Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

We are about 4 hours away from 2009 here in China, but I can guarantee that none of us will be awake to ring in the new year! We just can't seem to get ourselves adjusted to the time difference. Dave leaves tomorrow night, so I suppose it is good that he never got used to being 13 hours ahead. He will hit the ground running with the boys on Saturday when my mom hands them off to him.

Today was our first day for sight-seeing, other than a walk around the city that Dave and I took Monday morning before we met Marley. We visited a beautiful park that is Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's masoleum. He is considered to be the 'Father of Modern China.' The park is very large and has many gardens, ponds, statues and ornate gates. I have a few pictures I'll post, but unfortunately the camera battery died while we were out. We took some pictures on a disposable camera, too, and will get those developed at home. It was a clear but cold day so we had to keep Marley bundled up all morning. She was very quiet and sleepy most of the day today. I think her little body needed to shut down for awhile and process the major changes in her life. She was calm and peaceful, but also a little withdrawn. Later in the afternoon, her spirits were up again and she is having great fun toddling around the hotel room right now. We had lunch at Pizza Hut, and let me tell you, if Pizza Hut at home made pizzas like they have here, it would be a new weekly special for the Huffman family! We had a pizza with so many yummy things on it and it was delicious. Dry salted flaky fish on top and everything! After lunch we visited the Nanjing Museum which has an amazing collection of jade and woven pieces. China's history is so long that almost every piece in the museum was at least 1000 years old. The jade was amazing and our guide gave us a good tour of the museum, but we were ready to come home and crash by the time we were done. Speaking of crash. . .we finally saw evidence that all of the crazy drivers, bikers, and pedestrians can actually collide once in a while. We saw a pretty minor fender-bender on the road near the masoleum. I will take some video of the streets around our hotel tomorrow and post it--it is truly bedlam at all times.

Several people have emailed me and asked how Marley is doing developmentally. Marley will be two at the beginning of February, which is based on an estimated birthday. I think a fairly accurate assessment would be that she is developmentally more like a 12-15 month old at this point. She is pretty much right where we expected her to be after receiving updates on her progress over the past nine months. Research shows that kids in orphanages fall behind one month of development for every three months they are in the orphanage (which made it that much harder to endure the long wait to bring her home). But it also shows that they catch up very quickly in most areas once they are with a family. She just started walking about 1-2 months ago, so she is unsteady on her feet, but she really likes to walk, and we are already seeing progress in her balance and her ability to turn herself around without holding on to something. Her stomach and back muscles aren't very strong compared to her legs, due to the amount of time she spent sitting/standing in a walker at the orphanage. But we've already started doing some tummy time with her and we'll get her caught up on that. She says a few words, which we of course cannot understand! The only one we know is "ayi" which is what they call the nannies in the orphanages. She doesn't seem to mind that she can't understand us and already knows what we're talking about when we say "where's your ball?" "kick it" "get daddy" and a few other things. She is a great eater, but only very soft things like noodles, rice, and she loves steamed eggs with sesame oil. We bought her some baby food because we were having trouble finding fruits she would eat, and although she really liked the pureed stuff, it gave her a bit of tummy trouble, so we're going to ease off on that. Not fun to have a very icky diaper in your hotel bathroom garbage can. Her cleft palate is not causing any problems for us at all at the moment. She is able to eat fine, and because she isn't talking yet, the speech issues that come with cleft palates aren't evident right now. The orphanage had told us a month or so ago that she was not using a bottle anymore, but we brought one just in case. It turns out that she is used to having a bottle at bedtime, but it has to be a special cleft bottle that is not available for sale in China. The orphanages only get them when foreign families donate them. We have been able to give her milk, water, and juice using a bowl and spoon. She is well-hydrated, and she has gone to sleep very easily each night without any kind of bottle, so we're not worried. She'll have surgery to repair her palate within the next couple of months, and then we can work on speech therapy as needed.

Most importantly, she's sweet, cuddly, funny, tiny, easy-going and we are smitten with her. She is as happy with me as she is with Dave, which is reassuring since he is leaving tomorrow night and won't see her until we get home on the 9th. We know that she has had this week to get comfortable with him and that will hopefully extend to home, too.

We are missing the boys so much right now, and although they are having fun at Grammy's house, I soooo wish that Marley and I were heading home to them when Dave leaves tomorrow. It is hard to be so far away from them, and from all of the comforts of home. We are the only family adopting in the entire province this week, so we have not met any other adoptive families in Nanjing. In fact, I could count on one hand the number of non-Chinese people we have seen since we got here Sunday night. We stand out quite a bit. Sometimes it is unnerving to me to have so many people staring at us and talking about us. We even had a guy walk up and take a picture of us today while we were looking at Sun Yat-Sen's tomb. Dave is not bothered by it at all, but it is hard not to feel judged a bit when every person who looks at us has a blank expression on their face. Our guide said that most Chinese people are very happy for the babies who are adopted because they know that life in an orphanage is not the same as life with a family. I just wish they'd throw a smile our way once in a awhile :)

That's all for tonight. I was finally able to get 7 more-or-less uninterrupted hours of sleep last night (thanks to exhaustion and Unisom) so I'm hoping for a repeat tonight. We don't have anything scheduled with our guide tomorrow, but are planning to go see an ancient drum tower that is near our hotel. The Nanjing University campus is also close by and it has a really beautiful tree-lined park, so we will probably check that out, too. Our guide and driver will pick Dave up at 5:30 to take him to the airport, and I'll be sad to see him go, but happy that he'll be home with the boys soon. This has been a short trip for Dave, but everytime I see him look at Marley, I know he wouldn't trade this experience for anything. Our guide took the three disposable cameras that orphanage returned to us and will pick up the prints tomorrow. I wish we had been able to get them developed on Monday so we could have taken them when we met with the orphanage staff again on Tuesday. We could have asked for names, places, dates, etc. so Marley would have a more complete picture of her first two years. But we are thrilled to have the pictures for her and can't wait to see her first home.

Happy New Year to all of you at home!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Day 2 of adventures in China

Marley slept like an angel, all through the night until we finally woke her up at 7:30 to get ready for the day. I wish Dave & I could say the same. He is doing a little better than I am, and is used to functioning on about 6 hours of sleep/night. But, I am really struggling with sleeplessness at night and have not been able to force myself to skip an afternoon nap in hopes of sleeping better at night. There is a 13 hour time difference, and our bodies are still functioning on home time right now. Poor Dave will probably finally adjust right before he heads back on Friday. This morning we took Marley back to the Civil Affairs office to do the official adoption paperwork. It is sometimes called the "red ink day" in adoption lingo because her hand, as well as our thumbprints, are now stamped in red ink on the adoption decree and registration forms. The two people from the orphanage were there and we were able to snap a photo of all of us together. The woman in the photo was the Assistant Deputy Director, I believe, and the man was the person who was in charge of foreign adoptions for the orphanage. Our guide, Xie Jin (aka "Jean") said that Marley's orphanage has only been open to international adoption for 3-4 years now and it is a very small orphanage. We returned the clothes that Marley was wearing when we met her yesterday, except for the Goldilocks hat and the red silk coat. We figured the orphanage could use the other 3 layers for the other children, but the hat and coat will be kept as mementos. The coat is way too big for her, so I think we will take a picture of her wearing it every year on the anniversary of our 'family day' until she outgrows it. I handed her to the woman from the orphanage for a minute to take a picture of them together and she started to cry right away. The worker said that she thought Marley just wanted to go outside because she could see people outside the window working on the street, but then when I reached out to take her back into my arms, she got a big grin and giggled! I think she was worried we were sending her back. Not a chance! After the Civil Affairs office, we went to the grocery store. What an experience that was! We went to an underground parking garage in the middle of the city and then rode up on these crazy escalators that are flat but inclined (no steps) so you can bring a cart up on it. The first floor was more like a mall with private shops and stores, but people push their shopping carts around as if they are in Target. Except a little more recklessly than we're used to, and with lots of staring at our peculiar-looking little family unit. The second floor of the store was the actual grocery store and it was huge. We were able to stock up on a ton of supplies including food, snacks, wipes, diaper rash cream (can't believe I didn't think to pack that), water, juice, etc. for a total of about $50. The check-out was interesting to say the least. We had to move to a different lane because the one we were in wouldn't take a credit card and we didn't want to spend all of the Chinese money we had already exchanged. So we got in the other line and it turned out they wouldn't take the card either. We didn't know we needed to take our own bags (and don't have any grocery bags with us here, anyway!) so we tried to stuff as much as we could into our already-full backpack and a produce bag. We ended up paying for a grocery bag, which we were happy to do. If only we had known it was an option all along! One interesting tidbit--we couldn't find dental floss anywhere, and our impression is that our guide, as well as the store employees, weren't that familiar with the product. There was a lot of pantomiming and a thorough search of the dental care section, but no floss to be found anywhere in the store. Marley has a runny nose and a little bit of a cough, so our guide thought we should take her to the 'clinic' here in the hotel. We got there and after searching for the 'doctor' forever, a hotel employee brought up a woman who works in the 'pharmacy.' I'm using 'quotes' for all of the vocabulary that I am using loosely. The 'doctor' checked Marley's throat with a gigantic yellow flashlight, listened to her breathing for awhile, and then stuck a digital thermometer in her armpit. By this point, Marley was screaming her head off and looking at us like, "What are you letting her do to me?" Her temperature was slightly elevated, although that would seem reasonable considering we have to dress her in so many layers of clothing to avoid being chastised by people in the streets, and also considering the fact that she was screaming. The 'doctor' told our guide that Marley "might be developing a very mild case of bronchitis" and suggested we take her to the children's hospital here. We had driven by the hospital in the morning on the way to the Civil Affairs office, and it was swarming with a huge crowd of people outside. Jean told us that the hospital sees 2,000 children/day. Dave and I decided that we would feel better relying on our own parenting experience and we felt that she didn't really need to go to a hospital full of hundreds of sick kids. It is not possible to make any kind of appointment for her there, so we would have had to go and wait. It was 11:00 and Jean said if we got there and registered right away, we would probably be seen after the lunch break, which would have meant waiting until 2pm at the earliest. No way! We brought her back here, fed her a good lunch, and she took a nice 2 1/2 hour nap. She still doesn't have a fever, and she only coughs a few times/hour, so we're not too worried. If she takes a turn for the worse, we can reconsider, but for right now, I think we're fine with our arsenal of Children's motrin and cold medicine if we need it. One final note--the drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians here are all bold and reckless, putting it mildly. There don't seem to be any traffic laws at all and I think we had about 20 near misses this morning alone, and that was just driving 10 minutes away. Mom--you would be white-knuckling every trip here. It is truly something you have to see to believe. We're off to find some dinner and then come back to call the boys in a bit. Keller & Casey--we miss you so much! You wouldn't believe some of the things we have seen here. We can't wait to come back as a family in a few years when Marley is older and you can all see what China is like. I hope you're being good boys and enjoying your visit in PA. Don't wear out Grammy and Aunt Heather!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Squeaky clean

Here is a picture of Marley post-bath. She didn't like the bath at all, but was happy once she was dried off and dressed. She especially loved her new shoes. She kept looking at them, taking a few steps, then stopping to look at them again. She came to us in a brand new pair of little boys tennis shoes that were about two sizes too big, so I'm sure she was pretty excited about her fashionable new kicks!

Introducing. . .Marley Rae Xinhe Huffman!

She's beautiful, sweet, tiny, and perfect! When we went to the Civil Affairs office, it was locked and our guide went to find someone to open it. She came down in the elevator, followed by two people from the orphanage who were carrying our little girl (who happened to be wearing the infamous Goldilocks hat from the last set of pictures we received of her!). She was tired, hungry, sweating under 4 layers of clothes, and had a wet diaper--but she didn't really complain much. The paperwork and exchange of info was very brief today and then we came back to the hotel. We tried all of the kid snacks we had with us, but what she really loved was shrimp dumpling soup! We fed her, changed her diaper and put on a fresh outfit, and she has been happy as can be since then. She has not napped yet though, so we may be heading towards a meltdown. She loves to walk and play. She really seems to like Dave and is keeping him entertained right now. We'll post more later, but here are some photos and videos--since I know that is what you've all been wanting to see!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

We're in China!

We made it! It has been a very, very long journey to get here, but we are finally at our hotel in Nanjing. It took 27 hours from the time we left our house until the time we checked into our hotel here. Now it's the middle of the night, but Dave and I are wide awake and hungry for lunch :) We were able to use Skype to call my mom's house to check on the boys and it sounds like all is going pretty well there.

We will meet Miss Marley Rae Xinhe Huffman tomorrow at 1:30pm China time (we're 13 hours ahead of east coast time at home). Hopefully we'll be able to post pictures soon after we are back here with her. She may not be smiling in the pictures, as I'm sure tomorrow will be a very traumatic day for her, but she's stuck with us! So we'll muddle through and do our best to love on her and help her adjust to her new very tall, English speaking, strange-looking parents!

Monday, December 22, 2008

We're leaving on a jet plane. . .

Dave and I will be leaving on Saturday morning to go to China to finally be with our daughter!! We'll arrive in Nanjing on Sunday night and will 'receive' Marley on Monday. We will spend Tuesday doing all of our adoption paperwork. We'll have a few days of sight-seeing, and then Dave will fly home on Friday, January 2nd, to be with the boys. My sister and mom are keeping them in the meantime, and although the boys are really looking forward to spending the week in snowy western PA, I'm sure they'll be excited to see Daddy show up to get them on the 3rd. Marley and I will remain in Nanjing until the 5th, and will then fly to Guangzhou to finish the immigration side of the adoption process. It is going to be very cold in Nanjing--probably 20-30 degrees, and then will be around 70-80 in Guangzhou. This makes packing very challenging!

We have had a rough couple of weeks, but are now looking forward to Christmas and then heading to China to meet the little sweetheart who we've been dreaming of for nine months now.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A sad farewell. . .

Tomorrow we will bid farewell to two faithful and patient companions. It is heartbreaking for all of us. Layla came to us in 1998, when Dave & I had been dating for about a year and a half. We found her at the DC animal shelter and something about her ridiculously vicious-looking teeth made us fall in love with her. She had spent her first two years in an apartment in DC where no one bothered to teach her things like "Don't eat shoes, and if you do, please don't pick the most expensive pair" or why someone would be taking her outside on a leash a couple of times a day when the carpet was a nice comfy spot to do her business. The first few months were hard at times, but the past 10 years have been wonderful. Layla drove to Denver with Dave and I the day after our wedding, and hardly complained when we added Wilson to the crew a month later.

Wilson came from a small ranch in rural Colorado. The family who had raised him for his first three years loved him, but he was too timid to work the ranch and was terrified of the horses, so they found him a new home, with us. Our first glimpse of Wilson involved him nervously pacing in and out of the room, hunched over like a hyena. Again, love at first sight. He didn't pee one single drop the first 36 hours we had him, he was so terrified. It took a couple of weeks to convince him to sleep with us, rather than burrowing into the darkest corner of the walk-in closet in our first apartment as newlyweds. Again, the first few months were months of learning, but the past 8 years have been great.

Over the years that Layla and Wilson have been a part of our family, they have truly shared in our joys and sorrows. They offered me comfort after a devastating miscarriage, simply by being present and asking for nothing more than a little eye contact and a spot to snuggle next to me. They welcomed the boys into the family and patiently waited for their turn at having some of our attention. They have greeted us every time we have come home, no matter if we were returning from a week of vacation or from a trip to the mailbox. The boys have never known a home without the presence of these two sweet pups.

Layla developed bladder stones about 3 years ago and had surgery for them in February 2006. We thought that the problem was taken care of, but learned that she had developed more stones, of a different type, and needed another surgery in March 2007. When she began to have accidents in the house again this spring, we took her in and were terriby disappointed to learn that she had more stones. She has been on a prescription diet that was supposed to dissolve her stones in 3-6 months. Although she had been making progress it was very slow. At her check-up last Tuesday, after 7 months on the prescription diet, we learned that she still has 20 bladder stones which are big enough to count, and many many smaller ones. We consulted with the vet about our next treatment options, and the heartbreaking news is that we are out of options. Layla's accidents have become more frequent, and it was time to view them as more than a housecleaning issue. With Dave and I being home during the days, she is able to make many trips outside. Her accidents are a sign of the level of discomfort and pain the stones are causing her. She is 12 years old and has had a long and happy life. Our vet encouraged us to let her go while she still has good days and will be remembered as a happy, old dog.

Wilson was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor last January. Our veterinarian started him on a relatively new protocol of medications including a chemotherapy drug, a steroid, and antibiotics. At that time, she gave us the grim prognosis that Wilson had 3-6 months to live. He has survived and been relatively comfortable for 11 months on the medications. He has outlived every other dog that our veterinarian has tried this medication protocol with. But now, the cancer and the strong medications have taken a toll on him. He sleeps almost round the clock, and he suddenly looks like the tired old pup that he has become. He is 11 years old. We do not want him to suffer and know that he has been living on borrowed time. It is with great pain in our hearts that we will need to release him from his illness now.

The boys are too young to understand much beyond the concept that as of tomorrow afternoon, Layla and Wilson will not be here anymore. Tonight when I went to snuggle with Keller in bed after work, he said that he was thinking about how the dogs won't be there to make the noise of their nails clicking on the floor, or to stand in his way when he's trying to play the Wii. He is realizing that all of these everyday things we take for granted will be gone. Casey said that he has some special medicine at his 'other house' that will make the dogs not be sick anymore. I tried to explain that we have already tried all of the special medicines, and they weren't strong enough to fix what is wrong with Layla and Wilson.

I have been grieving for a week now, since our veterinarian guided us toward this difficult decision. I imagine that the grief will go on for a very long time. The trusting eyes of two very dear souls will close forever tomorrow. It is difficult to balance the joy of bringing Marley home soon with the deep sorrow of losing my first "babies." I grew up with these dogs in a sense. I became a wife, and a mother with their comforting presence always near. I wish they could be here forever. Layla has been with us 10 years, Wilson 8 years. Simply not enough time on earth.

Dave and I will be with the dogs when they ease into their final pain-free rest tomorrow. I can only hope that they will drift off knowing how grateful we are to have had them here for these years, how much they are loved, and how deeply they will be missed.

Friday, December 12, 2008

This week's Gratitude List

What a week it has been. So many ups and downs. . .much to be thankful for but some tough stuff, too. I'm grateful for:

1. Our Travel Approval. It was finally issued from China yesterday, which means we should be able to leave on the 27th and finally have Marley with us on the 29th. The travel plans are still being worked out. And if anyone was planning to surprise us with a million surplus frequent flier miles, now would be the time! Flights are very expensive right now and we are needing to talk about options including Dave & I flying over on separate flights, or Dave not being able to go at all :(

2. Layla and Wilson (a.k.a. "the dogs"). I am thankful for the trusting eyes that follow me everywhere, for their gracious acceptance of being knocked down the 'attention totem pole' continually when things are crazy around here (which is more often than I'd like to admit), and for the unconditional love that only a dog can give. These dogs are truly family members and we are heartbroken to have received some disheartening news about both of their health over the past week or so. We know we are facing some tough times and sad goodbyes in the not-distant-enough future. I told Keller today that I wished you could get a puppy when you're little and it would live as long as you did. I've said 'goodbye' to too many beloved pets in my 34 years of life. But regardless, I am thankful for all of the good times with our poochies.

3. Freecycle. I could make a list a mile long of all of the wonderful things I have gotten for free (hence the name) over the past 3-4 years. A few favorites include: a 32" color TV when ours died unexpectedly two days before a LOST season finale; approximately 8 bazillion Legos that someone passed down to us in two huge garbage bags; and a recent favorite--broken electronics that Keller and Casey have enjoyed taking apart to see how they work. The list of things I've given away on freecycle is equally interesting: our old artificial Christmas tree found a new home this year, for example, rather than sitting in a dump somewhere. If you don't belong to your local freecycle group, JOIN!

4. Good neighborhood schools. The Washington Post just put out a list of the top schools in the Northern Virginia area based on the number of students scoring at the advanced level on standardized tests. Keller's elementary school was ranked #4 on the list! Although I have issues with schools being ranked purely based on test scores, it is evidence of the great things going on in Keller's school. Then, US News & World Report published an article highlighting the top high schools in the country. Four Fairfax County high schools made the list, which is impressive. Seven others made the "Silver" level of achievement based on several different criteria. Chantilly High School, which is our neighborhood high school, earned the Silver level recognition. We have lived in our neighborhood since February 2004 and have loved it for many reasons. Having excellent schools in walking distance of our home is another reason to feel 'at home' here.

5. My ESL students. This has been a tough semester of teaching for me. I have a huge class of 30 students, with 6 languages represented. The county budget is a mess and the adult ESL program is going to be hit very hard by cuts. My students, many of whom cannot even write their address without copying it from a card in their wallets, painstakingly wrote letters to the school board explaining why learning English is so important to them. They wrote about how they want to be able to help their children with homework, how they need to be able to understand prescriptions and doctor's advice to take care of themselves and their families, and they wrote about how they want to give back to the people who have helped them as they've adjusted to life in a new country. I challenge any of the anti-immigration folks to read these letters and still walk away feeling like immigrants should be demonized.

That's all for now. I should be able to post our travel itinerary early next week. Thank you to everyone who has offered to help out in many ways!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Little toe . . . big pain

I had a visit to my foot doctor today and x-rays confirmed that I did, indeed, break my toe yesterday. It is broken with a slight 'displacement' (it didn't line up exactly right when it bounced back into place), but he said it doesn't need any surgery, cast, etc. My toes are taped and I have to wear a special shoe for awhile. I have a follow-up in a week. He said it will be 4-6 weeks before I can do any serious exercise. I'm okay with missing the gym for awhile (in all honesty, I have been finding other, less legitimate excuses to skip the gym lately!), but I can't escape my daily acrobatics of walking kids to the school bus, walking in and out of preschool, standing on my feet to teach night school, running up and down the steps 500 times for all of the things I forget, etc. I must learn to slow down though. It won't be any good for Marley if I come to get her in a full body cast!

Keller had a friend over after school yesterday and the three boys were playing in the living room when I whacked my foot on the corner. I literally had to put both hands over my mouth to keep from unleashing the string of obscenities that was ready to jump out of my mouth. I kept saying "I think I broke my toe. I think I broke my toe. I think I broke my toe." And none of them even turned their heads in my direction. They were engrossed in their gory monster and carnivorous dinosaur books, and could not be bothered to offer kind words or looks of compassion. Boys.

This morning Keller looked at my foot and said, "Mom, your toe is all blue. I think that's good luck." I wish. If I had a pinch of good luck for everytime I've injured myself by moving too quickly and disregarding immovable objects in my path . . . I'd be Lucky the freaking leprechaun by now.

Who knew a little toe could cause such a big pain.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Grateful Thread

We are in Pennsylvania, enjoying visits with extended family for the holiday. It's 8:15am and I'm the only one awake--rare, indeed. Here is this week's installment of my 'gratitude adjustment.' I'm thankful for. . .

1. Western Pennsylvania winter weather. If you grew up in Western PA, winter means something completely different than people from such far away tropical locales as Fairfax, Virginia, where we're lucky to get one or two good snowfalls every year. I always feel like my kids are getting cheated out of quality winter weather, although we are quick to get out the door with our snowshoes and sleds as soon as we see the white stuff falling in VA. Tuesday night we drove through a snowstorm on our way up here, and the kids got to spend Wednesday morning sled riding and building snowmen with their cousin, while snow was actually still falling. They might not get a white Christmas in VA, but at least they had a white Thanksgiving in PA!

2. The 18-wheeler we followed through the snowstorm. If it weren't for this guy's blinking hazard lights and fresh tire tracks which we followed over the mountain, #1 might not be on my gratitude list!

3. Digital cameras. Casey is pouty at best, angry at worst, when it's time for family photo shoots. Between my brother's girlfriend and my mom, they took about 30 pictures yesterday for us, one of which might be salvagable for a Christmas card photo. The rest. . .delete, save for future humiliation, or transfer to disc and forget about them. No wasted film. Now, if I could only become more proficient at Photoshop. . .

4. Turkey and stuffing. 'Nuff said.

And most importantly . . .

5. My family.

Keller and Casey bring me laughter (and ultimate challenges of patience) every day. Watching them learn and grow brings me a sense of hope for the future that I don't believe would be there without them. They are so different from eachother, but each have parts of me and parts of Dave that become more evident as they grow-up. I am always torn between wanting to keep them young and (fairly) innocent, and being anxious to see what kind of people they are going to turn out to be.

Dave has supported me through every goal (a.k.a. crazy idea) that I've set. That's not to say that we haven't had to break out the spreadsheets and flowcharts to work out practical plans for those goals. . .but he has offered me unwavering support and unconditional love on many journeys, including our most recent journey to Marley.

Although Marley isn't here yet, she has brought so much excitement and joy to our family already. We just received an update on her and are thrilled to learn that she is walking now. At 18 months, she was not walking or crawling, which is not at all uncommon for kids in orphanages, but was worrisome to my mama heart none the less. Now, three months later, she is walking and crawling. Time to break out the baby gates and prepare the dogs for another moving object in the house!!

My mom gave me a compassionate heart that is such an imporant part of who I am. She would truly give her last dime to help someone else, even a stranger. She gives so much and never lets a birthday or anniversary pass without sending good wishes to friends, family, co-workers, etc. She is also a big softy. I remember when we would watch my brother's soccer games in high school--he was a great goalkeeper and if his team had a shut-out, my mom would feel so sorry for the other team because they didn't get to score any goals on my brother! A true heart for the underdog.

My dad gave me an ambitious drive (a.k.a. stubborn streak) that drove him crazy when I was younger, but I think makes him proud now. Every time I tell him of a new adventure (like my solo trip to Guatemala last year), he moves quickly from the initial feeling that I'm doing something crazy--to the knowlege that I'm going to do whatever I want anyway--to a sense of pride that I would be brave enough to just do it. My dad and I haven't faced-off in a real argument since my tumultuous teenage years, but I think if we did, he'd hear some of himself coming through!

My sister lived through sharing a room with me for the first 17 years of my life, so she has earned my respect after years of picking up and/or stepping over my messes--both literally and figuratively. She decided this summer that she was going to teach full-time, after graduating with a teaching degree in 1994 and never teaching in a public school. She got hired, is doing a great job of teaching 2nd grade, and has passed her exams to earn her professional licensure. She is managing a full-time job and motherhood better than I could, for sure. Her kids are clean, fed, and their homework is done, which is about all I can manage some days without a full-time job!

My brother is a young-at-heart 31 year old who has more friends than could fit on a fleet of buses. I think they've tried, but the kegs took up too much room ;) He seriously has so many good, close friends who he has shared a lot with over the years. Many are friends he has known since elementary school, which is proof that he is a pretty good guy and worth keeping up a friendship with. He's the kind of guy who has annual fishing trips and beach trips with his buddies that are probably going on 10 or more consecutive years. A guy whose friends are lucky to have him.

Stay tuned for next week's installment of things I'm grateful for, which will hopefully include Travel Approval to go get Marley.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My 'Weekly Gratitude Adjustment'

When you've been stuck at home with two sick kids for. . .oh, I don't know . . . 97 hours and 4 minutes, it is possible to lose sight of the good things in life. The mountains of toxic laundry, the sights and sounds of small children experiencing intestinal distress, and the sinking realization that the health department is going to shut the place down (they've already been here to paint the big black "X" over the door)--all of these things could be considered distractions in my usual quest to stop and smell the roses. Today I found a blog that I really love--funny mama with great perspectives and a sarcastic eloquence that I truly appreciate. She has started including a blog post once a week where she lists 10 things she is grateful for. So, I'm swiping her idea right off her blog, except I'm going to start with 5 things. Hey, don't forget about the sick kid distractions, ok? I'll work up to 10 in time.

Here's my first installment of my 'Gratitude Adjustment' (for the record, that's my own catchy title, I didn't steal that!). This week I'm grateful for:

1. Comfy pants. Right now I'm wearing a pair of Sweet Juliet Boutique brand yoga pants which I found at Marshalls for $12.99. They are like a total lower body snuggly hug. I wish I could wear them every day, and there have been weeks when I've come close.

2. My breadmaker. I've been enjoying the delicious smell of a fresh hot loaf of wheat bread with zucchini for the past hour while it has been baking. My whole family goes ga-ga over the bread. We take no prisoners and show no mercy--the 2 pound loaf will be reduced to crumbs by the end of the night.

3. Dave working at home. He is even beginning to pick up on the giant loud sigh I leave just outside of his office door on particularly tough days. It is not always easy to have him so close but yet so far away in his little 'man cave' off of the kitchen, but the pros far outweigh the cons.

4. The library. Books cost a lot of money, and I wouldn't be able to feed my addiction if it weren't for the good old public library. I usually have no less than 4 books on my nightstand, all of which I am reading at the same time. Well, not technically at the exact same time, but you know what I mean. I typically have one fiction, one non-fiction related to China and/or adoption, one quirky book recommended by a friend, and then usually one that I haven't quite fallen in love with but am not ready to pull the trigger on. Right now my stack includes: "Falling Leaves: the memoir of an unwanted Chinese daughter" by Adeline Yen Mah; "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder; "The Tao of Willie Nelson" by Willie Nelson, of course; and "Elvis, Jesus & Coca-Cola" by Kinky Friedman.

5. Express shipping. It was the method by which we received our Letter Seeking Confirmation from China last week, and after signing it and checking the little box that said, "We accept the referral of this child", express shipping is the way it has been sent back to the powers-that-be so that we can go bring our little girl home soon. I can't imagine if we had to wait for our paperwork to go on a slow boat . . .Oh, and express shipping has also saved my backside many times when family members have waited until mid-December to provide wish lists for Christmas. (Hint, hint).

Friday, November 14, 2008

And the winner is . . . . Matt Evans!!!

The boys did the drawing today before school and we'd like to congratulate Matt Evans for winning the Wii game console! Thanks to everyone for your generosity in purchasing tickets. The money will be given to Marley's orphanage when we travel to get her, probably next month!!

I'm not sure why, but I can't get the "live drawing" video to post on our blog right now, but assure you that Matt Evans is indeed the lucky winner :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wii tickets have all been sold!

All of our tickets have been sold! We'll do the drawing tomorrow and notify the winner right away. Check back to our blog to see who the lucky winner is!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Update on Wii Raffle

As of 10pm tonight, we only have FIVE tickets left to sell. I promised we'd limit the raffle to 100 tickets, and we've sold 95 already! Thank you everyone! As soon as I see that those five tickets are sold, we'll close the chip-in, and we'll do our drawing earlier than the originally scheduled date of November 26th. We weren't expecting such a quick response!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fall follies

We've been enjoying some beautiful weather and many good times with friends so far this fall. The boys really got into Halloween this year (and how could they not get into it--with a Halloween party in the neighborhood, parades and parties at both schools, trick-or-treat night, Halloween parade when we camped in mid-October, etc.). They also ran in the Goblin Gallop 1K race again for the third year straight. Keller decided to wear last year's Venom costume for the race rather than his zombie get-up because he felt that Venom suit would give him more flexibility on the race course. Too cute. Casey ran the whole thing without even slowing down for a second. When we were in the car on the way home, he asked if we were going to go "do the gallop now." Poor guy thought that he'd be galloping a race at some point that day.

We have received a piece of good news about Marley, which is that our file has finally been moved to the office which will issue our "Letter Seeking Confirmation." This is the letter China sends to us to confirm that we are planning to come get Marley. It is the last major hurdle in the process, other than booking our travel. The letter has been held up since the end of September due to a clerical error, which blows my mind. Here we are, ready, willing and able to bring her home and meet all of her needs---there she is waiting in an orphanage half a world away---and the thing keeping us apart is a data entry error that led the registration office to believe we had OVER paid our fees. This has been a trying wait to say the least, but once we have that letter, we'll be cleared to travel about 3 weeks after that. We hope to receive our letter next week. I've started working on packing a suitcase for her (at the recommendation of my wise friend Amy who was quick to notice that I was driving myself insane worrying over tiny details like how many pairs of socks to pack for Marley!).

I find comfort in the belief that the trials and tribulations of the adoption process have laid a really strong base for our relationship with Marley. It is a leap of faith to let your heart love a child you've never met, who is so very far away. I am sure my bond with her will be different than my bonds with the boys, just as my bond with each of them continues to evolve uniquely as they grow.

That same wise friend who suggested I start packing Marley's suitcase also predicted that I was heading for a major meltdown about three weeks ago, and she was right. The meltdown happened Thursday morning and I'm not going to lie, it was downright ugly. But, it felt good to let out a bunch of flat out sorrow and I'm doing fine now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The joys of parenting two boys . . .

Here are three pieces of evidence that my boys' goal in life is to torture me. Each of these three things has caused me to teeter on the edge of laughter vs. crying, but I'm at least leaning toward the laughter side now.

Yesterday Keller asked me how to spell "stinky breath" so I told him, not really wanting to know why he needed to know ;) Fast forward twenty minutes and there is evil laughter from him, followed by angry crying from Casey. Turns out big brother had taped a homemade "stinky breath" label onto a water bottle and offered his little brother a taste of this special potion, which he of course drank a sip of because he is always trying to do whatever his cool big brother is doing. The water . . .well, let's just say it came from the bathroom, but not the sink, tub or shower.

Last night we set up the humidifier in the boys' room because they are both prone to nosebleeds, especially right now with the dry air. Casey came out of the bathroom, wet from the tub and snuggled up in a warm towel. He looked at the humidifier, which I'm guessing he doesn't remember from last winter, and immediately proceeds to drop his towel and "cool his jets" over the cold mist vapor with an elated grin on his face.

And finally, today Casey called me into the bathroom to wipe his bottom for him (which is of course, the greatest joy of motherhood--not). I looked in the potty and
didn't see evidence of any pee to go with the other business, so I questioned him about it. He pointed to the floor and said, I peed over there. I saw a few drops and thought he meant he had accidentally sprinkled a little. Oh no, he had intentionally peed down into the heating vent in the floor. I had to clean the vent cover and then scour the ventilation duct inside because we all know what that would smell like if it wasn't cleaned and the heat kicked on.

These boys . . . they had better take care of me in my old age.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Can one be 'prepared' to become a Huffman?

A few people have asked me lately if Marley is 'being prepared' to join our family. Friends and family would like to know how much Marley knows about us, how much she is spoken to about us, and how often she has seen pictures of us. I don't know the answers to those questions. I know that we have sent two small baby-proof (equals chewable/slobberable) albums filled with pictures of our family. I know that we have sent four care packages, each with a letter asking the nannies to give her hugs & kisses and tell her that her family loves her. I also know that she is only 20 months old, so probably doesn't grasp much at this point. She knows that she has a new snuggly blanket, some snazzy toys, and hopefully she is becoming familiar with the strange-looking people in these albums they keep giving her.

But the question of whether or not Marley is 'prepared' to join the Huffman family gave me cause for reflection today. I mean, anyone who has spent more than an hour with our crew knows that we are a unique group with some truly quirky individuals. So, I'll share a glimpse of what Marley needs to be prepared for . . .

Casey has been working on a project that he refers to as "homemade applesauce" for two days now. So far, this concoction has involved water, juice, pretzels, dry spaghetti, chestnuts, one single peanut, a medicine dropper, a bug vacuum, the controller from our V.Smile game system, an 'enchanted fairy wand' that he made me buy him in NC this summer, a plastic sea lion, a wooden foot massager, and a walkie talkie. If any of those items is moved from his 'laboratory' on the kitchen table, he has a fit and reminds us all that he is working on his "homemade applesauce" and we shouldn't touch it. As further evidence of his wonderful imagination, he has been telling us (and anyone else who will listen) that he has another family in California and that he'll be going to live with them soon. He packed a backpack with his brush and mirror, a Pokemon game, a few books, some plastic animals, and a camera. When I mentioned this to an adoptive parent who I am friends with, she said that this is all very normal for a young child who is gaining a sibling through adoption. But when I told her that his 'other family' happens to be half dog/half human robots . . .she didn't mention the words 'very normal' for the rest of the conversation.

Keller has an absolute obsession with climbing, much to the surprise and shock of some of the other parents in the neighborhood. He climbs street signs straight up to the top, does the monkey bars in our back yard at least 50 times a day (typically shirtless, no matter what the weather) and climbed 20 feet up in a spruce tree during his big birthday bash. He has dance moves that bring to mind visions of electroshock therapy and has an amazing arsenal of ridiculous faces to accompany his moves. He is a prolific artist, drawing all things monstrous and hideous. We have weekly sit-downs where I force him to labor over the difficult decision of which 50 pictures to recycle and which 5 to keep for the week.

And then there is Dave. Let's just say that Dave challenged me to a Moonwalk Contest tonight and won. He forced Keller to watch a video of Michael Jackson doing the original, then we had to give our best efforts. For the record, I think Keller picked Dave as the winner solely because he made him laugh harder than I did, with some sort of funky chicken jutting neck movement thrown in there. That's one contest I didn't mind losing. Dave loves to shower me with cheesy romantic comments which earn him rolling eyes and laughter from me. He can turn any conversation into a song, ranging from Phish to Willie Nelson to Jack Johnson to the Beastie Boys.

I'll leave out all of the ways that I am strange and loud, because most of you reading this already know me well enough. A life-long battle with embarassing clumsiness and the frequent loss of important items (wallet, keys, camera) are some of my claims to fame.

Our house is full of laughter, dancing, some really bad singing, and lots of noise. So, is Marley 'prepared' to become a Huffman? All we can do is hope that the combined commotion of the other 50-60 kiddos at her orphanage have at least given her the ability to roll with the punches, right?!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Keller's Dino Dig!

Still waiting . . .

Thanks to the many folks who have checked in on us to see how things are going as we wait for Marley. We haved passed the tentative 60-90 day timeframe for the phase we are in. We are on day 103 today. Joining the "Century Club" isn't something we had planned on, but it is what it is. There is no problem or reason for concern, the process is just moving very slowly in China for many families right now. Our agency expects us to have our LOA (Letter of Acceptance) by the end of October. The LOA is a letter that the Chinese Center for Adoption Affairs sends to us asking us if we still accept Marley and wish to proceed with her adoption. It signifies that all of the paperwork we submitted is through their review process. We will sign it and send it back to them, and then approximately 3 weeks later, we will receive our Travel Approval (TA). We are still really hoping to be able to bring her home by the end of 2008, but it is out of our hands.

I am currently fluctuating between wallowing in self-pity (with plans to wallow in chocolate and wine as soon as a decent hour arrives!) and feeling at peace with everything. To keep it in perspective, I have been reminding myself that a year ago at this time, Dave & I were still working through questions about if/when we would adopt. A year ago, we didn't know anything about this beautiful little soul who is waiting for us a world away. A year is not a long time in the world of international adoption. But we have been falling in love with her and imagining her in our lives since mid-March now, and these last six months have felt eternal at times. I cannot wait to hear her voice, see her smile, hold her and hug her. I cannot wait for Dave to hold his daughter for the first time, or for the boys to meet this little being who is going to be their sister forever. I cannot wait to know her. . .to know what makes her happy, sad, mad as hell. . .to know what she likes to eat and what she drops on the floor for the dogs . . . to know what she looks like when she's sleeping.

But, wait is exactly what we have to do for now. I mailed a care package to her today. This is the fourth one we've sent her. We sent her a warm blanket and some pajamas for the cool weather, as well as another small toy. I gave the blanket a good squeeze and a kiss before putting it in the box. Just trying to send some extra love her way. Casey helped me pick out some warm socks for her, as we can't imagine letting her little feet be cold. I stuffed the rest of the box full of goodies for the older children at her orphanage, too, as I'm sure there are many who don't know the joy of receiving gifts from a waiting family. I included 18 boxes of Crayola crayons and a huge bag of lollipops. I alway enclose a letter which I translate into Chinese using Babel Fish. I have had one of my Chinese students proof-read letters in the past, but I forgot to do that last night at class, so I am hopeful that the letter I sent wasn't full of grammatical errors, or worse!

Send positive vibes, happy thoughts, prayers---whatever your style is---in our direction as we wait to bring our little girl home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fall ramblings . . .

Hello family & friends. Forgive me for I have strayed. It's been several weeks since my last confession, I mean blog post. I've fallen off the blogger wagon and have failed to even add pictures from our beach trip in August, the first day of kindergarten, and my first triathlon. I could blame it on my laptop crashing, on the horrible funk that I slid into for a week (ok, maybe two weeks) last month, or many other things. But really, I just haven't gotten the hang of sitting down and rambling about the Huffman family adventures on a regular basis yet. I promise to do better. For now, I'll give a little 'catch up' on each of us. . .

Casey started the 3 1/2 year olds' preschool class a couple of weeks ago. He seems to really like it. He has the same teacher and assistant that Keller had two years ago. I told them that I thought they would notice that my kids are polar opposites in terms of personality--Keller is much more out-going and Casey is more reserved for example. When I picked Casey up the first morning of preschool, his teacher Sarah said, "I don't know why you think your boys are different--Casey is exactly like Keller was at the beginning of his year in this class. Couldn't sit through circle time, running all over the room. He even looks like a clone of Keller. He'll settle down though." All the while I'm standing there thinking, 'Ok, this isn't really making me feel better!' I was so hoping to have one kid who would be the quiet kid in school. No such luck. He has been doing a great job since then, but he did have his first time-out on Friday. When I picked him up I asked how school was and he said, "It was good but Nathan was doing it, too, not just me." Hmmmm. Turns out the two of them got a little goofy at the end of the day when they were doing their closing circle time. Casey showed me a reinactment of what he was doing in class, and I confirmed later with the teaching assistant that it was truly a "Keller Special" maneuver. Hee Hee. Other than school, Casey is just kind of going with the flow around here. He has his first little girlfriend. She's the younger sister of a boy in Keller's class. We see her when we walk to- and from- school every day and have had a few playdates. He always asks if he can take an extra snack along for her, draws her pictures--it's too cute.

Keller started kindergarten on September 2nd and so far, so good. He wasn't so sure about it during the first week. The first day was hard on he and I both--he almost started to cry when it was time to walk in the building and get started. He came over and put his head against me and it was touch-and-go for both of us there for a couple of minutes. His teacher was one of the assistant coaches for his soccer team in the spring, so that was a little reassuring for him (and for us--she's seen him in every mode ranging from 'just took a dose of Claritin and would like to nap on the side of the field' to 'I'm on fire and stopped counting how many goals I scored this game.') Lucky for us, especially in light of the fact that he woke up at 8:45 on the first day of school, Keller is in afternoon kindergarten. He takes after me and feels like nothing really important is meant to happen before 9:30ish in the morning. He goes to school from 12:15-3:30 which is working out perfectly for us. He really loves his 'specials'--he has Art, Music, PE, Library, Computer and Spanish. He has made some good buddies who live nearby. We all meet up at the bus stop at lunch time (which is only about 2/10 of a mile from our house), and then we all walk home from school together (which is about 9/10 of a mile from our house). He has mastered the art of climbing street sign posts all the way to the top--about 15 feet up. He is a natural climber and has a lot of arm strength in those spindly little twigs! He has recently gotten interested in baseball and seems to have some ability there, although catching is still kinda funny to watch! Lots of different versions of Keller basically giving himself a forceful hug while the ball either bounces off of him or flies off to the side. He will turn 6 in a couple of weeks and we are planning a big shindig for him. The kid has a lot of friends!

Dave is training for his second triathlon of the season. This one is coming up on October 12th and is about 2x the distances of our last one which we did on September 7th. He is taking his training pretty seriously and the boys & I are looking forward to cheering him on at his race. We'll be camping for the weekend and will drive over to the starting/finishing area on race morning to yell and scream (oh wait, that's probably what the boys will be doing to each other!)so we'll 'cheer' for Dave. His business continues to grow despite the dreadful economy. It's nice to have him working from home full-time, although we're still working out the kinks (hey, it's only been 19 months since his work-at-home arrangement started, give us a little time!).

Marley continues to grow and thrive, which would be so much more enjoyable if she happened to be on this side of the globe. She will turn 20 months old on Monday. We 'found' her when she was 13 months old, so she has grown and changed a lot since those first pictures we received. It is grueling to be missing all of that. It has been very hard to wait and wait, but we are still within a normal timeframe for the process. We expect to receive our next piece of paperwork from China soon, at least by the end of October. After that, we can expect to travel in somewhere around six weeks. I'm really excited for the trip for the obvious reasons, but also I can't wait to spend two weeks in China, with my mom. We are going to see some beautiful sights I'm sure, but I am anticipating some comical moments as well, like if we end up needing to use the 'squatty potties' that are found in many restaurants in China. The food will be a cool experience--Keller wants me to try some of the delicacies, like fried scorpion kabobs!

Who else . . .Wilson & Layla are a pair of tired old mutts these days. I think they sleep about 20 hours a day, and bug me the other 4. Wilson is still taking chemo drugs, steroids and the occasional antibiotic to keep his cancer under control. His quality of life is still very good and you wouldn't know he is sick if you saw him chasing squirrels and rabbits in the yard. His vet told me the other day that of all the dogs she has tried on this new protocol, Wilson is the only one who has made it this far after being diagnosed. Most others only survived a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Wilson has been going strong for almost 9 months since we found out about his tumor. Layla is battling her third batch of bladder stones, so that's no fun for anyone, but she seems to be doing pretty well. These pooches have been around so long now--Layla is almost 12 years old and has been with us for 10 of those years. Wilson just turned 11 and has been with us for 8 of those years. Although they follow me around and drive me nuts on a continual basis, they are so much a part of the Huffman family that I can't even let myself think about what it will be like without them someday.

I guess that just leaves me now to catch-up. I did my first triathlon on September 7th and although it was definitely a learning experience (like learning how to yank a wet ponytail holder out of my wet head so I could lower my ponytail to put my bike helmet on--this battle took me about 3 minutes!!) I am really proud of my accomplishment. I felt best during the swim, which was the one event that had always turned me off of triathlons. The bike was fine and the run was brutal--due in part to being exhausted, having a mental block against running, and recurring pain where I had my foot surgery in February. But overall I finished thinking , "Well, Damn! I just did a freaking triathlon. Who gives a patootie if I didn't win the thing!" I don't have any other races on the calendar right now, but will hopefully do a couple more tris next year. I'm still teaching adult ESL two nights a week and am getting to know my new students. I have a huge class (30 people) so it is a bit exhausting at times, but I've got some really great folks in there with incredible life stories, which makes it interesting and worth the extra effort it takes to get to know each of them. My class is very diverse--students from nine different countries--and it's really cool to be a part of it. Students who can't even find each other's home countries on a world map end up being good friends--students from countries that have been at war with each other in recent history end up sharing rides to class--my students either don't have deeply held predjudices or they do a good job of checking them at the door.

I won't ramble on any longer, as I realize many people will have stopped reading about two paragraphs ago! I'll just end by saying that I feel like a really lucky lady every day of my life--I've got a patient and supportive husband who loves me even when I'm at my bitchiest or lowest points; I've got two handsome and amazingly entertaining little boys who still haven't figured out that I'm not perfect; and I've got a little girl on the other side of the world who will someday soon come home and give me another reason to thank my lucky stars for all the love in my life.

Hopefully the next time I post I'll be able to include my travel itinerary for China!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Summer is slipping away. . .

We've been busy having fun, and time is truly flying. Since my last post, we've taken a weekend trip to Lancaster, PA to camp and take the kids to their first amusement park, "Dutch Wonderland." It was fun, but definitely confirmed my suspicion that my sons were born with zero fear! I, on the other hand, had to take Dramamine for the car ride there, let alone the rides!

We spent five days visiting family in Pennsylvania. There are many cousins, aunts, and uncles who Keller & Casey don't get to spend enough time with. We got to see everyone many times during our visit, the boys got to experience what I had growing up--Gram & Pap's awesome swimming pool, lots of kids to play with, picnics in the pavilion. . .although we only make it up there once/summer, I'm so glad the kids can get at least of taste of what it feels like to have a large, close-knit family. My grandparents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary while we were there, which is amazing. Dave and I always joke that we only signed a 50-year agreement on our wedding day, and will consider going year-to-year after that :) Seriously, though, our wedding anniversary is coming up on Tuesday and I know that someday we'll be celebrating our 60th, too.

The boys participated in their summer running program again this year and loved it. I had a serious case of mama-guilt because I taught every Tuesday night and missed most of their running nights. I was able to make it on the last night for their final time trials, and loved being there to cheer the boys on.

We were excited to receive updated photos of Marley yesterday in the morning. She looks cute as usual and we can't wait to finally hold her. We are still expecting a travel date sometime in November, possibly December if things slow down due to the Olympics. We've sent disposable cameras in her care packages, so hopefully the nannies at her orphanage are taking pictures of her, her orphanage, and her friends so that we can show them to her as she grows up. We have a dresser full of clothes and I am refinishing a gorgeous antique bed for her room (although she will sleep in our room for as long as her heart desires!).

Dave and I continue to train for the triathlon we are doing on September 7th. Tomorrow I'll be doing a 'trial run' of the course with a friend. I've got the swim down well (although I'm not expecting to give Michael Phelps any competition!), the bike is fine, and I'm working on my mental block against running, which seems to have developed after my foot surgery in the winter. Of course, by the time I finish the 400m swim and 12 mile bike, I might not stand much chance of actually 'running' anyway!

Enjoy the slide show of recent pictures.

July and August 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Woooohooooo! We have immigration approval!!

I am beyond excited. I did a dance, hollered and skipped until Keller ran away from me with a very concerned look on his face--I think he thought I'd truly lost my mind after years of threatening that it would happen!! I am sooooooooooo excited right now, and had a little too much coffee this morning. I feel like I need a human-sized hamster wheel to get rid of my excess energy right now!

I think I'm going to make the drive to Richmond on Monday to get it certified, then walk it through the authentication process in DC (two different offices for us VA residents) and get it off to BAAS (our placing agency) before we leave for vacation at Dave's mom's in NC. The rest of our dossier has been at BAAS for two weeks and is approved and ready to go.

Did I mention that I'm absurdly happy at this moment in time?! Our region typically takes around 9 weeks to process. Ours was 6 weeks and 2 days! Yipppeeeee!!!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Delfest May 2008

Massanutten Waterpark May 2008

Old School Keller Dance Party

We have been searching for this video on the home computer forever, and finally found it again tonight. This is from spring 2007, but is definitely worth pulling from the vault.


I finally had a chance to sit down and upload some recent videos to our blog, and also posted a longer update on what the Huffman Crew has been up to. Enjoy!

Casey's cute little speech

Casey has quite a few "Casey-isms". He brought in the periscope and telescope from the playset and told me he had a 'calculator' and a 'lookin' scope.' Then he proceeded to give them a variety of other names. Pretty cute to see his language developing.


At the tail end of a day on Skyline Drive, we went to a place called Dinosaurland. We pulled up and found a rundown, rather sad little park that was probably pretty cool twenty years ago. The kids loved it though, and the gift shop was awesome--every dinosaur item known to man!!

Keller shows off some funky dance moves

Here's Keller breaking it down for Grammy & Aunt Lel

Keller hulahooping at DelFest part 1

Keller learned to hulahoop at DelFest!

Moving right along . . . .

Our paperchase is moving along pretty quickly now. I walked some paperwork through one of the authentication offices in DC on Wednesday morning, then sent it off to the Chinese Embassy on Friday for the final necessary seals. When those are returned to us, we can send our entire dossier (minus the immigration approval) to our agency for it to be reviewed and prepared for submission to China. I had my fingerprints re-done at the immigration office on May 15th (thankfully the coordinator took pity on me and moved my reprint date up from the 22nd) and so far, we haven't heard anything. The last time, we got the notice about my unreadable prints one week after the prints were done. It has been over 2 weeks since the second appointment, so at this point, no news is good news. Hopefully we will receive our approval in about 5-7 weeks, and then everything will be done on the US side. Once our dossier arrives in China, we have been told to expect to travel in about 4-5 months. My mom will be travelling with me for the entire 10-12 day journey, and we are still hoping to find a way that Dave will be allowed to come for the first portion of the trip and then leave to be at home with the boys. We aren't sure yet whether the Chinese and US governments will allow it. Many families have done this type of arrangement in the past, but we have heard that it is becoming more difficult in some provinces. My mom has not flown much and has not travelled out of the country, so this will be really exciting for her. She will be there to meet her first granddaughter, and will get to see a part of the world that many others never will. I might have to give her the "Mr. T Treatment" (remember the A-Team?) on the long flights, but we'll survive!

We got an update on Marley last week, although no pictures this time : ( We know that she now says a few words, including the Mandarin words for "auntie", "grandmother", and "mother". These are the names by which the nannies in the orphanage are called by the children. She likes to play with dolls and is apparently a pretty good eater. We will ask for another update in a month, and hope to get some new pictures with it.

The boys are doing great and are just about to finish preschool for the summer. Keller will have an official graduation ceremony from his Pre-K class, sniff, sniff. Can't believe my baby will be a kindergartener in the fall. He has learned and grown so much this year in school. He has a really strong academic base to start kindergarten (which, on a side note, I can't believe that it is even necessary to have an academic base for kindergarten these days--I swear when I started kindergarten all I had to do was draw a stick figure, count to 10, and be potty-trained!). He can spell some simple words, read some sight words, do basic addition, knows more about biology and science than I do, and has grown and matured in the realm of social interactions. Although he still has a very deep well of energy to keep him going, he has it under control. . . for the most part! Casey will finish his first year of preschool next week and is going to be going to summer camp for a week at his school this year. It's a big step--staying away for 4 hours/day including lunch--but he's super excited about it. Casey has learned a lot at school this year, too and most importantly, he absolutely loves going. It has always been a priority to Dave and I that our kids have really positive experiences with their earliest school years, and I really think they've both had that at their school.

Last weekend we took the boys camping at a bluegrass festival in Maryland. It was an excellent weekend with great weather, great music, and great people. Keller & Casey made some friends as soon as we pulled in with the pop-up and I'm sure we'll be seeing them around at concerts and on some hikes this summer. The pool is open and we've enjoyed three trips so far this week. Warm weather, sunny skies, but freezing cold water!

Dave and I are training for a triathlon which will be on September 7th. It will be my first one, and Dave's first since his back surgery last year. Our good friends Amy & Chris will be doing it with us, as well as our neighbor/friend Lynn. My foot has almost completely recovered, but I'm still a bit ginger in the running department.

Our summer plans include a romantic weekend away in June (if Dave mentions where we're going to anyone, I'll give you $5 to call and tell me!); a trip to NC to visit Grandma Nancy & Big Old Bob; camping at Lake Anna with the Rigbys; a long weekend at the beach with Papa Jerry, Uncle Jim, and the Cators; a trip to PA to visit Grammy, Poppy, and to go to Grandma Dot & Pappy George's 60th anniversary party; a visit to the Bartos in PA; and a few other short jonts here and there with the camper in tow.

Come on down/up/over for a visit sometime soon!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Immigration delay, ugh.

I got a letter in the mail today saying that my fingerprints, which were taken on May 1st, came back as 'unclassifiable.' I need to go be re-printed, and the appointment they gave me is not until May 22nd. So, rather than being 1 week into the 7-9 week wait for our final piece of paperwork, we are 2 weeks away from even starting the countdown. The immigration clearance is the last document that we need to include in our dossier before it can be sent off to China. This setback will most likely mean a 3-week difference in how soon we can travel to bring Marley home.

So, so, so disappointing. She turned 15 months old on Tuesday, which means another month of her life has passed without us being there to see her grow and change.

I am trying to keep a positive outlook about it as best as I can. We were lucky to have received our Pre-Approval to adopt her in such a short time (2 weeks versus the 4+ we had been expecting). Our local immigration office typically takes 9 weeks to process applications, but has been completing them in closer to 7 1/2 weeks. With those shortened time frames, it makes up for the three 'extra' weeks we'll have to wait for our immigration clearance, right? Yeah, well, I'm trying to convince myself of that.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Marley's finding day anniversary

Today marks one year since Marley's "finding day"--the day she was found outside of a residential gate in her town. She was taken in to the orphanage, bathed, checked over, given fresh clothes and a bottle. Even at the tender age of 2 1/2 months, I am sure that our little sweetheart knew that something had changed forever in her life. I am sure that she cried for her mama and felt confused when her mama didn't comfort her. She has lived the past year with the love and care of a group of nannies who, by all accounts from other families who have adopted children from her social welfare institute, nurture these children and give them all of the love that they can. But it's not the same as the love of a mother.

My heart aches for Marley's birth family today, and especially for her birth mother. We will never know the circumstances that brought her family to the place where they felt her best chance at life would be with another family. Perhaps they felt they had no choice because of the 'one child policy' in China. Maybe they didn't have the money and resources to feed her, especially with her cleft palate. Regardless of how they reached the wrenching decision, I know that it must have been a very sad time in their lives. I took a few minutes today to try to imagine what this day must feel like for Marley's birth mother.

One year ago, she wrapped her baby girl in a blanket and said goodbye to her for the last time. She left her in an area where she knew she'd be found quickly. How her heart must have broken to hear her daughter's cries as she turned and walked away. She had loved and held that baby in her arms and in her heart for months already. It must have been agonizing to know that she would likely never know where her daughter grew up, who loved her, what she became. Maybe it brought her comfort to believe that her little baby would be treasured and loved completely by a family who could give her the life she had once dreamed of for herself as a little girl growing up in China. Perhaps she hid and watched until she saw that Marley had been found. Perhaps she changed her mind several times as she waited. Or perhaps she walked away as quickly as her grief-stricken body could carry her. I hope that she had someone at home, whether her husband, mother, or perhaps her firstborn child, to wrap her in their arms and tell her that she would be alright . . . that she would heal from this loss. . . that her grief would lessen . . . that she had made the best choice for her baby. As a mother, I cannot allow myself to go to the place of imagining living out the rest of my life without one of my children. As the mother who will have the privilege of watching Marley grow up and showering her with love every day, I wish that I could tell her birth mother how much we love her already, how deep our commitment is to her, and how grateful we are to have been given the honor of loving her daughter.

Please send a silent prayer for Marley and her birth family today, as the loss they all suffered weighs heavily on many hearts today.

I have a truly beautiful book called "The Motherbridge of Love" which I have been reading to the boys. The illustrations are amazing and the story is so sweet. It is a poem that was written by an adoptive mother. The poem is as follows:

"Two different lives shaped to make you one.
One became your guiding star;
the other became your sun.

The first one gave you life;
the second taught you to live it.
The first gave you a need for love;
the second was there to give it.

One gave you a body,
the other taught you games.
One gave you a talent.
The other taught you aims.

One gave you emotions;
the other calmed your fears.
One saw your first sweet smile;
the other dried your tears.

One found a home for you
that she could not provide.
The other prayed for a child;
her hope was not denied.

And now you ask, of course you do,
the question others ask me too:
This place or your birth place--
which are you the daughter of?

Both of them, my darling--
and two different kinds of love."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Slideshow -- Spring Pics of Keller & Casey

Click here for more fun pics.

Originally uploaded by hgdaisy

We have Pre-Approval from China!!

On Thursday, the 10th, we received an email from our agency saying that the Chinese officials had already sent our Pre-Approval (PA) notification!! Rather than waiting the 4-6 weeks we had anticipated, we received our PA only 2 weeks and 1 day after submitting it. We are busy at work on our dossier paperwork, and are thrilled that we were finally able to send a care package to Marley at her orphanage. I just cannot wait to bring our little girl home. We are hoping to travel in October or November, sooner would be great, but with the Olympics in Beijing in August, travel for adoptions will probably slow down quite a bit this summer. It may cause a bit of a backlog for the many appointments we will need to attend once we finally meet Marley in China. I'm posting her picture here, which was taken in mid-March. Isn't she just too cute?!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

We are officially waiting for "Marley Rae Xinhe"

Yeah!! We are thrilled to announce that our request has been sent off to the Chinese government for official permission to bring Marley Rae Xinhe home to our family! We have no reason to expect anything other than a positive response, which will come in the next 4-6 weeks. We have now entered the waiting zone, and are working hard on the "paperchase." Hopefully we'll be bringing her home sometime between October and December.

Welcome to our new family blog!