There have been so many monumental moments with Annika over her last 3 weeks with our family. But sometimes the most unexpected ones prove to be the most meaningful. All dressed up with for her first Sunday morning service, Annika was greeted by many loving faces. She stayed in service for a fairly long time before she was just too happy to sit still with her Cheerios any longer. But it was during worship that I was swept up by the tangible knowledge of holding my new daughter. There is something so spiritually profound about being in the Lord's presence while holding a child. All my boys have had times of celebratory praise and defining worship while held in my arms. As newborns it was some of my most sincere times of bonding with each of them and I was caught unaware as I held Annika, the profound nature of this truth threading through all ways of parenthood.
Believe it or not, today we pulled out the school books. Mind you, only a few. I've got quite a bit of subject material yet to purchase in order to be running a full speed. But we all appreciated a slow start to the school year. Annika actually slept till 11am this morning! I think she must be holding on to a little jet lad. Although, she is a girl who likes to take her time rolling around in bed before opening those beautiful brown eyes for the world to see.
So our back to reality, aka other things have to get done besides staring at Annika, went steadily along. Once Andrew came home from work we all enjoyed playtime in the front yard. More and more I'm realizing that this little girl will try just about anything. She really wanted to get on the tricycle and go for it. But then on the other hand she just laughed at us when trying to get her to stand in the grass. I don't think she has ever spent much time barefoot in the great outdoors!
After looking through all the posts we made during our trip, (I couldn't actually see them while in China) I realized that I never showed you the finished product of Annika's room. I do believe that she feels quite comfortable in it. When upstairs she definitely prefers her room. I'll try and get those up tomorrow. Till then...
Well, we are back home safe and sound. "Be Home" never felt so good! Annika is acclimating very well. She actually slept in her own bed last night all 12 hours! Only to be woken up this morning to a slue of eyes awaiting her every move. She will have to get used to all these boys rather quickly I think, whether she likes it or not!
The plane ride home was long, very long. Boarding, checking in luggage, and walking from gate to gate four times in 31 hours is just about enough for anyone. Annika slept most of the time and really was a good traveler. We all got home around midnight. My mom joined our spontaneous pizza party because we were all starving. So bed time I believe capped out at around 3 AM.
Yesterday was our first full day at home. Annika had her first visitors. Which she received with much grace. More firsts included morning bowl of cereal, playing in the yard, and having dinner with the whole family. George is especially enjoying his little sister. He keeps saying "she's my favorite sister ever"! He's definitely taking this whole big brother role with pride. Annika only has to so much as blink and he thinks it's absolutely hilarious. It is quite comical watching the two of them interact. It's gonna be fun around here!
Goodbye sweet China. We will miss you dearly. Quite tangibly, part of it has become part of us.
Annika An Orlando is officially ours. With 36 families at the US Consulate today we took our oath and received her visa for American citizenship. Even now, it still brings up emotions that let the eyes blur with tears. I was quite overcome in a similar manner when moment transpired. Annika in Andrew's arms, we both raised our right hand and repeated the precious words of finalization. Then all together babies, siblings, parents, and friends cheered and clapped as we all grasped the reality that we had completed this amazing journey. More so then I could have ever imagined.
I don't believe I've ever had a birthday in a foreign country! Kinda cool! My family treated me very well. I actually received two cakes. While Annika was taking her daily nap, which means I get some good book reading in and the boys make themselves scarce, today they went to a little shop. Upon their return they were singing Happy Birthday and carrying a boxed cake. The cake was a very interesting mix of flour, sugar, and fruit. But it looked pretty.
And look at the amazing cards I received. Hand drawn is a 1000x better then any old Hallmark for this mama.
Not a half hour later, we got a knock at our door with a card
addressed to the birthday girl it included one complimentary tara-mousse,
courtesy of our hotel. That cake was our evening dessert. Quite the
feeling of luxury I must say.
In between our two birthday feasts we spent more time on the island and our family time around the dinner table at Lucy's. Tomorrow will be the Orlandos last day in China. We will journey to the White Swan Hotel in the morning to get our famous "red couch" photo in Annika's traditional Chinese dress. Then we take our oath in the afternoon and should end our day with visa in hand ready to fly out early Thursday morning!
Thank-you all for the birthday wishes. We will see you soon!
We have had a great day! It just flowed, ya know, and had a combination of everyone having a good day on the same one! That's pretty good for a 5 individuals.
Pool time was a first for Annika. As fearless as she is about most things she jumped right in with Andrew and enjoyed every moment. In hot Guangzhou the refreshing water is a must to get through the day for anyone.
A very neat thing happened to us today while shopping. One of the stores here is call A Gift From China. The profits from this establishment all go to helping older or special needs orphans in China. Well, today as we were shopping the founder walked in with her team who all live in Hong Kong. After talking with her a bit I discovered that she first got started working with the orphans through Melody. And Melody was a co-founder of our agency, Children's Hope International! Not only does our agency facilitate adoptions but it is also a large help in taking care of many needs in China, from sponsoring children to helping with the huge earthquake last year. We of course took a picture and then were asked to email it so it could be displayed in the store! One of the necklaces I bought was made by a young boy in the photo being held.
We also bought Annika a few shoes! This was our shoe lady. Annika loved getting new shoes and when we returned to this store she got so excited to say hello again. These are by the way, squeaky shoes. When Annika walks they squeak and she thinks that's just the best thing ever. And also the squeak is completely removable when the the shoe is still pretty but the squeak gets a little less then ideal for the parents, if you know what I mean.
So then lets take a break from shopping and enjoy a little familiarity...
:: O my word! What have I gotten myself into? I've seen this look before...mmmm, O yeah - GEORGE!
:: And look who we ran into again! Like I said, it's been a good day.
:: Finally, our Beijing kiddos get some fun pics together.
And in case your wondering, this is what goes on in a one room camp for this many days...
We've had a few shopping days around here. Yesterday and today were evening spent on the island. We had dinner both nights at the famous Lucy's Restaurant. Famous in adoption circles, that is.
While passing through the White Swan Hotel, where most adoptive families stay, we ran into our friends from Beijing! Remember, the other family that had to wait in that small room playing cards for a couple hours, while waiting for the notary? Them! It was so great because we were just saying that it was a bit difficult to get a family picture without being apart of a group. And then there they were!
It's interesting, most adoptions take place within a travel group of families. We started out with one of about 13 families from CHI. But because of our extra long stay our group all went through Guangzhou a week ahead of us. I really liked being in Beijing by ourselves. We learned a lot about how to function on our own and I think the routine of it all being on our own time-frame suited us immensely. But that feeling seemed to change a bit as we got to Guangzhou. I think that it's just the idea that someone, anyone, is witnessing that you finally made it! WE'RE HERE!!!! - is what I want to shout, but that feeling is kinda isolated to us. So as you can imagine it was really cool to meet up with a friendly face and share an exchange of conversation on how things are going with kids, with babies, and with our travels.
Well, we have our first rainy day here in China. Currently, the drops are streaming down our hotel window on the 13th floor very fast, steady, and large. Below us is a sea of people all moving around under colored umbrellas.
Our hotel is fabulous. Nicholas says that he feels like a rock star staying here. He's right. You could get lost in this place. It's like a high class mall. One store has Lexus cars on display for your purchase! Oh, just had a big clap of thunder. Maybe I won't miss the fall rains we are having back home. Anyway, along with the stores we have a standing Starbucks! Yay! Two mornings in a row now we have enjoyed our coffee right after an amazing breakfast. It's the little things that helps you keep going on Day 17! Although, with all it's luxury everyone here is missing a bit of Beijing. I guess we just got used to calling it home.
Yesterday we had Annika's medical exam. It was our first glimpse of Shamian Island. That's were we'll do our shopping and get our dinners. In Beijing we had a pretty good routine. We woke up around 6:00 and ate breakfast around 7. By 8:30 we were Skyping with mom and George as they were heading to bed. Then we would go out for the day and see whatever was on the agenda for touring. Lunch time has always been snacks because breakfast is that good! Annika had a nap by 2 and would sleep till 4. Then around 5:30 one of the boys and Andrew would go get dinner and we would share it in the room with a bit of television. Bath time was by 7:30 and since Annika sleeps in the dark everyone went to bed by 8:00! Oh, and then I would sneak out to go blog by screen light.
It has been great for Annika to have such down time built into our days. And there was some days where we would just play in the room or basketball out in the courtyard. The boys are pretty much home bodies too and always loved to just hang out in the room. Once again I have to thank the genius that established quiet time. It's ingrained into their system!
But in Guangzhou for these last remaining days I think that we will have to change things up a bit. It is very hot here. No one seems to go do anything in the heat of the day. We tried a little fast food Chinese last night and the cuisine in south China is just not the same. I guess a lot of foreigners eat McDonald's which is across the street but after one night of that being our ONLY option I felt more sick then than any other food the entire trip. Sorry MickeyD lovers. Anyway, Annika would have nothing to do with it either. The first food she turned down! Good girl. (Just kidding, kinda)
So I think we'll be flip-flopping our days. Spending down time in the room in the mornings and then going out after her nap for dinner at some western restaurants located on the island. The boys are currently going to do a bit of swimming and I think Annika and I will hang out pool side.
And here is our famous photographer and his genius...
I think I have forgotten to mention the large bump that Annika has been displaying on her forehead. A couple of days after we got her she was getting a bit too excited with the boys and tripped on her way-to-big-for-her-little-waist pajamas. The bar of the roll-away bed caught her fall, unfortunately. It turned into a huge lump in 2 seconds flat! O well, such is how our photo memories are made. It worried her brand-new parent far more than she ever thought twice about it. Annika's a pretty tough girl. She'll fit right in with all these boys!!!
We got into our hotel just a few hours ago. Annika did excellent on her first flight. It was a whole three hours, plus a bonus half hour wait on the runway - fun, fun. I had snacks galore in my backpack but she was very interested in the plastic bag that holds the headphones. I never did let on that they could actually come out. Next she moved on to the airline magazine to which we went from front cover to back cover and vice versa about 20 times. Not kidding! By then we had an in-flight snack to which I got two more English words in her vocab - hot and juice. With treat in hand she finally took a nap, waking up right as we landed. Hallelujah! Now, let's just see how she likes it for 14 hours!
In the meantime...before we left Beijing we visited the Zoo and the Olympic Village. The Beijing Zoo was very nice but still a zoo much like any one stateside. Oh, except for the pandas of course.
However, the Olympic Village was quite the adventure. We took a taxi all by ourselves and ventured amongst the traffic without our guide. It was well worth the getting out on our free day. We all loved seeing the Birds Nest and Water Cube up close. And once more, we purchased tickets to go inside and actually sit in seats where people observed Phelps win his historic golds. Both structures are truly awe striking. When you walk inside the stadium big screens are playing clips of the opening ceremonies and it really got me a bit emotional standing there. It was kinda something I didn't expect.
Here are a few my favorite pics before I call it a night and of course, our sign for the day - it's a good one. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention what a great day Annika had yesterday. She is a happy girl. Especially, with each morning she wakes up and sees that we are all still here!
As the saying goes, "America is my country but Paris is my hometown", I find that I will invite two worlds into the fabric of our lives. It is ridiculous to call Beijing a hometown however, given its sheer size. But today we went to a district that gave us a new flare for China. As our saying might be read,"America is my country but Hutong is my hometown"!
I had read about this district in my book The Concrete Dragon. A fascinating book on the architecture of China - new, old, and preserved. The Hutong is an area that is old and fortunately now preserved, at least in this location. It is a lifestyle, a way the Chinese used to live. The historic part of town if you will. It stands to reason that if Andrew and I ever return to Beijing, just the two of us, this is were we will spend our stay.
Speaking of staying, the Mayor of Madrid stayed in the home that we toured during the Olympic games! Apart of seeing the Hutong district is getting the privilege of visiting a family's home. Built in keeping with that era, it is entered into by a gate and then opens to a courtyard. Various rooms surround the courtyard each with their own function and reason for placement. While sitting in such a serene place it's a wonder that life could be much sweeter. (OK, except for the fact that even the mayor had to use the public restroom around the corner!)
This is were Annika found the fish so entirely interesting. As did other little girls.
Most of this tour around town we had taken by rickshaws.
Later that evening we took in a show - The Acrobatic Show! I knew the boys, including Andrew, would love it and I was right. Annika did not make it through however, once the snacks were gone she was uninterested. So I paced in the lobby. And I can tell you, it been awhile since that was in the call of duty for this mama. But who could resist wandering with a little girl who only wants you to hold her cheek to cheek for contentment.
In the last two days Annika has made some amazing strides in communicating to us that we are becoming more than just caretakers to her. She never cried when the orphanage director left that first day and I never really saw her see a need to be anywhere else then with us. However, the genuine state of liking us for us took that first week. Annika definitely has some ways of telling us what she does and does NOT like but then surprises us with such compliance with the simple things we ask of her. Like stopping when we call her name or putting something back when she needs to. We haven't had one issue with the boys things being touched or taken. But she sure enjoys being included when offered to play.
However, if I could request prayer for her in anyway it would be for her evenings. She goes to bed beautifully but the only problem is it means an end to dinner. Which sends her into crying throughout bath time as of late. It's so sad. Unlike a cry of defiance, it is more like the thoughts running in her head are saying, "mama told me no, but I don't understand why she is still holding me and smiling so sweetly at me". She has a full tummy at this point no doubt, it's the small sweets she continues to want. As she trusts us more each day I see her self-defenses melt. So this is what I pray - that a trusting heart is developed under the blanket of our unconditional love.
Thank-you again to everyone, family and friends, who are sending comments and emails. I wish I could respond to each one of you or better yet, carry on a wonderful conversation with you! But of course the days don't have anymore hours in China then back home, just earlier. We read each one however, every morning. They are more of an encouragement and felt love then you'll ever know!