Friday, December 17, 2010

I Hear Things

Some things I've overheard recently:

Daredevil (while playing a James Bond video game): "Dude, look at that guy!"

Starshine (looks): "Nice mirdle."

Daredevil: "I was talking about his gun."

Starshine: "It's kind of hard to notice his gun when all I see is a man in a mirdle."



Starshine (while taking a bath with Princess J): "Hey! There's something floating in the water! I think it's cookie dough!"

Hubby: "Cookie dough?"

Starshine (leans closer to inspect the object of his attention and then glares at Princess J): "Never mind. That's not cookie dough."

Hubby: "Nope. That's justice."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Heads Up

I want to clear something up. It will only take a minute. I keep getting the following comment from people when they hear that I have three biological boys and then adopted a girl: "Oh, how nice. You finally got your girl."

They don't mean "Oh, you finally brought home the girl you were waiting for the last five years." They mean "Oh, you really always wanted a baby girl but kept having boys and finally took matters into your own hands so you could get the girl you always wanted in the first place."

So, I want to clear this up. When I gave birth to Starshine, my youngest boy, I was put-a-fork-in-me done with having kids. Done. And I didn't feel the slightest bit of disappointment that I had all boys. I was on an incredible adventure with my boys, and it felt just right. Every single pregnancy, all I wished for was a healthy baby. Boy or girl, it didn't matter.

Years later, we felt called to adopt a girl. Not because we somehow missed out all those years with only having boys, but because we felt called to adopt a girl. Period. My boys have never been a source of disappointment to me. I didn't adopt because I needed to have a girl in the house. I adopted because Johanna is ours.

While I'm clearing things up, please don't ever refer to my boys as "my own" children while Johanna is something else. They are all my own children. When people say things like "Wow, you adopted even though you have "your own" children?" or "I want to adopt, but I want to have my own children first," I want to punch them. Johanna is our child as completely as any of my boys. If you want to refer to "my own" children, make sure you mean all four of them, please. I punch like a man.

=)

Yes, Please



Opening night? I'll be there. Possibly dressed as a wench. Argh! Who's with me, maties?

The Power of Hope

You know that feeling? The one that says you're on the brink of something important. Life-changing. Sort of terrifying in that dizzying, stomach in your throat, hands-shaking way? The one that creeps through your veins on stealthy feet, scorching your blood with the one thing you crave like air?

Hope.

Hope that what you want is finally within your grasp. That tomorrow really will be better than today. That your dreams aren't so far out of reach anymore.

Hope.

We burn with it. Breathe with it. Secretly hold it with white-knuckled fingers because without it, we're lost.

I've hoped for many things in my life. Safety. Sanity. A first kiss. Healing. The feeling that I could hold my head high, despite myself. A marriage built to last. Children who know they are loved and cherished.

One child in particular who filled my heart for five long years before I finally looked into her gorgeous dark eyes.

I hoped for her. Longed for her. Ached so much my arms felt empty, my house felt too quiet, my family felt incomplete without her.

And in China I realized the hope I sheltered for this one little girl is a drop in the bucket for the hope needed to turn the tide for so many.

So many.

An estimated 930,000 girls currently live in orphanages across China. Many of them are classified special needs which usually means something easily fixed with surgery but which means they are the outcasts. The lepers of Chinese society. The ones who even as babies are shunned. Mocked in public. Refused love.

It's incomprehensible, but I saw it. Adults crowding around a toddler with a cleft palate, making horrible faces at her, pointing and laughing, saying she deserved her fate. Where's her hope? Where's her chance to unlock everything she was created to be?

It isn't in China.

It isn't just those classified as special needs. As I held Johanna tight and listened to one Chinese person after another tell me she would have a beautiful life, I stared across the alley from our hotel at a whorehouse whose girls all looked fourteen, if that. Those are the girls without family. Without protection. Without a dowry.

Without a future, they must buy their own with the only currency they have: their bodies.

That was Johanna's future without the hope that lit love inside of us for a child we'd never met. I cry when I think of her growing up with no one to notice how much she loves music. How she growls at her brothers and makes them laugh. How she buries her face in my shoulder and rubs against me when she's tired. How she burns with hope of her own now.

I look back at the contradictions in China. The fierce sense of family for all those privileged enough to not be left at bus stops, public parks, or orphanage steps. The blind eye turned toward the plight of those deemed pariahs for medical conditions we'd fix in a blink of an eye. The honor given to marriage. The complete acceptance of babies left in an orphanage until they're old enough to pay their way on their backs. I look, and I know I can't look away.

Hope.

I can't look away from 930,000 orphaned girls who need hope. I want to see more girls light up when their forever families walk into the room. More girls whose love of music brings joy to others. More girls who don't have to hide their faces from a room full of mocking adults, but who see nothing but awe at their beauty reflected in the eyes of those who truly love them.

Bringing Johanna home has done more than change the complexion of our family. She's changed my heart by breaking it in all the right places. She's done the same for her brothers. Her grandparents. Our friends. My co-workers. Those who read my blog. One small beacon of hope, flaring to life in May of 2005, has spread into a blaze from one beautiful little girl's story.

I pray that blaze brings a home to more little girls waiting for someone to fall so in love with them, sight unseen, they'd fight any battle, overcome any obstacle, just to hold them in their arms.

Hope.

It's contagious. Can you feel it?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Randomy Randomness


Today, I thought I'd give you a peek at a totally random collection of stuff I'm working on (or planning to work on). Why? Because I promised I'd do better at blogging. Take what you can get. :)

1. The above pic represents a new story idea that won't leave me alone. Not sure I'm going to leave my current WIP to write it yet, but I'm fleshing it out to see where it goes.

2. Speaking of my current WIP, I haven't touched it since before I left for China, but am diving back in this weekend. I'm writing it in first person present tense, a new technique for me. It's a fun challenge, and I love the results so far.

3. Here's a new favorite song of mine. One that made it onto three playlists for WIPs or story ideas I'm building:




4. I'm tackling the job of revamping my web presence over the next month. I'll start by moving my workshop site to Wordpress where I can have a page for each workshop offered. I think it will provide better user interface for my clients. I'm talking to a web designer about doing the same thing with this blog. If I can export this blog into Wordpress and create the rest of my web site around it, I think that will work best for me. This stuff always makes me a bit nervous since I generally suck at anything requiring the slightest technological prowess, but it's time to expand and organize my presence a bit better.

5. I've started accepting more invitations to do workshops at conferences (both online and in person), so I've decided I should order some professional business cards. Turns out, people come up and ask you for them and they look at you strangely when you pull out a pad of stiletto-shaped sticky notes and scrawl your email across the front. Those aren't the sort of things I think about, generally, but I'm going to be better prepared this year.

6. I'm going to work on getting the cupcake interviews going again. I have a few people already ready to jump into the ring with the Were-llama or Captain Jack. I just need to find time to hunt down other victims guests and then I need to convince my hubby he loves me enough to take an hour a week to turn a simple cupcake into a work of art.

7. I've just realized that in all my Christmas planning, I totally neglected to send my agent a gift. I guess that means I'll be trolling Etsy or Ebay this weekend to find something for her. She'll read this, give me her patented Kitten of Doom glare, and tell me she doesn't need anything from me. But she'll just have to suck it up. I can give doomy glares too.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winner!


And the winner of the Oh Nuts! $25 gift certificate is Heather (Book-Savvy)! Congratulations, Heather! Please give me your email in the comment trail or send me an email (my contact info is on the sidebar) so I can get you your prize.

She Lives!


1. In the wonderful craziness that has been my life for the last month (we've had her for a month now!), blogging has slipped down the list of my priorities. It's become that thing that I THINK about doing often, but rarely actually find the time to do.

2. I'm going to get better at it.

3. Really.

4. Johanna is doing very well. She sleeps well (usually), eats well, and adores playing with her brothers.

5. I've adjusted fairly quickly to adding a baby to my routine, though I still need to perform a few miracles on my schedule so I can wedge in some uninterrupted writing time.

6. The last time I juggled a baby with the rest of my life was ten years ago. The good news is, I'm better equipped emotionally and mentally to do it this time around. The bad news is, every time I have to get up off the floor while holding a twenty-one pound baby, I'm forced to give my knees a pep talk.

7. Something along the lines of "You can do it! Just hold out a little bit longer. NO! No cracking. Especially not in that direction. Hold...hold... what's that? Help? Oh, yes. Here's a wall. I'll just dig my nails into it and haul myself up, shall I? There. That only took three minutes. Nothing to it."

8. Besides the toll on my knees and lower back (Who needs a gym when you can cart around a baby?), I've had to remember SO MUCH STUFF before I can leave the house. Gone are the days when I could just holler at the kids to make sure they weren't naked and then to get their (please God) clothed patoots into the car while I slid into the driver's seat and simply asked if everyone had their seat belts on.

9. Now, I have to make sure Princess J is fully and warmly dressed, has a clean diaper on, has a toy and a blanket for the car, is strapped into her car seat, is then seat belted in, and has a fully stocked diaper bag.

10. The fully stocked diaper bag didn't happen right away.

11. Ten years since I've done this, remember?

12. The first time I took her out on errands, I left the diaper bag at home. I didn't judge myself too harshly. At that point, I was averaging 3 hours of sleep a night. I was lucky I remembered the baby, much less the diaper bag.

13. The second time I took her out, I remembered to bring the diaper bag, but I seriously underestimated the amount of STUFF I should've packed inside. I had a spoon, a bib, a burp cloth, a few wipes, and one diaper. I figured since we were just heading to my restaurant to eat and then heading back home, what more could I need?

14. We sat at a table, ate our lunches, introduced Princess J to the staff on hand (I've been taking her into the restaurant here and there to slowly meet the staff in small doses so she doesn't get overwhelmed with the 125 people dying to meet her and hold her), and had a perfectly lovely time until the end when J's full stomach demanded her body do SOMETHING to make more space for the food she'd just consumed.

15. Her body complied.

16. The diaper could not contain the results.

17. It was Clint's turn to change her. I pulled her from her high chair and handed her over. He instantly refused, saying, and I quote, "There isn't a changing table in the men's restroom."

18. To which Daredevil immediately replied, "Yes, there is. It's in the handicap restroom."

19. Clint called him seven kinds of a traitor, but the damage was done, and he left, gingerly holding Princess J in front of him.

20. The problem, of course, was that while I had a spare diaper, I didn't have any spare clothes. And it's winter. Poor baby couldn't go around in just her diaper.

21. Thankfully, I work at Cracker Barrel, which has a retail store attached to the restaurant.

22. And that's how Princess J came to own a Tennessee Volunteers cheerleader's outfit.

23. Which, for those of you unfamiliar with the Vols, is day-glo orange.

24. I'll apologize to her once she's old enough to realize who's to blame.

25. My general lack of sleep, combined with my general lack of depth perception, is cause for daily entertainment at my job.

26. Just yesterday, I was walking and talking over my shoulder to someone (I KNOW how foolish that is for a girl like me, but I do it anyway), and I turned around and smacked face-first into a metal dessert cabinet.

27. Which isn't as bad as the time I face-planted into the cardboard box outside my office or the time I went to sit on the office chair and found it inexplicably gone, but THIS time I had an audience.

28. I know where each of them lives.

29. *plots evil scheme full of evil to repay them for their insults*

30. And finally, I'd like to share a story with you that is all about numbers. The day I took my parents to the airport, I planned to stop by Clint's studio so his co-workers could meet Princess J. This time, I made sure I had two diapers and two changes of clothes. No way was I going to be unprepared again.

Naturally, J filled her diaper on the way to the airport. Since Clint's studio is just minutes from the airport, I drove there and changed her as soon as we arrived. We hung out while Clint finished his radio show, met a ton of co-workers, and then I left her with him so I could get to work.

When I came home that evening, he glared at me and said, "I have an answer for you. What's the question? The answer is: Two."

I shrugged.

He said, "Two is the number of poopy diapers she had while we were still at the radio station. Next answer: Three."

I said, "Um ... people who noticed?"

"No! Three is the number of wipes I had on hand to deal with the situation."

As a side note, I can change a regular poopy diaper with one wipe. Wipe, fold, wipe, fold, wipe and it's done. A five alarm poopy diaper requires two wipes using my system. My husband feels that somehow the poop's molecular structure might eat through one wipe and come in contact with his fingers. He requires multiple wipes to deal with any sort of bodily function.

I started laughing. "Three was plenty."

"No, three was not plenty. And here's the last answer: One."

But I was way ahead of him and was nearly doubled over laughing, even as I tried to appear properly contrite. "One diaper. That's all you had. I'm sorry!"

It's hard to seem sorry when you're laughing at someone, but I gave it my best shot.

His glare could've peeled the paint off my van. "One. That's right. One."

And so I've learned another lesson. Take one diaper more than you think you could possibly need. Pack extra wipes if there's the remotest chance your hubby might be the lucky diaper-changer. And keep a straight face while apologizing if you expect to be taken seriously.

Off to double-check the diaper bag and dive into my day!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Oh Nuts Contest!



A few years ago, a representative of the Oh Nuts! company contacted me to see if I'd be willing to review a few of their products. My job basically consisted of eating some YUMMY free stuff and discussing it on my blog. Easiest job I ever had.

Now, they've offered me another opportunity, only this time, YOU might get to try some of their YUMMY stuff for free too!

It's simple! Enter the contest (steps to enter are listed below), and you could win a $25 gift certificate to Oh Nuts! just in time to get yourself or someone on your list a delicious holiday gift! (Here's my fave!)

There are three ways to enter: (You get one entry for each!)

1.  Go to the Oh Nuts Christmas gift baskets page or Hanukkah Gift page and leave a comment here with the name and url of your favorite. 

2. Go to the Oh Nuts facebook page and post on the wall the url and name of your favorite Hanukkah Gift OR Christmas Gift. You should also write "I am here via C.J. Redwine's blog" and come back to tell me you did so.

3. Follow @ohnuts on Twitter and tweet:

Win a free Hanukkah Gift from http://bit.ly/6nIsCi Follow @ohnuts & Retweet to enter.

OR

Win a free Christmas Gift from http://bit.ly/dUpizt Follow @ohnuts & Retweet to enter.

Make sure to tell me you tweeted in the comment trail here!

This contest is open until Thursday, December 9th at 8 a.m. Central Time. I will then use random.org to choose a winner. Good luck!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Photo Shoot!

We took the kids to have their pics done tonight, so of course Johanna was tired, solemn, and obstinately refusing to smile often like she usually does. We still got some good shots anyway. Here are a few for you to enjoy.

All the kids together and clockwise from top left the Scientist, Starshine, Daredevil, and Princess J


And Princess J herself. I'm biased, I know, but I think she's gorgeous.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Back To Reality


1. Today, I'm doing my best to pick up my regular schedule and run with it.

2. I'm thankful my parents are still in town to help with that!

3. They leave on Wednesday so by Thursday afternoon, I might be a psychotic mess.

4. Those of you who just snickered and wondered how that would be any different from my usual M.O. can go dine on a breakfast buffet in Nanchang without the benefit of Pepto Bismol.

5. I spent the last week adjusting to being in the Central time zone again, helping Johanna adjust as well, dealing with Johanna's ear infection, spending time with my boys, celebrating Thanksgiving, and celebrating my hubby's birthday. Oh, and I got 95% of our Christmas shopping done over the weekend. Online. Which made me far less homicidal than braving the jam-packed department stores, I assure you.

6. This week, I'm jumping back into my work schedule, homeschooling, house cleaning, socializing with people, blogging, running private workshops for clients, and doing my best to manage all of it with a new baby in tow.

7. *gives the title "Psychotic Mess" the Beady Eye but accepts it might be inevitable*

8. I do still plan to go through our trip photos and post some of my recollections, but haven't yet found the time for it.

9. I heard a song recently that boasted the following line: "My heart was beating in my chest."

10. Where else would it be beating?

11. Honestly, sometimes I worry about the state of songwriting today.

12. One of the most amusing parts of our trip to China was reading the English translations on various signs and products.

13. Our favorite was the sign on a wheelchair ramp leading up to the breakfast buffet at our hotel in Nanchang. The sign said "Ramp carefully."

14. On a side note, 99% of the ramps in China are at 60 degree angles or worse. If you're using a wheelchair there, you'd better be sure you've got excellent brakes.

15. And maybe a seat belt.

16. I received an invitation to run a contest on my blog where the winner will receive a gift certificate to the yummy Oh Nuts online store (whose products I love).

17. The contest seems low maintenance, so perhaps I will.

18. Plus, the company name is completely appropriate for the state of my life at the moment.

19. Stay tuned for more details.

20. Now, I'd love to chat more but I'm already behind (despite being up since 4:45 this morning), so I must race to my next task. Until next time, stay away from stewed intestines and ramp carefully.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Our Traveling Comes To An End


We're home,  now, and busy trying to recover from some serious jet lag. We've worked to get our days and nights straight and Johanna is almost there. She's still waking up ridiculously early, but it's getting better. She cried for the first couple of hours after we got home, but I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that she literally hadn't slept for the past 17 hours since she decided it was much more fun to talk to her fellow passengers than sleep for most of our four plane rides.

Speaking of plane rides, the security in the airports in Guangzhou and Hong Kong make our security look like a walk in the park. We literally went through three identical security checks. By the third one, we were wondering what in the world we could possibly have done to our belongings after walking fifty feet from the last security check. When Clint became frustrated and informed the Communist soldier currently checking our bags that the whole system was stupid (or something along those lines), I quickly told him to go on to the gate and I'd wait while our bags were searched yet again. He left, and the soldier was very polite about the entire experience. It still sucked, but I didn't care. We were getting out of China. That was enough for me.

For some reason, our trip home was full of turbulence. Especially on our 11 hour flight. We had so many bumps and jiggles, even Clint, who never gets motion sickness, was sick. Johanna, however, was fine.

The interesting thing about our plane rides was that the staff on the international flights were incredibly helpful, solicitous, and the plane itself was in beautiful condition and had multiple entertainment options. The U.S. flight from San Fran to Chicago on American Airlines? Not so much. It started with the plane arriving late to the gate due to rainy weather. Nothing American could do to control that, but it was stressful for us because we already had a mere 45 minutes to catch our connecting flight to Nashville. When it was clear we'd be leaving 25 minutes late, Clint approached the woman running the gate and asked about our situation. Could we still make our connecting flight? Would they hold the plane for us for a few minutes if they knew we were on the ground and heading their way? Would American provide a cart to quickly transport us from one gate to the next if the gates were far apart? The woman told Clint no, no, and no. Then she said we could fly standby on another flight...except all the flights were full until 5 pm. Our scheduled flight left at 6:30 a.m. We'd already been traveling for almost 25 hours at that point. If we had to hang around for another 11 hours in an airport, we'd be out of diapers and formula by lunch time.

The woman was unsympathetic.

Then the plane arrived and she announced they would be boarding soon in an efficient manner so as to help those of us with connecting flights make our flights. Clint asked if that meant those traveling with small children would board first to get out of everyone's way, and the woman became irritable. She informed him that we would wait until our group was called and that was final.

Once we boarded the plane and settled into our seats, I realized my tray table latch was broken. Not just broken, but mostly gone. And the magazine holder on the seat back in front of me was broken too. I realized that after I shoved the baby bottle into it, only to have it hit the floor. Then, when I opened the tray table, I realized it listed sideways and was totally useless for balancing anything at all. That left us with trying to hold all our baby stuff in Clint's magazine holder while we used his tray alone for any drinks etc we might have.

The plane finished loading and the stewardess announced that we didn't have any running water so there would be no way to wash our hands in the lavatory. By this point, I was worried about missing our connecting flight, frustrated that American cared so little about helping us with the situation, and disgusted that I'd paid so much for a ticket on a plane that wasn't even well maintained. We took off and when the stewardess came around asking about drinks, we asked if we could just have a small bottle of water to fill our baby bottle. The stewardess said no. Then we asked if she could fill it for us. She said no. So I ended up asking for two cups of water and filling it myself. I was beyond frustrated at this point.

Later in the flight, I took Johanna to the one working lavatory (one had a sign on it stating it was out of order.) to change her diaper, only to realize they didn't have a changing table. Each of the international flights we'd been on had a changing table in the lavatory, so I'd expected our domestic flight to have the same. Not only didn't it have a changing table, the entire bathroom was dirty. I ended up standing her over the toilet and trying to change her diaper while working to help her stay upright. When I finally finished, I left the lavatory and informed the stewardess that the bathroom needed some attention. She told me she'd take it under consideration.

As we neared Chicago, we learned we had fifteen minutes to get to our next gate. And that our gate was halfway around the other side of the airport. When we asked the stewardess if perhaps those of us with such a short window of time could de-plane first, we were told no. By that time, many of the passengers around us realized our situation and were gracious enough to stay seated once we landed and let us get out ahead of them. I'm grateful they were so considerate! We ran across the airport, only to realize the stewardess had told us the wrong gate. Thankfully, we found the right gate in time and the lady running the American Eagle connecting flight was nothing but gracious, kind, and solicitous. She assured us she wouldn't have left us behind since we already had boarding passes. I wish her brand of customer service would be taught to the American Airlines personnel who did nothing but treat us like we were troublesome, demanding inconveniences instead of customers who'd paid full price for that flight. I won't ever be flying on American again.

Anyway, we're home now and so grateful to be back! Johanna loves her brothers and enjoys playing with them. She's still a bit clingy to me, but every day she returns a bit more to her bold, outgoing, friendly self. I'm looking forward to a fun Thanksgiving!

I still plan to blog about our experiences in Hong Kong, Nanchang, and Guangzhou using some of the over 600 pics we took. I just need a bit more time to rest and feel like my brain is fully functioning again.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Heading Home


It's been a full week here in Guangzhou. We filled out Johanna's Visa paperwork, visited the American Consulate to take the oath of citizenship on her behalf, went to the local pearl market, visited a mall, took her to a clinic for her mandatory physical examination where we were given antibiotics to treat her continuing chest cold/bronchitis, visited the zoo, and did some souvenir shopping.

About three days ago, we were done. Not done with all the tasks we needed to complete, but DONE with being away from home. We wanted to see our boys, sleep on a bed that didn't feel like a park bench, and eat some good American food. Pretty much every couple in our group felt the same way. This is a long trip, in more ways than one.

Through it all, Johanna remains cheerful and easygoing. She's definitely become Daddy's little girl! She lights up when he walks into the room and starts performing tricks to make him laugh. I'm okay with it because when she's tired or needs to cuddle, she turns to me. :)

This is Friday morning for us, and we're spending the day packing up and getting ready to leave. We head to the airport at 7 pm tonight to catch a flight to Hong Kong. From there, we catch an eleven+ hour flight to San Francisco, switch planes and head to Chicago, switch planes one more time and head to Nashville. It's going to be a long, exhausting trip, but we can't wait to get started! We miss our boys and want to have the entire family together.

Plus, we're excited to sleep in our own bed!

Next week, I'll go through the 600 pictures we took and begin posting about some of the highlights in Hong Kong, Nanchung, and Guangzhou. For now, though, I need to pack and give Johanna her medicine (she's improved greatly!), and make sure I don't leave something essential behind in Guangzhou.

Home soon. I can hardly wait.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day One in Guangzhou


I didn't realize how much I missed Western food until this morning. We're staying at the White Swan hotel, a beautiful five star hotel that smells normal (the hotel in Nanchang smelled off to our Western noses). A breakfast buffet is included in our room charge. We had a breakfast buffet in Nanchang as well, but it was always a challenge to find anything appetizing to eat. There were intestines, stewed fish, "preserved" hard boiled eggs (eggs that were 4 months old), rice, noodles, mustard buns, and various other concoctions that just didn't appeal to me. Today, I recognized almost everything on the buffet and it tasted GREAT. I felt revived as I ate crisp bacon, an omelet that wasn't drenched in soy sauce like the one in Nanchang, French toast made the way I would make it, and real orange juice (the juice in Nanchang tasted like weak Tang).
 
I want to make it clear that I'm not complaining about the food in Nanchang. It was plentiful. And it was appealing to most of the hotel's clientele. It just wasn't appealing to me. :)
 
I felt like I could conquer anything with a decent breakfast under my belt. The only exception to that attitude is the bed we sleep on. The Chinese feel strongly that a firm bed is best for the back. I agree. The problem here at the White Swan is that my definition of firm is "somewhat unyielding" and their definition of firm is "feels like a slab of concrete."
 
I do not exaggerate.
 
When we first walked into the room, I plopped down on the bed, expecting it to give like a normal bed. Instead, it was like plopping onto a park bench. My spine did not thank me for the experience. I tried to sleep well, but eventually ran out of comfortable positions and got up seriously early instead.
 
We spent the day wandering around the shops in the White Swan area. I was delighted to discover a Starbucks! Never has a mocha frapp tasted so good. Clint, who doesn't like coffee, got a chocolate frapp and let Johanna have a sip. No sooner did he take the cup away and place it on the table, but she was literally trying to climb her way out of her stroller so she could steal the rest of his drink. We may have a little chocolate addict on our hands already. My mother will be so proud.
 
We purchased a few souvenirs for the boys, and then bought Johanna a pair of squeaky shoes, a tradition here in China for making the children interested in learning how to walk, and then purchased several traditional Chinese dresses for her in her current size and several sizes above. The rest of the day was devoted to playing with her until dinner. Our group had dinner together at a local Thai place. Dining out in Guangzhou is interesting because you don't tip the waiters. The tip is already added to the bill and the service definitely reflects that. The servers barely pay attention to you and the food comes out as it's ready. Regardless of whether the rest of the table's food is ready. Which means the meals slowly trickle to the table and the last person might get their meal after the first couple of people are already done eating. It's strange to us, but we just roll with whatever we find here.
 
We took pictures of Johanna (of course!) playing around, and wearing the skirt from one of her new traditional dresses. Be prepared to die from the Cute.








  

Leaving Nanchang

Yesterday was our last day in Nanchang. We boarded a flight for Guangzhou mid-morning and began the second half of our stay here in China. Johanna did very well on the flight. She took a bottle and fell asleep just after take-off, slept most of the flight, and then woke up to charm the surrounding passengers with her consistent attempts to fling herself backwards into the aisle so she could see everyone behind her. Trying to hold on to her when she's awake is like trying to wrestle a twenty pound wet fish.

A few things really stood out to me about our time in Nanchang (pronounced Nan-chung), so I thought I'd share them with you. First, of course, it will always have a special place in our hearts because it's where we first met Johanna. I'll always treasure the hours we spent in our hotel room playing, sleeping, and bonding with each other.



I'm also grateful to our agency's staff. Evelyn and Karen were available to us 24-7 and clearly loved our babies. It was sad to leave them, even though I wanted badly to get to Guangzhou.



Nanchang is city fairly free of Western influence. Nothing is in English, old customs are still followed, the food is mostly unrecognizable to us, and because they rarely see Americans, we were literally mobbed every time we went outside the hotel. It was an interesting experience. Sometimes, the people crowded too close, reaching out to touch Johanna and making it impossible for us to move forward. But mostly, they just wanted to understand what we were doing with a Chinese baby (Evelyn and Karen provided us with a card to take with us everywhere that explained in Cantonese that we were adopting an orphan and bringing her to America.). Once they understood we were adopting her, we got many thumbs up signals and smiles as the people kept repeating the Cantonese phrase for "she's going to have a beautiful life."

One of the "Western" things we really missed in Nanchang was the concept of cold drinks. No one drinks anything cold here. The soda is room temperature (and the two soda options are Coke and Sprite. No diet.), and the Chinese prefer to drink their water hot. I was excited to hear that the ice in the White Swan hotel in Guangzhou is safe for us. I really can't wait to have cold drinks every day!

Nanchang is also a place where old world beauty and recent poverty live hand in hand. We saw a royal palace, a pristine Buddhist temple, and some lovely artwork. We also saw (usually side by side with the beauty) dilapidated apartment buildings with laundry hanging from racks at every window, trash littering every alley, enough air pollution to make L.A. look like an environmentalist's dream, and people curing meat by hanging it over nearby telephone wires.





We also had a strange experience in The People's Park. It's a gorgeous park with a playground, exercise equipment (like you'd see in a gym), footpaths, statues, a river, some carnival rides, some places for the Chinese to do Tai Chi or traditional dance, and a life-size checker board where the checkers each weighed about 50 lbs. Right after we arrived, a Chinese man in a red jacket with a professional looking camera around his neck began snapping pictures of our group. We were used to the Chinese wanting to take pictures of the strange Americans by that point, but then I noticed that he wasn't actually taking pictures of our entire group (9 families total). He was taking pictures of Johanna.

After the fourth shot, I figured he had enough and walked away. He followed. For the next twenty minutes, he followed us everywhere and consistently took pictures of Johanna only. Other moms began crowding around my stroller to block her from his view. He got creative and took to the high ground. Then, as Clint and I stood beside the stroller for another couple to snap our picture, he came up behind the couple and literally rested his camera on our friend's shoulder so he could take our picture too.

I'd had enough. It's one thing to take a few pics of a pretty baby, but who needs twenty shots of a stranger's child? It felt intrusive and unsettling. I told Evelyn about him and she caught him taking yet another picture of Johanna. Turns out, Evelyn can be a scary girl when she needs to be. I'm not sure what she said, exactly, but it sounded a lot like "Bother this baby again and I'm going to open up a can of funky, Nanchung style." He left us alone after that. Clint told Evelyn if Johanna ends up on an advertisement to please send us a picture of it. :)

That was a memorable experience (and gave me new sympathy for celebrities trying to protect their children from insistent picture-taking paparazzi), but above all, what stands out to me the most about Nanchang is the traffic. It's insane. If you're from a big city and you think you know what I mean when I say "insane," you don't. I've never seen anything like it. The freeway was clogged with buses, cars, people on scooters, on bikes, ON FOOT. No one payed any attention to pesky details like lanes. In fact, I don't know why the city bothered to paint lines on the road at all since everyone ignores them and instead, drives (or walks) through gaps in the existing traffic. Once we got to the city itself, I realized what I saw on the freeway was tame in comparison. I decided they didn't need traffic lights any more than they needed lanes because no one paid attention. The streets and intersections are a maze of people walking, riding bikes, riding scooters, driving cars, or driving buses. Everyone just leaps through whatever gap is available. If you have to turn across traffic, you just start turning and slowly work your way through everyone else. People drive in the opposing lanes like a sick game of chicken. It's INSANE. I soon learned the rule of the road is that whoever is bigger has the right of way. Since we were in a bus everywhere we went, that meant we did a lot of laying on the horn (horns beep incessantly there) and driving on the wrong side of the road while smaller buses, vans, cars, and people had to scramble out of our way because we were bigger.

You almost have to see it to believe it.

Nanchang was an experience. I'm sure Guangzhou will be an experience in its own way too. Six more days and we get to leave for home!


 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Trip To Johanna's Roots


Today was a hard day, in a good way. We'd requested a trip to Fengcheng, the city of Johanna's abandonment and orphanage. Our agency reps (who are FABULOUS and who make sure we are well taken care of every step of the way) took all 8 Fengcheng families on a 1 1/2 hour (one way) bus ride to the city this morning.

The Fengcheng orphanage director takes pride in his job and has kept meticulous records for us. One of the things the director is required to do is run an ad with a baby's picture and where the baby was found because parents have one chance to reconsider their decision and reclaim their child. The director saved that ad for each of the babies from the Fengcheng orphanage, so we not only have a newborn picture of Johanna (Yes, she's always had those cheeks!), we know exactly where she was abandoned.

Today, our agency reps took us on a brief tour of the city, stopping at each point of abandonment so the parents could see it, take pictures, and get any information about that location our reps were able to provide. We were last on the list of stops. Other babies were found on hospital steps, in front of a motorcycle shop, at the entrance of a radio/tv company, and in the middle of a busy city park. Our ad simply said she'd been found at the gate of SWL. We had no idea what SWL stood for. The bus pulled up in front of a clean, fancy (by Fengcheng standards) building and our reps called our names. We left the bus, walked to the gate, and the rep pointed behind the fancy building to a clean, brightly painted building with an orange roof and said, "That's the orphanage."

It took us a second before we understood that Johanna's parents had loved her enough to leave her in the one place she was SURE to be found and taken care of. The entrance to the Civil Affairs Building, which is also the entrance to the orphanage. They wanted her to be safe. They cared enough to want to give her a chance for a life they were unable to provide for her.

I cried.

The gate in front of the Civil Affairs Building and orphanage

The orphanage

I don't know her biological parents' story, but I know China's story. The one child policy makes it nearly impossible for families to have more than one child. The only way a family can have a second child is to either pay a hefty fine (equivalent to an entire month's income in a country where both parents must work just to barely make it) or prove that both mother and father are an only child and therefore need an extra child to help take care of the grandparents when they become unable to take care of themselves.

In China, boys are valued more than girls because they ensure the continuation of the family name and because when a girl marries, she leaves her parents and moves in with her husband's family, leaving no one to look after her family in their old age. Many people choose abortions rather than abandonment. Some try to keep the second child hidden for weeks or months before giving in to what feels like the inevitable and abandoning the child. Some even manage to financially pay for the second child for a few years before the mounting school costs combined with the yearly fine become overwhelming, forcing an abandonment. Those who live in the country (Fengcheng is in the country) are much poorer than those who live in the city. Most could never pay the fees.

I don't know what Johanna's parents faced. Did they already have a child and were unable to pay for a second? Were they worried about their uncertain future and felt convinced they needed a boy? I'll never know, but today I learned this: they loved her. They wanted her to be safe, and they did everything they could to make sure that happened. I just wish I could send them a message letting them know the gift of life they gave her is something we will treasure and protect and that she will have the brightest future we're able to give her. I'm grateful to them. Grateful for her. And grateful that one day I can show Johanna her roots and tell her, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that her biological parents loved her.





Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Johanna: Day Two (Plus Photos!)


Johanna continues to thrive with us. She's a little social butterfly who has two speeds: Full Speed Ahead and Sleep. Our only difficulty at the moment is that she really doesn't sleep well. She wakes about every hour and a half all through the night and that means I wake up too. I'm pretty exhausted now, but we'll figure it out!

She now shows a clear preference for us over the Chinese people who come up to talk to her, even though they speak her birth language. She turns from them and burrows into us for comfort. We hold on to those moments!

We've also discovered she has a special skill. She's a champion noodle sucker. It's hilarious. We'll place the tip of a long noodle in her mouth and she'll just suck the whole thing up in no time flat. She's going to give her brothers a run for their money on spaghetti nights!

Here are a few pictures taken of her over the last day. Isn't she just precious?








   

Monday, November 8, 2010

Our First Day With Johanna


We've had Johanna for just over 24 hours now, and things are going really well. I'll have more pics to post soon, but in the whirlwind of the last day, this is the best I can do for now.
 
Johanna cried for the first 2-3 hours after we received her. She'd had a tough day. She'd been taken from her foster mother, driven three hours in a bus to a strange city, and then handed over to two strangers who couldn't even speak her language. It was a rough day for her.
 
Once she started crying, she refused to go to Clint. In fact, if she even SAW him in the room, she'd start crying harder. I held her on my lap, did my best to comfort her, and had our first breakthrough when I offered her the new toy giraffe we'd brought with us. She'd refused her rattle, her soft blanket, and her teething ring, but she grabbed onto the giraffe and began chewing on his ears. A few minutes later, I was able to give her a bottle and she fell asleep in my arms.
 
The sleep helped. When she awoke, she was better able to handle the changes in her life. She still didn't think highly of Clint, but she tolerated him and stopped crying. She woke up three times last night, hungry, and on the last time Clint fed her a bottle and she decided he was okay after all.
 
Today, she was a little doll. She's the most outgoing, talkative baby in our travel group (nine babies total). She bounces, smiles, and does her level best to steal Cheerios and toys from any other baby within reach. And the girl can EAT. It's honestly unbelievable how much food she put away today. I'm hoping all that solid food will help her sleep through the night tonight. I'd really like to sleep through the night myself! I decided her penchant for snagging what she wants and eating us out of house and home will prepare her well for life with her three big brothers. Clint decided she talks constantly because she takes after me.
 
I may have had a thing or two to say about that.
 
We spent the morning going to several government offices and in the end, we were handed a beautiful certificate in a decorative red case and told our adoption was now officially permanent. She's ours forever. :) We still have to stay another five days here in Nanchang waiting for her passport and visa to come in, and then we fly to Guanzghou for a week while we meet at the American consulate and immigration and swear her in as a U.S. citizen.
 
She smiles at us often now, and loves playing with us. And she turns to us for comfort. While she interacts with others, she clearly prefers us and recognizes us as her primary caregivers. It's amazing that she's come so far in just one day.
 
Tomorrow, I'll take some pictures of her and send them to Mandy to post on the blog. She really is adorable (Yes, I'm biased, but trust me, she is.) and we're absolutely head-over-heels in love with her. I looked at her today as she bounced happily on my lap and knew that every single second of our five year wait was worth it just to hold her now.



  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Journey to China: Part 2 1/2

Hi, everyone! This is CJ's friend MG, blogging on her behalf while she's without blogger access in China. She'll be sending me updates to post for you for the next few days.

At 2:00am Eastern, CJ arrived in Nanchang and was only two hours away from holding Johanna for the first time. The full update regarding their meeting is coming soon, so stay tuned!

 

 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Journey to China, Part 2: Flight To Hong Kong

We sat at our gate, waiting for our flight, watching the chairs fill with people. Several families arrived, and I realized that for the first time in years, the sight of a little Chinese girl no longer sent a shaft of pain through me. Instead, I smiled and tapped my foot impatiently because I knew it was only a matter of days before I would have MY little Chinese girl.


The flight was full. Which wasn’t really a problem, except that the woman sitting next to Clint in our little row of three seats had the stomach flu. She got up shortly after she sat down and announced to us she needed to get to a bathroom so she could throw up.


We were hoping maybe she’d decide not to fly, but she stayed on the plane. Now, we’re hoping maybe it wasn’t the flu and therefore isn’t contagious. The last thing we need is to be sick as we receive our baby.


Most people slept a lot on this flight. I couldn’t. I watched a movie. Read a little. Took some cat naps but couldn’t ever get comfortable. Besides, there’s a constant low-level stream of adrenalin running through me at the thought that SOON, we’ll hold Johanna.


I have no idea what time it is. We boarded the plane at 11:05 p.m. Pacific time on November 3rd and are landing in Hong Kong at 4:45 a.m. Hong Kong time (probably not the official name for it, but that’s the best I can do right now) on Friday, November 5th. It’s weird to think that Thursday, November 4th, 2010 will never exist for us. A lost day. A skipped day.


The writer in me wants to make a story out of that.


The mom in me is excited to have skipped an entire day forward toward the best day of this year: November 7th. Gotcha Day.


I can hardly wait.

Journey To China, Part 1: Flight To Los Angeles

Blog post written late Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 but sadly not posted until now due to lack of internet connection.


I must look like a threat. A very loud, red-headed threat. Why? Because while everyone else flew through security in Nashville, I was stopped for a pat down. And then? When we went through security at LAX to enter the international airport? I was subjected to a MUCH MORE THOROUGH pat down. The kind where I was offered the choice of a private room. The kind where the term “pat down” is actually a euphemism for “I’m going to slide my hands down your waistband to search for contraband.”

It was awesome.

I passed, of course, because the only contraband I’m packing around my waist is the evidence of my lemon bar addiction.

During the flight to L.A., we watched Dinner for Schmucks. It was a waste of two hours (and this is from the girl who loves Steve Carrell), but it didn’t matter. I was just glad to have the time pass quickly. I’m anxious to get to Hong Kong.

Because we had such a long lay-over in L.A., Clint insisted we go to the Holy Grail of all hamburger eateries: In N Out Burger. Since In N Out Burger is akin to a religious experience for my husband, he knew the location of the closest restaurant. We took a free parking shuttle to a lot next to the restaurant, walked over, and laughed as Clint filmed the restaurant, the menu, the sign, and his food. One day, Johanna will understand her daddy’s obsession and learn to laugh and roll her eyes like I do.

I still contend their fries are nasty.

I can type that here without worrying about incurring the wrath of my husband since he isn’t currently reading over my shoulder.

Now, we’re sitting at our gate, waiting for another hour and a half before we can board the plane, and I’m trying not to think about the fact that I’m about to strap myself into a HUGE metal can and fly across an ocean, a scenario which pits my fear of drowning against my fear of flying and turns me into something resembling a neurotic fool.

Which perhaps explains why I was searched.

One and a half hours. And I’ll be finally, irrevocably, on my way to my daughter’s country. I can’t wait.


P. S. I just let Clint read this and I would like to announce that even though I was an excellent wife who went to In N Out with him, even though I hate their food, my hubby felt the need to tell me that the coming flight is 15 ½ hours and that 15 hours and 24 minutes of that will be OVER AN OCEAN. *nearly throws up* *swallows a Valium*

P.P.S. His life insurance policy is totally up to date.

P.P.P.S. For details on where to send flowers for his memorial service, stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Butterflies


We're boarding a plane at 3:45 this afternoon and beginning the first leg of our trip to China. We fly to Los Angeles, where we have a five hour lay-over, and then board a plane around midnight bound for Hong Kong. 

I'm almost packed.

I spent last night combing through piles of baby clothes, trying to decide exactly what size I should bring. What colors. If I needed short sleeves, long sleeves, pants or dresses. Shoes? Or just socks? This blanket or that blanket? Or maybe both?

It's not like I can't buy something there if I've left out anything important, but I don't want to leave out anything important. I want to have everything my daughter needs from the moment she's placed in our arms. I want to have prepared well for her.

There are so many unknowns.

How will my boys do when we're gone? I know my parents will take good care of them, but I already miss them and I'm not even leaving for the airport for another five hours.

What if she's inconsolable for days? We've been told to expect that, and I think I'm ready. But how can I know until I'm actually there?

What if we can't sleep well? What if the food doesn't agree with us? What if, what if, what if....

But for all the unknowns, there's one shining certainty: Our daughter was always meant for our family, and we're finally going to be united. The rest of it pales beside the joy I feel at the prospect of finally seeing her face to face.

For now, I'm focused on details. Getting my jeans dry so I can pack them. Not forgetting deodorant. Spending precious moments with my boys before I say goodbye.

Wondering why I didn't tell my doctor to give me Valium for the dreaded plane ride. Or Vicodin. Or Vodka. Something with a V. (Have I mentioned how much I hate to fly?)

I have butterflies in my stomach, but I don't mind. I don't even mind strapping myself into a tin can propelled by gallons of flammable fuel so I can be forcibly hurtled through the sky because after five years of waiting, I'm finally going to hold my daughter.

I can hardly wait.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Update on China



I wanted to take a minute to update you on our adoption journey as we get ready to leave for China in less than a week.  First, I'd like to extend our thanks and gratitude to all who donated to help us finish our fundraising. We now have all the money we need to complete our trip! You are all amazing and I can't wait until Johanna is old enough to read over the blog post and comments on her fundraiser and see how many people reached out to help bring her home.

Second, I'd like to thank those of you who've had experience with adopting from China and who reached out to us with emails full of wonderful advice and encouragement. We'll definitely be better prepared as a result!

Next, a big thank you to those who've sent baby gifts. I'm unbelievably touched that someone who's never met me would make something beautiful for my little girl. What a warm and generous online community I have.

Finally, friends of ours who traveled last year were unable to access Blogger from China. I'm not sure if that's still the case, but I've lined up a friend to post any blog entries I email to her, so you will receive updates either way.

Thank you for being a part of Johanna's journey home!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wasabi!!

1. Just dropping by for a few minutes to tell you that:

2. We leave for China one week from today.

3. I currently have a sinus infection.

4. The pretty green stuff on the side of a box of sushi is not, I repeat NOT guacamole.

5. Which means eating a mouthful of it by itself is not a good idea.

6. Even if it is pretty.

7. Lesson learned by this first-time sushi-eater.

8. On the plus side, wasabi does make for an excellent sinus douche.

9. So if my supply of antibiotics, prescription nose spray and prescription decongestant don't do the trick, I'll be carrying some wasabi with me on the plane.

10. I'll be blogging throughout our entire 2 1/2 weeks in China for anyone who wants to follow our journey.

11. I can't promise there won't be a few international incidents interesting things to discuss.

12. Yes, we're taking a camera.

13. No, I won't let my hubby take a picture of me seconds after I've foolishly filled my mouth with the oh-so-pretty but holy-crap-spicy wasabi.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Glamour For The Win!



1. I don't even want to look at the date of my last blog post. I think it's probably been more than a week.

2. Naturally, my reasons fabulously illustrate the glamorous life I lead.

3. I was busy invading a little-known dictatorship off the coast of South Africa, subduing entire armies with nothing more than some ostriches, a pair of smoking hot stilettos, and my firm belief that Pluto is still a planet.

4. When I wasn't wreaking havoc and causing nightmares for totally sucky dictators, I was working overtime, dealing with a bout of the stomach flu, trying to get everything in order so I can leave my kids behind while we travel for two weeks in China, and wondering how long I could let the laundry go before going nekkid in public was our only option.

5. You see? The glamour, it BURNS.

6. My oldest son informed me yesterday that he doesn't go for super model looks like most boys do. He wants brains.

7. He then hastened to add that while he didn't want super model looks, he didn't want them to be horrifying either.

8. I conceded his point.

9. The other day, it rained. Hard.

10. Why is this newsworthy?

11. It isn't.

12. But the fact that I'd left the passenger window down in my van while I was at work IS newsworthy.

13. Especially because Clint was picking me up from work that night for a date night at a sneak peek of the movie Red. (Which was very entertaining, btw.)

14. And my date night clothes were laid  neatly across the passenger seat.

15. To give you some idea of HOW MUCH water poured through that open window and into the van, I had a pair of jeans, a shirt, and a hoodie laid out on top of each other and the water had soaked through all of them and into the seat of the van. And when I picked up my jeans? They were dripping.

16. The word you're looking for is awesome.

17. Which we all know is a euphemism for "Holy Cow, how could I have been so stupid?"

18. Which really isn't a useful question at all because I'm the girl who constantly has a dead cell phone, nearly runs out of gas on a regular basis, and often drives right past her destination because she's too busy plotting books in her head.

19. My dear hubby, who is used to me and long ago decided he loved me anyway, gave me a LOOK, found the grace to laugh, and then drove me to Walmart so I could race in, grab a new outfit, change in the restroom, and race out.

20. And just to illustrate how far inside my head I live, I spent the entire time I was changing clothes in the bathroom pretending I was a spy doing a quick costume change to evade the minions of the totally sucky dictatorship I was planning to topple with my ostrich army, my stilettos, and my love of Pluto.

21. If you just laughed, started to roll your eyes, and then paused as the OMG AWESOME idea of having a kick-butt heroine forced to do a quick change in a Walmart restroom while South African warlords prowled the aisles outside hoping to kill her, you might be a writer.

22. If you just rolled your eyes and sent your silent sympathies to my hubby, well, you probably always shut your windows and remember to put gas in your tank.

23. I like the think I live on the edge. Of something. Probably the edge of insanity, but hey, whatever works.

24. To cap off my fantastically logical post on how glamorous my life really is, my youngest son gave me a hug last night, looked at me, and said "Wow! Your armpits smell like cherries."

25. Don't be jealous.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Word Of The Week

Horror: (noun) The condition one finds oneself in when one realizes the song stuck in one's head for the last hour belongs to that memoir-writing teen sensation Justin Bieber.

Bonus Word:

Mortification: (noun) The result of admitting in public one has unwittingly memorized part of a Justin Bieber song.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More Pics Of Johanna!

Our adoption packet arrived on Friday and with it were two additional pictures of Johanna!


Isn't she precious? We went to Target over the weekend and registered for what we need. Between now and leaving for China, we have two baby showers in the works. And naturally, I spent an inordinate amount of time combing the internet for gorgeous little baby girl shoes. ;)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Our Baby Girl

We just got the email from our adoption agency!! Here is our first picture of our precious Johanna Faith.



She's 6 1/2 months old and TINY!! :) For those who've asked, we only need about $2000 more to safely travel and bring her home and we have about 5 weeks left to raise it.

We're overjoyed right now!



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Week In The Life Of

 I haven't blogged in over a week, and I have excellent pretty good reasons for that lapse.

1. After my post on SPEAKing Out, I felt a bit raw emotionally and was too drained to really think of anything else to say for a while.

2. Even though there were some highly interesting blog-worthy things that happened last week.

3. Such as the fact that I went with my family to our neighborhood cookout, sat near a petting zoo, and watched in absolute horror as a goat kept trying to CLIMB OVER THE FENCE.

4. No doubt he heard the siren call of his Zombie Goat brethren and was attempting to join them.

5. Or he fancied the chicken sandwich on my plate.



6. Shockingly enough, he wasn't the most disturbing animal in the menagerie.

7. There was an emo llama. Which was more amusing than disturbing.



8. But worse than the Goat With Marauding Tendencies, the Emo Llama, the pig, the sheep, and the deceptively cute little bunnies, was the duck.


Not actual petting zoo duck. Second cousin fourth removed on his mother's side.

9. And not one of Awesome Agent Holly's Revision Duck Mafia. No. THIS was the kind of duck hired to clean up after the Revision Duck Mafia because only a duck like this one would think a job like that reeked of awesomesauce.

10. This duck made it a habit to hang around the business end of the llama, the sheep, and the goat, waiting for the inevitable.

11. And when the inevitable hit the ground in pellets and piles of steaming nastiness, HE ATE IT.

12. Once, while he was eating it, the llama PEED ON HIS BACK.

13. If anyone ever tries again to convince me that barnyard animals make excellent housepets (I've been told pigs, goats, bunnies, and ducks all qualify), I will simply recall the spectacle of a duck eating a pile of goat poop while being peed on by a llama IN FRONT OF INNOCENT CHILDREN and will find within myself the fortitude to refuse such a ridiculous idea.

14. When I wasn't watching the occupants of a traveling petting zoo and losing my appetite in the process, I was working.

15. A lot.

16. I'll be working overtime every week from now until into November.

17. Which means I'll have to try extra hard to blog on time. And my sentences may or may not be coherent.

18. Read at your own risk.

19. One of the things I did at work this past week was run a two hour meeting for my skill trainers team. I'd spent hours planning this. The theme was Teamwork and I put together a tailgate party in the back parking lot, complete with team building games, a table full of food, prizes, and recognition. It was two hours packed with fun, laughter, healthy competition, and amazing brainstorming.

20. Too bad I forgot to zip up my pants.

21. Yes, dear reader, I ran that entire two hour meeting with my barn door wide open.

22. And NO ONE TOLD ME until the meeting was over.

23. Bunch of traitors.

24. When I wasn't parading around in front of my team with some extra ventilation in my pants, I was watching our adoption process pick up speed.

25. Child matches from China were mailed earlier this week which means we'll get to see our daughter's picture FINALLY by the end of this week!!

26. Yes, I'll post it on the blog.

27. We have a ton of work to do between now and when we leave for China, but it feels like our five year pregnancy has finally reached the point where we've gone into labor.

28. The fact that the labor will last for two more months is nothing.

29. I can't wait to share her with you.

30. And finally, during my week long hiatus from blogging, my grandma had her 89th birthday.

31. She was pretty convinced we were lying to her about her age.

32. Daredevil talked to her on the phone, asked how old she was now, and when he heard her say 89, he said the following: "Wow! You're like a turtle, or something."

33. She thinks his lack-of-filter responses are funny.

34. I'm grateful.

35. Beware of ducks.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

SPEAKing Out

Honestly, this is a post I never dreamed I'd write. My hands are shaky, and I'm frantically thinking through all the possible consequences and ramifications of telling my story even as I type. Not consequences for me, but for my family who may not appreciate having me peel back the cover on my childhood and invite the world to take a look.

But I think I need to. Because there's a book out there being called soft pornography and filth by a man who wants it yanked from high school libraries and curriculum in the name of Christianity, and I have to disagree.

The book is SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson and it tells the story of a high school girl who is raped and chooses to remain silent about the horrible thing that has happened to her. The man objecting to the book is Dr. Wesley Scroggins, a resident of Rebulic, Missouri who published an opinion letter in the newspaper decrying several things included in the public school education in Republic. After calling the book soft-pornography, he says,
"This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team."
He goes on to object to the two rape scenes included in the book. I can understand his point. Rape is a tough thing to think about. A tough thing to imagine happening to someone you care about. To you.

But here's the truth. Rape happens to girls in high school and younger all the time. Ignoring it, silencing it, refusing to look at the terrible consequences doesn't make it go away. I'm a Christian and am passionate about my faith, and I cringe when I see things like this because there's a difference between being outspoken about SINS, like rape, and being outspoken against something that might help the victims.

And this is the part of this post that has me feeling like maybe throwing up would be preferable to typing, but I'm a big girl now and it's time to exercise my right to speak.

I'm a rape survivor. I can't remember the first time I was raped because most of my childhood from before my eleventh birthday is now a murky, shadowy haze of submerged memories I've long since stopped trying to access. The memories I do have of the abuse I consistently suffered at the hands of my grandfather are bad enough. I don't need the ones my brain decided were too difficult to hang on to.

We moved from Oregon to California soon after the truth of my grandfather's actions came to light. Before that, though, he confessed to the cops, I went before a Grand Jury, and the consequence was that he was given six months of state-paid-for counseling. That's six more than they gave to me. His reputation remained intact. His marriage remained intact. His job remained intact.

I, on the other hand, was absolutely shattered. And I'd just learned, once again, that he had the power. And that no one would come to my aid and make it right.

Junior High was hell. I know it's hell for most kids, but please trust me when I say that it was HELL for me. I didn't know how to be a normal girl. I didn't know how to protect myself from threats I felt sure where all around me. I had this horrible, dark emptiness inside me that felt like it would swallow me whole if I ever looked it in the eye, so I didn't. I threw myself into activities, frantically staying as busy as possible. When I wasn't busy, I was lying on my bed, curled in on myself, trying to understand what had happened to me. Trying to figure out how to feel normal, or at least how to act like it. Because the secret shame I carried with me was a weight so heavy, I always felt one tiny step away from sinking beneath it forever.

I had no friends. Really. The few relationships I managed to make dissolved within months because I was different. Secretive. Still bleeding and junior high is an arena full of sharks. I didn't know how to make small talk. I didn't know how to talk about boys. I didn't know how to be anything other than damaged and broken. And I never saw anyone else struggling like me.

Once, when I scraped up the courage to share my story with someone, I was quickly the topic of gossip. Most of which involved speculation that I was a slut and dissected what I wore each day to confirm their opinion that if I was going to wear jeans that tight, I must have asked for it. See? Sharks with blood in the water.

When I went to high school, I made the decision to hide who I really was. I stuffed the pain, the broken pieces, into that dark, icy emptiness inside me and put on a show. I was the funny girl. The understanding girl. The one who would listen to your problems all day, as long as you didn't ask me to share any of mine. I went as deep as boys and school stress with my friends and no deeper. Because I'd learned. Rape was a four letter word that made me an outcast. A pariah. A leper with a scarlet A branded to my chest for something people seemed to think I must have brought upon myself.

By the time I was a sophomore, I was involved in an abusive relationship with a boy who got angry with me over imagined infractions, threatened rape as a consequence for things like not answering the phone within two rings when he called, and shoved me onto the ground if I dared question his behavior. I took it all because I thought I deserved nothing better. I hid everything he did from my friends too, because it was important to be normal. Too look unbroken even as I was convinced something like that would never be true for me. A few months into that relationship, I stopped eating more than a piece of toast and a juice box each day. I took diet pills like they were candy. I smiled, laughed, joined every extra curriculum activity I could, placated my boyfriend, took more pills, smiled some more, and at every cost, avoided telling most people I was the victim of rape.

In fact, I stopped thinking of myself as a victim. I don't know what word I would give it, but it was a combination of loathing and despair. Maybe I had brought it on myself. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe the way my family had imploded could've been avoided if I'd been smarter, more able to say no, better able to handle the secret on my own rather than let the truth slip back when I was ten.

As I told you, I'm a Christian. I was a Christian then too. And the few youth leaders who encountered me then didn't know what to do with me. Rape wasn't something you talked about. A girl who would sacrifice her body to her boyfriend to avoid his anger because she didn't think her body had any worth anymore wasn't a subject anyone knew what to do with. I felt like I was constantly out of step with the world around me and after a while, I was convinced I would never figure out how to make it right.

Near the end of  my senior year, I finally broke it off with my abusive boyfriend. He began stalking me, waiting for me outside my workplace, driving up to my house and standing outside my window at 3 in the morning. I was scared. But more than scared, I was just tired. So tired. Of trying to be something I wasn't. Of pretending I could ever clean myself up enough. Scrub off the shame and the labels and finally figure out who I was originally created to be before my grandfather's sin shattered my life. One night, I became convinced all it would take to heal my family and make everything right was my death. I didn't even really sit and think about it. The idea felt so right to me, I just got up at 2 a.m., walked downstairs, opened a new bottle of ibuprofen, and shook a huge handful out. I figured if I died in my sleep, it would be easiest on my parents. No mess to clean up. Just a peaceful exit to a life I didn't really want anymore.

My dad, who is a hard sleeper, came downstairs just before I tossed the mouthful of pills down my throat and asked me what I was doing. I told him I had a headache, slid all but two of the ibuprofen back into the bottle, and went back upstairs. I didn't feel like I'd escaped anything. I didn't feel disappointed either. In fact, I barely knew how to feel anything at all. The black, gaping numbness inside me had nearly taken over. I was a shell who knew how to go through all the motions.

I went to Pepperdine University that fall and promised God I would actually spend time getting to know Him. And that I wouldn't date again until I knew he was the man I was going to marry. I no longer had any faith in my own screwed up instincts. I'd always seen God as a distant, judgement-delivering entity who must be obeyed but who had no idea how badly I hurt inside. He gently began showing me that instead of keeping his distance from the leprous rape victim, He was holding me and crying along with me.

I still had a long way to go. I had to get counseling for multiple personality disorder. And just a few years ago, I entered treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. I'm not whole yet. I know that. But I'm married to a man who asked me to be his wife even while he realized I had a multiple personality and he's never wavered in his love and commitment to me. I'm surrounded by a community of Christians who openly talk about the harsh, crappy stuff that sometimes hits us and who aren't afraid to be totally authentic about where they are. I've learned how to push my secrets out into the light where they can start to heal.

Maybe SPEAK isn't Dr. Scroggins' cup of tea. Maybe the idea of having his children read about a highly dysfunctional family is upsetting. Maybe the thought of having rape be a terrible reality in the life of the book's main character offends him. That's his right. But for every child who is blessed with a non-dysfunctional home and who hasn't been broken by something as awful as rape, there's another girl like me. A girl who can't find the words to describe how shattered she feels. Who doesn't even know if she has the right to feel shattered. Who's learned that bringing her secrets to the light results in more pain. That girl needs books like SPEAK to be on the shelves. She needs to know there are others out there like her. She needs to see someone else's path so she can have the language to start thinking about her own outcome.

As a Christian and a rape survivor, I want SPEAK to stay on the shelves. And I want others to write books about rape. Incest. Child abuse. Eating disorders. Multiple personality disorder. Post traumatic stress disorder. Because those are just as real, just as present, for some kids as worrying about grades and peer pressure are for others. Books can give children the language they need to be able to describe themselves and the things they're facing. To silence the book could be to silence the child.

I've had enough silence. Have you?

Author Veronica Roth has an incredible post that sums up how I feel even better than I managed to do myself.

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