Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Just When You Thought We Were Weird

We got weirder.

There are now 8 baby chicks living in our music room.
My original vision for the music room was a formal parlor where the pillows were always placed just-so, where fresh flower arrangements graced the coffee table,
where visitors would sit on well-upholstered sofas and sip tea.

But there's actually no sofa in that room  
and we don't drink tea anyway, 
so since the image is already blown,
we may as well blow it big time by adding a little farmyard to the parlor.

Here, Cholita is holding her chick, Mrs. Howell.
Poor Mrs. Howell.  She was carried around in a pocket much of the day yesterday.
Mrs. Howell, and her friend, Ginger (my chick) are Buff Orpingtons.
Among the other ladies (we hope they're ladies) are 3 Black Australorps
and three Silverlace Wyandottes.

Cholita is currently serenading them with her ukulele.
Nothing but high society here in our parlor. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Two Months

I can't believe we met this little boy only two months ago.  On March 28th, he was understandably scared and sad and overwhelmed.  Those first few weeks included many tantrums and a few epic meltdowns.

Two months later, he has melded so perfectly into our family.  I can't pinpoint exactly what has taken place; I just know that everything suddenly feels easier.  He seems more at ease, which puts the rest of us at ease.  He can play independently now and doesn't need Mama there every moment of the day.  This has been huge. He and Cholita are now usually good friends, which has brought a feeling of peace back to our home---well, as peaceful as it can be with 5 children.

The language difficulties have largely vanished.  We still would love to communicate with him on a deeper level, and he has a long way to go before I'd call him fluent, but he has functional English.  If I was dropped in China two months ago, I guarantee that I would not have functional Mandarin.  XiXi can get his needs met with his present vocabulary and seems to understand a great deal more than he can say.  Even without anyone around, I hear him playing in the other room, speaking English, not Mandarin.   When a Mandarin speaker asks him questions, he still understands the Mandarin, but often answers back in English, or a mix of English and Mandarin, or sometimes just complete gibberish.  He no longer jabbers away in Mandarin.  I don't know if that's by choice or because the Mandarin is slipping away, or probably a combination of both.

He's very intuitive and understands a great deal through observation.  He helped Lyle with a building project the other day and Lyle said that XiXi just seemed to know what to do to be helpful.  When Lyle needed boards held together, without being asked, XiXi held them together.  XiXi handed him screws when he needed screws.  He's very logical and has a quick mind.  He's also street smart and savvy.  Last week when he saw the goats fighting, he picked up a handful of gravel, threw it against the barn wall, and glared at the stunned animals, who hung their heads in shame.  After just a few weeks in Primary, he indicated that he wanted to give the opening prayer, so I asked if he could have that assignment.  Much to everyone's surprise, he marched right up to the microphone and said a perfectly understandable prayer in English.

After we agreed to adopt XiXi, I'll admit to a moment of panic.  Well, many moments of panic.  What have I done?  I thought to myself. This boy will be nearly four years old!  What if he has severe attachment issues?  What if he's violent?  What if  he's been permanently scarred by orphanage life?  What if I've just ruined our family?  Then I got an e-mail from our agency's in-China representative.  She knew us from Cholita's adoption and she said that when she heard we were interested in adopting Xi Yun Xi, she called a woman who works in XiXi's orphanage.  Over the years she'd built a friendship with her and had a great deal of faith in her honesty.  Unbeknownst to us, she called and asked if there was any reason we should not adopt this boy.  At the mention of XiXi's name, her friend (who I believe was Ayi from Gotcha' Day) said, "Oh, he's such a great boy."  In only two months, I can wholeheartedly agree.  He's such a great boy.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Like a Kid in a Candy Shop

Rose and I have had a lovely few days, pouring over the Heirloom Roses catalogue, planning our purchase. While Lucy enjoys helping her dad in the vegetable garden, Rose is (appropriately) all about the flowers. She often checks out books from the library which feature full-color photos of roses and fills the pages with little papers, marking her favorites. I love that about her.

So, from our dog-earred, well-worn catalogue, these are the roses which are now winging their way to our home:

Mme. Alfred Carriere

This lovely flower is a climbing noisette from France, introduced in 1879. It's described as vigorous, nearly thornless, and having a wonderful fragrance. It blooms continuously through the season with buds that open pale pink, then go through stages of cream and white. It will climb our dining trellis, replacing our Cecile Brunner that sadly met its demise of some unknown rose disease. Hopefully it's not a doomed spot. Apparently Mme. Alfred Carriere is a very hardy, disease resistant rose, so we'll keep our fingers crossed.

Alexandre Girault

This is another old rambler rose, also from France, introduced in 1909. It's a once-bloomer, but apparently so magnificent during those few weeks that you can forgive it during the rest of the year. It's described as very fragrant and extremely disease resistant. It will go against the back of the house and climb the porch railing up onto the roof. The dark pink blooms should look lovely against the white house. Can't wait to see it.

Mortimer Sackler

I can't believe this lovely specimen is named Mortimer Sackler. Does it look even remotely like a Mortimer? I don't think so either. Anyway, Rose begged for a classic-looking bubble gum pink rose. That sounded great to me too, but I required minimal thorns, great disease resistance, and in this particular location, shade tolerance. We spent hours trying to find the one rose that would fit the bill, and lo and behold, Mortimer had it all. It's a new David Austin rose, introduced in England in 2002, so I couldn't find many reviews, but we're willing to give it a go.

In a few years, these babies should be spectacular. In the meantime, our Autumn Sunset rose is filled with buds and should be impressive come Rose's birthday in June.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Got Your Goat?

We did. We got three actually.

In the olden days of horse racing, owners often transported a goat along with their racehorse. Horses like companionship and a goat would keep them calm during travel. To rattle a rival's horse, an unscrupulous owner might just get their goat.

Well, today we got our goats....not through thievery or with ill-intentions. A patient of Lyle's is moving to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (not terrorists, as far as we know) and asked if we'd be interested in this threesome of Nigerian Dwarf Goats. Since we're in need of bramble eaters and manure producers, Lyle didn't hesitate.

We transported them this morning in the back of the truck, in an old dog kennel. I followed in the van and noticed many double-takes from passing cars. What the heck? seemed to be the general expression. At stop lights, even with all the windows up, I could hear them bleating. That's what goats do, isn't it? I'm still learning the lingo.

XiXi told us he took care of goats in the foster village in China, so he's now our resident expert. Here he is with Costello, one of the wethers (again, new lingo).

As the resident expert, XiXi showed us a few goat-keeping tricks.
Notably, he finds that peek-a-boo.....

........really helps goats to settle into a new home.

Lyle and his dad built this barn years ago when we had horses. The horses proved too much for us, so Lyle is revamping the back overhang to accommodate goats and eventually chickens.

It's still early in construction, but the right side houses the goats, the left side will house chickens and the middle will feature a dutch door for people (hopefully the kids) to use when caring for said animals. Lyle's mentioned something about roosting boxes and windows on the top for ventilation. I haven't fully caught his vision, but I've seen enough projects to know it will be one seriously decked-out chicken coop/goat house.

The goats seem to love their ramp entrance. Guinevere is posing.

She's our only female and is a favorite with our girls.

But I can tell I'm going to like Hermes. If a goat can be photogenic, I'd say that he is.

I think it's the beard.

We did have our first escape, but once the kids took chase, the goats made a quick U-turn and high-tailed it right back to their house.

Where they can live in peace, away from the little people.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thinking about Mamas

It's been an interesting few days on the China Mama front.....

XiXi was with a foster family in China for about 8 months. In the life of a three year-old, that's a long time. Being the charmer that he is, I have no doubt that his foster mother was completely wrapped around his chubby little finger. Xixi was taken back to the orphanage a week before we met him in China. I was told that he was deeply bonded to his foster mother and that the parting was very traumatic.

XiXi's orphanage does not allow any contact with foster families. They refuse to give names or permit visitors to the village. The only exception to this was a heritage tour that took place 2 years ago. At the time, XiXi was still in the orphanage. Two women on that tour took pictures and video during their visit and posted them on blogs. I've sat with XiXi on my lap, scrolling through all of those pictures, hoping that he would spot his foster mother, but he didn't. He'd point out his house, the chickens and goats he cared for, and the garden he helped tend, but never the woman he called Mama. A couple of weeks ago, one of the women who was on the tour asked me if I'd seen her videos, which were posted at the bottom of her webpage. I hadn't, so I tried playing the videos for XiXi. For whatever reason, our computer wouldn't let them load completely. One particular video had him very upset and when it continually stopped about three seconds into it, he threw himself on the floor in a tantrum. He was tired, so I put him down for a nap.

Two days ago I tried the videos again and saw that they were working. I put XiXi on my lap and began the video that had previously put him into such a fit. It showed four women, dressed in the clothes of the Yi minority, singing a song and pouring drinks for the visitors. It's not even quite one minute long. As it neared the end, I noticed that XiXi was crying--not sobbing, just quiet tears. I asked him in Mandarin if he knew those women and he nodded. Then he stood on my lap, pointed to one of them, and said, "That's my Mama." He put his face close to the screen and asked me to play the video again. We played it probably ten times. Then he sat back on my lap and hugged me and cried.

That day, we went to the home of our Mandarin-speaking friend. I felt like there were some important things for XiXi to hear and I wanted him to hear it while he still understands Mandarin. Our friend told him: You were a very good boy in China and did nothing wrong. Your foster mother knew you were coming to a new home in the United States and she was excited for you. We love your foster mother and are so happy that she took such good care of you. We are your family forever now and you don't have to worry about leaving ever again.

He didn't respond, but he sat quietly and listened. What a dear boy.


Last night for story, Cholita picked the book, "Here's a Penny". It's an older book, written by Carolyn Haywood, the author of the Betsy books. In the first chapter, Penny, who was adopted, was told by the girl next door that he wasn't his mother and father's "really, truly" little boy. Cholita thought that was a mean thing for the girl to say and also that it was completely wrong. She said that she knew she was our really, truly girl. Then she broached a subject that she hasn't touched in a long time. She asked how long China Mama had kept her before she took her to the orphanage. I told her that it was about one day. "One day?!" she asked, shocked. We've discussed this before, but maybe that particular point never sunk in. "Only one day?" I told her that she was still a brand new baby when she was found, only about 4 1/2 pounds. "So China Mama doesn't even know what I look like, since she only saw me when I was a baby?" I told her that was right. "Oh, I wish she could see me now and that I could see her." I told her that I was sure her China Mama would think she was very pretty and that she'd be so happy to hear that she's such a healthy and kind little girl. I asked her if there were things she wanted to talk to her China Mama about, but she shook her head no. "I would just want to go to China and give her hugs.....but I wouldn't want to stay very long, because I'd miss everyone at home."

What a dear girl.

Cholita doesn't know it, but this past week we've begun the process to dig a little deeper into her past. Most likely, nothing will come of it, but as she grows older and her questions continue, we can tell her that we did our best to make her wish come true: to see her China Mama.

We are so blessed with these children and are forever grateful to their dear mothers, foster and biological. They will always have a place in our hearts.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Best Birthday Present Part II

I went for a walk this evening and while I was gone, Bruder wrote and recorded this little number. He's also playing the guitar. In typical teenage boy fashion, it's mostly about food. Pretty funny. Be sure to listen until the very end, at about 2:08 all the kids come in and you can just make out little XiXi's voice. And when the song finishes and he says, "Wo ai ni, Mama," (I love you, Mom), well it brought a tear to my eye.

I told everyone that I didn't want them to spend a single cent on my birthday this year and in addition to Bruder's song, they came through with awesome presents. Lucy washed my car, Rose slipped me an invitation to the "Cellotastic" recital featuring an original song entitled, Love Ya', Cholita and XiXi gave me lots of hugs and kisses, and Lyle made me breakfast in bed and a truly spectacular dinner. It was a fantastic birthday.

The Best Birthday Present Ever

My youngest two....

could it be.....

yes, I believe it is....

the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

And it's not just a birthday truce in honor of their mother. For the past week, they've been caught reading stories in Cholita's bed when they're supposed to be going to sleep, riding bikes together, playing school, sharing toys, and giggling at each other's jokes.

Cholita finally, after a lifetime of searching, has found someone who shares her appreciation for Barbie: The Island Princess. These people do not just grow on trees. XiXi not only watches it with her, he takes the part of the prince and Cholita, who goes through numerous costume changes during the show, curtsies to him in her ball gown and XiXi bows deeply. When asked if her brother is a good dancer, Cholita said, "Well, he doesn't step on my feet," which I think means he's acceptable......and also that beggars can't be choosers.

We could not have found a more perfect match for our Cholita. Both kids are sweet, smart, strong-willed survivors. Our international adoption doctor once used the term, "resilient rascals" and it fits. Some days heavier on the "rascal" than others, but always resilient. We love our rascal duo and we're so thankful they're starting to love each other.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wow! Shand Box!

XiXi tends to make all "S" sounds into "Sh" and today, upon seeing a beach for the first time, he exclaimed, "Wow! Shand box!" Yes, all for you my dear, the world's largest shand box!

In the great Northwest, bathing suits are often worn in combination with coats. As a matter of fact, we pretty much had the whole beach/shand box to ourselves because it doesn't really get warm here until July, maybe August, and even then, the water's frigid.

But this nut of a girl decided that she wanted to take off all clothing down to her swimsuit and risk hypothermia by taking a dip. I told her that she'd be miserable. I told her that she'd regret it. But there was no stopping her.
I hate to say I told ya' so, but seriously, Cholita.

The must-have item of the day, the fought-over item was the funnel. No matter how many beach toys we bring, there's always one that everyone wants. Or at least the two youngest want.

Lyle was on a hike with Lucy and Bruder was at a district track meet, scoring his best time of the season in the half mile (2:07), so Rose was the big kid today. Seeing her out and about in nature just makes me smile. She revels in wind and rain and snow and sunshine. She does The Sound of Music spin with arms thrown back and head turned up to the sky. She reminds me that the world is truly a fantastic place.
And she's a pretty fantastic kid.
We went home sandy and tired.

Some still chilly in a damp bathing suit.

And some with a kink in the neck.
It was a good Saturday.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Our Boy's Name

The most commonly asked question that I get after, "How's he doing?" is "How do you pronounce that name that starts with the X?"

XiXi is pronounced "She-She",  just like the female pronoun.   Well, technically it's "She-She"with a subtle hint of "See-See" thrown into the mix.  (And if you can easily accomplish that bit of verbal gymnastics, you should sign up for Mandarin classes right now because you'd be awesome.)  "She-She" doesn't sound terribly masculine and even in Kunming, our guide said that XiXi is usually a girl's name in China as well.  So no matter which country he's in, the poor kid's a boy named Sue.

Naming is hard for me.  Re-naming is especially hard for me.  With Cholita, we had to make a conscious effort to call her by her American name.  She just didn't seem like anything but QiuJu.  However, I knew that Americans would never pronounce her name correctly and frankly, a Mandarin speaker would tell you that I don't even pronounce her name correctly, and I'm her mother.   So, we slowly made the switch to her American name, but still frequently call her QiuJu and horrible derivations of Qiu (pronounced Cho)--such as Cholita.

With XiXi, it's a more difficult situation.  Cholita was only 11 months old and didn't seem terribly attached to her name anyway.  XiXi is almost four years old and he absolutely knows his name.  In China, I tried adding his American name to his Chinese name and almost instantly, he added that name to all of our names--Simon Mama, Simon Baba, etc.  It was like he figured it was a precursor to a name and wasn't necessarily referring to him.  For the rest of our time in China, we only called him XiXi.  He was dealing with so many new things, I didn't want to add one more.

On the blog, his name will remain XiXi.  At home, he's still XiXi (She-She).  That's all we call him right now, with some horrid derivations creeping in.  I think my favorite is Lyle's nickname for him-- Sheesh.  Or Sheesherton or Sheeshinator.  All pretty awful.   I'd originally thought that we'd ask his opinion on naming, but I've changed my mind.  I feel quite confident that he'd only want to go by his Chinese name, which is fine, but I think he needs to understand the English language a little bit more before he can make that decision.  A couple of years from now, when he fully realizes that a "She" is a girl, and has answered the "How do you pronounce your name?" question about 100 times, if he still wants to be called XiXi, I completely support it.   He does know now that both names refer to him and he answers to both.  I think when he starts school in the Fall,  the tide will turn in favor of his American name.  Either way, we sure love our disco-dancing, ukulele-playing, purple heel-wearing What's-His-Name.

Adore him, actually.

Next Post:
Calling all hairdressers!
What to do with hair that puts one in the mind of....
to be honest.....
a hedgehog?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

This Much I Know

One evening, Lucy yelled, "eagle!" and excitedly pointed to the sky. We live in the Pacific Northwest and eagle sightings aren't rare but also aren't common enough to make them ho-hum. XiXi shielded his eyes and looked up shouting, "eagle!", scanning the sky for whatever it was that might be an eagle. For all he knew it was the clouds. When he saw it, he jumped up and down. "Eagle!! Eagle!!" It was the highlight of his day.

The next morning, some a generic, tiny brown bird landed on our lawn. "Eagle!" XiXi shouted. "No," I told him. "Just bird. Not eagle." He furrowed his brow, pointed at me and sternly said, "eagle." End of discussion.

He knows the names of at least two colors in English--red and green. He knows these because he loves all things automotive and I've pointed out the red and green traffic lights. Red means stop. Green means go. And woe unto the person in front of Mama's minivan who does not immediately gun the engine when a light turns green. "Go, Mama! GO!" he screams from the backseat, almost in a panic. Green means go, dang it. But as much as green can get his dander up, red has him very, very upset. Red means stop, but when Mama turns right on a red light, he's beside himself. "Boo Shur, Mama! No!" Either his Mama is a chronic lawbreaker or something that he "knows" is not absolute. Whichever the case, it upsets him.

This past month it's come to my attention that our language is rife with rule-breakers. And not just rule-breakers, because things like tense and pluralization and spelling are beyond him, but how on any given day one particular thing can be called by many different names and still mean the same thing, or roughly the same thing. I was reading him, "Caps for Sale," last week and on page 2, I made a quick substitution. "Hats! Hats for Sale! Fifty cents a hat!" He'd just learned "hat", why muddy the water with cap? I've never chosen my words more carefully.

He's learning who does what in the family and has us pegged as: the one who rides a bus and plays the cello, the one who drives a red stick shift and plays the guitar, the one who drives a truck and goes to work, the one who drives a minivan and mostly stays home, the one who rides a bus and plays the piano, and the one who rides a bike and owns all of the things he wants to have. If someone besides Rose touches the cello, well, just don't do it. If Mama leaves the house and Baba stays, he's often very put-out. Yesterday, he was cradling something gingerly in his hands. I wondered if it was a bug. He carefully opened his chubby fists, and there inside, were two plastic guitar pics. "Gu Gu" (brother), he whispered, almost reverently.

We had a visit from our Mandarin-speaking friend the other day. On our computer screen, I'd pulled up some photos of the foster village. There were well over a hundred photos in the album and we clicked through them quickly. At one point, he excitedly pointed and motioned that I needed to go back. We scrolled back through and he found the picture he wanted. It was just a street scene in a countryside village, with a few buildings nestled beside green mountains. He told our friend, "I lived there." He looked at it for a long time. He said that he missed it. He missed it a lot sometimes. There, he knew the people. He knew the routine. He knew his place in the routine. Here, he's relearning all of that and if in the process a chickadee gets promoted to an eagle, I doubt the chickadee would mind.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Just days after returning home from China, our oldest turned seventeen. He was born right before we started dental school, a six pound eleven ounce blue-faced limp baby. When the doctor laid him on my stomach, I thought we'd lost him. His heart rate had dropped so quickly and it was an urgent and scary delivery. As he lay there, lifeless, the doctor rubbed him and said, "Come on, little guy. Come on." Our baby let out a scream, turned pink, and the rest of us could finally breathe as well.

I shouldn't have been surprised that he turned into a runner. He actually ran before he walked. He was 15 months old and couldn't even stand without holding onto something. Then one day, without warning, he let go of the couch and high-tailed it over to a chair, which he grabbed like a swimmer snagging a life buoy. He could only remain upright if he sprinted and he had checkpoints all over the house. He could make it from fridge to table, table to love seat, love seat to TV, sprinting all the way. It was days before he could slow to a jog, and then a walk, and finally he could stand.

This past weekend, his distance medley team won at a large invitational. He runs the half mile and his PR this season is 2:09, qualifying him for the district tournament. Lyle picked him up from the meet and hurried him home to shower and clean up for......

I love that his date's mom sent me these photos.

I love that my son allowed me to contact his date's mom to ask for said photos.
Not all teenaged boys would be so willing.

Bruder, nicknamed when Cholita mispronounced "brother", is truly the ultimate big Bruder for his siblings. He's such a great example to them. The morning after prom, he gave a wonderful talk in church. He gets up early every morning to drive himself to seminary. He asks what he can do to help. He even cleans his room for goodness sake.

I was at a park near a high school a couple of weeks ago and when the bell rang, several young men Bruder's age wandered over to the swings. This was XiXi's first trip to a local park and when these high schoolers began talking, I could not believe the constant stream of profanity leaving their mouths. Leaving their mouths with full knowledge that little children were right next to them. I almost said something but I knew from their behavior that they would respond with something ugly and I didn't want my kids to see that either. But as I walked away, I thought with such gratitude, "My son would never do that."

If I could go back through time and give my young mother self some advice it would be, "Just enjoy him." All the worries I had for my first-born were totally unfounded. He's a wonderful young man and we're so blessed to be his parents.