February 2018
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Archive for the ‘Pictures by J’ Category

So. Halloween.

As you can tell from the pictures I posted earlier I really planned out the costumes that Ava and Merry would be wearing. Ava agreed to the Little Miss Muffet and her spider concept (even though she wanted to be the spider) and I spent a ridiculous amount of money on the two costumes. I figured they would get several wearings out of them since Merry had a daycare event, Ava had a school event, we had photographs taken (thanks to a cheap Groupon) and finally culminating in the big event – trick or treating.

We had the photographs taken on the Saturday prior to Halloween. This was also the Saturday prior to Hurricane Sandy potentially flooding our area beginning Saturday night. The Saturday we had to meet with our social worker for our second post-placement visit at the last minute since we were scheduled for Sunday AM, by which time we knew we would be flooding. This was also the Saturday that Merry suddenly – after all of that and seemingly out of nowhere – didn’t eat dinner (unheard of for her) and spiked a 103.6 fever.

I’ll spare you the long story of the miserable weekend and Monday that we were basically flooded into our house while my child’s fever raged on and just say that there was an ER visit, a chest x-ray, and a diagnosis of we’re not going to call this pneumonia but it is and that’s what we’re treating her for – which all means that Merry didn’t get to go trick-or-treating because she was pretty darn sick.

I was sad. I had to miss taking Ava trick-or-treating. I had to miss taking Merry out to see all the neighbors. I had to miss parading them around in those ridiculously expensive yet totally awesome costumes. And it’s not like I could send Ava out dressed like that without a spider (well, and it was super muddy thanks to all the rain so yeah, no). So after all that planning she went as Batgirl – in a cheap polyester costume I picked up at 90% off from last year’s Target clearance sale.

(Look – she still had all her teeth!)

This is when I asked her to look fierce. (Maybe she thought I said mental.)

And J kindly snapped a picture of her by our neighbor’s fence where we take a picture every year.

She had fun. J dressed up with her and off they went to hunt and gather some Dots (at which they failed miserably) before coming home to hand out candy at our house. Honestly, I think she enjoyed that as much as she did trick-or-treating. Our neighbors were delighted to see Ava, disappointed to not see Merry, and kindly sent home candy for me her so she wouldn’t miss out on anything. We have about 10 Frosty certificates to use and Ava ate herself silly on Skittles while Merry sorted the candy. She spent ages moving it into piles and dumping and replacing it in the pumpkin.

(Our Halloween rules: Ava can eat all the candy she wants on Halloween night. All Dots and Almond Joys belong to Mama and Tootsie Rolls go to Daddy. The candy is out and fully accessible to Ava for about 3 days at which time the rationing begins – although honestly, she’s mostly lost interest by then anyway.)

P.S. She’s getting wise to us. She hid the pumpkin from us the second night. I think she noticed the decrease in Reese’s and Kit-Kats.

With bated breath we headed to the visa medical appointment. Merry was loaded up with ibuprofen and we headed out thinking good thoughts of a normal temperature and a patient child(ren).

We made it to the new building with no issues. The medical exam used to be done on Shamian Island but it’s moved to a a newer, more spacious (and much cleaner) building in Guangzhou (no idea where it’s located – we took a bus so I didn’t pay attention). It wasn’t any less crowded but they do have a separate waiting and exam area for adoption visas so at least we were out of the main drag while we waited. Ordinary Chinese citizens in need of vaccinations, exams, etc. for immigration or visa purposes must also use this clinic so overall it was quite crowded. They also do the visa photo there now as well. This used to be done separately so we found it quite convenient to have everything in one place.

The new building:

Yep – we’re in the right place:

The visa photo was done first. Painless (maybe because I didn’t do it). J handled that part while I wrangled Ava.

Then we headed back to the medical exam area.

We got there early so it was deserted.

(Note the Mickey Mouse on the floor. I swear there is something Disney every time we turn around.)

(Note also how empty it is. This did not last.)

See. Starting to fill up. (And I have no idea where Merry is in this picture. Presumably J had her.) This wasn’t even close to how busy it was just a few minutes later. It was packed in there.

We waited a while – rather impatiently I might add, while the doctors and nurses socialized so I snapped some pictures. The one below isn’t the greatest (out of focus and J is missing the top of his head) but I loved the smile on Merry’s face.

Merry did great, of course. She had a fine time playing with the doctors as they tried to examine her.

And there wasn’t even one tear when they looked in her ears or mouth. As much as she hates anything on her face I totally expected drama so it was a nice surprise that it went smoothly.

Aaaannnndddd her temp was normal. You have no idea how tense I was until they said that she was good. I will attribute some of that to the Motrin we’d given her beforehand, some to the antibiotic we started a couple of days prior, and some to all the good thoughts and prayers from everyone.

They also weighed and measured her.

New stats (approximately since I’m working from memory) and a few other tidbits:

29 inches tall

17.5 pounds

I would like to point out that she has gained 2(!) pounds since we met her. This little girl was ready to eat food and eat she has. Cleft or not, she eats pretty much anything and everything and gets MAD if you are eating in front of her and don’t share it.

She also has 4 teeth (she’s sprouted 2 since we’ve gotten her and I expect another within the next few days) and is starting to walk a little bit holding on to only one hand instead of 2. She is standing on her own easily and is getting braver every day. She loves being held and carried though and we are happy to oblige.

Once our medical was done in typical Chinese fashion – with no real order or lines – we snapped a sister picture (or 12) while waiting for the other families in our group to finish.


Again – not the greatest shot since it was taken quickly (and is clearly out of focus – no idea why) but it was the only one where they were both smiling and it didn’t look like Ava was contemplating tossing her down the stairs.

After we got back to the hotel and let the girls take a quick nap we took a taxi over to Shamian Island with a few of our travel mates. What a trip down memory lane that was. Good because it reminded me of being there with Ava but bad for a few reasons – the White Swan is closed and looks deserted, very few adoptive families around anymore, more than a few of the shops have closed down due to the lack of business, tons of staring and pointing at Merry, and because I quickly remembered how much I hated bargaining with Chinese shop owners. They’re just sooooo much better at it than I am and I really hate arguing with someone for a price difference of 10 yuan.

It was Saturday and the island was packed There were bridal photo shoots and fashion models EVERYwhere. And it was hot. Really hot so we we hit a few stores for the only pair of squeaky shoes (at Sherry’s place) that I could find in Merry’s size (she has really tiny feet), a pair of flip-flops for Ava that have already started falling apart, and a quick dinner at Lucy’s before we were just done.

It was a good day.

I’m kind of an emotional wreck today.

Due to a procedural change in the way the baby’s passport is applied for and issued we were required to apply in person in the city she is from. Her city, Nanyang, is about a 4 hour drive from the provincial capital, Zhengzhou, where we are now. Regardless of the inconvenience I was very happy to hear that we would be able to go as most other parents adopting from Nanyang have not been allowed due to the distance.

We headed out around 8:30 this morning and made really good time there. The drive was fine, although slightly hair-raising as usual. We loaded up the iPad for Ava and she did great. Merry slept the first couple of hours and then got a little fussy since she couldn’t get up and move around. Overall though, it was an easy trip. Very pretty – lush and green – once you get out of the city. It is a very agricultural area between Zhengzhou and Nanyang with the main crops in the area being corn and wheat. But yes, that is smog. (And sorry if the photo quality sucks but most of  these were taken from the back seat of a van, through the window, while hurtling down the expressway with a driver who clearly had a death wish.)

Driving into Nanyang was interesting. It’s a 2-3 lane road that Chinese drivers have made into an unofficial 6 lane road. These people know how to play chicken, that’s for sure.

I’ve been lobbying to visit her orphanage since before we even got to China even though I knew it was a long shot. The guide with us today was not encouraging but did promise that we would be able to visit Merry’s finding spot. We will not share this location with anyone as we feel it is Merry’s private story to share when/if she wishes – but let me tell you that going there with her today was one of the most emotional and heartbreaking moments of my life. J was holding her with one hand and taking pictures with the other while I walked on ahead to get a quick video with my phone. Picture me (red-haired Caucasian who kind of stands out anyway) just sobbing while I was doing this. I started crying the minute I got out of the van and approached the area and didn’t stop for quite a while. My heart is just so heavy when I think of my precious baby – as well as my little big girl – having to go through this part of their life alone. I know it’s the beginning of what brought them to me but it’s just so hard to think of it (and of the sorrow their birthparents must have felt) and to physically be there where Merry was found was just almost too much to bear. J felt exactly the same way. I am happy that I can say to both of my girls that I know with 100% certainty that they were left where they would be quickly found and for that I am grateful beyond measure. This visit to her finding spot is beyond priceless to me and I think the pictures and video will be to her later on.

The passport office was not open yet so we headed off to lunch. The guide took us to a “western” style restaurant where we had a chicken burger(?), really spicy chicken drummettes, deep fried sweet potato and corn nuggets, and the pièce de résistance consisting of 2 breaded and deep fried circular patties of Spam –  which you were supposed to liberally sprinkle with black pepper. Some of that meal was gross – I’ll leave you to figure out which part. We were also quite taken aback with the baby of one of the workers, complete with bare-bottomed split pants, perched right in the center of a table inside. A table where people eat. I love clorox wipes – I’m just sayin’. And the decor? Retro Disney and smiling Asian children. We neglected to take a picture of the Pooh decals on the other wall. I’m pretty sure that this usage of Disney branding is not official.

The passport procedure itself was simple. We met the assistant orphanage director and she, along with our facilitator, handled most everything. The orphanage director had to hold Merry for her passport photo and that went fine. They got the cutest picture on the first try and Merry was just a dream throughout the process. After we finished there we walked next door to submit the paperwork where there were 2 other orphanage workers to assist us and another family. We submitted Merry’s application, our passports, and had to sit down for a quick interview that consisted of another photo being taken of Merry and two questions. They asked us how many biological kids we had (zero) and then how many times we had adopted before (one). They only asked the last question after they spotted the old Chinese visa in our passports. This whole process lasted maybe half an hour.

We had lots of people looking and smiling and some approaching us in the office. One grandma type was clearly approving and asked Ava (in Chinese) if Merry was her mei-mei. Ava shyly nodded yes and then buried her head in my leg and refused to speak to anyone else. Once the paperwork was finished the orphanage director came over and reached out to hold Merry to say goodbye. Merry went to her easily but stayed only a minute before she was reaching for me to take her back. The women all cooed about how she wanted her Mama and smiled approvingly. I, of course, was near tears again.

After my incessant nagging we were told that we would be allowed to go to the orphanage but it didn’t happen. I was outvoted since I was the only one who wanted to. Apparently it would have added an extra hour to the trip. I cannot even express to you how sad I am about not being able to go. I would have given anything to meet the nannies who took care of my baby and to see where she came from – but majority rules and I lost. I will be sad about this for a long time, I think. I know we missed a once in a lifetime chance. We would have been one of the first groups allowed to visit the orphanage, by the way. They have not been especially open to outside visits.

I did have a chance to ask some questions of the director and she was so kind and tolerant of my questions even pulling out Merry’s complete file to answer some of them. We know that Merry was found by a passerby (time of day unknown) who contacted the police and two policemen (saw their pictures on the police report in her file) collected her and delivered her to the orphanage. One of the policemen named her and supposedly chose her name because she was so cute and lovable (she is). The director said they listed Merry for adoption because she was so sweet and full of personality (she is that, too). They would like to see updates on her so the assistant director gave me her email address and asked me to email a picture of Merry when we have her surgery. I broke down in tears (again) when I asked our facilitator to translate how grateful I was to her and to the orphanage and to convey my gratitude to the nannies and to her foster grandma for the care they provided to her. The associate director had tears in her eyes by this time and thanked me for adopting her. We said our goodbyes and headed back to the van – me crying and them following behind and waving the whole way.

We had an uneventful trip back despite an unfortunate squatty potty excursion – think the worst gas station bathroom you’ve ever seen and multiply it by a million. I did learn today that Ava can hold it for at least 6 hours if she wants to. I finally just started opening random non-bathroom doors at the second rest stop and came across a handicapped bathroom with a western toilet that apparently also doubled as a smoking area (as is the rest of China, so I’m not sure why people would specifically go in there to smoke – but they did). We remain the center of attention always but at this point I HAD to find a place for Ava to go potty and she was having NONE of the squatty potty experience so I didn’t care that I was a crazy foreigner randomly opening doors.

More scenery (and a public service announcement).

Oh yeah, and somebody slept some more. Well, actually two somebodies slept but I couldn’t take pictures of one of them since she was on my lap.

So – that was our day. One filled with much sadness, joy, regret, relief, and gratefulness all at the same time.


We kind of accidentally ended up on a dreaded tour bus today.

We heard the CCAI group was meeting downstairs this morning so we stopped by the lobby after breakfast to say hello and introduce ourselves. Next thing I know we’re getting our things and hopping on the bus to join the group on the hutong tour excursion. We had planned to head on over and do the Forbidden City today anyway so we figured this was a free ride that would also give J the opportunity to do the hutong tour he liked so much last time.

So – hutong tour by cycle rickshaw it was. J loved it. I was kind of meh about it. Ava was totally into being able to ride the tour bus.

It’s always interesting to see inside the hutongs. It’s quite a mixture of tradition and progress. I guess it’s progress, anyway.

Reggae Bar? No problem.

There was also a lounge named for Michael Jackson, one named Outlaw Gangsters, and we certainly mustn’t leave out the Soft & Lazy.

And this one just made me miss my dogs.

The home we visited was actually quite nice. Ms. Fong (I’m sure this is spelled wrong) opened her home for us to tour and to chat with her for a bit. She is a retired physics professor but most importantly she had lots of animals (cats, dog, racing pigeons, koi, crickets, chickens) so we felt right at home. Ava got right to work taking pictures.


Last time we went the home we visited had no central heat and minimal conveniences such as indoor running water or kitchen appliances. She also rented out part of her courtyard living area. Ms. Fong, on the other hand, has quite a modern kitchen (with running water even – although still no bathroom) and has her daughter and son-in-law sharing her space. Her son-in-law is an artist and has a beautiful studio.

We also loved her wall of family photos.

We spent a little longer chatting and asking questions before heading back. Ava was incredibly thrilled about getting back on the bus and couldn’t wait to ride that marvelous contraption again.

I, on the other hand, was less than excited. It did what tour buses are wont to do and took us straight to an hour long live infomercial (aka the official government sanctioned silk shop) where they showed us a 5 minute demo about how silk is made and then spent an hour trying to talk us into buying overpriced silk pillows, comforters, and clothes. I’m pretty sure I showed my disinterest clearly enough – so much so that the salespeople didn’t even bother talking to me.

Of course it also helped that Ava was hungry and exhausted so she spent most of our time there like this:

And then she roused a bit and we decided to put her down where she promptly assaulted a mannequin. She really did, y’all. For some unknown reason she decided to touch (which is a big no-no for us and something she rarely does without asking) and sent the poor child sized mannequin crashing to the floor totally severing it’s left arm before breaking it (the arm) into a million pieces. I’m not sure who was more mortified – Ava, the saleslady, or J. I was mostly just concerned about Ava so I probably came off as dismissive and arrogant American-like (I didn’t mean to be, really)  but the salesperson assured us it was fine, hung the pieces of the broken arm sort of back on, and we made a hasty exit for the bus. Of course on the way out I had a Chinese gentleman ask me in heavily accented Spanish if  “la nina es china?” to which I actually answered (also in Spanish) which seems to be another skill I have miraculously acquired (thank you, college Spanish class) much like the ability to use chopsticks. It didn’t even hit me until a few seconds later that he addressed us in Spanish – which even now seems slightly odd.

We successfully avoided the vendors selling crap outside (I am much better at saying no this time and having them actually listen) and got the overtired kid back on the bus and headed to lunch.

Lunch was good. Real Chinese food. No General Tso’s here.

Then Tienanmen square and the Forbidden City. Shall I summarize and then post pictures? Yes? Yes.

Summary: We walked a lot. The guide talked a lot and I didn’t listen to much. Ava is heavy after carrying her for a while – especially on slippery and uneven gazillion year old cobblestones. I will not listen to J when he says don’t bring the stroller. We have still successfully avoided having to use a squatty potty. I can still get blisters even in comfortable, already broken in shoes. Ava can be a bit of a brat when she is getting too much attention (she was the only kid on board for much of the day) and is overtired. The pollution and smog here has been horrible the last couple of days and is playing havoc with our allergies.

And all that said, she did pretty amazing considering how much she’s been dragged around the last few days and I’m proud of her even if I did want to strangle her a couple of times.

Now pictures. Lots of them.

Our travel group:

Ava’s new friends:

Tienanmen family photo:

Formulating the plan of attack on the Forbidden City:


Threatened with being an ingredient in soup if she didn’t smile:

Bribed with the promise of future bunny snacks if she would smile:

With our guide, George:



Needless to say her day ended shortly thereafter (although she did manage to stick it out through dinner at the restaurant across the street where 5 of us ate very, very well for a whopping $18).

She was asleep in seconds and J soon followed.

Me? I, on the other hand, am still up sorting through pictures and fretting about becoming a mom of two in less than 72 hours from now. I am excited on one hand yet terribly worried about how we’re going to manage this especially since Ava is in full on mama mode right now. I just keep reminding myself that this will be all right – we’ll figure it out somehow.

(I have a million more pictures from today. Maybe a photo post in the near future.)

It started early. Really early.

Ava went to bed around her normal time (EDT) and was wide awake at 1:19AM this morning. Wide awake. So I did what any other parent would do (I hope) which was dose her with Benadryl. (Full disclosure: her allergies are a mess here so combined with a cold has her nose running like a faucet which is in turn making her cough like crazy – so the Bendaryl wasn’t only given to make her sleep.) I also took a Benadryl (see above note about allergies and apply to me) so we went back to bed around 2AM and made it a couple more hours. We were up and at ’em early though since we had to meet our driver at 7:30 AM.

Since I am also allergic to group bus tours we hired a driver (no guide) to take us to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

J and I went there last time but it was so cold (January ’08) that we couldn’t explore as much as we wanted to. We also wanted to take Ava back so she could experience it as well. We drove about 2 hours out of Beijing with minimal traffic and only one attempted side trip by the driver to take us to a cloisonne factory (can you say kickback?). J shut that one down quick and we made it in good time with only minimal heart failure. It was definitely much busier this time since the weather was greatly improved (although a tad bit warm) but our driver was suitably aggressive (kind of mean, actually) and scored us a fabulous parking place. He then walked us over to the ticket office (through the gauntlet of vendors selling “I climbed the Great Wall t-shirts”) where we promptly purchased the wrong ticket to make it to the top. We meant to buy the enclosed cable car ticket but what we bought instead were tickets to the ski type lift that I’m pretty sure is 420 years old with no seat belts. You know, the one you have to take a running start to get onto and a flying leap to get off of. And I should mention here that J is deathly afraid of heights and he had to do this all with Ava and a camera bag in his arms. It was kind of great once we were safely at the top but J was a bit white-knuckled and I was a more than a bit paranoid that he would drop my kid. I’m not afraid of heights so I was able to appreciate the scenery and the experience of my feet brushing the tree tops (true story) as we ascended.

We made it, obviously.

And then we had to climb this.

My knee was so not happy with me about 15 steps up. For those of you who haven’t been there – those stair treads aren’t even close to being a consistent size. Not to mention that the pitch of those stairs is ridiculous. (The other advantage of the enclosed car is that it drops you off at a higher point so it’s mostly downhill unless you’re insane like J and choose to go up.)  Needless to say, J and Ava made it up much faster with Ava shouting encouraging phrases as I wheezed my way up while pulling myself by the rail as my knee threatened to revolt completely. They were raring to go so they took off and I caught up with them when J stopped to take pictures or Ava stopped to chat with the vendors on the wall (who invariably handed her something for us to buy – which we did not, thankyouverymuch). They all appropriately ooh’d and ahh’d over her which did endear me to them despite their shady marketing techniques.

Obligatory Great Wall pictures:

Did I mention it was hot? About 80 degrees today. And there was physical exertion involved. And I had on jeans – mostly because I made Ava wear them in case she fell (which she is prone to do) in order to avoid the drama of skinned up knees.

We met a ton of people from everywhere – Japan, China, Spain, Germany, the UK, and of course from America. Our track record of meeting virtual neighbors on the Great Wall continues as we made friends with a family who was recently stationed at Langley. We talked and walked with them for a long time until I finally gave up and waited at the bottom of yet another long (and steep) set of stairs for J and Ava to get tired of adventuring and come back my way. We then met up with our new friends in order to ride the toboggan down. It’s a really cool luge kind of thing that you take from the top all the way down to the bottom. I won’t lie – I was a bit anxious about this – but it ended up being great fun despite all the people posted along the track solely to glare at the toboggan riders and to shout at them to slow down. Since I went slower than granny speed nobody shouted at me but instead looked approvingly my way, especially since I Ni-hao’d them all and waved prettily – mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to make the darn thing go any faster despite my best efforts. Ava rode with J and unhesitatingly declared it the best ride ever.

After a visit to the potty where we (oh so thankfully) discovered a western style toilet, sparing me (or at least delaying) her initial introduction to a squatty potty, J tracked down our driver and we headed to the Summer Palace.

Wow. This place is gorgeous. No shortage of picturesque scenery here.

Many pictures below:

We each had a camera.


We walked and walked. Spotted a full moon even.


And then someone absolutely had enough. She was too tired to go another step so Daddy came to the rescue. If anyone questions whether an Ergo carrier can be used for a 30 pound, 39 inch kiddo – please see below.

The Summer Palace was beautiful but packed. And it was hot. (Still can’t get over how many Chinese people had on jackets and sweaters today – we were dripping sweat and some of the folks we spotted had on down jackets, tights, and winter hats.) We made it about an hour or so before someone got mischievous and started swiping Daddy’s hat.

And then that same someone got bored.

So I had the grand idea to make one last loop before leaving.

Can’t say they didn’t warn us:

J was not so happy about this. Ava was okay with it. Me too since it was the shortest way out.

And then we left, got stuck in Beijing traffic for over an hour while Ava fell asleep on me in the car (which NEVER happens so she must have been exhausted) and J had 14 heart attacks (I only had 2) from the many vehicle close calls. We planned on dinner out at a resttaurant we spotted last night so we loaded Ava up in the stroller and headed out only to find they were closed for a wedding so we played the foreign tourist card and ate in the hotel for 4 times as much money as we would have paid anywhere else. No matter, the food was outstanding (I had some fried rice cake thing that was AMAZING) and I seem to have acquired from nowhere the ability to eat with chopsticks (seriously, don’t have any idea how that happened). Also, Ava turned into a demon due to lack of sleep and we may need to schedule an exorcism for tomorrow if she doesn’t turn back into my easygoing kid.

The End. Finally, right? (Please excuse any typos or weird photo sizes for I am tired and going to bed now.)