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Family Christmas Trip – part 1 Legoland

On Christmas morning, our boys opened up a “trip” from us to Legoland and Disney. Shortly after we came home from China with Philip we all went to Florida to the beach together and this time we wanted to do something to bond as a family – especially for the boys to bond together since Rand and Philip didn’t get to go on the trip to China. It goes against all the “cocooning” strategy out there for adopted kiddos but, we’ve learned that, for our family, we’ve bonded well by leaving home together, navigating somewhere new and then “coming home” has been good.  Wen especially seems to love to be active and going and doing things and has since the day we were first together.

So…shortly after the new year, we packed up and headed south.  We’ve made this drive a lot since I still have family in Florida and our favorite beach spot is there.  On the way down we stopped for dinner at a great, kid-friendly restaurant in Darien, GA called Skippers Fishcamp.  It’s a perfect stop with young kids because there is a little turtle and gar pond that our boys like to see. It’s also on the Altamaha river so you can walk around on the dock, watch the shrimp boats come and go and even see some alligators!  It’s about a 5 min. detour from I-95 and very scenic.  I normally don’t love my seafood fried, but Wes and I think they have the best fried shrimp we’ve ever had.  If you go, watch out for weekends (or GA game days) because it can get crowded.

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(Photo Credit: Necee Regis.  It was too dark for photos when we were there so I borrowed this one from a food writer/oyster blogger Necee Regis that I found online here)

After dinner, we drove another 45min-hour and spent the night in a hotel near Kingsland, GA.  Without thinking we booked our usual – 2 double beds and then realized when we got up to the room that it wasn’t going to work.  Because we were tired and didn’t have space for a cot, we put all 3 boys in the bed sideways and switched the covers around.  They thought it was so much fun!  However, me, baby Bo, Wes and my maternity pillow (this stomach sleeper can’t WAIT for April 2 to come so I can get some sleep again!!!) didn’t fit very well in our double.  From now on we’ve learned we need to stay in a hotel with the word “Suites” in the title!

In the morning, we had breakfast at the Cracker Barrel next to the hotel and then hit the road.  After a while, we were ready for a bathroom break so we stopped at one of our favorite “stretch your legs” spots for kids (other than visiting some sweet friends who live in St. Augustine, of course;) – Blue Springs State Park. Google it – the photos are amazing!  If you hit it on a sunny day the water looks so tropical.  It’s a great spot in the summer (you can swim!) but winter is the best because that’s when the manatees arrive.  They migrate in from other rivers to the warmer spring waters.  We hit it right at the beginning of the season since the weather has been so warm.  There were 5-6 manatees who had already come in and more were arriving.
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You can see one here between the boys heads – in the middle just above where their ears are.

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Rand is a little wet from the slide…another reason why this is a great stop off for kids – there is a playground, decent bathrooms and a long boardwalk that goes around the spring and a historic house to tour if you’re into that.  All perfect for getting the wiggles out.  There are some great picnic tables too if you pack a lunch, it would be a perfect spot for a picnic.  There are also 2 concession/ice cream places on site but we’ve never tried those before.

Then we were back on the road for naps with Legoland in the GPS.

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We checked in to the hotel – I would definitely recommend staying at the Legoland hotel if you visit.  It’s really well done and of all the places we stayed on the trip, we thought it was the cleanest and most comfortable! Big win!

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The rooms are themed – we chose the “adventure theme” but I think they are mostly all the same setup.  Sorry I didn’t take pics, but you can see them on the Legoland website.  Our room had a bunk bed with trundle bed in the “kids area” as well as a tv and treasure box – when you arrive to your room, you solve a puzzle that gives you the code to the treasure box which had some kids activities and legos in it…hence the immediate building that began!

In the middle of the room was the bathroom and tons of storage and closet space, then around the corner was a desk area with giant tv and king-sized bed.  The bed was REALLY comfortable for this mama!

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After the boys building session, we went downstairs to have dinner and explore the hotel.  The elevators are cute and play disco music when the doors shut – so fun!

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Downstairs in the main hotel area there are huge Lego pits where the kids can build and build…they also have contests and activities throughout the day for building and character visits, etc.  We were only staying the one night and planned to spend the following day in the park, but if you were spending 2 nights you could get more involved in all they have going on.  Also, the pool looked pretty fun and even though it was cold out, kids were swimming and the parents even claimed the water was warm too!

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The kids really got into building some fun…weapons.  Oh dear.  As you can see some of the parents really got into building too…

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Here’s Rand’s Lego gun.  In the background you can see the “Skyline bar” and restaurant.  It was smart to put it next to the lego pit and play area because the kids were having a blast and the parents could sit and watch them with a drink and appetizer.

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After our boys finished their creations and put them on the display racks in the lobby, we headed to the other restaurant on site which was a buffet-style dinner.  The food was decent with extremely kid friendly options. While you eat, some of the characters come around to your table and talk to you.  You can also purchase a “smores kit” from the restaurant and then head outside by the lake to the fire pit.  Unfortunately, it was raining that night so we weren’t able to do that so we went back to the room and the boys watched a lego movie in their beds.  They already had a great evening at Legoland and we hadn’t even been to the park yet!

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After a good night’s sleep and breakfast (breakfast was in the same place we had dinner – lots of options and some healthy options too like oatmeal and smoothies!) we got ready to head out into the park.  Walking from the hotel to the park took less than a minute – it is THAT close.  The park is beautiful – it is the former site of Cypress Gardens – a park once famous for it’s gardens and water-ski shows.

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The majority of the park was perfect for the ages of our children (we range from almost 4 to 12).  They are really sticklers about height and Wen wasn’t even allowed to ride some rides by himself so that was the only hitch for us – it would have been fine if we’d had a 3rd adult.  Without a 3rd adult, it meant that if it was a ride where a child had to ride with a parent, then one of us had to wait with the other 2 kids while one parent took turns rotating kids and riding.  So…if you’re a party of 2 kids/2 adults, you’re set, but if you have 3 young riders, it is helpful to have 3 adults.  The lines were not long and it really was no problem to wait and trade off kids, the hardest part was for the kids who had to wait behind patiently!!!

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Also, the rides did tend to skew younger overall but there still seemed to be something for everyone.  There were several roller coasters and water rides that we did not go on however that most older kids would have loved!  Also, one of our kids favorite things was the incredible lego structures and city recreations – don’t skip it!

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All throughout the incredible scenes made from legos there were little buttons the kids could push that did things like made the soldiers march or made a cannon go off or made something shoot water out so it was interactive as well.  We almost skipped it for time purposes, but it was one of the kids favorite things to see!

Their absolute favorite thing was the show!  Every day at “Pirate’s Cove” there are several showings of “Captain Brickbeard’s Battle” – it was pretty cheesy but the kids loved it and really got into it.  Wes and I enjoyed the water skiing and the wake boarders doing some crazy tricks.  Probably the healthiest place to grab lunch is right across from Pirate’s Cove (the stadium) and was called Lakeside Sandwich Co.  We headed there and got some sandwiches and wraps, fruit, chips and drinks TO GO and took them over to eat while we watched the show!  This was great because we saved time not having to stop for lunch and the kids ate really well watching the show rather than having to sit still at a table.  There’s a deal where you get a lego “lunch box” that we did but it was odd none of the food fit into the lego box.  However, the box did come in handy for all the little lego pieces back in the hotel room!

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After the show, we rode a few more rides – things like driving cars and boats…

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We played some “state fair type” games and won some prizes (not pictured, but they have an “everyone’s a winner” policy so you’re gonna end up taking home something stuffed:/)

We went on a safari…

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Wen rode a roller coaster (was really hard to get a good photo but he’s in the very back with Wes)

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And we saw a ton of cool Lego sculptures everywhere we went.

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(oh no…are they giving the Go Wolfpack sign???)

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Overall, we were really impressed with Legoland.  It was uncrowded, easily manageable with 3 kids and amazingly clean – especially the bathrooms – I think we tried almost all of them!  We were able to move at our pace and the lines were short.  The park was easy to do in 1 day – we got there at opening (hotel guests got to go a little early) and left by 3:30pm.  We didn’t ride everything – probably would have taken another hour and a half to do it ALL. For those wondering, we took our double stroller for the little guys – it was helpful and needed.  They walked some but there was a lot of ground to cover for their little feet and some hills!  Also we packed snacks and our own water bottles that we filled up at breakfast with water.  It was great not to have to purchase drinks or snacks – other than a candy store there weren’t a ton of snack options that I remember.  When we were taking turns riding some of the rides, the non-riders would have their snack, which was helpful.

Since we already checked out and packed the car up, we walked back over to the hotel to use the restroom and wash our hands and then we hit the road to our next destination – Disney World!  Thanks Legoland…EVERYTHING WAS AWESOME!

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Also, we have to thank our friend Krissy Yoder with Be Our Guest Travel Company – she planned our Legoland and Disney portions of the trip which was so helpful to not have to figure all of that out!  She even booked our dining reservations at Disney (we couldn’t have gotten reservations to some of the restaurants without her help because they were all booked up!) and our FastPass reservations.  If you’re interested in a trip, you should use her – doesn’t cost any more and saves lots of time!

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Welcome 2016

Apologies for not blogging lately – if you want to know a little of what’s been going on, follow me on instagram here for now!

We are doing well – I can’t believe we will have been home a month next week.  Even the past 10 days here have been so different and we’ve seen so many changes and can tell that Wen feels so much more at ease than he did the first 10 days home.  Last weekend some good friends came over to play – 2 families – 7 kids total and he did great.  I was amazed at the kind words and sharing that went on.  Wen even let the other visiting boys play with his Lego toys – it probably helped that the other kids were so sweet to him and would ask his permission!

Here’s the crew…

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plus there are 3 more on the way!  2 more boys and ONE girl.  I just love all of these kids (and their parents too!) So thankful we can continue to get them together as they grow up.

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And for a recap of the last few weeks before we bid 2015 goodbye…

We had a great day at DUKE.  We were super-impressed with the spinal clinic docs and couldn’t believe how efficient the day was.  We saw 4 specialists, met briefly with the physical therapy team who set us up with someone to help with Wen’s wheelchair, met with a social worker about medical coverage, etc. and they even sent a translator to help us ask Wen some specific questions during our meetings with the doctors!  During one of our meetings with the doctor, the wheelchair tech showed up, took Wen’s wheelchair out into the hall and took it apart and re-adjusted it to fit better for the time being.

We go back at the end of January for some larger tests in urology and neurology but overall Wen is in good health and the only major decisions to make right now are some orthopedic options.  Also, as it turns out, Wen does not have Spina Bifida as his file said, but was actually born with something more rare – Caudal Regression Syndrome/Sacral Agenesis.  You can read about it here.

At Duke we could tell the doctors were pretty amazed by Wen and all he does, how good his English is, how well-adjusted he is and how he manages his disability without complaints or obstacles.  We continue to be amazed daily.

Other than the Ironman (“transformer” as Wen calls it, we’re gonna have to show him the Ironman movie) and Star Wars figurines he was given as Christmas gifts from the clinic, the highlight for him was getting to go see where Uncle Sam and Aunt CeCe live in Raleigh and meet their new pup Banksy.  If you want to see cuter and clearer photos of him – check out his very own instagram feed here.

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We did a lot of fun things to celebrate Christmas.  The boys loved going to the Aberdeen Christmas parade,

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and having our own special tea party followed by the event of setting up the Nativity

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The Nativity is Rand’s favorite thing to do at Christmas.  We’re hoping Wen and Philip will love it too.  They all loved playing with the “play nativity set” too…you can order it on Amazon.  This one was given to us when Rand had his first Christmas and it’s the first thing he asks for us to bring out (usually at Thanksgiving!)

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Philip especially got into setting it up and learning who was who.

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On Christmas Eve, Rand and Philip were in the Nativity scene at our church.  They were both shepherds.  Rand wore the same headpiece from last year – a cut up old golf shirt that was his “Grandpa Hank’s” – makes me smile to see it.  Philip’s was a last minute “Ikea hack” haha…I think I’ll need to dig out another heirloom if they are going to be shepherds again next year!

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After church on Christmas Eve, the family came over for dinner at our house!  After everyone left and the boys went to sleep, Santa showed up.

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A lot of people have asked me this Christmas if we do “Santa” and the answer is yes, however, pretty much everything my kids know (or think they know) about Santa is learned from books, movies or school (i.e. the world).  We don’t bring him up or talk about him at all.  In fact, early in the season, I heard someone ask Rand what was on his Christmas list and he shrugged and said he’d “get what he’d get” type answer (but really he just hadn’t thought about it because we don’t talk about it).  We don’t really have an answer on what is “best” to do and we don’t want our kids being the ones who burst their friends bubbles and shout out “SANTA’S NOT REAL” so for now, we just glaze over it throughout the season and make a bigger deal about what actually is THE BIG DEAL – THE BIRTH OF CHRIST!

We do talk about Santa if the kids have a question – for example, Rand said to me one day (when he wasn’t on his best behavior), “Mom, if I’m not a good listener then Santa won’t bring me any presents, will he?” which drives me CRAZY that they get told this elsewhere…we went through the same thing last year…our answer is the same: “No, you will get presents on Christmas because we love you regardless of how you behave.  God loved us so much he sent us the gift of Jesus to save us from our sin when we didn’t deserve it!  But in our family, we try to behave and be good listeners because we love God and want to be like Jesus.”  While Santa will show up at the Smith house to help celebrate Jesus’ birthday, he will not be tolerated as the disciplinary tool for the season!!!!  On that note, we made sure the best gift the kids got came from us…hey, I also don’t like to give Santa all the credit:)  As their only gift from mom and dad (and as an attempt for some more new family bonding) we’re driving down to Florida very soon to go to Legoland and the Magic Kingdom!

I didn’t take enough photos on Christmas day, but this was a sweet one from Raleigh – we went and had lunch with Wes’ extended family and all the kids were so welcoming to Wen.  They are always awesome with the younger kids, but I was really blown away by how they just played with him as if he’d always been in the family.  What a Christmas gift it was for this mama to see.

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We spent some fun time with my side of the family (I need to upload those photos still, sorry!) and then have really been hanging out around the house.  We’ve had several successful movie night with Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.

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We built one fire before it started feeling like summer here in North Carolina.

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The boys have spent a lot of time outside playing – Wen can pretty much ride any of the toys somehow and he loves to hit golf balls and play baseball.

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The boys play and play and play together.  Our noise level is UP and there is always some type of fun shenanigan going on with the 3 of them…

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The costumes come out all the time

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Philip continues to keep us laughing.  His most recent line of choice when you tell him something or he gets something he wants is, “That’s what I’m talking about!”

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It’s been really fun to see them all play together and have so much fun.  Our house last Christmastime was so quiet with just Rand and this year it has exploded with noise, and laughter and JOY.  I have to say it was the best Christmas yet for me.  I’m just so happy to have all my boys home to celebrate Jesus’ Birthday and to welcome 2016.

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Real Life

Thanks everyone for the prayers – I got in to the OB on Monday (He saw me on his day off!!) and started a different antibiotic.  Other than a few odd symptoms I have really felt good so I think we are back on track.  Bo is a major kicker/puncher/mover…makes me wonder about what we’re in for.

Now the jet lag is a whole other story.  It got me last March and it’s getting me again.  It may even be making an early riser out of me.  The first 3 nights I haven’t made it past 2am but today I made it until 4am!!!  This also means I can’t keep my eyes open past 7pm.  I remember it took about a week-10 days to really get back to normal sleep for me so it’s not so bad when you know it will get better.  Sleep has always been my weakness.  Always a light and picky sleeper, never loved sleepovers and would usually come home to sleep.  Growing up, my dad and mom compared me to the story of the Princess and the Pea…yep.  Not a great quality to have if you plan to travel to the other side of the world twice in one year!

I think our jet lag has also affected Philip.  He requires the most sleep of us all and has been up waaaay to early for his needs.  This morning he crashed on the bench in the kitchen…

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We had a later night last night since Rand and Philip had their pre-school Christmas pageant.  They both did a great job and it was really fun to see them with their friends and teachers.  We probably completely overwhelmed Wen, but he handled it well.  Especially having TONS of people coming up to introduce themselves to him and want to meet him.  I could tell it was a lot for only being home 4 days.  He did get excited though when Rand’s teacher handed him a candy cane!

Our little shepherd boy and our wise man.

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Currently Wes, Rand and Wen are on their way to the Social Security office to try and get Wen’s card processed.  Last time we waited for Philip’s and it never came so we realized an “in-person” trip helps speed things up.  We need to go ahead and get it so we can add Wen to our insurance.  We have a big appointment next week at Duke and know there will be lots to come so it is a big priority.  Rand asked to go with them – he and Wen have really bonded.  Thanks to the Lord and Legos!

Other than that, we’re trying to find our new normal.  Things are definitely different and have required much more adjustment than when we came home last March.  The boys are doing well “navigating” playing together and sharing toys…we step in when we need to, but they play really well together.  There are certain things we are working through.  One of the hard things as a parent has been trying to figure out how much to keep the little ones out of Wen’s space/special toys, while also helping Wen to learn about how we share as a family.  Currently, he has full reign because Rand and Philip aren’t picky about him being in their room, etc., but when he brings a special thing into the living room, Rand and Philip are all over it and we are learning how he’s extremely sensitive.  And it probably doesn’t help to have two little brothers without “personal space” boundaries.  I think a lot of this will normalize when the little ones aren’t so all over him/excitement of a new brother wears off…maybe when Bo arrives then they will be all over him!  Oh dear!  Wen’s English is actually best when he’s explaining to his brothers what they can/can’t do and we’ve really been impressed with his leadership ability and his mentality/logic about everything.

The biggest challenge our first few days home has been food.  I didn’t have noodles the first day, or the right soup the following meal and there have been some tears.  We’ve since read some helpful resources and have bulk ordered some noodles/ramen/soup etc. to have.  I let him help me order it and Wes took him to the noodle aisle at Harris Teeter so I think he feels a little better too.  He has announced that he does not like any American food but Wes and I have been amused since he thinks a fried egg is only Chinese and that we are all eating “Chinese breakfast.”  We are also proud of him for trying things, even though most things he tries he says he doesn’t like.  He so far will eat: fried noodles, ramen, noodles in chicken broth, apples and strawberries, fried eggs, blueberry muffin (!!), cheerios, green beans, peas (if they are in noodles), sometimes rice, carrots, potatoes, Aunt Samantha’s cookies…so we’re getting there.  I’ve been concerned about his nutrition so this is going to be a big project for me!

We can’t imagine what Wen must be feeling and how strange it must be for him to all of a sudden be somewhere permanent with nothing familiar. We went to see house that is one of Wes’ business projects and is undergoing some renovations and it was so hard to try and convey to Wen (Google translate to the rescue) that we aren’t moving there it’s just a business project!  He seemed so worried at first and I just need to remember to over-explain everything and how overwhelming this all must be for him.

Our family goal to help with this stage of things is FUN.  We are just focusing on finding ways to have fun together – mostly at home with a few easy errands mixed in.  Getting a Christmas tree, dance parties in the kitchen (this is actually a normal thing…I think it runs in Wes’ family), EARLY morning sofa snuggles, and being silly a lot…more to come in the fun department!

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Yesterday, Wes and I were getting showered and dressed and found all three of them in our bed laughing.

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I don’t know what new challenges today or tomorrow will bring (I don’t even know what we are going to do yet…!) but I am thankful that when Wes and I say prayers and kiss Wen goodnight and tell him that we love him, he has a huge grin on his face.

I know we are still behind on a few posts from leaving China/coming home/Beijing – they are coming soon – promise!  We’ve got some great photos to share!

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Home, sweet home

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We are home!!!  It feels so good.  Wen is quickly getting settled and keeps telling us he is happy to be home.  The three boys are already having so much fun together.  Wen and Rand have really bonded right away over the toys and are playing really well together.  Also, his English is really starting to come out of hiding – he’s been shy some with us to say things, but we can hear him talking to Rand and will say things like “No Rand, wait to go when I say 1, 2, 3, GO!” (Playing cars)

And…The volume level here has skyrocketed.  Both Philip and Wen came home from China with 1 volume level – LOUD:)  Guess we’d better get used to that with a house full of boys!

Goals for today:

1. Finish unpacking/wash our smelly China clothes

2. Get some sleep – boys went to bed wayyyy late last night and I’ve had 3-4 hours of sleep in the past 48 hours so I need to rest up

3.  Get in to see the doc and make sure Bo is doing well (he’s been kicking me, so that’s good!)

4. Update the blog – we still have Beijing and our fun welcome home to write up

5.  Maybe….get a Christmas tree

6.  Enjoy being ALL TOGETHER FINALLY!

 

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Leaving Guangzhou

Finally uploaded the group photo shoot photos…

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We took them on the steps of the China Marriott hotel – same as when we were here in March.  By the time we got to the group shot and the kids shot, most of the little ones had had enough and were past their nap time.  It had been a long morning.  I would like to say that CCAI does an excellent job making the trip as kid-friendly as possible.  Most of the schedules are based around activities good for the children and revolve around nap and meal times.  All the guides are really great with the kids too and can handle just about anything!

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On the last day (for us) in Guangzhou, there was a zoo trip that morning so Wes and Wen joined in and I stayed behind to rest and start organizing the packing up for Beijing.

It poured rain on the boys at the zoo – but they had a great time still and all the group had good attitudes and enjoyed seeing the animals.

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After drying out (thank goodness for hair dryers!) and packing up we headed out. Our flight was late that evening – but not too late – we barely got Wen’s visa before leaving for the airport!!!

Beijing at night…

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Wen was just about the most tired he’s ever been and a little cranky – but we don’t blame him.  Everything was delayed and there was a traffic jam on the way to the hotel from the airport (at MIDNIGHT!) – I think we all dozed a little in the van on the way!

One of the things I’ll miss about Guangzhou, other than the beautiful flowers and trees and just the general look and feel…is the fried buns!  They are so good.  If you eat at Food Street in the China Hotel, they are #908 (fried not steamed) on the menu…if you’re ever in Guangzhou…

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(the Chinese Tea “hong cha”, Sweet and Sour Pork, and the dumplings with pork and vegetables were really good too if you need help navigating the long menu!)

Next post may have to be from home…we had a great time in Beijing and if we have time from the airport I will upload it.

We continue to be thankful for all the new things we are learning about WenXuan and for his fun-loving spirit and excitement to go home to America.

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Visa

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On Wednesday we had our Visa appointment at the US Consulate in Guangzhou.  I’ve written about the building before – but found myself admiring the architecture twice this year!

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Thankfully the adoptive families get to skip the long lines and go right in.  Once in, we go to a waiting area that has toys and clean restrooms for the families and children.  You can’t take in anything – no cell phones, etc.  so I don’t have photos of the inside BUT I did find the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP that posted renderings of the project…check out out here.

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(Photo from SOM)

It was pretty wild in there with all the families and kids!  I kept noticing everyone was watching Wen, but not with the same stares we get out and about in China, it was with stares of amazement at how he can maneuver his wheelchair around!  He even can sit on the footrest of it and scoot himself around and use his hand on the front small wheel to steer.  He’s hard not to watch when he gets it going!!!

When you get there you take a group oath.  Then, when they call your name, you talk to the officer about your child and answer any questions they have.  Because Wen is over age 11, he had to answer questions too – did he want to be adopted, did he understand we would be his parents, and had he had any contact with his birth parents, etc.

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It was a long morning and when we got back, we had a group photo (even though most of the babies were really off nap and meal schedule by then and had enough!)  I don’t have the photos downloaded yet so will post them later.

After the group photo Wes and Wen went to get some lunch for us at a nearby noodle shop while I met with the agency and one parent from each of the other families to do departure paperwork/talk about the plan for leaving Guangzhou.

By the time I got back to the room, I was having some really bad lower back pain and cramping and what felt like a few contractions so I climbed in bed for the remainder of the afternoon and Wes took Wen to the park that we’d been wanting to visit across from the hotel.

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They were able to rent a little electric boat and Wen drove it around the lake!

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They also went with the group to one last dinner all together.  I stayed back and rested and put a call into my doctor.  I’m writing this from Beijing and feeling better now – thankful for everyone’s prayers and would love continued prayers for the trip home!  We know everything is in the Lord’s hands and that we are both where we need to be right now with Wen in China.  We are all FOUR looking forward to coming home in 2 days!  Phew 19 days is a long time to be away from home!!!

We are also thankful that we got our Visas and ARE able to leave.  There are a few families we know of, one in our group and one with another agency who can’t get their visas to come home yet and have had to change their international flights.  There was a glitch in the system at the consulate for the groups that were after ours and the following day and they were getting delayed.

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Free time in Guangzhou

Today we had some down time while we wait for our visa appointments at the US Consulate tomorrow.  Wen has been asking for some sunglasses, so Wes and I took him to “One Link Plaza” which is known as the “gift and toy market” here in Guangzhou.  Guangzhou is famous for being a trade center for wholesale goods.  There is a fabric market, silk market, toy/gift, shoe, electronics etc. giant markets that all have their own areas in town.

This photo was taken at the airport on Saturday, but thought you’d like to see how we do escalators.  Wen thinks it’s pretty fun!  Except on one of our trips out the other day we lost one of his shoes somewhere and have no clue what happened to it.  Darn.  When we get home we are going to have to figure something out because so many times a day I hear him yell “MY SHOE!” which means we’ve lost it somewhere and we have to find it and get it back on!

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One Link Plaza was pretty wild.  It had just about every cheap toy and item you could imagine from cell phone cases to baby bibs.  Each little “shop” had it’s own theme of item.  We bought one pair of sunglasses (about $4 USD) and a bag to hang on Wen’s wheelchair for some of his things ($10 USD).  Other than that, it was a little overwhelming!

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Floor after floor – it just all started to look the same!

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After we got back to the hotel we had lunch and then Wen and Wes went up to the room to wait for the “TB test phone call” (you have to wait to hear the results if you need to go back for a chest xray) – it was negative so they just hung out and played lego and watched some Chinese cartoons and rested.

I went to the pearl market with a guide to get some pearls and gifts to take home.  We tried to do this last trip, but it was too overwhelming so this year we got someone to help me!  I am really excited about the pearls I got for Wen and Philip to have someday to give to their wives.

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I got to pick the individual strands of pearls and then they strung them right in front of me into bracelets and necklaces and earrings.

Also, I got a little tea set to have tea with the boys.  It’s all wrapped up now, but I’ll have to post a pic soon, when you drink the tea there is a little fish at the bottom of the teacup.  Rand and Philip are going to love it.  Wen already gave his approval.

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Wen is pretty much crazy over Lego and so he points it out wherever we go.  His friend in our group who went to Jiaozuo with us, XueWei, was so sweet and got him a lego for his birthday from one of the stores here:

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He loved putting it together and has been playing with it ever since.  It is so funny how they changed the name from Star Wars to Space Fights.  We’ve also seen Space Wars ones too!  We’ve also seen the Disney logo changed to say “Diversity World” instead of Disney World in the same font.

It was fun today to get some things to remember our our sons’ birth country – especially since last March we did ZERO shopping with two toddlers in tow.  And to see ALL THE STUFF – “Made in China” first hand.

Also interesting to see things like duck tongue for sale (bottom middle).  Or duck neck (top middle) or gizzards or feet.  Yum.  I didn’t try any – it was too expensive;)

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After dinner Wen took a bath.  The only thing that could get him out of the tub was telling him it was time to call Rand and Philip.

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Wen asks us every day when we are going to get to see his didi (little brothers) over the phone.  After we got off the phone call tonight, Wen wanted to watch every single video on my phone of the boys.  We can tell he can’t wait to be home with them too.

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Medical Visit Day

On Monday morning we had breakfast with Rob before sending him off to catch his train back to work in Hunan.  We were sad to see him go, but thankful he got to spend some time with us on this special occasion.

I wish that my eyes were as open as his are at age 22!  He has devoted his life to his calling – Chinese children with special needs!  Not only does he advocate for orphans but he is currently applying to grad schools to go back and get a masters in Occupational Therapy so he can come back to China and help Chinese families who have children with special needs.

His tshirt was a gift from Wen’s friend Jay and his family – it says “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders” – a perfect shirt describing Rob’s obedience to the Holy Spirit leading him all the way from Ireland to China!
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After a goodbye to Rob, we headed on the bus with our group to the medical clinic.  All the families had to go to 4 stations – we had 5 since Wen is over age 11.  They were:

1. Physical examination  2. ENT  3. Height/Weight/Temp  4. Blood drawn for TB Test
and then we had #5 which was 2 shots and an oral polio vaccine.  Wen was very brave and just did what needed to be done.  It helped that they were really quick with the shots too.  He didn’t cry or anything and mama was waiting with a little treat for him when he was all done – some (organic) gummy bears.

Here he is taking his vision test…

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Check out the Chinese eye chart!  I guess characters are too complicated to read.

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Wen was really interested to look over his medical paperwork even though this visit isn’t really helpful to us other than the vaccinations.  All the other families had really young kiddos so they only needed a blood draw in addition to the stations.  By the time we left the majority of the babies were crying from the blood draw.  Not fun for the parents!  I remember when we did it with Philip and he was so mad he threw his shoes.

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At least there is a vending machine with wine in it downstairs in the lobby of the clinic if any of the parents have too rough of a time…so odd!

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Wen’s reward for the medical visit was going swimming!  He’s been asking to go to the pool and it wasn’t too cold for a short dip so we spent some time up by the pool together.

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He can’t wait to learn how to swim and has been asking me when he will get to take lessons to swim at home!

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Later, the entire group went on the Pearl River Cruise.  Wen was excited about going on the boat and seeing Guangzhou from the river.

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We all got tickled taking a family photo.  Wen sneezed in the middle of it and we all couldn’t stop laughing.

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I’ve gotta hold him while I can – if he grows any more (and I KNOW he will) I’m not gonna be able to hold him much longer!!!

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This is Guangzhou tower in the background – it is the tallest building in China and the 3rd tallest building in the world.  Property in China is crazy expensive.  Our guide said it is around 50,000 Chinese Yuen (close to $8K) for 9 square feet and if it’s on the water, it would be over 200,000 Yuen (close to $32K) for 9 square feet.  Then, after 70 years, the property reverts back to the government.  We’ve asked what happens then to the owners and no one knows because the rule is less than 70 years old!

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It’s hard to believe it was just 8 months ago when we did this same cruise with Philip and Rand and Ema.  Rand got sick that evening (stomach flu) and when we were up with him in the middle of the night, I checked my email and that’s when we found out WenXuan’s paperwork made it to the agency and we would be able to adopt him!

We are so glad it is 8 months later.  We are having a great time (while counting down the days until we can come home…FIVE)!

 

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No turning back

Sunday morning we met Rob in the restaurant at the hotel for breakfast (breakfast is so good here!!!  I’m going to miss having a breakfast buffet when we get home;)

After breakfast, we took a cab to Shamian Island.  It’s where the US Consulate used to be located and where all adoptive families would stay.  We loved going there when we were here last March and Rob had figured out the time for the English/Mandarin church service.

We got to the island a little early, so we first went to a little shop and got a few gifts and a Bible for Wen in Chinese and Mandarin.  He has one at home from my sweet friends that is in English, and one in only Mandarin from his friend Xia Li, but it will be helpful for the time being to have the side-by-side translation for us.

Rob got him a silk traditional Chinese outfit to match his brothers and for the group photo tradition with CCAI.
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It was really cool to be able to take WenXuan to his first church service as well as have Rob be there, and have it be in Mandarin and English!

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By the time the service started, the church was packed with Chinese people.  I’m pretty sure we were just about the only foreigners this particular Sunday.

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It was all I could do to hold it together through some of it.  It was really special.  And it was fun to watch Wen see the Chinese men and women up front singing their hearts out in worship.  His heart is really open to music – he is always singing and has a great ear.

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The preacher definitely preached the gospel, but in addition to that, I’m pretty sure he covered the majority of the bible with the exception of Revelation.

It was an amazing morning…

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After lunch we walked around the island.  It’s surreal – like you are not even in China anymore.  Very colonial looking.

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What a handsome kid!

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Obligatory statue photos – there are bronze statues all over the island.

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Even the Starbucks is beautiful!

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We walked down to the water and had lunch at the Rose Garden.  Food was not exceptional but the atmosphere was great since we got to sit outside.  Sorry – I should have taken a photo!  Wen commented on how beautiful the setting was at the restaurant and so we figured that was a good spot to eat.  And we felt fine after too, so that’s always a good sign when you aren’t exactly sure what you are ordering or eating sometimes!

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After lunch we took a cab to the grocery store/Carrefour to get a few things.  Here’s Rob in a “Smith Sandwich” and Wen with his balloon lollipop from the grocery store.

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When we got back I had to go to a meeting for our group to do some preliminary visa and medical appointment paperwork and Rob and Wes took Wen to get a hair cut at hotel salon.

Last week, Wen cut his own hair – wanting to look nice for gotcha day – and it didn’t turn out like he planned so he was really excited to also go for his first barbershop experience!

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After meetings, haircuts and lego time, we set out to find and Irish Restaurant we’d heard another adoptive family had visited.  Since we were with our Irish friend, it was only fitting we go find probably the only Irish pub in Guangzhou.  We had a great meal and fun getting to spend more time with Rob.

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I’ve talked about this some before, but today we were overcome once again by the Lord’s goodness and blessing and FUN.  That’s the best way Wes and I can describe our family – we are on an adventure with the Lord.  If you say YES to Jesus and are obedient to where HE leads you – you are in for an adventure.  And although it may be hard, expensive or even scary, the reward is BIG.  If we hadn’t said YES we would have never known our amazing sons, or new friends like Rob and Ciara, Michelle, Linda, Lou Huan, the children at Eagles Wings, the other adoptive families who we’ve become friends with both in China and back home and there’s more to come, of that we are certain.

Saying YES may not lead you to China, it could lead to anything really – maybe even something as simple as next door to a neighbor, but once you’ve said YES there is no turning back.  The song we sang (twice) in church – Wen sang it too – brought tears to my eyes as it perfectly describes the journey we are on when we’ve said yes to Jesus Christ and desire to live in obedience.  Sing with us!

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Christ is my reward
And all of my devotion
Now there’s nothing in this world
That could ever satisfy

Through every trial
My soul will sing
No turning back
I’ve been set free

Christ is enough for me
Christ is enough for me
Everything I need is in You
Everything I need

Christ my all in all
The joy of my salvation
And this hope will never fail
Heaven is our home

Through every storm
My soul will sing
Jesus is here
To God be the glory

I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back

The cross before me
The world behind me
No turning back
No turning back

(lyrics c/o Hillsong United)
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Twelve

On Saturday we woke up to a 12-year-old!  I can’t believe it!

Late Friday night we finished packing up after being in Zhengzhou for 8 nights…and before we went to sleep (Wen was fast asleep already – he got really excited about packing up – he continues to surprise us with how ready he is to go home) we set out a little birthday surprise for him.  The first of many!

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He woke up singing “Happy Birthday”

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And was really excited about his lego toy…as I’ve mentioned before, legos are his favorite thing!  And, as Chinese tradition, we gave him a special red envelope with some money in it – for him to go shopping at the lego store in Beijing.

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At breakfast there was pineapple on the buffet for the first time – his favorite (and Baba’s favorite too!)

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After breakfast we headed to the airport with our group and boarded the plane for Guangzhou where we will spend another week (for medical visit and visa appointment at the US Consulate).  It was his first airplane flight and he was really excited about it.  The airline even gave him a birthday card!
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He loved the plane flight and everything went really smoothly transitioning to our hotel in Guangzhou.  It’s the same hotel we stayed in with Philip – the China Marriott.  It’s not as nice as the Hilton in Zhengzhou but Guangzhou the city is much nicer out than Zhengzhou.  We left the snow and pollution behind for (somewhat) cleaner air and warm weather – 75 degrees!  To me Guangzhou is beautiful.  The tropical flowers are blooming and the weather is perfect.  Our guides told us last March when we were here the 2 best months to visit Guangzhou are March and November.  Check.

Our biggest birthday surprise for him was when we arrived on the bus to the hotel in Guangzhou, his friend Robert was there waiting to welcome him!  Rob is a missionary from Ireland who works in an orphanage in the Hunan province but has known WenXuan far longer than us!  He lived with him and some of the Eagle’s Wings kids for 5 months one year, and other years has volunteered at Bring Me Hope camps and visited and helped advocate for the children at Eagles Wings.

In fact, he’s one of the people who are responsible for us “finding” Wen in the first place – it was one of the videos he posted about Wen that we saw.  He has since been a huge resource and friend, helping us to learn about Wen, FaceTiming, etc.

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After we got settled, we walked to Macau Street restaurant for dinner nearby the hotel.  It was one of the best China meals we had last time – and this time too!  So good!!!  If you’re going to China, holler and I’ll send you what to order in Chinese Characters.  Or post it here later.

When we got back to the hotel, the agency had ordered a birthday cake for us so we sang and had cake.

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We also FaceTimed Rob’s family and his sister Ciara (pronounced Kiera – like Kiera Knightly).  She has also been a huge help in getting us photos and info about Wen when she visited him and was with him for Bring Me Hope camp.  And FaceTimed his brothers so they could wish him Happy Birthday and sing to him too!

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And Wen got a special present from his friend Jay (he used to be at Eagles Wings but now lives in Kansas with his family)…LEGO!  It was a great 12th birthday.  It will be hard to top this one!!!

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Friday

On Friday we were so tired from getting to bed late on Thursday so we had a really slow morning and a late breakfast.  Wen spent most of the morning with his lego toy he got from the Jioazuo market.  He is really good at lego!

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We had a few things we needed for Wen and the guides were helping us to order/find it so that was good.  After that was taken care of, we decided to go to lunch at a restaurant we liked from the last trip.  It wasn’t as good as we remembered BUT, Wen’s noodles were really good!  He orders noodles every single time.  Boy can he slurp them down! It is quite a feat with chopsticks too, in my opinion.

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After lunch we went to the Zhengzhou aquarium.  It was his first trip to an aquarium – he was a little timid.  Especially feeding the sea turtle (until the lettuce dropped on his head, which he thought was hilarious) and seeing the sharks.

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We also wasted over an hour trying to get a cab to take us to the aquarium.  We ended up having to rent a private van to come and get us after no taxi would take us… (but other people were going and coming in taxis)…we feel like we were discriminated against.  In Zhengzhou we even had people wait for another elevator and not want to ride with us – when there was plenty of room.  So strange!  As if a wheelchair would somehow harm them.  We get a lot of looks…and we have yet to see anyone else around in a wheelchair other once when we saw an elderly person being pushed in one.  Handicap access and less ignorance is something we take for granted back home.  Things are WAAAAAY different over here.

One of the coolest things today was Wen kept asking for us to play his favorite song in the room – he heard it on Wes’ ipod on the trip to Jiaozuo.  He’s been singing it nonstop since.  Turns out it was one of the songs of the Bring Me Hope camp he attended over the summer.

I think it could be his theme song now too…definitely the theme song for our trip:

We also got to FaceTime some with the family – since today was Thanksgiving for them!

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We can’t wait for Saturday – WenXuan’s 12th birthday, all the surprises we have planned for him as well as a change of city and weather as we pack up and head to Guangzhou for the next week and our consulate appointment!

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Thankful, part 2

After seeing Wen’s living area, we went to tour the school and see his teachers and some of the other children.

Eagles Wings runs a really great school – in fact, the orphanage floors send some of their Special Needs children up to the 7th floor for school as well as a few families from the nearby neighborhood who have children who aren’t allowed to attend regular school.

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Wen took us to the library – here is his library card.  The library was pretty incredible because of some grants that Eagles Wings has been able to get – Wen loves to read and spent a lot of time in the library!  One of the stops for us in Beijing this coming weekend is to a bookstore to get this kid some Chinese books to read at home!

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Gao Xiao Dui has known Wen since he was a little boy – she is also the librarian now and she had some special moments with him and shed quite a few tears that he was leaving.  She also gave him a special paper crane.  We are thankful for Gao and others like her who cared for and loved Wen before we could.

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When we went into the room where the kids were having some play time, I got mobbed by children!  By the time we left, my face was wet from kisses!!!

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The little boy above (with the leopard print coat) was Philip’s best friend.  I showed him photos of Philip and he wanted to give me lots of hugs and sit on my knee and see more photos of “Zhi Yong” (Philip’s chinese name).  Also, all of the teachers wanted to see photos of Philip and loved his glasses and seeing how good he looked.  One of the teachers got her phone out to show me that she had a photo of our family on it!!!  She had taken a photo of one of the photos we sent Wen – so sweet!

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This little guy was another one of Philip’s classmates and friends – we met him when we were here last March as well and I was really looking forward to seeing him.  We’d been thinking about him quite a bit and praying for him to be adopted – turns out his family lives only a few hours away from us in NC!  We are so Thankful!

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This was my sweet friend – she followed me everywhere and hugged and kissed me any chance she could.  I had banana all over me by the time we left.

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We said our last goodbyes, Wen showed us the playground he spent some time on and then we headed to one last stop, a market next door to the orphanage where he had spent some time (apparently the math teacher would take them to learn about money/counting).

It was a little bigger than we expected, but he knew right where to go – to the toy “booth” where he’d had his eye on a special thing he wanted to get before we left town…as well as a gift for a friend of his back in the USA.

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After we left the market we had a long car ride back – thankfully we had another sweet family with us for the ride so that was nice to help pass the time!

Instead of going back to the hotel, we had our driver take us to meet the group at an American-style BBQ restaurant where our group had “Thanksgiving dinner” all together.  The food and atmosphere was good but by the time we got back to the hotel it was after 10pm which was why the blog post got a little delayed:)

We are also thankful for our adventurous group to do something fun like that all together especially considering most of the families have children under age 3…but I guess you have to be adventurous to be here in the first place!!!

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This was a photo Wen drew that was hanging on the wall.  He also did another one and he wanted to keep it but leave this one above at Eagles Wings.  It’s special that it says the word family – something Wes and I were most thankful for this past Thanksgiving Day.   We are so thankful for the blessing of all of our boys: Wen, Rand, Philip and Bo.  And thankful to have spent the Thanksgiving Day with Wen’s first “family” and also so very thankful that he was completely ready to move on to his permanent earthly family.

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Thankful, part 1

As I said before, yesterday – the day of our passport trip to Jiaozuo and to the orphanage was, in my head, our toughest day – and I’m incredibly THANKFUL because it turned out to be great.

I’m thankful for the snowstorm, in a way, because even though it made for a longer trip (over 2 hours each way to Jiaozuo – watching men and women try and clear the street with shovels and stick brooms…yeah.  homemade stick brooms…not kidding) I’m pretty sure the passport office was EMPTY because of it.  We were helped right away.  Last March, in this office with Philip and Rand and the Patterson family we were in shoulder to shoulder standing room only chaos.  And I played the pregnancy card and got to use their bathroom (they probably saw the look on my face when the guide told me the bathroom was very very far away and we’d just been in a van for 2 hours).  Our guide said all the officers were joking about how I was the first person to ever be allowed to use their restroom! Thankful!

After the passport photo and paperwork, we raced over to the notary office before they closed for 2 hours for lunch.  They were SO KIND and stayed open an extra 45 min. into their lunch break to help us.  I remembered it was the same gentlemen who helped us last March except…last March we were in a dismal slum-like building that would make a good setting for a horror movie with probably the worst bathrooms in all of China – 6 flights up.  This time we were so thankful they just moved to a brand new, beautiful building.

After the notary, our guide took one family who wasn’t visiting the orphanage back to Zhengzhou and we stayed with our non-English speaking driver and another family to visit the Jiaozuo Children’s Welfare Institute.   First, we had to stop and get some lunch…we told the driver a “noodle restaurant” and before long we were all sitting around at table at a little hole in the wall I’m pretty sure most people I know would not try.  The menu was entirely in characters so we had a laugh and then told Wen to order something for all of us.  He’s pretty consistent about ordering good, flavorful and safe (i.e. no strange meat) dishes.  We all ended up with noodles in a tomato broth with egg and some bok choy.  The vegetables on top we couldn’t eat because they didn’t seem cooked.  I said a little prayer for our interesting Thanksgiving lunch that the probiotic we’ve been taking would help keep us from getting sick…and so far we’ve been fine! Did I mention there was a tub of turtles when you walked in the door of the “restaurant”?

After lunch, it was on to our main goal of the day, to visit Eagles Wings – the floor of the orphanage where both WenXuan and Philip lived.  Here we are outside, before we were flooded by a welcoming committee that must have been watching for us at the window all day!
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Lou Huan (on the far left) was so kind to show us around – she’s been extremely helpful with both of our adoptions and is one of those people who is so sweet you just want to hug her and hug her.  She and her husband (on the far right) gave us a warm welcome yesterday.  We are very thankful for them and for the work that they do at Eagles Wings.  And we are especially thankful for the care they have given to both of our boys.

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WenXuan picked out scarves and I brought some Beautycounter for all his nannys and teachers.  We added a photo of him with his email address on the back so anyone who wants to can keep in touch with him!

Also, we made a list of his special friends and Wen went shopping with Wes the other day and picked out some really thoughtful gifts to give to his best friends who he is leaving behind.

This is Xia Li – she has the most beautiful smile – I don’t think it left her face the entire time we saw her.  We also remembered her from our last visit and I think she remembered us to0!  Wen picked out a pen set for her that he said he knew she would like.  She did!

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Xiao Xiao (on the left) received a special book he picked out – he said she is always reading books and that’s what she would want.  Xia Li and Xiao Xiao are 16 and 17 years old and are past the age of adoption so they will continue to live in the welfare institute.  Thankfully they live at Eagles Wings where they are able to learn some independence – they live together and do their own washing, cooking and take care of themselves.  They also have jobs during the day at Eagle’s Wings and they get to run a little shop where they find things at the market and sell them in their own “store.”

Wes and I were also very impressed with the girl on the far right – Jing Jing.  She knew quite a bit of English and knew all about us and Philip.

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Here are 2 of the older boys – Bei Bei and Jin Qiu.  They received a watch and a toy sheriff set from Wen.  They are both also past the age for adoption but stay at Eagles Wings and learn life skills and have jobs around the office and school.

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There were 2 boys who were in Wen’s “room” who he gave gifts to, but I didn’t get a photo – Wen Yong and Fu Qiang.  Wen Yong was apparently the one who Wen said was crying when he left on Monday.

This is Wen’s good friend Wen Fei who we hear has a family working to come for her!  He chose a barbie for her.  She loved it!

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After we gave out his special gifts, he took us to his room to see where he slept.

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The stickers he had on his bed – I hope this doesn’t give Rand and Philip any ideas!

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His group’s living area…

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Wen Bo (above) had a sore on has to lie flat – poor guy was so bored.  Some of the others were assigned to try and entertain him!  After we saw Wen’s living area, we went to give out some treats he brought for the other kids and to see the school and say hi to his teachers… coming up…

 

 

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two days ago

I realized when I uploaded our photos we were a little behind…

Two days ago we had a down day because our trip to Jiaozuo was cancelled because of the roads and the snow.  At breakfast we had a surprise visit from Josh and Lilly, the founders of CCAI who were in China for a meeting/training (they are usually in Colorado).

Here we are at breakfast with another sweet family in our group who adopted the little girl that Lilly is holding.
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Wen was thrilled to discover the pool with “baba” (he calls me “Mommy” and Wes “Baba”)

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We tried to get a taxi down the street to eat dinner at the hotel where we stayed in March, but were told the roads were “too bad for taxis”…

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Wen is ready for the pool – so far consistently his 3 favorite things have been: 1. swimming 2. legos and 3. orange juice

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Also, Wen and I went up to the lounge and did an entire jigsaw puzzle.  It didn’t take us very long to knock it out.  Can’t wait to do some puzzles with the Uncles (mommy’s didi – means little brother in Mandarin) when we get home over the holiday.

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If you’re ever at the Hilton in Zhengzhou, we’ve really made good use of the Executive Lounge.  Our room size is slightly larger (good for the wheelchair!) and we get to use the lounge for breakfast, tea time and a heavy appetizers time which has been plenty for dinner.  We can get beverages and fruit there any time during the day (I’m sure if we needed anything else they could get it – yogurt, etc. but Wen isn’t a huge eater like Philip and Rand so we haven’t needed a lot outside of meals other than the snacks we already had).  All this for only around $8-10 more a night than what our group rate was so it worked out well and saved a lot on drinks and dinner.  We had to book our own room since we didn’t travel with the group from Beijing.

Ok…working on yesterday next….

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A non post

The “king” has left the building…Wes said today that it kinda felt like WenXuan was the “king of the castle” at the orphanage. I can’t wait to tell you more about it after I recover from the length of the day!

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We had an amazing day.   Probably the day I’d wondered about most – how it would go, how hard it would be, etc. and everything went really well.  It was a long, exhausting trip and we ended up not getting back from a “Thanksgiving dinner” outing until 10pm so we did a quick FaceTime to our families at home and then crawled into bed.

I was hoping to do a post while my zantac kicks in (the food we’ve had has been really spicy which I love but is killing me with the pregnancy!) but I’m fading too and don’t have a detailed account of the day in me right now as the photos need to be downloaded and rotated (WHY oh WHY!?!) from both my phone and the nikon.

I can’t wait to tell you about it!  Please check back tonight your time!!!

Happy Thanksgiving from China!  Eat some turkey for us.

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Frozen Smiles in Zhengzhou

It’s official – Zhengzhou is frozen. Here’s what we’re dealing with…cars stuck everywhere in snow and tonight it is 15 degrees! It actually reminds me a little of what happens when it snows in NC…

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This morning our bus couldn’t make it so we got on a new bus. It took us to the office where all of our adoptions were made official. Thankfully the event itself was quick because there was no heat in the building! The bus ride took a long time (maybe we could have walked faster?) – I remember looking out the window 45 min. after boarding and still being able to see our hotel…

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Our guides are incredible and remain calm and collected.  They even had a little laugh with the bus driver when we got stuck (he probably had to shovel snow the entire time we were in the adoption meeting so we could leave again).

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Here we are with another official Smith boy – WenXuan Murray Smith! Our oldest son!  He’s really a joy and we cannot believe the zero adjustment that he’s had (yet?! maybe it’s coming?) but he seems genuinely happy and excited and just really relaxed – although he does like to keep track of the time and schedule, but I don’t blame him for that, I think I’m the same way:)

He keeps telling me “I don’t know English” (in English) and then when I glanced over at him next to me on the bus ride today, he’d written the entire ABCs on the window as well as the word “zoo” and the word “apple” so I think he’s sandbagging a little.  Smarty.

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Our hotel got a new “decor” the other day – wasn’t trying to capture it but did want to get a photo of my two happy guys…

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Boy can Wen work this wheelchair.  He’s got all sorts of tricks.  I have a feeling we are gonna have 2 more little boys begging for wheelchairs when we get home…

Wen had a hamburger back at the hotel this afternoon for lunch and then we rested.  I wasn’t feeling awesome (but am fine now!) and it was deemed to dangerous for me to go…but Wes and Wen scaled the icy pedestrian bridge to go do some shopping.  Wen made a list of all his special friends, teachers and nanny’s at the orphanage and then he thought about what each of his friends would like to have and he and Wes went on a hunt for it.  Can’t wait for him to be able to give it to them, meet them and say some last goodbyes.

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We were supposed to travel to Jiaozuo tomorrow, but the roads are all closed until the afternoon so we have to stay here and try again on Thursday.  Our guides are going to beg the notary and passport office to expedite the paperwork so it doesn’t delay our entire trip.  Please pray the roads clear up by Thursday so we can make this happen and still have time to get to the orphanage to have some time to visit!

Tonight for dinner we decided to stay IN and try the fancy Italian restaurant inside our hotel.  It was a nice change from Chinese food for us.  We had a good flatbread appetizer, pesto pasta and a really good pizza.  Wen ordered “watermelon juice” to drink – a switch from his usual orange juice – and after waiting a while we see the waitress walking by with half of a watermelon and took it over to the bar where they proceeded to juice it right there for him!  It’s funny in China when you order your child something cold to drink, the waitress or waiter (no fail, every time!) says…”you know it is cold, right?” as if you are crazy to not order a hot water or hot tea!  Wen hasn’t wanted any tea or hot drinks.

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After dinner we went up to the lounge to sit and have some dessert – one of the things that is really nice is all the fresh fruit!  Mama and Bo are enjoying that:)

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(the white fruit with the black seeds is a “dragonfruit” – it’s really good)

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After dessert we got ready for bed, Wen had a bath and then we did his favorite thing – we played UNO!  Wes beat both of us twice and so we gave up and called Rand and Philip who crack us up on FaceTime.  Wen laughs at them the entire time they are so silly.

About 5 min after we hung up, Wes and Wen were both snoring.  Not sure if Wen always sleeps with a smile on his face but I can see him now and he has the sweetest happy expression.  It helps so much to see him happy – especially for me today as I was fiercely missing home and Rand and Philip.  6 nights away, while I know is not going to devastate anyone, is the longest we’ve been away from them and we still have 12 more nights to go.  While I am thankful for the days ahead to help Wen have some closure and see a few beautiful sights in his first country, I have big dreams about the fun he is going to have at home with his brothers.  And that will put a smile on my face as I go to sleep now too…

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The best day

Today was probably the most exciting day of the trip – we are finally together with WenXuan.  Wes and I are amazed at this kid (our kid!) and all that he is able to do and how well he is adjusting and how brave he is too.  We know all of your prayers helped to prepare both us and him for today – so we thank you and we thank the Lord for HIS goodness and blessing today as we have seen 12 children, including Wen, go from orphans to beloved children set in families!

A quick update – after we got back from the registration office, we braved the wind and found a noodle shop nearby.  I’m thankful for how strong Wes is, there were a lot of stairs and he was able to carry Wen IN his wheelchair up and down!!!  Superwes.

After lunch Wen and I played cars and colored and had snacks and watched some “Boonie Bears” and waited for Wes to finish the paperwork/meeting.

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Then we went and joined Wes to do my section.  Because Wen is over age 10, he got to do some of his own paperwork too!

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After the paperwork we went up to dinner in the lounge on the 37th floor and watched the snow fall.  I can’t wait to tell you in a post soon about some of the food…dinner was mainly fried rice and fried noodles but Wen did have some type of meat on a stick that was labeled “Blood Relationship” – what????!  He said it was good.

After dinner he had a bath and we played UNO.  Wes and I were trying to remember how to play and read the directions but turns out Wen is already a pro at UNO and could easily beat both of us.

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We could tell he was really tired, so we did a quick skype call to Rand and Philip and now I can hear both Wes and Wen snoring away…so I’ll post a few photos and then get back to everyone tomorrow.

I just want to reiterate a thank you for all of your prayers – Wen was the one today the guides were asking to help tell the other children not to be scared.  Tonight he was asking me when we fly home to America.  So glad he’s as ready to be a Smith boy as we have been ready to have him!

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We are having problems with the internet tonight and I can’t stay up any longer to wait for it to work…maybe it has to do with the snowstorm that’s coming down right now!  So we’ll write more tomorrow.  Our agenda is…the morning we go BACK to the registration office to finalize the adoption.  Then we have free time the rest of the day.  If the snowstorm isn’t too bad, we made a list of all the people Wen wants us to meet when we visit the orphanage (Wednesday) and who he’d like to get a little gift for so we may go do some shopping for those items!

I love this photo – someone pointed out earlier that Wen and I even look alike!  My entire life I’ve been asked “what type of Asian” I was…now I know the answer.  Chinese!

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Love to everyone from the four of us in China…

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Q & A about our adoption and China

Over the past 2 days, Wes and I have had time to talk about everything. One of the things we discussed is the questions we get specifically about Chinese adoption and our adoptions. Some of the same questions we had when we were getting started. We realized there are a lot of misconceptions and, since we don’t have anything else to blog about right now, we’ll attempt to answer some of them!

There are boys available for adoption in China? We thought it was only girls?
Here’s a recent CNN video and story about the current situation.

So, this actually WAS true but it’s changed over the past 15 years. When the one-child policy began, the cultural preference was to have a son. Now with things like ultrasound technology (even though a gender ultrasound is not legal in China), the high abortion rate and modernization (trends away from farming and women working and getting eduactions), the orphanages are mostly flooded with boys with special needs. It is estimated that 98% of abandoned children in China have special needs. In fact, most agencies don’t even have a regular China program but only a Special Needs one.  Another reason why there are mostly boys is that families looking to adopt a little girl think of China, because of how things used to be, and so that also adds to the larger number of boys waiting in orphanages and sometimes a longer wait time for a little girl with minor special needs. I also would like to add, there are far more boys available between ages 6-13. This age isn’t as popular and unfortunately, in China, you age out of the process at 14 years old and then have no chance of a family.  Here is a more in-depth look at this subject.

Also, an article about the shortage of Chinese women.  It’s estimated that by the year 2020 there will be 24 million men unable to marry – making it valuable now to have a daughter!

Are there a lot of children available?  Is the wait long?
From Love Without Boundaries:

Adoption from China has fallen to its lowest point in years. In 2011, the last year official data is available, Americans adopted just 2,587 children…699 boys and 1,888 girls. (Source 1). That number is just 2% of all the children in government institutional care there, and just 0.4% of the total orphaned children in that country. ZERO POINT FOUR PERCENT.

The short answer on the wait time: The wait is usually 12-15 months because that’s how long it takes with the paperwork back and forth.  It could take a little longer if you have requested a girl, a young child with a very minor need or a specific special need or age only.

China publishes that it has around 600,000 children without families, but other organizations have estimated the number to be closer to 1 million.

Didn’t China just change it’s one-child policy?
Yes, this is a big step and hopefully will cut back on the abortion rate. My personal opinion is that a lot more good would come if the country would also change it’s hang ups on “perfection” and make changes so that special needs children can go to regular schools or that medical care could be more available or affordable (vs. having to pay up front if your baby is born in need of major medical attention) as well as making cities more handicap accessible.

Who adopts from China? How expensive is it?
We’ve seen adoptive parents from all different economic backgrounds. Most of which have raised the majority to all of their funds!!! There are also grants for adoptions, like Show Hope. The bottom line is, God loves adoption. When you answer His call to adopt, He will make it happen. If those of us who are called to adopt, don’t answer the call because we are worried about finances, then we aren’t allowing God to work and to use others – also taking away from them the ability to support adoption and give in a way that they can! Depending on your agency and how/when you travel, the prices for the service of the adoption varies.  Here’s a great blog post about that.

How is it that you can adopt two children in one year? Are they related?
Most Chinese children available for adoption are abandoned, not orphaned and sibling sets and twins are rare. Philip and Wen are not related, however they were on the same floor of their orphanage so have seen/know of each other.

China has a program within their Special Needs program where if you adopt one child that is deemed “Special Focus” – which means less likely to be adopted, then you are allowed to adopt 2 Special Needs children on one dossier – either on the same trip or within a year of the first adoption being final, which is what we’re doing.

What are the special needs of the kids?
In China, the term “special needs” runs a larger spectrum than it generally does in the USA. Kids in the special needs program may have ZERO developmental disabilities (other than normal delays from being in an institution) and may only have a birthmark or be missing a finger or other minor medically correctable issues. When you start the adoption process, you fill out a checklist – probably one of the hardest parts of the process in our opinion – of the medical needs you are open to.  Some older boys are labeled Special Need or Special Focus just because they haven’t been adopted or may have once had a medical need that was corrected.

Why did you choose China?
The short answer: We didn’t.

The long answer: We started the process to adopt when Rand was 1 year old and began with a domestic adoption agency in Greensboro.  At the time, we wanted to adopt a child who would be younger than Rand – knowing the process could take a year, we figured a child age 2 or younger, but felt a nudge that our child was already born – and that we were to adopt an orphan vs. getting on a waitlist for a baby (we think this type of adoption is awesome too – and a great alternative to abortion, it just wasn’t what we felt called to).  In exploring the waiting children in the United States, most all were older than age 6 (the majority over age 10) and there were very few that we saw who were available to a family who had a young child already in the home – “this child must be the youngest in the home” was what we saw for most of the children – it was ruled by a judge for attention/need purposes.   To adopt a child under age 5, our social worker explained that we would first become foster parents, wait for the child to be placed with us and then, if rehabilitation wasn’t possible, we could file to adopt.  Along with our social worker, we felt like our goal to grow our family competed with the goals of the foster care program to rehabilitate a child to his/her bio family and so we decided to look into international adoption.

Next, we began the application process with an agency out of Raleigh and, based on forms and questionnaires, we were matched with Ghana, Uganda and South Korea – we didn’t even “qualify” for China – but weren’t trying to.  We never felt peace about the agency because most of it was automated and we wanted to talk to real people and have our hands held a little more…so we told our family over Thanksgiving 3 years ago to pray for us to find another agency.  Mom sat next to an adoptive family at her church the following Sunday and asked them for a referral and we landed at Carolina Adoption Services (they have programs in Armenia, Bulgaria, China, Haiti, Mexico, South Korea, Russia – at the time – and Uganda).  After speaking with them and they reviewed our information, they suggested we watch a video about the waiting child program in China.  We watched the video and knew right then that the China Special Needs Program was the program for us. We still use Carolina Adoption Services as our homestudy agency, but because both of our children are from the Henan province, we had to switch to CCAI as our placing agency because they work almost exclusively in the Henan province.

Why do we want to answer your questions?
Because we want you to know more about what our eyes have been open to! Also, we have this feeling that if you’re really interested in adoption, our story, or even just can’t take your eyes off of our sweet sons from China, we have this feeling that the Holy Spirit is moving you to adopt or be apart of adoption in some way! We’d love to help you, answer your questions, let you come over and spend time with our kids and sit at our table and maybe lose any fears you have and see for yourself what it looks like up close. You’ll probably leave thinking, “Hey, if those Smith’s can do it, so can we!”

So…please call us/email us/message us if you want more info. Or if you just have more questions we can answer on the blog while we’re sitting here in our hotel room counting the minutes until we can go get Wen and get him HOME!

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Yesterday

Finally uploaded some photos…

Here we are gathering our luggage at midnight in the Zhengzhou airport.  A huge blessing that everything made it.  We ended up having to take a 3rd suitcase to fit all the gifts we brought!  I’m looking forward to being able to ditch it before we fly to Guangzhou and then Beijing.

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This is my little trick to remind myself not to use the tap water to brush my teeth.  Last trip I forgot just about every other day and used the tap water…this time I’m being much more careful!

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After attempting to sleep for about 5 hours we got up and had breakfast and ventured out to get some supplies and snacks for Wen to have in our room since we’ll be at this hotel for the next week.

Here’s our hotel from the new pedestrian bridge that was just completed in October.  Hotel is the tall building on the left. We’re on the 33rd floor!

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We headed across the street to Walmart but realized the sign is on a building with a shopping mall in it and you actually have to wind through and go out the other side of the building and cross another large street to get into another indoor shopping mall area where the Walmart is on the 3rd and 4th floors.  If you asked me directions to get there or get back, I couldn’t even tell you (but I could point in the general direction).  Most all the signs are in Chinese characters so you can’t really figure out any of it.  Except the word EXIT is in English although we realized if you follow the exit signs it doesn’t always take you to a main exit.

Here’s Wes riding the escalator in Walmart – just realized it looks like there is an American man behind him – so funny because there are not too many Americans outside of the hotel here.

It’s amazing how different even something like Walmart is in another culture.  I think the only thing that is the same is the store logo!!!  I’ll show you what I mean…

Packaged eggs?

Everything is packaged, I have never seen so many packages of so many varieties of things (most that we have no clue what they actually are…except these ones in the front of the photo that clearly says “oat biscuits”)

Packaged snacks everywhere…

You may not be able to tell what this is but the aisle was clearly marked as the “Monosodium Glutamate” aisle.  MSG anyone?

More unidentifiable meats and packaged thingys…

Self-serve duck

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A lot of the meats are all self-serve…

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Meat pre-skewered for your convenience…

There were several huge freezers like this filled with things like this…not sure what they all are but from the signage it looked like it was all types of meats for your soups and noodle bowls or hot pot.

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Here’s our hotel room.  It’s very nice and comfortable.

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We are thankful the hotel is so nice because with the pollution, combined with the bad weather, we haven’t wanted to be outside a lot…here’s the view from our window.

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And the weather report!  I’m glad I brought my snow boots!!!  Please pray that the ice/snow forecast won’t affect all the adoptive families in our group who are arriving today as well as all of the trips we have to make over the next few days!  Each family has to travel back to the child’s birth city in the province to do paperwork for his/her passports and also to have an opportunity to visit the orphanage.

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Yesterday afternoon, our guides stopped by our room to say hello – Yisha was excited to see us and we were excited to see her – she was one of our guides on our trip last March.  We showed her photos of Philip and Rand and they brought us some more info from the orphanage about WenXuan and his schedule/diet/etc.

This trip has already felt so very different from the last one.  For starters, there is no wondering about what’s happening or where we are going or the schedule since we’ve done it all before.  Other than what it will be like with WenXuan, we know what to expect.

We also have had a ton of downtime it feels like – on our last trip we were touring and traveling at the beginning of the trip and we had Ema (my mom) and Rand with us.  We miss having them – Philip too!  No one to keep us on our toes or eat everything off of our plates at mealtime and we miss Ema testing out all the strange things there are to eat;)

Last night we were in bed by 7pm and although woke up early, we are doing well working towards “China time.”  Zhengzhou is not the easiest city but we definitely feel comfortable and safe and ready to go get our son tomorrow/Monday morning (10ish on Sunday night your time).

We had a good breakfast this morning and are going to bundle up in a minute and go out to see whatever there is to see around the hotel…any suggestions?

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It takes a village

***A long post with no photos…sorry!  But maybe it’s best anyhow since we’ve been traveling for over 24 hours…about 5 more to go. UPDATE: Flight to Zhengzhou just got delayed twice.  So we’ll get to Zhenghzou after midnight instead of 9:30pm as planned***

We landed safely in Guangzhou!  It was an uneventful 15 hour flight from JFK to Guangzhou.  The plane was nice, no one seemed really sick, the immigration line was REALLY long and we landed amongst an Egyptian group.  One thing we noticed is they take out any families or people traveling with babies and escort them to the front of the line…so thoughtful!  I don’t think they saw my “Bo bump” so we had to wait in the long lines.

On the flight Wes was able to sleep some, I was too excited and, trying to stay hydrated had to make too many trips to the restroom to get much sleep.  I remember when we traveled last March, I was the same way.  I don’t think I got a really good sleep until Philip was in our arms.  Mama on a mission syndrome I suppose.

One of the things I was thinking about in my spare time on the flight was how many people it has taken to get us to where we are right now.  From the people who advocated for Wen and helped us learn about him in the first place, to the other moms of kids with similar needs who have spent long phone calls or met me for coffee – encouraging us and helping us to learn about some things that have been, until now, out of our wheelhouse.

Then there are the moms and our siblings back home now giving us peace of mind that Rand and Philip are being loved and cared for while they are missing us (well at least we hope they miss us!)  24-hour care for a 3 and 4 year old is no small task and are so thankful that our moms and siblings have really stepped in!!!  We’re thankful for all the people who have prayed for Wen back when we first saw his photo and thought “hey, that kid looks like he could be a Smith!” and are praying us safely to and from China as well as for his heart as he prepares for this major change.  Our carpenter donated his time to build a ramp outside our house and when Belk Building Supply found out, they donated all the lumber and materials!  Our friends have gone out of their way to help in every part of this adventure and most of all, we are thankful for how excited they are for Wen to be joining our family – something we’d been praying for that is fun to see happening.  We can’t wait for everyone to meet him, and for him to meet “his village.”

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