Monday, December 31, 2007

Thank you Nana & Bumpa!

I took B shopping with his Christmas money at a KILLER toystore a few days ago, and here's what he chose:

A humongous bin of race car tracks, which can be put together in an infinite number of ways (it expands dramatically on a starter kit we gave him for Christmas)

A new race car & a motorcycle to go with the track (they have to be a certain kind to work right)

A rocket that you fill up with water, pump up, then blast off

Bathtub fingerpaints

A stuffed Garfield toy (he saw the first half of the Garfield movie a week ago and thought it was the funniest thing he'd seen since "Surf's Up." We'll have to rent it for him so he can see it all)

A deck of BrainQuest preschooler quiz cards

A pink and purple stuffed unicorn for his baby sister

A lollipop (that's what he's holding in his hand)

We'll put the money he has left in his savings account for him.

He really chose all of this stuff himself, and had a lot of fun doing it. He's enjoyed every single thing since he bought it too (except for the rocket -- too cold out for that!). Thank you!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy birthday to B!

B turned four on Christmas Eve! My brother & his family and my grandpa came over for lunch & cake. The menu was selected by B: sloppy joes, corn, and fruit cocktail. B mixed his all together; the rest of us took a more traditional approach. I baked the cake (must've been my lucky day -- it actually turned out OK), and his dad decorated it quite artfully with a Spiderman theme.

The cake was followed by presents, of course. I'm afraid I've lost track of all the stuff he got & have confused Christmas and birthday gifts in the three days since Christmas, but I know he got a space shuttle toy from Aunt Erin, a gumball machine and a lifetime supply of gumballs from Nana, a build & erupt your own volcano kit along with a DVD about volcanos from his Aunt Catfish, and a toolbelt from his Bumpa M.

After all that excitement, B, his dad, and my 20 year-old cousin S headed to Bounce for a couple hours of jumping while my mom & I stayed behind to get started on the Christmas cooking. I think B had a fun day!

Happy birthday, B!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


We got our Pre-Approval from China today! It's not a terribly important piece of paper -- of all the "As" we will receive (PA, LOA, TA, CA), it's really the least important -- but still exciting! It is China's acknowledgement that they received our letter of intent, and they know we want to adopt ZhiYi. It has symbolic importance because it's our first formal indication from China that our adoption of her is really happening.

Now the wait for LOA begins. LOA is Letter of Acceptance, and it's a very important one. We're hoping to receive it within the next few weeks, but it could take as long as three months. It's all up to China. We'll get a little hint from our agency when our LOA is coming soon -- when China tells them that our dossier has moved to the match room, the agency will notify us to download a travel packet. When we get that notice, LOA is usually just a few days away.

After LOA comes TA -- Travel Authorization. That typically comes about two weeks after LOA. Then as soon as our agency makes our CA (Consulate Appointment), it's off to China! Most families leave about two weeks after receiving TA, but some leave as quickly as 48 hours after TA.

So the countdown continues: 21 days since LOI, one A down, three As to go!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas

Back in a few days...In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Childcare rant

I know, usually it's all kittens and puppies, rainbows and unicorns, look-at-the-cute-pictures-of-my-kids over here on my blog, but today I'm detouring from la-la land to go off on a little rant.

What is wrong with our country????? We place so little value on early childhood education and child care. I'm pretty sure that a large percentage of families are like ours, where both parents *have* to work. No, we don't live in a fancy house or drive expensive cars. We haven't been on a vacation in two years. So we're not both working to support an unrealistic lifestyle; we're both working to pay for our (average) roof over our heads, keep our kids in clothes (mostly second-hand or outlet sale finds), and eventually send them to (public not private, unless they're geniuses and get full-ride scholarships) college. Actually, we're probably luckier than most two-income families, because we can afford for me to work part-time -- I'm only in the office three days a week.

For B, we're paying $154/week for preschool, slated to go up to $170 in the new year. For E, it will be an additional $215/week. So we'll be shelling out about the equivalent of our mortgage payment each month for childcare. Without going into our personal finances, let me just tell you this: that is a SIGNIFICANT percentage of our take-home salary. We will not be saving a penny until B starts kindergarten, and we may well take our savings down to near $0 by then. And no, it's not a hoity-toity fancy expensive private preschool. It's run by a non-profit, so the fees are CHEAP by our city's standards. It is a great school too, and B has really blossomed there. So changing childcare providers is not really an option for us.

Before we chose this particular school, I must have looked at at least 30 others. And I would not have sent my kid to a single one of them. They were either just disgusting dumps, or creepy, or understaffed, or obviously just babysitting kids without any effort to educate them or contribute to developmental progress in any way. After I visited one particularly creepy place (it was in an old 7-11 store, so it had no windows or doors other than the front--all the back rooms were like cinderblock cells), I later ran into the staff person who'd been working in the infant room when I visited. She was actually at the school we eventually chose, interviewing for a job. She took me aside and told me not to send my baby to the place I'd first seen her, where she currently worked. I told her I wasn't even considering it anyway, but thanks for the heads-up. A couple months later, the guy who owned it was arrested for molesting the kids in the center. And this was after he'd already been convicted of child molestation several years before and ordered not to go back into the childcare business. WTF??

Just for fun, let's compare France and the US on a couple of points here:

1. Parental leave.

In France, it is the law that a mother is entitled to a minimum of 16 weeks paid maternity leave, and fathers get a minimum of 2 weeks paid leave. Plus, both parents can take up to three years of unpaid leave after the birth of a child and their job must be held for them. After a second child is born, a working parent who decides to stay home receives an allowance from the government. For the first three years, it is an amount equal to half the national minimum wage. So in France, the government pays you to stay home with your kids.

In the US, the Family Medical Leave Act requires your employer to give you leave, but they don't have to pay you. Maybe you're lucky like I am, and your employer will choose to give you paid maternity leave even though they don't have to -- I'll get 12 weeks. M will get none.

2. Child care.

So let's say you're a French mom who would rather go back to work than stay home with the kids. You can choose between a licensed and government-subsidized: child care center, family home child care provider, or in-home babysitter. The centers are run by local governments, non-profits, or parent associations, and parents pay only a small fee, based on income. The average amount a parent pays is $11/day/kid; actual operating costs are more like $50/day/kid. Oh, and I'll just throw this out there -- basic healthcare, such as vaccines, is provided at these centers and included in the basic fees. All care providers must have a bachelor's degree, and there is always a nurse on the staff and a doctor and psychologist make regular visits. Or if you do stay home with your kids instead of going back to work, but you need a little me-time, you can drop your kids off at a licensed, government-subisidized short-term child care center, where you pay about $1 per hour.

3. Preschool.

For kids aged 3-5, France has universal free preschool. Nearly 100% of the kids in the country attend. In the US, unless you're lucky enough to live in Florida or Georgia, you'll be paying for preschool out of your own pocket, or maybe your kids will just continue in a childcare setting until kindergarten without ever even going to preschool. Do you still wonder why the math and science skills of American students are declining in comparison to those of kids in other countries?

So let's tally up this scorecard:

France: 16 weeks paid leave, plus up to three years of unpaid leave with job protection

US: zero mandated paid leave for childbirth or adoption

France: $110/week for two kids

US: $385++/week for two kids

France: Free preschool for everyone!

US: Preschool? We don't need no stinkin' preschool. Kindergarten is good enough. They can just fingerpaint and play with playdough until they're five.

Yes, I know it isn't really free. You pay for it with your taxes of course. The average French family pays about half of their income in taxes; the average American family pays about 42%. I wonder how what percentage of our income we're paying on childcare and healthcare, things French families get for free? I haven't calculated it, but I know it's more than 8%. Try more like 25 - 30% for our family. Call me crazy, but I think the French family is getting more bang for their income tax buck than my family is.

But it's not even really about how much we pay in taxes; it's about our priorities in spending that money. Given the choice between funding an occupation of a foreign country or high-quality childcare and universal preschool for all American children, I think it should be obvious which choice has more long-term benefit for our nation. And it really is that simple. Education matters. Health care matters. Poverty matters. These are not just liberal touchy-feely attitudes held by naive people who don't understand national security. More poverty = more crime, more spending on prisons, more drug use, more child abuse, less education, less civic engagement. In short, poverty = social decay. How is THAT in the long-term good interests of our nation and our security? Oh, and poverty in France and the US? Based simply on wages and earnings, about 25% of the kids in both countries would appear to live in poverty. However, after you consider the child and health care services, as well as free preschool, available in France, only 6% of French children actually live in poverty, versus 21% of American children.

The bottom line is that our national priorities are forcing parents to choose between bad and worse for their children. We must change our priorities, and we must elect people who not only share our priorities, but have the moral fiber to actually make hard choices and force change. Or we could all just move to France. Damn, I wish I'd paid more attention in high school French!

So are you a little surprised to see all this here? The truth is that I am actually a very political person with pretty solid background in politics and government, and I have A LOT to say about this kind of stuff. I have kept it off the blog until now, but I can't really say why. I think I will be talking more about politics and society here in the future. Interspersed with cute baby pictures and funny stories about B, of course.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New pictures!

As far as we know these were just taken this week. Look at that grin! She's going to have us wrapped around her little finger in no time.

(Click the picture to see a bigger version.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Itty bitty update

We got a teaspoonful of new info on Miss ZhiYi today. It did not include any pictures, I'm sorry to say. She is growing like a weed it seems -- up to a whopping 20 pounds and 28" (a solid 10th %ile on the US growth charts). She started crawling in November. She doesn't walk yet, but can stand holding onto something. She sits up by herself and feeds herself finger foods. And apparently she likes her baths!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Care package

We'll be sending this off to China tomorrow:

It contains:

- A letter written in Chinese to the orphanage director, explaining who the heck we are (since the orphanage may not have been notified yet that ZhiYi has been matched to us). Our agency gave us this, since we obviously cannot write a letter in Chinese...

- A picture drawn by B for his baby sister, with a note in Pinyin saying "I love you!"

- Two cameras -- we hope they will take lots of pictures of ZhiYi in the orphanage and give us the cameras when they bring her to us.

- A flannel blanket made by Grandma -- she's working on a second, identical blanket, just in case the orphanage keeps this one.

- An album of photos of us, the grandparents, our house, etc., with all photos labeled in Chinese. I've heard from other families that adopted from this orphanage that they don't get this back when they receive their child, and in fact they wonder if the album was ever even shown to the child, or if it just went into a file somewhere. I hope they show it to her, but I also like to think that if they keep it in her file, it's because they want to have pictures of where and to whom they sent her.

- A warm and fuzzy fleece outfit. We're hoping we'll see her wearing this when (if) we get updated photos through our agency.

- A giraffe lovey toy

- Stickers and wrist rattles, with a note reading in Chinese "For your friends."

- A bag of candies with a label in Chinese reading "For the nannies."

Sunday, December 9, 2007


I took this picture of B Friday night, while he was playing with Kenai in his tunnel. Yep, a 90 pound dog squeezes his giant body into that little bitty tunnel. It's quite funny to see. There's a picture of Kenai in the tunnel below too, but unfortunately the only one I was able to get was of the wrong end. [Erin P, apparently I really SHOULD have taken notes when you showed me how to get rid of red-eye, b/c I couldn't make it work!]

It's gotten very difficult to capture a good B smile on camera. Not that he doesn't smile -- he does -- it's just that when you point a camera at him and say smile, he does this weird grimace where he shows his teeth & turns down the corners of his mouth. I lucked out on this one -- he was trying to hide from me, and I happened to snap this one just before he backed around the corner, out of view.

Speaking of turned-down mouths...B told me yesterday, "Mommy, when I'm sad, my mouth makes the shape of a rainbow."

Friday, December 7, 2007

Zhi Yi's home for now

Zhi Yi currently lives at the XiaJiang Social Welfare Institute (SWI). XiaJiang is 3-5 hours (depending on who you ask) south-southeast of Nanchang, which is the capital of Jiangxi Province. It is fairly remote, and a small town by Chinese standards.

You can click on the map to make it bigger. See the bright yellow-orange province on the bottom right, called Fujian? Jiangxi is just to the left of that, in a light turquoise color. Nanchang is the green square in the upper part of the province, and XiaJiang is south of that.

The XiaJiang SWI just began participating in international adoption about three years ago. Not many children are adopted from this orphanage, and only a handful of families have had the chance to visit. Therefore, we really don't know much about it. We know that in addition to housing orphans (maybe about two dozen or so at any given time--a very small orphanage for international adoption in China), it is also the permanent home of a group of mentally handicapped children, and serves as a retirement center and nursing home for the elderly. We hope to know a little more soon. I've made an online acquaintance whose daughter came from XiaJiang, and they are going back for a visit soon. They have promised to make inquiries about our daughter, and get pictures if they are allowed.

Here's what it looks like on the outside:

Despite its somewhat odd likeness of a pink Disney castle, I don't think it's very castle-like on the inside, based on the few pictures I've seen. It's pretty basic, but looks to be clean.

Can't wait to get her here to her real home.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Happy birthday to me

We're going to take a short break from the infinite baby girl cuteness today so that I can tell you about my birthday party. I turned 40 last week, and my men threw me a big bash last Saturday. There were about 30ish adults there, and what seemed like about two dozen kids but was probably more like eight or ten.

The party had an eclectic theme: pirates and superheroes. I imagine B may have had some say in the selection of the themes. All the party favors had a pirate theme -- treasures such as mardi gras necklaces and toy rings with giant plastic gems, as well as eye patches and gold hoop earrings (or nose rings, depending on your preference). The cake had a superhero theme, and read "Happy 40th Birthday Woman-Girl." If you want the backstory on Woman-Girl, you'll have to go read the last part of the Snow, sand and kryptonite post.

Lots of fun was had by all. Here are some of the party pix to prove it:

Me and my handsome B

Woman-Girl and Captain M

I had lots of help blowing out the candles


B's girlfriends

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A few more tidbits

We don't have any new pictures, but I've been combing through all the paperwork that came from the agency, and have learned the following:

* She's itty-bitty, the size of an average 6 month-old in the U.S., except that she's almost 14 months old.
* She's crawling!
* She laughs aloud.
* She is fond of listening to music, and gets very happy when the nannies talk to her.
* She is active and restless (uh-oh), yet also a deep sleeper (yay!).
* She's eating solid foods, including noodles, meat, eggs and soup.
* By one month old, "she had grown very pretty." Well, duh!
* She is very well-behaved. (B will teach her naughtiness her first day home, I'm sure)
* She is "physically strong and sturdy."
* "She is an innocent, lively, healthy good, child."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Oh Baby!

Xiao ZhiYi
Born October 10, 2006
Jiangxi Province, China

Hey everyone, meet our daughter, ZhiYi! Yes, OUR DAUGHTER!!! I'm still pinching myself. She just turned one on October 10 and currently lives in Jiangxi Province in the People's Republic of China. We hope to get her home by February or March.

I was stunned when the agency called yesterday afternoon, when just last Friday they'd told us we'd have to wait until at least January. Tricky, tricky people, those agency folks. Needless to say, we are overjoyed, and absolutely giddy with excitement.

More information later...too much to do today! Until then, here are the other two pictures we received: