A bit about the Himsels

In July 2011, we were drawn to a posting by our adoption agency of a little girl that was soon to "age out" of the orphanage in China, and they were hoping to find her family before her birthday in February, when she would no longer be eligible for adoption. After reviewing the information, giving it alot of thought and prayers, we knew she was to be our daughter. So we started the paperwork chase to bring her home. But God had a bigger plan in mind for the Himsels. Along the way, we decided to pursue adopting a little boy, and that journey actually led us to two little boys, who are 18 months and 14 months old. All three children are located in the Guizhou province. We are excited to be so close to bringing home Ella (Jinglan), William, and Ethan, and we hope you follow along with our journey.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

And the Ceremony makes it final

We had a great night with the kids, and we had to be in the lobby early to meet Vickie so we could return to the small, cold, smoky room and finalize the adoption. Lynné and Andrew decided to stay back at the hotel, as did most of the other family's children. That wait was just too much for Andrew the day before, and it was definitely better that he avoided it today.

We were told that the care takers weren't going to be there but they both were. As soon as William saw his, he was all tears again. Ella seemed to be excited to tell hers all about us, and little Ethan just seemed overwhelmed - I'm right there with you Ethan - the whole process was overwhelming to me too. Probably because we were dealing with 3 adoptions ourselves, and there were 5 adoptions being processed that day, but trying to keep all of our documents straight for the three kids was a handful. And Vickie was running around trying to translate, get us to pay the different people who needed paid, etc. All in that very small and cold room :) And we got our hands slapped by the Director of the adoption office. Apparently Ella came from the orphanage with two pairs of pants and three shirts on, and we made the mistake of dressing her in only one pair of pants. We just smiled, thanked her for her concern and said we would be very careful that she was warm.

William, the orphanage director and his caretaker
Ethan and his caretaker

The only time I held my breath was when they had to interview Ella. Because she is over 10, she had to agree to the adoption. They took her off to ask her a bunch of questions. I have no idea what all they asked her, but I did see her sign her agreement to be adopted. Yay!

Both orphanages had gifts for the kids which was really sweet. William received a small jade Buddha pendant and Ella & Ethan received a silver pendant that they said was for good luck. Ella immediately put hers on - my girl loves her jewelry that's for sure. And anything sparkly. We're going to have to do some major shopping when we get home.

After everyone got their paperwork all finalized, we had a formal little ceremony followed by a series of photos. There was lot of pictures and video being taken. Yay - it feels good to officially be a family of 6 - the Hexa-Himsels. But it did seemed like it took forever to finish and get back on the bus to the hotel.

official ceremony photo

Vickie offered to take everyone to a restaurant to eat. Since very few people speak or understand English here, it's helpful to have Vickie to assist. I decided to stay back with the boys though since they were ready for a nap (and so was I).

After everyone returned from lunch, I took Ella and Andrew over to the Walmart to buy her some socks, snacks and a new Barbie. Today, the Walmart was crazy busy - and trying to keep up with Ella and Andrew made it an exhausting trip. But after that we enjoyed a quiet evening playing with the boys, including Ella. Google translate has been our lifesaver with her - but only when we have Internet connection in the hotel obviously. She is a very sweet girl who is so appreciative of everything she gets. She tells us she is anxious to learn English, and has started with some very simple words. It may be tough for a little bit but we are headed in the right direction.

Ella with her Barbie

William definitely prefers his dad, but he is warming up to me. At least when I'm the provider of the food - and this boy can eat! And of course our little Ethan is one happy little guy - has a big smile all the time, and loves playing with toys, especially the ones William is playing with. I fear we'll hear a lot of "Mom, Ethan took my toy" in our near future.

Another night down - I'll try to post pictures in the near future - just wanted to be sure to get an update posted.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gotcha Day!

Wow - where to begin. Vickie, our guide, said she would pick us up at noon, so we could go to lunch first before we had to be at the adoption office at 2:00. The kids were being driven down from up in the mountains and it was a foggy, drizzling/icy drive for them and it would take quite awhile. So after our very large breakfast buffet, Lynné, Andrew and I took off to find the Walmart. As we left the hotel, we saw groups of people dancing in one area, another group doing a fan routine, and then another doing Tai Chi. We asked Vickie later about it and she said that it was their morning exercises. Very interesting and peaceful to watch. Peaceful - the exact opposite of the Walmart trip. The Walmart here is all under ground, and it's certainly not like our Walmarts. It was pretty crowded, had a strong fish smell because of the fish market, and I never did figure out the layout of things. But I finally found the correct brand of formula and cereal for the boys It took quite a bit of energy to maneuver everything, and we were exhausted when we got back. Just in time to head to the lobby to meet Vickie.

We walked to a great restaurant, and had a fabulous Chinese lunch. They like things spicy here, and it's the first time we've had some food that has a kick to it, making Lynné and me very happy. But it was hard to eat knowing we were just an hour or so away from meeting our kids.

After lunch, we returned to the hotel to pick up gifts and our documents so we could head to the adoption office. It was a pretty small office, and only one room had a heater - the others were icy cold. Immediately we saw our little William and couldn't wait to get my arms around him. Not so fast mama, this boy had a male care taker and he wanted nothing to do with me. So we took it slow, with his care taker laughing at how William was avoiding me. Finally we had Chris try, and he had a bit more luck. William wasn't completely happy with Chris but at least he wasn't crying his eyes out. We found out that Ella and Ethan were still delayed on the icy roads and would be awhile before they arrived, so we went thru all the paperwork for the harmonious agreement (the 24 HR period where we took the kids with us before the final adoption) as well as signing all the adoption paperwork. They wouldn't file the adoption paperwork until tomorrow, but went ahead and got it all signed and thumb printed. You have to put your thumbprint in red ink over each of your signatures, and there must be over 20 documents we filled out and signed. Normally Chris would be taking care of all that but because William wanted nothing to do with his mama, I got to fill everything out.

It was somewhere in the midst of all of William's crying that we noticed that Andrew had left. He was sitting out in the very cold hallway, near tears. For some reason William's crying triggered something in him, and he was quite upset. So while Daddy continued to bound with William, I consoled Andrew and reassured him that crying babies are normal, and that we'd be ok. He eventually came back into the room and we got a great picture of the two of them.

We still were waiting for Ella and Ethan, and the other family was waiting for their daughter, Hope, who was coming from the same town. Ella and Ethan arrived next with another little boy who appeared to be about 5 or 6. Suddenly the room was packed and we were being shuffled around working on the paperwork. The family adopting the little boy are from Spain and they arrived as well. So in a room that should fit comfortably about 8 or 9 people, we had our family of 6, plus Lynné, plus the other family and their kids (7 total), plus the Spain family of 3, Vickie, 3 different orphanage directors, 3 different care takers, and about 5 people who worked in the office. It was cold, crowded, and smoky - certainly not the ideal environment to meet your children for the first time. There was alot of paperwork, tears, and confusion, and the other family hadn't even seen their daughter Hope yet. But we were so excited to have our family all together (even if Andrew still wasn't too sure about the crying William.) We did have a chance to ask questions of the caretakers, and it was obvious that each child was well cared for by them. I was surprised at how excited Ella was about coming with us, so I know they have prepared her well for the adoption. But you could tell she was a bit sad and hesitant to get too far away from her caretaker. We got plenty of pictures for her though, and hope she is able to adjust without too much pain ad sadness about leaving.

About the time we finished the paperwork for Ella and Ethan (those 20 documents x 3), little Hope arrived, adding to the masses of people in the room. So we waited for them to finish their paperwork, before we could all load up. Finally back at the hotel, we were able to unwind a bit. I was worried that with all the attention the boys were getting, Ella might be feeling a bit lost, so we took some time to go thru the clothes we had bought for her, and she absolutely loved the Barbie. We decided on room service so we could keep the kids all together and get better acquainted. One thing was for sure, William wanted only to be held by Chris. Anytime Chris needed to pass him off to me, we heard the tears start back up. Luckily Ethan wasn't nearly as particular, so we shuffled kids back and forth, and got along pretty well. Ella was a big help keeping them entertained as well. We struggle with the language with her, but she is a very sweet girl, and very patient with us. Both boys went to sleep very easily after getting their tummies filled with congee, and Ella found a show on tv she liked and fell asleep with her Barbie by her side. A pretty great Gotcha Day I would say!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Guiyang Bound

Another early start, as we packed up and checked out of the hotel. We had a morning of sightseeing on the agenda before we headed to the airport for our flight to the kids province. Packing was a bit of a challenge - there is such a tight weight limit on domestic flights that we spent most of the morning shifting things from one suitcase to another trying to balance the weight.

Our morning was spent at Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was quite cold and the wind was bitter, so we kept moving pretty quickly. But there was quite a bit to see. Forbidden City is suppose to have 9999 rooms, and we only saw a handful of them, and it took all morning. There were some spectacular views there,and our coordinator, Shirley did a good job giving us the history lesson, but we were pretty cold so quite happy when we finished up.

After a great lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, we headed to the airport for our flight to Guiyang. We made it thru the weighing of the luggage (barely) and the airport was quite easy to navigate. Before long we were air bound - leaving Beijing behind us. It was a 3 HR flight, and by the time we got our luggage, found our guide, and headed to the hotel, we were all pretty exhausted. But we're settle in at the Sheraton, and will be meeting our kids tomorrow around 2 pm. We'll take all the good karma we can, hoping that it goes well tomorrow.

Lynné and I took a quick walk after we got in to see the city in lights.  Hard to believe that this province is one of the poorest in China when you are in Guiyang.  We were told they don't have a Starbucks or a McDonalds, but there is a Walmart across the street (under ground actually), an Apple Store and a Gucci. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Another Day Closer

Day two in Beijing was something Andrew was waiting for - The Great Wall. We met our agency's Beijing coordinator, Shirley, and the other family traveling with us in the lobby for a early morning start. We headed to the jade factory first, on our way to the Great Wall. The jade factory started with a tour and informational presentation on the different kinds of jade, the significance of jade in Chinese culture, as well as seeing some of the jade carvers hard at work. Then we spent some time in their showroom, looking at all the beautiful pieces of jewelry and figurines. And they had some rather large stairs that intrigued Andrew. He was pretty sure we needed one of those carved boats that was nearly 5 foot tall. After helping the Chinese economy with our purchase, we were off to the Great Wall.

Andrew had already decided he was going to go further and higher than any of us. Aunt Nay and I were a-ok with that. We were both still recovering from those stairs at the drum tower. Lynné's pretty sure she pulled a muscle somewhere along the way, and was hurting. So we had 2 hours to explore, and Chris and Andrew took off on the steeper, more difficult path, while Aunt Nay and I headed to what we were told was the easier route. About half way into our climb, Lynné and I were convince there was nothing easy about our route. There were steep, uneven stairs with no handrails that frightened me to attempt, but there was no way we were missing out on this chance. So we kept plugging along, and the views were spectacular. The walk back was just as challenging, but well worth it. We met back up with Chris and Andrew and found out that indeed Andrew had gone the furthest and highest, and could have kept on going if we had more time. He was not tired or frightened and a bit disappointed that we had to leave for lunch.

Lunch was another tasty experience. We ate with the other family and got to know them a bit better, while enjoying some wonderful Chinese dishes. Andrew has done well using chopsticks, and he's been willing to try just about everything. When we finished, the restaurant had a huge store attached, which we equated with a Cracker Barrel experience. Luckily we got out of that without any purchase, and headed off to our next stop. Shirley took us to the Olympic Plaza, where we got great pictures of the Bird Nest and the Water Cube. Very, very impressive. We got great pictures, and the added bonus of seeing the plaza decorated for Chinese New Year. And Andrew got bombarded again by people wanting to take his picture. He was a good sport, but I don't think he'll put up too much more with all the attention. It was quite cold as we walked the length of the plaza, so we were very glad to head to another tea ceremony to warm up.

Yep, another tea ceremony - different tea house though. It was very similar to yesterday's but because there were so many of us, we were in a big room which didn't feel quite as quaint. Chris knows we are in trouble, because I found a few beautiful tea sets I want. He reminded me of the domestic weight limits on our next flight, so we didn't get a set yet. But just wait until we get Guiyang or Guangzhou - I'm getting us a tea set.

Next on the agenda was the acrobatic show. We were quite early, so we had to wait around for nearly an hour before it started. Alot of standing and waiting after our full day was not good for all of us who were exhausted. By the time we got into the show, we all needed a nap. Sitting down for a show with the lights out does not go well with tired people - not a good plan. I think Andrew stayed awake the longest. The rest of us dozed off and on. Well, Chris dozed more on than off. And the acrobatic show was quite odd, ending with some sad "David Copperfield wannabe" disappearing motorcycle act. Very odd indeed. Andrew fell asleep right before the big finale and we couldn't get him awake. Thank goodness for Chris' long arms - he was able to carry him out.

So we were back at the hotel shortly after 7, and Andrew was sound asleep snuggled into bed within minutes. Which left us very few options for dinner. Yep - Pizza again - take out this time. The good news - another day down, and closer to meeting the kids. Tomorrow, we tour the Forbidden City & Tiananmen Square before we head to the airport for our flight to Guiyang.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Am I a pop star Mom?

It's a definite - we are  exhausted after a great day of sight seeing - we really got a chance to experience Beijing today and Andrew got to be a star (more on that later). Since the other family also traveling from our agency doesn't get in until tonight, we were on our own for today.  We arranged for a tour guide and driver and had a full day lined up. Lydia was our guide, along with our driver Mr. Wong.

We started by visiting one of the Beijing Hutongs (old long lanes/alleys) where we were able to tour a family house - a courtyard with 4 living quarters. It was quite interesting to learn so much about how important the layout of the four house quarters was made around the family courtyard - for instance, the main living quarter (the north house) had 4 steps to enter and the others only had three, because it had more importance. So many significant choices in the design - we really felt we were getting a good peak into the old Chinese culture. After our tour, we took a rickshaw ride through a number of hutongs, with little shops and people bustling along. It was one cold rickshaw ride, but we all really enjoyed it. After that, we walked to the Drum Tower, and stopped along the way to watch the locals all playing on the frozen water outside the Forbidden City. Because it is still Chinese New Year celebration, the crowds are not too bad - Chris said the Forbidden City area was much more crowded when he was here in November.

Now for that Drum Tower. What seemed like a good idea when Lydia talked about it, turned into one of my first experiences with China's love of stairs :) As most of you know, after my car accident in 2004, my ankle does not like it when it's forced to tackle alot of stairs. Well, we had about 70 stairs, at a very steep angle to take on to get to the top of the tower. Andrew was quite proud that he was the first one of our group to the top, followed closely by Chris. The rest of us made it finally, but not without my ankle protesting quite a bit. Chris said it was a good practice for us for tomorrow's trip to the Great Wall, but I'm not certain I'll be walking tomorrow yet alone tackling the great wall - I'm very thankful for the Advil we packed, that's for sure. We happen to get to the top of the drum tower right before one of the special drum performances they do for Chinese New Year. It was pretty awesome, and we took a video of it, that I may try to post later. Good thing I enjoyed it so much, because it made those stairs worth it. But what goes up MUST come down, and that was even worse than going up. But luckily we all made it without any embarrassing moments.

Next Lydia took us to a tea ceremony. I think Andrew decided this was his favorite part. We sat in a little area while a girl explained 4 different teas to us while she made each and had us sample. It was quite interesting and relaxing, and we all needed to warm up after walking out in the cold. Then we were off for our traditional Chinese lunch. We had a private dining room where they brought us all kinds of yummy food. We were quite hungry, and sampled everything. All but the soup was declared a hit - Lynné said that the soup tasted like feet - hum, wonder how many feet she's been tasting? Seriously, it wasn't an appealing taste by any means, but luckily everything else was very good.

After our tea and lunch, we traveled to The Summer Palace, it was crazy busy, and we had a hard time keeping up with Lydia. There were tour groups all over the place, with everyone fighting to get pictures. I was having a hard time just making sure we didn't lose Andrew. He did pretty good keeping up with Chris, and since Chris towered over everyone there, I could always find Chris :) We had a "first" while we were taking our pictures in front of one of the rooms. Two girls wanted to take our pictures. Very odd, but it got even stranger. We had a man who was just enamored by Andrew. I guess they don't see many blue eyed boys over here, and this guy followed us for quite a while pointing and smiling at Andrew. He kept trying to get his attention, and so I told Andrew about him and that I thought he wanted to say something to him. Andrew turned, and the guy got a big smile on his face, waved and said "hi". Andrew said "hi" back, and this guy was beaming, and then he was gone. Very odd. As we walked the full length of the Sumer Palace, we were more and more aware of the attention Andrew was getting - he was definitely getting alot of pointing, staring and smiles. When we tried to take a picture in front of the marble boat, we had to wait for another family to get out of the way. When they saw Andrew getting his picture taken, the teenage girl in the family was all giggling and pointing to Andrew, and asked Lydia if she could get her picture taken with Andrew. He took it well, and had this girl and her Mom standing beside him for the picture. He was all smiles when he finished, and asked "Am I a pop star Mom?".  You are in my book, Andrew! Too cute. Not sure much could top that.

We finished up our tour a bit early, and Lydia took us to one of the oldest silk factories. It was interesting to watch the different processes. We saw how they unwind the cocoon to get the silk thread. Then we watched them breaking open the cocoons, taking out the dead thing inside, and stretching out the silk cocoon. Layers and layers of cocoon to make this piece of silk cloth about a foot square. Then we took one of those cloths to where 4 ladies each grabbed a side and pulled and stretched it out until it was the size of a standard blanket. They would do this over and over to make the light and fluffy silk stuffing for a quilt.  They even let us stretch out one.  It was very interesting, but then ended with them taking us into their silk store and trying to convince us we needed one of those silk quilts :). Other than the huge pressure to buy something, it was an extra bonus to our tour that we enjoyed.

Back to the hotel, a trip to the supermarket for some snacks and drinks, and a quick dinner was all we were up for. Andrew was nearly asleep as we waited for our pizza (yes Pizza Hut is adjacent to our hotel and we were all too tired from our full day to go anywhere else and try to navigate the language) so we all called it an early night after dinner. Need to rest up for tomorrow - and try to convince my ankle that a trip up the Great Wall isn't as bad as I think it might be. With any luck, I'll still be able to walk when we get to the kids in a few days.