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Friday, November 26, 2010

Home for one week...

Well life at home for one heading format:

Mary can say "Mama", "Daddy" and the beginnings of "Kitty Cat". She is working on learning the signs for "more" and "all done" and is beginning to use them when encouraged. We are impressed with her receptive language, she is already picking up routine phrases ie. "Let's go potty" (and she walks to the bathroom), "Mary come here please", "Push up your sleeves", "Take your shoes off"...ect. She babbles continuously, so we are hopeful that more words will appear soon.

We are almost afraid to comment on it, for fear of jinxing everything. Although it has not been a walk in the park, we realize it could be much more challenging than it has been. We have taken the crib mattress out and placed it on the floor in the girl's room. Either Cory or I will lay down on the floor in the room until the girl's drift off to dreamland. Everyday the crying during the going to sleep time seems to decrease, especially at naptime.

Both girl's were waking up a couple of times at night each the first couple of days, most likely due to jet lag and the new environment. However, they weren't waking up at the same time, and when one little girl began crying it would then wake up the other and thus more crying. The last night or two, Mary has only stirred and cried once earlier one in the evening, and with a little back rub and reassurance she has drifted back to sleep. Fingers crossed this continues...

Cory and I both seem to be over the worst of the jet lag. We are both still napping each afternoon with the girls and setting the alarm so we don't sleep past the two hours. We are finally able to fall asleep before midnight, much better than the 2:30 am time when we would finally nodd off. We are trying our best to be on a tight sleeping schedule and have made sure we are all up and moving around by 7:30 am. We are even having to wake the girl's in the morning, a much different story for Sylvie who was the queen of getting up early on our days off!

Most of our tantrums are surrounding food right now. Mary gets very, very upset if she sees someone else eating and she is not. Or even if she has some food still - which makes it interesting because she shovels food in as quick as she can, and Sylvie eats slow. She is still very anxious about food and having enough to eat, and as such is eating an enormous amount of food.

We are taking it slow, dishing up food on the counter and then bringing everyone's food to the table, so she can focus on what is in her bowl/plate and is not distracted by food in serving dishes. We have also taught her to use a fork or a spoon. She is doing much better using them now, and this also helps to slow her down when she is eating. She would still prefer to eat everything with her hands (as it gets into her mouth quicker), but is now using her fork or spoon when we ask. It will take time, but this will get better as her trust in us providing for her needs will grow.

We are both impressed with how the girl's play together. Often we hear lots of giggles and laughing between the two. Mary watched Sylvie play with her toys carefully, and imitates how she plays with them. Mary has learned quite quickly how to make the different toys make noise and how to put together and take apart the Mega Blocks.

Sylvie is relearning how interesting some of her toys can be - especially now that there is another little someone who finds them interesting as well. However, this leads the occasional fight over a specific toy - and with her limited communication skills, Mary has resorted to biting at times to get her point across. We are working hard on curbing this behavior, and being thankful that her cleft makes of so she mostly gums Sylvie, rather than actually biting. Any suggestions on reducing/replacing this behavior?

One of the hardest parts of coming home was the sudden change in weather. When we left home at the beginning of November, it was +10C. When we returned it was -4C and snowing hard. This first week home the weather dropped to -16C, and we have been shoveling the driveway several times a day. This has made venturing outside to play much less enjoyable. Luckily today, the temperature rose to a balmy -1C and we bundled up and headed outside...

Happy to be outside playing in the snow...

Not happy with the subsequent chores associated with winter...

The fun that comes along with snow...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Video of us all arriving at the airport!

Here is a video our friend "Nicky" took of us arriving at the airport last Thursday evening. Thank you so much for capturing this moment for us. Please excuse how we look, we had been traveling longer than 24 hours by then and all I wanted was to get home, shower and change into some clean clothes!


Saturday, November 20, 2010

And we are home...

Seems like just yesterday we were jet-setting around the world in foreign lands... Well, it pretty much was yesterday (actually the day before, but I am still on Beijing time, so this post will happen tomorrow...) :) We have made it through two nights of sleep in our own beds in our own house with our own family and nothing but. Quite a treat considering the last two weeks have been go go go... Everyone seems to be settling in fairly well - We summarily tossed the mattress out of the crib onto the floor for the interim because of Mary's not-quite-so-good reaction to them on the trip... Figure we will deal with whatever as long as she is getting some sleep, and both the girls have been doing fairly good in that department too... Trying to readjust sleep patterns doesn't happen overnight, but they are troopers and will probably be right as rain before we are.

The trip home was overall uneventful - Air Canada tossed us a nice curve ball when we arrived at the airport in Beijing - Oh your flight will be 5 and a half hours delayed - While we are standing in line for check-in... WTF??? Oh well, I guess we will just PLAY IN THE AIRPORT for what? SEVEN or EIGHT hours now ?!?! Thanks Air Canada! You guys are great! If you will recall our AC issues from last time - At least we were sitting on the plane on the tarmac this time for two and a half hours before takeoff. Needless to say me thinks their customer service hotline will be getting an earful - See what I can wrangle out of them our 'pain and suffering' :) As an aside - if your kids are completely exhausted, they WILL sleep on the plane for like seven and change hours :) I guess that's something.

So, we will be hiding out at home for the next little while - working on a cocoon to start what seems to be winter all of a sudden... Family bonding time will be good, until we start to get cabin fever, but we will cross that line when we get there... :) Thank you to all who visited (albeit briefly) with us at the airport when we arrived - It was just the snapshot of friends and family we needed after a very long day! We will be in touch with everyone soon so don't just THINK we are dodging your calls - The ringers in the house are off and we actually ARE... :) Stay tuned - there will be definitely be more to follow.

C & J & S & M

A little chaos in Beijing - Note Mary's particularly lovely expression about the wait in line...

Just how many girls can we fit on this train??

Can still manage some smiles during our extended stay

Some entry/exit lessons on some of the cooler buggies at the airport

At home in pajamas relaxing at the dinner table... Much happier!

This one is going to be trouble - I see mischief in these eyes... :)

I already know this one is Dr. Evil...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Medicals, Silk, Pearls, Acrobats… What else is on the list?

Medicals, Silk, Pearls, Acrobats… What else is on the list?

The last couple of days have been a bit of a mix. Monday was a bright and early start for those of us who chose to sponsor our children (instead of citizenship) as we have to get a medical examination done of the child to meet Canada’s visa and immigration requirements. There were four families who went this route, so we got to head to the clinic while the rest of the group got some free time. The medical was no big deal at all. Mary is a little undersized (not uncommon) and she actually made it onto the charts for all of the height, weight, and head circumference – The same could not be said for her sister when we got her if you recall, so we are not too worried… :) She is in reasonably good health, so nothing else was required – One more thing checked off the list. We got to do a bit of shopping while the remaining kidlets were getting their exams done, so we picked up some more essentials for the hotel – Pringles (Numb & Spicy Hot Pot flavour – you must try if you get the chance :) … and some “regular” ones too).

The afternoon was a tour of the Summer Palace, which we opted out of because:

a) We had seen it before so we figured family naptime would be a good idea

b) It is by a large lake and it was very windy, so colds for the way home we were trying to avoid

Family nap time was a good choice, and with us all refreshed, we headed out into taxiland to get a cab over to Shea & Karla’s hotel to try and meet them for a little dinner. We did get a nice visit in and some impromptu Chinese dinner - We were shooting for a recommended Italian place, but some of us with the directions to get there were a little… what’s the word… inept… :) No matter, the Chinese was excellent so there were no complaints. Got them back to their hotel and we caught a cab back to ours (much easier if you have the concierge tell the cab driver where you want to go by the way – as opposed to the blank stares we usually got the last time around when we handed them the little cards…) Had to make it back to meet the tailor and see what 24 hours later looked like in the suit department. He and his assistant true to their word showed up at the room a little after 9:00 and had a surprisingly almost finished suit for me to try on. He continued to tweak and pin here and there to get some button placement, cuff lengths, and muscle the shoulders and chest into something that would fit, but after he had worked his magic and the assistant wrote down some of his yammerings, they were off again and the finished product would be available the next day… Impressive considering I am not the average stature that he gets to fit every other day.

Tuesday was another long one… We headed on a silk factory tour with the group – We did not have a chance to do this last time, so we figured that it would probably be a good one to catch. It was very informative and we got a chance to pick up the girls some nice Chinese dresses afterwards, which were in fact made of pure silk, which you may or may not find at the markets. Could have gone overboard with silk pillows, comforters, you name it, but we managed to restrain ourselves. After the silk factory was the Pearl Market for some more shopping – and some good, good bartering fun :). It was the same chaos as the last time we were here, but we knew how to duck and dodge the local sales staff to keep moving to stuff we wanted to see… Some of the group was not as fortunate and were continually hounded… You want bag? How ‘bout belt? You need wallet? Rolex? Very good price… :) What fun.

The shopping tour lasted a couple of hours… We did get lunch on it though, so it wasn’t all haggling all the time. We headed back to the hotel for a little downtime and a quick bite and were back on the bus to take in a Chinese Acrobatic show… I think we spent longer on the bus in traffic than the actual show was, but it was an excellent performance and the girls enjoyed it. Sylvie was a little out of sorts because of the loud music and gonging, but she enjoyed all the rest. Mary was pretty much done by the end, but also loved to point out what was happening on stage, so she must have been intrigued as well. The bus ride home was far less time because the traffic was lighter, so we got back and into bed at a somewhat reasonable hour.

Today we got to sleep in… What a treat that was to kind of roll out of bed around 7:45 or 8:00 (instead of 5:00 :( …) and the girls both were good until just about 8:00 as well. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with a few other families who also opted out of the morning’s tour (Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City…). All of it was also outside and a lot of walking, which it nicer weather would probably be alright, but we erred on the side of “kid comfort” today… Can never go wrong there :). We did head back to do some shopping for some things we saw yesterday, but were only out and about for around an hour and a half – so it was a nice low-key morning. Our goodbye China party is tonight, so all of the girls are sleeping behind me now to try so we can enjoy a little later evening with everyone at the party. And then it is tomorrow – Thursday – Our last day here :( I have mixed feelings about this as it is such a fantastic place with so much to see and do, but home is calling as well so we can get everyone back and start to settle in (and play the jet lag game again… YAY!) :( I can say that I will look forward to our getting home, but we will see what the plane ride has in store for us too… Only time will tell.

C & J & S & M

This is the White Pagoda - we did not get a chance to visit, but did get a look

I tried to get as many of the group in as I could on this tour shot... There are quite a few of us :)

In the stroller and ready for action...

How the silk gets unwound from the cocoon - Still very labour intensive but beats doing it by hand!

How tiny is silk anyway? One strand from one cocoon is this big, and will be about 1300 metres long... The cocoon is about the size of my thumb, so that is impressive!

Tha Stair Master Redux

The Stair Master Redux

Well, it is official – “Feel the burn” has a whole new meaning :) Today was a tour of a jade factory and then the Great Wall. The tours that are run are mostly government tours, so there are specific places you visit during an outing. This was the same tour we were on when we picked up Sylvie, so it was nice to be a bit more relaxed and get to enjoy a little scenery instead of blasting through it and moving on to the next thing. The first stop was the jade factory, where we ran into Karla and Shea and their new little one, Victoria. It was great to see them and see that they were all starting to settle in (as much as you can when you are living out of a suitcase and a hotel room…) Spent a little time in the shop there getting (you guessed it) some jade – We picked up a jade rat pendant for Mary, as her zodiac sign is a rat the same as Sylvie. Joyanne is a snake, but is that really THAT hard to guess? … :) (Love You – No poison in my sleep please…) Oh, and I am an Ox, which is not that surprising either because I am stupid stubborn strong enough to stick with that one :) I know, I know, where would I be without her? (Trust me she reminds me all the time…)

Next stop was the Great Wall, and I have to tell you, even this time around it was still a sight to see. Whenever I look at this country and think of its history I marvel in the sheer volume of it. Shanxi was a fantastic province to visit for just that, and Beijing is no different – The city and area are built on history. So, up the wall we go – you get the ‘hard’ and the ‘not quite as hard’ routes to choose from here, and I have to say that even the ‘not quite as hard’ tour is still a heck of a leg workout, especially with a munchkin strapped on your front. Stopped for a quick photo op and proceeded up (and subsequently down) the wall. After the jaunt we met up with our group in the coffee shop as they straggled in from their adventures. And by coffee shop, I do mean Irish coffee – Gotta have a licensed tourist trap close by to something like this – Even I could market that :). We even got to be a part of (or well, rather blamed for) the first snowfall at the wall for the year. After everyone arrived, we were back on the bus and off for lunch at a Cloisonné factory.

Cloisonné’s are enamel-baked items (vases, statues, masks, etc.) that are fired onto bronze (or some other metal) so they do not break when they are dropped (or thrown depending on your household). They were built to appease an Emperor that has a fascination with throwing porcelain to hear it break (apparently to calm himself – no Ativan in that era I guess…). Needless to say, these pieces of art were kind of priceless, so they tried to find another way to create the vases and such that could basically take some abuse… Ergo – Cloisonné’s.

A little lunch and a little shopping (they really get you on these tours if you are not careful) and we started our long trek back to Beijing. This day on the tour was probably our longest by FAR… So everyone was quite tired and we basically staved off the Water Cube and the Birdsnest from the Olympics in 2008… We did drive by them for an out-of-the-window photo op, but the day was dragging on too long, as was traffic, so we cut that out of the events. Again not really a loss for us, as we have seen them before. The girls faired pretty well over the long day, but were both looking forward to some end in sight when we pulled the plug.

Back to the hotel after a long day’s outing some of us decided that we needed some suits made while we were here… We had actually decided the day before, but the tailor was showing up at the hotel today for a measure and fabric choose… He did NOT have the baby blue swatch in his collection, or one of the other fellas and myself would have probably rocked that out just because… Ruffled shirt and all :) But it was not to be, so we are probably better off… A nice man and his assistant (no English… mutters a lot… but seems nice) gave us the run through and said they would be back tomorrow for a fitting… under 24 hours, from the comfort of your hotel room – not too bad :). We will see what is in store for then :)

C (et all)

…Where did you find that suit?? FIND IT? I had to get this MADE… :) Probably best that we did not get our way…

Getting ready for our outing...

Met up with Karla and Shea and Victoria on the tour

I will guarantee that if you see this sign in ANY of the stores you should steer your wife clear because your wallet will start to smoke...

Playin on the bus ride

Our destination...

Bundled up for some hiking...

It was a brisk day... Ready to go!

A view from just before the gates

This wall holds a LOT of people

Still powering through a long day - The blue outside the window is the Water Cube from the Olympics

The bus ride is almost over

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lions, Tigers and Bears – Oh My!

Lions, Tigers and Bears – Oh My!

Well, Saturday found us (ALL of us – there are 66 people in our travel group in total, not counting guides and drivers and such…) safely at our hotel in Beijing. What do new families do for fun? How ‘bout a trip to the zoo?? (Not all of the families went, but let’s just say the bus was very full…) We did the obligatory tourist things like buy panda hats (well, some of us did) and all of the zoo-like memorabilia, but aside from the Pandas and Big (really BIG) tigers and Lions – it was pretty much a zoo tour. The girls loved it – don’t get me wrong…

When we returned, we decided to attempt another run at a bath for Mary Dan Dan… The first go-around was not so successful – A lot of tears and hollering – Not the piercing shriek she has been doing with the crib, but a close second. We loaded Sylvie into the tub first (hoping that she being the water-baby will rub off on Mary) and it actually was a success… :) She even cracked a few smiles in there, which was very nice to see… One step at a time…

Over the past few days we have noticed that Mary is a much more calmer baby, still cries frequently – but are getting smiles and cuddles from her. She is becoming more confident and will now walk around the hotel room picking up toys and playing with them. Sylvie and Dan Dan have been very good playing together. Mary Dan Dan usually likes to pick up toys, rattle them a bit and then pass them off to Mama, Baba or Jie Jie. So, perhaps she is a good sharer, or Dan Dan does not have the sense of personal ownership yet, as we are thinking there were only group toys at the orphanage.

We are also seeing Mary Dan Dan communicate a bit more with us; she is humming and speaking baby babble when we are out and about. We are seeing many more frequent smiles out of her, and hearing her infectious giggle. She is snuggling into our arms when we hold her, rather than using her death grip, and gives us the toothiest grin when we kiss her cheeks. She is beginning to point to the types of food she would like on her plate, and when she wants you to pass her something. Every little piece opens up a little more of her personality and sheds away some of the seriousness that she has shown us so far – It doesn’t completely disappear, but it is nice to see her drop her guard a little more each time to let us in.

Tomorrow we revisit the giant stair-master, so must do some resting up before a long day. Until then…

C & J & S & M

Bundled up and ready to go!

This one is for Miah... Can you find the panda bear in this picture?? :)

Of course, one of the stars of the show here...

A big white kitty...

A big orange kitty...

A few of the dad's in front of a big rock tiger for a photo op

Kisses for one while the other tries to escape...

A successful bathtime...

and a little playtime in pajamas :)

Last Day in Taiyuan, Shanxi

Last Day in Taiyuan, Shanxi – Onward to Beijing

Outside of the evening’s exorcism, the next day was fairly low to do, Mary was a fair bit out of sorts throughout the day – very clingy and needy, crying, and really just wanted to be held –All Day Long – Every…Single...Minute. Watching a child grieve is heartbreaking to watch. As an adult you feel utterly helpless to comfort your child, and you can only imagine what must be going on in her little head and heart. Short version – grief sucks. I think the other hard part, as the parent (side note: we completely understand this is immensely harder for Mary Dan Dan) is trying to remain calm in the storm of emotions for Dan Dan, especially when you do not know how long this particular episode will last (minutes, hours, days, or even weeks).

Dan Dan did well for the morning for breakfast (have we mentioned she is a champion eater), but we did get to try the light switch at nap time again… It was eerie the way she reacted to that crib – even getting her inside the bars would set her off - On the bed again and silence. One of us contemplated a game to play with this reaction but was summarily vetoed by the powers that be… (In the crib, out of the crib, in the crib, out of the crib…) Me thinks my divorce would be the least of my worries… :)

On the other end of the spectrum, the plane ride that evening was completely uneventful from Taiyuan to Beijing – It was only about 50 minutes long, and I think we spent longer in the airports than on the plane. We were very happy to return to Beijing and meet up with some of our group travel companions. Most of us filtered in throughout the day… I think the last ones got in at midnight – Thankfully not us.

Until Tomorrow – or well, later anyway… :)

The camera did not see much action today, but I can pass along a successful grief coping mechanism... LIQ - OUR... :)
(to the MIC - KEY Mouse tune...)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gentlemen... Start your engines...

Gentlemen… Start your engines…

Well, Thursday was a glimpse into Shanxi’s past with a trip to the Provincial Museum…. I can definitely say that given some more time here I would like to see a couple more things… The Hanging Temples are here (close to Datong) and they look amazing… The pics I have of the museum model does not do them justice… Suffice to say – you take an ancient monastery (like 1500 years old) and attach it to the side of a rock face –Many, Many metres in the air (75 I think) with basically cantilevers and not much else… There are many other pagodas and temples all over the province with many flavours of religions and histories that one could spend a good deal of time trying to visit.

The museum was the “big outing” of the day, so the rest of the afternoon (after naps) we trucked around the local streets to see what could be seen. It was still brisk, so we really did not put on too many miles, but it was nice to get out and about for a bit. Grabbed a bit of dinner and then returned to try and get some shut-eye for the following day of travel back to Beijing… Only an hour flight, but Miss Muffett has never flown before so you never know. This is where the wheels came off the bus…

After three successful nights and naps putting Mary down, this was not to be on night number four. Can you say shriek like a banshee?? I knew you could… We tried to put Mary down for the night in her crib and she was having N.O.N.E. of that… Wailed like we were performing an exorcism (which the neighbours actually thought we might have been) with fits of kicking and flailing and screaming all thrown into one. Was not a pretty sight really, so up she went to be comforted again (and try to calm her down) but as soon as she got close to the crib it was like a light switch – and we were off again. This pattern continued for about an hour and twenty minutes with no change in behavior, until we laid her down at the end of our bed to re-swaddle her and it was like the another light switch – all was quiet… Whatever needs to be done… she was quiet… So, we boxed her in with some chairs so she would not fall off, and we also tried to get some sleep. When I say would not fall it should probably be SHOULD not fall… Thump in the night (she can really roll around this kid when she is unfettered) and down she goes. More tears :( but a quick recovery and back onto the bed… Same light switch still works… :) So, needless to say the next few bedtimes will be putting all of us to the test… We will see what needs to happen for the rest of the week and when we return home… Keep your fingers crossed :)

...If I need to find a Catholic priest to do some quick work do I have to pay him LOA? Let's see if we get banned from the hotel first... 

Like I said - The pics I took of the model do this place no justice... Here it is and I must return to check it out :)

Starting to get more smiles... Jie Jie is pulling her weight :)

Daddy can even manage to coax a few out of Mary too...

Dressed for a cool outing

Here is our hotel in Tiayuan

One of the historic pagodas that are also in Shanxi - 900 years old and the tallest solid wood pagoda well, anywhere... :)

A little Buddhism as well...

Back at the hotel getting a little play time in

Sharing is coming along fairly nicely

Say Cheese....

Did you see which way they went????

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Something, Something, Something... The Sequel

Four Hours – The Sequel…

After a hard night’s sleep – emphasis on ‘hard’… The bed was something akin to a wood box with a sheet on it…. We politely asked Verena in the morning if her bed was as “firm” as the hotel’s. She informed us that her bed at home is even firmer – made of bricks… They use bricks so they can heat the bed at night with coal or some such combustible… The bricks are also supposed to help make your back straight and strong according to Mao… She was not convinced of this :).

After we checked out of the hotel we drove to the Datong Social Welfare Institute to see where baby Dan Dan spent some of her life. We were well received by the orphanage workers and were allowed to take pictures and video of the rooms and Dan Dan’s friends and caretakers . We have a fair collection of pictures and some nice videos of her and the nannies and her friends… Something we hope she can enjoy in the future. The pics here are the ones mostly of the orphanage – no kidlets or nannies (well, aside from ours of course :)… )

After the orphanage we headed back through Datong, which got me some more shots of some of the history of the city with the old walls, towers and the like – Right in the middle of the city… Did I mention that this place was old? Then the gravol express started up again, and we were off back to Taiyuan to try and get back to some “comfy” beds… (I will use comfy loosely – I had a great sleep on the box, but Joyanne, not so much… You know how it goes… Happy wife… blah blah blah… :)

Made it back to the hotel and got everything (re)organized for the next couple nights. We are going to visit the Shanxi Provincial Museum tomorrow (Thursday) and get a look at some more of the history of the province. The girls survived the trip pretty well, and were glad to get out of the van… Stayed in our hotel room and played for the remainder of the afternoon/evening… Did a couple laps around the block, but it is a bit chilly for walking (about 0-5 degrees or so, but windy…) Stay tuned…

Something, something, something… You know – The Sequel :)

(…At least Kev will get it…) :)

Still so serious... as Sylvie tries to put herself into a drawer... :)

Taking a little time out to colour...

Peek-A-Boo... Sylvie still loves mirrors...

A view of the orphange from the roadway - The red roofs in the forefront on the left

Mary Dan Dan in her old bed (and helper behind as you can see...)

Some colour-coodrinated eating options...

One of the play rooms in the facility - There were several different areas that the children would play/practice/learn

Outside is a courtyard... Seems to be a little green space.

The common courtyard between all the complexes

This is where the older children live at the orphanage.

This is a mural on the wall that is outside...

 I tried to get this to reflect right in the picture - I think it speaks for itself

A fast shot of one section of old wall that is in the centre of the city

Children's Gravol ad #1....

 ...and ad #2... :)