Sunday, October 28, 2007

Crazy Times

We have had a crazy time since Sasha and I have arrived home. I got a flu or some bug a few days after we got home and I was feeling really badly for almost a week. I finally started feeling better and started feeling like I was catching up on things. Sasha started sleeping from 8:30 through 7:30 about a week after we got home. She was waking up twice a night for a bottle, but now is only waking up once a night. She adjusted to sleeping in her bed as long as I put her down when she is asleep or close to it. We had her sleeping in our room, but I woke up every time she moved and I think she was doing the same. I held her a lot, almost all of the time actually, in my front pack or just holding her. Brayden and Brookelyn were so excited to see her and loved her right away. I think it really helped that they saw her every day for a couple of weeks on Skype before we got home. Brayden loves making her laugh and can actually make her belly laugh. She loves patting his head when she is in the front pack and he is walking next to us. Brookelyn loves her too. She loves to put the pacifier in her mouth (whether or not Sasha wants it), to help feed her, to help dress her...anything that has to do with taking care of Sasha Brookelyn loves to do. She is a little rough with her since she is so much bigger than Sasha, but her intentions are very sweet. Brookelyn has always loved dolls and holding them or taking care of them gently, so I am not surprised how good she is with Sasha. Of course, Dakota and Colton love her as well. Sasha really has bonded to me and doesn't really want anyone else to hold her. She will tolerate it sometimes, but usually after a few seconds she starts whimpering or crying.
The only things that make Sasha cry are being held by someone other than me or being in the car (which also means I am not holding her). Other than that, she is very easy going and calm. She beams at me when I am holding her or just stares at me like she is memorizing my face. It is an amazing feeling to have her look at me that way. I still cannot believe what a special little girl we have!
The week after I was sick we started getting into a routine, which was great. I have always heard that having three kids was a lot harder than having two and that once you have three you might as well have five since it doesn't matter after three. WOW! Three is harder. I know I have five kids, but since I have two teenagers and two younger ones, it is kind of like I had two sets of two. And now I have a set of two and a set of THREE. Three is much harder than two. I don't know what it is, the laundry, the lack of time, the not having enough hands...there is now not a free moment in the day or night and I have to let things go that I never would have before. I have let laundry sit in the dryer overnight instead of folding it and putting it away. I never would have done that before, but it's a matter of doing it or going to bed and being happier and more well rested the next day. So, having three little ones is harder than two, but I LOVE IT. I cannot believe how fun and rewarding it is to have five kids! This is one of the happiest times of my life and I am so grateful to have each of them!
So we are adjusting well and getting into a routine and then one night Dakota, Sasha and I come home from San Diego and a ton of people are driving by our street to look at a nearby fire. We even had three people come by our house to help us evacuate. WHAT?! I did not get how serious it was and we went to bed. The next day it was obvious that it was close to our house and a bad fire. I drove the kids to their different schools in the morning and then Ray called me to ask me to drop Sasha off at my sister's and come home to pack up important things at our house. I dropped off Sasha and headed home. We packed up our photos, important paperwork and DVD's of the kids. The only other things we packed were three days worth of clothes for us and the kids. It was quickly turning into a worse situation. You could see several fires on the hill on one side of my house in the front and several on different hills in the back of my house. Our house is near the end of a cul de sac which dead ends in a wilderness preserve and our back yard backs up to the wilderness preserve. We see deer almost every day from our back yard and coyotes sometimes as well. It has always been wonderful to be so close to nature, but now it seemed to all be catching on fire. I walked through the house to see if I wanted anything else and then checked out the oldest two kids rooms to get their important things. I had no idea what they would want me to save so I called Dakota's school and asked them to get her from class and have her call me. They only thing of hers I had packed was her art portfolio that she had all ready from the day before when we went to San Diego for a Portfolio Day (where reps from a lot of art colleges come to look at the work of potential students to offer advice, tell what their school is looking for and to answer questions). When Dakota called back she told me that that was all she really needed me to save of hers. I decided to go get Colton and have him get what he wanted (Colton's school is much closer than Dakota's school). As I got in my car I saw that there were two fire trucks on my street and all of my neighbors were packing their cars as well. Ray stayed there with a friend to get a few more papers and lock up the house. We both agreed that we didn't want anything else besides the few things we grabbed and were both surprised at how much stuff we had in our house that we didn't feel emotionally connected to. As I drove down the hill I saw four more fire trucks and several smaller fire vehicles coming up onto my street. Ray said that right after I left he looked out of the door by our family room and saw thirty foot flames from the hill behind our house. He walked through the house and out the front door. As soon as he did he heard a loudspeaker making an announcement of a mandatory evacuation and a few firemen asked him to unlock our gate to the back yard so they could fight the fire from there.
I drove down and picked up Colton from his high school. I called along the way and asked them to have him meet me at the front. When I pulled up I saw he had his friend Austin with him. Austin lives a few blocks away from us so Colton told him to call his mom to ask if he should leave as well. We stopped by Austin's house for him to grab some clothes and then headed to my sister's house to get Sasha. By this point I had heard that our street had been evacuated and wanted to have all of my children with me. We drove up to Dakota's high school (about thirty minutes north of us in Newport Coast) and picked her up. I called Bradyen and Brookelyn's school to make sure they were fine along the way. We picked up Dakota and then drove back down to get the little ones. Once I had all of them in the car I wanted to drive to a safer place. I called Sea World thinking I would go somewhere fun and spend the night in a hotel room down there. They said the park was open but the air quality was bad there because of all of the fires and it was raining ashes. I called Anaheim to see if we could get a hotel there and they said Disneyland was open but people were leaving and the air quality was really bad there. I wanted to go to Palm Springs so the kids could be in good quality air, but heard the roads were a nightmare because of the San Bernadino fires. At this point there are clouds of black smoke coming from several areas and you can smell the fire. We weren't in any danger of getting caught in the fires, but I knew we all should be away from the smoke, especially the younger ones and Austin, who has asthma. So we headed to Mission Viejo mall, which is one of the few indoor malls around here. We spent the afternoon there while Ray went to his office and tried to figure out where we should go.
After several hours Ray called to say the only place he could find was a hotel only about five miles from our house. Because of the strong winds and the way they were blowing, that area was fine and the air quality was okay. We drove over and unloaded our things. It was weird to see all of the fires on the hills in our area. Huge flames and a ton of smoke everywhere. We had to stay inside to have the air be okay. Austin was able to go home since his street was fine, but our street was one of the four in Orange County that had mandatory evacuations. So it was Ray, Dakota, Colton, Brayden, Brookelyn, Sasha and I in one room (the hotel was packed with people who were evacuated or had left their houses because of smoke). Dakota and Brayden slept in one bed, Colton slept on a cot, Ray, Sasha and I shared a bed and Brookelyn slept in the crib. It was kind of fun, but weird to be able to smell the smoke and to see red when you looked out our hotel window. Brayden and I were the last to fall asleep.
We were able to go home the next day and our house was fine. There were ashes everywhere outside and ashed that came through any opening there was in the house (such as the french doors to the back yard). It smelled bad and so I brought Bradyen and Brookelyn to school. None of the children in the area let the kids go outside at all during the day, they just stayed inside all day. Or as much as they could since a lot of the schools have the children eat outside and most of the lockers are outside (high school). Sasha and I stayed away from the house and area all day. Exhausting couple of days. During this time and the next few days we could see fires on different hills in different areas. It would go out (or be put out) in one area and take off in another. Black clouds of smoke were everywhere, but the winds were strong enough that it didn't smell that bad. The strong winds were bad since they worked against the firemen, but they helped keep the smell and bad air from settling. As soon as the winds calmed down on Wednesday or Thursday (I don't remember) the smell of fire and smoke was bad. It was raining ashes and we needed to get out of town. We headed out to Palm Springs on Thursday afternoon. It was an easy two hour trip and it has been wonderful. The air quality was just too bad for us to stay there with the children and a lot of people left town if they could. I don't remember what they had posted, but all the experts agreed it was unhealthy. We kind of threw a bunch of things into the van and left town. We have been in Palm Springs at a friend's house since Thursday evening and having a great time.
It is a beautiful house three bedrooms, four baths, a pool table, foos ball table, ping pong table, a beautiful pool and jacuzzi on a golf course. Oh, and two golf carts, which the teenagers and little ones love. Of course, it is crazy. Three little ones in a house that is not child proof and has a pool in the back yard!!! I am not getting a lot of sleep. But we are all breathing fresh air. The house really is beautiful and the owners (friends of Rays) have offered it to us to stay at several times, but I just couldn't see going with two little ones. And now here we are with three...
One last thing...Sasha is handling all of these changes wonderfully. In the five weeks we have had her she has gone from her orphanage to the Melia, to the Somerset two days later, to our house in Orange County with new people, smells, time zone..., to a hotel for a night with a new bed, back to her new house, and now to another place in Palm Springs. Not the way I would have wanted her beginning time with us to be, but that is how it has worked out. Being in the hotel was hard for her. I couldn't set her down for a minute. Other than that, she has been fine with whatever we do or whereever we go. Again, as long as I hold her. Which is fine with me. I know things will settle down again soon. We feel lucky to have eachother and our home. I feel badly for all of those who have lost their homes and important personal possesions. It was awful to see the beautiful land that was burned by the all of the fires. The hills around our house and up to about thirty feet behind our house were all burned. It's so sad to see it all.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Sasha turned six months old on the 16th of October, but wears a lot of three month outfits. She is not very interested in baby food. She has gagged each time we have given her any of it. She smiles easily is very interested in everything going on around her. What a beautiful, happy baby she is!

Pumpkin Patch, Petting Zoo and Sasha

We went to Tanaka Farms with Brayden's preschool class. It was a field trip that was scheduled at 3:30 so Mommy, Daddy, Brayden, Brookelyn and Sasha went. It was a perfect day! The weather was beautiful and we had a great time.

More pictures of last day

Pictures of Sasha and Hanoi on last day (Oct 4)

I have a few pictures from the last day I want to post so I remember them. There are some cute ones of Sasha before we checked out of the Somerset and a few of the city as we walked around. It was an emotional day and emotional journey. I loved being in Vietnam and am so glad that I spent so much time there. It was stressful not knowing when I was going to leave since I had family at home I needed to get back to, but I would have loved to have stayed longer if they had been with me. Ray and I plan to go back and see other parts of Vietnam as well as China and Cambodia. There is something about Vietnam that touches you, I can't quite explain it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

We're home!

Sasha and I checked out of our room on Friday at noon and then just wandered around for the next few hours. I had a huge suitcase, a roll on and had bought a new big duffel bag by the lake and still could barely fit all of my things into them. That meant shopping was out on Friday. Well, I did do some shopping for last minute things. It was a strange last couple of days. Obviously, there was a of of sadness and stress because of what the other families are going through. There is no way to understand how awful this is for all of them and to know that they aren't going to get an answer to whether they can come home next Friday until Tuesday or Wednesday at the earliest. It is every adoptive parent's nightmare.
I am pretty sure my paperwork was caught up in theirs for several days even though the officers at the embassy knew Sasha was from a different orphanage. Some people from a different agency had had their first interview the same day as I did, gotten a call four days later to say the paperwork had cleared, had their second interview on the following Monday and left that night. I know they say each child's paperwork clears individually, but all six of those families had their paperwork go through the same time and mine hadn't...After I heard they were leaving on Monday when I still hadn't heard anything I called the officer at the embassy who we had done our first interview with. I should also say that each of our families had been given the card of the person who did the first interview and been told to call if they had any questions. So I didn't feel I was going behind WC or doing anything wrong when I called. And the young Vietnamese woman I talked with at the embassy (she was usually my link between myself and the officer I interviewed with) was very nice and compassionate and never acted irritated to hear from me. Neither she nor my officer (Donald) understood what was taking my paperwork so long to get back from HCMC. I called every day (like they told me to) and went there on Monday or Tuesday. On Wednesday Donald called me (to return my phone call) and said that he would call HCMC to find out what was going on because this was taking a very long time. I called again Thursday morning and was told that my paperwork had cleared and I could have an interview that afternoon!
I waited until after the interview to give my hotel notice and change my flight. I had had tickets to leave Saturday instead of Friday. The only problem is that when I had my interview the woman who did it said that there may be some discrepancy with the paperwork. She wasn't sure. She said she would try to get it done by the next day but would have to see after she took a good look at everything. Not the words I wanted to hear, which were, "We're done. Just come by and pick up her visa tomorrow." So I went back and gave notice and changed my flight hoping it would all work out. My visa was running out Saturday so if I didn't get her visa I would have to extend my visa, which would take two days if expedited. Since Monday is Columbus Day and all of the offices would be closed I would have to wait until Tuesday morning to turn it in and get it back by Wednesday late afternoon (according to the people who work at the front desk of my hotel who would do it for me) and hope I got it back in time to make my Wednesday night flight (if there were openings on it).
There was no joyful feeling to being almost done and getting out. At that point, I knew how lucky I was and that leaving was no longer something we could take for granted. It was a pretty helpless feeling knowing I was so lucky and not being able to help the others. I packed up Thursday night, and checked out Friday before noon. I had a car coming to drive me to the airport at 3:30 (early for a 7:00 flight, but the people at the desk suggested it because of the rain and Friday traffic). I called Kenny at 1:00 to make sure he was picking up the visa, but didn't know for sure if I was going home that day until 2:45 when he showed up in the lobby with it. Very stressful. I wasn't able to eat or relax, I just kind of wandered around waiting to find out most of the day.
It was so wonderful to have Kenny hand me my visa and the paperwork for immigration. I met Steve's parents (who had traveled with them the whole time) in the lobby and we left at 3:30. How heartbreaking to see other families not be able to return home when they had planned to go! The ride to the airport and the entire journey home was filled with happiness to get home and sadness and worry about the babies. I really enjoyed traveling with the Carrolls, they are very nice people and fun to be around. Out LONG trip home was definitely more enjoyable since we went through it together. We were able to sit together in the row of bulkheads on the long flight. The flight on Vietnam Air from Hanoi to Hong Kong was very nice. New airplane, good food nice flight staff. And it wasn't full. We went right to the next flight from Hong Kong to Los Angelos. It was a newer plane that the one I had flown on to get there, the food was good, the crew was very nice, and again it wasn't full. We had an extra seat in the row so I was able to put a lot of Sasha's things on it during the flight. Sasha was great! She slept a lot of the time in the bassinet and only got fussy at the very end of the flight. I think we were within a half hour of landing and she had had enough. The last ten or fifteen minutes when we were waiting to be pulled to the gate were the worst. She was overtired and ready to have a meltdown. I jiggled, patted, rocked, sang, soothed...until we could stand up and go. It went much easier than it could have.
Immigration was easy. The line for new immigrants was empty so we went right through. It took about two minutes and we got the stamp that made her a US citizen! We loaded up all of our bags (we all had done some good shopping) and headed out to meet family.
My husband had brought Dakota, Brayden and Brookelyn with him to pick me up which was great. Three weeks and a day is too long to be away from family. Especially with all of the stress of not knowing if I was going to have to stay almost a week longer until almost the last minute. When we drove home I couldn't believe how different California is from Vietnam. I felt like I was rich when I walked into my house and saw how nice it was. Living in a third world country and seeing how other people live there really made me appreciate my life and my surroundings. Vietnam is a beautiful country and there are many great qualities about it, but we have a great standard of living here.
So now we are home. We got home at about midnight and everyone went to bed soon after that. Not Sasha and I! She slept from 1:30-2:00 and then again from 4:15-5:15 and then was awake. I was okay until about 10:00am and then started to shut down. I felt a little delirious from lack of sleep. She finally fell asleep at almost 12:00 and we slept until 4:00pm. I woke her up so she could start changing over to the new time. She did great. We were up until about 8:00 pm when I started to feel like I could fall asleep while walking around. She fell asleep at 8:00 and woke up at 2:00 am. She was up until 3:15 and fell back asleep. I think she is going to change over fairly easily, which is great. I want to be more awake so I can play with my other two little ones. With my eyes open.
Time for bed for me. I have to say thank you to all of the parents who are still in Vietnam for being so wonderful and happy for me that we were able to leave! It meant a lot to me. I can't describe the emotions of the last few days, but having them be happy for me was wonderful. It is good they have each other and have formed an allegiance to share information, stress, worry...all of it. I am of course hoping they get news of approval on Tuesday and can travel soon. I don't think I will feel like my journey is over until they are all home.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

I'm going home

I am supposed to get Sasha's visa today and leave within an hour for the airport. I am very happy to be going home. The last few days have been stressful and emotional for all of us. The officer at the embassy said she cannot say for sure if she will be able to have Sasha's visa because there may be a problem with her paperwork, but she will do her best. I have told the hotel I am checking out today, changed my tickets to a flight for tonight and am about to finish packing. It better be ready...
I am happy for Sasha and I as well as my family, but I am not able to feel any sense of celebration with all of the sadness and worry for the situation here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Later Wednesday, Oct 3

Sasha and I hung out in the room again waiting for a call from the coordinators from our agency or the Embassy. I did get a call from the man who we had our first appointment with at the agency. He had given us a card with his name on it during our first appointment and told us to call if we had any questions. He also had told us then that they would call the agency cordinators when Sasha's paperwork cleared, but if there was a problem they would only be able to tell us, not the coordinator. Which is why I called after 6 days of waiting. Anyway, the man told me that he did not know why Sasha's paparwork was taking so long. He said he knew that she was from Lang Son and there was no investigation being done at Lang Son. He said they were investigating Thai Nguyen. He told me he would call HCMC and find out what is going on with my paperwork and I should call him tomorrow between 8:00-9:00. I asked if I could get an appointment tomorrow if the paperwork came in. He said it would depend on what time it came in since they had to process it.
My visa is going to expire in three days. I called Martin to ask what to do about it and he told me to talk to the people at my hotel who would do it for me. I talked to one of the women there who told me if I turn my passport in it early tomorrow morning I SHOULD have it back Friday late afternoon. I need my passport for my second interview at the Embassy, which I still don't know when that will be. This feels like a game where I don't know the rules and the only ones who do speak in another language or broken English.
So that is how my day has been, except for one fun thing. Sasha has been getting up on her hands and knees for the last week or so. She is a very active little girl. Today I walked into the kitchen to get her a bottle and when I walked back she was almost in a sittng position-all by herself. I managed to get a couple of pictures before she toppled over. We had fun spending time together today. She is such a cute and happy baby.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Wednesday, October 3

Want to hear something funny? Yeah, me too.
I called the Embassy today several times. What is amazing here is that someone answers and they are nice. Every time! I with the same Vietnamese woman I saw yesterday when Sasha and I went down there. I called yesterday afternoon and left a message and then called again this morning. I told her that I thought my case was being included with a group of others from my agency. The orphanage where they got their babies is under investigation. It sounds bad, but it really isn't from what we heard at the Embassy. It is just something they do every now and then to make sure things are being done legitimately. Unfortunately it can slow down approval for up to a week. So if I am included in their paperwork (actually, if Sasha's paperwork is included) we could be delayed for several more days. Which is a problem obviously, especially since the hotel is fully booked next week so we would have to move to a new hotel.
So Sasha and I were about to head down to the Embassy again when I got a call from Martin, one of our Vietnamese coordinators. He told me he thinks my paperwork has taken too long and I should call the Embassy. Hmmm....good idea. I explained that I had called and been to the Embassy and that I thought HE should go to the Embassy and help figure this out. He said he would call them and call me back. Nice guy, but I don't have much confidence in his helping out any. As soon as we hung up I got another call. It was the lady from the Embassy calling me back! Within a half hour. She said that she had spoken to Don (the guy we had our first appointment with last week at the Embassy) and he said my paperwork was not included in the investigation (I think he is the one doing the field work and investigation) and that I didn't need to come down to the Embassy. I should just call back at 1:30 pm today. She told me the paperwork comes from HCMC throughout the day. I asked if I could have the visa processed the same day as my second appointment since it was taking so long. She said they don't do that. I know they can and have, but I didn't want to push that yet. So I am waiting. I plan to call back at 1:30 pm and then go there to see if I can meet with Don or another American and see if they will call HCMC and get them to move the paperwork.
In the meanwhile I am kind of stuck in the room waiting for a call from the Embassy or Martin. So, I thought I would show you some things I had made and a couple things I bought. All of the jackets were made at the store Phuong Anh-Shop (56 Hang Hom). The jacket for me (dark pink with black lining) was $30, the vests for Brookelyn and Sasha cost $10 to make, the pink ones for the girls cost $10 each and the velvet ones with toggles for the girls were $13 each. You choose the style and fabric and she makes them for you in a couple of days. They are so soft and so pretty!
The frogs and other thing are instruments I bought at a store in the Old Quarter right around the corner from the Hgoc Ngoc Hotel. I will add the address when I find the card. The large frogs cost $1 and the little ones cost $.50. The other instrument cost $3.00. I know the kids will like them. Besides, I didn't have enough stuff to bring home.
I better go and start waiting...

More things...

Tuesday, Oct 2

Sasha and I had a quiet day today. We made it out to go to the Embassy to ask about our paperwork. They said it wasn't there. It was supposed to take 4-6 days to clear and today is the sixth day. It was a little discouraging that they didn't have any idea when they would get them paperwork. I asked them to call HCMC (where the paperwork is getting processed) and they said they don't do that. They just wait until they get it and contact me. We went back to the hotel and stayed there. It was nice relaxing and spending quiet time with Sasha. She slept a lot. When she is awake she is very alert and wants to move. She started getting up on her hands and knees a couple of days ago. She only lasts for a few seconds but then gets back up again. When I hold her she wants to see everything. There are mirrors in the elevator and she loves looking at herself in them. Today one of the waiteresses wanted to hold her. I noticed Sasha didn't smile at the lady and when the lady turned around and Sasha saw me she got a big smile on her face. It was great to see!
I am hoping to get a call tomorrow from the Embassy. I like this place, but it is time to go home.

More pictures