Friday, August 30, 2013

First Month

It's been 1 month and 1 week since Gotcha Day. It's been almost 1 month since we've been back home with our Mini-Lu.

She is simply amazing. She eats well, sleeps well, plays well, follows directions well, such an easy child to take with me on errands, etc...and did I tell you that she's two!?

I keep telling everyone that I feel like we won the lottery with her. 

We came to the conclusion that going outside of our DNA was the answer to having a low-maintenance child. I know, I'm probably jinxing myself...but hey, we will gladly take this season, for however long it lasts!

I was reading back on this adoption blog, and it's amazing to me that she has already lost a lot of the "quirks" she had in China.

First sentence is what I wrote in China, the following (in blue) is how she is now:
She hates having her pictures taken. She still doesn't seem thrilled, but she'll throw out a half-hearted "cheese" when I aim the camera her way.
She hates having food broken in pieces in front of her. Now she doesn't mind at all. She has quickly adjusted to feeding herself without making a mess. If something is too big, she knows we break them apart for her. Mealtimes were challenging in China; at home it's been a breeze!
She has random spurts of crying moments, but she settles down quickly on her own. She throws mini-fits when things don't go her way. She rarely has any fussy moments. If she does, when we tell her to stop whining, she quickly stops. She then tries to use her sign instead (like "please"). Once in a while, she fusses more with Daddy when doing something she doesn't like (e.g. pour water over her head during bath time), because she knows he's more of the "softy" between the two of us. 
She is NOT a morning person. This has changed as well. Now, as soon as we open the door, she jumps up in her crib and is BOUNCING with all smiles, ready to get the day started.
Very playful and giggly. She SQUEALS like crazy (and gets VERY loud) when she's excited. Oh, this has not changed. Her squeals are SO high-pitched. We're still not quite used to it!  
Great traveler. This has not changed. She does great in the minivan. Most of the time she falls asleep as soon as we start driving somewhere.  
Gets into everything in the hotel room. This made me think it will be a little tough transitioning her into our house...but I was wrong! Seriously, by Day 1 or 2 of being home, she learned the boundaries of where she can freely go/where she can't, what she can touch/what she can't, etc. She learned quickly to pick up after toys and stay within the proper boundaries (most of the time - what toddler doesn't test the boundaries once in a while). 
She loves to play with Peanut. This has not changed one bit. Although she has warmed up to her other sister significantly as well (and vice versa).  
She also would rather drink water out of a cup or a bottle, instead of using a sippy cup. Now that we're back home, we always have a cup with a lid & a straw available for her...and she uses them just fine. She also has learned to "spit" when brushing her teeth. 
She loves bananas. She loves any food. Mealtimes are her favorite times of the day. We just call out that meal is ready, and she comes running & squealing, with a HUGE smile on her face. She then raises both arms high to be picked up (to be placed on her highchair). 
She doesn't seem to like rice. She will eat rice as long as they're mixed in with something (sauce, meat, etc.). We haven't given her plain rice in a while...who knows, maybe she likes it now. She simply loves to eat!
She does not like to get her poopy diaper changed. Most of the time, she's fine with getting her diapers changed (again, sometimes she tries to play on Daddy's heartstrings by being fussy). 
She waves at everyone who walks by. She doesn't initiate this herself like she did in China. But if someone waves, or if we tell her to wave, she gladly waves at them. 
She wants to do everything herself. This has changed significantly. She really likes it when her sisters help her to do stuff (like put her shoes on). 
She waves her arm up and down for not wanting something AND for wanting something. She has learned so many baby signs and uses them appropriately - please, more, all done, thank you, etc. She understands pretty much everything that we say to her. She follows directions SO well.
She is a joy!!! Um, YES! Everyone who comes into contact with her is immediately in love with her.

Medical checkup and home visit:
Her first medical checkup went great! The doctor had no concerns for her physically or developmentally. She told me to just come back in six months for another checkup. Hallelujah! 
Another surprising fact was that she weighed at 25th percentile (in U.S. charts). Neither of our other girls ever weighed that high, I think (they probably still don't). When you first see her, she looks small, but when you pick her up you'll realize that she's SOLID.  She has some strong legs...maybe soccer or volleyball may be in her future!?
Our first post-adoption home visit went extremely well. Our social worker was amazed by how well she has adjusted (especially that we don't have any problem with her sleeping through the night - not once, except for jetlag days). She was also amazed by how "advanced" she seemed developmentally, compared to other orphanage-raised children in similar age that she'd seen. It's ironic because her "special need" was "motor development delayed slightly." So far we've seen zero sign of that. 

She learns new routines so well. When we tell her to "Get your shoes," she gets them and waits by the door. When we say "nigh-nigh time," she goes to her room. When we get out a book to read, she immediately goes to sit on the couch. She gets excited when we approach her sisters' schools to pick them up. 
She also has learned to repeat some words, like "nigh-nigh" and "plea" (for "please"). She's become more talkative within the last week or so...we look forward to the days when we can understand all that she's trying to say.

Our family:
Daddy is still the favorite out of the two of us, but she is starting to reach out to me (to sit on my lap, for me to read to her, etc.) even when he's home (before, it was ALL about Daddy when he's home, although she never refused or disliked me). She still likes to follow him around the house.

Peanut is still the favorite out of the two siblings, but she and LittleBit have developed a much closer relationship in the last week or so. I think it really helps that we have one day a week for her to be alone with each sibling (with just LittleBit on Tuesdays, with just Peanut on Fridays). When it's just LittleBit and Mini-Lu, they seem to get along better. When Peanut is home, Mini-Lu is quickly drawn to Peanut. I am so proud of LittleBit. She has come a LONG way. She now is very affectionate towards Mini-Lu. She LOVES to help change her diaper, get her shoes on, bring her toys, etc. She's really starting to fall in love with this new "big sister" role. I think things began to improve when preschool started for her. 

The only one who is still trying to "get with the program" (emotionally) is me. I have good days and bad days. But even in this process, God is showing me how "gracious" He is. He's allowed me to connect with other adoptive moms who can understand and give insight. I know that it's a day-by-day process, and I already know the outcome (with God on my side, nothing but victory!). I also am aware of how very blessed I am. I often watch my three girls play, and I'm in awe. Really, God? Really? I am really blessed THIS MUCH? It's an indescribable joy.

Mini-Lu continues to live up to her name...even when I have bad days, she constantly shows me GRACE. She lets me hold her and she will quickly lay her head on my chest as if to say, "It's OK, Mommy. I'm not going anywhere. It will all be OK." 

I've been receiving notes from others on how "amazing" our family is for going through this adoption process. I appreciate the kind words...but who's been more "amazing" through this process is our Mini-Lu. Who's been the most "amazing" is our God who has blessed us with such a treasure.

God is Gracious,
Maria


Here are some pictures taken last week, on the 1-month Anniversary from Gotcha Day.




Sunday, August 11, 2013

First Week at Home

Dear Mini-Lu,

"Mini-Lu." You know to respond to this nickname now.

You've been home 1 week now. It's been almost 3 weeks since our Gotcha Day.

At the airport (9pm), we were welcomed by PapaG and Mimi and the Florida director of our agency (and her daughter).
The Florida director made this sweet sign for Siana

There was another surprise (by PapaG and Mimi) when we arrived home, which we couldn't see well until the following morning.

In a nutshell, you are doing incredibly well. I was surprised by how adaptable and easy-going you were while we were in China. Now that we're home, you've surprised me even more.

You love to play with Peanut and LittleBit. Especially Peanut. You laugh at everything she does and you follow her around everywhere she goes. The other day (8/7) when the older girls were watching a show, you snuggled up next to Peanut and leaned your head against her.

You have a very caring heart. You love to share. You love to bring toys to your sisters and even to Mommy and Daddy sometimes. You love bringing water cups to your sisters (you already know which cup belongs to whom). When LB starts whining that you took her toy, you immediately give it back to her.
You already learned some signs like "please," "more," and "all done" (but this last one I don't think you know what it means yet).
To view the video in best quality, click on the setting icon at the bottom. Choose 720p HD. You have to start the movie over again to view in HD.



You are a fast learner. You are learning how our family operates quickly. We only had to tell you once or twice to stay out of cabinets, etc. You still test once in a while, but for the most part, you stick to toys and areas that you're allowed to dig into. You learned quickly to clean up after you're done with each toy.
I started giving you high fives every time you did something good. Now you love to give fives and you keep doing whatever that good deed was over and over again, just to get more fives.
I think you already learned the phrase "self-control." Most of the time you stop crying/whining when you hear us say "self-control."
You like to mimic your sisters. They were playing around with Peanut's camera. When you got a hold of it, you held it up on your forehead and said, "cheese!"



During our travel time you whined when we prayed before meals (you were so anxious to get to your food). Now, you are already learning to fold your hands and pray before eating.
You hardly ever fussed about going to take a nap/going to bed in China, but after a couple of days of being home, you started fussing about going in your crib. But you quickly settle down and is asleep within minutes.
When Daddy is home, you follow him around everywhere. When he's gone, you follow me around everywhere. The moment I get up from the couch, you immediately get up and start following me. I feel like I have a little puppy at my feet :)
Your table manners have improved A LOT since our hotel days. You are more OK with being fed, if you know that you can't do it well (but it's usually just me, you still don't want anybody else feeding you). You have already improved so much on feeding yourself without making a big mess.

You LOVE men. It doesn't matter if he looks like Daddy or not, you immediately snuggle up to a guy to get picked up. With new women you act shy and start whining if they hold you.

Today (8/11) we went to church. You did great! You cried for a little while when you were dropped off, but your teacher said (surprise, surprise) you blended right in and started coloring and playing with friends. A-mazing.
You follow directions so well. It's almost like you already understand most of what I'm saying to you. If I tell you to bring a cup to the table, you do it. If I tell you to clean something up, you do it. If I tell you it's time for "nigh-nigh," you go to your room. If I tell you to get your shoes on, you go look for your shoes. You are super smart and super easy going. You learned to wait out of our bedroom door (and not just walk in). You learned to knock if you want to come into our bedroom.
I can't believe how quickly and smoothly you are transitioning into our family. God definitely picked the right child for us! Another mom from our group in GZ said it best: "It's almost been TOO easy."

Laundry and dishes are definitely piling up quicker, and it's become more of an ordeal to get out of the house (with three children). Bathing three is a whole new game. We suffered from jetlag for the first few nights of being home. That's pretty much been the extent of the challenges we've had so far.

All this time, I thought it was we who had so much love waiting to shower on you. I was wrong. It was the other way around. You, my dear, have so much love, joy, and GRACE to give...and how blessed we are to be the first recipients of it.

My over-analytical (and sometimes pessimistic) self kept wondering, "What's going on here? When is she going to drop the bomb on us and become more difficult to handle?" But everyday, you're showing us more and more of your goodness and joy. There were days when you were extra fussy while in China, but here at home, you haven't had a fussy day yet. You're actually becoming more agreeable and adaptable than you already were!

One of my dear friends said it best: "She is so sweet and good - accept the blessing!" And what a blessing you are. I can't tell you how much you've fulfilled what your name means already, just within these first few weeks of having you in our arms.

You are bringing to light...even to your own Mommy's heart, that God is GRACIOUS.

It's like God wrapped up His grace in a bow and presented it to us in the form of you, our newest child :)

God is Gracious,
Maria

P.S. Peanut continues to be a GREAT big sister. She adores Mini-Lu. LittleBit has been a lot less fussy since being back home. She still has some difficulties with sharing toys and our attention, but she is doing so much better. She loves to tickle Mini-Lu (copying Peanut) to try to make her laugh (but somehow she doesn't quite have the same magic touch as Peanut; she will get there I'm sure).

What our Bible reading time looks like now

Here's an example of what a great big sister Peanut is being.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

China Travel Tips & Packing List

This post is for future travelers to China for adoption. I wanted to write this all down while they are fresh in my memory.

Some of these tips may not apply to you if you're traveling in a different season. We were there for the second half of July 2013, when it was very hot and humid.

Background of our traveling party: Dad, Mom, two bio-daughters (ages 5 and 3 - yes, we are crazy like that), and we adopted our 2-yr-old daughter.

Our travel itinerary: We flew into Beijing and stayed there for a few days for sightseeing. We then flew to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia (our daughter's province) for a week. We flew to Guangzhou for the following week. We took a private van from Guangzhou to Hong Kong and flew out of HK the next day.

Money Exchange
If you know the timeframe of when you may be traveling, I would ask your bank if they can exchange dollars to RMB for you (they probably need a few weeks notice). If the exchange fee is anything less than 3%, you're saving money. We regret not doing this before we left.
Whatever you do, DO NOT, I mean DO NOT exchange money at one of the U.S. airports. We did this at Atlanta airport (fortunately only part of our cash), and later discovered there was a 12%+ exchange fee!
We exchanged some at the Beijing airport. The fee was MUCH better (3.8%). Our agency told us that China will only accept clean, unfolded dollar bills, but at the Beijing airport it seemed that they'll take older bills too (they run them all through a machine).
The above two exchanges lasted us until our final few days in Guangzhou. We exchanged at the Garden Hotel front desk and their fee was the best (3%). Other families said there's a max of $300 that you can exchange (per day, per room). When I asked about this to the staff there, she told me that the max was $500 and that if we wanted to exchange more we just have to submit our passports. Not sure which story is the truth (I only had to exchange $300)...so just be prepared that you may be able to exchange only $300/day. There is also a bank attached to the Garden Hotel. I heard it has the best rate, but there's usually a long wait (maybe an hour).

Beijing
For those visiting Beijing, this is the biggest tip I have to share!
We saved at least $600 (probably more) by not going through a travel agency to book our rides/tours in Beijing. I checked with a couple of travel agencies (one in U.S. and one in China) and they gave me about the same quote (their package included ride from/to the airport, Great Wall, Hutong tour, Summer Palace, acrobat show, rides to/from each place, and a guide for each place). Normally the package would include the hotel as well, but we already had our own arrangements for hotel in Beijing. So here's what we did instead.
Hotel - we had a friend who works for Marriott who arranged our stay. But even if you don't have such connection, you can easily book the hotel yourself. Marriott has a few different hotels in Beijing, and they often have cheaper rates if you prepay your stay in advance.
Rides from/to airport - take a cab! It's about $20 each way. We landed in Beijing, and after going through customs we were immediately bombarded with "drivers" offering their service. Ignore them. Do not take their offer (they often try to cheat you and may not even have a valid license). We then found someone at the travel counter (at the airport) who quoted a fee of 350 RMB (around $57) to our hotel. We took that offer, since we were not sure how easy/safe it would be for us to get a cab. In hindsight, we should have just taken a cab (we took a cab a few times after that, including from the hotel to the airport, and it was perfectly safe). Right when you walk out the door of the airport, there are cabs lined up everywhere. It's approximately $20 to take a cab from the airport to the hotel (I guess it depends on where your hotel is...ours was near the Forbidden City). At any rate, I would suggest the cab, it's easy and cheap. If you get shocked at how crazy the cab ride is, don't fret, you'll soon realize that's how EVERYONE drives in China.
On our first full day in Beijing, we had a one-day tour arranged by our hotel (I'm sure most hotels offer this type of service; or you can probably  contact the guide we used directly, I will include his info).  It was 2500 RMB (around $408) for 2 adults, 2 children. It included the ride, the guide (a PHENOMENAL one), lunch for all of us (a delicious, plentiful meal), Great Wall Mutianyu, Hutong tour, Cloisonné shop/factory tour, and a tea ceremony at the Bell Tower. It was WELL worth the money. We couldn't believe how much we were able to do in one day (it was from 9am to around 4pm). You can read about our day here. Again, we can't recommend our guide enough. He was so nice, spoke great English, and took such good care of us. Here is his contact info: David (davidbjchina@yahoo.com). For the places we visited on this day, I do recommend having a driver/guide. They were not places we could have easily gone on our own...and we appreciated the history and background information David shared with us.
Also, for Great Wall, it's recommended by many that you choose the Mutianyu section. It's farther away, but it's less crowded. Chinese natives swear that it's the "best" section to see the Great Wall.

On our second day, we were on our own. We took the subway to the Summer Palace. The metro system in Beijing is very easy to figure out. When you do it once, you'll feel comfortable with it immediately. It's just 2 RMB per person (no matter how many times you transfer; you then pay 2 RMB  again on your return trip). Children are free (up to a certain height - our 5 year old was still free). Entrance at the Summer Palace was very cheap too...but if you are traveling over the summer, I would NOT recommend it. It was so hot and crowded. Sure, it's a pretty place...but it was more like a zoo when we went there. I hear very different stories from families who traveled during other seasons. If you do go, take the subway. Get off at Beigongmen and walk to the north gate (3 minutes). It seemed like the back entrance, but that's the closest one to a subway station.  In hindsight, we may have taken the subway/cab to the Bird's Nest or some other attraction instead of the Summer Palace. I heard from other families that the Forbidden City could have been easily skipped, so we didn't go, but we walked over from our hotel to the entrance area and I know that there's a subway station right by the entrance. So that's an option too. 
Lastly we went to an acrobat show. We took a cab to the theatre and took the subway back. This is the one we went to (recommended by a friend). Beijing Chaoyang Theater Acrobatics World. www.bjcyjc.com (click "English"). You can buy tickets at the door. It was around $137 for 4 tickets, but we were right at the front section. I'm sure they have cheaper tickets too. The show was simply amazing. Well worth the money.
The following day we took a cab to the airport. 
For meals, we found many western-friendly restaurants/fast foods very close to our hotel (there was a mall near our hotel, which had a food court). 
We had a great time in Beijing! The air quality is bad, but (sadly) you kind of get used to it. 
At hotel pools everyone MUST wear a swim cap (children too). They sell them at various markets and department stores. It's much more expensive to buy them at the hotel. 

Power adapters/converters
We had bought international adapter plug set (something like this) at a hardware shop before we left. We heard that converters are not needed (most laptops/i-devices already come with a converter), unless you're using something like a hair dryer (but most hotels provide a hair dryer in the room). So we didn't bring converters and were fine. 
My laptop chord has a 3-prong plug, so I also bought a 3-prong to 2-prong adapter. Most of the 2-prong plug should work fine in China, except if one of the prongs is wider than the other. In such case, you will need to use the international adapter plug (plug your 2-prong to the China adapter which has 2-prongs that are the same width), if that makes sense. I hope I'm not being too confusing! 
We also needed the international adapter plug when we got to our hotel room in Hong Kong. All that to say, $7 we spent on the international adapter plug set was well worth the money! It came with like 5 pieces (on each piece it's labeled which countries it's used for). 

VPN and Computer Security
For VPN (to get onto certain websites blocked by China), Panda Pow worked great. We just paid for one month subscription.
Also in China there is a danger of your computer being hacked. Our techie friend told us that the safest device we can bring/use in China is an iPad. Under General Setting turn the passcode lock "on" and turn the simple passcode "off." Choose a long, non-simple passcode.
I also used a different email account (not the one that has all my contact info), and I had my emails forwarded from my normal account. This was another advice by our techie friend.
For hardcore bloggers (like me), I would recommend these two accessories for the iPad (click on the item name and it will take you to the site that sells it): Keyboard for iPad (so you can type faster) and Camera Connection Kit (transfer photos from your camera to the iPad). 
I also bought this app ($2.99) Photogene to edit and resize pictures (since my photos were such large files). 

Children's DVD players
If you are bringing small children, small DVD player will become so valuable to you. We used my laptop as a DVD player many times. Our hotel in Beijing had a DVD player, but it didn't work with American DVDs. For international flights, they have screens in front of each seat (with lots of choices for kids), but  in-country flights do not. You won't always have reliable WiFi connection in hotel rooms, so I would highly recommend bringing DVDs and some kind of device that will play the DVDs. They show English movies on TV but not many kids' shows.

Laundry
We did A LOT of laundry during travel. So we only packed about a week worth of clothes for each family member. In Beijing, we were fortunate enough to have washer/dryer in our room (we stayed at Marriott Executive Apartments). In our daughter's province, there was a laundry shop within walking distance of the hotel (which was cheaper than using the hotel). In Guangzhou, our guide Miko knew of a laundry guy, and he came to pick up and drop off our laundry to our room (so convenient!). Both in her province and Guangzhou, it was about $25 per load.

Packing List
I based my packing list off of this blog post: http://www.babeofmyheart.com/china-adoption-pack-list/
I tweaked the list for my family, and this was what I came up with (my changes are in blue).

Toilettries:
Q-tips (travel pack)
Wet Ones & Disinfectant Wipes (2 travel packs each)
Travel Conditioner (All the hotels have shampoo; I found conditioners in all hotels too)
Face Wash Cleansing Pads (so you don’t have to worry about any spills; I didn't bring this)
Lotion (I brought baby lotion; used hotel lotion for adults)
Travel Disinfectants (the more the better if you ask me!)
Floss
Travel Tissue packs (2 or 3 packs – just for the squatty potties you encounter; most bathrooms have western style toilets too, but many do not provide toilet paper)
Hankies/small towels (since most of the bathrooms do not provide paper towels)
Travel size toothpaste (2)
Feminine products (The stores there do NOT sell the same kind of things we use:)
Little Toothbrush for new one
Fluoride-free Toothpaste (assume this is a new thing and they are going to swallow it:)
Travel size toothbrushes for all travelers
Razors/shaving cream
Sunscreen—Maybe (We packed sunscreen but the smog is so bad there that you really don’t see the sun. We never used it! We packed a travel size and never used it...it's hot and humid but the sun is never too strong).
Loofahs for children (glad we brought these!)
Kids comb/brush, hair accessories
Mom brush, hair accessories  
Deodorant
Make-up
Contact solution
Extra contact lenses
Glasses  

Medication: (I only brought some things from her list - I listed them below. I found them to be more than enough. Thankfully none of us got severely ill.)
Benadryl
Advil
7-hr Slumber (melatonin; you can buy it HERE)
Children's Tylenol
Butt paste
Children's vitamins; adults vitamins
Pepto Bismol Chewable Tablets
Travel Pro (We used it for both adults and children. Keeps you healthy naturally. You can find it HERE.)
Bio-Lax Herbal Laxative (sorry for TMI, glad we brought these; you can buy it HERE)
Zyrtec (for my allergy symptoms) 
Lice kit (another list suggested this; thankfully, we never had to use it).
First aid kit

Household:
Travel size laundry liquid detergent (4) – I was SO glad we did this!!! I’ll spare you the details–but there were several occasions I had to wash clothes in the hotel tub and it really couldn’t wait until the morning! We used them at our Marriott apartment too.
Small Scissors – strange I packed these. BUT I used them SEVERAL TIMES! Glad I had them! Same here.
Plastic Bags: Plastic Grocery bags, Tall Kitchen bags, Snack size Ziploc, Small size Ziploc I didn't bring tall kitchen bags, but a couple of them would have been helpful (for trash); I also brought a few reusable grocery bags. In China they charge you at grocery stores if you don't bring your own bags.
Clothes pins (These are great if you are in a situation where you have to wash clothes in the tub and hang them to dry! Most showers there have a pull string for hanging wet clothes to dry. IF NOT–you can use the clothes pins to hang drying children clothing from curtains and such! Very helpful to dry swimsuits!)
Snack containers (We brought them but never used them)
Water Purifier – This is GREAT to have and worth the investment as your husband can take this camping later:). You can fill up water from the sink and purify it. This is probably safer and more reliable than even water bottles. When you get to a hotel late at night and there’s no time to go buy water bottles–at least you have this! You can buy one HERE. Per her advice, we took this bottle. However, we used it very little. It takes too long to fill up the cup. Most hotels will give you extra water bottles for free. In GZ we bought a gallon-size water at the grocery store.
Small Flashlight – Our power went out for an entire day:) This is great to have at night when you need to find something and not wake everyone else too:) We brought this but never used it.
3 Thermos bottles (one for each child)
3 small reusable plastic bowls (we used this a lot when we ate lunch inside our hotel room)
Reusable plastics cups and utensils (again, glad we brought these!)

Clothes/Shoes: 
We brought one week worth of clothes, underwear, and socks for each member of the family.
2 sets of pajamas for each.
1 swimsuit for each (coverup for mom).
A light sweater/jacket for each.
One pair of flip-flops for each; wore a pair of sneakers on our travel day.
 
Toddler/Child/New One Clothes and items:
2 sets of pajamas
1 week worth of outfits

Baby shampoo
Loofah 
Swimsuit (We used this a LOT at the Guangzhou hotel!
 We used this twice for our child)
Baby Carrier – Even though our little one was 2 years old–we still used this a lot and were glad we had it! Ours was 2 years old also, and I kind of regret not bringing it. We bought a stroller in China instead. She was heavier than I thought, so I think the carrier would have hurt my back. 

Speaking of strollers, I would recommend bringing an umbrella stroller from the U.S. The hotel at her province was not near Carrefour (which is like a Target/Walmart). We bought it at a swap meet type of department store. It was more expensive than U.S. and didn't steer very well. 
Blanket
Some say to bring a stuffed animal too, but our child didn't like it. She didn't care for the blanket either.
Crib Sheet Saver – We were thankful we brought an ultimate crib sheet to put in the pack and play the hotel provided. They had sheets–but with stains on them–this just was nice to have. We brought a pack and play pad cover, but we never used it. Both hotels provided nice cribs with clean sheets.
Diapers – We were told you can just buy them there. AND YOU CAN. BUT–they were very expensive. I just wished we had packed all we would need the entire time. I spent too much time figuring out how to get to a store that sells them in Guangzhou and was shocked at the cost once we got there. Pack these if you will need them! I had a different experience. We brought one pack. We bought another pack (Pampers) at her province and another pack at Guangzhou (supermarket is close and diapers were easy to find). They may have been more expensive - it's been so long for us, I couldn't tell.
Swim Diapers – Many of the hotels have pools. I didn’t have these but wish I had packed them! We took him swimming in a regular diaper and it got really heavy and not fun to clean up later! We brought them. We only took our new child to the pool twice (Allan took the older girls more during our new child's nap time).
Wipes (2 refill packs) I took one and ended up buying one more at the supermarket in Guangzhou.
2 Bottles – We did not pack these and had to go buy them! Wish we’d packed them! I thought a 2 year old wouldn’t be on a bottle–but momma was wrong. This is great for bonding too–so just be safe and pack them if you have a little 3 or under. We brought them, but ours ended up refusing a bottle. She instead drank warm milk at night from a sippy cup.

2 reusable plastic sippy cups
Bottle Brush
Disposable gloves (Just bring them. Assume your little has picked up parasites. You’ll know within a few diaper changes if you’ll need them. But PACK THEM! You’ll thank me later.) We brought them and never used them.
Travel formula cup if your little one is still on formula (our 2 year old was!) You can buy formula THERE! We brought them and found out our child drinks warm milk (instead of formula) at night.
Bibs made of silicone for easy cleaning.
Small toys – We were so thankful to have a few small things to play with at the Civil Affairs and Consulate appointments. Think lots of waiting with a little one–and what would entertain them. We mainly used toys in the hotel rooms. We brought her Minnie Mouse toy phone and stacking cups. She loved them both. We also didn't encounter much wait time, except at airports. 
Diaper Bag 


Miscellaneous: (again, I only brought some of the things from her list)
PASSPORTS WITH VISAS 
PAPERWORK + MONEY Our agency had all the paperwork we need neatly organized in two envelopes for us. 
Pens
Gum/Mints/Candies for kids (for take-off and landing)
Ipad/Books/Coloring, stickers, and activity books for kids
Compact Bible

Folding Umbrella - I actually bought one and didn't know it was so small. It was very rainy in Guangzhou (in July). The hotel has one you can use (it's not a folding one), but depending on the # of your party, you'll definitely need more.
Bubble wrap to wrap breakables if needed for trip home Very helpful!

I would add, bring TAPE (I didn't have tape after I wrapped the breakables in bubble wrap)
Toddler backpack  I brought small backpacks for the girls to carry on our outings (we put their Thermos bottles in the backpack, along with a small towel and some snacks)
Headphones (BEST PURCHASE EVER! We bought noise cancellation ones for me and Rich, nice ones for the kids and even a pair for our new one. SO thankful we had these for the long flights!) I agree these are a must. We only bought them for the children; I now wish we bought them for us too. The airplane earphones are free but not very good. Our girls loved them. Our new child is not into shows so she hardly used them. 

1 Travel Neck Pillow (I got the inflatable kind but it wasn't comfy. I should have bought the soft, squishy kind. Allan wasn't interested, but buy 2 if both parents want to use them). 
Video Camera, Digital Camera, Battery Chargers, extra memory cards

Food:
Y’all–there is pretty good food in China–so you don’t really need to pack much. We are pretty healthy, organic eaters-BUT we did eat McDonald’s in Beijing and Guangzhou–and it was some good stuff:) You can buy peanut butter, jelly, bread and all kinds of stuff that would weigh too much to pack in Carrefour (like Walmart or Target)–they are in just about every city! Just ask your hotel concierge where Carrefour is and you’ll be SET! I found this to not be true in our child's province. It was hard to find familiar foods at the local grocery store in her province. I'm glad we had brought snacks with us. In Guangzhou, the supermarket has everything (lots of familiar snacks too). That's where we finally were able to buy stuff for PB&J.
Granola bars

Instant oatmeals
Prunes (because we daily give our girls dried prunes; we ran out and the ones we bought in China were too sour/salty..they didn't like it). 
Raisins
Instant coffee (Chinese coffee is a bit different; we had bought instant coffee in Japan and drank those a lot).

Gifts: We wanted to take things for the orphanage caregivers, Civil Affairs and Guides–something that wasn’t made in China:) 
Our agency gave us a list of how many gifts we need to purchase, along with some ideas. 
We brought gift bags and tissue papers to pack the gifts in.

Guangzhou
AEON supermarket is great - pretty much has everything you need.
I found pastries in Guangzhou to be delicious! There's a cafe/bakery across the street from the Garden (I can't remember the name but has the word "surprise" in it). Delicious!

McDonald's at Guangzhou tasted so good...not sure why. The sandwiches tasted way better than in the U.S.

Pizza Hut in China is like a sit-down restaurant, and the foods are made to order. The pizza was really good!

Tekila Mexican Restaurant (all of these are on the same street, across from the Garden Hotel) was very good as well. I ordered the California-style Burrito - yummy!!

KFC sandwiches in Guangzhou are very spicy.

We didn't try out the subway in Guangzhou but heard from others that it's very easy to navigate as well. The subway station is right next to the Garden Hotel.

What we normally did in GZ was have a big breakfast around 9 or 9:30 (at the hotel buffet), have a light lunch in our hotel room (from what we bought at the grocery store), and have a take out or sit-down dinner somewhere.

Traveling to Hong Kong: We took a private van instead of the train. We were told that with three small children, this was the way to go. We just have to sit in the car through customs. For the train, you have to carry your luggages around...then figure out a ride from the train station to the hotel. We were glad we did the van (it was very new and clean). We just had no idea it would take so long. They told us 3 hrs...but with traffic (in the rain), and LONG wait at customs, it ended up being closer to 4 hours. Just be prepared for a long ride!

Whew. I think I've written it all down.

It really is a trip of a lifetime. There are challenges, for sure, but I cherish every bit of the memory we made there.

Have a GREAT time.

God is Gracious,
Maria

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Day 21 - In Flight

I can never sleep well when I know that I have to wake up super early for a flight. I kept waking up a few times throughout the night. Finally we received the wake-up call at 5:30am.

Let's see...who was the first unhappy child. Oh yes, it was the Fussy Bit. She did NOT want to get out of bed and had a cow. 

We actually MISSED our 6am shuttle to the airport. The next one was not until 6:20am (the time we needed to be at the airport). To our surprise, the staff at the hotel arranged a private van to take us to the airport for free. During our short time in Hong Kong, everyone we encountered have been so nice and friendly. In China the friendliness of staff/natives was hit or miss. In Japan and Hong Kong, it seems to be the norm. 

Our dilemma was that we had no small dollars left to tip the bell boy (and the guy who got us the van) at the Marriott. This whole tipping system has been driving me nuts since we started our travel. In Japan, there's no tipping system at all. In China, most of the places we didn't have to tip, but to bell boys, drivers, and guides we did (except our guides & drivers already arranged by our agency). We then had to calculate how much to tip in RMB. Our guide in Guangzhou (Miko) told us we should tip the van driver (to Hong Kong) $10 in US dollars. Another family who was taking a separate van did not have anything smaller than $20, so we let them have all the remaining smaller bills we had in exchange for a $20. When we got to Hong Kong, they had their own currency (HK dollars), which we didn't have any of. It seemed like most people were OK with getting paid in US dollars - so I tried to get some smaller bills at the front desk. They said they didn't have any, they only were able to exchange HK dollars. After 3 weeks of traveling, I was so done with this whole tipping thing. It has been too stressful! I don't understand how in movies everyone is ready to tip, whenever and wherever they seem to be at! Allan ended up asking the bell boy and the guy who arranged the van if they had change for $20. The bell boy had $14 in one dollar bills, so Allan gave him the $20 in exchange and told him to split the $6 difference with the other guy. I'm sure it was the most UNclassy way to tip, but that was all we were able to muster up.

The checkin at HK airport went much more smoothly than the other check-in processes we experienced in China. But this airport was also huge and was like a maze. We were hoping to get breakfast, but the line was ridiculously long at McDonald's. There was a cafe by our departing gate, so I ended up buying some fruit and donuts there. It's amazing how you never have enough time at the airport anymore, when you're traveling with three little ones. By the time we get through checkin, customs, and security, there's hardly any time left to grab food. 

The flight to Japan was around 4 hours. Mini-Lu has become more of a fussy traveler. She doesn't cry for very long, but she cries more often and more loudly in public. She also keeps taking cat naps...I don't think she can sleep well unless she's in a crib. 

As I type this, we're about an hour into our LONG 12-hr flight to Atlanta. Peanut continues to be not as agreeable as she has been these past 3 weeks. Our Drama Queen (aka LittleBit) is doing a little better. Nice thing about her is that she can be satisfied with headphones and movies for hours. 

So we are on the last leg of this adventure. 

I think back on the long flight we took from Atlanta to Tokyo exactly three weeks ago. I remember how the girls did SO WELL. We were so thankful.

I remember Peanut and LittleBit finally meeting their great-grandma...and how much they had fun with their cousins at Disney.

I remember the jet lag in Japan...how Peanut kept waking up at 3am for the first few days.

I remember our trip to Beijing. We were so spoiled at our first hotel in China...it was bigger than my first apartment for sure. We really got the royal treatment. 

I remember the AMAZING Great Wall and Hutong tour. I think that's still one of my favorite days from this trip. We again was spoiled with the best at the beginning. Our guide for that day gets our top award, although the other two were very nice and helpful as well. 

Taking the subway to the crowded, HOT Summer Palace. We could have skipped that if we had known it was going to be a zoo. The acrobat show was definitely worth seeing.

I remember our week in Hohhot...that was probably our toughest week, especially to find meals that we were able to enjoy (thank God for room service). 

I remember our trip to the Grassland in Inner Mongolia. What a cultural experience that was. I remember the goat being slaughtered and the outhouse we used. 

We met our girl finally on Tuesday. I can't believe that was only a week and a half ago. As I've heard other families say, it feels like she's been part of our family for much longer. 

I remember visiting her orphanage, and seeing first-hand how much she was loved. The staff were all so happy to see her again. They were happy to see her with her friends again too. I remember the tears shed by the dean of her department and the hug we exchanged. I will treasure that moment in my heart forever. "Thank you" just didn't seem enough, but that was all that I was able to say in her language.

I remember the crazy flight we took to Guangzhou. All the people yelling at each other. What a night that was - but Mini-Lu did so great on her first flight!

I remember how relieved I felt in Guangzhou, with more familiar foods, stores, and restaurants. And more people speaking English. My favorite part was meeting and getting to know the other adoptive families from our agency. The week in Guangzhou flew by; we stayed at the Garden Hotel for a total of 7 nights. It was really a nice, pleasant week for us...with occasional challenges during mealtimes. 

I am so thankful for:
-All the prayers, support, and love that were sent our way. Thank you to so many of you who followed my blog. Most of you know that I love to write and I love pictures...knowing that there was a good amount of audience on the other end made it so much more enjoyable. It really made us feel like we're not alone on this journey. So from the bottom of my heart (with tears in my eyes), THANK YOU. Your love and support, you sharing in our joy and excitement, and your prayers (especially for our health) - all have meant more to us than you'll ever know.
-I can't thank God enough for how all the girls have slept so well during this trip (with the exception of the first few days in Japan). We have yet to see Mini-Lu NOT sleep well for nap time and at night. Because of the good amount of sleep I had, I was able to stay up a little later every night to blog.
-I am so thankful that none of us got seriously ill. Each of us had our minor issues, but hugely thanks to all the prayers, they were very manageable and short-lived. 
-I am so thankful for our Mini-Lu. She is pure joy. We can't get enough of her squeals and giggles. I'm thankful for my Peanut who was such a trooper throughout the whole trip. (tears again). Words can't express how proud I am of her. She was the only child who had to walk and carry her stuff most of the time, and there were many other things we had to rely on her to do by herself. She rocked it. She's also the one who can make her new sister laugh the most. Mini-Lu lights up when she sees Peanut. My strong-willed firstborn may have been my biggest challenge, but she's also my biggest reward. I am thankful for my LittleBit, who is slowly but surely learning to be a big sister. This trip was a lot for a 3-yr-old to go through, but I'm so glad she was able to experience it with us (with her fits and all). I'm glad she didn't miss the moment we welcomed Siana into our family. 
-And to my amazing husband. There are no words. Only tears as I think about how dependable and capable and loving and amazing he has been these last 3 weeks, even more than usual (if that was even possible). He is surrounded now by 4 females, each with her own set of drama (I had my share too during the trip). Yet he handles them all so well, with such patience, wisdom, grace, and love. There is nobody in the world I would rather do "life" with, and this trip has only confirmed it a thousand times more. I love you...so dearly. I love our growing family that we have together. 

To Jesus, my Savior. Thank You for trusting us with this mission. Thank You for the gift and the privilege of being parents to another precious life. Thank You for always walking right beside us on this journey, every step of the way. To YOU be all the glory and praise. I believe that one day, she will fulfill her calling of bringing to light, for all to see, that our God is GRACIOUS.

Good night...from our HOME in Jacksonville, FL!
Maria

P.S. Update on the remainder of our trip...the girls did great! Mini-Lu was a little fussy at the beginning, but she was mostly playful for the first half of the flight. She and LB slept for the second half. Peanut didn't sleep much (since she didn't have room to lie down horizontally like the other two) but she entertained herself the whole time. Now we're in Atanta and Allan, Mini-Lu, and LB are all sleeping. I am very much looking forward to sleeping in my bed tonight! Please pray that all the girls will sleep through the night...and will not be too affected by jet lag.

Another P.S. It was like a zoo when we came home - kids were hungry, crib was not put together all the way yet, luggages were opened everywhere, kids were tired and cranky, I couldn't find anything that I needed, Mini-Lu was exploring everything in the house, and LB was freaking out every time she touched something that was hers. I told Allan, "I think this first hour home was harder than our travels!" I know that it was the worst of circumstance...things can only get better from here, right!?

Photos at the end of our long journey (the sign was actually made by the Florida State Director for our agency; we met for the first time at the airport tonight. She and her daughter were so kind to make a trip to the airport to welcome us home). For families considering adoption, we would HIGHLY recommend Lifeline Children's Services (www.lifelinechild.org). They held our hand and prayed for us throughout the whole process, and we were VERY well taken care of during our travels. We can't thank them enough!





Friday, August 2, 2013

Day 20 - Packing & Hong Kong

We all slept in this morning, except for our early riser Peanut (she was up before 8 while the rest of the kids slept an hour longer). 

We enjoyed our last breakfast buffet at the Garden Hotel. They had all kinds of food there - not just breakfast items...but lots of Asian foods and noodles as well. Mealtimes have been the most challenging moments with Mini-Lu. She is SO independent and throws a fit if we try to feed her or break her food into pieces. She is also very random...refuses to eat some food one minute, then a little while later she will eat them just fine. We're looking forward to working on some table manners with her once we're settled at home. 

We spent some of the morning packing and taking picture of Mini-Lu in her China dress. 


During Mini-Lu's nap time, I quickly walked over to the department store to buy some lunch, diapers, and CD/DVD carrier case (since we had bought all those DVDs at the market and we didn't want to pack so many boxes of DVDs). I could not find such case ANYwhere. There were tons of cases for all types of i-devices. I guess CD/DVDs don't exist in everyday China anymore. 

Allan took the girls to the pool one last time while Mini-Lu napped. We then finished packing and headed down to the lobby to pick up Siana's visa (our guide was picking up the visa from the Consulate today). We said good-bye to the other three families from our group. One of them was actually heading to the same Hong Kong hotel as us, but they took a separate van since we all couldn't fit into one. The remaining two families will stay at the Garden Hotel one more night and head to the Hong Kong airport in the morning.

It was a LONG ride to Hong Kong. Originally they told us it will be 3 hrs. There was a lot traffic, and it was raining HARD for most of the ride. The girls were all getting restless. What took the longest was the customs (crossing the border from China into Hong Kong). The process itself was simple, but the wait was very long (I think we waited for about half an hour at the border). The whole trip ended up being almost 4 hrs long. We finally arrived at the hotel close to 9pm. Even from just seeing the city at nighttime, it looks like a very modern, beautiful city. I wish we were able to spend a little bit of time here, but we are sooo maxed out on traveling that I'm totally fine with waiting till next time :)

Here's our crew leaving Guangzhou...as you can see, one of the girls was NOT happy.
Going through customs (leaving China and entering Hong Kong).

We ordered room service as soon as we arrived - we were hungry from being in the car for almost 4 hrs! We were so tired and hungry, we didn't even look at the price. Later we calculated and realized we spent $80 on dinner (I noticed that the prices seem very high in HK). At this point, we don't really care! The girls have definitely reached their max, especially Peanut. Besides a few minor fits, she has been our biggest trooper during this whole trip. But now she's letting us know that she's done. Thank You, Lord, that our flight home is tomorrow and not a day later. Thank You for giving us the strength, health (mentally & physically), and patience in perfect amount to last us for three weeks. What an adventure it has been for our family. Even with the challenges, I can honestly say that I have immensely enjoyed it. I will cherish these memories for years to come. 

Now the girls are fast asleep...we need to get up at 5:30am (yikes). That gives us about 6-7 hours of sleep. Prayers for our safe and smooth travels home will be greatly appreciated. We fly from Hong Kong to Tokyo, Tokyo to Atlanta, and finally Atlanta to Jax (we will land in Jax around 9pm Eastern time on Saturday). Siana will become an American citizen as soon as we land in Atlanta. I, once again, will be the odd-woman out :)

I have one more traveling post that I plan to write (in flight). Since Atlanta doesn't have free WiFi, I will post it as soon as I get home. 

Thank you all so much for following our journey. We are so very close to being home - and many of you will meet our Mini-Lu soon. We are very much looking forward to seeing you all! 

Good night from Hong Kong.

God is Gracious,
Maria

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 19 - US Consulate & Shopping

Today was the earliest meeting time we've had while in Guangzhou. We rushed down to breakfast to meet the group at the lobby by 9am. 

We drove to the U.S. Consulate to take our oath and process Mini-Lu's visa. We don't have any pictures from there, because we were not allowed to take our cameras inside. In fact, we couldn't take much inside. Only a few things (diapers, wipes, small snacks, etc.) in a clear plastic bag. 

Everything was so CLEAN inside the building. They had a small play area for children in the adoption section. It was so fun to see all the American families with their adopted children. They also had American style bathrooms (a lot more spacious than a Chinese bathroom, with a changing table) - that made us feel like we're home a bit. The kids (big and small; bio and adopted) all had fun playing together in the play area...so much so that it was hard to hear when one of the staff was trying to explain things to us over the microphone. After he finished his speech, we all stood up, raised our right hand, and repeated the oath together as a group. He then said it was nice to finally see us in person, since he and the other staff have been working on our files for the last few months. I'm sure he says this to every group that comes, but at that moment, I got teary eyed. I looked over and the mom next to me had tears in her eyes too.

The process was so smooth. We were in and out of there within an hour. As many of you know, I am still a Japanese citizen, and I've had to process my green card a few times through USCIS. By far this was the smoothest and quickest process from all my dealings with them. I was impressed.

We came back to the hotel. We fed them quick lunch and put Mini-Lu down for her nap. During nap time, a few other moms and I went to go say good-bye to a family that was leaving today. This is the family that's been in China for THREE weeks, bringing their 3 bio children with them. They were here for 3 weeks because they were adopting two children on this same trip. They are a sweet, inspiring family from Washington. Please say a prayer for their trip home (they will be flying back tomorrow, so that will be Thursday evening U.S. time). 
We took a picture with just the moms before we said good-bye. The one on the very right is the one who left for Hong Kong today.
The bio-sons of the other moms all got along so well during our week on Guangzhou. They always sat together on the last row of our bus. Their ages were 9, 9, and 7. The moms all said it was a huge blessing for the boys to have one another to play with here. Even my girls had fun playing with them at the U.S. Consulate today. They are such great kids! 

Afterwards, two other moms and I ventured out to OneLink Plaza to do our last bit of shopping. We took a cab there and back. 
The place was huge. There must have been hundreds of stores, one story after another. Each floor was like a maze - it kept going deeper and deeper. They pretty much sold anything you can think of there. 
I had to take a picture of this store that sold umbrellas. They look like hairspray bottles (with different designs). You open it up and out comes an umbrella. 

We came back to the hotel and pretty soon it was time for dinner. Our family decided to try out the Mexican restaurant (called Tekila) down the street from the hotel. Going to a restaurant as a family of five has been tricky, but it actually wasn't too bad because the whole place was empty (I imagine we were there early). The food was actually REALLY good (but I think I ordered the best dish out of everyone - for future travelers to Guangzhou, I'd recommend the California-style burrito).

We then decided to venture out for some ice cream. I warned Allan that it was quite a walk to Haagen-Dazs (it was near the place where LB, Mini-Lu, and I had our not-so-fun adventure a few days ago). He insisted that we'll be fine (by the way, we didn't have a stroller because it was a quick walk from the hotel to the restaurant). It had just rained, so the roads were slippery. It rains a lot here in GZ. Fortunately we've been able to avoid getting wet, but we always forget how slippery the roads are (we kept forgetting to put sneakers on the girls - so it's been extra slippery for them in their flip-flops). It's crazy to us that they use these tiles that make the roads very slippery, in a place that rains a lot! 
View from the bridge - our hotel is behind the trees to the right.

Both the older girls slipped once or twice before we finally reached Haagen-Dazs. What we didn't realize was that it was actually a sit-down, fancy cafe here (but you can order to go as well). It was very pricey too! 
From the moment we sat down, it was one drama after another. Mini-Lu was getting fussy (it was getting close to bedtime). Peanut spilt water all over the table, menu, and me because she can't sit still. LB was obsessed about us ordering the right ice cream for her (she actually poked her head and pointed to the picture on the menu when I was trying to order for her). It was a mess. Another moment where we thought to ourselves, "What were we thinking!?"

We were all delirious by the time we took this video: http://youtu.be/7cACsByna_A

Tonight is our LAST night in Guangzhou. Wow. This hotel has been our home for the last 6 nights. We've been traveling the world for 19 days! It's almost time to go back to the "real world." 
Tomorrow is just packing day. We'll probably take the girls to the pool one last time. We then head to Hong Kong around 4:30pm, after we receive Mini-Lu's visa. 

This is my prayer for all the adoptive families here, including our own:

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. (Colossians 1:9, 10 NLT)

Good night from Guangzhou...for the last time!

God is Gracious,
Maria

P.S. I realized after I wrote this that the U.S. Consulate was so clean because it's brand new. It was closed for a week and a half before we arrived in Guangzhou, due to relocating from their old building (that's what caused a small delay before we booked our travels).