Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Travelogue-Day 1

Ah, a flight to China.  Those of you who have spent more than half of a day on a single airplane know what a delightful prospect this is.  A few days before our departure, I was talking to Christi about how much I had to do before we left on this trip.  How I was unlikely to get a full night's sleep prior to embarking on our journey.  Jessica happened to be listening and she suddenly chimed in with this gem, "but you'll be able to catch up on your sleep on the plane, right?"  With a sincere and caring smile on her face she shared this joyous news, "You'll be on the plane for so long and you can just sleep and sleep and sleep!"  I smiled and thanked her for making me aware of this very relieving fact.  I declined to point out to her how a somewhat overweight, 6' 2" old man with a bad back might have just a bit harder time sleeping on the plane than a nine-year-old girl (Jesi's age on her last trip).

In a nice development, we ran into Conner's best friend at the airport.  Conner's friend Tanner has been such a blessing.  He loves Conner and is always looking out for him.  He helps him at school social events and often aids him in navigating the school.  He is a wonderful person and we are so grateful he looks out for Conner like he does.  Tanner is in Conner's junior high Chinese class.  The teacher of this class is leading a spring break tour of China for any students who wanted sign up.  Tanner was going on this trip, and as we were boarding our first flight, we realized that this student tour had the same itinerary as we did all the way to Beijing.  I love little tender mercies.  It was great for Conner to have a friend during our Seattle layover and to talk to until we parted ways after immigration.

True to form, I slept poorly on the flight.  Conner slept a little better than I did, but even he got a bit grumpy.  He turned to me at one point somewhere over Alaska and asked, "are we almost there?"  I replied, "just seven and a half more hours."  "What!?!"  He wasn't too pleased.  The flight had many movies to choose from, and I watched Citizen Kane (not exactly sure why that one continues to be ranked as the number one film of all time by critics.  Haven't they seen Guardians of the Galaxy?) and The Good Dinosaur.  Conner has some books loaded on his iPod, so that kept him somewhat entertained.  Finally we got to Beijing and parted ways with Conner's schoolmates.

On the plane!  (Conner's friend happens to be photobombing us above Conner's head.)

Trying to catch some sleep
Chinese culture does not seem to have an inhibition against staring.  Everywhere we go, a caucasian giant and a Chinese boy with a white cane, we garner a lot of stares.  Sometimes I ignore them.  Sometimes I like to play with the situation a bit.  Out of the corner of my eye I see somone blatenly staring us down.  I glance quickly over at them and then straight ahead again.  They look the other direction for a moment.  Then they begin to stare again.    We repeat this cycle once or twice, then I look directly at them.  GOTCHA! They turn away, flustered.  Except when they don't.  Sometimes they just continue to stare.  Like I said, it's a cultural thing.

Once we had cleared immigration in Beijing, we had to go back through the check in process, get our boarding passes and go through security again.  After security we stood in front of the "departures" listing trying to find our gate.  A rather determined starer started to look us over.  A young woman in her 20's, she did not relent.  For a full two minutes she stared at us as I we stood there.  Finally, she approached and with a thick accent said, "Excuse me, is this your son?"  "Yes."  Her response was obscured by her accent.  When she saw my blank look, she spoke to Conner in Mandarin.  He turned to me, "She wants to know if she can take our picture."  (Conner's first experience with interpretation.  He's pretty good at it!)  This is not an uncommon request for us in China, although it usually happens when Parker (fiery red hair) or Jessica (long barbie colored hair) is around.  So we let her take our picture.  She gave Conner her qq address so they could keep in touch.  

As we walked away we stopped to get a drink.  Conner ordered a Sprite and we meandered towards our gate.  As we were walking, I turned to him and asked, "Do you know why she wanted our picture?"  "No," he replied.  I told him:  "Because I am so handsome."  Sprite about spurted through his nose as Conner cracked up.  "I don't think so!" he said.  Apparently he doesn't even have to see me to know that wasn't tue!
Made it to Beijing!

It's OK, though.  He had a rope to tie down the trunk.

We caught a taxi for an hour-long ride to our hotel.  It was 3:00 am local time, and we crashed hard on the marble slabs that pass for beds on this side of the Pacific.  We made it!


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Visit Home

Shortly after we returned home with Conner in 2014, we found out some most surprising, and somewhat disconcering, news.  He has a biological twin brother.  Conner hadn't tried to hide this from us, in fact, he was surprised that we didn't know about it.  It was close to his birthday-- just two months after we had brought him home, and Christi and Conner were talking about birthday plans.  Conner got very quiet and sad and she asked what was wrong.  He started to cry as he told her in very broken English that his brother would get no presents and no cake on his birthday.  She clarified, thinking he must mean a foster brother, but Conner insisted it was not only his brother, but his twin.  After about an hour of talking and trying to convince us he had a twin with very limited English, he told us to look on a flash drive he had brought with him for pictures and videos.  We had forgotten about this flash drive, handed to us in the middle of the chaos of gotcha day, and hadn't ever opened it.  Sure enough, this flash drive contained images and video of his brother, and the resemblance was unquestionable.  We were a bit dumbfounded by this news.  Why hadn't China told us about this?  What is his situation now?  If our son has a twin brother, what is our relationship to him?

An immediate thought was, can we adopt him, too?  Unfortunately, by law, once a Chinese child is 14, they cannot be adopted, so that was not an option.  Fortunately, we live in an era of ever decreasing communication costs, so Conner has frequently been able to talk with his brother and other friends in China.  Until about a month ago, Conner's brother lived in the home of the foster family he has been with since he and Conner were abandoned as infants.  This sweet husband and wife are late middle age, and Conner has always called the father, "Grandpa."  It has been clear in the calls he has made since we adopted him how much Conner loves both his Grandpa and his brother.  Of the many things that an older child adopted from a foregin country might miss, these two relationships are clearly what Conner misses the most.  

Several times after a conversation with them, he has wept in Christi's arms as he has lamented both the distance that keeps him apart from loved ones and his Grandpa's poor health, which he worried would take Grandpa's life before Conner had a chance to see him again.  About two months ago, a new development occurred which was devastating for Conner.  In addition to his Grandpa's poor health, Conner's brother had developed a life-threatening illness.  His brother, who is also blind, but has some additional physical disabilities, had to be moved from the foster home into the orphanage.  The foster home was 2-3 hours from the orphanage in Wuhan, and Conner's brother needed to be closer to medical care.  So on top of a physically painful and life-threatening illness, poor brother had to leave the home he has lived in for virtually his entire 15-year life span.  Conner wept and wept after he learned of this.  Christi and I hugged him and tried to console him, but he was beside himself.  "He is my brother," he kept repeating through the tears.

Christi and I decided that the time had come to take Conner back for a visit.  We found a weekend where I had a Friday off of work and booked tickets for Conner and me to travel to Wuhan.  We let Conner's relatives and other friends from the orphanage know we were coming.  Conner was very excited.  Having been to China enough times to know what a greuling travel experience it can be, I was a bit nervous about a 3-day stay in the middle kingdom.  A 24-hour itinerary there, 72 hours in country, and a 24-hour itinerary back.  And with less-than-stellar communication with the orphanage, we were not completely sure how much time we would get to spend with Conner's loved ones.  It was a bit of a leap of faith.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Easter Eggs!

Saturday was the annual Easter egg hunt for the visually impaired.  Since Christi was on a weekend date with Taylor and Parker, I took the rest of the kids to this.  The eggs beep so that you can locate them with your ears.  Conner and Lexi loved it.  Conner is extremely fast.  On the second go round, I told him to limit it to three eggs so other kids could get a chance to find some.  Once all of the visually impaired people have hunted, they open it up to anyone who wants to try it blindfolded.  It's really quite challenging:).

Sophi has come a long way.  The first year we took her to this, she was deathly afraid of the Easter Bunny!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dressing Up:)

Sophi is in a phase where she loves to dress up.  I love the boots and top hat look!

She found a pair of Jesi's old glasses:

Monday, March 14, 2016

Family History

Learning about our ancestors can be a really moving experience.  I've watched a few clips of the PBS genealogy series Finding Your Roots, including this one about Dustin Hoffman.  The people who are discovering their family history are often moved to tears as they learn about the struggles and challenges their forebears have endured.

As I get older, I'm further and further removed from the days when I used to visit my own grandparents.  I have many fond memories of both my maternal and my paternal grandparents. Trips to stay overnight with them.  Sunday dinners.  Homemade ice cream.  Many fun experiences.  Sadly, all have them have been gone for quite some time at this point.  A couple years ago, Parker and I were working on his genealogy merit badge.  One of the requirements had us attend a family history resource center run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We searched for information about my grandpa, Roy Lind.  Among a few other things, we were able to pull up the recently-made-public 1940 census.  As we looked at the image of this document, we were able to see information about him.  He was 25 years old in 1940.  He was married with two children (one is an uncle that I know well, the other is an aunt who passed away long before I was born).  It showed that he completed the 8th grade and was currently working as a truck driver for Feed and Seed Stones (or something like that.  The handwriting was a bit hard to read.)  It was his first year on the job, he was working about 48 hours a week and his annual income was $1,960.  What a treasure to be able to see all of this.  It suddenly made his life so much more real to me.  He wasn't just the retired old man I had known.  He had once been a young man, working hard to feed his family.  I shed a few tears as I looked over that census page.

Recently I have started working out on a pretty regular basis.  We have an elliptical machine that I exercise on while watching Netflix.  Last week I finished a series and was looking for something new to watch.  Based on the detective series I often enjoy, Netflix suggested the series Columbo for me.  I've started watching it, and it's really quite entertaining.  It originally aired in the late 60's and early 70's.  Perhaps my favorite thing about the show is that I remember my Grandma Lind talking about it when I was a young child.  Every day when I get on the elliptical and start Columbo, for a moment I am an 8-year-old in her living room.  I can visualize the bookshelf with its many small dog ornaments, the doorway into her small kitchen and dining room, and her TV against the wall.  I can see her somewhat frizzy hair and almost smell her tater-tot casserole.  I know she'll have a crossword in her hand and a James Michener book on the end table.  I'm grateful to Netflix for suggesting this series to me.  I'm going to look for more ways to connect with those who have gone before me.  So many of them sacrificed so much and worked so hard to lay a foundation which has enabled me to live how and where I live today.

I'm grateful for that.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

In the Dark

Conner has progressed so much in the last two years.  It's hard to believe he has been a part of our family for 23 months.  For most of the first year he struggled so much.  He couldn't speak English very well so his ability to communicate with anyone at school was extremely limited.  Other kids were nice to him, but he couldn't really make friends.  Pretty much every day we would ask him, "How was school?" and he would spit out, "BAD!!!"  That has turned around almost 180 degrees at this point.  He's a generally happy kid.  He speaks English quite well and has lots of friends at school.  When we took him to the high school basketball games this season, lots of kids would say hello, and often some of the kids would come and take him from us and lead him over to the student section.  He has a really good friend named Tanner who helps him at social events like dances.  Christi and I are so grateful for the many wonderful kids who are so attentive to Conner and genuinely like him.

After two years, he really has begun to enjoy life in America.  When we ask him how school was he usually says, "maybe good."  This is high praise coming from Conner:).  But one thing has remained consistent...his vigorous dislike of math.  If you ask him, "How do you like math?"  He responds with a vehement, "I Hate it!"  If he hears someone talking about math, he volunteers, "I HATE math!!!"  It has become very apparent that the kid does not like math.  And now I undertand why.

I have always loved math.  I have always been quite good at it and have been a tutor, paid and volunteer, for many students.  Many times I have seen great joy in the face of someone as a concept suddenly became clear to them.  Tonight for the very first time, Conner had math homework.  He has obviously studied the subject, but the work has been completely done at school.  Now he has gotten to a point where his English is good enough and his braille math is good enough that he is bringing work home.  And I really can't believe how hard it is.

First of all, since he's blind, he obviously can't write his problems down on a piece of paper.  Instead, he uses a device called a Braille Note.  This is an amazing machine that has moveable pegs for each braille letter.  As he types the braille into the machine, the pegs move so that the most recent typing is always available for him to read.  But as amazing as that is, think about it for a second.  Instead of having all of your previous work on a problem readily available in front of your eyes, he has to use his fingers and only has the most recent notations at his fingertips.  If he forgets something from earlier in the problem, he has to backspace through the braille until he gets back to that.  Not only that, but the notation is so challenging in braille.   Instead of the elegant simplicity of numerals, fractions, +, -, etc, each of these has to be represented by the 6 braille dots.  What's more, he can't quickly glance at the original problem.  Instead, he has to repeatedly reach from his Braille Note up to a large braille math book.  Now Conner is lucky.  He is quite brilliant.  His ability to do arithmetic in his head is phenomenal.  But once he's done it, he has to remember it, because he can't just write a middle-of-the-problem-answer down in the margin of his paper.  The whole thing is crazy!  However difficult I've made this sound, it's at least five times harder.  You really have to see it to believe it.

Conner, I am in awe of you.  Lexi, you too.  The daily struggles of life without sight are more than I think those of us with vision can possibly imagine.  And yet the two of you, and so many of your visully impaired friends, remain positive, happy people.  You are productive.  And perhaps the most amazing thing of all is how much light you share with the people around you while you yourself are surrounded by darkness.  I am forever grateful for the light you share with me each day.  You brighten my world.  Thank you!


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Elli and the Dark Side

Darth Vader came to visit Elli at school last week.  She loved his breathing and his voice:)

Friday, March 11, 2016

A Wonderful Life

Shortly after we moved into our new home, the cap on the bottom post of our stairs came loose:

If you bumped it as you went by, it would fall off.  A couple months ago I finally got around to fixing it.  As I was placing some screws to keep it in place, Taylor walked by and asked what I was doing.  I told him I was fixing the railing.  His face got just a little sad and he said, "I'll miss it.  It always reminds me of "It's a Wonderful Life."

I must be doing something right as a father:)


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Throwback Thursday

A trip to the Thanksgiving Point Dinosaur Museum in 2008:).  It's so fun to have so many cute kiddos!

Elli is loving the wind from the blow dryer:)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Right Footed: Watch the Movie!

Back in November, Sophi and I went on the best daddy date ever!  The two of us had an amazing time at the Napa Valley Film Festival, but what was clearly the highlight of the trip was the opportunity for Sophi to meet Jessica Cox.  Meeting another person born without arms was truly a life-changing experience for Soph.  Our sweet little girl was able to see what great things are in store for her as she grows up and gets to experience more and more of the world.  We are so grateful to Jessica Cox for sharing her time and encouragement with Sophi.

The movie Right Footed is a fantastic look at some of the things that have made Jessica such an inspiration to many people around the world.  It is an emotional and uplifting journey and is a movie that everyone could benefit from seeing.  It is now on a platform called Tugg that allows people around the country to host a local screening.  It's a pretty simple process, with no financial commitment from the host.  To learn more about it, watch this quick video:  Right Footed on Tugg.

Sophi and I would highly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to see just how much potential every one of us has, and how a positive attitude, perseverance and hard work can help all of us overcome the challenges in our lives:)


Monday, March 7, 2016

Lone Peak 2015

In September of last year, Taylor, Parker and I made our annual trek up Lone Peak.  Such a fun tradition!  This time we took Molly with us.  She did great.  We even had a sleeping bag for her to cuddle into during the night.  It was a bit of an adventure trying to get her to fall sleep, but I think she eventually did.

As usual we packed all of our gear in.  We took in the beautiful views, cooked over an open fire and enjoyed the silence and serenity of nature.  On the way back down we stopped at the waterfall and took a very cold dip in the river.  (Forgive us for our less-than-manly squeals as we laid down in the frigid water!)  Here are some pictures as well as some video of the waterfall.

The "resting rock" in the meadow that is about the half-way point:

Beautiful sunset!

Parker brings up water from the river for cooking and drinking:

 Parker needed some pictures of nature for a biology class: