A bit about the Himsel Zoo Crew

We have been blessed to have four wonderful children that we affectionately call the "Zoo Crew". Our house if filled with alot of noise, moving parts, love and laughter. But it always felt like we were still missing someone at the table. Deb follows along with a number of advocacy sites for waiting children from China, but it wasn't until the fall of 2015 that we found our son. We were drawn to a photo of an adorable boy soon to "age out" of his orphanage in China. Deb knew almost immediately he was meant to be ours. Even though Chris took a little longer, it wasn't too long before we started down that adoption journey again. This has led us down another whirlwind paper chase to bring home our boy. We are so close to making the trip to China, and can't wait to make Matthew the newest Zoo Crew member.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

It's official...Matthew Arthur ZhuPing Himsel

Our night together went really well and we had to be up bright and early to head back to the office of Civil Affairs. But first was breakfast. Matthew has a great appetite, and loved the buffet. And how lucky are we that they had chicken feet on the buffet. You should have seen his eyes light up when he opened that serving dish. I told him to eat up, I'm sure we won't be having any of those back home.

As we left the hotel room, I told Chris I thought it was a good sign that Matthew left his backpack in the hotel. We headed back to the office for the formal registration of the adoption. The official asked a few questions about how our night went and asked Matthew how he felt. He said he loves his new family. So within just a few minutes we had our official adoption ceremony. Talk about a quick trip. Only took about 15 minutes for all that to take place. After the presentation of the gifts we headed to the Notary's Office. That didn't take long either, but again we noted that it was much more formal than our previous adoption. There was another interview process for us and for Matthew before it was completed. We saw his caretaker one last time and was able to get the email address for the orphanage and the name and address for Matthew's friend that was adopted last year.

When we were finished, Glen took us shopping to get Matthew some clothes. I was completely surprised at how much the orphanage sent with Matthew. His backpack was filled with snacks, a couple changes of clothes, his uniform for competing, another pair of shoes, toothbrush, and some money. I think they really care for him and wanted to send him off well.

We visited a department store and found him a few things. I was most worried about shorts and underwear, as I had brought a few shirts for him that fit. He was pleased with our purchases and so we headed off to get lunch to take back to the hotel - this time we ordered the dishes.

After a good lunch and relaxation, we taught Matthew how to play Uno. He caught on quickly and chuckled out loud each time he hit mama with a Draw 4. His smile and laugh are great. We played quite a few hands, and despite Matthew's attempts to add to my hand, Mama emerged the winner! It had cooled down a little (and by cool down I mean it was no longer near 100, but closer to 90 degrees) so Andrew wanted to go swimming. Matthew had already told us he can't swim and is afraid of the water. So he didn't want to swim but went down and watched Andrew. Maybe he saw that it was possible to be in the pool and not drown. Maybe we'll get him in the pool in Guangzhou. We'll see...

The day ended pretty uneventful. A lot of Mindcraft on the iPads (Andrew figured out how they could be connected in the same world on their iPads, which both boys seemed to enjoy). Room service for a light dinner and off to bed. I had lent Matthew my iPhone to use for Google Translate a few times and so I would catch him picking it up and exploring some of the games I had on it. I didn't think much of it, until I got on my phone after they went to bed. I started getting all of these alerts form QQ (a social media app used in China). Apparently Matthew had no problems navigating the English App Store and downloading the app so he could connect with his friends. That will teach me - I put back on that passcode on my iPhone. We'll have to have some conversations about social media and computer use when we get home.

Again it really highlights how much more social Matthew is than Ella was when we adopted her. But he has a sweet and tender heart - I can tell already. Something I didn't post last night - when we were leaving Dairy Queen, Andrew grabbed my hand to hold as we walked through the mall. Matthew quickly came up to my other hand and latched on hard with a big smile and looked up at me and said Mama. Yep, there were a few tears in my eyes.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Gotcha Day

Today's the day. It started a bit uneventful. Breakfast and then our guide met us to go to the bank to exchange our money. Then we just had to wait until 2:30. That's a lot of time for your head to overthink things. What if he doesn't like us, what if he and Andrew don't get along, what if...what if...what if. 2:30 couldn't come fast enough. I'm pretty sure we were all nervous as we finally headed to the office of Civil Affairs.

Immediately Chris and I mentioned how different this was from our experience in 2012. This office was so much more official than where we did the adoption in Guiyang. This time we sat outside the office in a waiting area instead of being led into a back alley and taken up stairs to a cramped office filled with smoke. This time, it was very procedural. We were taken into the room and "interviewed", well really we were just told what was expected of us for the next 24 hrs. We signed a few papers, and then they brought in Matthew. He bounced in with a filled backpack and was eager to give hugs and shake Andrew's hand. He had been in Nanning earlier that week to compete in a "special olympics" type of sporting event. He proudly showed us photos of him wearing his 3 medals he received for shot put, javelin throw and discus. Look out Carroll, we have a future track and field athlete in the house.

Matthew was eager to answer questions and ready to head back to the hotel. After our family photo was taken, we headed back to the hotel to sign paperwork. All in all, it only took about 30 minutes and we were headed back. Glen had all of our official adoption paperwork for us to sign - we sign it today and it gets officially registered tomorrow. It was just odd to be signing all this official stuff in our hotel room - I'm hopeful it feels more "official" tomorrow when we are back at the Civil Affairs office.

Paperwork completed, Glen spent quite a bit of time talking with Matthew and translating for us. Matthew is definitely not shy. He asked a lot of question - particularly about wanting to stay in touch with his caregivers and friends. We certainly will do our best. He also wants to know if he could come back to China to visit if he misses them. We explained that it is very expensive to travel to China but we intend to bring all of our kids back at least once for them to visit. This kid is so sweet. He said he wants to get a good job and make lots of money so he can pay for his trip back to China and take care of us as we get older. He said at the orphanage they taught him that he is to help around the house, be a strong boy and help take care of mama and baba. He is trying so hard to impress us. We had lots of laughs and smiles from him as he spoke with Glen. He also mentioned a friend he had that was adopted last year to Americans. He wants to know if we can try to find her. Glen is going to try to see if he can get the girls name and any information he can about her and we'll do our best. He definitely has a different personality than our quiet Ella.

Soon we were left on our own, and Matthew and I started working with Google translate on the iPad to communicate. His pinyin is not good so he's trying to figure out how to use the handheld translator. He keeps practicing. So he was excited when he found out he could just talk into Google Translate and it would translate for him. And left on his own he was quite excited to start exploring the other apps on the iPad. I had downloaded a few of Andrew's favorites so he would have something to do. He immediately started with Mindcraft and Subway Surfer. This kid is going to fit right in with our others.

I found this on my camera - his first selfie

We decided to head to the mall to try to find something to eat. This hotel has little options and there is nothing around the hotel. So we ventured out for another cab ride, and tried to find a place we could afford to eat. After roaming the mall a little, we found one with a picture menu, and Matthew was very excited about one of the dishes so we decided to give it a shot. He was very proud to be the one who spoke with the waitress, and he picked out two dishes for us. He had told us earlier through Glen that he's not a picky eater but he does like his spicy food. He and Ella will get along well. Both of his dishes looked like spicy so I also decided to order a roasted chicken and some rice. As the food came, we realized we were in for some adventuresome dining. Good thing we ordered that chicken or we would have been quite hungry. I tried to use Google translate offline on the descriptions of the dishes but it wasn't working well. Now I'm pretty sure we were eating a spicy dish made up of tendons (the meal you could chew on one bite forever) and another dish with onions, duck tongue and intestines. Yum. We all tried a few bits from each dish, but man was I happy to have that roasted chicken, even if it did still have its head and feet attached. Andrew was a trooper. He ate the chicken and the rice and didn't gage too much when he tried the duck tongue and intestines dish (of course we weren't sure that's what it was until we got back to the hotel). Matthew ate like a champion though and the roasted chicken was some of the best I've ever eaten. And Matthew was excited that no one else wanted the feet or the tips of the wings so he could eat those. Hmm, pretty sure you won't be getting any of that back in the states so eat up my boy.

a few duck tongues and intestines

yummy tendons

We headed to Walmart to pick up a few things, and let's be serious, we needed some peanut butter and crackers and something to drink. I tried many times to see if Matthew wanted any snacks or anything to drink. He wanted nothing. But on our way out we asked if he liked ice cream and a big ole smile came on his face. So back to Dairy Queen to wash down those duck tongues and tendons.

Back at the hotel, we Skyped with the kids. Ethan and William were so excited that we "had Matthew" and they could see him. Not sure what Matthew thought of our clowns performing on the iPad, but he giggled a lot and waved to his new family. I think we are going to be ok. And he was anxious to get the iPad back to play Subway Surfer. Before long it was time for bed - both Chris and Andrew could barely stay awake long enough to Skype. Andrew and Matthew were planning to share the bed but Matthew curled up on the chair (the benefit of being a little person is you can fit just about anywhere) and decided he would sleep there. I tried to get him in bed where he would be more comfortable but I wasn't about to force him to do something he didn't want.

So he sleeps here tonight. We'll tackle the bed situation tomorrow night...well, maybe. All in all, not a bad first day.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nanning here we come

We had to be packed and up quite early to head to the airport for our flights. The hotel provided us with a sack breakfast to take with us since we were leaving before they started serving breakfast. A cheese sandwich, hard boiled egg, banana and cookies. Sounds like a breakfast my little guys might like! Especially the cookies. Three of the families were all leaving about the same time so it was at the airport we parted ways with our fabulous guide Emma and wished the others safe travels. We'll meet up again with them in Guangzhou.

Emma had prepared us for security - things not to put in checked bags and things not to put in carry ons. And you have to take out all electronics when you go through security on domestic flight, I mean everything had to be examined. They looked quite awhile at my ILTA external battery, and I was afraid it was going to be confiscated. But after quite the pat down by security they returned it to me. Whew. We only had about 45 minutes to wait before boarding. And of course, we were loaded like cattle into one of those airport shuttles to take us to our plane. I don't think Andrew enjoyed it very much, but he was happy when we were onboard and he had the window seat. And we all agreed we had more room on this flight than we had on our international flight over. Not a bad flight at all for 3.5 hrs.

The first thing Andrew noticed as we were approaching Nanning is how much farmland and mountains we could see. Not at all like when we left Beijing. It was a lot of green. And as we got off the plane we realize the next difference. It was miserably hot and humid here in Nanning. I had sweat dripping down my back, and I wasn't doing a thing but standing waiting for luggage. Boy this is going to be fun. We won't be in Nanning long. Our agency had booked us to stay until Friday before they got confirmation of our consulate appointment. Our consulate appointment is now on June 6, so we have to leave on Wednesday in order for Matthew to have his medical exam and TB test completed before our appointment. So we leave Wednesday evening, and his passport won't even be ready - it will meet up with us in Guangzhou later this week.

Our guide, Glenn met us at the airport and we headed to our hotel, about 50 minutes away. Glenn is a quiet one, not a lot of chit chat. He went over the basic plan for tomorrow, got us checked into the hotel, told us there wasn't much around us so we needed to eat in the hotel, and then left us on our own until the morning. Little did he know that we weren't going to stay there - we got aCab, and headed to a local mall. We had as close to an American night as we could - Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, and Walmart were on the agenda. Each were quite different from their American counterparts, but we had a good laugh about it. We had no problems flagging a cab back, and impressed Andrew at our ability to navigate our way in China. We have to meet Glen in the morning to go to the bank to exchange our mine, so we'll call it a night.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Another Beijing day...

Today we met the three other families from our agency that are traveling the same time we are. We met bright and early to do the traditional Beijing tour - Tiananmem Square, Forbidden City, and the Great Wall. Same tour we took in 2012, only this time we weren't bundled up in layers of clothing trying not to get frostbite. Instead, we are here on a pretty clear day with a "strong sun" as our guide tells us, sweating instead of freezing. And this is supposed to be the coolest we'll be the entire trip. Yikes, this Indiana girl hasn't had enough summer yet to prep for this.

We started at Tiananmem Square, and what I quickly learned to appreciate about our guide Emma, is that she is all about avoiding the crowds when she can and finding us shade to stand in. Neither of those are an easy feat in Beijing, but she did an amazing job.  Emma was filled with historical information about the square and the architecture at Forbidden City. She also was able to tie in things with what we saw yesterday at the Temple of Heaven.  So even though we've been here before, we all walked away having learned something new.

line to see Mao

Tiananmem Square - it really was about 90 degrees but note the local all decked out in black long sleeves

Beautiful architecture in Forbidden City

the manmade moat running thru the city

pretty sure this was the model for those flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz!

We spent most of the morning there, before heading to the Great Wall. We stopped for lunch close to the Wall, and it was good to get to know our travel mates better. Turns out one of the families, although from Florida, is originally from Indiana, and even lived in Brownsburg for many years. Small world.

By the time we got to the Great Wall, I had decided this was one I was going to sit out. Remembering how difficult some of those uneven steps are, I had a "been there, done that" moment and decided my feet/ankle just couldn't take it after two days of walking already. So I sat back and watched Andrew and Chris tackle those crazy steps. It was still pretty amazing seeing the wall- it's breathtaking and a different perspective seeing it in summer.

The best news at the end of the day was that Emma had our official TA documents we needed for the adoption. Under normal circumstances you never even make your plane ticket purchase until you have this document in hand, but due to the urgency of getting this adoption completed before Matthew's birthday next Saturday, we've been doing a few things out of order. So I've been sweating waiting to get this document in hand.  Let's be honest, I've just been sweating ever since we got here, but our TA document is now one less thing I can blame it on. Tomorrow we leave for the airport very early (5:20), on our way to Nanning where Matthew is. Emma tells us he's already there as he had something he participated in Nanning this week so they decided to just stay and wait. The other good news we heard is that's he's very excited about being adopted and moving to the US. Let's hope he still feels that way after meeting us all, especially since we'll be the sweating Himsels in Nanning, where it's supposed to be close to 100 degrees with 80-90% humidy.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Beijing - first full day

For our fist full day here, we are on our own. So Chris had arranged a private tour for us to see some things none of us had done before - tour of the Temple of Heaven, the antique market, and the Gulou hutong neighborhood. We started with a large breakfast buffet with traditional Chinese and western options. Those who know us well, know that Chris was all about the basic breakfast, while I enjoyed the stir fried noodles, soured cabbage, steamed buns and soysauce-soaked boiled eggs along with my bacon and sausage. And the fruit was really good - especially the watermelon and lychees.

Then we are off for our day of sight seeing - we were met by Lisa, our guide and our drive Mr. Tao (or at least I think that was his name). Our tour guide Lisa is pretty soft spoken and often difficult to understand, but very nice and accommodating.  First stop...

The Temple of Heaven

The traffic was crazy, and on many occasions I wondered how more people aren't killed navigating the streets of Beijing.  The way the scooters and bikes weave in and out of traffic, and the risks the drivers take made me close my eyes a number of times, certain I was going to witness a tragedy. But rest assured, no person or animals were injured during our day. Lisa explained that the temple was built in 1420 as a place for the emperors of the Ming & Qing dynasties went to worship Heaven and pray for good harvests. The entire complex has a number of sections, including an area that is used as a public park for morning exercise. We saw a number of groups gathered along the path  - singing, playing the saxophone, playing Chinese chess, or engaged in competitive round of Jianzi, a game which I'm sure was the premise for our hacky sack.  And we walked through what Andrew declared as a "playground for old people" it was packed full of all ages.  Lisa asked Andrew if he wanted to try anything but I think he was a little worried he might not be able to keep up. 

We spent the next few hours walking through the many building in the Temple. It was beautiful. Built around the same time as the Forbidden City, it has many of the same details in the building. Here are few photos from the Temple of Heaven.

Jianzi in the park

the main temple

beautiful stone carvings everywhere

the beautiful stone walls around the ceremonial site

detailed paintings along the long walkways

Gulou Hutong
Our guide Lisa also took us to the antique market which is like a large flea market where locals will also go to buy wholesale.  It was an interesting couple of hours going from booth to booth looking at stones and antique china pieces, as well as some beautiful paintings.  We found a booth where the artist painted beautiful quotes and poems in Chinese caligraphy on fans.  I could have spent hours there going through all of his fans, but we headed off to our last stop walkinhg through the Gulou hutong neighborhood.  The street leading into the hutong neighborhood is quite the hopping spot. Lots of bars, live performers, shops, and restaurants.  We then walked through the neighborhood as Lisa shared with us the history of the neighborhood and the interest to preseve them. We felt we really got to spend the day getting a good taste of the local culture. 

Lisa tells us they do this to protect the tires from dogs urinating on them


We made it - Beijing

We made it. Exhausted but we are here and getting adjusted to the time difference and the culture again.  We must have arrived at the airport at the same time as every tour group visiting Beijing as the immigration and custom lines were painfully long.  Our guide from our agency was there when we finally had conquered the lines and we headed to our hotel. First thing we noticed was all the flowers in loom - last time we were here it was bitter cold. Even though this is Chris' sixth trip to China, it is his first time to travel in the warmer weather. And I believe we are going to be wishing it was cold the longer we are here. The weird spring weather we've had at home this year has done nothing to prep us for the heat and humidity we are about to endure.

Our hotel is located in a very busy part of Beijing. Before leaving us on our own, our guide Emma walked us around to show us good restaurant & shopping options, and of course the location of the nearest McDonalds and Starbucks. And then it was just us to tackle the next 36 hrs before we meet up with other families from our agency and do the official scheduled Beijing tour (all the things we've already seen). We are such exciting people the first thing we did was fall asleep on these tiny, tiny beds and take a short nap - well at least the two old people on this trip did. And so begins the ongoing dilemma of trying to figure out how long to fight the sleep before giving in, in order to try to regulate this tired body to the new time zone.  I suspect this may continue throughout the trip if history is any indication. And everyone was anxious to get connected so I put on my techie hat in order to get all the devices connected to the Internet through the VPN.  Given the quality of the Internet here at the hotel that was no small feat let me tell you, but it kept me busy until I thought it was safe to call it a night and hope to sleep through the night. Poor Andrew - he was wide wake still at 2am, needing to go to sleep but just not able.  And he was pretty sure each time I was sound asleep, he needed to wake me and tell me he wasn't able to go to sleep. It was quite a game we played until I think he must have finally dropped of exhaustion around 2:30. But of course, I woke on my own around 4:00 and wasn't able to get back to sleep - ugh.  So I did some work, caught up on email & Facebook until it was time to get ready for breakfast.  This routine is going to get old pretty fast.  

But we survived the flight and made it through our first day in China. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Let's do this!

Bags packed? Check. Non-dog-chewed passports? Check. 3 anxious travelers ready to head to Beijing? Check. 

Yep, we're sitting at O'Hare just waiting around for our flight, anxious to get this show on the road. We had heard of the terrible TSA delays so Chris drug this tired body out of bed ridiculously early this morning so we could take the 6:20 am shuttle from Highland to O'Hare. Since I didn't call it a night until 3:30 this morning...well, you can do the math. I'm one tired mama. But I think we got it all together. Still not sure how we pulled it off. But that's all behind us because we are on our way to Matthew!! And side note - the TSA lines weren't bad at all. 

Last night was hard leaving three of our Zoo Crew at home. Andrew's traveling with us so he and Matthew can get to know each other before the reality of the full Zoo Crew hits Matthew. My mother is a saint (say a prayer for her - this is harder on her than us I think) and will do great with them. Of course Ella will certainly be a big help. But still hard to leave them at home. The little kiddos did really well until just before we left to drive to Northwest Indiana. Ethan started a quiet sob, and big ole tears started flowing. He would just come up and look at me and weep quietly.  He got a whole bunch of extra hugs and kisses (and I got a whole bunch of "I love you's" and "I'm really going to miss you's"). This is the first time we've left them for more than just a couple nights so it's going to be hard on all of us. Thankful we should be able to have some screen time together throughout the trip. 

Next post will be from Beijing, where we'll be one step closer to Matthew. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

This is getting real

I just bought our tickets for China. We're going a week later than we had hoped, but we'll be on a plane next Wednesday to bring this sweet boy home. Gotcha day is set for May 30th! 

I've been a bundle of nerves, worried that something is going happen that delays our trip.  Matthew turns 14 on June 4, and in China once a child turns 14 they are no longer eligible for adoption - no exceptions. So we are on a very tight timeline.  Matthew's region only does Gotcha Days on Monday, so we had hoped for a May 23rd  date.  That would have given us a little more time in China in case something went wrong, and we would have been out of China and on our way home when Matthew turned 14.  Even with our case being expedited, we still had a hangup with our I800 application - and for us even a day "hang up" makes me sweat.  So now we are going at the absolute latest possible time we can and get his adoption completed.  Fingers crossed there are no more hangups.

Friday, May 13, 2016

This dog is lucky to still be in the family...

Well, we received our Visa's back from the Chinese Consulate on Tuesday.  Felt good to have this taken care of and checked off the list.  Had a few extra minutes last night and thought I would organize the paperwork we have to take with us to China - oh, the paperwork never seems to end. Man do I wish I hadn't decided to do this.  I bought this great flexible accordion file folder to keep our papers organized, and had piles of papers spread out on our table, working down the list of documents our agency has us take...7 copies of each passport signature page, 3 copies of each visa page, extra passport photos, copies of our tax returns, copy of Matthew's Chinese & English referral files...the list doesn't seem to end.  I had most of it finished and needed to clear the table for dinner, so I set aside my awesome new accordion file.  Well our little Ethan thought the accordion file was pretty awesome too - he loved hooking and unhooking the elastic band. I'm pretty sure it was during his playing around that IT happened.

See that adorable furry face?  Good things she is cute because we had to keep her from being given her walking papers.  I was fixing dinner when Ella said Baylee was eating the "passwords" (we still chuckle at her choice of words sometimes).  What?  Yep, she had chewed the corner of one of the passports - and it was Chris'.  He took it better than I thought, but he certainly wasn't happy.  I flew into crisis management mode - called the 24 hr appointment scheduling number for Chicago (had that handy because we had just been there last week to get Andrew's passport).  Someone must have been looking over us, because they had a 12:30 appointment next day - that never happens.  Chris flew to Walgreens to get new passport photos taken (told him to get an extra set just in case).  Got the application printed out again, and tried to figure out what we needed to do about the Visa.  Chris made a flying trip to Chicago early this morning, and things went off without a hitch.  Meanwhile, I was frantically working out what to do with about his Visa.  The consensus was that we needed to get it reissued - fastest and safest route - apply for a new Visa (not the most economic solution, but nothing about this day has been economical).  I still had his visa application saved on my computer - updated it with his new passport number and emailed it off to Chris, along with information on how to overnight it to the courier.  He still had an extra passport photo with him, and we found a Fedex office just 5 minutes from the Passport office.  He was able to print the application there with no problems.  Like I said, someone was looking over us.  It went flawlesss - visa is on its way to the courier to drop off to the Consulate.  Now we just wait.  Well, wait and watch out for Baylee - if she finds it on the floor, she's sure she needs to chew it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

A fast trip to Chicago

I went to fill out the applications for our Visas a few days ago, and the instructions from the courier said to contact her if any of our passports had less than 6 months on them.  I thought - no problem, Andrew and I got ours when we adopted in 2012, and Chris had to renew his before we took our trip to Nova Scotia in 2014.  But then I remembered that minor passports are only good for 5 years. And yep, you guessed it - at the time of our travel, Andrew's passport would be 1 week shy of having 6 months left on it.  So we made a flying trip to Chicago to visit Passport Office.  It was a whole lot of waiting around.  We had to sweet talk the agent to make sure we could pick it up same day, but we did it.  We took in a few sites as we walked to Rain Forest Cafe for lunch, and survived the deadly rush-hour traffic on our way home, but we have the new passport in hand, and ready to send off to the courier tomorrow to get our Visas.