Day 2, Part 2 – The Adventure Continues

So, you know how I told you I was hungry and had to figure something out on the train? I talked my sister-in-law into going back there and picking something. A little cowardly I guess. But it was delicious. I don’t really know what it all was but I’d eat it again for sure.

We met up with our group and our guide at the train station and boarded a bus through Jinan to exchange money and check into the hotel. Jinan is considered a small, rural city of a mere 4 million people. The entire Shandong province has nearly 100 million. That’s almost a third of the population of the US just in one province of China. Crazy.

We walked over to a nearby mall for food at the suggestion of John, our guide. We found this noodle place. And you guys… I think I hit a wall. Again, no clue what I’m actually ordering. Thankfully our waitress spoke enough English and had a good translation app on her phone that we could communicate. But it started to really stress me out. There were heating plates in the tables and she kept bringing out food and it was all VERY spicy and there was no way to eat it and the kids were laying down. It felt like dinner was spiraling. The sheer amount of food, in the US would have equated to a $200 meal. I kept trying to send food back because I thought it was more than we needed and it was gonna cost WAY too much. I kinda lost my composure a little and had to walk outside for a minute. I’m not gonna lie, this was a challenge for me. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I felt out of control because I can’t read the menu. Maybe I was embarrassed because I’m just guessing and pointing and saying, “xie xie” to everything because it’s basically the only phrase I know and at least I can be polite. Our waitress was compassionate and kept checking in on us. She brought us everything we needed for this final meal as a family of five. And when it was all said and done, that spread of a meal cost us about $50 USD.

I don’t know why things got so out of hand. I don’t know. But I do know in 12 hours from now we’ll be holding our beautiful baby girl. We will head to the orphanage first thing in the morning and there she will be. We will be hers forever.

They rolled a crib into our room tonight. Kelley packed a diaper bag of formula, diapers, baby clothes and accessories. Tonight is the last night we sleep as a party of five.

Tomorrow is officially Gotcha Day.


Day 2 – High Speed Train to Jinan

When someone says the word adventure, you either get excited or you tune out. Actually, I would argue that everybody is fascinated with the idea of adventure. That’s why we love good stories. We don’t make movies about the boring stuff of the day-to-day routine. No doubt some of that stuff is required for life but it’s the thrill of facing the unknown that makes stories worth telling. You probably don’t tune out. Not really, anyway. You’re probably just thinking, “I could never do that. I’m too ___________.” Or, “I don’t have enough _____________.” We’ve heard people say this a lot in the conversation of adoption.

When we were arranging travel inside China, we were given two options for train travel. One was safe and normal. One was labeled “adventurous.” There was no other explanation than that. We chose that. If you’re going to adopt a little girl from the other side of the world, you’re probably a little crazy already. I think it comes with the territory.

Families who’ve done this trip before us tried to prepare us for what to expect. One travel agency all but told us we were foolish. We stopped doing business with them. They also wanted to charge us almost double for our flights. Nope.

We decided to make this an adventure our family would remember forever. This is why we brought our kids, even though a lot of you looked at us like we’d lost our minds. A couple of you even (lovingly) told us so. Truth is, you’re probably right. But it takes a little crazy in the soup to give it some flavor. So, adventurous train? Yep!

Here’s the deal with the train. It goes about 250 mph through the countryside of eastern China. You have precisely 120 seconds to board the train. There are two doors on each cabin for boarding and exiting. Eighty passengers per car leaving and 80 new ones getting on. With luggage. In 120 seconds. There’s a fair amount of pushing and squeezing. Passengers are eating delicious looking food. I went back to the dining cart to do a little investigation but I can’t read the menu and the only thing on the counter is some jerky and something that looks like Pringles. I thought maybe I’d just point at a picture and pay for it but there are no pictures. Just a long list of items all written in Chinese. I knew I should have studied more. I’m getting hungry though so I’m gonna have to figure something out. Stay tuned…


kids draw police chase scene

We forgot to tell you the rest of the story. Many of you wanted to know what happened to the car… Well, in case you can’t interpret kid art (above), the fine folks at NNPD found the guy. In fact it was a friend of mine. He was out on patrol with his partner and saw it drive past him in the opposite direction. He whipped his car around and took off after him. After some fancy maneuvering ending with our car crashing through a fence and into a pole, the guy jumped out of the car and was arrested. And yes, insurance is handling the claim for repairs to damage and we should have our car back in about a week’s time.

The pictures are from our kids. They wanted to thank the officer who was looking out for our family. Below is a picture from Rosie and Grady. Thank you, Brandon and Tully. You guys are some of the finest around!

kids police car drawings

The Ant Saga

A few nights ago we were getting ready to head up to bed in our new place.

For those of you new to this story… We’ve recently moved to Newport News, VA for work. We looked and looked all around to find the perfect house in the perfect location. The location is this beautiful historic neighborhood on the James River called Hilton Village. Sidewalks everywhere. Kids playing outside. A park. A playground. A fishing pier. It couldn’t be better. Our neighbors are the best anyone could dream for.

Unfortunately, the people that lived here before us didn’t carry the same amount of pride in the place as the rest of the neighbors seem to and the yard (especially the backyard) provides the most glaring evidence.

We were scheduled to move in at the first of July but the time at the church in NC had come to a close a little early so we decided to move in to the new place a couple weeks early. The landlord was supposed to get the backyard cleared out but it was still very overgrown when we got there.

Right before we were heading up to bed, I went into the kitchen to turn off the lights and check the door and on the counter under the window was a line of ants. Lord knows my fear of ants. I see one and I feel like they’re crawling all over me. For those of you with the same affliction, I apologize because I know that you’re being tormented right now as you read this. (I’m deeply sorry for subjecting you to this.)

Just days ago, on Father’s Day, I woke up to a sink and kitchen floor and drawers filled with sewage backup. Our kitchen sink had erupted with whatever didn’t make it out of the pipes the normal way. We’d gotten that remedied and now ants.

I called the company that supposedly sprayed the house before we got there and they didn’t return my call for almost three full days. I couldn’t wait that long. Kelley discovered a home remedy using white distilled vinegar that deterred them for awhile (I guess they hate the smell, too). But they quickly built up a tolerance or possible constructed microscopic face masks and kept right on with the invasion. Hundreds of them. All over the kitchen. I usually prefer to support local merchants but when they didn’t call me back the next day I called Orkin. They’ll be here tomorrow.


Later that evening we went back to Jeff and Jodi’s place; a nicely allocated parsonage on the hill behind the church. We listened to stories and shared a bit of our own for the better part of the evening.

It was enlightening to hear some of the history of some of these fascinating folks. And fascinating to discover how parallel are the stories of the Helpmans and ours.

The salt trucks had finally made their way down the road to our cabin. Maybe we could finally get our van up the hill. Jim and Judy were heading that direction so we asked for a ride to our car. But when we got there I realized my keys were at the cabin.

They graciously agreed to drive us since it was only less than a mile from their house. Good idea. We’d get to see the road conditions all the way there and have a better sense of how our van would handle it. When we got to the cabin I reached in my pocket for the cabin keys and found nothing. I’d left them in my coat pocket which I just realized had gotten left back at the Helpmans.

Jim and Judy drove us back to get my coat and then again back to the cabin. By this time it was pointless to have them take us back to our car and then drive our car back to the cabin. So we said goodbye and thank you and scheduled a ride for the morning.

As I was locking up the cabin before bed I made an embarrassing discovery… the front door had been unlocked the whole time.

Guayabidos and Front-Wheel Drive

We met Jeff and Jodi at the church. They pastor a group of people known in town as The Grove. The church parking lot was full of snow, pushed into small mounds around the perimeter. The front porch decorated in winter.

It was time for us to check-in to our mountain cabin and meet some friends for dinner. The roads hadn’t been cleared and our front wheel drive mini van was having a time with the icy-surfaced road. As long as we were on a flat we managed but we didn’t quite have enough momentum or the right tires or transmission to make the steep grade and tight switchbacks in this mountain town. So we rolled backward down the hill and parked our ill-equipped suburban transport in the parking lot of the church for the next few days until the roads cleared.

As it would turn out, this gave us the opportunity to get to know Jim and Judy a little bit better after our introduction on Saturday night.

Guayabidos is a Mexican restaurant just off Hwy 19. We met up with our friends there for dinner and conversation. And I met a new friend, Kerby. Kerby works at the Natahala Outdoor Center teaching folks how to paddle mountain rapids. I’m told he’s also a skilled guitarist. Most skilled guitarists won’t tell you they’re skilled. This is Kerby’s case. I actually heard this from other people.

Hopefully I’ll get to hear him play someday.

On A Lighter Note

Kelley had been at the hotel from 6 AM today and I had the ‘opening shift’. Rosie was sound asleep but her O2 sat was dropping so the nurse decided to try to reposition her which, of course, woke her.

I thought maybe if I tried to feed her she’d calm down (which is just a joke, cuz I don’t have the right equipment and our baby ain’t no fool).

The nurse brought me a bottle that we’d stored for such a time as this but it had a cap on it.

My father-in-law, Mark is sitting beside me.

So, in true Meet the Parents fashion, I said to the nurse, ‘I don’t think I have any nipples.’ To which she responded, ’That’s okay, I’ve got two in my pocket.’

Oh my!