A Favorite Neutral

The walls in our hallway were green every since we moved in nine years ago. I can’t believe I had waited so long to change them. It is so not like me. I liked the green walls (you can see them in this OLD post from 2010), but I was very ready to lighten up the space that is typically kind of dark.

While searching for a neutral color, I think I found a new favorite. The color I used is called Combed Cotton by PPG Pittsburgh Paints. I painted walls a few months ago and created a new gallery wall going up the steps. It’s still a work in progress.hall1hall8

The color goes perfectly with the gray-beige color in the kitchen and the gray-blue color in the family room. It’s a cream that doesn’t have a lot of yellow but has a hint of gray undertones. It’s so pretty. And it looks great with white trim. Our trim color is Ultra Pure White by Behr.hall11hall10hall16hall3hall5hall17hall4hall6hall15hall7

A little about our youngest

It’s been just over a week since since we came home from China, and we are settling into our new normal with this sweet little guy. I thought I’d share a little bit more about him with you.

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Since we first met him, he has surprised us with his ability to communicate, even though he doesn’t understand English and we don’t understand Chinese. We have never had a moment where he’s been frustrated with us not understanding him. He uses hand motions and grunts when he wants or needs something. For example, he points to his mouth or his belly when he’s hungry and moves his hands in a certain motion meaning “no”. We’ve also taught him a few signs like “more” and “all done”, which he’s learned very quickly.

Because of his cleft palate, he has trouble forming words, so he doesn’t say much except “no”. I mean, he’s two, so it’s normal that it is his favorite word, right?

Sawyer3His very favorite thing to do is play outside, and we’ve been taking lots of walks and doing a lot of swinging. I am so thankful it is Spring and the weather has been great for being outside! Our days would be a lot harder if we were stuck inside all day.

He also likes to play with legos and toy farm animals and little cars and trucks. He seems to figure things out very quickly and likes to organize and stack his toys.Sawyer4

Like a lot of kids coming from orphanages, food is very important to him and he is obsessed with it. He is almost constantly telling us he is hungry, and we are careful to meet his needs for comfort and security in food. I try to have healthy snacks on hand for him. He most likely wasn’t fed as much as he needed at the orphanage and now that he is able to have as much as he wants, he probably has fears that it will be taken away, so he finds a lot of security in knowing food is always available to him.

Because he has a cleft palate, we really didn’t know what he was able to eat. We’ve been really surprised to find out that he can eat absolutely anything, including things that are more difficult to take bites out of like apples. So far he eats whatever we eat and has never turned anything down. It’s been such a blessing and has made our lives much easier.

He probably was never taught how to use a spoon to eat, and he has loved learning that. He is incredibly messy when he eats, though, and I can’t wait until it’s warm enough to eat outdoors so that my floors stay somewhat clean!

It might not look like it in the photos, but he is a little guy. Even though he is two, he wears 18 months clothes and many of them are too big for him. But I suspect he will gain a lot of weight in the next few months.
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Sleeping has been a bit of an issue. He has a hard time falling asleep most nights. We stay with him and hold his hand or rub his back until he falls asleep, and it can take as long as an hour and a half. It takes a lot of patience, but it can also be a bonding time with him. When he finally falls asleep, he usually stays sleeping until morning.

He takes a nap in the afternoon and it can take a while for him to fall asleep for that as well. He generally doesn’t seem scared about sleeping – he usually seems like he just doesn’t want to miss out on anything and wants to keep playing.

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He is such a joy and has an awesome, fun personality that we see coming out more and more every day! He loves to make funny faces and make us laugh. He is still getting to know us, so it feels at times like he is a bit reserved, but I think as time goes on, he will become more comfortable.

He is very attached to me and hubs, which is a very good thing. He is wary of strangers and new people and likes to stay close by when a new person stops by. That also means that he is typically very clingy and likes to be held most of the time. It can be very tiring, but I am so thankful that he is bonding well with us.

He has bonded very well with Avery since she went to China with us, and Jack does a great job playing with him. Violet is having a more difficult time warming up to him. She was the youngest and now a lot of the attention is going to Sawyer, so she naturally is having a harder time with the change. But I am confident that with time she will grow to love him too.Sawyer7We have an appointment with a cleft palate team at the end of May and will schedule him for surgery to have his lip repaired. Four months after that, he will have surgery to have his palate (the inside of his mouth) repaired. Right now he doesn’t have a roof in his mouth, so when he eats, and it can be a challenge to keep the inside of his nose and mouth clean.

We have decided to keep him mostly home and with us for at least six weeks (called cacooning and you can read more about it here). We won’t be taking him out in public, church, stores, other people’s houses, etc. for that time. The idea is to really work on the bond between him and us, and we want all of his needs to be met by us, so that he learns to trust us as his parents.

He has been taken from the only home he’s known at the orphanage and has dealt with so much change since we’ve gotten him. Although he seems very happy and comfortable with us, we still know that his world has been turned upside down, so we want to do our best to ease his transition into our world. We want to soak up our time with him, playing with him, showing him how much we love him and that we will take care of him.

Thank you for all your encouraging words and comments from my previous posts! I appreciate each and every one of them so much.

Our China trip in detail

I thought I’d share more of the day-to-day details of our trip to China, partly because I want to remember it (I have a terrible memory and know I’ll forget if I don’t write it down) and partly because when we were planning our trip, reading other people’s experiences was so helpful. Hopefully this will give you an idea of what our time was like.

Wed., March 25 :: Our friend Mark drives Avery, hubs, and I to Harrisburg Int’l Airport and we arrive at 5:00am. Our flight leaves at 6:45am and we have a five hour layover in Chicago. At 1:00pm our flight leaves for Beijing.

Thurs., March 26 :: Our flight arrives in Beijing at 3:30pm (China time). It was a 13.5 hr. flight. We meet our guide at the airport along with a few other families from our adoption agency group who were flying in. We take a bus to the Jianguo Hotel, where we stay while we are in Beijing.DSC_0001 (2) DSC_0002

Fri., March 27 :: We meet our group in the morning at the hotel lobby and take a bus to the Great Wall. DSC_0036 DSC_0056DSC_0084We hike for a few hours, then meet at the bus to go the the Cloisonne Factory, which is where they make ornate vases and other decorations. DSC_0020 DSC_0019 DSC_0029We drive to a jade store that also has a restaurant and eat a traditional Chinese lunch. IMG_0315Then we drive to the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It is a breathtakingly large area with many different buildings. DSC_0153 DSC_0160DSC_0158We drive back to the hotel.

Sat., March 28 :: We meet our group in the morning at the hotel lobby again and take a bus to Tiananmen Square. It is incredibly full of people! DSC_0004 (2) DSC_0005 (2)DSC_0026 (2)We walk to the Forbidden City and see all the attractions there. Lots and lots of walking! DSC_0074 (2)DSC_0091 (2)DSC_0129 (2)We go on a fun rickshaw ride. Our driver was hilarious.DSC_0152 (2)DSC_0193 (2)DSC_0195 (2)

Then we take a bus to the home of someone who cooks us a fantastic traditional Chinese meal. DSC_0186 (2)We take the bus to a theater where we watch an acrobatics show, then we head back to the hotel.DSC_0256

Sun., March 29 :: Our guide takes us to the train station and we take a bullet train along with a few other families who’s kids are from where Sawyer lives. It drop us off at the capital of the Henan Province called Zhengzhou. It’s in Sawyer’s province. The train ride is 2 1/2 hrs long and we see some of the Chinese countryside.

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A guide meets us at the train station and takes us by bus to our hotel – The Hilton Zhengzhou. We meet some new families from our group that opted not to do any Beijing sightseeing and eat dinner with some of our group at a local Chinese restaurant.DSC_0132

Mon., March 30 :: The day we’ve been waiting for! We eat breakfast in the hotel, then meet our group at 9:30am in the hotel lobby. We take a bus to the civil affairs office where we are told our kids will be brought from their orphanages. DSC_0048We meet Sawyer and are at the civil affairs office for a few hours filling our paperwork, then the bus takes us and our kids back to the hotel.

Tues., March 31 :: We take a bus with our group to the notary office to notarize all of our adoption paperwork. We go back to the hotel, then meet our driver and another guide and drive by car to Sawyer’s city – Zhoukou. It is a very long three hour drive! We go to the local civil affairs office to apply for his passport, where we also meet a representative from his orphanage. We ask if we could see the orphanage and he says yes! We drive a few minutes to his orphanage and spend about an hour there. IMG_0181Then we drive three hours back to the hotel. It was a long, hard day of lots of traveling after just having met Sawyer and getting to know him. It was definitely our most difficult day in China.

Wed., April 1 :: Our guide takes us by bus to the airport. Our flight leaves at 1:10pm and we arrive at 3:20pm in Guangzhou. A guide picks us up at the airport and we take a bus to our hotel – China Hotel Marriot. We eat pizza at a restaurant in the hotel.

Thurs., April 2 :: We meet our group in the hotel lobby and take a bus with our kids to the medical clinic. I make the mistake of taking Sawyer by myself so that Avery and hubs can stay back at the hotel to work on homework. We take the bus to the clinic and Sawyer has to go through four different medical stations where doctors and nurses take a look at him. He was very fussy (can you blame him) and after it’s all finished we are both in tears. We take the bus back to the hotel. We walk with our group to a Chinese restaurant for dinner.

Fri., April 3 :: There is a group outing planned at a museum, but we decide to stay back at the hotel. Hubs takes Avery to a big park across the road while I hang out with Sawyer in the hotel. IMG_0223 IMG_0224IMG_0334The four of us walk to a nearby Turkish restaurant for dinner.

Sat., April 4 :: We meet our group in the hotel lobby at 9:00am and drive in a bus to the Guangzhou Zoo. We spend a few hours at the zoo. Sawyer wasn’t super interested in the animals, but it was still fun. We drive back to the hotel and have a group dinner at another local Chinese restaurant.IMG_0266 IMG_0303

Sun., April 5 :: We meet our group in the hotel lobby again at 9:00am and drive in a bus to Shamian Island. It’s a small island that looks very different from the rest of China. DSC_0001 DSC_0004
DSC_0013DSC_0007It has a Savannah feel and is really pretty. We shop for gifts and buy some traditional Chinese outfits and shoes for the kids. It is very full of Chinese tourists, many wanting to talk to us about America.

Mon., April 6 :: We spend some time at the hotel pool and the park across the road. It was a mostly free day, so we just relaxed.IMG_0313

Tues., April 7 :: At 7:30am we took a bus with our group to the US consulate and had appointments to get visas for our kids. IMG_0324Thankfully, it wasn’t a long process and we were back at the hotel by noon. We had dinner with our group at a local Chinese restaurant.

Wed., April 8 :: We cleaned up our hotel room and checked out around 1pm. We waited a few hours until our guide came with our completed visas and left the hotel in a van at 4:30pm. We drove to Hong Kong, which took around 2 1/2 hours and checked into our hotel – The Hong Kong Regal at the airport.DSC_0024

Thurs., April 9 :: We walk to the airport and our flight for Chicago leaves at 11:40am. This is the flight I’ve been dreading since we started the adoption process. And it is pretty much as bad as I expected. There were moments of calm and sitting but mostly time was spent trying to keep Sawyer occupied and in his seat. And not crying. He slept maybe two hours of the flight. It was a loooong 13 hours until we arrived in Chicago.

We arrive in Chicago around 1:00pm (Chicago time) and go through customs and immigration, which took around an hour. The airport was very full because of storms and flights being delayed and our flight happened to be one of them. It was delayed five times and we went to four different gates because of changes. We ended up being at the airport around ten hours before our flight for Harrisburg left. We were completely exhausted and hadn’t slept for over 24 hrs. It was a bit of a nightmare. I had been dreaming of seeing Violet and Jack at the airport the whole time we were in China and, because it got so late, they weren’t able to come see us when we came home. I literally thought we would never come home. But finally our flight took off.

Fri., April 10 :: We arrive in Harrisburg around 1:00am. My sisters-in-law Andrea and Heather are there, along with friends Wanda and Beth, to drive us home. It is SO GOOD to see familiar faces again!! We drive home, got a few hours sleep and got to see Violet and Jack later in the morning when my parents brought them over to our house.

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The last few days we were SO ready to come home! After we got Sawyer, time seemed to go really slowly and we just wanted to get back to our other kids!

Thankfully, I was able to take my computer along and could keep up with business emails for a bit every day. Since many websites are blocked in China, I signed up for Strong VPN, which allowed me to access any website and my emails. If you are traveling to China, I highly recommend that VPN service.

Now that we’ve been back for a few days, we are right back in the swing of life and China seems like a distant memory! It was a hard trip but so good. We made some lifelong friends in the other families we traveled with, which was an great bonus. And we brought home an awesome little guy that is now a part of our family! China will forever be a big part of our lives.

Sawyer’s First Home

We had the awesome opportunity to visit Sawyer’s orphanage where he had lived since he was two days old. It’s called Zhoukou City Social Welfare Institute, and it houses around 80 children, in addition to elderly people who need care. Often, orphanage visits in China are discouraged or not permitted, so we were so happy to find out we could go see where he had lived and to speak to his caregivers.

Here we are in front of the building.IMG_0166 IMG_0168 IMG_0169

It just so happened that the morning we went to visit, they had just started renovations on the inside of the orphanage where Sawyer had lived. So the rooms where he spent the most time were empty. To say they were dirty and needed work is a big understatement. It was quite sobering. The building felt very dark and grim and institutional.
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I was very nervous about taking Sawyer to see the orphanage. We didn’t know what his reaction would be – if he would want to stay at the orphanage or be scared that we were going to leave him there.

I asked to see the people who took care of him the most and they came running out of the building when they heard we were there. The two women were so sweet and happy to see Sawyer. I could tell they genuinely cared about him.

They took him from my arms, and he looked very worried and had the same blank expression when we saw him the very first time.

IMG_0198 He reached back for me, and I will never forget that moment. He knew I was his mama, and he wanted to stay with me. My heart just about exploded.IMG_0199 IMG_0200

It was so good to talk to these women (through an interpreter) and tell them that we will take good care of Sawyer and to thank them for caring for him.IMG_0203 IMG_0207

The orphanage had a small playground where we took Sawyer to play for a bit.IMG_0183 IMG_0189 IMG_0193

As I watched him play, I soaked in all of the bittersweet feelings of the day. He had spent the first two years of his life in this institution with no family, no one to call mommy and daddy, no home to feel safe and loved, no siblings to play with, no space of his own. And here he was – playing with his sister who adores him, and knowing he has a mom and dad who would do anything for him. His life has been completely changed.

He now has what everyone should have. A family.IMG_0194 IMG_0196And he is right where he belongs. With us. And oh how we love him.

The day I met my son

At 9:30 in the morning we took a bus with five other couples from our adoption agency to the local civil affairs office. Everyone was so nervous and excited, including us. It was so hard to believe that the moment we had been waiting for over two years to happen was actually here!

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We had been warned that it could be pretty chaotic and random when we would actually meet the kids and when we would be doing our paperwork. We got off the bus and right away a lady asked if our son was from Zhoukou and my mind went completely blank. She asked again, and it finally registered. She said “He’s right inside the door!”. I think my heart stopped. When we walked a few steps and got inside the door, she pointed to him standing a few feet away with some Chinese adults. He looked so tiny. He was wearing all pink and had a Mickey Mouse hat on and he looked just like his pictures. I knelt down to him and he just looked at me with no expression, then someone gave me a cookie that was wrapped to give to him. I unwrapped it as I stared at his face. I could not take my eyes off him. And I couldn’t stop smiling through the tears.

(some of these photos are from an iPhone and the quality isn’t great)

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He was the first child there, so everyone was just standing around watching us and taking pictures. It was a really emotional and surreal experience. A lady motioned that she wanted to take a picture with me and Sawyer, then another lady did the same thing. I assumed they were with his orphanage and found out later they were. No one spoke very good English, so it was pretty hard to figure out what exactly was going on.

I kept feeding him and he liked that a lot. They told me he was thirsty, so I gave him water to drink, and he just quietly let me hold him. The office started to get full of other kids being brought in and it was pretty loud, so hubs took him and Avery outside on the steps while I finished paperwork with my shaky hands. I asked if I could ask his orphanage workers some questions about him. I asked questions like does he take a nap, what does he like to eat, what is his personality, favorite toys, etc. They answered the best they could. Then I went outside with hubs and Avery and we played with Sawyer on the steps. I had brought some little toys and books along, and he got really playful. We made a children’s book with picture of the kids, our house, grandparents, etc. that we showed him, and he loved to look at it.
DSC_0068sawyer1It was so special to see the other families meeting their children for the first time. After we received our children, we hopped in the bus and headed back to the hotel with our kids.
sawyer2We gave him a bath, which he loved, then he showed us how much he likes to eat. I was really unsure what he would be able to eat because of his cleft palate, but he is an eating champ and figures out a way to eat anything he can. An answer to prayer, that’s for sure.
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Bringing Avery along on the trip was such a great decision. She loved him from the minute she saw him and they have a very special bond. I can’t wait for Violet and Jack to meet him, too.DSC_0121DSC_0115 DSC_0145DSC_0080
HIs name is Sawyer Tian. His Chinese name is Kui Tian, and we are keeping his middle name.
Our first day was not at all how I pictured it would be – it was much more peaceful and natural than I anticipated. He seemed to accept almost immediately that he was ours and that we would take care of him. I expected a much harder transition, but it went incredibly well and we are so thankful!