Sunday, May 19, 2013

Planes, trains and automobiles

Our day began, thankfully, just like it has the past 10 days - with bacon and eggs.  I know y'all must think I'm all about the food.  I am, and that's okay.  It's the Garden Hotel breakfast buffet.  They want us to be all about the food.  That's why they make it so awesome, each and every morning.

Jubilee enjoyed her first waffle this morning before we left for the airport.  Isn't she the cutest baby girl on the planet?

As you can tell, Wyatt is not happy to be leaving the Garden.

One short party in the lobby later and we were on our way!

Rebecca helped us through the checkin process, and I was so relieved to be free of the luggage.  When we said our goodbyes at the security checkpoint a bit of sadness washed over me.  We had such an amazing time in China.  If my kids were all here (and we had a money tree to harvest) I could've stayed much longer.  One last hug around Rebecca's neck and we were off to the gate to wait for our flight!

Our first flight was from Guangzhou to Seoul.  We were seated next to a very nice gentleman that lives just a few hours from us.  I'm so glad I asked him if he speaks English! I enjoyed hearing about his four children, the Bible classes that he teaches and his church family back in the US. Wyatt and Jubilee were both delightful during the 3 hour flight.  I know I'm being a whiney-hiney, but their delightfulness during the short flight established some pretty unrealistic expectations for the 14 hour flight to come.

Incheon International Airport in Seoul is probably the best place to have a layover.  You just can't beat cleanliness, cute little ones and the Hello Kitty Cafe!  We enjoyed our time there, though I must say Riley was a bit off-the-chain. I think Joey was a little bewildered by Riley's train antics.

The flight from Seoul to Atlanta was nothing short of a nightmare.  I really did think that the diaper bag full of clever entertainment options and the most delicious of toddler snack selections would be the ticket for a pleasant trip....yeah, well, that was not our reality.  Wyatt, it seems, does not like to be told "no", and he can cry extremely loud when he doesn't get his way.  The nice gentleman next to us showed him how to press the light button on the remote control in front of him, so sweet Wyatt did just that - again and again and again and again, until I (and the people all around us) had had enough.  Once I began preventing the fun button pressing, Wyatt began crying very loud.  I wish I had known that his crying would be so loud and obnoxious because the light flashing was a lot less obnoxious.  I even tried to give him the little remote control back, but it didn't work.  Once he's mad, he's mad.  He did eventually fall asleep and sleep for many hours - and I am thankful for every one of those hours.

Jubilee did fine on the flight, as long as we could walk the aisles with her.  The turbulence was bad, almost the whole flight, so we had to stay seated.  Little miss would arch her back and holler.  Dean and I handed her back and forth across the aisle often, needing a break from the madness.  The flight attendants were very attentive and came by often to fan our crying babies and offer something that might help.  One, without warning, even picked Jubilee up out of my lap and began to walk off.  I'm sure she was trying to be helpful, but Jubilee flipped!  Our friendly flight attendant quickly plopped her right back into my lap.  After that, passengers began to offer advice.  She's too cold; she needs more clothes.  She looks hot, you should take off her socks.  She's hungry.  She's thirsty.  She's very, very tired.  I was never so thankful as I was when the captain announced our approach in Atlanta!!  I'm certain those were the longest 14 hours of my life!!

As we headed for passport control (along with two international flights of passengers), I pulled our two visa packets out of my bag and we began looking for the special situations line.  I was so thankful when I saw only a few people in front of us.  The other lines had 50-60 people waiting.  One of the employees in the waiting area said, "Oh no, brown packet", when she saw us.  Those words didn't exactly give me a good vibe.  It seems that when our flight was delayed, Hartsfield sent many immigration officers home because of budget cuts.  I was confused about that because our arrival was expected, only delayed by an hour.

I'm sounding whiney again, aren't I?  By the time an hour and a half had expired there in immigration, I was done with my whining.  We brought out snacks for the kids and they played with their friends in line with us.  We also met two chaperones bringing children to families here in the US.  Pretty exciting, if you ask me!  We finally made it to the counter and were greeted by Officer Smiley.  Jubilee celebrated her US citizenship with a dirty diaper right then and there.  We were ushered pretty quickly to the visa processing waiting room, and from there the wait was only about 20 minutes.  Dean and Tate went ahead to baggage claim while I waited for the babies passports.

As soon as our passports were returned to us, we gathered our stuff and headed for the arrivals lobby.  I  can tell you that seeing the faces of our family, friends and coworkers was the most beautiful feeling in the world!!  So many had taken the time, late at night even, to come out and welcome us home.  It was AMAZING!!

Hugs and kisses and introductions flew by and it was time to head for the van, all 11 of us!  It's a beautiful thing to have the whole family together!  Blake drove us home and were welcomed by so many surprises - enough that they deserve a whole blog post.  I can't wait to share about what was waiting for us at our house!!  Next time....

Good night, folks, from the good ole US of A!!

Friday, May 17, 2013

One last day in China!

I'm feeling short on words but so full of gratitude.  Today was another beautiful day in GZ.  This whole trip has been such a marvelous display of God's power and might, His mercy and blessing.  My heart is so full!

Rebecca called and said that she heard from the consulate that they would have the visas ready for pickup this afternoon!!  After hearing the good news, we took Riley and the babies up to the pool for one last swim. We ran into two other families excited about the news, as well.  One of the families there, Paul and Candace and their children, are from GA.   Paul was kind enough to ride Riley around the pool on his back and even saved the life of Wyatt, who made an unexpected headfirst dive from one step to another while we were standing there talking.  We're going to need to teach Wyatt and Jubilee to swim pretty quick.  They both love the water.

Melissa and I make a quick trip out to Shamian Island for a grilled cheese sandwich and apple pie ala mode, with a side of shopping.  She was gracious enough to help me schlep my bags of goodies for the kiddos back home across the island and to the Victory Hotel, where we caught a cab.  We ended up having to go into the Victory and ask them to call a cab for us, and they were kind enough to do that for us, even though we weren't guests.

I arrived back to our room to the beautiful site of two complete visa packets and passports containing visas for Wyatt and Jubilee.

It looks like we will be able to make our flight home tomorrow morning!!  We are so excited!!

We met friends from Fayetteville, the Pruiksmas, in the lobby at 7:00 to grab a bite to eat out on our last night in GZ.  We ate at Tekila's and enjoyed the food and company as much as we did the last time.

Only one more sleep in GZ!!  The next time I write it will be from the good ole US of A!!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The most amazing Thursday in GZ!

I love a lazy morning, every now and then.  For the first time since we arrived, we have no where to be first thing in the morning, except for breakfast which closes down at 10:00.  I decided not to wait for Dean and the boys to wake up and got myself and the babies ready to go.  Dean and Riley woke up in the nick of time because I would've left them in the room!  I've pretty much narrowed my adventurous eating in the morning down to a fried egg, two slices of bacon, a hashbrown round and a glass of grapefruit juice. There's no reason to be a creature of habit here.  There is such a variety (and not just traditionally breakfast foods) on the breakfast buffet at the Garden.  Still, I just had the usual today.  Maybe tomorrow I'll shake things up a bit and throw a croissant or some friend noodles onto my plate.

With no where to go or to be, we took a leisurely walk through the garden and then took Riley to the pool to cool off.  Riley usually asks about 20 times a day to go, but Wyatt and Jubilee didn't have a clue until today.  Both of our sweet babies love the water, which is a blessing.  We love to go to the pool!

We had planned today to catch a taxi back over to Shamian Island to enjoy again a glass of iced tea and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.  I know that seems like a lot of effort to expend for such a small reward, but I promise it would've been worth it!!  At 2:00, I picked up the phone to call Melissa and see if they were ready to head out.  Joey answered the phone and asked me if I had gotten the email.  What email?  I didn't get an email.  Who sent the email, Joey?  THE CONSULATE IS OPENING!!  I quickly hung up the phone and called Rebecca who told me that the consulate was opening this afternoon at 3:30 and we needed to gather all of our families together and be in the lobby at 3:00!!!  I buzzed the other Lifeline families and had the joy of hearing the excitement from each families waiting for an consulate appointment.  What an amazing 5 minutes that was!

I hurried and dressed the babies in their red, white and blue and we headed for the lobby.  We grabbed a quick snack at the deli at the Garden and then headed for the bus.  By the way, the chicken and mushroom pastry at the deli is yummy and if you don't take the time to convert the currency in your head you'll enjoy it much more.  Remember before you convert currencies, it's always easier to spend money that you don't understand.

Riley shared his deli snack with friends on the bus.  He loves sitting in the back.

The consulate had decided to open up for every single family that missed an appointment this week.  Do you know how amazing that is?  Typically, the consulate sees about 20 families each day.  Today, 100 families arrived at the consulate together at 3:30 in the afternoon, and each and every family was processed and interviewed.  Then, the most beautiful moment happened.  Every family took the oath there together.  It was emotional for me (and probably most of the people there), seeing the faces of more than 100 children forever changed by the hope and future of life granted by the love of a family.  Praise the Lord, Father to the fatherless, Almighty God!

The consulate is saying that they will make every effort to have visas for the children in attendance today as early as tomorrow.  They have even agreed to come in on Saturday if they are not all completed tomorrow.  Our flight is scheduled for Saturday in the early afternoon.  We might just make it!!

This is a picture of Rebecca sharing the news that there is a chance that visas will be available on Friday or Saturday this week.  Do you see the hands raised in praise?  LOVE!  Sweet Eliana there may have no idea what this means, but it's pretty good news if you ask me!!

 We celebrated the blessings of today with dinner out with our friends.  We ate a second time at the Paddy Field and had a great time!!

Maybe just two more sleeps in China!!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The word for today is...

HOT!  On the agenda for this morning was visiting the Botanical Gardens.  We stepped off the air-conditioned bus into the wall of heat and humidity.  Rebecca didn't seem to notice.  She introduced us to the gardens and then in a puff (probably of humidity) she was gone.  Maybe she went back to the bus.  We didn't stand around wondering, though.  We set off in search of small air-conditioned buildings that we thought might be on the premises.  Before leaving the entrance area I tried to get a sweet picture of Riley in front of a beautiful arrangement that says "Love".  His expression was priceless.  I don't guess he was feeling the love.

It seems like there is a lot of Dutch influence in the gardens.  I half expected to see Heidi skipping walking along the path looking wilted.  

I've been a baby-wearer since Jubilee arrived.  (I tried to be a baby-wearer with Wyatt but the boy weighs 33 pounds.)  After 20 minutes in the gardens, we found a way to fit two babies into a single stroller.  Wyatt was not all that happy to share his space with Jubilee.  Jubilee was happy to be out of the Ergo.

After an hour we found a shady sitting spot with a few friends while the kids played with cars and balls and Riley climbed around in the trees.  Wyatt loves cars. He carries them in his arms with fierce possession, stopping every now and then to roll one on the ground.  Why didn't I bring matchbox cars instead of a suitcase full of baby toys?

As beautiful as the gardens were, we were praising our Heavenly Father when the time came to head back to the entrance. Just thinking about the air-conditioned bus put a little pep in our step.  I snapped this precious picture of Wyatt walking with his hand on his friend Lily Hope's stroller.  So sweet....

And then I saw his cream.  He stared her down, poor thing, as she ate the last of it.  Don't you worry, baby boy.  Mama's looking for an ice cream stand just now!!

On the bus ride back to the hotel, Rebecca shared with us news that the consulate will be closed on Thursday and Friday, as well.  It doesn't look like our consulate appointment scheduled for tomorrow will happen.  We were a bit disappointed, but remain certain that God does not make mistakes and that this is no surprise to Him.  We are praying that our attitude might be such that we will embrace every opportunity to allow God to work through us and that He might be glorified in mighty ways.  Even as I say that, my heart stings with missing my babies back home.  We've been able to talk to them almost everyday and see their faces on FaceTime, but I miss them so much it hurts.

We are also trying not to be alarmed by rumors and focus just on the official information being given to us about the consulate's closure and when we might possibly be able to go home.  The facilities emergency was a white powder substance sent by envelope and opened by an employee at the consulate.  The incident has not been on the US news but was reported in the newspaper here.  Thankfully, we have not heard of any injuries.  Many families here have had to change their flights home and extend their hotel reservations.  Even so, the attitudes among the families here have been impressive.  Our flights are scheduled for Saturday, but if the consulate is going to be closed Thursday and Friday, it seems like we'll have to begin looking at changing ours, as well.  Our travel agent says that we need to wait until Friday to change our flights. We're hopeful that it won't be an expensive change because we just don't have the money.

We spent the evening in the room and had Subway for dinner.  Entertainment was provided by Wyatt and Riley.  Their stage was visible from the bed, which was so nice.  The boys love playing in the bathtub which is separated from the bedroom by a glass wall.  The whole shebang is housed in the shower, which is ingenious if you ask me.  No mess to clean up, and when the window gets foggy, it's art time!  We will begin looking at remodeling our master bath in order to recreate this little setup as soon as we return home!!

Goodnight from Guangzhou, friends!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday on Shamian Island

I'm getting pretty used to the good life here at the Garden.  Today marks one week since we arrived….14 pieces of bacon and 7 perfectly cooked fried eggs behind us....7 days of returning from breakfast to a clean room and made-up bed…21 trips through the beautiful gardens surrounding the koi ponds...Friends all under one roof.  If all my children were here with me, I'm not sure I'd want to leave!!

This morning after breakfast we headed with our travel group out to do a little more shopping, this time on Shamian Island.  We were originally planning to go in the afternoon, but since the consulate is closed today the families in our group with Tuesday appointments are not able to go for their interviews.  I was a little hesitant to spend any money since we don't know how long the consulate will be closed.  There was plenty to do outside of spending money!  As beautiful as it is, there are quite a few strange things about Shamian Island.  There are photographers and models everywhere.  Tate spent most of his time photo-bombing their shots.  Whatever makes him happy!!

One of the models was posing with a stroller and matching diaper bag while wearing 5" heels.  I'm not sure I've ever seen a real mother that looks like this.

Before we hit the shops, we strolled….which really means bolted after Wyatt who loves to run from us….through the park in the center of town.  I've seen this photo op spot in others' pictures so we stopped to take pictures of our babies here. My children, of course, did not seem to understand what it is I was trying to capture here.  I probably took a hundred pictures and finally got a perfect one of Wyatt.  I couldn't convince Riley to get in line, and Jubilee can't stand up yet, so we'll have to settle for Wyatt in the lineup.

The shopkeepers or some of their employees were on the street in front of each shop, asking us to come inside and take a look.  We walked by many and stopped at a few.  I do not enjoy haggling over prices, and there is some competition among neighboring stores.  Many of the shops sell the same items.  If you don't see something that you're looking for, and you ask for it, a shopkeeper might go somewhere else and get it for you. This happened to us more than once.  I have a tendency to feel pressured to buy if someone goes to such effort.  Dean and I are well-paired because he doesn't feel that same pressure.  The shops I liked the most were Michael's and Jenny's.  Both Michael and Jenny speak English and are very helpful.

Michael is pretty funny and is great at carving chops.  Chops are stamps on which you can have your child's name carved.  We got one for Wyatt and one for Jubilee with their Chinese and American names.  Michael's shop seemed to have the best selection on silks, though he didn't have many silks that were actually embroidered.  Most of them had painted designs on them.  Embroidered designs cost more, anyway.  We went with the painted.  My kiddos will outgrow those things before they could appreciate the embroidery anyway.

Jenny is the sweetest lady.  She has a photo album of families that have shopped with her, so if you visit bring your camera along.  It was fun to flip through and see the faces of those I recognize from back in the State. Jenny's shop sells a nice Chinese-English Bible for around $20 USD. She also has plaques with scripture in Chinese and English.  We bought shoes here for a good price and she gave each of us a red tassel as a thankful gesture for shopping with her.  She even sent one for a friend back home that referred us to her shop.  Nice people!!  

Lunch at Lucy's with friends was great fun!  The staff speaks English, they have hamburgers and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches on the menu, and they serve iced tea - all in a islandish atmosphere.  Loved it!

Now, about the sweet tea - Dean gave me a sip and I thought, "Not so sweet tea."  Seconds later they brought out a little silver pitcher.  That's the ticket, folks.  Simple syrup!  Pour it in now...all of it...and stir it up with your straw.  I'm sorry for being so dramatic but we've been in China for almost 2 weeks without sweet tea.  This was an important moment!!

After lunch we gathered together with our group and headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.  We took the Pearl River Dinner Cruise with our travel group.  The kids were super excited to board the boat.  I was thankful for the super high rails on the upper deck.

The dinner part of the cruise was not my favorite part of the evening.  After dinner we headed up to the upper deck to see Guangzhou in lights.  You know how some people look glamorous with their hair blowing in the wind and the night lights blinking behind them?  Well, I did not look glamorous like some do.

As the cruise came to a close there was an after dinner show in the dining cabin - a juggler that kept the kids' attention for the longest time.  

Today was a full day!  We are one tired crew!  We still do not know what is happening with the consulate or when they will reopen.  We are headed to bed thankful and open to God's timing on everything!!