Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween Fun

I wasn't sure how Stanzi would handle the idea of "trick-or-treat" but she picked up on the concept in no time: "If I'm cute and hold out my hand, they will give me candy". She's never really had candy but immediately realized it was a good thing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Just some pictures...

Random pictures of watching football and eating Chinese take-out...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Oh, and about Stanzi....

Okay, this blog is supposed to be about our little girl, and the last post didn't say a thing about her. Everything's great. She sleeps extremely well (about 11 hours a night, plus a 2-3 hour nap during the day), and she's

growing like crazy. She's fully mobile (including going up and down stairs) and her vocabulary is growing every day. She now calls us "mama" and "dada", and the dogs "LaLa" and "RuRu." Just this morning she started saying the name of her hot breakfast cereal: "Coco" (it's Coco Wheats). She's still very much into music, so we're enrolling her in a "move to the music" class at the Salvation Army's Kroc Center. And she loves television, particularly Dora the Explorer and Yo Gabba Gabba! She's an absolutely delightful little girl, and the light of our lives. And she's going to love her new room, which is already painted pink and decorated with Tinkerbells.

Long Time No Blog

Let's see, the last entry here was from just after Father's Day. But those of you who know us are already aware that we've had an incredibly busy summer, because over Father's Day weekend we decided to put our house on the market. Just the weekend before I was riding my bike down Samaritan Avenue here in Ashland when I stumbled on an open house. We weren't even thinking about moving at the time, but I liked the look of the place, so I decided to go inside. It was love at first sight. Cherry hardwood floors, high ceilings, a gorgeous sunroom, and, best of all, lots and lots of space. It's nearly 50 percent larger than our current house, in fact. And the asking price was extremely reasonable.
When I got home I told Monica about it, and told her about the place's biggest negative--it only has one and a half baths (we currently have two full baths). She looked at the photos of the house online at the Coldwell Banker site, but she said that the bathroom situation was a dealbreaker. Okay, no big deal--as I said, we weren't really looking to move.
Two days later Monica informed me that she had a confession to make. She'd been surreptitiously visiting the Coldwell Banker site to look at the house, and now she wanted to see the real thing. So next day I made a phone call, and that very evening we were there. And Monica fell in love with it as well. The following day we left for Pennsylvania, our minds reeling. By the time we had reached Monica's parents' house in Sandy Lake we'd decided to try to sell our house.
The next couple of months were a blur, full of open houses and last-minute showings. Early on there were a few people who seemed really interested but no offers came. We looked at a few other houses, but didn't see anything we liked nearly as much as the place on Samaritan. After about six weeks Monica and I agreed that if the house we wanted sold to someone else, we'd take our current house off the market.
In the end things moved very quickly. While we were in Pittsburgh in mid-August (we celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary by going to a Steeler game, but that's a subject for another post) an agent showed our house. It was a Saturday afternoon. On the following Tuesday we got an offer. It was lower than we had hoped for, but still within the reasonable range. We contacted the agent for the people selling the house on Samaritan to see what kind of deal we could make, and I spent much of Wednesday on the phone engaged (via our agents) in a three-way negotiation with our potential buyers and sellers. By 5:00 that afternoon we had a deal, and that evening we signed the paperwork. We're scheduled to close--and move--on September 25.
If you'd told us back in March, when we'd just returned from China with our little girl, that we'd be moving in six months, we would've laughed in your face. But here we go. On the plus side, we have the sort of home I've always dreamed of living in. But it's going to be a bumpy few weeks.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

We had a wonderful weekend in Pennsylvania. We arrived on Thursday afternoon and my parents looked after Stanzi and the dogs so John and I could go out for a "grown-up" dinner. We decided to go to The Springfield Grille in Mercer. We both had beef and it was a lovely evening. On Friday my mom and aunt took Stanzi to the Pittsburgh Zoo and John and I went to Waldameer Park and Erie Brewing Company. Later that day we had dinner at the infamous Jules Tavern. It's a pretty typical dive bar but they have a "family section" for dining and they do "deep fried" to perfection. Yesterday we spent the afternoon at the Pymatuning Century Club. The weather wasn't ideal for sailing, but we had a great time on the porch (long live the porch rats!) My Aunt Betty & Uncle Butch, Uncle Ralph & cousin Danny were there. And Stanzi's Great Grandma and Great Grandpa came up from Boyers. And of course my Mom & Dad were there. We had a picnic supper and Stanzi got to finally meet many of the club members who waited 3 years to meet her. It was a really nice Father's Day celebration.

Now we're back in Ohio and today was kind of nuts. We've decided to put our house on the market and, since we have another house in mind already, we want to move as quickly as possible. The next couple of weeks are going to be a little crazy with trying to get everything in order and starting to pack, but the end result is going to be more square footage so it will be worth it.

In closing I want to thank my wonderful husband. I know he had a terrific Father's Day weekend and he knows how I feel; but I want everyone to know that I love that man and I couldn't do any of this without him. Not only did I get the best baby but I got the best husband, too. :)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Long Weekend

I'm sitting in the den listening to Stanzi cry, make that howl, herself to sleep. She usually fusses a bit, but she's really putting her lungs into it tonight. She was in a super nasty mood by the time I gave her a bottle and, even though she's completely exhausted, she's going to torture me some more. Actually the worst part about it is knowing she'll be covered in dried snot in the morning. At this point it's not really crying, it's more yelling. Very dramatic yelling. She'll stop for a couple of minutes and then pick it up again. I keep thinking she's finally asleep and then, "AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!! BBBBLLLLLAAAAAA BBBBBBLLLLLLAAAAA!!!! (gag, gag, cough, deep breath) AAAHHHH AAAAAHHHH AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!" Poor Stanzi.

I'm back to work tomorrow after a four day weekend. It was a nice weekend, too. I had a spa day (courtesy of my wonderful husband) on Friday, the Pizza Gang had a party for us on Saturday night (Jill made the adorable panda cake), a rather lazy Sunday with our very own pool party (see pictures) and a rather boring Monday since I worked some this morning and John worked this afternoon.

This weekend we did get Stanzi off of formula and onto whole milk which simplifies life a bunch. I took her in for a check-up on May 29 and Dr. Boyd (our local doctor) suggested it was time for the transition. He said that her diet is great and she's gaining weight appropriately so the formula is unnecessary at this point. I've also got her sleeping through the night again after a very long three weeks of midnight bottles. I will not be giving her late night bottles ever again! That's something else Dr. Boyd said is unnecessary. I blame myself for slipping back into it. At 3am it's easier to give her a bottle than listening to her whine for an hour. The next big step is for her to sleep in her nursery at night. That has to happen soon. It's not like we have a "family bed" but a pack-n-play next to the bed can be rather distracting if you get my drift.

The past month was huge as far as Stanzi's development goes. Not only is she walking, but she's crawling, rolling all over the place and her transition movements are outstanding. I can tell she understands a lot of what is said to her and she babbles quite a bit. She loves music and she dances and "sings" along. Ducks are still her favorite animal but she's grown fond of dogs as well. She loves giving hugs and kisses and waves goodbye. I'm a little shocked by her ability to just be quiet, content and affectionate. Considering she's 15 1/2 months old I'm surprised at her abiltiy to enjoy "happy, quiet time". What better way to decompress than with a loving baby in your arms, just content to be there?

I've also included a picture of my darling daughter having a meltdown at the dinner table last night. I know many of you think she's absolutely perfect, and she is in many ways. For instance, she saves her most dramatic fits just for her mama and dada. She's an angel in public and generally well behaved with new people, but with us she lets her hair down. We have a dozen pictures of the incident but the one I'm posting is my favorite. As John would say, it's a very "gibbon-y look".

Saturday, June 6, 2009

More Pictures

I know Stanzi's Great Grandma & Great Grandpa miss her so I'm posting a few more pictures for them. A couple of them are a several weeks old but still cute. Oh, and I had to sneak in a picture of Ruby. I'm going to try harder to at least post pictures on a regular basis for those of you who don't get to visit regularly.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Just Photos

I don't really have time to blog but I wanted to share some photos for my Stanzi starved family. All is well in Ashland and, while "summer" doesn't really hit northern Ohio until July, the weather is lovely.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Day Care

This week Monica started back to work part-time. We both spent a lot of time wondering if this was the best thing for Stanzi, but after talking with several people we agreed that it wouldn't be a bad thing for her to spend a few days each week away from us.  That is, assuming we could find a decent child care provider.  We visited a few local centers, and each time we came away with the impression that this wasn't all that different from the orphanage where she would've spent her entire first year.  There was no way we were going to do that to her.

Then we went to see our friend Jill.  She and her husband, Stuart, own the Ashland Road Animal Clinic, which is where we've been taking our pets ever since we lived in this area.  While both of them are veterinarians, a few years ago Jill stopped being actively involved with the clinic when she had her first child.  She now has two beautiful kids--Dryden, age three, and Claire, who's just about to turn one.  Well, she's a great mom, and has a houseful of toys, so after some conversations she agreed to take care of Stanzi three days a week.  We're very happy with the arrangement, because she gets lots of attention while still being able to socialize with some kids close to her own age.  This photo was taken at their house, in fact.  Okay, she may look a bit shellshocked, but it was her very first day.  On the whole, things are going very well.  In fact, watching little Claire charge around the house seems to have inspired Stanzi to do a lot more crawling!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Everything's Ducky

videoStanzi has officially spoken her first word. We think. She was in the tub when she pointed to her rubber duck and said "duck," or at least something very close to it. There was much excitement, of course, and now every time she points to something she says it. Each of the dogs is now a duck. So is a cup of hot coffee. I'm a duck, as is Monica. So is, well, just about everything. But it sure is cute. In this video you can see her calling the camera a duck, too.

Stanzi has never shown much interest in crawling. As soon as she learned that she could support herself by leaning against something her instinct has been to try to walk. No doubt this had something to do with the fact that her first year would have been spent almost entirely in a crib, where she could grab the bars and pull herself up into a standing position, but didn't have any place to crawl to. And Monica have been encouraging her desire to walk (letting her hold on to us, or putting her in her walker), and pretty much ignoring her inability to crawl. But then I read an article in the newspaper claiming that crawling is an important step in a baby's development. There are even studies suggesting a connection between not crawling and ADHD. Generally speaking I scoff at these "scientific" studies that will undoubtedly be disproven by the next study that comes along, but I must say that I'm sufficiently bugged by the prospect of my daughter being prescribed Ritalin that I'm now encouraging her crawling. So I've been putting her on her belly on the floor, and setting things she likes out of her reach. And while she's not quite crawling, she's creeping (or what they call "combat crawling"), dragging herself along the floor. She can go at a pretty good clip, but she's not at all happy with it, and is quite vocal about her displeasure.

Monica called this morning to tell me that Stanzi threw up for the first time since we've had her. We'd always considered ourselves pretty lucky in that regard, but apparently she barfed all over the place. Hmm, that probably explains why she was so cranky this morning, and why she barely ate any breakfast (she even turned up her nose at a waffle). But apparently she's fine now.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Happy Easter (well, almost, anyway)!

Well, how do you like that? I finally get a moment to blog, for the first time in, like, two weeks, and the darn site won't let me upload anything! Grrr. Well, at least I can count on Facebook. Long story short--everything is wonderful. For the past two nights Stanzi has slept through the night. True, she's woken up around 5:30 or 6:00 each morning, but we can certainly live with that. Heck, I'm an early riser anyway, so I don't have a problem getting up with her and letting mommy (who's not a morning person) get a couple of hours' extra sleep.

Monica took Stanzi to the Oak Adoptive Health Center this morning for a marathon of appointments, mostly dealing with her development status. She could tell the story much better than I can (I was stuck in faculty committee meetings all morning), but the gist of it is that, for a little girl who spent her first year of life in a Chinese orphanage, she's doing remarkably well. She's a bit behind when it comes to her gross motor skills and her communication, but the fact that she does little things like jabbering to her toys, and initiating hugs and kisses, means that she's communicating quite well, even though she hasn't yet spoken a word.

All right, Stanzi's now in bed, so Monica and I are going to watch some television. Good night, and Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

"The Phone...the phone is RING-ing!"

videoStanzi was in a bad mood yesterday. Maybe it's the teething--who knows? But here's the effect that the Wonder Pets have on her. There are a few television shows that she likes, but nothing compares to the Wonder Pets. As soon as she heard that music she stopped fussing, broke into a big smile and started moving to the beat. I downloaded the theme song from iTunes so I could play it for her anytime.

But now I can't get that music out of my head....

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Older Video

videoThis video takes place in the lobby of the Galactic Peace Hotel (I still love that name) in Nanchang. It's the first time Monica and Stanzi met face-to-face. The original video was much longer, because I had failed to turn off the camera and it kept running for nearly four minutes. Only the first fifteen seconds are at all interesting, but I didn't bother trying to upload a video that was mostly useless, and because the file was huge (nearly 300 MB) it would have taken ages to upload. Anyway, I finally figured out how to edit video using the Flip software, so I cut out all the superfluous stuff. Here it is--Monica and Stanzi meeting for the first time. Wow, it really is amazing how much our little girl has changed in just over a month's time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

There's POOP! In the POTTY!

Over the weekend we bought Stanzi a potty chair. We figured that since it's so glaringly obvious when her bowels are moving (our little drama queen) we might as well start getting her used to dropping her payload into some toilet-like receptacle.

She had just finished her supper tonight when she got that look on her face (a look not wholly unlike the one in the photo; and no, she wasn't pooping when I took that) and started grunting. I whisked her into the bathroom, where Monica quickly removed her pants and diaper and sat her upon the potty chair, which is made to look like a frog. And about thirty seconds later--well, you get the point.

This has been a good day all around. This morning she went with Monica to the library for story time. Midday she had a nice long nap, and in the afternoon a lady from the county's "Help Me Grow" program came by--at our request--to assess how she's developing. As we expected, she's a bit behind, particularly in communications skills. But the lady reassured us that it's nothing to worry about, and in a couple of areas, such as fine motor skills, she's right where most 13-month-olds are. Stanzi and I had some playtime this afternoon, and now Mommy is giving her a bottle and putting her to bed.

Poop in the potty. It doesn't get any better than that. Maybe that should get mentioned on her "Help Me Grow" assessment....

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Toy

video I don't really have a lot of time to blog today as Stanzi will wake up from her nap soon, but I wanted to share some new video. John and I didn't even think they made baby "walkers" anymore, but we found one at WalMart yesterday and "The Gibbon" absolutely loves it. I wish we had more floor space, but the weather should start getting nice enough for her to use it on the patio. If you want to hear her giggling (and grunting), make sure you pause the music player at the bottom of the screen before playing the video. This kid is adorable!

Tomorrow morning Stanzi and I are going to the public library for "Baby Lap Time" which is a story time with music and movement for children up to 18 months old. I'm not sure what to expect, but it's free and it gets us out of the house. Tomorrow afternoon a representative from "Help Me Grow" is coming over to assess Stanzi's motor skills and verbal development. I'm very curious to see where she stands.

On Friday afternoon there was a wonderful party to welcome Stanzi to Ashland. Many thanks to John's colleagues for all of the work they put into that shindig. Stanzi has so many delightful new toys, clothes, blankets and other goodies because of our thoughtful and generous friends. You all reminded us, once again, why we love calling Ashland home.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Status Report

Can you believe this is the same little girl who used to SCREAM at the top of her lungs every time we tried to give her a bath? We laughed when we read suggestions in parenting books about making bath time part of a relaxing pre-bedtime ritual. But now she seems to enjoy being in the tub. She sure likes her rubber duck, anyway.

It's been hard to blog since we've been back from China, particularly now that spring break is over and I'm back to teaching. Last week was wonderful, though. When I got back from Idaho last Sunday night I saw big improvements in Stanzi's development in the four short days that I was gone. And in the past week I tried to make up for my absence with a lot of daddy-daughter time. It seemed to work, and now it seems hard to believe that she wanted nothing to do with me during our first few days together. Now whenever she seems me she flashes that million-dollar smile. Man, I'm in serious trouble with this one....

Stanzi's sleeping has gotten much better. She generally wakes us up once per night to take a bottle, although one night she surprised us by sleeping straight through. Generally speaking, though, she hates to go to bed, and kicks up a major fuss almost every night when we try to put her down. However, everything we've heard suggests that that's perfectly normal. She appears to be laboring under the delusion that Monica and I are doing something super-exciting after she goes to sleep.

Everything else is working out just fine! Most of the time she's a wonderfully pleasant little girl. She loves the dogs, except when they start barking too loudly for her, and they seem awfully fond of her, except when she tries to pull on their ears. She's still eating like a horse, but she's become far more discriminating in her choices. She has no interest whatsoever in baby food. She has ten teeth now, and she wants to USE those chompers. She enjoys some television shows, like "Wonder Pets" and "Imagination Movers." She still loves the jumperoo, but she's also on the verge of walking--I took her for a stroll around the house this afternoon, with her just holding on to me by one hand. She isn't saying any discernable words yet, but she babbles all the time, so she might be close to speaking as well. And--fingers crossed--we think we've found a child care arrangement that we'll all be comfortable with. I'm not going to jinx it by going into detail, but things are looking good.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Life is Good

I’m sure anyone with a baby has a tale to tell about sleep issues. Ours, so far, has been quite interesting. While were in Nanchang, Stanzi slept pretty well. She woke once in the night for a bottle and tended to be an early riser, but basically her sleep pattern was consistent. The trouble first started after we arrived in Guangzhou. Different crib, different hotel, different climate all added up to a rough first night. In fact, most families in our group had difficulty that first night in Guangzhou. Stanzi, however, developed a habit on that first night that she hasn’t yet kicked – fighting sleep. She’s become an expert at it, too, by the way. I, on the other hand, have become an expert at fighting Stanzi fighting sleep. Naptime is never an issue but nighttime is a total drama. There are countless theories as to why our adopted children have trouble sleeping: fear of the dark, fear of silence, fear of waking up alone as they have on so many mornings. Frequently, as she’s trying not to fall asleep, Stanzi will gaze into my face; sometimes she’ll reach out and gently touch my cheek or lips. There’s such depth in the dark pools of her eyes. It’s as if she’s afraid it may be the last time she ever sees me.

Stress and exhaustion make you do crazy things and the craziest thing I’ve done in quite some time is to go to battle with my one-year-old daughter over bedtime. Do I want my kid to sleep from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. and nap everyday? Hell, yes! Who wouldn’t? Do I have that kid? I don’t think so. Does that child even exist? I wonder.

Yesterday I discussed the situation with our pediatrician, Dr. Kempf. Essentially she said there are no “right” ways to get your child to sleep. In the interest of both Stanzi and me getting enough rest “do what works” she said. So last night I called a bedtime truce. Eight o’clock rolled around and Stanzi showed no indication she was ready to sleep. By 8:45, however, all the signs were there. We went upstairs and snuggled in bed and she was asleep in my arms by 9:30. She was awake for two hours in the middle of the night which was kind of annoying, but we’ll work on that. All in all I figure I got about 7 ½ hours of sleep and six of them were consecutive. Not bad, and a lot better than the three to four I was getting during the “Great Bedtime War”.

So for the first time in a long time I had the energy to eat breakfast, shower, put on “real” clothes, apply a small amount of make-up and do a couple of loads of laundry. I even shaved my legs. Life is good.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Daddy-Daughter Time

videoMonica decided to make a solo trip to Wal-Mart, so Stanzi and I had our first extended (as in an hour and a half) Daddy-daughter time. Everything went fine; I was afraid she'd start demanding her Mommy, but she seemed content to hang out with me. I fed her some supper, and shot this video of her and Ruby. Then I changed a poopy diaper (I've finally gotten the hang of it), we played with the dogs a bit, and practiced her standing skills. She's started trying to stand on one leg; true, she's holding onto my hands as she does it, but she had a certain grace, almost like a tiny ballerina. Maybe dance classes are in her future?

Regarding the dogs: I don't know how many people, during the lead-up to the adoption, told us, essentially, that our dogs were in for a "rude awakening" when the baby arrived. Now granted, it's only been a few days, but I don't see how things have changed all that much for them. They're still sleeping on our bed, they're still playing with their toys, they're still getting attention from us. Yes, Stanzi's needs take priority, but if anything they're getting more attention, because Stanzi is fascinated with them (and vice versa). If anything, their lives may have gotten better, as they're now getting the generous bounty of dropped food from Stanzi's booster seat, and we're at home with them a lot more than we were before. Maybe I'm missing something, but I sure don't see any "rude awakening" for them--at least, not yet.

Tomorrow I have to get up early and drive two hours to Van Wert, Ohio, which is due west of here, close to the Indiana border. For the past few years I've been going there twice a year to do all-day seminars for high school teachers. Last October I spoke on the Cold War, going from 1945 up through the Cuban Missile Crisis; tomorrow I take the story up through the collapse of communism. Anyway, Wednesday I have to leave again, this time for Idaho, where I'm doing a workshop for high school teachers that'll run through the weekend. The good news is that the subject is World War II, so it'll be fun, it's sponsored by the Gilder-Lehrman Institute, which is a great organization to get involved with, I'm being paid rather well for it, and I've always wanted to visit Idaho, which is supposed to be beautiful (although I'm not sure how nice it's supposed to be in early March). The bad news, of course, is it takes me away from Monica and Stanzi so soon after our return from China. Fortunately Monica's cousin is coming to town later this week, and her parents (and perhaps her grandmother) will be coming on Saturday, so she'll be getting a little help--and some non-baby company.

New Photos

Bowing to popular demand, I just uploaded a bunch of Stanzi photos from our time in China. Right now I'm buried under a ton of grading, but I hope to do some more substantial blogging later this week. Maybe Monica will, too!
The photos (including the one on the left, with her in her adorable polar bear hat) may be found here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Life Post-China

We've now been home from China for just over three days, but it's been hard to get back into the swing of blogging. Our routine in China usually gave me an hour or two of down time in the morning to write, but now jetlag is working in the opposite direction. Speaking of jetlag, dealing with a jetlagged one-year-old is no fun. In China Stanzi was pretty good about sleeping; in fact, she slept straight through the night a few times. But here it's been a struggle, for understandable reasons. Last night, however, things were much better. We made a point yesterday of limiting her sleeping during the day, so by 8:30 she was in her crib, completely crashed. She woke up at 2:30 or so, and was awake for a couple of hours, but that's still a huge improvement over the last couple of nights.

Aside from the sleep thing, Stanzi has adjusted remarkably well to everything here. She's enjoying her many toys (especially the Rainforest Jumperoo shown in the video), and her introduction to the dogs went very smoothly. There was some initial screaming when Lotte tried to lick her face, but she quickly bounced back from that, and soon was reaching out to pet them (well, more like grab them, but Lotte and Ruby don't seem to mind). For the dogs' part, it only took them until her first feeding to know that when Stanzi eats food will miraculously drop to the floor, so all they need do is wait next to her booster seat in order to get a tasty treat. In fact, Stanzi seems to be taking great delight in sharing her meals with Lotte and Ruby.

I'm not sure how much blogging we'll be doing in the next few days. I'm swamped with university-related work (it's amazing how much of a backlog of grading builds up over two weeks), and later this week I'm off to do a couple of seminars for high school teachers. Monica may have some things to add, but she's pretty busy with the normal baby routine. But for now, things are going very well, and where they aren't, at least they're headed in the right direction.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Last Night in China

The ceremony at the U.S. Consulate was sort of a non-event. There were 30 families present, and we all put up our right hands and swore that all statements we made to the U.S. Government regarding our Chinese children are true and accurate to the best of our knowledge. Then we were congratulated--our children will become officially American as soon as we arrive on U.S. soil.

We had an early dinner at the Thai restaurant. Since we can't get Thai food in Ashland we figured we'd take advantage of it while we had close access to it. We struck up a conversation with the family at the next table. They were from near St. Louis, but the husband grew up in Cleveland, and his mother has a place on Cinnamon Lake, which is only about twenty minutes from Ashland. Of course, it's a huge cliche to say that it's a small world, but that doesn't make it any less true.

It's now close to 7:30 pm, Guangzhou time. We're putting Stanzi to bed (she missed her afternoon nap, so she's practically passed out as Monica tries to feed her), then finishing the packing. We leave the hotel tomorrow at 5:45, and we'll be on an 8:20 flight to Tokyo, then Detroit, then Cleveland. Home never sounded so sweet.

Monday, February 23, 2009

videoHmm, apparently the problem I've been having uploading videos was actually just a problem with one particular video. So here are a couple more, one of Stanzi playing at the hotel, the other of the Hualing Temple. video

In the Home Stretch

Yesterday morning Zhou went to the U.S. Embassy to get the visas for all of the babies in our group; apparently all of the paperwork was in order, because there were no problems. In the afternoon we visited the Hualin Temple in Guangzhou, followed by a trip to the jade market.

We finished the day with dinner at a German restaurant with our new friends John and Liesl Ross. The place has only been open for a copule of weeks, and frankly it showed. We met the owner, with whom I exchanged a few words in German. He's from Berlin, but moved here and married a very attractive Chinese woman who looks to be about half his age. But he spent the evening sitting at a nearby table downing beer after beer while things in the restaurant seemed to be falling apart. He spoke halfway decent English, but he made no effort to interpret when customers (most of whom were Americans) were having trouble communicating with the wait staff. The staff didn't seem to know the German names of any of the dishes, so that when I asked for sauerbraten our server brought me a spoon.

This morning we're going to take care of our last-minute shopping needs. Then at 3:00 this afternoon we're attending a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy. I'm not sure what this is all about; my guess is that it has something to do with the babies' citizenship, but that citizenship won't become final until we get to the United States. Anyway, we can't bring any cameras into the embassy, so the big moment won't be recorded for posterity.

Stanzi has discovered television, and at the moment is happily engrossed in some program specifically for babies on an English (British)-language channel. All in all, Stanzi's been a lot easier than expected. She can't stand baths, and puts up a fight every evening at bedtime, but aside from that she's pretty easygoing. She was an angel on the flight from Nanchang to Guangzhou, which bodes well for the trip home (granted that was a one-hour flight, as opposed to the 16 hours or so we'll be flying tomorrow). Not much seems to frighten her, and she's extremely curious about everything, so maybe her introduction to the dogs in a few days will go smoothly. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Sorry for the lack of audio-visuals, but for some reason I've been having trouble uploading vidoes over the past 24 hours. And I can't load any new photos to my computer until I borrow a cable again.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Out and About in Guangzhou

videoYesterday morning we visited a museum of traditional Chinese handicrafts. There was some gorgeous stuff there, particularly the ivory carvings. China only very reluctantly went along with the worldwide ban on ivory, but today Chinese artists use other bones for their carvings.

Then it was off to the pearl market, which was laid out like an indoor farmer's market, except that stall after stall was offering pearls at ridiculously cheap prices. Our guide Zhou has some sort of arrangement with the proprietors of one of these (see the video), so we got an even better price there.

Our morning showed us that Shamian Island is very different from the rest of Guangzhou. Guangzhou is much like other Chinese cities (although far more cosmopolitan than Nanchang), but Shamian Island remains, as it has been for some 300 years, an enclave for westerners. Some are businessmen, but most are couples waiting to receive visas so that their adopted children can enter the United States. Because of this, nearly all of the local businesses--restaurants, shops, laundries--cater to new parents of Chinese children. The shops tend to have a lot of the same stuff: traditional clothing in children's sizes, ink stamps with the Chinese characters of your baby's name, jade trinkets, etc. And most of it is ridiculously cheap; Starbuck's, however, is just as expensive here as it is at home.

We joined John and Liesl Ross last night for a fabulous meal at a Thai restaurant. I had spicy port with basil, and it lived up to the two hot peppers printed in the menu next to the dish. It was just what the doctor ordered, because it seems I've come down with the cold that Stanzi is just about over. Tonight we'll be dining at a German restaurant. In China.

Zhou had his appointment at the U.S. Embassy today, and apparently everything is in order, so we should be getting Stanzi's visa tomorrow. And on Wednesday we head for home. We can't wait.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

No time for blogging

We slept late--until 6:30--and we're scrambling to get out the door for breakfast, and then a morning of sightseeing and shopping in Guangzhou. I may upload something this afternoon when we have some down time.

Can I Get a Drumroll, Please?!?

Stanzi pooped! A nice soft poo! Oh, thank goodness. I was really worried about her and a little tired of watching her struggle with the task every day. I must say, this morning's poo was a most glorious sight. Never in a million years did I think I'd be so happy about changing a stinking diaper. Ah, my little "fragrant orchid" didn't disappoint. I think our pooping success was due largely to the fact that we've figured out how to get Stanzi to take more fluids. White grape juice (thank you so much, Jill, for the suggestion!). She absolutely loves it, but juice is a bit hazardous from Stanzi's bottle. The orphanage provided us with a bottle for her and the hole in the nipple is huge. The "fast" flow nipples I purchased in the US have visible, but still tiny holes in comparison. If you tip her bottle over, liquid basically flows out. The reason for this is that at the orphanage she was expected to finish a 9 ounce bottle of formula in five to ten minutes. She still prefers this bottle (especially for formula) but it's kind of a pain. I took a small amount of grape juice in it on the plane yesterday. My bag tipped over and within seconds the bottle drained onto my lap. Which brings me to the sippy cup. Up until now she's refused the sippy cup, but she loves white grape juice so much that she's willing to use it. Who knew white grape juice could lead to so many milestones?

On another note, we completed the medical exam today. It was a very interesting experience. Imagine going to the health clinic in New York City, only all of the doctors speak a foreign language (which may actually be the case). And the waiting room contains roughly 40 babies and their parents, not all of them happy about the situation. Add to this 70+ degrees outside and no air conditioning inside. Oh, and did I mention that the waiting room is designed for maybe 20 babies and their parents? All things considered it went quite smoothly, but I'm not gonna say it was fun. I guess we need proof that she's healthy in order to bring her into the US. So the US government requires the exam, but Chinese doctors performed it. What I did get from it is that she's 27 inches long, 18.5 pounds, her head circumference is 18 inches and she doesn't have diaper rash. Good to know.

All in all I'm loving Guangzhou so far. John just went out to get me a Starbuck's vanilla soy latte - yeeesssss. Stanzi likes it, too, although the new surroundings troubled her a bit last night. There's not the same pressure here to cover every inch of the kid's skin with multiple layers of clothing and I think she appreciates that. She's changing every day and discovering new talents she never knew she had. As of today she can sing, dance (with a little help), eat exotic foods, blow bubbles of drool, cluck her tongue, use a sippy cup...well, I could go on and on and I don't want to bore you. Wait, I almost forgot the most important and impressive new talent - she's an amazing pooper.

"Fragrant Orchid"

That's the English translation of our daughter's Chinese name--Lan Fang Wang. Just thought you'd like to know.

Friday, February 20, 2009


videoWe knew as soon as we stepped off the plane yesterday evening that this was a very different place from Nanchang. First there was the change in climate; it was twenty-plus degrees warmer. Palm trees were everywhere. The airport itself contained a big mall with a number of western boutiques. Welcome to China's fifth-largest, and perhaps most western, city.

It's not at all surprising that Guangzhou seems so familiar. Until the 1970s it was called Canton, and in the 18th and 19th century it was the primary port for western trade. The part of town where we're staying, Shamian Island, was for a long time the only place in China where Europeans could legally reside. Our hotel, the Hotel Victory, was originally built by the British as the Hotel Victoria, and the architecture very much shows it. Unlike the opulent but garish modernism of the Galactic Peace, with its marble and glass, the Victory is decorated mostly with wood and muted tones. Very British.

After settling in I ventured out to find a grocery, and walked around the block. I found that the area reminded me of New Orleans or Charleston--semi-tropical, lush with vegetation, surrounded by colonial-style buildings, and with just that touch of decadence that makes a city interesting. I think we are going to enjoy it here.

The video was taken yesterday morning, when we were still in Nanchang.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Happy First Birthday, Stanzi!

videoHere in China it's February 20--Stanzi's first birthday. We don't have much in the way of plans, as we're flying to Guangzhou this afternoon. Maybe we'll do something with the other couples when we get settled in at the hotel there.

We did have something of a celebration last night. We received our copies of the adoption paperwork, including her birth certificate. She is now officially our little girl, and we plan on doing all we can to give her a happy life. My friend Peter Schramm, who was born in Hungary and escaped with his family when the Soviets crushed the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, likes to say that he was "born American, but in the wrong place." We think Stanzi was, too. I bought some some locally-brewed beer at a nearby convenience store, as well as a bottle of apple juice for Stanzi (total cost was 6 Yuan--less than $1 US). Then we cranked up the iPod and danced around the room.

Yesterday morning was spent in a trip to the countryside, to a cluster of villages that have been in existence for 1,300 years. Of course, we don't have any buildings in America that are anything close to that old, and aside from Greek and Roman ruins there really isn't anything that old in Europe. Europe 1,300 years ago had barely gotten over the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Unfortunately we didn't get a whole lot of time for sightseeing. Not long after we began exploring one of the villages Stanzi started to pitch a fit. We appeased her as long as we could with Cheerios, but it was only delaying the inevitable. She was ready to EAT! And before long several of the other babies were fussing as well, so we cut the tour short, headed back to the bus, and made the two-hour trip back to Nanchang. We spent the rest of the day hanging around the hotel room playing with Stanzi. All in all, a pretty good day.


Observations about China

Having spent a week in China so far, a few things have struck me.

First, driving here seems completely insane. Horns are constantly blaring, and the lines painted on the roads are apparently merely suggestions. Also, everyone's driving extremely fast on really bad roads. I think I understand now the stereotype about Asian drivers in the United States, if this is what they're used to over here. But I have to tell you, I haven't seen a single automobile accident, so there must be some virtue to the way they do it.

Second, the Chinese seem to be investing huge amounts of money into massive new construction projects, but next to nothing on upkeep of what's already been built. As a result one sees gleaming new skyscrapers next to what are essentially ruins of buildings that, based on their architecture, could not have been constructed more than thirty or forty years ago. Moreover, there are people living in those ruins.

Finally, Chinese women seem almost obsessed with children--particularly babies--keeping warm. They cover them with something like ten layers of clothes, so they look like bloated ticks, and it's not even all that cold here (temperatures in Nanchang have been somewhere in the 40s, Fahrenheit). And they certainly disapprove of the fact that we adoptive parents aren't putting so many layers on our Chinese babies. A few of them have even come up to us and tried to adjust the clothing that we put on them!

We have new photos! These aren't of Stanzi; they were taken during our two days of sightseeing in and around Beijing, including the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Good Night's Sleep

videoNot much time for blogging today, because Stanzi let us sleep until 5:30, and we're riding out into the countryside of Jiangxi Province this morning. It was a good night; she didn't wake us up at all, and she seems to be getting over this little respiratory thing she has. Right now our biggest concern regarding her is the fact that she hasn't produced much poop; only a couple of hard little turds since we've had her. So it's lots of fruit for breakfast this morning!

Yesterday we visited the 1,300-year-old Tengwang Pagoda, located here in Nanchang. Inside we watched a short concert of traditional Chinese music; here's a bit for you to watch. Don't worry--there are more Stanzi videos to come!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Another Day, More Developments

videoFirst off, there are now photos of us and Stanzi available online. I've already uploaded them to Facebook, and you can find them here. Apparently you don't need a Facebook account to see them.

It's fascinating how much changes in a one-year-old over the course of a day, or even a part thereof. During the first six hours or so with us Stanzi was basically in shell shock. Then for the next 18 pretty much all she wanted was to be held--by Mommy. It doesn't help that she hasn't been feeling well, and spent a lot of time awake that first night coughing. But then she had a nice long nap yesterday afternoon and since then she's almost been like a different person. She's been much more willing to let me hold her (although she still prefers Mommy, understandably), and she's even shown a willingness to entertain herself if we set her down on the bed. She likes music (Louis Prima in particular), and will sway back and forth when the iPod's playing. She's also showing greater interest in her toys. Before she'd just put her mouth on them, and wave them around. Now she's actually exploring them, and trying to figure out what else she can do with them. For example, we gave her a big plastic swizzle stick that was on the minibar, and last night she was delighted to find that she could push the end of it into Daddy's mouth.

Through all of this Monica has been fabulous. All I could think of for the past couple of weeks, and for the first 24 hours we had Stanzi, was how unprepared I am for being a parent. Heck, I could barely get the car seat installed! I bought a copy of Parenting for Dummies in an effort to learn basic skills, because the only way I've ever been able to know anything was through books. But Monica wasn't bothered by the fact that she didn't know this stuff, because she knew this stuff. We got Stanzi, and while I was running around like the proverbial headless chicken, she was doing what had to be done. No wonder our little girl bonded with her first!

I think I finally see what the Germans mean by the distinction between verstehen and verstanden. Both roughly translate into English as "to understand," but they actually have very different meanings. I strive for one (the first one, I think), while she has the other.

Last night went much more smoothly. She still had us up a couple of times, but she calmed down a lot more quickly. She still did some babbling during the night, but it didn't go on for as long. And this morning she didn't get us up until 4:30--which, given the reality of jetlag, was when I had been waking up anyway. After half a bottle of formula she went back to sleep for a while, during which time she made her first poop since we've had her (which was a relief for all three of us). Then we gave her a bath. She HATES baths. But now she's all clean, dressed, and sleeping again. Life is good.

Yes sir, that's my baby!

Well, I've been a mom for just over 24 hours now. Yikes! This is hard work! All things considered, we've had a pretty easy time of it. We were prepared for the worst case scenario and I think we've ended up well short of that. Yesterday was kind of a "gettin' to know ya" day, plus we did a lot of running around to get all of our local paperwork processed (now we wait for her passport), so Stanzi's personality really didn't have the opportunity to emerge. Today I feel like a mother orangutan with a newborn baby clinging to me every step of the way. She's incredibly sweet and I really appreciate her ability to bond with me so quickly, but it's quite exhausting going through your entire day with a one year old on your hip. I guess I can't blame her for making up for lost time. Plus I think she feels like crap today. She has a wicked upper respiratory thing going on which several of the other babies in our group have as well. She doesn't appear to have a fever so it's probably a cold. We've e-mailed our pediatrician just in case but neither of is is terribly worried. When we first met with Dr. Kempf in December she said that the time we share with Stanzi in China is "all about survival" so we should keep things simple. I've thought about that often in the past 24 hours. At this point Stanzi hates baths, so she's not getting one today. And as long as I'm not bathing her today why put her in fresh clothes? She's wearing the same sleeper she had on yesterday. Hey, I'm wearing the same clothes I had on yesterday, and I'm thoroughly covered in formula, snot, sweat (this kid sweats a lot) and maybe some goldfish cracker fragments. Maybe I'll worry about clean clothes tomorrow. It's all about survival.
It is a little rough, but when that darling angel nuzzles her head under my chin and falls asleep, what more do I need? She is incredibly affectionate and mildly fussy. All of her fussing can be stopped by holding her. I knew she would need clean diapers and good food, and clothes and toys; but I'm so glad she clearly needs and appreciates attention and love. At this point I wouldn't trade her cuddles for the world. I need them like air and water. And it's all about survival.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Our Little Girl Laughs

videoOkay, let's get the negative stuff out of the way first. Stanzi seems to have a good bit of congestion in her chest. You can hear it rattling around; it makes you think of those Mucinex commercials with the dancing mucus. And it looks as though she took a pretty serious faceplant not long before we got her--she has some tiny bruises around the bridge of her nose, and a nasty-looking bump on her forehead. But everyone's telling us we shouldn't worry about either of these; neither is unusual in children coming out of orphanages.

On the flight over I was reading a book about parenting internationally adopted children, and I have to admit that it had me sort of worried. It was full of horror stories about the kids not bonding with their parents--wailing constantly or simply shutting down emotionally. But so far she seems to be bonding well, at least with Monica. My job at this point is pretty much Mommy's assistant--mixing formula, fetching things, providing the occasional distraction, etc. Generally speaking when I try to hold her she cries for her mother. But that's to be expected, I suppose. In the orphanage the only men she probably ever encountered were poking and prodding her, or sticking needles into her. It's actually a wonder she can even look at me without having a meltdown.

During our first few hours together she was very quiet. We had a few screamers in our group, but she wasn't one of them, although it was clear that she was very aware of what was going on around her. We coaxed a few smiles out of her, but none that lasted very long. On the few occasions that she did cry (like during her first bath, which she desperately needed after we got her out of her stinky orphanage clothes) it came as something of a relief. For the most part she just looked annoyed.

That gets us to the video. This was taken at around 7:30 last night. Monica and I ordered room service (ridiculously cheap, by the way--we each got an entree and a Tsingtao for a total of around $25 US). By this time we were starting to relax a bit about the whole parenting thing (the Tsingtao helped), and we decided to test Stanzi's tolerance for solid food. Let's just say she's not picky. Even after a bottle of formula she eagerly took everything we offered her by hand--rice, bits of fried egg, Goldfish crackers. And then she broke out in this enormous grin. And she started to laugh, which made us laugh, too.

A couple more things:

1) You're probably wondering where all the photos are. Well, I've taken tons of them, but until I can borrow a cable from one of the other couples in the group (and that should happen today, I hope) I have no way of dumping them onto the computer.

2) I should mention something about our first night with her. She woke us up crying at 10:00 last night and 4:00 this morning, but settled down right away after Monica picked her up. My guess is that she suddenly woke up in an unfamiliar place and got frightened. I also suspect she was testing us. Her cries at the orphanage wouldn't have gotten her the attention she craves, so she wanted to see if they'd work here. They did, of course. And then, at some point in the middle of the night, she just started babbling. She may not have even been awake; since they were happy sounds we stayed in bed. It was some of the most beautiful music we have ever heard.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Sneak Preview

videoWe knew which one she was as soon as the people from the orphanage brought her into the hotel lobby. There were seven of them, and we had been a little concerned that we wouldn't recognize her from her photos, which were, after all, taken some seven months ago. But we immediately picked her out from the others.

There's too much going on right now for a lengthy post. She's been bathed, diapered, dressed, and fed. And she's beautiful.

Today's the Big Day

videoLast night at the end of another jam-packed day we arrived in Nanchang, a smallish (by Chinese standards) city in the southeast. From what I can tell the city doesn't have any particular significance, and doesn't get a lot of tourist traffic. However, Nanchang has a great deal of personal significance for us--it's where we're going to be getting our daughter, just over four hours from now. For now I'm just hanging out at our glorious hotel, with the really cool sounding name "Galactic Peace," once again up way too early thanks to jetlag. Monica, I should add, is still sleeping like a baby. I don't know how she does it, but I'm jealous.

Yesterday began with a trip to Tiananmen Square, the world's largest hunk of concrete surrounded by Chinese government buildings. The Great Hall of the People, essentially the PRC's "Parliament," stands along one side. The massive mausoleum where Chairman Mao lies encased on a glass tomb stands on another. Highly aggressive souvenir peddlers abound, and when they saw a group of Americans they began buzzing around us like moths around our back porch light. Zhou advised against buying anything from them, or at least against paying more than 20 Yuan (around $3) for anything they had to sell.

Although it was a brilliantly sunny day, it was very cold and windy--probably in the 20s. None of us had been expecting these kind of temperatures, so we didn't have winter coats. A few (including Monica) didn't even have gloves. Nevertheless we pressed on toward the Forbidden City.

The Forbidden City (see video) was the palace complex of the Ming and Qing emperors. Parts of it were built in the 15th century, but work on it was pretty much ongoing until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. It was "forbidden" in the sense that ordinary people were forbidden from setting foot within its walls, on pain of death. Mao's government made a big production of opening it to the people, and there sure were plenty of them there yesterday. I'm told that during the regular tourist season the crowds are much larger. I'm not sure I ever want to be there then.

From there we went to a silk factory. We saw another demonstration of traditional techniques, then were turned loose in the store. Now, it was never our intention to buy a lot of expensive stuff in China, but it's hard not to. The silk, for example, is of outstanding quality, and available at much lower prices than we could ever get in the United States. We bought a 100% handmade silk quilt, with cover and pillowcases, for less than $600, and that included shipping to the United States (we're going to have enough to carry home, as it is). I almost bought a silk robe for myself, but concluded that it wouldn't be a terribly practical garment for northern Ohio.

After doing some damage at the silk factory we went for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. I must admit, Monica and I sneered when we learned we'd be going there. We're in China, we thought. Why wouldn't we eat the local food all the time? We consider ourselves fairly adventurous eaters, and we'll try just about anything. Well, after only a day and a half of eating the local fare (my favorite example--"pear and white fungus in rock sugar soup") we were thrilled to have an honest-to-goodness burger and a cold beer (Singha, from Thailand) to wash it down. The bad news is that unlike just about every other place in China, the Hard Rock Cafe was really expensive. Our burgers came out to be about $20 each. Maybe I'll give the white fungus another try.

Then it was off to the airport for the flight to Nanchang. I've come to the realization that every airport in the world is pretty much the same. Same basic layout, same announcements ("now boarding China Air flight 2018 for Hangzhou....Those requiring extra time or assistance in boarding are now invited to....," etc., etc.). The flight was delayed by about an hour, but we really had nothing else to do for the rest of the day. By around 9:15 we were at the hotel; by 10:00 we were in bed.

The hotel, as I said before, is spectacular--spacious, well furnished, and with a great view (and--yippee!--it has a cigar bar!). They're undoubtedly used to catering to adoptive families (the adoption center is right across the street), so our room is equipped with a crib, stroller, baby tub and potty seat. I don't think we're quite at the potty seat stage, but the other things will no doubt be helpful. This morning after breakfast we're headed to a nearby Wal-Mart (yes, they have them all over China, stocked with tons of stuff made in China. Just like home.) to pick up whatever baby things we've forgotten. Then, at 10:30 representatives from the nearest orphanage (about three hours away) will meet us across the street at the adoption center to introduce us to the newest member of our family. Plenty of photos and video to come!