Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays All!

Happy Holidays to You!

Happy Traveling in 2009~

John, Louise, JieJie and MeiMei Globetrekker

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Catching up yet again

Ok - while the girls try to settle down and fall asleep after a joyous round of tree decorating (no ornaments broken, no tantrums from them or us), I'll tell you about MeiMei's 5th birthday...before she turns 6!

As you might recall, we went to Belgium last summer for about 3 weeks, with a side trip to Germany's Rhine valley area. We got back to Antwerpen, used the rental car to go to Plopsaland, and then were invited by Belgian friends S & Ie to go on a sailboat ride. It happened to be MeiMei's 5th birthday, and at first they said "maybe you want to do something more traditional and you don't want to come to the boat?" Our quick reply was "Oh, we DEFINITELY want to come to the boat!"

We still had the rental car (keeping it thru the weekend was the same price as returning it on Friday...we're SO glad we kept it!) so we turned on the Obi Wan Kenobi GPS unit and made our way to the port town of Vlissingen (which would be Flushing in English, like the town in Queens, NY) in The Netherlands, just across the border & a very short drive. We found the port area easily, called our friends, and they walked to meet us so we could walk with them to their folks' sailboat. Ie's parents were very welcoming...after all, we were complete strangers, bringing two little kids aboard their boat, so who knew what would happen? But soon we were having sandwiches, wine, and delicious fresh cherries from the market in Antwerpen. When I asked Ie if I could bring anything from town, she had asked for more bread for sandwiches--it was still warm from the oven when I picked it up at Spar over by the Meir--and when I saw those cherries they were too good to resist!

JieJie and MeiMei played with H & E, our friends' two little girls, we had pastries from Bastin instead of cake, tried to have candles to blow out but the wind beat MeiMei to the punch, so we just laughed and ate the yummy pastries, including eclairs shaped like swans. Ie's dad suggested we go ahead and sail. E had apparently been afraid to sail, but they thought maybe if she saw our girls enjoying themselves, she could get over her fear. Soon we were out of the port (through a VERY narrow passage!) and out onto the Schelde Estuary, where the River Schelde empties into the North Sea. It was choppy, but manageable. Every time we hit a big wave, our girls just thought they were back on a thrill ride at Plopsaland, no big deal. E soon settled in and we were so happy she wasn't scared.

It took maybe a 1/2 hour to get across the estuary to the little port town of Breskens on the other side. We went to a little eatery there and had a drink and snack, and the girls played on the playground a bit. Then we went back to Vlissingen, over noticeably rougher water--the girls were strapped to the boat!), said thank you and goodbye to Ie's parents, and drove with S & Ie to the town of Middleburg to have some dinner. You should, in your abundant spare time, search for Middleburg on Google Maps and switch to satellite view. You can really see the shape of an old, old town, with a center containing fortress-like buildings, streets arranged in rings around the center, and just outside of that, a zig-zag of moats and canals still in use today. We found a nice outdoor place to eat where the girls could run around in a cobblestone courtyard while we waited for the food to arrive. Dinner was lovely, and then we walked around Middleburg a bit. If you've ever been to Delft and enjoyed just walking around, you would definitely love Middleburg! It is spotlessly clean, too...I joked to John that they seem to have vacuumed the outside walls of their houses!

To get back to Antwerpen, S drove us the secret way on roads that cross the border with little fanfare. He told John that smugglers used to drive those roads. It took a few u-turns to figure out how to cross some of the canals in the HUGE Port of Antwerpen before we found ourselves back in town, but we did it, and what a neat way to go.

So THAT, finally, is the story of MeiMei's 5th birthday. John and I joke about how, gee, it's just so much like our own 5th birthdays...NOT...

If I don't post again til 2009, I wish you and yours a happy, happy holiday season and good fortune in the new year. We have no immediate plans for amazing, blog-worthy trips...most recently we spent a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my home town, (Edina, MN) for Thanksgiving. Happy 70th birthday, dad!

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Young Blogger Describes China

I am so excited to share a link with you to a ten-year-old's blog from China. I am still in touch with the Panda Pals, a group of parents who all formed a "cyber waiting room" in 2001 when we sent our paperwork to China. We kept each other company, hoped together, stressed out together, shared rumors from all our various adoption agencies, went through September 11th together, and remain close to this day on our Panda Pal yahoo group list. Several families just went to Disney World together for what's becoming an annual get-together!

Anyway, one Panda Pal is in China right now. Her daughter, 10 years old, is doing what I hope JieJie and MeiMei will do someday: writing a journal from China. We're not a scrapbooking family, but who knows, we may be a blogging family! Enjoy http://www.movingmountains-kids.blogspot.com/

MeiMei just wrote her first long string of letters and words on the old computer they were handed down. She wrote mommy daddy jiejie meimei abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz and a whole bunch of other stuff. JieJie doesn't write, she's more the illustrator, and when I looked at what she had done on Reader Rabbit today, she had a row of sort of gingerbread snowmen, all smiling, all in a row holding hands.

More of the Antwerp saga soon, I promise...it's been busy around here!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We Saw Barack Obama!

Wow, what an exciting day. I dropped the girls off at school, went home, my sister in law called, and we decided that she would park in our driveway and we would walk over to JMU together to see if we could get her in to see Obama. John and I had decided that we would see the speech with MeiMei at a downtown restaurant while JieJie had her dance class, so I knew I wouldn't be going to the speech, but I really wanted to see what it would be like where everyone was waiting.

The JMU Convocation Center seats 7600 people. It's hard to eyeball a crowd and figure how many people there were, but around noon when we got there, the line was down the sidewalk toward the University Recreation building...or I should say LINES because they were allowing people to line up at several entrances. We decided to wait on the astroturf field between UREC and the Convo Center, found the end of the line and sat down. By this time the line already went around the perimeter of the soccer fields and they were zigzagging the line up and down the field. We were in the third row from the fence...and this was 3+ hours before the doors were to open!

We sat with a very mellow several thousand people on the astroturf, and waited and talked for a couple of hours. Then it was time for me to walk over and get the girls from school, proceeding to have our usual Tuesday afternoon routine. Suddenly it hit me...WHAT WAS I DOING??? A presidential candidate is visiting our city and I'm just going to give up??? So I walked to their school, pulled them out of class, told them to leave their prohibited backpacks behind and called a taxi. We were dropped off just a short ways from the soccer field, found Aunt K and the line began to move. When we were at the opposite (far) corner of the field, we started to notice that some police were doing security checks at a small stage that we hadn't even noticed earlier. Some spectators were walking across the field toward the small stage, away from the Convo Center. This is when things happened really fast. We found out that the Convo was packed to capacity and that the thousands of people standing outside were out of luck. Suddenly we heard an oddly familiar voice say "Is this microphone working?" or something like that. OBAMA! We realized he was going to speak at the little corner stage right here on the soccer field...what luck! I grabbed the camera and the girls, put MeiMei on my shoulders, begged a strong-looking man to put JieJie on his shoulders so she could also see, and then Barack Obama jumped up on the stage. I could not believe my eyes, and to my complete surprise...I screamed. I couldn't believe he was really standing 30 feet away, and that the girls were seeing him. People cheered and cheered as Obama looked west to the snow-dusted Blue Ridge Mountains and said "wow...this...this is really nice...I have never been to this part of Virginia before, and this is really beautiful." It is...I was amazed that he had the presence of mind to notice, and took the time to remark on it. He gave a short speech, interrupted by choruses of cheers, of O-BA-MA and YES WE CAN and all that good campaign stuff. He shook some hands and that was it. Still, WOW. It was really cool!

JieJie was a trouper about no access to a bathroom for over an hour, so I hid her with my winter coat so she could relieve herself behind some shrubs...we ran into one of my students who said he had held two friends' places in line but they got in and he didn't (just so wrong)...My sister in law just called and said we were definitely in the wrong line because people who lined up at a different door at 1:30 got in, but her friend who was on the soccer field at 9:30am didn't...but these things happen, and still WE SAW HIM.

Then we went to TDU (Taylor Down Under) where they were showing the speech, as well as Gov Tim Kaine and soon-to-be Senator Mark Warner's speeches, on university closed-circuit tv. TDU has a coffee bar...it was nice to have hot cocoa while we listened. JieJie drew a picture of Obama, complete with sticky-outy ears :) She continues to be observant!

The election is one week away...we are optimistic...we've already hired a sitter so we can go out and celebrate! LG

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Trip Across Town...To See Obama

I will resume the Antwerp recap shortly, but first I must share tomorrow's exciting itinerary. I am going to the James Madison University Convocation Center (aka the basketball arena, cap. 7600) to see the next President of the United States, Senator Barack Obama! My college students have been so excited about this election, actually asking me to delay the start of class to help one another register to vote, and all they could talk about this morning was how or whether they would be able to see Obama tomorrow afternoon.

Everyone kind of wants to know Why Is He Coming Here??? Well, from what I understand, Harrisonburg is apparently the swing area of the swing district (Shenandoah Valley) of this swing state, and boy have we gotten attention this time around! We have an Obama office just a couple of blocks away, and for the first time in my life, I've now worked on a political campaign, making calls several hours a week to talk with voters about their thoughts. It has been really interesting to talk with so many people I might otherwise never meet, even when we don't agree. This area has changed so much in the last 20 years, and you just can't make assumptions anymore about the likelihood that a person of a certain age from a particular zip code is or is not going to support McCain or Obama. I also learned that it doesn't bother me that much to be hung up on. Comes with the territory, I guess.

Anyway, on Sunday, I took JieJie the Princess and MeiMei the Tiger to a costume party at a neighbor's, and then walked over to another neighbor's to deliver pumpkins for the pumpkin carving party planned for last night. On the way, I bumped into our friend Joe, who was canvassing in the neighborhood. He introduced me to his canvassing partner, Former Secretary of the US Navy, John Dalton!!!! I mean you have to understand, things like this don't happen in Harrisonburg. Usually we get ignored, or there's some candidate who stops into the photogenic L&S Diner for a quick meet and greet, and we see it on our (sorry) lame local news channel that night. But this time our looking-suddenly-less-lame local tv station is broadcasting Obama's speech for those unlucky enough not to get in to see him.

I'm so torn about whether to get the girls out of school early and wait out in the cold to be a part of history or not. If I don't get them from school early, I'll be picking them up right when the doors open, and will almost certainly not get in. John mentioned something about picking up the girls and bringing them to me...if the weather's ok, that could work.

Regardless, though, I am definitely going to go over to the Convo tomorrow just to see the whole scene...the media...the lines of students and community members...the protester...

Anyway, if I get any good photos, I'll try to post them (regular readers are now saying Yeah, Right). Wish me luck on getting in, preferably with the girls in tow, for what promises to be a historic day in our little burg!


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Plopsaland II

Click on the title of this entry and you'll be redirected to the home page for the best darn amusement park for kids and grownups alike that we have ever been to, PLOPSALAND in DePanne, Belgium. We drove there in our lovely rental car, though you can get there by train too. DeLijn has special fares from Antwerpen to DePanne combined with reduced price admission to the park. We got a discount by ordering tickets on the web that we printed out and brought with us.

Plopsaland is located in Adinkerke, one town inland from the coast town of DePanne. If you go just west, over the border into France, you'll be in Dunkerque / Dunkirk, France, where the famous battle took place in WW2, and you can actually see Dunkerque from the top of the space needle ride in Plopsaland.

The park gets its name from an adorable dwarf-gnome tv character named Plop. You can see Plop and all his friends in a very Euro-techno music video if you're curious about Plop. In the YouTube sidebar, you'll see several of the other kids' show stars that you'll find all over Belgian tv, like Bumba the clown, MegaMindy the superhero, Piet Piraat (yeah, you guessed it, Pete the Pirate), K3, Samson en Gert (a guy and his puppet dog), Big and Betsy (Big means Pig) on the farm, and so on and so on. All of these "brands" are owned/managed by a kids' entertainment conglomerate in Belgium called Studio 100. Think Disney but not so knowing and worldly and sassy and glib and crass dumb and sitcom-y and all the other insulting things that Disney thinks our kids think are cool. Belgian kids' shows are AWESOME! Innocent fun, silliness, fairy tale / folk tale cornball senses of humor (Plop's little "ears" on his hat go up in the air when he is surprised, and I laugh every time). You can get Bumba burgers and K3 cookies and Plop cereal and MegaMindy juice drinks at the grocery store...every other girl in Antwerp seems to have a K3 book bag or a MegaMindy jacket...you get the picture. Franchise-o-rama...but somehow it's more fun when it's someone else's franchise-o-rama.

When you go through Plopsaland, there are themed areas for each of these characters. We let the girls drive antique tractors on tracks in the Big & Betsy area (there are real goats and chickens you have to watch out for too, wandering freely in the "field"!), we saw the K3 museum, we rode the awesome "Bos van Plop (Plop's forest)" boat ride through sweet dioramas of mischievous gnomes playing their way through the four seasons of the year...MeiMei was big enough to ride the round-and-round swings in the Bumba area, the roller coaster in the Piet Piraat area, a MegaMindy jetski ride that was AWESOME (that word again), bumper cars, the girls' first flume ride in the prince/princess area, and we wrapped it all up with a cooling run through a plaza that has a maze of water fountains squirting at odd intervals. Half of the parents just stripped their kids, boys and girls alike, down to their undies and let them get soaking wet, and nobody cared.

Another thing we really like about the park is that while you certainly can buy anything you'd like with a Studio 100 character's picture on it (we got the girls matching K3 nightgowns) it's not so in your face. The shops and carts are easily avoided, which eliminates much of the tedious negotiating that happens at so many theme parks. While the girls played on a huge play structure with John watching them, I just slipped over to the merchandise pavilion and got the nightgowns, no big deal. I really wanted to get the Plop hat with the string you pull to make the ears pop up, but didn't.

Food-wise, it's more like the American style "aha, we have you now!" with REALLY expensive meals and especially expensive kids' meals with a special cup or trinket enclosed. Add in the exchange rate and we were pretty limited. We ate hot dogs and fries that day and had an ice cream treat in the afternoon, but that was about it til we got home. I saw many Belgian and French families who had packed picnic lunches, and would probably do so myself if we ever go there again.

Regular readers will recall that the girls and I stayed in DePanne at Strandpark and went to Plopsaland from there over spring break in 2007, but John stayed behind in Antwerp and missed all the Plopsaland fun. It was SO unbelievably wonderful to see him seeing Plopsaland for the first time--he loved it as much as we did, and kept saying "yeah, this is great! What a great place." He also commented that the jerk-to-normal-person ratio seemed better than it might be in the US but I think that really depends on the park. We saw some pretty jerky behavior at Busch Gardens over the summer, though, come to think of it.

Feels good to get caught up...next entry: MeiMei celebrates her fifth birthday on a yacht!!! Is this really my life? Cause this is not in my wildest dreams what I ever pictured...it's better. And I want you to know that I am truly, eternally grateful for these trips, these memories, my family, our friends...sigh.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Trier, Germany

After leaving the lovely town of Koblenz and the quaint Hotel Brenner, we got back in the rental car, turned on the GPS / Alec Guinness, and headed for Trier. The thing about the GPS is, it lulls you into this kind of ditzy mindset where you're going "I don't need to look at a paper map beforehand!" but you DO. Because if we HAD looked at one we would not have been surprised by the message that came up on the GPS screen...


Much of Trier (you may know it as Trieste) is cobblestone pedestrian streets, preserving the ancient (Roman-era) character of the town. We came into town from the expressway on the wrong side of the pedestrian area from the Warsberger Hof hostel where we had reservations. After trying in vain to find a way from point A to point B, it was obvious what we needed to do. Ditch the car. So we did, at a convenient underground parking garage by the Basilica.

We walked and walked from the garage to the Warsberger Hof, going around the very longest possible way and wearing out the girls' little legs just getting to the hostel. On the way, we passed a carnival run by a Catholic church in town, and that about did it for any sightseeing plans that Mom and Dad had. We were thinking maybe rent bikes and do a bit of the Moselbahn bike route along the river, picnic lunch, etc...but as soon as we got to the hostel it was "food!" "Carnival!" so that became the agenda. When you travel with little ones, it's often--ok usually--no use to fight for your own way...we couldn't very well counter with "vineyard!" "Museum!"...

Warsberger Hof, by the way, is just fine for a budget hostel, and certainly comfortable enough. Breakfast was good. BUT. And this is a very big thing--for the first time, the bathroom was down the hall. JieJie at this point was still a frequent visitor to the convenience, so we braced ourselves for midnight trips to the bathroom. AND there were no curtains on the windows. See why we realized we should've based ourselves at Hotel Brenner and simply fanned out for day trips? Ah well, live and learn.

We did a lot of walking around the historic city center, took the cute little tourist tram and saw the main sights of Trier like the Porta Nigra (black gate) which dates back to the Roman era, as well as some old churches and quaint old neighborhoods. Can you tell though that we were getting to that point in a Europe tour at which all cathedrals begin to meld together into one giant old Gothic Romanesque Neo-Whatever...it's not what we are supposed to do, we tourists...I think we're supposed to dutifully attend to the uniqueness of each site, but after a while the phenomenon sometimes called "museum fatigue" sets in, and so it was for us in Trier. Plus, knowing that we couldn't investigate further made me and John reluctant to indulge our curiosity.

We ate at a Russian place on the square (it was ok...actually Rick Steves recommended the restaurant at Warsberger Hof!) and tried to get the girls to fall asleep...it was a tantrumy day as I recall, and we were all eager to get back to Antwerpen, which we did early the next morning. The parking garage wasn't even open yet when we went down to get the car, but my arms are long and thin enough that I was able to reach through the bars in the door and open it from the inside so we could get in the car and go. We went back by way of Luxembourg and had lunch at a wonderful little restaurant/cafe in Flanders before getting back into town mid-afternoon. It felt so good to be "home"! We decided to keep the rental car through the weekend, which turned out to be a GREAT idea.

I'm so sorry I wasn't able to entrance you with stories of Trier...perhaps another trip. It looked like there was plenty to see there, but you have to gauge all of the variables, and our two little variables would probably have gone ballistic if we'd suggested one more tour!

But stay tuned because the end of the Antwerp trip was the best of all!


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Yeah, Yeah, I know.

Ok, so it's lame to post an apology for not posting. But I just wanted to let you know that I haven't quit! JieJie and MeiMei started school last week, John is back to work, I'm back to work, and updating the blog is on the to-do list. Still need to tell you about:

*lessons learned on the Antwerp trip (good ones, no worries)
*long weekend in Williamsburg (aka Why Plopsaland Beats Busch Gardens)
*Upcoming Thanksgiving in the Twin Cities & Happy 70th DAD!!

Thanks for checking in from time to time--oh, and if you were thinking of us during the Olympics, yes we watched some of it (though we don't get NBC so it was limited to what we could see at friends' and on other channels). Quotes:

JieJie: "I don't know who to root for. I was born in China, but I live in America. I guess I'll root for both."

MeiMei (while watching boxing and talking to Gramps on the phone): "We're watching the 'lympics! This sport is called beating."

JieJie (during same "Beating" match): "They're really trying not to hurt each other, right?"

OK - until next time (not too long, I promise),

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Young Germans Looking Back

When we dined in Koblenz, somehow WW2 came up in conversation with our young waiter, who was born in Poland but had grown up in Koblenz. His perspective on the war, the Holocaust, etc., was matter-of-fact. He shrugged and said that what happened was terrible, and of course he personally had not done anything, so didn't feel defensive. That it was a sad chapter altogether.

For me, growing up reading The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place, and watching movies like Europa, Europa and watching the History Channel's endless rehashing of WW2 (in which both my grandfathers fought, one a sailor in the Pacific theatre, the other landing with the Army in Le Havre shortly after D-Day), I find it interesting to see how today's green, modern, forward-looking Europeans regard their relatively recent past. To Americans, enchanted by cathedrals and palaces, it's easy to look at Europe and see only the past. Perhaps it has to do with our connection to Europe, the fact that Europe is "the past" for many European-Americans. (I'm thinking of Donald Rumsfeld's snotty "Old Europe" comment). The more time we spend in Europe, though, the more I'm struck by the future-focused outlook in general conversation and in daily life. Still, how does Germany in particular deal with the 30's and 40's?

Our conversation with the waiter seems typical. On several narrated tours, synagogues were pointed out, and mention was made of Kristallnacht and persecution of Germany's Jewish population. During our stop in Bacharach, we came upon what looked like the ruins of a cathedral on a promontory. Some of the windows had very recently been replaced with blood-red glass, and lights were in place to illuminate the windows at night. Puzzling...until I found the plaque explaining that on this site, Christians "re-enacted" a ceremony in which Jews sacrificed innocent Christians. Of course, this "ceremony" was a complete fabrication, one in a long line of what are called blood libel accusations against Jewish people. The plaque further explains that this ceremony perpetuated the kinds of myths about Jews that contributed to the Christian population's complicity in persecution of the Jews. I really wasn't expecting to see this type of thing during our Rhine cruise (again with the castles, fortresses, palaces, and storybook towns in my American head). It really was a modern art installation intended to remind visitors to Bacharach that history, even in such picturesque surroundings, is not always happy romance.

Back in Koblenz, when we left the Hotel Brenner, I noticed a plaque in the sidewalk (I really need to get on a computer where I can upload pictures, sorry!). The plaque said that former residents of this address, the very place where we had just stayed, were taken away during the war and died in Sobibor camp. I did the math and realized that these poor people, who had spent their lives in Koblenz, were in their late 60's when their house was taken away, and then their lives were taken away. Again, here was a reminder that interrupts daily life in this small German town to remind people what happened here, not to forget the past.

So our waiter was a pretty good example of the general feeling I got during our visit to Germany. Yes, this was the site of shameful atrocities. Yes, we are looking forward and building a new Germany. No, we will not forget.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Koblenz and the Hotel Brenner

On Wednesday, June 25, we checked out of the Meininger City Hostel in Cologne / Koln, and set the GPS for Koblenz and the Hotel Brenner, our lodgings for the night. The forecast was for a rainy day (Cologne photo taken that morning) but nothing too dastardly.

We made it to Koblenz quickly and found the hotel, no problem. What a GREAT little hotel!!! Very welcoming and friendly when we arrived, the staff invited the girls to play in the garden while the manager parked our car for us. I went with them to the sweet garden with its goldfish pond, swings and slides, and breakfast tables (too bad the breakfast was too expensive...at 10 euros per person + terrible exchange rate, not an option!). They were happy for the chance to play for a bit.

They were even happier to see our room, which was ready for us even though we arrived early. In retrospect, we really should have stayed in Koblenz at Hotel Brenner for all three nights of our Germany sidetrip, and fanned out from there to Koln and Trier. This hotel was so comfortable, and the room was one of the nicest I've EVER stayed in as far as layout, amenities, etc. A large bedroom area contained a "princess bed" as the girls called it, with a pretty canopy over the top, and there were two rollaway beds for the girls. They put up a BIG stink about being denied the princess bed, but to borrow from American Express..."Adulthood: Membership Has Its Privileges". If you're nodding your head, you need to read The Three-Martini Playdate - that woman is right up my alley.

Our lovely room also had a spacious bathroom AND a sitting room with a view of the garden / courtyard. We put our luggage in the room, sat for a moment, and then asked the front desk attendant about taking a train to the little town of Bacharach in order to catch a K-D boat for a cruise downriver back to Koblenz. They directed us toward the train station, just 10 minutes' walk away. As we walked out, it began to sprinkle. By the time we got to a little sandwich shop across from the train station, it was raining steadily. We had some panini-type sandwiches at this ice cream / panini place before heading across the street to buy our tickets to Bacharach, which cost only about 16 euro for the whole family. The train was a double decker train and we had an observation-type car all to ourselves! What a great train ride, right along the Rhine and through picturesque villages along the way.

We spent about 2 hours strolling around Bacharach and climbing part of the way up to Burg Eltz, which is now a youth hostel. I'm sure the view and the fortress itself are worth the full climb, but with our girls being so little (6 and almost-5), we just knew better, so we went as far as we thought they could go before turning back. We almost lost MeiMei along the way, too...part of the dirt/rock path was eroded away, and no sooner had John warned her to be careful--she tends to be accident prone--than she became fascinated with something above and almost walked right off the path...she would've slid about 20 feet down a steep, stumpy, rocky tree-studded hillside. John scolded her emphatically (okay he yelled), she dissolved into tears, and we made our way another few steps to see a view of the Rhine, hold our girls and get their minds off the tears.

Before making our way to the K-D boat dock (the rain had let up and our time in Bacharach was overcast but dry) we walked to one of the old city gates and showed the girls how these cities used to have walls all around them and you'd have to have permission to come in. They found that interesting, and we showed them where the big heavy doors of the gate would have been (the gate/tower is in great shape!).

At the K-D dock, we bought our family ticket for 50 euros, and got the girls an ice cream treat. We chatted with a couple from California who were touring the area.

Our boat arrived, we boarded, and snagged a window seat in the first-floor dining room / cabin--yay! Comfortable bench seats along the windows made a perfect spot for the girls to watch the fortresses, castles, buoys and boats go by (they have a thing for buoys that almost surpasses their interest in castles). We all ordered something to drink and some nuts to snack on, and settled in for a GREAT trip down the Rhine. The current on that river is really something, too. I can't recall any river I've ever been on with such a strong current. I resolved to hold tightly to the girls if we went to the top deck.

It rained off and on, but when the sun finally came out, we did venture up to the top deck and all I can say is, if you ever have a chance to take a Rhine boat trip, DO IT. With K-D, you also have the option of borrowing a bike from the boat, getting off at a particular town, and biking your way to the next landing to catch a later boat. What a great idea! That's my kind of biking too, along the river where it's FLAT.

About 5:30 we got back to Koblenz and found a lovely restaurant for dinner, right next to the public theatre and overlooking a public square. Our waiter described Koblenz as "a nice place to live, slower pace but with all the things you need right here." Ah, the Harrisonburg of Germany, I thought! Dinner was delicious and really quite affordable, which we found to be the case in general, when compared to Antwerp. Entrees here were 12-13 euro, rather than 19-23 euro. The girls liked the waiter so much, they drew flowers to give him, and he was charmed.

We saw all kinds of soccer fans, some dressed in red-gold-black for Germany, others in red and white for Turkey, heading out to watch the big semi-final European Cup game. We went back to the hotel to settle the girls in and watch the game on our hotel room tv. Germany won, and when we threw the window open we heard horns honking, impromptu firecracker celebrations, and lots of shouting and cheering.

Breakfast the next morning was coffee and pastries a few blocks away, and we were off to Trier.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Heading Uit

Belgian beer, Belgian chocolate, Belgian waffles...we have to leave while we can still button our pants. I'll catch you up with the day trips I've yet to write about after we get home. This trip was different, though, and there was less time for writing. Wall-to-wall sightseeing, visiting, and just relaxing were the goal this time, hence the radio silence. It's been a great trip, all too short.

Bye Antwerpen, hope it's not too long til we see you again!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Cologne (Koln) by car

Tuesday morning we got up fairly early to hit the road for Cologne in our rented dark blue Kia cee'd DIESEL compact family sedan, yowza! Our friends S & I even lent us their GPS device, which has a voice not unlike Alec Guinness (I kept waiting for him to tell John to use the force while we drove the Autobahn).

It took about 2 hours to get there, and we found the Meininger City Hostel easily with the help of Obi Wan Kenobi. The rooms only have two twin beds apiece, so we had two rooms next to one another, each with a small tv and with a shower/toilet in the room. Big windows overlooked courtyards and a construction site (who cares? we weren't there to see out the hotel window). The manager recommended a good place to park, so John moved the car while I settled the girls into our rooms.

John got back and we headed down to the Dom (Germany's oldest cathedral) on foot. Partway there John had second thoughts about the parking place, so the girls and I played at the fountained courtyard of the very modern Sparkasse bank building while he went back and moved the car. A little German-speaking girl wanted to play, so the three of them ran around the trees and fountains for a while. She wanted to know how old the girls were, and when I told her that MeiMei was indeed "funf" she was confused because MeiMei is just a hair over a meter tall (see Plopsaland entry yet to come). I loved the conversation because it went something like "funf?" "Ja, funf." "Ich bin funf!" "Ja, she is funf too." Try saying "funf" out loud and you'll have a moment of mirth.

We got to the pedestrian area leading to the Dom, which (according to Rick Steves) has been a pedestrian shopping district since at least medieval times, maybe even earlier. The girls stopped to watch street performers playing harmonicas, accordions, doing one-man-band puppet shows, the whole bit. We had a cold drink and found the nearest WC in the Roman-Germanic museum just past the Dom. Both of the adults in our party were salivating over the thought of what wonders awaited in this museum, but knew not to push it with the little ones, who were tired from travel and walking, and in no mood for ancient relics. It went on the list "for next time." That's the deal when you want to travel with kids as young as ours.

The girls enjoyed walking around the inside of the cathedral and trying to spot interesting things in the stained glass. They always want to light a candle in cathedrals, and are very solemn when they do it, too! It has become a thing we always let them do when we visit a cathedral--and there are so many to see in Europe, it's probably good to have a ritual. We tried attending an actual service once though (see Easter 2007) and...well, it's not a good idea at this juncture, shall we say.

John and I were both bummed to learn that the next night there would be a performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem in that very cathedral, which itself was one of the few buildings to survive WW2. 95% of Cologne was decimated, since it is such a key transportation hub along the Rhine for both rail and shipping. Can you imagine hearing such a stirring work, in such a perfect location? It was like last year when we visited Aachen - they were going to do the St. Matthew Passion by Bach in the famous cathedral there. One of these trips, the stars will align and we'll get to see and hear a great composition in a great venue.

We went back to the hostel by taxi (knowing better than to say the word "walk" out loud) and found a place across the street for dinner, just a basic pasta/pizza place that was cheap and good. The girls fell asleep pretty easily that night, and John followed soon after, but I was hot (no a/c) and there were loud students on our hallway. Finally at 12:30 I called the front desk and they came up to tell them to please be quiet, ending with an ominous "alles klaar?" I heard the voice that had been doing all the obnoxious laughing and storytelling say "Ja" and the noise stopped.

Breakfast at Meininger was good for the price (about $5). Yogurt, muesli, bread, cheese, meat, fruit, juice and coffee. I had bread with a shmear of braunschweiger, yum.

And we were off to Koblenz...but that's another entry.

Belgian Springsteen Fans

A while ago I had mused about what a Belgian Springsteen fan would be like. You know that footage of polite audiences watching Jim Morrison on staid 60's tv shows? The contrast is comical. It wasn't THAT calm, but compared to audiences I've been a part of at Giants Stadium (beer throwing, spontaneous brawls, too much drama out in the audience), the audience on the 23rd of June at the Sportpaleis Antwerpen was well behaved AND enthusiastic. The people in the scrum at the front of the standing-room-only floor section (pictured) had dutifully written requests on random pieces of cardboard, and Bruce happily took their requests and even played some of them. At the end, he played "Glory Days" and brought the house down. Great concert - glad I saw The Boss before he gets any older...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Germany Preview

We're back from Germany and booked solid til Monday, so here's a quick version of the Germany trip that I will flesh out later (why write when there's still traveling to do?).

Monday night - Springsteen - great show - trams not running when we got out - walked from Meir to KonigAlbertPark - JieJie had tried to wait up for us...yikes

Tuesday - drove to Cologne (Koln) - hostel ok but noisy - saw famous Cathedral, couldn't find easy way to river view

Wednesday - drove to Koblenz - train to Bacharach - picturesque doesn't begin to describe - KD boat trip down the Rhine back to Koblenz - great dinner - this day was best of trip - Hotel Brenner a definite keeper!

Thursday - drove to Trier - GPS couldn't get us to hostel - ditched car at car-park and walked - hostel spartan but clean and comfortable - walked around old city, took little tourist tram to major sites - Roman and medieval remnants truly impressive - girls got to go to a big carnival put on by one of the churches in town

Friday - bfast at hostel - walked to car - drove back to Antwerpen via Luxembourg, passing through the Ardennes on the way - lunch at a sweet cafe along the way - European rest stop facilities are WAY nicer than we have...healthy food for sale!!!


Tomorrow - MeiMei turns 5 and we spend the day on our friends' boat in southern Holland...yeah, just like my 5th birthday, John & I said to each other...sheesh!

Sorry for the short entry...just didn't want you to think we'd fallen into the Rhine or something.


Monday, June 23, 2008

A Week Gone Already

We're already a third of the way through our trip! The weather's been fine and with so much to do, writing has taken a back seat to doing, as it should be.

In the year since we've left, a few things have changed here and there. We've noticed some restaurants have closed and new ones have opened, streets that were ripped up last year are now open and vice versa, the trams have new advertising painted on them, and some buildings that were being cleaned last year (on Leysstraat and at Franklin Rooseveltplaats) are looking great. The train station Antwerpen Centraal is covered with scaffolding all over the front facade and looks to be in for a major cleaning/restoration. In addition, the dome is being covered with copper. It will be beautiful when it's done, before the copper gets its green patina. Inside the train station, more levels are open, and the high-speed Thalys train now goes from here to Paris in half the time it used to take.

Two major changes for the better, one small, one big: the closest playground to the faculty flat got a major makeover and went from concrete/graffiti/chainlink to a wide open grassy space with the playground eqipment resting on that recycled rubbery stuff that makes jumping fun and safe. It's fantastic! We would've been down there every day last year if it had been so nice. The other change? Don't laugh...they cleaned up all the dog poo! Last year we learned to watch our step because it was just everywhere. I don't know whether it's a summertime tourism cleanup or a public health effort. Who cares? The sidewalks are no longer a doggy-doo minefield.

Friday night John went to the Antwerp American Club meeting near Brussels and had a good time, followed by watching European Cup Soccer (Turkey/Croatia, a real nail-biter). I brought the girls over to our friends' house to make pizza and hang out. Saturday our friends came down from The Netherlands and we went to a restaurant that is a parent's DREAM: Sensunik, on Molenstraat (Tram 7 to the Gounodstraat station).

Here's the deal: make a reservation first and tell them you want your kids to be in the kids' room. Then you get to the restaurant, your kids pre-order their food and go scrambling up to the third-floor No Parents Allowed supervised playroom (they pay high school age girls to play with and watch the kids). Then you are escorted to your table in an intimate dining room to settle in for a good old fashioned 3-hour Belgian meal. AAAAAHHHHHH!!!! We could peek at the playroom on a closed-circuit tv across the room if we felt like it, but most of the time we just enjoyed our delicious meal. For appetizers we had some dim sum, loempia (spring rolls) and salad, John had steak with an out-of-this-world pepper sauce for dinner, mine was white asparagus with shrimp in butter sauce, M had Asparagus Vlaamse Weij (in the Flemish way) which is with crumbled egg and butter sauce, and R had a great looking pasta dish. We had wine, we had dessert and coffee (my panna cotta was incredible), we had a blast. The kids didn't ask for us ONCE. They didn't want to leave when it was time to go, either! They each chose a prize (light-up dolphins for JieJie, MeiMei and V, one whoopee cushion for older brother S) and we were off on the tram back to hotel / apartment.

Yesterday we met at Aquatopia, a favorite of the kids' from last year. Our friends were staying right next door at the Astrid hotel. They were able to get tickets at a sizeable discount, which was great, though Aquatopia is worth full-price as well. It's a really well-designed aquarium complex that takes you through all different biomes, from the rainforest to an Australian canyon to coral reefs and shark tanks, complete with lighting and sound effects. When we got to the snack area, K3 was playing and our girls were singing along...quite funny. We had our snack while watching sharks, rays, and grouper swimming around in a tank. When we went to the catwalk over the shark tank, it was feeding time--so cool! I've never seen sharks and rays come up out of the water to be fed before. Every once in a while the employee threw some chum over toward the spectators and we all got splashed by the ensuing feeding frenzy. Lots of laughs.

After Aquatopia we took a stroll around the train station and diamond district, had an ice cream and said goodbye, heading back to the apartment for a rest. It's been really important to make time for resting so the girls can put their best feet forward. I'm not sure why I think so, but I think if we had been here a semester this year instead of last, it would've been harder for the girls to adjust. Last year, at 4 and 3 years old, they just assumed that whatever we were doing was what we were supposed to be doing. This year, at 6 and soon-to-be-5, they have much more of a sense of what they might rather be doing, and it makes a difference. They're still great little travelers, but what a difference a year makes.

Bruce Springsteen at the Sportpaleis tonight!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sleeping success!

After a lovely dinner in Linkeroever (the left bank of the river Schelde) last night, we got home, put the girls to bed at 9, John fell asleep at 10:30, and after three hours of tossing and turning and listening to that infernal clock, I finally got up, stood on a chair, took the clock down and laid it in the linen closet on top of some towels. MeiMei wanted company at 2am, so I slept between the two girls in their dark, quiet room until morning. And so did everyone. So perhaps we are back to a normal sleep pattern (please?).

JieJie and MeiMei are at their old school today, so we've had a chance to do some heavy duty walking, and also went to the museum of contemporary art here in Antwerp. How was it? Meh. Would you rather see some in-your-face, humorless painting of a naked woman with a grotesque male appendage, or spectacular rooms full of the old Flemish masters? I know my answer...wish we'd gone back to the Museum voor Schone Kunsten to see the classics again. Ah well, the walk along the river was nice.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Stop-Start Day

Bad night's sleep and a herky-jerky day...

Somewhere around midnight, 3 of us woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. MeiMei slept through the whole thing, true to form. I'd forgotten about the "donut hole" aspect of jet lag, the being awake from 1-3am and sleeping in til mid-morning. In the apartment we have a wall clock that ticks especially loudly between 1 and 3 am...I laid awake coming up with literary descriptions for the cacophony...

...a homicidal toy robot stalking my pinky toe
...an artificial heart left behind on my bedside table
...marionettes reenacting the French revolution with tiny guillotines
...a mouse weaving Kente cloth

Finally, we switched beds so that JieJie and John were on the pullout and MeiMei and I were in the back bedroom. I fell back to sleep and JieJie talked to John for about 3 hours.

We woke up at almost 11:00am. You're not supposed to do that when you're trying to whip your body into adjusting to the new time. Oh well.

We sat around, dazed, for a while, then decided to walk to the girls' old school and say hi, hoping they would be more ready to spend the day there tomorrow. It's a good thing we did - at first, both girls literally hid behind my skirts in terror. Of course, having all these children come crowding around excitedly calling their names and staring doesn't help! The best moment was when JieJie found Sarah, her buddy from last year. You should've seen Sarah's face! She recognized JieJie immediately and the sweetest, richest smile spread across her face. By the time we said goodbye after a short visit, JieJie and Sarah hugged. We hope they will enjoy staying tomorrow but are prepared for whatever happens.

It was raining when we left, so we trammed it to the Groenplaats and stopped in a croissant shop for a mid-afternoon snack before walking back to the apartment for a little hanging out. Mr. K is coming at 5:30 to join us for dinner by the playground across the river. If the weather holds, the girls can play there, get good and tired, and (please God) sleep through the night.

We were hoping to play with the little girls who are in our old apartment, but the older one has a sore throat that might be strep, so they're a bit quarantined at the moment.

Cross your fingers that we sleep well and the girls can have a day full of playing and laughter tomorrow at their old school. Weather here is so nice and cool...nice respite from the awful heat wave in Virginia!

Still, our friend I said last night, "WHY would you want to spend your vacation in Europe??!!!" It's all a matter of perspective.

Sorry for the lack of photos - I haven't taken pictures yet and then will have to have them backed up to a CD at a photo shop...forgot the cable AGAIN!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Medicines to China update

I just heard that the two duffel bags full of medical supplies made it safely to Beijing, hooray! Now a representative from Half the Sky Foundation will pick them up from my friend P and take them to Sichuan. I'll let you know when I hear more. LG

So Far So Good

Our bodies have arrived in Antwerp! We're working on the brains.

Thunderstorms delayed our departure from Dulles by two hours. It turned out fine, because instead of arriving at 7:30am, we got here at 9:30 yesterday. Mr. K picked us up and was so glad to see the girls, who each got U. of Antwerpen bears with little mortar board hats. Then he said "welcome to Antwerp and happy anniversary (our 13th)" and presented us with a huge assortment of Leonidas chocolates, enough to last us the whole trip here! (Last night John had a dark chocolate filled one and I had a pink heart-shaped marzipan).

He asked whether we wanted to do any shopping for essentials while we had access to his truck, and we decided to go to the Super GB on the Groenplaats. So odd to be there again, and so great! The girls got a mix of little cereal boxes in the Carrefour sweet cereal line (Crocc Chocc is their favorite) and we got some sandwich spreads, salad makings, things like that.

JieJie had to use the bathroom as we drove back to the apartment, and we were stuck in a bit of traffic, so we hopped out and cut through the neighborhood by the Carrolus Borromeuskerk and used the facilities at a little cafe where the girls and I had had a great quiche last year. All of the street construction they were doing on St. Katelijnevest is done and the corner by our old tram stop looks spiffy-new.

So many familiar things already! Dinner at 't Injaske as I had expected, and John had Artisaanal Trappistenijs--BEER ICE CREAM! Only in Belgium. I tried it, and actually it was really good...I would order it myself. I had coupe verse aardbeien (a dish of strawberries), also good, and the girls had dame blanche for dessert (vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce). On the way back to the apartment the proprietress of 't Keizerke came out to say hi, and said she recognized us right away & welcome back.

I couldn't decide for much of yesterday whether I was re-experiencing a memory or whether we were actually here. Then I pinched myself, and it actually hurt, so I believe we are back.

We are now ensconced in our apartment and I'm listening to the bells of St. Jacobskerk as the girls watch kids' shows on CBeebies (BBC backwards...so clever). The girls want to go to school more than just Friday so we will have to see if that's ok, but if it works out, that gives me and John three whole school days to do the museums etc knowing the girls are having an equally good time...bonus! school goes through the end of June here.

More later - gotta get out there and see some sights!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Departing Soon for Belgium

All four of us, John, JieJie, MeiMei and I, are looking forward to three weeks away.

John is looking forward to walking around Antwerp, seeing things we walked past so many times in 2007 but never actually went into, like the giant guild halls on the Grote Markt. He reminded me also that we'll be in town the last week of the month of June, and museums are free the last Wednesday or Friday of the month (I can't remember which).

JieJie is excited about flying on a plane again. She seems to have caught the travel bug, and no doubt will be disappointed that our trip to Germany will be by car, not by train, because she loves trains (truth be told, she loves the snack cart best, and it is pretty cool). I asked her what she is looking forward to tasting again, and she said "dark chocolate!"

MeiMei is looking forward to her 5th birthday. She couldn't decide whether she wanted a cat party or a K3 party. It just so happens that K3's latest movie is "K3 en de Kattenprins" (K3 and the prince of cats) so perhaps we can combine the two. We wonder how much she will remember about Antwerp, since she was only 3 when she was there last. We have no doubt that her older sister will fill her in...JieJie no doubt remembers exactly how to get to Bart Smit, the big toy store!

And me? I'm looking forward to the way a trip unfolds, moment by moment. Seeing friends. Tasting delicious food. Taking ourselves out of context and remembering what is essential about ourselves, as individuals and in relationship with one another. A break from work, a chance to see the election news from a different perspective, cooler weather (70's/50's instead of 90's/70's), good coffee, great chocolate, inspiring surroundings. Taking walks. Going to parks with the girls. Seeing Bruce Springsteen live for the first time...wow! Seeing the Rhine and Mosel River valleys for the first time...whoa.

We will arrive the morning of our wedding anniversary. I think of our marriage, in many ways, as a series of memorable trips, of sightseeing together, of getting away together and coming back enriched. We went to Europe for the first time (individually and as a couple) before we even got married. We celebrated our engagement with a spontaneous trip, a long weekend in Chicago. We took a 3-week honeymoon in Mackinac Island, Michigan and northern Minnesota. We spent our first anniversary in Florence, Italy escorting a study abroad group from JMU. We became parents by traveling, twice, to Chongqing, China. We commemorate those adoptions by traveling with the H family. When we are home, our conversation often drifts to memories of past trips--Banff; Quebec City; Carmel/Monterey; Montana; Florida; Alabama; Accra, Ghana; St. Louis; Hannibal; Charleston Lake Ontario; Maine--and dreams of trips yet to be taken.

As for the girls, there is a sense in which "teaching them to travel" (a concept I learned from my Dutch friend M, who really made me see that we do indeed learn to travel) is very intentional. It's not just that WE want to go, though of course we do, it's that we know our daughters may someday want to go to China, to Chongqing, to see, hear, feel, touch and taste the culture they were born into. How sad it would be for them to be afraid of the traveling itself, and have that be an obstacle to such an important journey. When we think back on our first trip overseas, it was so overwhelming just to encounter the new languages, food, ways of doing things, the jet lag...I remember feeling one step removed from where we actually were, and I committed some faux pas that I regret. Still, the more we've traveled, the more we look forward to the slight jarring at the beginning of a trip, the signal that this is a time apart.

We saw parents on both of our adoption trips who seemed to think of China as though it were the moon. They had mental spacesuits on, trying to keep their American-ness wrapped around themselves for protection. They barely strayed outside the hotel. They ran to the bus, peered out the windows at China. They said things like "I just want to go home...I wish we could go right now" with a week to go. Yes, I understand, of course I understand...it's precisely why I don't think China should be the girls' first trip overseas. They need a chance to separate the shock of travel from the inevitable oddness of encountering Fuling or Liangping for the first time.

So this is for us, it's for them, and let's face it, it's for the pure joy of it. Flight attendants, prepare the cabin for departure.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

China Relief Shipment

Well, after about a month of collecting relief supplies to send to orphanages in Sichuan, China, here's what we've gotten together:

  • *update* a box of syringes, gauze, surgical masks and gloves just arrived, donated by another adoptive family, who requested supplies from their doctor's office--great!!
  • 500 doses of CeraLyte electrolyte rehydration solution, 20% of it donated by a fantastic company called Cera Products, based in Maryland. They wanted to donate more but had already sent thousands of doses to Myanmar. If you are ever looking for powdered rehydration solution, this was the only one I could find in this hemisphere. You can buy it from them online at www.ceraproductsinc.com
  • 4 cases of Poly-Vi-Sol infant vitamins, donated by Mead Johnson.
  • antibiotics for diarrhea, which can quickly become dangerous in babies and young children
  • antibiotics for garden-variety infections, everything from an infected cut to a respiratory infection
  • a few small toys and other items tucked in around the edges
Thanks to the individuals and corporations who helped assemble one hundred pounds of medical relief, and thanks to Muhlenberg Lutheran Church of Harrisonburg, VA for donating funds and getting behind this effort. Make no mistake, the need is still great, and the ongoing need to support Half the Sky Foundation's many worthy programs will exist as long as there are orphanages in China. I urge you to visit www.halfthesky.org and see which of their programs you might be able to support.

Busy week ahead - the next post will likely be from Antwerp. Cool!


Saturday, June 07, 2008

Good Thing We Booked Early!

I just checked airfare.com to see what our plane tickets would cost if we booked them today. Of course my worst fear is that I'm going to see a lower price than we paid, but with fuel surcharges going up and up, and travel dates getting closer, no need to fear. If we booked today, we wouldn't be able to find a direct flight. We'd have to connect through Frankfurt. And if we booked today, we would be paying $100/ticket more in fuel surcharges. In fact, when you look at the fare vs. taxes/surcharges, it's a 2-to-1 ratio now.

The euro continues to stay below the 1.60/1 ratio, at around 1.56/1. For those of you who followed our travels in Jan-May 2007 with our university students, don't look for as many restaurant reviews...it's on our dime this time! Still, our friends S & I just found a place we'll have to try. Upstairs from the dining room, there's a supervised play area with games and activities for kids. S & I said THEY were the ones saying "come on, it's time to go" to their girls...at 10pm!!! We are so excited to see our friends again...S & I, Mr. K and his wife Dr. vanH, and the parents we met through the girls' school. I'm actually bringing JieJie's teacher an iPhone. She asked me to bring it because they're over twice as much in European stores, and she wants to give it to her husband as a surprise. For us, it's a kind of fee-less currency exchange. This teacher also invited us to visit her town, Lier, which looked really sweet when we passed through it once on the train.

Between now and departure day, the usual to-do list awaits...stop the paper, hold the mail, brief the house sitter, "eat down the pantry" as we say, get the neighbor boy to mow, and involve the girls in packing. I don't know whether we'll bring the LeapPads for such a short trip, though they were really great to have last time. I'm reluctant to cross the line from LeapPad to LeapSter (more of a hand-held video game) though they are so much more portable...I dunno.

One note I want to write myself from this side of the ocean, and this side of the trip: don't forget to bring home a BIG box of chocolates from Chateau Blanc, and don't forget to get the bicycle panniers from Apotheek/Kitsch Kitchen. Exchange rate be damned...they're too cool.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Countdown to Belgium!

We are so close to departing for Belgium I can taste it (the chocolate, that is). MeiMei finishes preschool Friday, JieJie wraps up a great kindergarten year next Thursday, and not long after that, we're off to Antwerpen and three weeks of invigorating travel. The house sitter is lined up, the reservations are awaiting confirmation, I'm finishing the freelance work I've committed to, John is enjoying the last few weeks before his responsibilities at the university accelerate, and right now my folks and aunt are visiting and doing LOTS of helping with odd jobs. A thank-you dinner is definitely in order.

Donations for China continue to arrive. I'll let you know the final tally of what we're sending sometime next week. If you want to keep up with the latest news from the organization we're sending supplies to, go to Half the Sky Foundation's earthquake updates in HTS Journal. While you're there, why not make a donation? :)


Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bumper Stickers

I saw my new favorite bumper sticker today (it was "when Jesus said 'love your enemies' I think he meant DON'T KILL THEM"). On an old beater of a car, I saw

Come over to the dark side
We have cookies


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fundraiser Success

Tonight was the pancake supper at our church to raise money to buy antibiotics to send to Half the Sky Foundation. I'm happy to report that we raised $500+!!!!! More thanks are in order, too: Thanks Cera Products for donating a case of CeraLyte powdered electrolyte solution (treats diarrhea-related dehydration). And this was their way of saying "sorry, we can't really give you anything." I should say that their product is the only powdered rehydration solution I could find in the U.S. because Pedialyte no longer comes in powder form, and Kaolectrolyte's factory is not producing it right now as they were purchased by another company. As you can tell, I've learned a lot about the pharmaceutical industry in the last couple of weeks. If you're in New Zealand, you can get something called Gastrolyte, but otherwise you're looking at Gatorade, baby.

Donations should start arriving day by day as we fill up the suitcase bound for Chengdu. Even our Congressman, Bob Goodlatte, supports our efforts - his office offered to call TSA and give a heads-up to the Dulles Airport TSA luggage screening manager so nobody gives our courier the business when he checks the bag. Nice to have everybody on board.

Except the guy at the pancake supper who cornered our pastor to ask a theological question that began, "Now, China is technically a Godless country, right? So how do you explain..." I didn't hear the rest because I just really didn't want anything to dim my happiness about the many good people who are so eager to help. And the theologian probably gave a donation anyway, so there is hope for his soul after all :)


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

7,000 hits and 5 continents!

Every time we hit another 1,000 hits, you get a multimedia treat. Today's is grainy YouTube video of JieJie, MeiMei and a group of adorable little ones doing their first ribbon dance as part of JMU Chinese Student Association's culture show last semester. Just click on the title of this post to go to the video. (And then come back!)

According to the map, we just need someone from Africa to happen upon this travel blog, and we will have readers on all populated continents! (Anyone know someone in Antarctica you can send a link to? That would be too cool.)

Three weeks from now we'll be in Europe, so check in again soon for posts from Belgium, the Rhine and Moselle Valleys, and The Netherlands.

Collection of donations for Chengdu is progressing smoothly. We'll see what comes in the mail today. Our church is having a pancake supper Wednesday and taking a freewill offering for Half the Sky Foundation. Let's hope people are generous--aftershocks continue.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Crystal Ball, Anyone?

Just checked the exchange rate as we look forward to our departure in mid-June...not lookin' good.

Friday, May 23, 2008

100 x 100

In China, you'll often hear people speaking of symbolic numbers. We knew a Chinese student whose phone number had too many 4's in it. The word for 4 in Chinese sounds like the word for death. This student's mother said she should get her phone number changed...too much "si"...too much death.

The Olympics are starting on 8.8.08, and 8 is an auspicious number, usually. 8.8 is also Father's day in China because 8 is pronounced "ba" and the word for Father is ba-ba (but the character is a different "ba"). Some people say that the fact that the earthquake happened on 5.12 (5+1+2=8) is a bad omen for the Olympics.

In the adoption community, there's an activity people often do while they are waiting, which is to make a "100 good wishes quilt" by trading quilt squares across the country with their "DTC group" (DTC stands for Dossier-To-China, the day they sent their application to the China Center for Adoption Affairs).

So what I am hoping, when I hear from people who still want to send donations toward my little 100 pound mini-shipment of relief, is that they might take the amount they have and build it up to their own 50 or 100 pounds of help, and that through the internet we can find people to hand-carry these donations to China, a little at a time, in checked luggage. There's a whole egroup dedicated to Carry On Only adoption travel...think of all the 100 pound allotments there are! If each person traveling to China carry-on-only could bring a suitcase of formula, medicine, blankets, a tent, anything, that would add up.

Why not set a goal of 100 people x 100 pounds each over the next 100 days and see what a difference we can make?

I'll let you know if it catches on.

our next trip begins in a little over 3 weeks!

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Thanks to Mead Johnson Corporation for a promise to donate baby vitamins.

Thanks to CVS for saying "no" by giving us $100 store credit as a consolation donation.

Thanks to B at church for saying she couldn't attend the dinner next week, and then pressing a $20 bill into my hands.

Still waiting to hear back from the pharmacist at the hospital, and from a source of powdered kaolectrolyte (like Pedialyte)...I want to buy in bulk, not pay $5.95 for four packets!


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

100 Pounds of Help

People are helping already. Here's where we stand thus far:

June 10: deadline for collecting 100 pounds of medicine for orphaned children in the earthquake-affected area.

Our church is doing two very important things:
  1. giving a monetary donation from the social ministry fund
  2. donating the proceeds from next Wednesday night's community meal
We have invited our area's Chinese community as well as the families who have adopted internationally to attend the dinner, hoping to increase the donated amount.

I was turned down by a local pediatric clinic because they no longer get samples of antibiotics, BUT (and this is the key...I don' t mind "no" if it's "no, but...") one doctor who has solicited donations for relief work in Honduras advised me that we can buy antibiotics at cost from the pharmacy at our area hospital if we get approval from the pharmacy manager. I will go see her tomorrow.

I also asked Costco for a store card to use for buying over-the-counter children's meds...awaiting response. CVS has a highly bureaucratic process that is not suitable for a short-term emergency appeal. National chain stores are NOT very nimble at a time like this! In contrast, Kate's Natural Foods may donate baby multivitamin drops, and I'll go to Sue's Supernutrition tomorrow as well. Both are small, locally-owned health food stores, so I may have better luck. MeiMei's orphanage had access to liquid baby vitamins to add to rice porridge, and we can attest to the difference it made in her health.

And the big unknown...I put messages up at several adoption-related e-groups I belong to. Who knows? I may have more than 100 pounds' worth of donations coming in the mail over the next week, though I doubt it if people run into the same problem I've encountered today.

Priority order for the 100 pounds:
1. prescription antibiotics
2. over the counter children's meds
3. filler like cotton balls, latex gloves, gauze/band-aids

Any money left over after we fill the luggage will be donated to Half the Sky Foundation through Global Giving.

Cross your fingers - I'll keep you posted on the progress of this mini relief effort. It is such a blessing to be able to do something other than sigh at the television! If you feel moved to action, I again encourage you to send funds to Half the Sky through Global Giving. Tell a friend you're giving...maybe you'll inspire them too.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Giving to China

It suddenly dawned on me today that I know people heading for China in the next several weeks! Half The Sky Foundation published a list today of medicines that are sorely needed in orphanages in the Chengdu area, especially children's antibiotics and antidiarrheal/rehydration medicines like Pedialyte.

I called my friend P to see if he would be willing to hand-carry items to Chengdu, and he said he can take up to 50 pounds. He is also asking the students who are heading to China with him if they would be willing to take items as well. To think we could be of help, any help at all...I'll be calling doctors' offices tomorrow to see whether they can give any samples, and I will also be making the rounds of places like Costco to see whether they might donate powdered Pedialyte, baby vitamins, anything.

Did you know there have been thousands of aftershocks from this earthquake, some very severe? Apparently the Chengdu orphanage is making plans to evacuate because their building was fine but as things continue to shake, they just don't want to take any chances. They will be moving into tents. Tents. Can you imagine trying to care for dozens of babies and toddlers in a tent city? The people who make it their life's work to care for these children deserve any help we can give.

If you have any connections to sources of children's antibiotics (powdered is best--it can be reconstituted overseas) can you please post a comment and let me know? We've got until mid-June to get this box together, and maybe if the students are willing to make room in their luggage, we can help. They are simply out of these medicines in Chengdu at this point.

Thanks--I'll let you know how the medicine collection goes. In the meantime, I encourage you to visit www.halfthesky.org to keep up with what's going on in China and to support their efforts. They are on the ground in China, ensuring that the money will be used where it is truly needed.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Watching the Euro

We continue to watch news from China and encourage readers to donate to Half the Sky Foundation's Earthquake Relief Fund.--LG

We're in that end-of-the-public-school-year busy time right now, with dance recitals, farewell picnics, and pool openings right around the corner. Much to do before we head to the airport in mid-June. Still, the planning phase is over. We know where we'll be on which days and we have even reserved our rental car for our little excursion to the Rhine Valley. We'll be picking up our little VW Golf (or similar model) at Europcar on Plantin en Morituslei in Antwerp, which is just a bit further past the girls' school.

What we are doing in the next month or so is watching the dollar-to-euro exchange rate. The worst it's been so far is $1.60/EUR 1.00. Right now it's 1.55/1. When we were in Antwerp in 2007, it was about 1.33/1 for most of that time. One of the choices we had when booking hostels and rental cars and looking at train tickets was whether to pre-pay or hold off. My friend P, who is a financial analyst in Manhattan, said hold off, since the Fed isn't going to lower interest rates any further so things should stabilize. Today's International Herald Tribune reported a slight spike in the euro because of oil prices.

Dare I hope that we could be looking at 1.50/1 a month from now? Please???


Friday, May 16, 2008

Word from Liangping SWI

The Liangping parents' list just got an email directly from the orphanage. It sounds as though some kind of retaining wall or exterior wall in a courtyard collapsed, but the buildings themselves have only minor cracks in the walls. They are all thankful that the people are ok. A bit of good news in the midst of so much bad.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

More Liangping Photos

In case other Liangping parents or extended family are interested, there are more photos here
of the school in Liangping, and also of some of the children from Liangping. LG

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Earthquakes Hit Close to Home

We are glued to the news about the earthquakes in China. JieJie is from Fuling, Chongqing, and MeiMei is from Liangping, Chongqing. Via e-lists of parents who have adopted from these two cities' orphanages, I was able to find out that both places suffered damage, Liangping worse than Fuling.

The Fuling Social Welfare Institute (Fuling SWI) is currently raising funds to finish building its new facility, and hasn't moved into the new building yet. Director Yang said that she is distressed by cracks in the walls of the new building, and that construction may now be delayed, who knows by how much. Still, the current facility is undamaged as far as anyone can tell, which is lucky, and there were no reports of injuries to the staff or residents there.

In Liangping, things aren't so sunny. We have learned that the Liangping SWI itself is intact, and there were no reports of injuries to the staff or residents (which include children and elderly people as well). Still, there have been fatalities, including children, in Liangping County, which is a very rural county of about 800,000 people. The picture above is of the primary school in Liangping, where four children lost their lives.

If you would like to donate funds to be used specifically for earthquake relief at other orphanages more seriously affected by this disaster, I recommend Half the Sky Foundation, run by an amazing fellow adoptive mom named Jenny Bowen and many dedicated volunteers. Those of us in the China adoption community are used to the word "orphan" being somewhat of a euphemism, a legalism for a child who was abandoned and whose parents cannot be or do not wish to be located (but are presumed alive). The sad fact is that there will be more orphans as a result of this earthquake, and the orphanages in the hardest-hit areas will need resources in the coming days and weeks in order to save lives.

JieJie and MeiMei know that there has been an earthquake and that buildings have fallen down, but we have tried to shield them from too much information while they are so little. We hope and pray that their birth families, wherever they are, came through this ok.

You can search FTJ for past posts, e.g. China info...