Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring Break Part 1 - Half Marathon

I can't believe that Spring Break started just a week ago. So many big things have happened this week! Our week started with a trip to Atlanta. The original plan for Spring Break was actually to go to Savannah on Thursday for a few days and meet up with my college roommate and her family to run a half marathon there. But, since they scheduled David's surgery for Thursday we had to make a new plan! That plan included switching our half marathon to one in Atlanta the week before. So we woke up early Saturday morning, put the kids in the car, and hit the road. The first few hours were a little rocky because for some reason Lily kept getting upset about random things and crying. I'm not sure what finally calmed her down - getting to watch Frozen, stopping for lunch, or the threat of a consequence, but she finally got her act together. She even earned her three stars (my car behavior management system) so that she could get a treat the first time we stopped for gas! We hit up Chick-fil-A for lunch and let the kids get some energy out on the playground while we ordered. Then we loaded up the car again and ate on the road. We managed to avoid traffic the whole way until we passed Macon. For some reason there is always crazy traffic right around McDonough. Saturday was no different. We kept watching out ETA on the GPS climb higher and higher, and thankfully we were able to take an alternate route that saved us about 45 minutes of waiting. We still sat in quite a bit of traffic though. Finally we could see the Atlanta skyline in the distance! I still get a sense of nostalgia every time we drive into the city for the years that we lived there and that skyline meant we were almost home. We got off our exit, drove for a few blocks, and spotted our hotel up ahead. Then we stopped. Traffic wasn't moving again, at all. We inched closer and closer, and finally when we got close enough to the entrance we saw a sign that said we had to enter around the block. Agh! So we got in the left lane to turn, only to get stuck behind a taxi that decided to pull halfway up onto the curb and completely block our lane (we were on a one way street). We couldn't pull around because traffic wasn't moving, and he just sat there oblivious. We are not typically horn honkers, but we laid on that horn. He finally realized that we couldn't get around him, so he got back in his cab. Whew! Oh wait, nope. Now he pulled up to the intersection and just completely stopped in the lane. Like on the street. Apparently he was picking up people from our hotel, and instead of going around the block and turning in he decided to just make the street his own personal parking space. The people came out, loaded up their suitcases, and then went back into the hotel. We were about to lose our minds. We started the honking again. He didn't move. Somehow we finally managed to get around him and pull into the drive of the hotel. When we checked in we found out that they were filming a car chase scene for a movie with Jamie Fox, and that's why the traffic was so atrocious. I was very thankful that we wouldn't have to contend with any traffic the next morning for the race! We purposefully chose a hotel that was a block away from the race start.

As soon as we made it up to our rooms, Cherie arrived! Our next order of business was to walk to the race Expo at the World Congress Center. Again, thankful that we chose a close hotel so we didn't have to venture into that traffic again. We walked through Centennial Park and saw the finish line for our race! Then we continued on to the Expo. Along the way Brian decided to stop and let the kids run around in a field while Cherie and I went on. We picked up our numbers and shirts and checked out the booths in the Expo. We decided not to try to dried leaves they had for samples. Ok, so they weren't actually leaves but they were weird dried plant things that looked scary and gross. Nothing else really caught our eye so we went back to find Brian and the kids. They were playing near some purple trees that Lily of course loved since she loves all things purple. By the time we made it back to the hotel it was after 5:00 and we had made plans to visit with some friends for dinner. We got our car from the valet and headed to their house. We had a great time visiting with them and letting our kids play to together. I wish we lived closer to Atlanta. We have so many wonderful friends there that we love! At 8:00 we reluctantly headed back to the hotel so we could get the kids to bed and I could get to bed early too. I helped Brian tuck them in, then went over to the room that Cherie and I were sharing. No joke, as soon as we turned off the light the people in the room next to us started making all kinds of noise. Our room had an adjoining door with them, and it seriously sounded like they were standing in our room talking. We tried to drown it out with a sound machine and the AC fan, but they were still audible. Thankfully sleeping is my super power, so once I fell asleep I didn't wake up again. Poor Cherie had a much harder time, and Brian said he could hear them at 3am! (They were between our two rooms.)

Sunday morning our alarms went off all too early and Cherie and I got ready and headed to Centennial Park for the race. A cold front came through, which is great for racing, but that period of time when you're waiting for the race to start is pretty much miserable! We kept our hands in our sleeves and pockets to keep them warm, but pinning on race numbers was nearly impossible. After walking through the park we headed to the street with the start corrals. We found corral C, but couldn't find a way in. Apparently the reason that we were walking in the opposite direction of everyone we saw was because the entrance to all corrals was in the back! So we turned around and made the walk again. I'm pretty sure that Cherie hated me at this point, but it was too late to turn back! At 7:00 the first wave started, and we started walking up toward the start line. Six minutes later it was our turn and we were off!

Going into this race, I really wanted to get my best half time. I felt really well trained and with the cold weather I really thought I had a shot. Within 5 minutes of starting I quickly started to realize that this may not be a possibility. I knew that this race would have hills. But I completely and totally underestimated how many hills there would be! Let's just say that I thought running the Ringling Bridge 4 times in a 10 mile run was going to be a harder task than the Atlanta hills. In reality I basically ran the Ringling Bridge continuously for 13.1 miles. There were literally only two times in the entire race that I was on level ground and felt like I might be able to get in a rhythm. I was either going uphill or downhill the whole time! I had made a last minute decision to do some intervals in this race, and I am so glad I did! I don't think I would have made it without them. I ran the first three miles with Cherie, and started my intervals at mile 3. I ran for 8 minutes (sometimes 9 if the interval ended on a downhill) and walked for one. Unfortunately I messed up my watch somehow, so I wasn't able to use the intervals on there where it beeps at me. Instead I resorted to good old math skills. I felt pretty good until I exited Piedmont Park after mile 9. I turned the corner and looked at a neverending uphill. I almost walked so many times. Instead I did crazy runner things like talking out loud to myself, making grunting sounds like tennis players do, and letting out little yelps of achievement. I made it to my next interval and I was never so happy to walk. According to the elevation that section of uphill was about a mile, and when I reached the end of it I started to feel pretty good again. There were downhills every now and then that helped me catch my breath. Then mile 12 came. More neverending uphills. Typically I skip my last walk interval, but with that uphill it wasn't going to happen. There was some more crazy runner behavior, and I pretty much talked my way to the finish line.

Pretty much as soon as I stopped running my legs stopped working properly. I don't know if they were numb from cold, completely fatigued from hills, or just not getting enough blood, but I felt like they were unattached from my body. It's like I was walking on unstable wooden poles that may or may not move when I wanted them to. This was my fifth half marathon, and I've never experienced immediate stiffness and fatigue like that. I was pretty certain that I was going to need a wheelchair for the next few days. (No comments about how I actually did need a wheelchair after a previous half marathon.) Right after I crossed the finish line Brian called me. My fingers were so numb that I could barely figure out how to get out my phone and answer it. He told me that the kids were absolutely freezing so he was going to come say hi and then take them back to the hotel. The poor things were popsicles! Caroline was crying because she was so cold! I made them take a picture with me, and then Brian took the three oldest ones back. Lily wanted to stay with me and go find Cherie. I hobbled on my sad excuses for legs to the other side of the park and grabbed some chocolate milk on the way. There is nothing like chocolate milk after a hard race. It's one of my favorite things. I half fell to the ground to attempt to stretch for a few minutes, but it pretty much did nothing. It wasn't my muscles that were hurting, it was my joints and ligaments. But it sure felt good to sit! Now Lily was rethinking her decision to stay with me and was complaining about how cold she was. Cherie and I helped each other to our feet and got a picture by the finish line, grabbed our boxes of food, and walked back to the hotel. I took the most amazing and possibly longest hot shower of my life and felt much better after.

We decided to walk down the street for lunch instead of trying to mess with driving when half the roads were closed. We were the first people in Ted's Montana Grill, and I totally embarrassed everyone by wearing my race medal. Whatever, I earned that thing! I can't really eat for a while after a race, so I ordered soup and salad that I barely ate. At least Brian and Cherie actually enjoyed their food! Our waitress was super nice, but she kept referring to my kids as babies or "the babies", so I'm pretty sure they weren't too pleased with her. She did keep bringing them lemonade though, so she at least had that going for her. By the time we left the restaurant was full and we felt like quite the trend setters. We walked back to the hotel, said goodbye to Cherie, and headed to Marietta for the second part of our trip.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Orthodontist Visit

Today was a big day for our little guy! It was his first appointment at the orthodontist! If you remember from the previous post, the orthodontist is basically the key decision maker for the first step of David's care plan. We were waiting to see him to find out if we could use braces to close David's palate before surgery or if we would need to have an appliance put in like we did with Lily.

So today I had to be in Tampa by 10:25 after dropping the other three kids off at school. I managed to get Matthew to the bus on time and Caroline to her class a little early so that I could drop Lily off in the office by 9:15 and get on the road. Of course when I took her into the office there were other people waiting and the secretary was nowhere to be found. By the time someone came up to help us it was already 9:15. She called Lily's classroom and Ms. Cindy came up to get Lily. David and I were on the road by 9:20. According to my GPS arrival time I had only 2 minutes to spare. I made great time on the highway and was set to arrive 10 minutes early! Then I made the mistake of getting off on Fletcher. The traffic was awful and I watched the minutes tick away. We slid into the parking lot at 10:24 and made it just in time!

David was all smiles until we got out of the car. Then he got his nervous look and started shaking his head no. Sorry buddy, there's no turning back now! He was fine when we went in and played in the waiting room while I filled out paperwork. Then they brought us back to the new patient office to fill out paperwork. David was very clingy and wanted to be held so I could tell he was nervous. After the paperwork was completed we needed to take some pictures.

We went into another room and I tried to put David on a stool so they could get a regular old normal picture of him smiling. He lost his mind. As soon as I put him down he started crying and tried to catapult himself off of the stool. I scooped him up and tried to calm him down by taking a picture of him on my lap. It didn't work. He is totally crying in his picture. Then we had to go sit in a dentist chair for more invasive pictures. Seeing as how just sitting and smiling caused so much trauma, I was dreading the rest of this task. But thank goodness for Wendy. She was the wonderful woman taking the pictures. She handed David latex gloves and helped him put them on, then gave him one of those plastic things they use to hold the lips back. He was completely distracted and warmed right up to her. Next thing I know he's holding the plastic thing to keep his mouth open and biting down like a champ while Wendy took pictures. No tears!

We headed back to the office while the pictures were uploaded and printed and shown to Dr. F. for his opinion. David was happy as could be. I kept him busy with the Chinese/English app on my phone. Then Dr. F. came in, and of course he started crying again (he's really got the stranger danger thing down). To calm him down Dr. F gave him a musical toothbrush which he then proceeded to hold up to his ear and play repeatedly. Eventually he stopped crying and I could actually have a conversation! I was so excited to hear that Dr. F didn't have any hesitations about doing braces! He asked me if I wanted to come back or go ahead and do them today, and I decided it was better to just rip off the band-aid and get this party started.

At this point it was 11:20, and in order to get Caroline on time I would have to leave at noon. I had no idea how long everything would take so I called my mom for backup. Dr. F wanted to have the same tech that put Lily's brackets on do David's so we had to wait a bit for her to finish with her current patient before she could work on David. Finally it was our turn! David followed Carmen over to her chair, but as soon as it was time to sit in the chair he started freaking out again! I think that the fear and nervousness about not understanding what is happening is actually what makes him cry. Once he realizes what is going on he calms down and is pretty compliant. Carmen quickly realized that getting David to lay in the chair wasn't an option, so instead I crouched down on the floor and held him half standing in front of her. She showed David how she was going to blow air on his teeth and clean them with cotton and all of a sudden he was totally fine with it! I think he just wants to know that he can escape at any time ;o) From that point on David did awesome! He stood right there in front of her and let her do the whole cycle - dry, clean, place bracket, heat light - for every tooth! A few times he got tired and signed all done, but he hung in there. My legs lost all feeling sitting on the floor with him and Carmen's back almost died from leaning over, but at least he didn't cry! Once all the brackets were on she placed the elastic chain and we were done! David was all smiles and was so proud of himself for being brave. Now we go back next Wednesday for tightening - yikes!

Thank you all for praying for us through this journey. We are ecstatic that the first step of this journey has gone smoothly, and now we pray that the braces do their job and pull David's palate together. We probably need to visit Dr. R again and schedule surgery sometime soon as well. But today, we celebrate success!

Friday, January 1, 2016

David's 1st Cleft Appointment

Blog blackout is over! At least for today ;o) I know that many of you want updates on how David is doing, but to be honest writing about the past month seems kind of overwhelming. So I'm starting with a baby step and just updating about his first cleft appointment.

We went to see the cleft team on December 18th, except on the way up there we discovered that there was a mixup and we weren't actually on the schedule for the day! Thankfully the team coordinator is awesome and told me to come anyway and we would work something out. It actually ending up working out better! Instead of paying to see a speech pathologist (no speech, so not much to evaluate!), social worker, pediatrician (he had already seen ours), ENT (no fluid when the pediatrician saw him), audiologist (hearing tests are tricky when you don't speak English!), and dentist, we just saw our surgeon. It was just like having an office visit, just not in his office!

Dr. R checked out his cleft (non-evasively thank goodness!) and commented on both how wide it was and how old he is, compared to most cleft patients. David just sat on my lap and nervously eyed the doctor, but he didn't cry at all. Unfortunately the team orthodontist wasn't there, and he's a big part of the surgical plan. Dr. R. took some pictures of David to send to him, but nothing will be decided until we have an appointment with the orthodontist.

So, here are the options. We are hoping that we can use braces to bring David's cleft closer together. This will enable Dr. R. to close everything - lip, gumline, and palate - in one surgery. This would obviously be amazing, so we are praying that the braces are an option and that they are effective! Since David is 4, his bones are not as flexible as Lily's were when she had braces. If the orthodontist doesn't think they will work, then we go to Plan B. In Plan B David will have an appliance attached to the roof of his mouth that will help to close his palate. Unfortunately the only way to place is the appliance is with a surgery. Once the appliance is in place for about a month, David will have another surgery. In this surgery Dr. R. will close his lip and gumline and remove the appliance. The palate tissue will need time to heal from the appliance, so we will have to wait about 3 months for the lip to heal before David has a third surgery to close his palate.

We are obviously on Team Braces and are praying for one surgery! Our appointment with the orthodontist is on January 11th so we will know more then. If he thinks braces will work, they will go ahead and put them on that day so we don't have to drive back to Tampa (again!). I will update again when I know more!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Neverending Day – Day 13, November 27

This morning we woke up and packed up our final few things before heading downstairs. We had arranged with the cab driver who picked us up from the train station to take us to the airport, but when we called him he decided that he didn’t like the price he had originally quoted us. He said he would come, but we weren’t optimistic. So, we waited in the lobby to see if he came. He didn’t but he sent someone else in his place so we were golden. The drive to the airport was an uneventful 45 minutes. We arrived and loaded our luggage onto a baggage cart, then headed to check in at the United counter. We didn’t have seats together for one of our flights, so the woman at the counter fixed that for us. It took quite a while to check in, but we had arrived in plenty of time. Once we dropped off our bags we headed to security. This is when our kids began taking turns melting down. For some reason Caroline was upset, and when we had to walk through the metal detector she just refused. Crying, screaming, wouldn’t do it. So I went ahead and walked through it thinking that she wouldn’t want to be left behind and would follow me. Nope. More crying, more screaming, now add in some arm reaching and terrified screeches. To say we were getting a few stares would be, well, at this point I’m sure you know how people around us were reacting. I tried coaxing her, reasoning with her, and laughing at how crazy she was being, and nothing worked. Finally I just told her goodbye and started walking away. Next thing I know she’s flying through the air and grabbing onto my legs. We decided that food would be a good idea, so we found the food court and got some breakfast. The kids got egg burgers? from McDonalds and I got a ham and cheese croissant and fruit from a deli. Everyone seemed a little more chipper after they had food, so we decided to go find our gate. We still had time to spare, so we found a comfy area to sit and let the kids play. Right before it was time to board we figured out our seating arrangements. We thought we were sitting all in the same row, with two people in the middle separating us into two sections. But when I looked at the seats, we had 4 pairs. At least they were right in front of each other. We each paired up with a kid and got on the plane. As we got on the plane and started looking for our seats, I quickly realized that we were passing all of the economy plus seats. As fast as I knew we had upgraded to economy plus for both of the long flights. I’m not sure what happened, but we were definitely not in economy plus. And we weren’t right in front of each other either. There was a row in between each of us. At this point I started to have a mini panic attack. I was going to be stuck on the inside of a row, not near any of my family members, with no in-seat tv screens and no other entertainment because we lost an ipad and a phone, with no leg room, and next to Lily for the next 11 hours. I literally leaned my head against the window, covered my face with my hair, and had a little cry. Then I pulled myself together in time for our aisle patron to join our row. We could not have had a nicer person next to us! I couldn’t hear him when he said his name, but we will just call him Chris because he looks like a Chris. Chris was traveling for business and had a 2 year old daughter at home and told us not to worry about getting out. He told us that even if he was asleep just to nudge him and he would be happy to let us out. I think Chris was an angel sent just for me. At one point after I finally managed to get a little sleep, I woke up to him reading “Daniel Tiger” to Lily. He was awesome.

After my mini meltdown the flight went much more smoothly. Although I did cringe when they announced that the in-flight wi-fi wasn’t working and there would be no entertainment available through their app. Thankfully they reset the system and it did end up working about 30 minutes into the flight. Lily found a red stamp in her backpack (we still have no idea where it came from) and proceeded to stamp herself. I didn’t care what she did as long as she was quiet and happy, so I let her stamp her hands and arms until they were completely red. Desperate times. Once we got in the air she was able to put her tray table down and do some coloring. Then they fed us, which also helped kill time, and we read some books. Our flight left at noon, so a few hours in I figured she would be tired. She wasn’t really wanting to sleep so I put a movie on the laptop for her. After about 40 minutes in she told me she was tired and fell asleep. In the other rows Matthew and Caroline were happily playing with Baba and Daideo’s ipads and Brian kept Matthew entertained by listening to the in-flight music with headphones. He also loved looking at pictures on Brian’s phone. He did pretty well on the flight and slept for a little bit too. I think the kids each got about 2 hours of sleep. At one point Lily had to use the bathroom (for like the third time) and my friend Chris was sleeping, so I turned around and asked Brian if he could grab her and take her. He did, but that meant I had David and David did not like that. He started crying the instant Brian walked away, and nothing I did could get him to stop. Sorry Chris, I tried to let you sleep! I handed him off as soon as Brian got back and realized that the airplane was not going to be a bonding time for us. We could work on that when we got home and he wasn’t terrified.

The flight was surprisingly not that bad. Long, but not unbearable like the last one was. We landed in San Francisco just before 8am. We had arrived at the Hong Kong airport at 8am, so we were basically about to live the same four hour period again, just in a different airport. We got off the plane not a second too soon and headed to immigration and customs. I was very thankful for the one form that was required, not one per person. We couldn’t go through the line for citizens with my parents since we had David with us, so we headed over to the visitors line. I remembered that last time there was a separate line for new immigrants, but the man directing people didn’t think there was one. Once we had stood in line for a few minutes I spotted some canvas tape dividers that said new immigrants. Except I couldn’t figure out how to get there! The entire section was blocked off. I went back to the man and told him that I had found the line but didn’t know how to get to it, so he went and asked. Then he came back and escorted us right up to the window. Score! I handed over the sealed brown envelope I had been carrying since we left Guangzhou and all of our passports. The officer was so nice, and spoke English! Yippee! He processed all of our paperwork and set us free to claim our bags. Mom and Dad were already at baggage claim with a cart. All five of our bags arrived and then we went to recheck them through security and onto our remaining flights. Our layover in San Francisco was over 4 hours, and since we had already cleared customs and had time to spare we went to the United counter to see if we could get on an earlier flight. Our original itinerary had a two hour layover and I was worried that it would be too tight, but 4 hours was crazy long. It actually seemed like a possibility because there were two different early flights to Tampa, but when we got up to the counter and they asked if we had checked bags we were quickly shut down. I even asked if we could just leave our bags at the airport and get them later, but he said that with heightened security we couldn’t. So, on to our fourth security check of the day! This time no one lost their mind so we made it through without incident. We headed down to our gate and staked out a table and chairs near a charging station. The kids were starting to get into it with each other and were all exhausted so it was a long wait. And every time Brian walked away for something David lost his mind. It was great fun. We finally boarded, and this time we were back on a Dreamliner plane with in-seat entertainment! Matthew and Caroline sat together and across the aisle from Lily and I. My mom was in front of us, my dad was in front of her, and then Brian and David were together. This flight was almost four hours long, and David did not do well. I think at this point he was beyond exhausted, the TV did nothing to distract him, and he pretty much cried for most of the flight. We tried one of the tricks that we used with Lily – I took David, and then he realized that being with daddy would be way better so when I handed him back he would be so happy to be with Daddy that he stopped crying. Yeah, didn’t work. He just got even more mad that he was with me and couldn’t settle down. My dad tried holding him, and that helped for a little bit but then the crying started again. I think he finally fell asleep for about 30 minutes and then woke up crying again. Poor Brian was exhausted and frustrated and just couldn’t wait to get off the plane! Matthew and Caroline both fell asleep on the flight, and were not happy when we had to wake them up to get off.

Eventually the flight did end, and we bolted out of there as fast as possible. One more flight to go from Houston to Tampa. Our layover wasn’t long, but all of the kids were tired and crying on and off. We had to cross the airport and they were not having it. We decided that sugar would surely help things, and got them cinnamon rolls at Cinnabon. We gave them each a bite to get them to the gate and were able to board the plane quickly. This time I sat with Caroline, Brian was across the aisle with Matthew and David, and Baba and Lily were in front of me. I cut each cinnamon roll up for the kids and that kept them happy. The last flight was short and sweet. Matthew played with Brian’s phone, Caroline watched a movie on the laptop, David fell asleep (hallelujah!) and Lily had a great time with Baba. When we landed, we had been traveling for a total of 28 hours and I think we each slept for maybe 3 of them. We were all exhausted and beyond ecstatic to be home!

When we got off the airport tram we were greeted with huge yellow banners and the smiling faces of our friends welcoming us home! I knew that they would be there, but seeing them all was so amazing and overwhelming that I couldn’t stop the waterworks. I’m pretty sure I was uttering half nonsense because I was so tired that I couldn’t form sentences, but I think I was pretty adamant about never going back to China again or ever boarding another plane. We hugged, talked, I cried, we said goodbye to my parents and then we got in our van to head home. Lily was a pretty terrible car rider and I was fearful that David would be too since seatbelts are new and not his favorite thing. We translated that this was his special seat and Lily would show him how to ride in it, and then had him watch Lily buckle up. It didn’t work. He didn’t like it and started crying. He continued to cry until he finally fell asleep. He didn’t wake up when we got home so we just put him in his bed and hoped for the best! Brian and I got the other kids in bed and finally went to sleep ourselves around 12:30. There’s no place like home!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving in Hong Kong – Day 12, November 26

It’s so weird that today is Thanksgiving! It definitely does not seem like at all here. Last night was a bit rough in our room. David woke up crying a few times with a fever, and both he and Lily wet the bed. And of course they were in two different beds. The other two kids slept great though! Our room was up first, and Brian did everything he could to keep David distracted from eating. Once he’s been awake for thirty minutes, he pretty much wants to eat. And that’s a little tricky when you’re traveling. I think everyone was finally up and ready around 8:00. Our plan was to find a Starbucks to grab a quick breakfast and then head to the Star Ferry. There was a Starbucks right around the corner, so each kid picked out a pastry and we had breakfast there. We didn’t want to get them coffee to drink, obviously, so we went to find a 7-11 nearby. They are everywhere, so it didn’t take but a few seconds to find one. Apparently our hotel isn’t in the best area. There were all kinds of sketchy people around the 7-11, and after the kids picked their drinks I quickly escorted them outside to get away from the woman yelling obscenities in English who looked like she was about to fight someone. Nothing like starting our day off with a bang! It was about a 10 minute walk to the ferry. We were amazed at how quickly the giant buses whip around corners with no warning and were very careful to obey the crosswalk signs so we didn’t get flattened.
We arrived at the ferry terminal and were met with people from the Big Bus tour. We had been debating on doing it, and decided to go ahead. The tour also included the ferry ticket so we had to go ahead and buy it then. We needed a bit more money so Brian and my dad ran downstairs to the ATM we had just passed while my mom and I waited with the kids. We waited, and waited, and waited, and could not figure out what was taking so long. Thankfully the kids happily entertained themselves by chasing each other. I finally decided to go investigate, and discovered that the ATM machine had eaten our card! Brian was on the phone with the bank trying to figure out what to do, but he kept getting put on hold. My debit card has a totally different number than his, so we decided to just call our bank and have his card cancelled. We could still use mine to get money. Our hotel actually provides a smart phone to use while we are here, and that thing came in super handy. We mainly used it as a wifi hot spot so we could use our phones. Brian called and cancelled the card and we were on our way again.
The ferry ride was short, but the views were really nice. It’s amazing how many skyscrapers are in Hong Kong! We learned today that the city has 8,000, the most skyscrapers in any city on the planet! I can definitely see that! We exited the ferry and headed to find a red line bus to start our tour of Hong Kong Island. The kids were so excited to sit upstairs and even more excited to get their own headphones for the tour! We found seats all together at the top and our adventure began. The tour took us all over the central part of the island and we saw tons and tons of skyscrapers. We seemed to either be crawling through traffic or whipping around corners dangerously fast! At one point I almost got smacked in the head by tree branches at 30mph! We got off the bus at the Peak Tram stop. The Peak Tram takes you to the very top of the mountain on Hong Kong Island where you can see amazing panoramic views of Kowloon. Poor Caroline almost didn’t make it on the tram! Brian, Matthew and I got tickets included with our bus tour, and the little kids didn’t need a ticket for the bus. We assumed that was also the case with the tram, but apparently it wasn’t! The three of us had already scanned our tickets and gone in, and Caroline was stuck on the other side with my dad. The workers explained that kids had to pay when they were four, so Brian had to go back out and get her one. There was a super long line to buy tickets, but the worker took him right up to the window which was a big help. We were finally all inside! The whole day David was definitely not feeling well, and we were pretty much giving him Tylenol every 4 hours. He is good about taking it now. He had started to feel pretty warm again, so we gave him some right before we boarded the tram. Of course everyone pushed and shoved to get on, the norm in China, but I managed to snag us seats on the right side because I read that the views were better there. I am so glad I saw that tip, because the views were awesome! We traveled up the mountain at pretty much a 45 degree angle and made three stops for locals along the way. I would definitely not want to live there and have to walk up that many steps every day!
We exited the tram into a gift shop. Just like they do in America, they make you walk through a gift shop at every attraction. We really had no idea what to do when we got off, but we decided that finding a bathroom might be a good idea. Once that was taken care of we started going up escalators because that’s what everyone else was doing. We figured there had to be some sort of viewing area somewhere. I think we must have gone up 8 escalators (which David is no longer afraid of by the way!) and we finally saw something called Sky428. We thought we had to buy tickets to go up there, but Dad just used his tram ticket and they let him in. So we all followed suit! We got up to the top and the views were just incredible. They gave everyone a free audio guide and the kids of course were all over that. I have no idea what the audio guide said, because mine didn’t work. But Matthew kept pointing out a building and telling me that he was listening to information on it right then. I just enjoyed looking at everything. After taking some pictures and writing love notes at the giant heart they have up there we were all freezing and wanted to go back inside. It’s so funny – in Chengdu it was a little chilly and they turned off any source of air conditioning anywhere. Here in Hong Kong it’s actually pretty cold and windy, and everywhere we go the air is on full blast! There’s no way to get warm! At this point it was lunch time so we started heading back down the escalators to find some lunch. We tried to go to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. but there was a 40 minute wait so we nixed that. It seemed like our other options were Chinese, Japanese, and Burger King, none of which sounded appealing. Then we happened upon a wood fired pizza place and decided to try it. Of course it was also freezing in there. A salad bar was included with our entrees, and I was so happy to eat a salad again! There was a dessert bar too which also made me happy. We only ordered three entrees for all of us (the kids shared a pizza) and the waiter made sure to tell us that only three people could get the salad and dessert and they didn’t allow sharing. That didn’t stop me from sneaking some bites of chocolate brownie and black olives to my kids though! Everyone felt better after some lunch so we decided to head back down the mountain and complete the bus tour of the island. We found the tram, and we also found a gigantic line for it. It was still pretty windy and the kids were definitely cold, so mom and I took them to find some shelter while the guys waited for a bit. David really wanted to go into a restaurant and follow a bird that he had seen, and didn’t like it when I didn’t let him. He started one of his fits so I quickly told him to stop crying in Mandarin, lifted him to his feet, and made him walk with me. He definitely wasn’t happy with me, and showed me that by letting go of my hand and going to my mom. Oh no, we aren’t playing that game. My mom refused to take his hand and pointed at me, and he started to cry again. This time I picked him up and cradle carried him inside. I tried to distract him and make him laugh, but he still didn’t want to hold my hand and started to cry when he couldn’t hold Baba’s. I again told him to stop crying in Mandarin, held out my hand, and he reluctantly took it and walked with me. We found a little train for the kids to climb on so we did that for a few minutes. Then we went back out to check the line progress. They had moved quite a bit and were about to be on the inside of four lines of people so we hopped back in with them. It was still a pretty long and boring wait. David and Lily both wanted to be held, and we all took turns convincing them not to cry and holding them. Finally we boarded the tram! Lily was on my lap and was literally falling asleep sitting up. David was looking pretty tired too. Lily passed out on me, and I carried her out and onto a green line bus. She then proceeded to sleep on me through the entire tour of Aberdeen, Stanley, and the rest of the Island. To say that my arms and back hurt would definitely be an understatement. The views on this side of the island were just as beautiful. This side was much less developed and had several harbors. Every building was built with tons of windows to maximize the water views. A few of them were so narrow that they looked like they could fall over in a strong wind!
The other place that we wanted to get off the bus was in Aberdeen for the sampan tour. A sampan is an old boat that people use to get around the harbor and fish. Many people actually live on boats in the harbor and it’s like it’s own little fishing town. We climbed aboard our little boat and started our tour of the harbor. About two minutes in dad realized that he didn’t have his wallet. The last time he saw it was at lunch. We spent our 25 minute tour checking and double checking our bags and pockets to make sure that it was indeed missing and to figure out exactly where he had it last. We think that it probably fell out of his pocket on the bus we just left. There was a bus waiting when our sampan tour ended so we got on and headed back to the central station. My dad tried to ask the driver if he could contact the other bus driver, but he didn’t really speak English. When we got back to central he headed up to the Big Bus office to see if anyone there could help him. They gave him a number to call and took his number in case anything turned up. We are not optimistic.
We took the ferry back over to Kowloon where we started. It was already 4:30! The last bus tour of Kowloon begins at 6:00, so if we were going to do it all we pretty much had to go back and get on. The stop was on the same road we had walked earlier, and with a little help from a local who saw me holding a map we arrived there at 5:10. The bus worker told us the bus would arrive at 5:30 so we crossed the street and walked to find some snacks for the kids at 7-11. We made it back, and sure enough the bus came right on time. It was now dark and definitely chillier so we decided to sit downstairs in the bus for this tour. Too bad they still had the air on and it really wasn’t warm! We made it through about half the tour before everyone was self-destructing and ready to get off. Both my parents have an awful cold and were freezing even more than the rest of us! We walked back to our hotel for the night. Brian helped my dad take care of cancelling all of his cards since he had hardly any voice left, and then we ordered room service to feed the kids dinner. We are all so ready to fly home tomorrow! And I’m sure I’ll change my mind at about hour 6 of the long flight, but I don’t even care that I have to be stuck on a plane for 13 hours. Just get me home!!!!  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


When you’ve spent almost two weeks in a foreign country, it’s very easy to find things you are thankful for! And since it’s already Thanksgiving here, I thought I’d dedicate my thankful post to the good ole’ U. S. of A. On this Thanksgiving I am thankful for:

  • Clean water for drinking, bathing and brushing my teeth
  • The English language
  • Cultural barriers that make excessive staring and unsolicited advice taboo
  • Internet that isn’t restricted
  • Google translate
  • Clean air
  • Toilets
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand soap
  • Cleanliness standards in public restrooms and restaurants
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • My minivan
  • Trees
  • Running outside
  • Traffic laws
  • Open space
  • My house
  • Bedroom doors
  • American food!!!!

Even though I definitely miss home, I am thankful for the experience of a different culture to make me appreciate what I have there. And I am thankful for the opportunity to get to experience a piece of my children’s past. And I’m sure poor David will be having many of the same thoughts I am when we get home and he begins to experience culture shock. Everything will look, smell, and sound different to him.

On a serious note, I am of course incredibly thankful for my family and friends. I am thankful that God has given me four precious treasures to raise, even when they drive me nuts! I am thankful for a husband who is always up for an adventure with me, and loves and serves me well. I am thankful for supportive parents who give up two weeks of their life to come to a strange country and help us. I am thankful for a brother and sister-in-law are also great friends and love and encourage us. I am thankful for our friends from Life Group who stand by our side and get on their knees for and with us. I am thankful for my church family who loves and supports us well. I am thankful for all the friends that God has brought into my life. You have all blessed me and shaped me in different ways. And I can’t wait to see you soon!!!!!

From Guangzhou to Hong Kong – Day 11, November 25

This morning I was thinking to myself that I really wouldn’t have much to blog about today, because the only thing on our agenda was packing and traveling to Hong Kong. Boy was I wrong! The morning was rather uneventful. I was up early, so I went down and rode the stationary bike for a good 45 minutes while all the kids were waking up. When I got back I started gathering clothes for our last load of laundry. My plan was to pack one suitcase to use for our time in Hong Kong and not even have to look in the others, so I gathered everything that needed to washed for our final few days and started the last load. I had made plans to Facetime with our Life Group during their Thanksgiving feast, so I quickly showered before it was time for the call. It was great to see everyone’s faces and let them see David for a second. He of course repeated his favorite “ni hao” phrase and waved. Such a charmer. It was so weird to see them eating dinner on Tuesday night, and for us it was already Wednesday morning! And it was also a bit depressing to watch them eat delicious Thanksgiving food. I am totally bumming out about missing Thanksgiving this year. Last time we had Thanksgiving in China I really didn’t mind, but this time I do. If anyone has any Thanksgiving leftovers they would like to deliver to our empty fridge we will gladly take them!
We went downstairs for our last delicious breakfast. We knew that we might not have dinner available later that evening on the train, so our mission was for each adult to covertly make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches using the supplies from the buffet and stick them in mom’s bag. Interesting tidbit – the peanut butter there is really runny. Which makes it tricky when you are trying to wrap a sandwich in napkins to keep for later! We were laughing hilariously at ourselves and how un-sneaky we were. Scott and Catie, you can just picture our time in Ireland and you will know exactly how smooth we were. We also squirreled away 6 bananas and two apples. When everyone was finished eating we went out to the fish pond for one last fish feeding. Oh, and we stole more bread for that. I think we cost the hotel at least two loaves today.
The kids had a great time feeding the fish and the adults enjoyed the beautiful weather. At some point Brian decided to start making crazy faces when Matthew was taking pictures, which led to a whole series of ridiculous pictures by the fish pond. The workers cleaning the pond I’m sure thought we were wacko. But we found ourselves hilarious! I finally decided that I should be responsible and start packing up the massive quantities of things scattered all over our apartment so we headed upstairs. Brian put a movie on for the kids to keep them occupied and I worked on packing. We didn’t want to kids to have too much in their backpacks because we really needed them to be able to carry them while boarding the train, so I had to figure out a way to empty out a bunch of their things into a suitcase along with the gifts and souvenirs we bought. I’m not sure how, but it all managed to fit! I had everything packed and was just waiting on the clothes for Hong Kong to dry by lunch time. We weren’t really hungry yet so Brian took the kids to the playground and the fish pond again while my parents went to the fitness center. I had a whole hour of quiet all to myself in the hotel! It was amazing! During that hour the clothes finished drying, but when I started to take them out I noticed they were still damp and needed a bit more time. I put them back in for what I thought was a 15 minute dry, but all of a sudden water started going in the drum! I quickly realized it was a 15 minute wash and stopped it. But now everything definitely needed more drying time!
Everyone returned to the room so we could go get some lunch at McDonald’s. I wanted to go ahead and take out the clothes so that everything would be packed before we left. Too bad the door to the machine wouldn’t open! I couldn’t get the cycle to pause, and even when I turned it off the lock was still engaged! The shortest drying cycle was two hours, and we were leaving in a little over an hour so letting it finish the cycle wasn’t an option. After everyone took a turn trying to figure it out we decided to call housekeeping. The first woman that tried to fix it was unsuccessful and just told me to let the cycle finish. I explained to her that I couldn’t do that but I’m not sure she understood. Then she started trying all of the other cycles to get it to unlock. I was watching and ready to pounce on the stop button the second I heard water filling that drum again! After a few minutes she decided to call maintenance. At this point we were going to be crunched for time if we wanted lunch, so Brian and I went ahead with the kids while my parents finished getting ready and helped with the washing machine situation. When we left there were a total of three people trying to figure it out!
The walk to McDonald’s is quite short which is great. This McDonald’s has been completely redone and was different from when we were here two years ago. You actually order on a touch screen kiosk, which is great for completely eliminating the language barrier! I did feel slightly uncomfortable though, because two of the workers were literally standing over my shoulder while I ordered. I think they were just waiting to jump in if I needed help, but I felt like I was being monitored during a standardized test! We got our meals, and everyone ate except for David. I had used google translate earlier in the day to tell him our plans for the next few days, and we thought he might be nervous or maybe getting the lovely cold that half of us have. When my parents left they told housekeeping that we needed the clothes out by 2:15. They were going to try to let the cycle finish, but if it didn’t then they would call the engineer to open it. I was starting to get a little nervous that I would run out of time and miss our train, so we had the girls pack up the rest of their food and we headed back. When we got there they told us that they had gotten the door open but the clothes were not quite dry. Well that was definitely an understatement. I don’t know what cycle they put it on, but all of the clothes were soaking wet. I may have had a minor freak out because not only did I not know how pack wet clothes without getting everything else wet, but now half of us didn’t have underwear for the next few days! I was so mad! On what planet does it make sense to wash clothes when someone is about to leave! Thankfully mom came to the rescue with some quick problem solving. We stood in the kitchen wringing everything out the best we could, then we put the clothes inside a plastic bag and inside a laundry bag. Hopefully we will be able to find some way to dry them when we get to Hong Kong. During this time I also noticed that David was starting to feel a little warm. I quickly found the medicine I had packed and tried to give him a dose. He didn’t want to drink it, so we asked the bellhop if he would explain to him in Chinese that it was medicine and tell him he needed to take it. He took one sip and then refused the rest. I think it was too sweet for him.
One last sweep of the apartment and we headed downstairs to the lobby. We met Miko and Aron there with David’s passport and immigrant visa! Woohoo! There is always a chance that there could be a problem issuing visas and you are delayed leaving. I think that Thanksgiving worked in our favor though, because normally you get the visas around 5:00, and they were able to get them early today. We needed to change our yuan over to Hong Kong dollars, so Brian quickly ran off to do that at a bank around the corner before our shuttle came. He returned empty handed ten minutes later because they wouldn’t change it without his passport which I had! Meanwhile poor David was sitting on Matthew’s suitcase literally falling asleep sitting up. He was also very warm. I mentioned to Miko that he wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t take medicine, and she told me that I had to get him to take it. She said that they check people’s temperatures when they arrive in Hong Kong and they won’t let you in if you are sick. The only way you can come in is after a lengthy medical exam proving that you don’t have some contagious flu. I relayed this message to Brian, and we didn’t know what to do! We definitely didn’t want to arrive at the train station and be sent back to Guangzhou, and we also didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars to change our plane tickets and fly out right then. We decided to have Miko talk to him and try to get him to take it, and then just force it down his throat on the train if he refused to take it. Desperate times folks. She did convince him to take it, so we felt much better at that point. I think Miko took pity on us at this point and offered to come to the train station with us. Originally we would have met here there with David’s visa around 4:30, but since they got them early that wasn’t necessary. Miko said we could change our ticket to an earlier train since we no longer had to wait for it. That sounded good to us! The shuttle took us the station (David totally passed out on me during the trip) and a bellhop came and got all of our bags. Then he started sprinting across the station with them with all of us struggling to keep up! We went through security, then headed upstairs to the ticket office and waiting area. Brian waited with Miko to change our tickets and the rest of us followed Speedy Gonzalez the bellhop up to the waiting area on the fourth floor. Of course Lily had to go to the bathroom, so my mom took her and Caroline while we were waiting. Apparently Lily didn’t want to wait for my mom to find a bathroom with a western toilet, and just pulled her pants and underwear around her ankles in the middle of everything! A Chinese woman was pointing and yelling at my mom to fix the situation. Then we started calling her name, so Lily never did get to go. While she was doing that we learned that we needed to fill out our departure cards, and we needed to do it quickly so we could make the earlier train! I so love that in the US it’s one customs form per family. I had to fill out that card for each kid! Crazy! We got the cards done and took off at another jog to the boarding area. At that point we said goodbye to Miko (and our luggage hoping that the bellhop would indeed deliver it to the train) and entered the boarding area. It took them forever to scan all of our passports, so by the time we got in it was time to get on the train! We were in coach 10 and had to walk all the way to the back of the train. It worked out nicely though, because our car wasn’t full and we were able to spread out a little more. We didn’t buy tickets for David and Lily so they didn’t technically have a seat, but we had enough room for them.
I sat with the boys and Brian sat with the girls to start. Matthew had some school work to do, so he did that while David colored. He did a great job coloring and it definitely kept him busy! The only problem was he kept dropping the markers and caps and I had to go fishing for them. I think the sixth time I hit my head I handed him off to Brian for a different activity. The train ride was very peaceful and I enjoyed seeing a tiny bit of countryside after being in a city for so long. Lily ended up sleeping most of the ride, and we fed the kids their PBJ sandwiches. It took us a little over two hours to get to Hong Kong from Guangzhou. Once we arrived we exited the train and were immediately swarmed by two masked Chinese wielding temperature devices that looked like laser guns. Poor Caroline was in the front, and she looked around panicked trying to figure out if this strange masked person was going to shoot her! I told her that they were just taking her temperature so she stayed still for them. They checked all four kids, and praise God they let us pass. I am so thankful for Tylenol and answered prayers! All the kids are pretty much constantly sneezing or coughing, so I willed them to keep in inside until we got away from the germ inspectors. Of course we had to stop and fill out an immigration card for each person again, which takes a small eternity. Lily kept coughing and I was sure they were going to make her go back and be examined. Hallelujah they didn’t and we made it through customs in Hong Kong. We grabbed our bags and headed out to find a taxi to our hotel. I really expected the train station to have more in it. Like an atm or signs for where to get a taxi. But it didn’t. When we walked outside we were met with a very nice Indian man who offered to take us in his van to our hotel. At first I was a little hesitant because I didn’t know if he was legit, but he had business cards and spoke English and seemed very trustworthy. And he said he would take our Chinese yuan since we hadn’t gotten to change it yet. Is it weird that I totally trusted him because he spoke English and wasn’t Chinese? He ended up being a very nice man and gave us his card if we needed a ride during our stay here. We definitely needed that bit of encouragement and help after the calamity of events from earlier in the day.
We arrived at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile without incident and checked into our rooms. Poor David had a pretty bad screaming fit when Brian left the room to get money. He did let me hold him, but I couldn’t get him to stop crying for any length of time. The poor kid had to be exhausted and confused and definitely not feeling well. Brian came back and we got him to sleep. Then I took Matthew and Caroline over to Baba and Daideo’s room since it was Lily’s turn to sleep with David. Tomorrow we have the day to explore Hong Kong, and then we fly home on Friday!