Saturday, January 30, 2016

Jan 15, 2016 - 2nd Day of Exploration in Beijing!!!

Friday, January 15, 2016

This morning we woke up and had yogurt and banana for breakfast. I guess I should go back to the fact that since Ben fell asleep so early last night, he woke up at 1am and couldn't go back to sleep. I woke up at 430 but was able to go back to sleep till 530am. We went running in the top floor gym, Ben ran a 5K, I ran/walked 3 miles. Then back to the room to eat breakfast and get ready for the day! We talked with the kids and heard all about their day. Every time we hear from Lilee, she says over and over, “I really want you momma and daddy! I really WANT you! “ So sweet and makes us miss them even more. Noah says he misses us lots and can't wait to be with us, he wants to jump through the computer to be with us. Gavin seems to care less, as long as he keeps busy with acting like a wild animal or playing with toys. :)

We met our guide down in the lobby at 9am to begin our adventures for the day. He took us first to the Olympic Village for a photo. We didn't have a tour, but were able to see the hotel towers (shaped like the Olympic torch and dragon) where the Olympians stayed, the Water Cube where Michael Phillips broke the record for most gold medals in any Olympics, and the Birds Nest. We hopped back in the van and drove next to the Jade Market where we learned to tell the difference between real and fake jade and tell the difference in quality, color, and design. I never knew that Jade comes in all different colors, including purple, brown, white, yellow, orange, blue and of course the famous different shades of green. While at the Jade place, we saw a couple that was on the plane ride from Chicago to Beijing with us. They sat on the other side of the plane and we didn't get to talk with them, but I wondered then if they were coming here to adopt. They had a young girl who was not the same ethnicity as them, which made me wonder. I went up to them and awkwardly introduced myself and that I had noticed them on the plane. They acted as though I was little crazy and that they didn't notice us on the plane. However, after a minute or two, the conversation was very natural and they asked us why we were visiting and that they were adopting an 18mth boy from China on this trip. We will more than likely see each other in Guangzhou with our additions to the family. Their embassy appointment is the day before ours and they fly home on the same day, but out of Beijing, rather than Hong Kong. They are from Nebraska.

In front of the Olympic Village (Water Cube and Bird's Nest)

Olympic Village Hotel built to house the Olympians.

Man carving a jade figurine.

After the Jade Market, we drove to the outer part of Beijing to visit a section of the Great Wall of China. This wall is over 4000 miles long stretching across China. It is the only man-made object that can be seen from outerspace. There are 6 areas that you can visit in Beijing. The one we went to was a very high part of the wall, Jutong Pass. Ben and I went up over 1600 stairs and then had to come back down the same way. What an amazing adventure! Words can't describe it and pictures can't portray it. It is definitely a destination that everyone should attempt to visit in their lifetime! We had envisioned ourselves on the wall before we left the US and now was the moment we were actually climbing the wall. Surreal for sure! Lord willing, we would love to bring Lucee and the other kids back here one day to hike it as a family.

The Pass that we climbed.

We Conquered this section of the wall!
At least 1,610 steps to the top... kiss from the top.

After the wall, our guide took us to take a photo in front of a fire station in Beijing. Then we took our guide and driver out to lunch at a local restaurant that is one of their favorites. It was delicious except for a flowery hot pepper that we carefully tried to dodge in one of the dishes. The spicy noodles, garlic broccoli and fried rice were yummy though!

Then with full bellies, we were dropped off at our hotel for a 2 hour window (aka nap time) before going to a Kung Fu performance at the Red Theater. This performance was different then I thought it would be. I expected to see very disciplined martial arts, with stern faces. However, it was more like a play about a young boy who was trained to be a Kung Fu master. While he was a boy though we got to see a lot of spunk and personality, from not only this particular boy, but the other boys. They would smile a lot at the audience and their performance was extremely relational. Their movements were done with perfection. There were about 6 boys, 30 or so men, and 2 ladies in the show. The show was very well done and we know for sure that our boys would've loved to see this. 
This actor behind us was about  8years old and sat here for 30 min or more before the show!

Our guide left before the show was done, due to the fact that he was riding his bike home and the theater was a 40 minute bike ride, rather than if he was to ride home from our hotel, it would've been over an hour bike ride. We got in the van with Mr. Wu and he drove us home to our hotel. By this point, we have come to appreciate Mr. Wu's 20+ driving experience and although there are moments of craziness, we feel like we are in great hands while in his van.

We got home around 930 pm, Skyped with the kids. For them, they have an exciting day planned since Mamaw doesn't have any daycare children in her home. They are planning to go to Chuck-e-Cheese and tonight, their cousins Seraphina, and Cherubelle are coming over for a sleepover. We on the other hand, are very hungry and tired. So, after our Skype date, we head down to the western restaurant in our hotel called Casalingo. We enjoyed a margherita pizza. Ben had a beer, and I had a ginger ale. Much to my surprise the ginger ale here is much more natural than the ones at home. I could actually taste the real ginger. Everything was delicious. We went to bed, excited for our “free” day tomorrow. The one day in Beijing without a guide, driver, or schedule.

First Day of Exploration in Beijing...

Thursday, January 14, 2016
 (It looks like we missed Wednesday the 13th, but actually that is due to the 14 hour time change )

This morning we both woke up around 530AM, ready to go, not tired at all. We enjoyed slowly getting ready, with no rush, since we weren't scheduled to meet our guide till 9am. We also were able to Skype with the kiddos and tell them good night. For breakfast, we at the goods we bought at the market last night (strawberry yoghurt – with raw milk, we are hoping that's okay for our bodies to eat since they are not used to it raw- and a banana). Then we head down to the lobby to meet our guide and driver.

They take us to Tienanmen Square where we learn the history of the square and the surrounding buildings. One of which, is the building that the US president would come to if he were coming to visit China. While we are listening to Rocky explain the history, a woman, man, and little girl walked right up to us and ask to take a picture of us with the girl. We had heard before coming, that this would happen just because the kids don't get to see people that look like us very often. We did and then continued through the square and to the Forbidden City, which begins at the other end of the square. There were many guides and photo vendors around and we felt so thankful to not be bombarded by them due to Rocky being with us. If we had been on our own, they would've been hounding us while we were there.

As Americans we tend to think of Tienanmen Square as just a place where students were killed by China military but the Square is really like the national mall in Washington DC, acting as like a courtyard to many important buildings in that area. Chairman Mao's body is kept in the building to the south, almost like the Lincoln Memorial. His body is brought up during the day for visitors to view and lowered in the evening to refrigerate. We never went in there but Rocky told us about it. The Square also has the most important flag in the country and is under guard 24 hours a day. Military presence in the area is very evident everywhere you look and each level of security is distinguished by different colors. Rocky told us that the square, just like the National Mall, is the area where people come to gather for large celebrations. It was great to learn that yes a tragedy happened here in this square, but many other important things happen here.

Forbidden City...Having read some about the Forbidden City before we left, we had a general idea of what it was but as with any very historical place, you can't really appreciate it until you are there. We were very fortunate to have Rocky as our personal guide through the FC and before we even entered the gates he began to give us lots of knowledge about it. The Forbidden City is where the Emperor of China and his family would live. This wasn't just a recently built area for the ruler of China within the past 100 years or so...this was hundreds and hundreds of years of emperors and rulers of China. We were about to be treading on the steps history that were behind walls that weren't opened to the people until the 1940s. Each wall that we passed and each courtyard that we walked through brought us deeper and deeper into the Forbidden City. As we went deeper, the history became richer. At first we were just blown away by the beauty of the FC, but then it hit us....we were fortunate enough to be going where hundreds of years of history happened. The emperors ruled from withing these walls. Decisions for the country of China were made within these walls, and this wasn't just a stroll by replica buildings as Disney. This was the real deal!!! History is amazing and the only thing I can compare this to because of how old it is, is walking through ancient Rome. Except in Rome, a lot of those buildings have deteriorated or no longer exist. This had everything, including the original still in its same spot throne that every emperor ruled from, it has the original garden with very very old trees, it has the old cauldrons where the Anglo French scraped gold from when they tried to conquer the city, it had the original stone courtyards. It was a crazy walk through time and we were so grateful to be able to see it with our eyes, hear the stories with our ears, and feel the history that wafting throughout the place. Without a guide it would have still been a beautiful amazing place to see, but to get the history behind it all was priceless. Seeing this beauty and experiencing this history was completely wonderful but also sobering at the same time. In order for this all to be built in 14 years, someone had to work hard. The work was done by slave labor and I'm sure with conditions that were not the best. While history is a beautiful thing, it's easy to forget the ugly side to it too. For this to be built the way it was built was a huge undertaking and one that was very costly.
Gold scraped off the pots by the Anglo French...

Brandee and our 1st Guide, Rocky!!! 

After the city, Mr. Wu met us and took us to our next destination – Hutong tour via Rickshaw.
This was very neat to see the small houses and hutong alleys that connected them. We learned how to tell if a house was an 'ordinary' family or a 'more important' family. (based on how many steps led to the house and how many circles were above the door.) We also learned how to tell if the house belonged to a scholar or a military family. ( based on the object placed on both sides of the door – If a rectangle shape, it belonged to a scholar. If a circle shape, it belonged to military) We rode in the rickshaw while a Hutong guide rode his bike next to us. It was so great to get a glimpse of what common life looks like. These Hutong communities are how most of Beijing looked 30 years ago. Now in Beijing, there are more modern buildings and many skyscrapers. We finished the Hutong tour by going to a local family's house (consisting of a eating/living room, kitchen, and 1 bedroom) Most of the houses shared a courtyard with 4-10 other families. The family cooked us lunch and we ate with our Hutong guide in their eating/living room. They served us rice, chicken & mushrooms, pork & Celery and a potato/onion/garlic dish, along with hot tea and beer. It was SOOOOOO delicious!!!!!


Wearing Queen and King hats in a Hutong village

The local lady who made our lunch in Hutong village... Believe it or not, this was our most favorite meal out of all of our meals in China!!!  Such a memorable experience!

After the Hutong tour, we were driven to a Silk workshop. I (Brandee) really enjoyed this part. We were taken around to see silk worm cocoons and how they boil them to make the thread come off onto a machine that winds 8 cocoon threads together to make one strand. We learned that there are single worm cocoons and double worm cocoons. The single worm ones can be made into thread and used to make silk material. A double worm cocoon cannot be put in a machine, it instead has to be done by hand. They boil them and the a person takes out the worms and stretches the cocoon over a hoop. When many cocoons are put on the hoop together into a mat, this mat is dried and then stretched by 4 women (one on each side of a bed sized hoop) 50 or so of these mats are stretched to make the inner part of a quilt or blanket, which is then put in a cover. We learned that the silk can last 20+years and is washable with shampoo rather than laundry soap. Then they took us to a silk shop where we were able to buy Lucee and Lilee matching silk dresses for a great price. 

The dress we bought for Lucee, Lilee's is in the bag...

Single Worm Silk Pods... 8 of them to make one thread of silk.

After the silk workshop, we went back to our hotel for a nap before going to our evening outing, an acrobatic performance. This performance was out of this world! The kids would've LOVED to see this and we wish they were able to come with us. Words can't really describe the amazement we felt while watching this performance! We were amazed and in awe of how high, limber, and strong these performers were. To give a glimpse of what we saw, try imagining 11 people riding on 1 bike, a dancer standing on 1 leg-on her toes- on top of a man's head, men jumping through hoops higher than they are tall, and 8 motorcycles driving at the same time in a ball cage! This performance was about an hour long. Through many of the performances, I (Brandee) found myself with tears in my eyes with how proud I was to be adopting a child from a country with such performers as what we were watching.

Afterwards, our driver ( who sounds like a Chinese Mr. Kielchewski!)drove us back to our hotel where we found we were so tired. Ben fell asleep waiting to talk to the kids and I am trying to stay awake during this time, by typing this journal entry. It's 912 PM here and our in Milwaukee it is 712AM this morning. I'll sign off for now and get ready to Skype with them before going to sleep. So far, they are doing really well and we are so thankful for that.

Jan 12 2016 - Traveling Day to Beijing!

** FYI - We didn't realize we had to purchase a VPN code to have  access to all the American websites before going to the US, we thought we had everything we needed with the router friends let us borrow... Therefore, we didn't have access to Facebook, Gmail, Google anything (including the Google Translate App we were so excited to use over there!!) while we were over in China for 2 1/2 weeks!  Thankfully, we did have wifi access to our phones for texting and skype sometimes worked, but mostly we communicated with the kids and grandparents through Voxer.   We were planning on posting each day while we were gone to keep everyone up-to-date, but due to the blog site and social media sites not working, we just journal-ed in document form to copy and paste when we got back... Sorry for the delay, we'll get them all on here as quick as possible.  :)
Another FYI- We went to China 3 days earlier than required, because we knew we wouldn't be able to go anywhere to celebrate our 10 yr anniversary July 1 of this year, so we decided to celebrate it early by sightseeing Beijing and having a "baby moon" :) 

January 12, 2016 (Ben typing...)

Well today was the day we have been waiting for a for a long time. We have been thinking, praying, and planning for this day. What would it be like? How would everything come together? When would this day that we leave actually be? When we finally knew that our leave day was 1-12-16 the excitement hit new levels as we knew for sure when we would be leaving. For the past couple of weeks I have thought a lot about this day. Not only are we going to get our daughter, but I am able to travel half way around the world with my wife and experience another culture and country. That is so exciting to me!!! I never thought that I would be traveling to China to see places like the Great Wall, and now here I am embarking on that journey. I feel so blessed and grateful to be able to go on this amazing adventure. And the best part is, after the sightseeing and touristing around, I get to bring my beautiful daughter home.

This morning my wake up was not to my alarm clock, but my sweet little Lilee crawling in bed with us. It was so awesome to have her there snuggled up with Brandee and I and to hear her sweet little voice, and smell her hair one last time before we would leave her for a little more than two weeks. I knew we would be leaving the kids, but this just kind of reminded me how much I will miss them and also how much I don't want them to grow up. I want them to be with us forever and be our little kids that cherish to be with us. I pray that we will always have that kind of relationship with them. We got up and began to get ready. The boys awoke and got ready almost as if they were going on this journey with us. Right before we left, Brandee and I went up to say goodbye to Lilee, but she was deep asleep. While we were waiting on the limo service, Noah took it upon himself to wake Lilee up so we could say goodbye to her. He is so sweet and his heart is so precious towards others. I was glad he woke her up because we were able to get a good last family picture together of just the 5 of us. It's crazy to think that the next time we are all together, there will be 6. A-mazing!!!


Well, we gave our hugs and said our goodbyes. Our hearts raced as the excitement of the trip was upon us while battling the sadness of leaving our precious ones behind. We know they are in extremely good hands but its still hard to pull away from the house and know we won't see them for a while.

My dad graciously purchased our ride down to O'Hare airport in Chicago via limo service. We didn't know what to expect as we waited for the vehicle to arrive. Would it be like a taxi? Would it be a minivan or station wagon? All of those would have been great but to our surprise a nice black Yukon pulled up and we went out and put our luggage in. It's funny because Brandee and I aren't used to nice things like that so I looked at how much room we had and thought we had to have others that were traveling with us. It was surely too big and too nice for it just to be us. But to my surprise, it was just for us! We got to ride in comfort with heated leather seats and enough space in the middle row to fit our whole family. It was so nice to not have to worry about driving or competing with traffic. We simply got to talk and take it all in.

After arriving ahead of what time we both thought it would take, we were able to flawlessly check in and go through security. We were here, we made it, all that was left was to get on the plane and fly! We were able to go get a really good turkey BLT wrap while we waited and it was Dlish. Thick freshly cut pieces of turkey and veggies. So worth the money. Since we made it to the airport early and went through security so quickly we were able to wander around, talk, explore, use the bathroom with the super cool rotating seat cover, and talk to our kids without feeling rushed. We even tried to get a seat upgrade with customer service but it would have cost $300 extra. That's ok, we could save that money and buy gifts. While waiting we ate some more, like normal Americans : ) Brandee got an orange scone from Starbucks and I got a Chicago style hotdog....both excellent choices. To our sadness, we were unable to find a Cinnabon. That is the only disappointment of this day-haha. How can a guy fly without being able to enjoy a sugar filled Cinnabon. It just isn't right : )

Well crowd began to grow at our gate and the flight attendants were now there ready to check documents. I told them I was a Paramedic in case they needed any medical assistance during the flight. I also asked about upgrades in case they started to have a clearance sale on them since we knew there were a lot of seats still open in Economy Plus, just one section up from ours. The price was higher that what was offered earlier so we definitely were not going to get the upgrade. Well the time came to board the plane and the attendant at the counter told us to hang on and not go through the line just yet. After she helped a few people she called us over and upgraded us for free!!!! What an amazing little gift to start this trip. More leg room and no one else in our aisle.....winner winner chicken dinner! We were very grateful for this and excitedly boarded the plane feeling like we hit the jackpot. We got settled into our new “home” for the next 12 hours and sat in awe and excitement of where we were and what we were doing....WE, were going to China to bring home our Lucee!

The plane took off and within the first hour we got our first meal and to our surprise free beer and wine. We didn't have to be going anywhere....this felt like a date to us : ) From the endless options of movies and tv shows, to the comfort of our seats and being in the presence of each other, we are content as can be. As I type this, we are currently flying over some place that's really cold and snow covered. We are at the same level as the middle Iceland....or Greenland. Hmmm, don't know which one it is but I know it's one of those places and it's really cold. It is -76F outside as we are all cozied up and warm in here. We are traveling at 629mph and are at 34,000 feet. It's funny because everyone has said how miserable this long flight would be, but we are seeing the time tick away as we get closer and closer and we are actually sad that our flight will come to an end. It goes by way faster than you think. Maybe it's the comfort of the seats, or the endless entertainment options, or being able to look out at the starry sky, but we don't want it to least for now. What's on my mind now is....when is the food and beverage cart coming around again : )

This trip is not meant as a vacation, but we get one out of it. In a few days we will meet our daughter for the first time and will begin a new chapter of life with her, but for now, I get to share an amazing adventure with my lady, my girlfriend, my love, my Brandee.

We enjoyed the flight and everything that came with it. Surprisingly I slept really good and Brandee tried to, but didn't get the sleep like I did.

We arrived safely in Beijing and found the airport to be huge and beautiful. It had an open air feel all throughout the terminal and we were kind of just in awe of being in a foreign land with foreign people. We made it through the check point and at each point we kept looking for our guide Rocky but didn't realize that we hadn't made it all of the way out. The airport was huge so it took us a while to get to him. The smell in the airport was that of fresh flowers and was a very clean and pure smell. Besides how big and beautiful the terminal was, that was the first impression of China and that will stick with us forever. We finally made our way out and found Rocky holding a sign with our name on it. He was very friendly and spoke very good English. We made it out to our vehicle where our driver Mr. Wu was waiting. Everything got loaded up and we headed into the city towards our hotel. Obviously we were crazy tourists just looking around and staring in awe of everything. The sun had already gone down so we couldn't see very far but we saw lots of buildings and LOTS of vehicles. We noticed right away that driving here would not be like driving back in the states. There is lots of lane merging and close encounters, and as we would come to realize, this is very normal.
Rocky showed us new pictures of Shan You and our hearts leapt with excitement. She is growing up so much and we noticed how she has many features similar to Lilee. These two girls are going to have fun together. Rocky was very helpful and told us many things about our time in Beijing and what to look forward to. We immediately felt safe and appreciative of having Rocky.
We arrived to our hotel at the JW Marriott in Beijing and were blown away by the service right away. Everyone was very helpful and friendly. I had a feeling that this was going to be a hotel stay like no other. Rocky helped us get checked in even though everyone at the hotel spoke very good English. Then we were off to our room to get settled in for the night and prepare for our first day sightseeing in the morning.
Our hotel had so many wonderful smells in it too. It's amazing how a wonderful smell can make a lasting impression on you. The room was beyond the level of luxury we are used to and were very excited to be here. We were so thankful that Matt Neimiec offered and gifted us Marriott points to stay in such a nice place.

So after unpacking a little, we did what we do best at a new hotel....go explore. Although the exploring we did was outside the hotel this time. We went down the street to look for some food, and came across a group of older ladies outside on the walkway doing Tai Chi. We were already falling in love with the people and atmosphere of China. We then stumbled upon a mall and went inside to look for food. Inside was a small grocery store, so we got some bananas, yogurt, and a nice big 5 liter jug of water for in the room. On the way back we decided to stop at a KFC because we couldn't find any other restaurants open. With us being up for a long time, a long journey, and ready to go to bed, we just wanted to get some food in our bellies and go to bed. We had done it....we successfully made two purchases on our own, paying with Chinese Yuan and no translator.....but we couldn't correctly get a bag for all of our groceries so there we were walking down the street and into our uber fancy hotel with all items in our hands and a bag of food from KFC of all places.

With food in bellies, settled into our room, and said goodnight to the kids (technology is great) it was time for us to crash and get some much needed sleep. What a great first day it was!!! We are actually in BEIJING, CHINA!!!!

Monday, January 4, 2016

It's go time!!!

Well, almost. We will be on the road in less than a week to get the kiddos to grandparents.  We leave for China a week from tomorrow!!!! Two weeks from today we are scheduled to meet Lucee.  From that moment on, we will get to have her with us the remaining time.  (In some countries they want the parents to come visit and observe over a day or 2 before being able to take their little one with them.  In China, at the orphanage Lucee is at, we see her and she is ours from that moment!)  

On a financial note, God has completely provided for all of the adoption expenses!  We are so thankful for all of the generous donations, from the pennies to the thousands!  It truly is a blessing to see how each step of the way, the Lord provided for everything and we have faith that He will continue to do so.  

We'd love it if you could be in prayer with us as we continue on this journey.  There are so many prayer requests, but the main ones are:
1) That Lucee would feel the love we have for her and attach well into our family!  We believe that the Holy Spirit will go between us to help with the communication barrier that is evident. [Ben and I have learned some Chinese and will continue to make efforts, but  it's a complicated language to say the least ;)]
2) For all the preparation that needs to be done during this week.
3) For safe travels.
4) For Noah, Gavin and Lilee to be at peace while we are apart.
5) For the grandparents to have energy beyond what they naturally have, to care and love on three wild kiddos for an extended time ;)
6) For the millions of other orphans still waiting for their forever family!!!  

Our goal is to post updates while we are in China... Thanks for coming alongside us during this adoption journey!  All glory be to God!