Monday, July 27, 2009

Happy Anniversary Annabel!

One year ago, Grace and I were sound asleep in the Gloria Hotel in Nanchang, Jiangxi, China. We knew we needed to get up but after traveling since Friday, there was just no way I could wake up!

We slept until 11:00 p.m. and woke up realizing we were hungry, in a strange place, and disoriented to time and space. I don't remember much more and glad I have Grace to help me remember.

The next day, June 28th, we got up early and had our first breakfast buffet back in China. The breakfast buffets are legendary among the adoptive families because of the WIDE variety of dishes served, everything from summer melon soup to baked beans. I usually found the toaster and had a little bacon with coffee that was left from the Cold War.

But this day was extra special as we were expecting Annabel to arrive, just not sure of the time.

I had hoped for a day for Grace and I to have in China to get oriented and for her to have a chance to "experience" the city of her birth, before adding in a sister, but the SWI or Social Welfare Institute (another name for orphanage) had a different idea and sometime before noon Annabel arrived with the orphanage director, whom I did not recognize at the time.

Annabel was in a pink party dress with LOTS of fluff and a big bow in the back, her hair pulled back in a pony tail, carrying a bag that had a few of the most bitter apples I have ever tried to eat, but did, since she brought them to us. (The apples were in a bowl at the end of the hall!) She wanted to bring a gift and in hindsight, realize that is her true nature.

When I realized there were no clothes and she was so tiny, I knew our first task was finding her clothes. I had packed clothes size 10 and up and she was barely in a 6x. Her shoes did not have soles and she did not have any others.

We hit the ground running and bought several new outfits and had our first meal at McDonalds all before noon. She just grinned the whole time.

I am glad I have the record in my other blog as it all runs together now.

I know I could never have made it on the plane in the first place if my sister Lisa had not come to help out. I had collected a ton of stuff for the orphanage and it was all over the living room. On my trip to adopt Grace I did not know to do that and Jana had several suitcases full of clothes and other supplies to leave there. So to carry on Jana's tradition, I had done the same.

I am pretty sure if Lisa had not been there to start throwing it in bags I would have missed my flight!

Tonight we had dinner with friends, all who have adopted children, most from China. We celebrated our "gotcha" day together, which is the date of the adoption.

One of the best unexpected benefits to adopting has been all the wonderful people we have made in the adoption community. These friends kept our refrigerator stocked for the first month or so with the most delicious comfort foods you can find.

But back to Annabel.

I think I keep getting sidetracked because it is complicated.

Annabel had a much rougher beginning than Grace and her time in the orphanage was a lot longer. She had several foster families and I guess was not sure what to expect with this "new" mother.

I asked her tonight what she was thinking when she first met us and if she thought who is that big old white woman? All she would say is that she wondered if she would have a dad. No dad, but a great Poppa! And they are so much alike it is incredible!

Not very often is Dad the "stern" parent, but I remember him telling me that Mom could not handle me adopting a second daughter and neither could he.

Annabel was used to taking care of herself. Plus two or three other smaller children.

Here was a mom who insisted on taking care of her.

It has not been the easiest year of my life and probably not for her either. Or for Grace.

But it was also the best decision I have made since adopting Grace.

We have continued to meld and pull apart and come back together and bond until I think we are reaching a more comfortable sharing of our lives. We have gone beyond co-existing to finding our love for each other.

Annabel is a remarkable child who constantly watches out for others and tries to jump in to care for them. If Mom is around, she has grabbed her arm and ensures she arrives safely. She and Dad spar constantly or pitch a ball back and forth or take verbal jabs at each other.

She and Grace enjoy sharing their bedroom and playing together. I love it when they whisper to each other and have secrets just between them. I don't mind being left out as their need to develop that deep relationship is paramount.

Annabel has gone from fighting my kisses, to hiding from them, to actually returning a few.

Annabel always needs a task and no job is too big or too small, but once she is tired, she is ready for bed and can't go any further.

She loves our stinky old mean dogs and treats them like her babies.

She has forced Grace and I to get up off our bums from watching TV and get outside to play. As a result, we are both losing weight! Yea!

She amazes me in her grasp of the Bible and the depth of the questions she can ask and the insights she has. We were driving to the doctor the other morning and the sun's rays were breaking through the clouds. I pointed it out to her. She said, "You can just imagine Jesus, right there. You know that's how He is coming back, don't you?" From there she asked a lot of questions about being baptized.

With Grace it took a full two years to really feel that bond.

With all the changes and things we have gone through in the last year, I can't wait to see how it improves in the next year.

If I am known for only one thing, I would not mind it being that I adopted these two wonderful children. They have made my life.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Annabel's first birthday!

Today was the first time Annabel has celebrated a birthday! I cannot imagine turning 12 and never having a birthday celebration, not a birthday party, but for the first time having a family celebrate the day of your birth.

For those close by, they know I fretted about this for weeks. I wanted the day to be "perfect", which as an adult, we all know that is not possible! But we got pretty close!

The day started with a visit to the otorhinolaryngologist to check her "good" ear. She has been complaining about the amount of water getting trapped in there and a difference in her hearing ability in that ear.

Thank the good Lord! There was absolutely nothing wrong with her ear. The doctor says it looks great, no problems, no difference in hearing.

She kept saying she wanted surgery on that ear, but really think she was looking for attention. After today, maybe she had plenty.

I splurged on a Great hair cut for both she and Grace and they looked fantastic! Besides going to see Tina is a lot more fun than the cheapy places.

We left there for a child's dream world - Six Flags!

Annabel really did not know what she wanted to do for her birthday and waffled between Chuck E Cheese or a movie and it was just a stroke of genius that I thought about Six Flags.

Grace won a free pass for reading at school. She has since first grade, but the last time we went, Jana and her girls went with us. It took me until this year to face going back. Going to Six Flags with Jana is a lot like going to Santa Fe with Lisa. Needless to say, it is a memorable experience.

A friend donated her son's ticket and Dad wanted to buy Annabel's and off we went!

After the first couple of rides, I was ready to come home! Of course the girls were not.

We rode a lot of rides that we had never been on and some of the good old stand bys, but when we hit the Shockwave, I had to laugh.

By that point, Annabel was wound up and wanted to ride the roller coaster that makes the double loop around.

Grace looked at me begging not to go.

I told them I knew I could NOT do it.

We got to the head of the line and I practically pushed Grace on with Annabel whooping and hollering in excitement.

When they got off, Annabel was pale, teary eyed, and shaking. Grace was beaming from ear to ear and wanting to ride it again.

Annabel did not stop talking about how badly that ride scared her! Bless her heart!

By the end evening, Annabel and I were ready to ride the ride that guarantees you get soaked. Grace was just not up for it.

Now the ride is called Aquaman, but can't remember what it used to be.

We got drenched!

Then it was time to close down the ride and the man let us ride it again without going through the line. Even better!

I thought we were through for the night but we came across the kiddie section and Annabel was thrilled about riding some of the "safer" rides.

It came to an abrupt end when one operator told her she was too big to ride the kiddie rides. She was terribly disappointed but we still had the carousel to ride. That operator let us ride it twice too!

The only thing left was the parade.

Both girls decided they were too tired to wait!

We made it home about 10:30 and we had still not given her her presents!

After quick showers, she finally got to open her presents - a new Barbie that came with 2 dogs, 2 Nintendo games, and a Barbie case.

The best part is she now has a family and friends that love her. So many people have sent cards and other birthday greetings. Plus all the great presents and money!

If she had not been exhausted, I think she would still be wired, but almost sure she is sleeping on Cloud Nine tonight.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gillian Rose's Birthday

Today Gillian is 12 years old.

I insist on not being melancholy and sad, which is very hard to do, so will try very hard to focus on the great kid that Gillian continues to develop into.

When Gillian is around, the other kids have great fun.

She is the ringleader of the activities. She never seems to tire of the task of being the activities director for all her younger cousins and sister.

At a recent garage sale they had a HUGE roll of white paper for sale. I can't imagine what this paper was originally meant for because it is SO big. She worries that they will run out of paper and insists they all be frugal in their use of it. I finally moved it from the front of the house and she immediately worried that it was missing! She needs LOTS of room for creativity!

One present that Grace gave her while they were here was a cat balloon. We made a special trip to Tom Thumb to get it aired up but for some reason it did not seem to be helium.

This was the cutest balloon and shaped like a cat with feet attached by tissue paper strips.

She had the most fun with this single present and made everyone wish they had one too! She walked it around the store while we tried to help she and Darcey pick a present for Mom.

Lisa wrote that all the way home she made the cat wave to the cars as they went by.

Gillian is so sweet too and extremely cute, no prejudice on my part, I assure. Yet she is extremely unassuming and works hard at every project she tackles! She makes great grades with little effort and LOVES to read.

If it had not been for Gillian, Grace's development and knowledge of English would have been much harder. Gillian took her under her wing and made each encounter a learning opportunity. She helped Grace learn to love reading as well.

When I called her today to say Happy Birthday she told me she was having problems with her hair and she was trying to fix it. Her hair was straight on the top but curly on the bottom. I tried to walk her through how to correct it. She was so funny! She was intent on trying to make it all straight, but my guess is she gave up and went with it curly instead.

Gillian grows more like her mother every day and for that I am VERY grateful. But she has just enough of her Dad in her to keep us from being sad when she is around.

Thank you God for blessing us with our wonderful Gillian!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Days and days of fun!

While some of the best memories are mere minutes in a number of days, there are other times when we are blessed with day after day of memories.

Lisa, my older sister, brought my two nieces, Gillian and Darcey, to Dallas to help celebrate Mom's birthday. But we had more to celebrate, as Gillian and Annabel also have a birthday within the week.

When the three of them show up, you can always expect to have a good time and plenty of things to happen.

I had asked Annabel what she wanted to do to celebrate her birthday. This will be her first birthday EVER! She will be 12 years old and never had her own celebration about her birth. Very quickly she decided on having a bounce house and a swimming pool. Well I found a place that would rent a giant slip and slide that had a pool at the end.

The slip and slide arrived just before we had to leave for theater camp and the amount of squealing and laughing made me know I had chosen the right element to help celebrate!

We dropped all 4 girls at Theater Camp and Lisa and I quickly ran to Target to make sure we had everyone a birthday present. Annabel still did not have a Barbie and had not really wanted one until recently. Lisa obliged her with her first Barbie AND Ken dolls.

After the theater camp, the girls quickly changed into their swimsuits and hit the slip and slide. There was no stopping them for the next 4 hours!

The only reason they stopped was because Grace and Annabel's theater camp culminated in a play that evening.

I convinced EVERYONE, even Mom and Dad, to go for the big performance.

If you ever need FREE entertainment, you should go to any children's performance, as you never know what you will see.

Unfortunately the girls' teacher did not show up and that made a quick change in their performance. But we sat through the others and then their teacher did arrive. This was a play that the kids had written and was quite amusing. The teacher was quite taken with Annabel's ability and Grace's ability to concentrate. They were very proud of themselves.

Afterward Dad treated us to dinner at El Fenix.

Mom and I are eager for any choices that do not require being in a HOT kitchen!

The best part of celebrating a birthday at El Fenix is the free dessert of sopapillas, covered with strawberries, and whipping cream. AND they brought one each for all three birthday girls!

The only thing Gillian wanted for her birthday was to see the new Harry Potter movie, so Grace, she and I were at North Park for the 10:00 a.m. show by 9:30! There was already a LONG line waiting to go in. Annabel and Darcey do not like Harry Potter and think it is too scary, so they stayed home!

We were quite impressed with the movie and it was not nearly as scary as it had seemed from the previews.

I knew Gillian was missing some of the Harry Potter books, so we went by Half Price Books and found all the missing copies for the rest of her birthday present. Only she had to hide them so I did not get lectured on spending too much money!

Lisa took us all out to lunch at Bolsa's, a place Mom had mentioned she had always wanted to go and it did not disappoint any of us in its reputation for great food. Again Mom and I were thrilled not to have to cook!

That afternoon I finished up the project I was sure the girls would want to do, but their preferred choices of playing won out.

Mom complains that we never have photographs any more, so I ordered copies of a lot of pictures I had and then put them in a scrapbook for her.

For our last bit of celebrating we finally opened presents! Only Mom insisted she didn't want any, so I only gave her a lipstick, and let the girls give her the rest of the things.

Annabel was thrilled with her new Barbie and Ken AND new Nintendo game from Gillian and Darcey. I think she could get used to birthday parties!

Mark and Martha joined us for a great catfish dinner, so we had a good meal all together.

By Saturday night we were tired from all the celebrations!

Lisa and the girls left early and the rest of us have had a fairly quiet Sunday, except for one thing. Our local magazine wanted to do an article on adult children who had moved to be closer to their parents. We fit the need and met with a reporter as part of her story. It is supposed to be published in October or November. If so, I will update you.

Grace and Annabel enjoyed playing Barbies all afternoon.

After all of that celebrating, we still have Annabel's birthday coming up this week! Now what are supposed to do???!!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

My blessings in my Sandwich Life

Each day is filled with the same number of hours, minutes, and seconds.

For some days, most of that time is basically "fluff", the stuff that has to happen to keep your life moving, clean clothes to wear, food to eat, and all the other necessities.

But every now and then, within a very small part of that day, terrific things happen in usually very short amounts of time, but have an incredible impact on our lives.

When I got to Sunday School Sunday morning, I realized I felt so genuinely happy that I could bust. It pleased me so much to report to Mom and Dad about our wonderful activities the night before and know that they would truly be pleased and rejoice as much as me.

This is a definite benefit to the Sandwich Life.

I subscribe to one of those hokey, life reaffirming, enewsletters and for Sunday their words seemed to echo my feelings:
The gratitude you feel when you contemplate your good fortune can put you in a positive and optimistic mood today. Others sensing your confidence may look to you for guidance because they wish to draw upon your talents and the wisdom of your experience. Their attention can inspire you to take a long look at the abundance you have acquired as you have progressed along your life's twisting path. Surprise may be the first emotion you feel today upon realizing how many blessings you have received.

I guess I was surprised to realize how many blessings I have received. Two of the most important are my girls.

Saturday started with another adventure with Mom, Dad, girls, and me going to Costco.

I do not understand it.

They are through within a few minutes and grieve spending $20!

I come with a basket so loaded that I wonder if I needed a second one and mine costs $200! And I did not buy a LOT of things I wanted. I am still trying to be careful with our money and buying only those items we must have.

Instead of our usual hot dog or german sausage sandwich though we headed home.

A big priority for our shopping trip was to purchase a birthday cake for Annabel.

Her birthday is July 24, but this will be her FIRST real birthday celebration.

Some have asked if they don't celebrate birthdays in China. I'm really not sure what families do. I know most of China considers New Years as the day they become one year older.

But for children whose primary residence has been an orphanage, it doesn't matter what the typical family does in China, there is NO money to celebrate birthdays.

So I have wracked my brain for months on how to make this one special, especially since she is turning 12, but fun enough that all the kids can enjoy it.

Annabel was very deliberate in selecting a cake.

It did not bother her that I had not pre-ordered one with her name. The choices were all beautiful and a little overwhelming. She turned down the cupcakes, citing they were too big and we would have to cut them in 2. She is so practical!

It came down to balloons or a rainbow and the rainbow with the sun and clouds won.

We were planning to take it to the swim party for the children adopted from China.

This party was even further from home and was not over until 9:30, but until then all the kids had a great time. I treasure the time to sit and talk with other moms and compare notes on our daughters' developments. It's wonderful too to have a group of kids who are as naive and innocent as mine. I LOVE for them to associate with kids whose home life does not consist of a drunken parent, moms with a different boyfriend each week, but instead a life where the child is treasured and nurtured.

By the time we sang happy birthday and everyone gave their personal best wishes, Annabel was beaming. This was all about her and she was beside herself with sheer enjoyment. To top off the greatness of sharing HER cake, was also the gifts she received.

She could not believe people had bought her presents. She was so excited she wanted to stay up and play her new Nintendo game and wear her new shirt to church.

We got home late and all had to take showers.

Our usual bedtime starts around 8:30 but during summer has been pushed back to 9:00. We were finally getting home and in bed by 10:30! So there was no nintendo playing then.

Annabel grabbed Nina, the dog, and told her to get in bed with the "birthday girl". Then for only the second time in almost a year, she gave me a kiss good night.

Even though I felt like I could easily sleep through the snooze several times, the girls got up and ready to go to church without a complaint. No whining that they were tired or wanted to play. They knew they needed to be at church and immediately prepared for it.

Now Annabel's new shirt did not quite match anything she had and the resulting outfit was colorful, but she was so proud of her shirt, she didn't care.

So with all these blessings and then the eagerness of my parents in hearing the reports of the night before, how could I feel anything but the awareness of the blessings I have received?

And so while we had many hours, minutes, and seconds in our day, the true blessings were observed in very brief moments, but the joy will last a lifetime.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A loss of peers

Life has a funny way of stopping you in your tracks.

So many times living the life of the sandwich generation, I have seen my parents lose life long friends, their peers.

But it really makes you stop and think when you hear about two of your peers passing away.

Facebook has been a fantastic way to reconnect with former classmates. I'm not sure any other way, other than reunions, when I would have this opportunity.

I found out today that one of those friends, whom I had wondered about often, had recently passed away.

Then tonight I got a call from an old friend whose sister had passed away suddenly this week. My friend had known Jana and knew I could relate to her sorrow.

Maybe this sandwich generation is getting older. I don't know but it brings a dose of reality home.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lost in translation

Tonight on our way to the Post Office to try and get Annabel's birth certificate, she began to tell me a story about their trip to Waco yesterday to hand off G and D to their Dad.

She started, "Mom, yesterday, when we were in Wego, there was this man who kept coming and Poppa had to hornking and hornking to make him stop."

Wego= Waco
hornking= guessing a combo of horn and honking!

Then Grace say a dog and identified it as a Caviar King Charles Spaniel.

Bless her heart. She wants to know all about dogs and identify their breeds, but usually will identify everything as a dachshund, regardless of its size!

Today the girls had their first day at theater camp at the local rec center.

Annabel was pretty bummed out as they were not going to be providing any breakfast, lunch, or snack. I tried over and over to explain it was only for 2 hours so she did not need anything to eat, but could take a bottle of water if she wanted to.

Annabel also decided she did not ever want to go back!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Trying to get healthy!

When I adopted Annabel, it seemed to be a good time to end mourning for Jana. Annabel represented a new beginning.

Of course I am not dumb enough to think that I could completely put my mourning behind me, but it did seem that Annabel deserved a future, rather than just harboring despair from the past.

During the time that I completed all the paperwork Grace and I also became extremely inactive. Believe it or not, we both put on a LOT of weight.

When we got to China and met Annabel for the first time I knew without a moment's hesitation that I had met my match, physically, at least!

I have often called Annabel, Tigger, from Winnie the Pooh and Grace, Pooh. 10 months ago that was their personalities.

Annabel wanted us to be active with her and Grace began to join in. I tried but would run out of breath almost immediately. That is when I decided to pursue the surgery for the huge hiatal hernia. With it, I have also begun to lose weight.

The way I have lost weight is through not being able to eat or only able to tolerate small meals. BUT I have known for a while that I have to add exercise to keep it off and take even more off.

SO tonight I tried starting yoga! I borrowed some DVDs from a friend and had recorded some yoga programs on TV. I had NO IDEA I was SO out of shape. I started with one that was more energetic than I thought I could do and switched to a restorative yoga instead.

If that was restorative, I am just glad I didn't try the more energetic one. The girls tried to do it with me, but gave up and got ready for bed instead. I just have to keep it up if I can get up tomorrow!

Last night I had the strangest dream.

I dreamed that my sister, Lisa, her daughter, Katie, and I were somewhere in another country. I knew from there we were going to London. I kept trying to come up with some ideas of what all we should see while there, but it kept bothering me that we were staying longer than I intended. Guess I was probably realizing my daughters weren't with me! But what was really disturbing me was that Gillian and Darcey were going to London by themselves and weren't even sure where they were going to stay, but knew their dad wanted them to learn Chinese while they were there.

It doesn't take a genius to interpret my dream.

Gillian and Darcey went home today.

It is so hard to let them leave when I am not sure of what their life is like when they are not here. Communication has always been an issue. You would think some of us spoke different languages. My attempts failed from the very beginning. It is a delicate balance of wanting information, assurance that things are ok, without upsetting Gillian and Darcey. So I just end up mad.

This time Gillian had decided that they would go home on the 17th, but then Darcey got homesick and they moved it up a week and a half early to make sure that Darcey was ok.

I know it is a lot of extra work having 2 more here, especially for Mom and Dad since I am off to the office every day, but I would rather take on the extra work and be sure they are safe and getting to be kids.

We had so much fun while they were here.

A big draw was the fairly new neighbors across the street.

My 4 girls would stand on the edge of our driveway, almost out in the street, hoping the "new" neighbor would come out. Mom, Dad, and I have laughed at the crazy excuses we have had to make to send the girls over there so they could see "'the boys".

Saturday, we were going to participate in the neighborhood parade. I read the starting time wrong and we were ready to go at 10:00. The boys across the street joined us and we made our way to the starting point to find no one else there! So we went the whole route and still no one was there, so we came back home and gathered up some more things, like a soccer ball and went back to the starting point and played while waiting on others to show up!

We enjoyed the parade and visiting with neighbors, but we were off to our next July 4th celebration at church.

Thankfully the "boys" went with us so it was even more fun. We enjoyed seeing everyone at church and the great food prepared.

We had bought some fireworks while visiting our cousins, so we had to wait for it to get a little darker to shoot them off. I thought I had only bought things that were legal in the city limits, but some surprised me at the force they had. The majority were sparklers and the girls had a good time doing their own sparklers demonstrations. We used about 20 packages of matches, since I forgot to get punks. This was new for me too since I have never been in charge of actually shooting and overseeing the shooting of fireworks! I thought my burned fingers were going to be a problem, but they recovered nicely.

The girls are signed up for a theater camp for the next 2 weeks. I hope they will go. I am afraid they will be bored without their cousins here to help plan the entertainment and stand on our driveway in hopes that someone will come out of their house!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

I am not sure if I like this new blog. It is harder to get time to write much and not just focus on my girls!

Also it is way too late and I took the time to write a long posting only to have it disappear.

The picture is of all the kids at my cousins' Mike and Cissy's house for a 4th of July celebration.

We had a fantastic time.

That doesn't even do justice to the fun we had.

Mike and Cissy have moved so far out in the country that my GPS could not find them.

Mom was sure she knew how to get there and after making several mistakes of trying to find their house, started listening to Mom.

Mike and Cissy have a great house for entertaining large groups and that was exactly what they had! It was so great to see everyone and catch up.

We were sitting outside and a little white truck went by full of kids and I suddenly realized it was Gillian driving! This little truck had a right hand steering wheel and was a standard and there was Gillian driving.

Then a 4 wheel car went by and Annabel was driving it!

Before I could think too much the little white truck comes by again and Grace is driving!

Who guessed that the 4th would include learning to drive when you are only 11!
Then evening ended with all the kids shooting off fireworks only to be followed by Mike's explosive fireworks demonstration.
This is Annabel's first time to experience the 4th of July as a US citizen and thanks to Mike and Cissy she got off to a great start!