One happy month home 

We just can’t believe a whole month had passed since arriving home. It’s just been a whirlwind!

She was so happy to see daddy again and I know, even though we had a great time together in China, she really missed being around other kids. Her brothers and sisters quickly embraced her and, after some initial smothering, she fell for them, too. 

They had a blast playing with the Sichuan opera masks we brought home. 



They’ve played dolls together, watched TV together and played lots and lots of hide and seek. Rowynn is a sneaky little stinker and loves to crouch and hide behind corners and jump out to scare the unsuspecting. Then she shrieks in laughter. 



Chinese New Year came about a week later. We had really pressed hard to be able to bring her home before the holiday and are so thankful it worked out. It was important to us for her to know that we celebrate Chinese culture.

We went to the Asian festival downtown on Saturday morning and enjoyed the lion dance. We got great seats up close and afterwards, the lions came into the audience and posed with the kids. It was so cool! We ate noodle bowls and shopped the arts and crafts. 



That evening we had our Chinese New Year party. I had brought chinese outfits from Guangzhou for everyone. We decorated with dragons, lanterns and lights and everyone had a great time. I could tell Rowynn really enjoyed it. 



After two weeks home it was time for Rowynn to start school. She enjoyed having us to herself during the days but I could also tell she really wanted to be a part of what the kids were doing when she saw them get off the bus. We got her registered and she was so excited. 

She has the same teacher Finnley had when she started school and that was very comforting. Rowynn had been told in China she must give gifts to her new classmates and she gave each one a pair of decorative chopsticks in embroidered sleeves. The kids were very welcoming and many had made her drawings and cards. 



In her first two weeks she’s been able to join in on Fairy Tale day…



…and, she was able to do a piece of artwork to submit for consideration for the upcoming district-wide art show. 



We have high praise and affection for her SWI family in Panzhihua. They did so much for her–they sent her to school in the community, they nurtured her talents and they clearly loved her very much. We credit them immensely for how easily she has fit in here and how much she knows. 

We can tell they not only provided her schooling but they made an effort to teach her the alphabet and the English sounds that go with them. She can not only sound out the letters, she can write them all and very neatly. She is even beginning to phonetically write words spoken to her. I keep telling Steve she knows more than she is letting on and I’m pretty sure we are in for big surprises as her confidence builds. 

She has had a few moments of grieving in her own quiet way. She will occasionally slip away to her room and I’ll find her singing softly in Chinese with tear stained cheeks. I know it’s part of the process but it still breaks my heart. We’ve given her lots of love and space when she needs it. I’ve gone on to Facebook to show her recent pictures of her old friends with their new families and that always makes her smile. I hope one day we will be able to video call and maybe even visit her friends. They were her family for so long and I hope they stay connected. 

I continue to be amazed at the way she has embraced family and her openness. A couple of nights after we had come home, I was tucking her in. I hugged and kissed her and as I pulled away she grabbed and pulled me tight and said “I love you, mommy!” Oh, my heart!

I just love this girl so much! The way she calls me Mōmy (long O), the way she wrinkles up her nose when she smiles and the way she loves life. 

You’re a huge blessing, little girl!



Day 11ish: home!!!

After nearly 24 hours of travel, we are finally home!!! It was pretty grueling — a 12 hour flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco followed by practically running through the San Francisco airport to make our connection and another 3-1/2 hours to San Antonio. Rowynn was tired and sometimes it was hard for her to get comfortable on the flight but she never complained. She never even frowned. I’m pretty sure I frowned.

We arrived shortly after 4pm and Steve and the kids were waiting at arrivals with a surprise.

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What a great greeting to see as we came down the escalator. And, Finnley was so happy to see her sister.

We drove home and the kids were fawning all over XiXi and she was smiling and giggling. At home she just took it all in from the moment she stepped out of the car. She looked at the house, pointed to the star over the door, smelled the roses and touched shrubs along the walkway. Her smile was so big!

I though the kids would pull her in three different directions, each trying to show her around and give her little gifts and cards they made for her.

Aidan’s class made a wonderful welcome banner and all his classmates and his teachers signed with nice messages.

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She was full of smiles and seemed very happy. We can tell XiXi feels very welcome and very loved. Having a family suits her.

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Day 10: Yun Tai redux/on to Hong Kong

I think XiXi knew today was a special day. She pulled up her hair into a ponytail and added two pretty clips and a bow. All ready for the last leg of our journey.

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Today was our last day in Guangzhou. We had the opportunity to tag along with the other family to Yun Tai Gardens. It was only 25¥ per person ($8 total) and I really didn’t want to hang around the hotel all day.

When I told Steve about Yun Tai, I’m pretty sure he had PTSD flashbacks. We came to this park in 2013 when we adopted Finnley. It was July and it was over 100 degrees and extremely humid. Finnley decided to have the mother of all meltdowns in what we believe to be the exact location of the park that was the furthest from the entrance. It was pure misery for all of us and we refer to it as “park from hell.”

What a difference 35 degrees makes! It was sunny and in the upper 60s — perfect weather for the expansive gardens. Like the other park, this one was decorate for Chinese New Year, too.

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Our guide told us it was impossible to get lost and let us go off on our own. Yun Tai Gardens is more of a botanical garden with many species of plants including a green house with beautiful tropical specimens.

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XiXi was more relaxed today than any other day on this trip. She has been calm and pleasant and patient, but today she had fun. She skipped and sang, stopped to look at flowers and purposefully stopped and posed by things so I could take her picture. She would collect flowers that had already fallen to the ground and use the petals to decorate shrubs that had no flowers.

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We apparently wandered off the main circle and found ourselves in a lush rainforest area. We passed on older couple — the man was playing soft tones on his harmonica while the woman was doing tai chi. There were lake areas with ornate bridges and wood decking and an abundance of nature everywhere.

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This park is in a hilly area of Guangzhou and the park had lots and lots of steps. Thankfully XiXi likes to stop and inspect things frequently so I was able to maintain an appearance of stamina.

Soon we realized we had, in fact, gotten lost in the park and had to use GPS to find our way to the main entrance to meet up with the other family and our guide. I think we got plenty of exercise today!

Checkout was at 3p but our visa delivery wasn’t until 4:20 so we spent a good time in the lobby just sitting and waiting. Our guide arrived and he had XiXi’s visa but apparently some other families did not get theirs as planned. We are thankful ours came.

We gave our guide hugs and exchanged email addresses and loaded our bags into the waiting van.

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Last time, we took the train to Hong Kong. While the train ride itself is nice there is a lot of hassle with customs lines and taxi transfers. I am glad we took the van — even though it was a longer trip, it was nice to be picked up at one hotel and dropped off at another. We were able to do the border crossing seated in the van.

After close to three hours, we were checked into the airport hotel for one more sleep before departure. The hotel is attached to the airport so we will just walk straight to ticketing.

Day 9: consulate appointment and more exploring

We had to get up pretty early today, it was still dark outside. It was nice to have the breakfast buffet to ourselves, no crying toddlers today!

XiXi and I got all prettied up. XiXi loved her red, white and blue sundress that gramma picked. This was the dress Finnley wore to her consulate appointment, too. Since we knew it would be chilly gramma also got her the little jacket and we paired it up with white tights.

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The driver picked us up and took us to the consulate. Our guide walked us through the process in advance since he is not allowed into the consulate with us. He said sometimes they ask the older children questions during the immigrant interview but told her not to worry. We went inside and entered with another family from PA, on their 10th adoption. They were super nice. We joked that they were Haines and we were Gaines.

Inside we had to take a number and wait to be called up to a window. We got called to window number 8 and I joked with the girl behind the window about 8 being a very lucky number and she laughed. Her job is to check that all of our paperwork is in order and then send us back to our seats to wait for the interview.

XiXi saw the man behind the interview window and looked very nervous. He called us up and he was very nice. He tried to ask XiXi some questions but she would not answer. We proceeded with other items and then he wanted to try speaking with her again and I smiled and rubbed her back and told her it was okay. She then answered his questions with nods or soft utterances. I was very proud of her. I know that the intention of the interview is to ensure everything matches her paperwork and helps to prevent child trafficking. It was just sad to see her obviously nervous. After the interview, we were able to leave immediately. The other family kindly waited for us and we walked out together to meet our guides. XiXi remained quiet the entire ride home.

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When we walked into the hotel room it was like a weight was lifted off her shoulders and she was back to her cheerful self.

We had a quiet few hours at the hotel and then decided to spend some more time outside. There is an even bigger park on the other side of the hotel but the intersection is so large that there is no crossing. Instead, we had to use the subway tunnels to get from one side to the other. We got it right the first time and made it into Yuexui Park.

Entering the park we were greeted by a large installation that had been put up for the coming Chinese New Year. It was so colorful!

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I thought it was really cool that they decorated the entrance so elaborately. But a little ways into the park revealed that it was much more than the entrance. There were similar installations every 100 meters or so. Some were still in the process of being put up (Chinese New Year is still 10 days away). We could see they are made to light up at night — that would be cool to see!

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Landscaping crews were bringing in truckloads of potted plants to line the streets — crysanthemums, marigolds, begonias and even poinsettias were being set out.

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Giant orange trees in pots were being placed around the park, as well. We had seen a few on Shamian Island yesterday and our guide says that by Chinese New Year these will be everywhere.

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Clearly, everyone gets into the holiday as the walkways were lined with handmade lanterns. Each lantern had its own unique theme and look like they have been made by schoolchildren.

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Even though the park was busy, it felt peaceful with all the beautiful sights and the calm Chinese folk music played on speakers throughout the park.

I could tell XiXi was getting tired so we headed back and made a stop at our usual 7-11. Once we had our bag of goodies, with ice cream, she seemed to pick up her step to get back to the room quickly.

This is our last sleep in Guangzhou. Barring any delays, we will have XiXi’s visa tomorrow afternoon and will take a car into Hong Kong and stay one night there to take the Wednesday flight out of Hong Kong back to the states.

Day 8: Shamian island and exploring Guangzhou

We started off our morning with a Skype video call with Steve and the kiddos. Everyone was cheerful and happy, smiling and waving. Steve was able to get a very good night’s sleep after his long voyage home.

Our guide picked us up at 10:00 and took us to the pedestrian street. It looks like a lot of mall-like stores lining a long street where vehicles aren’t allowed. Everything is decorated with red lanterns and doorway banners in advance of the the big New Year’s holiday.

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We ended up in a large square that faces the pearl market (that we visited with Ann yesterday).

From there we went to Shamian island, an area next to the Pearl river that had been created as a small island in colonial times. It has lovely 19th century French and British architecture and quiet tree lined streets. The island used to have many diplomatic missions from a number of countries as well as government offices.

About 10 years ago it was quite the hub for adoptive families because the medical clinic and consulate were nearby. Both have since moved to new locations and the island is now a quiet tourist area with some small shops. I bought a few more trinkets here mostly to finish the items for XiXi’s shadow box.

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XiXi enjoyed the shopping and was enamored with the the street artisans. Our guide took a nice photo of us by the statues of the children which is a very popular photo op. As we were smiling for the camera, I noticed several other people were taking our photo, as well. Elvin and I joked that we would end up on QQ (the Chinese equivalent of Facebook) or CCTV.

We went back to the hotel for another noodle cup lunch. XiXi is a pro at preparing noodle cups and insisted on fixing mine, handling all the details except the boiling water.

After a couple hours rest, I thought we should get out on our own and enjoy our first nice springlike day since we’ve been here. I had heard there was a park nearby so we hit the streets and found a hidden gem — Liu Hua lake park. It really is hidden as you can’t see the lake at all from the street.

XiXi really enjoyed this, much like she did the panda preserve, pointing out flowers and birds.

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We made our last stop at 7-11 to get a couple of Haagen Dazs ice cream cups to have as a treat back in our room.

We have our big day tomorrow, XiXi’s consulate appointment — the last piece of official business to complete the adoption and receive her visa to come home. If all goes as planned, we will pick up her visa Tuesday and be on our way to Hong Kong to catch our Wednesday morning flight back to the states.

Day 7: Shopping with Ann

The day started with an international call back home to help calm some nerves. Steve’s flight had been delayed leaving San Francisco by 3.5 hours due to high winds and it pushed one of the kiddos over the edge. After some dramatic sobbing on the other end and soothing words on my end, the drama storm seemed to pass. I’m glad Steve is home, Steve’s glad Steve is home and I’m pretty sure Bill is ecstatic Steve is home.

Today was our big shopping day. We hired Ann Yang at http://www.redthreadchina.com to take us shopping. It sounds extravagant but it isn’t and it’s the best way to get good deals here. You pay Ann a (very reasonable) hourly fee and she does all the negotiating. And, boy are the deals good.

Red Thread China is geared towards assisting adoptive parents with care packages to the child they are matched with, services while families are in China and humanitarian aid and donations to orphanages throughout China. We did not get to shop with Ann last time and I’m so glad we did this time.

She met us in the lobby at 9:30 and we hailed a cab to the “toy market”. While it does have toys, the market also has many other kinds of souvenirs and today’s items of choice were silk dresses. I wanted to get Rowynn and Finnley both silk dresses for Chinese New Year. Because they run $3 – $5 each Ann helped us get sizes to fit now and a couple each for them to grow into. XiXi enjoyed picking the colors for her and her sister’s dresses. I also got a couple for me, some silk two piece outfits for the boys, Chinese army hats and tons and tons of chopsticks. Ann said XiXi should take them as gifts to her fellow classmates when she starts school.

I’m pretty sure I bought more than I planned because they told me I was “hot” and had the perfect body for the Chinese dress. LOL! Things people will say to make a sale.

From there we went to the pearl market which is an amazing place that is a large wholesale center for semiprecious stones. Quality pearls come at an amazing price and make for wonderful keepsakes to save and give to daughters when they get married. Finnley and Rowynn will each have them.

The store is loaded with cases and cases of pearls on strings. All colors, sizes, lusters and quality can be found. You get to select your pearls and the girls in the shop will hand knot them while you watch and finish with the clasp of your choosing. XiXi watched very closely. When Ann told her she would get hers when she gets married she scrunched up her face and giggled.

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After the pearl market we went to a back alley of authentic street shops to look for a clay teapot and some wooden ram carvings (since the upcoming new year will bring in the year of the ram). We were bargaining for the teapot that started at 80RMB and Ann told me I could get it down to 25. I just couldn’t do it — and stopped at 40 (about 6 bucks). The woman looked so happy and told Ann how nice I was.

The final taxi ride took us to a sports shop that sold athletic jerseys. Here I found Chinese basketball team practice jersey sets for $5. The boys will love them.

Ann is so fast and efficient, we were done by noon and back in time for our 12:30 meeting with our guide to put together our packet for the consulate appointment scheduled for Monday.

XiXi again just went along with everything with a smile on her face. No whining or complaining. I think she likes shopping, especially when she gets to pick things out.

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Back at the room, we ordered a room service meal of pizza and fried rice and enjoyed more TV. XiXi has a weakness for Chinese soap operas, reality shows and The Matrix (we’ve watched it twice now).

Tomorrow, our guide will take us and another family to Shamian island–a part of Guangzhou that has a colonial history and architecture. Looking forward to another fun day!

Day 6: medical exam and down time

XiXi did very well on the flight to Guangzhou last night. She had never been on an airplane before so I wasn’t sure if she would be scared. No way! She was so excited you’d think she was on an amusement park ride. She smiled as the plane started down the runway and after we took off she would point out the different things she saw, the city below, the lights from other planes and, once we got above the cloud deck, a very bright moon.

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Our guide, Elvin, picked us up. He had been our guide when we adopted Finnley so it was nice to see a familiar face.

By the time we got settled it was after 11p and neither one of us had a problem with going straight to bed.

XiXi and I have shared a king bed each night. At the beginning, she stayed in her space and I stayed in mine. Last night I had a bit of a cough and hoped I wouldn’t wake her but I felt her little hand patting me on my back. I held it and fell back asleep. Such a sweet girl; so loving and trusting.

This morning we tried out the breakfast buffet and then had to quickly go to the medical exam. This is needed in order for her to have the “clean bill of health” to get her visa to come home. The exam involves going room to room to see various specialists: general, ENT, vision and blood work. She checked out fine and was so brave.

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Our guide was kind enough to take us to a local grocery to get some snacks. Elvin took us by the chicken feet and (jokingly) asked if we would like some. I assured him we would be fine without feet, and without heads to be on the safe side.

We had no other adoption business or sightseeing today so I thought we’d stay in and just hang around the hotel. We even had lunch in the room. We had picked up some noodle cups at the store as there is a kettle in the room. Since XiXi’s awesome selection of Dan Dan noodles at the snack street shop in Chengdu I had her pick for me. I ended up with beef noodles that had special packets of chili sauce and pickled greens. She made a good choice!

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XiXi has a weakness for Chinese soap operas but I tried to steer away from that. I had her play some apps on my iPad (Angry Birds knows no cultural limits) and we put together a Lego set.

Not to be totally lazy, we got out and walked around the hotel complex. We are at the China Marriott which is part of a huge complex with shops and restaurants. We did some window shopping and then we picked up some Haagen Dazs and took it back to the room. Dinner was Corn nuts and beef jerky–her daddy will be proud.

Don’t tell the kids back home about all the TV, iPad and junk food we had today or they’ll mutiny. But honestly, we just needed to chill, we’ve got some big days coming up before we get to head home.

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