Sunday, January 29, 2017

Ode to Aunt MoMo

As most of you know, my younger sister Morgan came along with us on our trip to China. Because Jonas couldn't say "Morgan" when he first came home, she became "MoMo," and it's kind of stuck. Anyway, we wanted to bring Jonas along with us to adopt his sister, but we knew there would be times it'd be better to have some help, especially if Johanna needed our full attention or we had boring adoption-related appointments to attend. In no particular order, here are the many, MANY ways Aunt MoMo helped us on this trip explained via the various roles she played (and I'm sure I'm forgetting some)...


She carried suitcases or kids or paperwork or backpacks or money or groceries or food or drinks or souvenirs or all of the above, all while carrying her own things too (and she somehow just packed carry-on luggage!).


Morgan captured all of the important (and difficult) pictures on Adoption Day, so we could focus solely on Johanna. She did the same thing when we visited the orphanage. She also took pictures of our family at various places we visited, even if it meant she wasn't in the picture.


Getting meals for two kids at a hotel buffet twice a day is an art. There's the arranging of the tables and chairs, getting the kids seated, gathering food and drinks for them and yourself, watching the kids, getting Jonas to stay at the table, and various other trips to the buffet to get forgotten silverware, napkins, fruit, etc. Morgan helped us each time and would get Jonas's food started, so we could get Johanna's and ours and have a more enjoyable meal.


While we were off at Johanna's adoption appointments, Morgan would watch Jonas. They went swimming for hours, played at the park, ate snacks, watched videos, and had a ton of fun. It was so helpful to not have to worry about watching him at consulates and notary offices and medical appointments and such, and I always knew he was safe. She'd also help get Jonas dressed and ready on busy mornings and take him to the bathroom when we were out and about. He also went over to her hotel room to play sometimes, so we got a little break from his constant energy!


Morgan knows our expectations for Jonas's behavior, and she wasn't afraid to enforce our rules in the same manner we would have. She demanded he speak respectfully, use good manners, act appropriately, etc. When we were dealing with Johanna, or adoption paperwork, or whatever else came up, it was nice having someone else deal with Jonas, especially when he was being difficult.


Picture ringing a bell and having your butler show up immediately to do whatever you want. That's kind of how Morgan was. I'd WeChat her at any hour, and she would respond immediately with whatever was needed. I know that sometimes that meant she got up early to shower and get dressed so she could be ready the minute I messaged her saying we were headed to breakfast (with basically no warning!). She'd go buy tickets, go look for our guide, go exchange money, wait for us to get back from somewhere, etc. Basically I'd ask for something (anything), and she'd do it.


Morgan used various apps to make sure we were headed the right direction in taxis or on trains or subways. She directed us to the tea market, shopping, the park, and various other places, and we didn't have to think about it at all. She knew which subway stops to go to and even what exits to go out. She knew how to find the darn elevators and lobby every time at our hotel in Guangzhou, something I couldn't master for the life of me. I'm terrible at directions, so having her take care of all that for me was life-saving.

There was a lot of traveling involved on our trip...planes, trains, subways, taxis, vans, long walks, long lines, etc. Morgan often sat by Jonas and kept him entertained. She'd also walk with him, carry him, chase him around (his favorite), or dance with him. He always had a good time with her!


I had a lot on my mind on this trip, obviously. Morgan served as my extra brain several times, whether it was reminding me about something I had totally forgotten (adoption paperwork under the van seat-yikes!), coming up with ideas for activities (Baiyun Mountain was awesome!), or just being a sounding board as I brainstormed or thought through things.

Flexible Adapter

Morgan was up for anything. Wherever (and whenever) we wanted to eat, wherever we wanted to go, whatever we wanted to do, she was game. I know that probably meant she missed out on some things she wished she had gotten to see or do and had to do things she wasn't interested in doing. I know that probably meant she was hungry at times we didn't go eat and not hungry at times we did. Since she is a vegetarian, I know she struggled to find things to eat at certain meals. I know she was probably really bored at times and really exhausted at other times, but she lived by our schedule no matter what.

Adoption Ally

Morgan understood and respected the challenges of adoption and building attachment. She never tried to "cross the line" with Johanna, and she didn't question our parenting choices. She was our cheerleader throughout the coat drama, and she held Jonas or gave him extra attention when we had to focus on Johanna. She knew her role on the trip and didn't try to insert herself into Johanna's confusing world at this point.


I know Morgan worked lots of extra hours at her job and used up lots of vacation time to go on this trip. She also used her Christmas money from our grandpa to help pay for her hotel rooms and travel within country. While she could have used that vacation time and money to go somewhere of her own choosing and do what she wanted with her days, she instead chose to come with us to China.

All-Around Allstar

Basically, having Morgan on this trip with us rocked. It was a lot to ask of someone to do all we wanted and needed her to do, but she really stepped up. It'll probably be years before Jonas and Johanna realize how important her role was in this adoption trip, but Zack and I know how incredibly helpful it was. Having Jonas come to China was very important to us and special for our family, and I'm not sure it would have been possible without Morgan there to help out.

So Morgan, you are awesome! Thank you SO SO SO much for everything you did for us. We appreciate it more than you will ever know. We will never forget it, and we owe you big time! There might be a little something coming in the mail for you soon. :) We love Aunt MoMo!

Happy New Year!

Yesterday was the start of 2017 in the lunar calendar. It's the year of the rooster! In China, the Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday of the year. Like Christmas here, people have vacation days and travel to be with their families. A big meal called the "reunion dinner" with certain symbolic foods (fish, rice cakes, dumplings, etc.) is shared with family members on New Year's Eve, and red envelopes with money inside are given out. Lanterns and the color red are everywhere.

Mandarin orange or tangerine trees are also very popular. We saw these out in front of most hotels, stores, and restaurants. Red envelopes were tied onto them. Tangerine and orange sound like the words luck and wealth in Mandarin, so having these trees out front is supposed to usher in good fortune.

Here are some other fun facts about the Chinese New Year...

-1/5 of the world's population celebrates this festival. It's not just in China; other Asian countries celebrate as well (Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc.).

-It's also called the Spring Festival, as it marks the end of the coldest days of the year.

-It lasts for 15 days and ends with a Lantern Festival on the night of the first full moon.

-The festival date changes every year, falling between mid-January to mid-February. It depends on the movement of the moon.

-People clean their houses (sweeping out the old year) before the festival, and kids get new clothes and haircuts.

-Tons of shopping is done in preparation for the festival. The stores were crazy crowded when we were in China. Like Black Friday insanity in some places!

-Like on our New Year, fireworks are set off at midnight. Lots and lots of fireworks.

-A special sausage is made for the new year. We got to try some at the meal we ate with the orphanage staff. It was pretty good; it had kind of a cinnamon or clove-like flavor.

-The zodiac animals are on a 12-year cycle. They include rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Jonas and Johanna are both dragons, and Zack and I are both horses. Even though Zack and I were born in different years, because my birthday is in January, I'm still a horse because the Chinese New Year hadn't happened yet. So you can't just go by the year if you were a January baby!

I know I didn't know a lot about this holiday before traveling to China and learning about it this year, so hopefully this helps some of you have a better understanding of it as well. We're excited to have another holiday to celebrate, though we didn't really do it up right this year, being as we're working on the jet lag thing (I'm up at 4am writing this!) and have kind of had our fill of Chinese food for awhile. But next year we'll celebrate for sure, or maybe we'll just have a belated celebration at the end of the festival this year! Anyway, Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Hong Kong

Flights out of Guangzhou are notoriously late, and layovers in Beijing or Shanghai are known for being time-consuming and difficult, so we decided to fly out of Hong Kong. Besides, it was a good excuse to check out another famous city, and flights were cheaper and more direct from there anyway. The ironic thing is that I’m working on this blog entry on a delayed United flight out of Hong Kong, and we will now probably miss our Southwest flight from San Francisco to Denver.

Yes, Johanna ate all three bowls of noodles!
Anyway, on Thursday morning, we took a two hour train ride from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. It went pretty quickly, and we eventually got to our hotel (Hotel LBP) and ate an expensive lunch across the street. Hong Kong is not a cheap place! After lunch, the kids took naps while Morgan and Zack walked around near our hotel checking out the shopping.

When Jonas and Johanna woke up and Zack got back, Morgan and I took the kids in a taxi out to Victoria Peak. It ended up being a one hour wait to ride the tram to the top, but the views were spectacular! Hong Kong is a crazy big city. We hung out at the top for awhile, ate some Burger King for dinner (you do what you’ve got to do when the kids are hungry and things are expensive!), and rode the tram back down. 

We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore Hong Kong, but at least we got a taste of the city. Many people spoke English there, we saw lots of Caucasian people, the prices were similar to New York City, there were tons of tall buildings, double decker buses and red taxis filled the streets, and everything seemed very clean and modern. It was also a beautiful place with the very blue water and various islands. We were impressed!

But we were definitely ready to go home. I had a scare with forgetting my good camera on the train when we arrived in Hong Kong, although I was luckily able to get it back. Jonas had been going to bed late several nights in a row, so he was having multiple meltdowns a day and wasn’t his usual happy, friendly self. Johanna just seemed confused as to why we kept traveling to different places and staying at different hotels. Zack seemed to be over it all, and I’m sure Morgan was sick of having to live by our unpredictable schedule. Our clothes were all dirty, and I think everyone was just ready to get back to their own beds and their own things.

We taught Johanna to say "cheers," and now
she wants to do it all of the time. It's one of
the first things we taught Jonas as well!
So Friday morning, on my 38th birthday, we flew out of Hong Kong. Our flight was delayed nearly two hours, which happened after we had already boarded, so we’ve been sitting on here on this plane for a long time. I’m currently working on this blog entry, and everyone else has finally fallen asleep. The kids have been pretty good so far…watching movies, eating, making friends with seat neighbors, etc. Johanna did have some teary eyes as we boarded and took our seat; I think she was a bit overwhelmed with it all. But she did fine after that; she’s just been kind of quiet. We’ve had some fun decorating our seat top with Chinese New Year garland and playing with glow sticks in the dark. 

I’m kind of dreading what’s going to happen after we land in San Francisco. We’ll have to be awake during what would usually be our middle of the night to go through customs, get our bags, deal with Johanna’s immigration paperwork, and then probably rebook our Southwest flight that we’re going to miss because of this delay. And then we have a few more hours of flying-ugh! I’m anticipating some meltdowns…from any or all of us!

Oh well. At least we’re headed home, and we’ll get there eventually. And one of the flight attendants thinks we’re the coolest because of our garland and glow sticks. Zack told him it was my birthday, and he brought us champagne to celebrate! I was organizing some pictures on my computer during the flight, and it was weird to see ones from Beijing. That feels like so long ago, and it’s strange to see “family” pictures without Johanna in them! Guess she’s stuck with us now!

The Rest of Guangzhou

Catching up on what we did with our remaining time in Guangzhou…

Tuesday night we walked to nearby Yuexiu Park to see the Chinese New Year display. All sorts of lit up creations (kind of like lanterns but way bigger and in the shape of things) were along a path in the park, and tons of people were there to see it. Some were particularly impressive, and we all enjoyed the festive mood and atmosphere.

On Wednesday, we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast. The kids debuted their squeaky shoes that I bought them on Shamian Island. We won’t be wearing these long-term, as I think we all would go crazy, but they were fun for a day. The good thing is that you can take the squeakers out and wear them as regular shoes. 

Late morning, we went back to a different part of the park and spent an hour driving a little boat around on the small lake. The kids had a good time taking turns driving and pretending to shoot things with the fake gun on the front. We also saw the famous Five Rams Statue, as Guangzhou is known as the City of Rams. There’s some legend about how the city was formed, and it involves rams.

After a late pizza lunch at a place near our hotel, the kids took naps while Morgan and I went to Walmart. Yes, there is a Walmart in China! We picked up some Chinese candy to bring home and snacks for the train and plane rides and a few other odds and ends. The place was crazy! Everyone was there shopping for the Chinese New Year. And the plaza around it was insane too; lanterns and flowers and decorations were for sale everywhere. 

Apparently while we were gone, the kids woke up and were playing and Johanna hit Jonas in the face. She didn’t like it when Zack told her “no” and had a big crying meltdown for awhile. However, when I got back, I never would have guessed that anything had happened. She was laughing and having a great time, so I guess she worked through whatever she was going through at that moment. Our in-country facilitator also dropped off Johanna’s passport with the visa in it, so we were officially good to go home!

We spent our last night in Guangzhou going on the Pearl River cruise. It was an hour long boat ride up and down the river to see all of the buildings lit up at night. The most impressive was the Canton Tower, the third tallest building in the world. It changed colors continuously and looked pretty awesome.

Guangzhou was a great city, and I kind of wished we had been able to spend more time there instead of Nanchang. The weather was perfect, there was lots to do, and there were other adoptive families at our hotel. But we were glad to be done with our adoption appointments and almost headed home!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Consulate Appointment Done and Still Coat-Free!

The coat is still off, and Johanna had a fantastic morning! She walked toward the big bathroom once this morning and looked in the bathtub, but she didn't give any indication that she was specifically looking for her coat. I helped her get dressed, and there was absolutely no sign of distress. I think we are actually finally free of The Big Ugly!

After breakfast, Jonas went to the park with Morgan while we headed back to the medical office to pick up Johanna's tuberculosis test results (all good) and then walked over to the United States embassy. There were several other adoptive families there. The whole process took about an hour, but most of it was just waiting for our name to be called. We had our paperwork looked over at one point and then waited again for an "interview," which was just a few simple questions about Johanna and us based on her file. It was a pretty easy process, and now her visa to come into the United States will be made and put into her passport by tomorrow afternoon.

Johanna was super talkative and happy at the appointment. She can now count to three in English on her own and up to ten with some help. She also learned "up" and "down." There was lots of giggling and smiles, and she was really sweet. Everything seems to be going great without the coat. We had lunch at the noodle place again, and now the kids are taking naps while Morgan and Zack took the subway out to Beijing Road to do some shopping.

Not sure what else we'll get up to this evening and tomorrow, as we have some more free time, but we're getting closer and closer to getting to go home, so that's pretty exciting. I sure am going to miss having all our meals made for us and cleaning done for us though!

Monday, January 23, 2017


This monumental event deserved its very own blog post! Folks, the coat, also known as "The Big Ugly," is not on Johanna's body at this very moment. Miracles do happen! Here's all it all went down...

Tonight after dinner, I started a bath for the kids. Jonas got in on his own first (he loves baths), and I pointed Johanna toward the bathroom, asking her to find him. I told her it was time for her to take a bath too, and she willingly got undressed all by herself. No tears!

As they had fun playing and splashing about, I put a towel over The Big Ugly without her seeing me do so. My thought was "out of sight, out of mind." When it was time to get out of the tub, I helped her put on her pajamas and then quickly airplane-carried her out of the big bathroom (before she had the chance to think about it) to zoom over to Daddy for some fun playtime.

Zack quickly picked up on my distraction technique and occupied the kids with climbing on him while I readied the toothbrushes. Thankfully there is also a half bathroom in this suite, so the kids brush their teeth and go to the bathroom in a different location than the bathroom with the tub.

Johanna went straight from brushing her teeth into reading the word book with Daddy, and he conveniently skipped the page with articles of clothing (since there's definitely a coat pictured on that page!). After that, we had our regular bedtime routine of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, saying prayers, and me singing them "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" before hugs and kisses. Johanna did have some silent tears during the lullaby, which I'm sure were in some way related to her not having her coat on, but she willingly gave me a hug afterward and seemed okay.

We definitely weren't keeping her from putting her coat back on. If at any point she had totally freaked out or even started looking around or asking about it, we would have let her find it and put it on if needed. But she didn't even go back to the big bathroom at all, and she totally could have! I think we may have had our breakthrough moment tonight!

We don't know how the morning will go. I think we'll try to keep it out of sight but not totally hidden away and just see how she does. We'll get out other clothes and a different jacket and pretend like everything is just dandy, but if she doesn't do well with that, we'll let her "find" the coat and put it on. Hey, I'm just happy she's not sleeping in it for the first time! Hooray!!!

Baiyun Mountain, Noodles, and Tea Time

We had another full and fun day here in Guangzhou. We spent the morning at Baiyun Mountain. It's a huge outdoor park with gardens and a bunch of random things to see at the top. We rode the cable car up and explored the grounds. The views of the city were awesome; the size of this place is incredible. It's the third largest city in the country (behind Shanghai and Beijing) with 13 million people, although some estimates place it at 25 million. In comparison, the Denver metro area has about 3 million people.

We walked to the viewpoints, saw various animals (birds, rabbits, etc.), admired plants and ponds and gazebos, checked out a temple, and walked all the way down the mountain. The carrier we got back when we traveled to Kyrgyzstan has come in handy for carrying kids on this trip as well!

Back by our hotel, the boys hit up McDonald's for lunch while we girls went to a nearby noodle place that we had heard about. It totally lived up to our expectations! For about $5 total, each of us got a HUGE delicious noodle bowl. Even Johanna, the noodle lover, couldn't finish it completely! We may just have to hit up this place again before we go.

After lunch, the kids were exhausted, so they took a nap. Zack rested and watched them while Morgan and I took the subway to the Fangcun Tea Market. Holy cow, I've never seen so much tea in my life! There were literally hundreds of tea shops. We took the time to sit down and be served tea at one of them (a delicious oolong tea from Taiwan), but we could have done that at each one and spent all day there!

It was primarily a place for wholesalers to buy tea. We definitely stood out. But we found an adorable ladybug tea set that I bought for Johanna as a gift for when she's older, and I got some small amounts of various kinds of tea and have no clue what they are! It was fun to just walk around and see all the pretty tea leaves and flowers and be a part of such an authentic experience.

After some playground time back at the hotel and dinner up in the lounge, I gave the kids a bath and they went to bed. They still aren't asleep though, probably because they had long naps. More about this evening in another post to come.

Tomorrow we stop by the medical clinic to get Johanna's blood test results, and then she has her consulate appointment at the United States embassy so she can get her visa to come home with us. Big day!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Busy Day

Well, it was another busy day around here. The second half went much better than the first half, and the kids are currently in bed, trying to sleep but sort of goofing around instead.

I thought we might need this vending
machine after the medical appointment!
We had to wake both Jonas and Johanna up this morning to get dressed and eat breakfast before heading out early to her medical appointment. Every adopted child has to go to this clinic to get checked out. We were really nervous about how taking her coat off would go, but she listened to the doctor and did it without a problem. The other part we were scared about, the blood draw for the tuberculosis test, also occurred without any tears. 

Zack is outnumbered in his wrestling matches now!
But she wasn’t a happy camper. There weren’t any smiles, and she even tested some boundaries by hitting each of us on separate occasions to see our reactions. We tried to sternly tell her that was not allowed, but that just made her pout. We were at the medical appointment for about an hour, and thank goodness we went early, because it got pretty crowded with all of the other adoptive families arriving just after us. We’re also thankful that Morgan came along and watched Jonas downstairs in a cafe, because he would have been a handful to try to watch upstairs amidst the chaos. 

Attempting the "required" picture with our pouty pants.
After the medical appointment, we went to Shamian Island. It’s a quaint little area with lots of statues and shopping and restaurants. There’s one particular statue with a line of children that all adoptive parents seem to get a picture of their kids with, but Johanna was crabby, so our picture is not that great! We were able to get some of our souvenir shopping done, but the kids were pretty tired and cranky until we found a store where we could look around while they played with some of the toys. 

We had lunch at Lucy’s, a restaurant with American food (and American prices-ugh!). Johanna was pouting after she got told “no hitting” again, and then she actually fell asleep at the lunch table! She continued with her nap on the way back to the hotel, and she woke up in a much better mood. We had lots of smiles and giggles from her after that.

She wanted all of these in at once!
We spent the afternoon and evening playing with some toys in the hotel room, watching Jonas and Zack try out the swimming pool, playing on the playground, eating dinner, putting seven bows in her hair at once, and just having a good time together. The coat is still on at all times, and we’re kind of “famous” for it at the China Hotel. There are lots of other adoptive families here, and they recognize us by Johanna’s coat. Yep, that’s us, the ones with the girl who’s had the coat on for a week straight now! 

Ten things we have learned about Johanna…
  1. She is a great eater. So far we have figured out she loves noodles, sausage, fish, and fruit the most.
  2. She is a great sleeper. She takes a long nap, goes to bed without a problem when we put her down, and she sleeps through the night. She even tattles on Jonas when he gets out of bed! She does move around a lot in her sleep though, falling out of bed and kicking and turning a lot.
  3. As we suspected from pictures we had received, she has molluscum on her face. It’s a common viral disease that causes bumps on the skin. Jonas had this around his chin area when he first came home to us, but it cleared up after a couple of treatments. We already have her scheduled to visit the dermatologist when we get home. 
  4. She now calls us Mama, Dada, and Jonas is something that sounds like “Joe-nah-sia.” It’s pretty cute. She says Chinese words sometimes and repeats our English words sometimes as well.
  5. She doesn’t have a good idea about the laws of physics. She will jump off of high things without giving it a thought. The other day, Zack was playing around with the kids and made his body into a “bridge” between the two hotel beds. Jonas started climbing across it. Johanna took a flying leap off the bed (totally missing the bridge) and gave herself a bloody nose!
  6. Her favorite color seems to be red, and she likes super girly/lacy/frilly things.
  7. She loves songs and dancing and picks up on movements very quickly. I taught her “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” and that’s a favorite now.
  8. She’s obviously had exposure to toys and playgrounds and such, because she knows what to do with them and on them. This makes us happy, because Jonas had obviously not had this experience. She was even doing somersaults with Jonas today in the hotel room…glad I signed her up for gymnastics!
  9. She loves to take care of people, especially her brother. From getting his glasses for him to buttoning his shirt to washing his hair to tattling on him when he’s misbehaving, she definitely likes the caretaker role! 
  10. She’s warming up to our affection slowly but surely. She loves running up to Zack to hold his hand or be held, and tonight she actually sought out goodnight hugs and kisses from me after she saw how I did them with Jonas instead of merely tolerating them being done to her. Baby steps!

Tomorrow we have a free day (hooray!), so we’re going to check out Baiyun Mountain. I don’t know a lot about it, but it looks like a decent enough way to spend the morning! I’m sure I’ll report back tomorrow. Over and out for tonight…