! 

Last week, those words kept coming to mind, and I also kept reading references to "40 days and nights."  As I was out walking the dog, praying (walking the dog while praying is great--as long as you pray with your eyes open!), it occurred to me that it was possible we would BE in China in 40 days and nights. 

Not probable.  But possible.  And with God, the impossible becomes uniquely probable!

Prepare!  Prepare!  Prepare our hearts to make room!

Not only have I started the to-do list--I've also thrown myself into 40 days of health through exercise, diet, and prayer. 

And yesterday?  Yesterday I packed Mei Mei's suitcase.

You would think that would be one of the last steps, but packing for my child is akin to getting out the bassinet while pregnant. 

It makes it seem REAL!

And I LOVE walking by Mei Mei's suitcase, multiple times a day, knowing that we will soon have her here, with us, through the miracle of God's glorious redemption. 

Prepare!  Prepare! 

What joy!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy Birthday Vu!

I can't believe my sweet little boy is 10! 

We celebrated with a monster party!

A monster party which included a monster pinata!

And a whole lotta Beyblades!  Including a BIG Beyblade tournament!

A "design your own Beyblade" art project:


And of course, lots and lots of cake and ice cream!

Vu is such a blessing!  He is funny, curious, and soooo loving!  He loves to sing and dance, play wall ball, tetherball, and basketball (and of course, Beyblades).  He enjoys video games, read-a-loud books, ninja anything, Poke'mon, drawing, and going out to eat--anywhere.  He loves to eat.

When he grows up, he wants to own a bowling alley.   He has figured out that not only would he get free bowling, he would also get free video games and food. 

Oh, and he wants to have 17 kids.  He LOVES babies. 

I'm thinking we'll have to hook him up with one of the Duggar girls for that!

Happy Birthday Vu!  You are a JOY to behold!  A precious gift from God!

Friday, January 13, 2012

CAUTION: Sending Gifts To Our Child Pre-Adoption

Sending a small gift and/or photobook to a child before they come home has become nearly universal.  It has also become quite common for parents to use an in-country service to send additional gifts.

But caution is needed.

And no, I'm not talking about the legalities of sending gifts.  That's a whole topic in itself.  The caution hits much closer to home--our child's heart.

It's exciting to pick out gifts for our child, when what we really want is to gift them with our presence--and a plane ticket home to forever.  A photo album is incredibly important to help them begin to transition and prepare for adoption.  A gift can give them a sense of belonging and love.  Parents send small stuffed animals, toys, candy, hair clips, and other cool stuff--whatever they can fit in a manila envelope (the gift size most agencies allow--at least when adopting an older child). 

But a gift can also bring pain.


Unfortunately, I've learned it through my own children's experiences.  And I've also learned through multiple other families experiences; which is what this post is all about. 

Yes, a gift can make a child feel loved and special.  It can be exciting for them to finally have a gift from someone--someone who LOVES them.  It might be the first gift they have ever received.  But, here are some questions to consider:
  • Will the gift cause jealousy amongst the other children in the orphanage or foster family?  Will this jealousy manifest itself in harm to our child--not just at the time the gift is given, but later?
  • Even if it doesn't cause jealousy, will it cause emotional pain for the other children who may never get a family of their own--let alone a special gift?
  • Will the gifts suddenly disappear in the night?  (Remember, there are multiple children in orphanages, sometimes older teens, multiple caregivers/foster parents living hand-to-mouth, and the blackmarket will pay enough on many small gifts to feed a family for a week.)
  • If the gift "disappears" how will my child feel?
  • Will the gift make my child feel guilty?  Sad?  Many children give their gifts away, because they feel sad for the other children without a family.  Or they leave the gifts with their foster families, because they know they have so little.  And yet, our child feels conflicted, because they really did want to keep their gifts.
  • How will our child feel if they have to leave the gifts behind on adoption day?
  • How will our child feel if they never receive a gift that we sent?  How will we feel?  Anger?  Resentment? Frustration?  Sometimes gifts don't make it to the intended child--for multiple reasons. 
Knowing what I know now, I made gift selections carefully for our Mei Mei.  I sent things that could be shared with a group, things that she wouldn't be sad to leave behind/give away.  We even included a note saying in English and Chinese to share with friends.  Not only does this avoid the jealousy/guilt issue, it also gives my child the chance to be the popular girl with the "goods" to share.  It's a party for everyone!

 Gift ideas and considerations:
  • Any item that can be shared with a group--stickers, coloring pages, games, a lullaby CD
  • Food that can be shared with a group--fruit leather, fruit snacks, dried squid, lollipops
  • Educational items like math flashcards, workbooks, crayons, a pack of mechanical pencils
  • Crafts, beads, friendship bracelet kit, set of blow-up balls or hacky sacks--again, think group
  • Shirt or outfit, which will most likely be saved for adoption day
  • Social stories can also be printed and sent (available on Holt's website  --scroll down to the bottom of the page.)
  • Buy doubles of everything you send--one set to send, one to keep at home--then, if your child leaves the gifts behind, they will arrive home to all their "things." 
  • Think in terms of institutional child safety, choking hazards, cultural difference, e.g.stuffed animals are not usually given to children for sanitation reasons.
  • A photo album; translated letter; homemade DVD showing family, home, community; art work from the other children in the home--the most important gifts!
Sending gifts to our children is a wonderful way to form a connection, but caution and consideration is needed.  In the end, I just keep reminding myself that once we get our Mei Mei home, we can shower her with gifts--FOREVER!  Especially the gift of LOVE! 

Here is one gift we have waiting for our Mei Mei--OSU pajamas to match with the family! I sent her a picture!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

P4#10--Hello Visas!

Today our visas arrived!  There is always a huge sense of relief when I put my hands back on our passports, knowing they are once again safe and secure in my possession.

To receive a visa, a person must send their US passport and visa application (and $$ of course) to the consulate (in the US) of the foreign country they will be visiting.  In our case, our passports went to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco.  Last year, since we were visiting both Vietnam and China, our passports went to the consulates of both Vietnam and China.  Not all countries require a visa for admittance. 

A visa is simply a sticker placed within the passport pages, stating that permission has been granted to visit their country. 

Last year we needed a complicated array of visas.

This trip only 3 people are traveling to 1 country (Rose, Hubby and I).  Easy peezy! 

One more step complete--visas?  Check!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

P4#10--Goodbye Guest Room

Since we are getting so close to travel (give another holler!), I thought it would be fun to do a mini-series on our day-to-day preparations for Mei Mei and travel.

Get it.  P4#10--Preparing for #10. 

Go ahead.  Tell me I'm the smartest, most creative, wittiest person you know.  I will soak it right up!

Today our preparations include switching bedrooms!  Let me tell ya, switching and swapping bedrooms is a common theme in any large family!  (In fact, my two most popular posts have been about bedroom solutions--here and here.)

Currently, Rose and Kim share a bedroom. 

Once Mei Mei comes home, she will take Kim's place, and Kim will take over Lizzy's bedroom--which is currently in a state of disarray as it prepares to head to the basement (not that it doesn't always look like this, but I'm attempting to protect the not-so-innocent).

And Lizzy?  She is taking over the guest room.

Yes.  I am sorry to report that our past guests will no longer have guest quarters.  BUT, we still have space for you--no worries!  We have beds galore and despite this fact, some of our children still prefer sleeping on the floor--go figure!

Our most recent guests were the last to receive the guest room honors.  It seems fitting that it was our Mei Mei's namesake--my good friend R., her daughter and grandbaby.  What a precious weekend we had baking, going to the waterfront, chatting long into the night, and cuddling, cuddling, cuddling the precious baby!

Back to the great room switch of 2012!