A Travellerspoint blog

Photos Uploaded (Finally!)

Sunday - February 20, 2011 - 9:10pm

I finally uploaded the photos I mentioned in the last entry. Sorry for the delay. Enjoy!!!

Posted by jimstearns 18:08 Archived in USA Tagged home Comments (0)

At Home in Florida

Grace Begins Her Life as a "Florida Girl"

Sunday - February 13, 2011 - 6:30pm

We have been back home in Florida for two weeks now. Renee and I are adjusting to the "new normal" in our household while Grace continues to amaze us with her ability to acclimate herself to her new surroundings.

We said "goodbye" to Danielle and our Colorado grandchildren on Wednesday, January 26th, and left for Florida. Since we had three drivers (Kimberly being the third), we decided to make the trip in two days instead of the usual three. Our trip east from Silverthorne started on Wednesday afternoon and we drove through the night and most of Thursday before stopping to rest at a Hampton Inn just south of Atlanta, Georgia. Friday was a relatively short seven-hour drive home to Minneola, Florida and the comforts of home. Throughout the trip Grace was a trooper. She was content most of the time to sit in her car seat and interact with Renee who sat next to her in the back seat. On the few occasions she got a little restless being cooped up in the truck for hours on end, Renee would let Grace sit in her lap for a change of pace.

Grace seems very comfortable in her new home and doesn't mind all of the attention she has received as she is introduced to scores of family members and friends. The evening we arrived home (Friday), Grammy and Grandpa Stearns (Jim's folks) brought dinner to us and our son, Jimmy, his wife Jubilee and our grandson Edmund joined us for the meal. After a welcome night's rest in our own beds, we went to Renee's brother Randy's home on Saturday where Grace met most of the in-state, Olsson-side of the family. Everyone enjoyed meeting Grace and celebrating with American-Chinese cuisine. Then we had another large gathering of friends meet for worship on Sunday as our church group got a chance to meet Grace. It was a whirlwind weekend after being away from home for over four weeks and we were exhausted. But it was fun and extremely gratifying to finally be back home and experience the excitement of others seeing Grace for the first time.

One challenge we have experienced since returning home is keeping Grace in her bed at night. Not that she doesn't want to or won't go to sleep when it is time for bed (she's actually very good about lying still and going to sleep when placed in bed), or that she wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to sleep in our bed (she normally sleeps straight through for ten to eleven hours). It's that she "rolls out" in her sleep during the night. You see, some people are sleep-walkers (they walk in their sleep) and others are sleep-talkers (they talk in their sleep). Grace is a sleep-roller - she rolls around in her sleep (see photos). She is also a sleep-sitter, but we won't get into that right now. Before we left for China, we purchased a youth bed for her that sits about twelve-inches high at the mattress with a six-inch clearance underneath the frame. It has nine-inch side rails around the perimeter with an opening on one side near the foot of the bed. Her bed sits in the corner of our room and as Grace squirms and tumbles in her sleep throughout the night, she inevitably ends up rolling out the "door" (opening in the side rail) and winds up on the floor. We have stationed two large pillows on the floor in front of the opening that are nearly the height of the mattress so that she will "slide" across the pillows onto the floor when she makes her exit. But there is no guarantee that she will remain near the pillows once she has landed. One night I found her six feet from her bed at the foot of ours, sound asleep. Another evening, Renee got up to check on Grace in the middle of the night and woke me with a start, quite alarmed because Grace was not in her bed and Renee couldn't find her. It turns out Grace had made her accustomed "moonlight roll" that evening and found herself (actually Renee found her) underneath her bed. And since the clearance between the bed frame and the floor is only six-inches, Renee was concerned that she couldn't just pull Grace out without injuring her. Therefore, I had to lift the bed so Grace could be safely extracted from underneath. Renee placed Grace back in her bed and covered her with a blanket. And Grace slept undisturbed throughout the whole ordeal, oblivious to the distress she had caused her parents.

This is not the last, final blog entry that I mentioned in my last post. Hopefully, I will have some time over the next several weeks to gather my thoughts and post one last entry regarding our time in China (I know, I promised a couple of weeks ago that I would post the entry in a couple of weeks, and now I'm looking further into the future - sorry!). It's just that I'm still trying to recover from being away from home for so long and getting back into a (work) routine. Plus, trying to be serious the way I think I need to be for "that entry" will take a lot of effort from me. It's so much easier to try to be light and funny. Whether I actually succeed or not is another thing altogether.

Posted by jimstearns 15:19 Archived in USA Tagged usa-travel Comments (0)

Reunion in Colorado

Grace Meets Her Sister, Brother-in-Law, Niece and Nephews

Monday - January 24, 2011 - 9:20pm

Sorry for the delay in posting this entry, we have been in a "re-adjustment" mode since returning to the U.S.

Our arrival in Denver on Friday afternoon kicked off a grand reunion with our grandchildren (and daughter and son-in-law too) and we celebrated at the Olive Garden before driving up into the mountains. The children were incredibly excited to meet Grace and literally smother her with affection. Fortunately, Grace has the type of personality that can handle their attention pretty well and they have gotten along very nicely. Except for one instance when Grace kissed (bit) Evelyn's finger a little too passionately. Each of the boys loves to hold Grace and they have taken turns riding in the back seat of "Pappy's" truck next to her.

We have had a good time presenting small gifts from China to Judah, Gabriel, Aiden and Evelyn - one each day in order to stretch the joy of giving over several days. Grace and Evelyn look adorable in a couple of matching outfits and boys have been reluctant to take off their "Kung Fu" pajamas since they received them Saturday night. They wore the shirts to church on Sunday and have participated in several impromptu karate exhibitions in the living room. Arms, legs and bodies flying everywhere. You do not want to mess with these guys!

Our plan is to leave for Florida tomorrow and hopefully get settled in again at home by the weekend. As far as the blog goes, for whoever in listening or interested, I have an idea to post one last entry (after this one) to reflect on our experience receiving Grace and traveling in China. But that will probably take a week or two in order to process our thoughts and feelings. So please stay tuned.....

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Posted by jimstearns 05:19 Archived in USA Tagged usa-travel Comments (0)

Welcome to the USA!

Grace Sets Foot on American Soil

Friday - January 21, 2011 - 10:00am

Well, we made it. As we stepped foot on American soil Grace officially became a U.S. citizen. We are in the San Francisco International Airport waiting to board our connecting flight to Denver where Grace will meet Danielle and her family this afternoon. Our grandchildren (Judah, Gabriel, Aiden and Evelyn - maybe Edmund too, but he is in Florida) are all excited to meet their new aunt. We will stay through the weekend at Jason and Danielle's in Silverthorne before loading up our truck for the drive to Florida the first part of next week.

Our flight went extremely well. Though Grace is a bundle of energy and always moving (whether awake or asleep), she was also very quiet for most of the twelve-hour flight. As you might expect, she did get a little fidgety every so often but was not disruptive or a bother to the passengers around us. They were actually very complementary about how well-behaved she was. Thank you for praying for our family. The Lord has proved Himself to be faithful once again in granting our petitions.

Posted by jimstearns 17:39 Archived in USA Tagged usa-travel Comments (1)

Leaving Guangzhou, Arriving in Hong Kong

Our Last Full Day in China

Thursday - January 20, 2011 - 11:55pm

It's hard to believe that the time has flown by so quickly since we arrived in China thirteen days ago. I suppose it always seems that way when we look back on things. When we are in the middle of something dreadful (like the flu) or looking forward to something with great anticipation, time seems to stand still. But here we are in our last full day in China. We left this afternoon from Guangzhou, having satisfied all of the requirements for Grace's immigration visa to the U.S., and arrived in Hong Kong this evening just before 6:00. It was a little more than a two-hour drive to Hong Kong by van. We rode in a brand new Toyota Vellfire(?) that is equipped for Hong Kong i.e. the driver is on the right side of the vehicle. That was a first for us. But then this was a day of "firsts."

First of all, although we thought we were finished shopping as of yesterday, we had time this morning to squeeze in a little more. After all, once we got everything packed and ready to go, we realized that we still had room in our luggage for more stuff! Actually, Kimberly had purchased a nice handbag at the A Gift From China store I mentioned in yesterday's entry, but set it down in another shop later in the day and then forgot to pick it back up when we left. Our guide David tried to track it down, but to no avail. So we returned to Shamian Island this morning, first to see if it was still where she left it and then to purchase a replacement once we conceded that it was gone for good. And as long as we were already there, Renee decided to add to our treasure trove of goodies. (Now, I have sort-of been casting the blame on Renee for the abundance of "stuff" we have purchased, but since she gets out of bed before me every morning and reads these entries, let me say this right now so there are no misunderstandings - I have given my approval for all of the purchases. I want to make that clear so I am not awakened by a glass of cold water in the morning!)

Anyway, we finished our last bit of shopping and got back to the hotel in time to get our bags in order so they would be ready for the bellmen to take to the lobby. We then packed ourselves into the van and we were off to Hong Kong. Oh, wait! I was telling you about all of the "firsts" of today. Then I mentioned the extra shopping, which wasn't really a "first" since we did a lot of that yesterday, but I did mention the shopping first. So secondly, the first "first" was climbing into a British-influenced Hong Kong vehicle with the steering wheel on the right side instead of the left (like the rest of the world). The next "first" was Grace's first bite of hamburger. Cheeseburger really, as Renee gave Grace a few nibbles off of her McDonald's sandwich in the van as we were leaving the hotel in Guangzhou (remember, we just got back from shopping and hadn't given ourselves time to eat - of course, Grace had already eaten lunch, that's why it was only a few nibbles). So then, the next "first" was entering Hong Kong where they drive their right-side-steering-wheeled cars on the left (wrong) side of the road. Did you notice that there were two "firsts" in that last sentence - arriving in Hong Kong and driving on the left side of the road? Just wanting to keep you on your toes. Anyway, once we got to our hotel, the Hong Kong SkyCity Marriott, Grace wore her first swimming suit during her first swim in a pool (did you get all three?). I think those are all of the "firsts" that occurred today. Tomorrow, of course, we will experience some more "firsts" as Grace will have her first trans-pacific and her first trans-continental airplane rides on her first trip out of China on her first trip into the U.S. Come to think of it, there have been a lot of "firsts" on this trip, and not just for Grace.

And I know this is definitely NOT a first, and I apologize ahead of time to those of you who are bored with the subject, but I have to tell you about our experience driving to Hong Kong today. First of all, our driver was a young guy, early- to mid-twenties, wearing a pair of stylish dark shades, some driving gloves and what looked like a driving vest/motorcycle jacket combination - he looked like a "professional" driver, which of course he is. His buddy, who drove the other van (the two AHH families rode in separate vans to Hong Kong) looked more normal, not like some character in a movie about professional drivers - I know there are a few movies like that out there but I haven't watched one, just the trailers. Anyway, I sat in the passenger seat up front (on the left) and the girls filled the back seat (did I mention that there are no child car seats in the entire country of China?), so I had an opportunity to talk with the driver a little. He was born and raised in Hong Kong and speaks semi-fluent English. One thing he told me that I thought was interesting - he hates driving in Guangzhou. More specifically, I think he hates driving outside of Hong Kong. He said the reason he hates it is that there are no driving rules there - maybe in all China - like in Hong Kong (remember what I said a week or so ago?). He was very critical of the Guangzhou drivers - the "non-professionals" although he didn't call them that. The funny thing was that his motto must be something like: "when in Rome (or Guangzhou), do as the Romans" because he was the worst I have seen since we've been here. Not so much that he was a bad driver, or even a dangerous driver, but that he beat them at their own game. What I mean is that he drove more aggressively, more "lawlessly" than anyone else. He, and his partner, drove all over the road weaving in and out of traffic, running red lights (not with a lot of speed - you can hardly go more than 20mph in the city because of all the cars/bikes/motorcycles/pedestrians clogging the streets) and racing to see who would arrive in Hong Kong first.

But I never really felt that we were in any danger. I was riding shot-gun and saw everything unfolding from a good vantage point. Once we cleared the big city (Guangzhou's population is around 12 million - compared to Beijing 22 million, Nanchang 5 million, Hong Kong 7 million) and its congestion, he was able to speed up from 60-80kph (40-50mph) to 100 kph (60mph), reaching 120-140kph (75-85mph - wow, that's faster than I thought!) in bursts. But we were still weaving around slower moving cars and trucks trying to make good time. And, oh here's something to try next time the traffic flow is a little slow for your taste: pass everybody on the right shoulder of the road! You know, that lane off the side of the road to the right (or left) where stalled or broken-down vehicles park while waiting for a tow truck? That would fall into the "DO NOT try this at home" category. But somehow it was not the least bit surprising to me that the maneuver is perfectly legal in China. Well, it may not be technically "legal" but for all intents and purposes, it is legal. At least the police don't seem to frown on it much. Or maybe there's just no way for them to enforce the traffic rules due to the overwhelmingly number of vehicles (two-, four- or more wheeled - and two legged) on the road. Remember the population numbers above?

Anyway, one more observation and I promise to be done talking about the traffic here - at least for now. When we got into Hong Kong and neared the airport, and our hotel, we encountered some "round-abouts." Those nifty little intersections that are designed to keep the traffic flow moving (I actually like them and think they are quite efficient, if people know how to use them). Well, we traversed several en route to our hotel but it was weird to go through them clockwise rather than counter-clockwise (remember, we are driving on the left side of the road here). Each time we approached one, it made my head spin. I did OK with being on the wrong side of the road. I have grown accustomed to seeing other vehicles in wrong places moving in wrong directions (really all over the road, like driving the wrong way down a four-lane one-way street - or off the road, like driving down or across the sidewalks) while in China. But driving the wrong way around a round-about (another first!) put my brain into overload. Maybe the speed we sustained through the turns was a contributing factor, along with the pedestrians and the other vehicles entering from the other side and driving the wrong way as well. Plus, it didn't help that our driver went the wrong way around a couple of the round-abouts (I mean counter-clockwise, they way we do it) when there was no other traffic. I was really confused. I am just glad I wasn't the one responsible to pilot the vehicle and get us to our hotel safely.

One quick word about entering Hong Kong from China, which sounds a little weird since Hong Kong is a city in China. The city of Hong Kong is a part of China but basically lives by its own set of rules, somewhat independent of China, I think, as a result of British colonization in the 1800s and the subsequent relinquishment back to China in 1997. Whatever the case, when we entered Hong Kong we were required to go through Customs and Immigration as though we were leaving one country and entering another. Which, maybe in a sense, we were. Anyway, the Customs and Immigration checkpoints were drive-thru's. We actually drove through these checkpoints, albeit very slowly, the way we might "drive-thru" at Wendy's, which involved stopping momentarily. As we approached the Customs checkpoint, our driver pressed a button and the back hatch opened revealing our luggage in the back of the van. He then pressed another button and rolled down the driver's-side (right front) window, and then another button to open the right sliding door so the official (the toll booth-like checkpoint was on the right side of the vehicle) could look into the van and compare the passport photos with the faces of the people (us) sitting the van. Then we moved ahead 200 feet or so to the Immigration checkpoint where we repeated the previous steps. There was one additional step at the Immigration checkpoint that occurred so fast we didn't know what was happening. As our driver handed our passports to the Immigration official (out the driver's window, to his right), my window and the sliding door behind me on the left side of the van started to open. I wasn't sure why they were being opened, but I did notice an Immigration official, who was wearing a mask (like a surgeon's mask), exit a small building in front of us and walk towards the van. He approached the vehicle and pointed an instrument (that looked like a hand-held scanner at Wal-Mart) at me and Grace, who had climbed up front to sit on my lap through the checkpoints, and we heard two quick little "beeps" before he stepped past me and pointed the "gun" at Renee and Kimberly in the back seat and shot them too. Then the window and door started to close (our driver controlled all movements) as the guy walks off. I looked at our driver and asked what that was all about. He told us that they were checking our body temperatures to see if we were sick. Fortunately, none of us were running a fever or we may not have been allowed entrance. We just thought it was interesting and that you might like to know, just in case you ever need to enter Hong Kong. With a fever.

One last thing. My biggest concern from way back about traveling to China to adopt a small child was the long flight back to the U.S. With a potentially restless toddler. Well, tomorrow is the day we board a plane to return to the U.S. with Grace. The flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco is supposed to last approximately twelve hours and then we have a three-hour layover before our three-and-one-half-hour flight to Denver. In all, our travel time is over seventeen hours. It exhausts me to try to imagine such a long day. To experience it could be even more exhausting. For Renee. Of course, it's Renee that I am worried about, not myself. So please pray for us as we travel and ask the Lord to be merciful and gracious to us. That we will be able to rest during the flight and that Grace will be content to sit on our laps the whole time (I was just teasing about it being Renee who needs prayer support, obviously we all need God's grace (no pun intended) to endure such a long day of travel). So seriously, please pray for my family. And may God richly bless you as well, and "supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). Amen.

Posted by jimstearns 09:24 Archived in China Tagged hongkong guangzhou Comments (1)

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