Friday, September 27, 2013


Exactly one week ago, on September 20th, our newest treasure was born.   I began my day very early (as usual) and was able to witness a stunning sunrise through my kitchen window as I made the kids' school lunches.  Living on the eastern side of the island we don't get to watch the sunsets that Hawaii is famous for, but sometimes we get these glorious views in the morning.  
Due to my age, I was scheduled for an induction.  Knowing it would be the last day I'd be pregnant, and considering that I had very few photos of myself during this pregnancy, I snapped a quick pic before leaving the house. 
 We arrived at the hospital at 8:30am as planned, but when we got there we were told that the labor and delivery unit had filled up and my induction would need to be delayed until later in the day.  By lunchtime we were still in a holding pattern, so we left the hospital for a little while and enjoyed a rare treat - a lunch date.  This was our nice view from the table :).
 It was 6pm by the time I was finally admitted and my induction was underway!  It was a relatively easy labor and birth - I mean as far as births go, anyway.  At 9:10pm this sweet bundle was born.
Meeting Mama.
Meeting Dad.
Being born is hard work!
...And toes.
Sibling love:
The next day we were discharged to home.
We are all smitten with our little Bear!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Best Cup of Tea

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my "past life" as I sometimes refer to it :).  The times in my twenties and thirties when I lived overseas, when I had a career as an Army nurse, when I was doing more "adventurous" things.  Of course, Rob and I are always on some sort of adventure, the story line just keeps changing from season to season.

I am so thankful that my life has played out the way it has - that I have such wonderful memories to look back on, such bountiful blessings to appreciate right now (namely our children), and such hopefulness for the future.  Today the girls had the rare treat of afternoon tea at a local little English-style tea room while the boys watched football.

I began to tell Bou about the best cup of tea I ever had, and as I told her the story it occurred to me that I wanted to record some of my favorite travel memories for my children (and me) to look back on and read.  After all, this was meant to be a family blog, not just an adoption blog.  I love sharing our adoption journey, but I have other stories I want to include here as well.  So here is the first one...The Best Cup of Tea.

It was April 2004 and I was working in the Intensive Care Unit at an Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.  It was the hospital that all wounded military service members and DOD civilians/contractors from Iraq and Afghanistan were evacuated to before being transported back to the U.S. for further medical care.  This was the second time I'd worked in this hospital - the first being 1996-2000, when the pre-war atmosphere was completely different.  Back then it had been a fairly slow-paced environment.  But not anymore - now the ICU was busy and intense, full of young men with devastating wounds that tragically changed the course of their lives, and the lives of their families.

Rob, also in the Army, was stationed back in the U.S. while I was in Germany, so my dear friend A and I shared an apartment, worked together, and were traveling buddies.  Both of us had been there about three months - and I think both of us had seen injuries we never expected.  Both of us were living thousands of miles away from our husbands for the next year.  It was a hard job.

What does this have to do with tea, you may be wondering?  Well, I am getting to that...

It was early April, which meant tulip season in the Netherlands.  A and I both loved flowers and we both desperately needed some respite, so we decided to hop on the train and head to Leiden for our three day weekend.
Once there, we rented a bike (there were literally hundreds and hundreds of them surrounding the train station) and took off exploring the town.

We rode and rode AND RODE our bikes all over the place, laughing like kids at the cold wind in our faces.  It was a very picturesque place, and of course there were bike lanes on every street, which made it so pleasant to ride around.

There were beautiful canals with sidewalk cafes...
gorgeous flowers everywhere...
and more windmills!  Because we were in Holland, after all.  That's blurry me on my bike in the edge of the photo - we rode until almost dark.  
And when we were nearly frozen and nearly out of daylight, we rode to our hotel and checked in.  It was the quintessential Dutch bed and breakfast - so cute.  This is where the tea comes in.  We took off our heavy coats, sat down to a strong cup of ceylon tea and some scones, and warmed ourselves up.  Sitting here in this little hotel, eating and drinking, cheeks still flushed from hours of bike-riding and sight-seeing in the cold, I felt a million miles away from the sadness of work.  And it was so good.   That tea was more than tea - it was symbolic of warmth, happiness, simplicity.

The next day we went to the famous Keukenhof Gardens to see all the tulips, which really were dazzling.  

That night we ate at Woo Ping's Chinese Restaurant, because that was kind of a tradition, to eat at a Chinese place in every country we visited.  
On Sunday morning it was time to board the train and head back home.  In the train station we saw a Dutch newspaper with this image on the front page:
At first glance, we knew they were U.S. Marines, and we thought they were just huddled together praying.  It actually looked like a nice picture to grace the front page on this Easter Sunday, coincidentally.  Then we noticed the feet sticking out from the huddle, and the stretcher beneath them.  We realized they were gathered over someone who was either dead or seriously wounded, but since the caption was written in Dutch we weren't able to read the description.  Once we arrived back home we realized that this photo had been on the cover of many newspapers, as part of the coverage of terrible fighting in Fallujah that weekend.  Here's what one caption read:  "U.S. Marines pray over a fallen comrade at a first aid point after he died from wounds suffered in fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, Thursday, April 8, 2004. Hundreds of U.S. Marines had been fighting insurgents in several neighborhoods in the western Iraqi city of Fallujah in order to regain control of the city."  I cut the image out and saved it (I still have it, along with lots of other photos and articles).  We were oblivious to what had begun, as we were tucked away in a little springtime utopia of flowers and windmills.  During the fighting that became known as the First Battle of Fallujah, 51 U.S. service members were killed and 476 were wounded.   Over 1200 Iraqis were also killed.  When we stepped off the train in Germany on that dreary Sunday afternoon, there was no denying the reality of what awaited at work the next morning.  

And so it continued for the rest of the year - we worked hard, took care of young men with shattered bodies, got emotionally invested, cried sometimes.  Then when we had the chance, we got on the train and savored the experiences at our next destination.  Including good cups of tea.  Just not the best cup of tea.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Summer Recap: Part One

Wow, will I ever be a regular blogger?  I seem to start every post with "It's been a long time..."  There are so many things I want to share, but so far I remain too bogged down in the LIVING of life to spend any time WRITING about it.  I hope to change that one day soon, but for now another recap of the last couple of months will have to do. 

So back in June, I wrote about Bella's hip surgery.   While her recovery went well overall, and she was discharged from the hospital a week later, the ordeal definitely took a physical and emotional toll. 

I've touched on the condition of her hips in earlier posts, but just want to elaborate a little about what they were like pre-surgery.  Years of living in a laying room, never bearing any weight, never being stretched or moved around, surviving on a very poor diet - all of these factors worked together to nearly destroy her hips and legs.  When she broke her hip in January, her surgeon was so surprised by how soft her bones were, by how "transparent" they looked on x-ray.  The fracture couldn't even be repaired in the conventional way.  Speaking of x-rays, they also showed that her left femur actually curved to the right as it grew, due to the fact that it was always draped over her right leg.  Her muscles were so tight that I could barely get clothing to fit between her knees when I dressed her - her legs literally would not abduct (open) at all.  You can imagine the problems this caused with regard to toileting and hygiene.  She was permanently rotated to the right, as you can see in the photos below:

This is the only way she was able to sit in a chair - with the entire lower half of her body rotated to the right. 
So now imagine the night she came out of surgery looking like this.  After six months of scissored-tight legs it was shocking (in a good way) to see.  And this is evidence that Bella does not ALWAYS smile, as so many people have asked me!  She was clearly unhappy here, and rightly so!
After hospital discharge, the next four weeks were spent at home in the spica cast.  It was June and a house with no air a half inch thick waist-to-toe fiberglass contraption.  She sweated constantly.  She couldn't have showers...or use the toilet...or sit upright.  She lost every bit of strength she'd gained and every new physical skill she'd acquired during the previous months of therapy.  But she took it all in stride - she was such a trooper. 
We spent most of our summer at home because it was hard to take her places in the car with the cast.  We made the best of it though.  We did celebrate Bella's first Independence Day by going to our town's parade, which she really enjoyed. 

We actually expected the spica cast to remain on for six weeks, so imagine our surprise when we went in for the four-week follow-up and her surgeon decided to go ahead and remove it!  That was a happy day.  Here she is with her sister, moments before they cut it off.
That afternoon Bella came home and slept probably more soundly than she had in five weeks (she was still unable to use the potty right away, so we had to go with diapers for a little longer).  Her little body poured all it's energy into wound healing in the weeks following surgery, so she also lost a lot of the weight she'd gained since being adopted.  But oh, how wonderful her legs looked!  Remember those first two photos above - the knees that could not spread more than an inch?  Look at them now!
I doubt that Bella has EVER been held like this.  Even back when it would have been possible - before all the damage was done to her legs - no one would have carried and cradled her.  Not in the orphanages.
Look how aligned, how anatomically correct, and how HEALTHY her legs are compared to the wheelchair photo at the top!
On August 5th, a few weeks after the cast came off, Bella was able to begin attending school for the first time IN HER LIFE :).  She absolutely loved it and couldn't wait to go back the next day.  She only attends half-days for now, but that is a wonderful start. 
So this was a quick rundown, and it is overwhelmingly positive.  We are happy with the surgery and thrilled that Bella is loving school.  But it hasn't all been rosy.  In fact, there have been some hard, hard parts and I would not be presenting a true picture of our summer if I didn't touch on that too - more to follow in Part Two of the Summer Recap.