This Time Last Year

Two years ago, I purchased this photo display from Pottery Barn. Disclaimer: I don’t shop Pottery Barn anymore and I pitch the catalogs in the recycle bin as soon as I get them. I don’t have anything against Pottery Barn – or Eddie Bauer, Lands End, Chaco (I do send my sandals in to be re-strapped), or the stack of catalogs I used to receive. Fortunately, after enough seasons of not purchasing from catalogs, they stop sending them to your house on such an annoyingly regular basis. I’m almost catalog-free. It’s amazing how much time a person can spend in a given day browsing through the catalogs, choosing items that are suddenly deemed necessary, justifying the purchases, and then placing the orders. I’m keenly aware these days of how much energy, money, and time I spend on fluffing my nest. I’m not judging. If you catalog shop, have at it. I’m just a person who is easily sucked in by consumerism, so I’m learning to dash in the other direction and be content with the fluff I’ve already purchased.

But I digress in a big way, so back to the photo display. I got it on sale and it holds twelve 8×10 photos. It’s one of my favorite purchases and I’m forever grateful that at the time I found it I hadn’t yet been convicted about my shopping habits. My intention was to change the photos out every couple of months, but it’s been almost a year since they’ve been replaced. I couldn’t bring myself to remove the China photos. It took a trip to Ghana to force them out of the frames. I’ve stacked the photos on the dining room table because I am still not sure what to do with them. So I’m posting a few here in honor of where we were this time last year.

The 2012 Dillon China Birthland tour group leaves this Tuesday. My friend Dana, who was in our travel group eleven years ago, is taking her daughter back this year. I’m so grateful that Callie will get to see her birth country and the orphanage where she lived for a year. I want her to see the people, hear the language, eat the food, and walk the streets of the country where she began her life. If I could say five things to every adoptive parent, the second thing would be this: Return with your child to their birth country at some point. For an adopted child, every piece of his or her story is crucial. If you are an adoptive parent, you should know that there will be a moment (probably two, three, or more) when you will be asked to fill in pieces of this story. I’m not saying that a birthland tour is the only way to do this, but it’s one of the best ways. Start saving now. It’s not cheap, but it’s a much better way to spend your money than, say, catalog shopping.

This time last year we were in Beijing, gearing up for the whirlwind two weeks of visiting the cities of Xi’an, Guiping, Guangzhou, and Guilin. That’s four different provinces in two weeks. Be impressed. I loved every minute and cherish every memory of our trip. Honestly, I’m a little envious of the group that leaves Tuesday. I would do it again, and in fact I’m planning a return trip with Alison after she graduates high school. Alison is ready to go back, but she made me promise one thing: no pig’s feet.

Through the Lens: A Photo Dilemma

I took 1,200 photos in China. That sounds absurd, I know, but be assured that I did not keep them all. It’s true that to get one good photo, it’s necessary to take about three or four (or in my case, five or six) of the same thing. Most of my photos were duplicates that were not “keepers,” so every few days I performed major deletions from my camera card. But while I was busy snapping furiously throughout the trip, I had the familiar thought that I was missing the moment because I was so intent on capturing it. A friend and I discussed this recently and both agreed that there are times when we look at our photos and can’t remember what was actually going on because we were looking at it “through the lens.”

That was probably the case at certain moments during our trip, but there were times when I was forced to put my camera down (in Alison’s orphanage where photos were not allowed), and at lunch with the orphanage director and staff (didn’t want to make them uncomfortable). I don’t seem to remember more about those experiences than any others, so maybe I was living the moment – just doing it behind the viewfinder. Still, when I see other people at events doing nothing but taking photos of their kids instead of jumping in and enjoying that moment with them, I see myself behind the lens. I do that same thing. I’m trying to learn the balance between documenting life and living it, but I suppose I’ll always try to do both. Now that we’re back, however, parts of the trip are fading from my memory, and so I am thankful that Colin, Erin, and I documented almost every moment with photos and tons of video. It’s amazing how quickly we forget, and I don’t want to lose a moment of the trip. I’ve uploaded a sampling of our photos here. Enjoy!

A Few Things I Don’t Like About Jet Lag

There is nothing quite like recovering from East Asia jet lag. It’s just…different. We’re better, but not quite back to normal. So here is what I don’t like about jet lag: (feel free to chime in if you’ve been there, done that)

1. Waking up in the middle of the night, feeling as if it morning, and being completely disoriented. The first night back, I walked to our bedroom doors that lead to the backyard thinking I was going to be looking out of my hotel room. I had no idea where I was in my own bedroom and it took me a while to figure it out. Yuck.

2. Fighting the afternoon nap. If you nap, it screws everything up. So for the first few days I cleaned the house, organized some closet drawers, ironed clothes, took things across town to the recycler, and basically was frantic to stay busy. Of course, I did it all in a strange fog, but things got done and I didn’t nap.

3. Feeling hungry at odd times. Everyone has no appetite at dinner, but we are starving at bedtime.

4. Trying to carry on conversations when all you can think about is crawling under the covers. During the day, when everyone else in this time zone is completely awake and able to function intelligently, I am struggling to finish sentences while I think about what it would feel like to lay my head on pillow.

So I think we’re past the worst of it. Some people say that it takes as many days to recover as time zones you passed through. We went through 10 time zones, so that means we are halfway home. I guess I’ll know that we’re fully back when Kyle and I stop dreaming about China every night.

The Red Couch Ten Years Later

As promised, here is Alison once again on the Red Couch. She is just as she was ten years ago – happy to be surrounded by the other little girls and very content to sit and be photographed. But yet, she is different than she was ten years ago. That’s an obvious statement, but when I look at this image, the years flash by and I see the little baby growing into a young woman far too quickly. Ten years is both short, and very long. I am a different person than I was then – we all are – yet it seems like not so long ago that Alison was bald and sleepy and quiet. She is now a little girl with a full head of hair, always on the go, and talking, talking, talking (lots of silliness and long stories). Every now and then, I long for just a few moments with that little baby. It’s not because I don’t love the big-girl Alison, but because I realize how fast it all sped by me and how much I allowed myself to miss. I know that this is a normal feeling because I longed for those moments with Colin and Erin when they were this age. It was a time of their childhood when I suddenly realized that the child was fading away, and the young man or woman was about to take the place. There are beautiful moments with adolescents and teenagers (yes, you heard me right), but we can’t go back in time. The days of holding Alison in my arms while I read a book to her, rocking her to sleep at night, and carrying her across the parking lot on my back are over. I’ll be honest, some days I grumbled about these things, especially if it was a hot day and the asphalt was radiating heat, or if I was busy and didn’t have time to lift her up as she stood at my feet with her arms outstretched. Now, I’d take back those moments without blinking. But they are gone. So it serves as a reminder to me that someday very soon she will be hurrying out the door with the car keys in hand, or holed up in her room for the evening to text, facebook, and talk on the phone. She won’t be so excited to accompany us to the movie theater or laugh at our jokes. Now that we are back from China, I am even more aware of this: the days are long, but the years are short. So I’m making the most of the days as I listen to the silly stories, or watch her play with her sweet lab puppy. I’m enjoying that she still loves to go to the movies with me and help me with crafts and in the kitchen. She still likes to play crazy water games instead of soak in the sun by the side of the pool, and there are some days when she is little girl enough to forget to brush her teeth or make sure her clothes match. But it’s racing by, so I’m learning to live in the beautiful moments of today. So of course I’m taking her to the movies today (Kung Fu Panda 2) and letting her help make the whole wheat macaroni and cheese for dinner. And we’re both going to ignore the jet lag. It’s part of the adventure, right?

Stepping Into North Korea…Without Erin

Chances are, if you suffer from migraines, it would be no surprise that by the end of a very tiring three-week trip you would get one. Erin did. As we were walking to catch the bus for the DMZ tour, she saw a spot out of the corner of her eye. This means a migraine is coming on. She had left her migraine medicine back in the hotel room, so she and Kyle hurried back to get it while Colin, Alison and I headed on to the tour office. The bus was scheduled to leave at 8:50 a.m., and when we arrived it was 8:20. I talked to the tour guide to let her know that we might not be going, and she kindly informed me that the tour fee is non-refundable. We were going to pay either way, and it isn’t cheap. I called the hotel and rang the room. Kyle had decided to stay back with Erin. The moment before he picked up the phone, however, she told him that the spot had gone away and she thought she would be fine. So they hurried to the meeting place. After scurrying around to find each other, we boarded the bus about a minute before it was pulling out. That could be the end of the story of the migraine, but it isn’t. The migraine returned and Erin ending up sitting either on the bus or in the gift shop at the Joint Security Area while we visited Camp Bonifas and the DMZ. She missed stepping into North Korea and she threw up in the parking lot of the restaurant where the tour group ate before heading back to Seoul. I suppose every trip has its moments, and this was definitely one of them.

Heading into the DMZ was eerie. Erin waited at the Joint Security Area where it was safe with South Korean and American soldiers nearby. The moment we passed into the DMZ, everything seemed strangely still. There has been no development and no management of the area so it was a thick forest on either side as we drove toward the line that divides North and South Korea. There were three checkpoints (Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie), and when we stopped the bus to get out, we were given very strict and specific instructions: form two lines, do NOT take photos until given permission, do NOT wave or make any arm gestures. We were told earlier that if we were wearing a shirt with any American symbols on it – a flag, USA, eagle – we would have to put tape over it. Also, we were not allowed to wear faded jeans with holes in them or sleeveless shirts because if we looked “ragged” the North Koreans would photograph us and use it as propaganda to convince the people that those outside the country were poor and unable to take care of themselves. Also, we had to wear shoes with backs on them in case there was an emergency and we had to run. Really? Yes, really. As we waited inside the Reunion Building (it was built in 1998 to allow families to reunite after crossing the border from North Korea, but it has never been used because no one is allowed to cross the border), our guide told us that we would be unable to go into the MAC (Military Armistice Conference) Building. This building is shared by North and South Korea…sort of. If the North Koreans are in it, then they lock the door from the inside. A tour group never knows if it will be open and we were very disappointed that we would be unable to enter. This is where you actually get to step across the border into North Korea. When we came through the back of the Reunion Building, the door was open, and the guide was pleasantly surprised that we would get to go in.

The photo of the North Korean and South Korean soldiers standing perpendicular to one another (the North Korean soldier is in the heavy, drab green uniform) shows the MAC building on the left. Earlier, all the rules had sounded a little dramatic, but once I saw the North Korean soldiers coming around the corner, I didn’t question anything. The raised section of cement in front of the North Korean soldier is the dividing line. A table in the building is also the dividing line, and you can’t step too close to the South Korean soldier – which Kyle did so the guide had to reprimand him. I did snap a quick photo of he and Colin. Notice Colin sporting the same shades as the very serious and unsmiling soldier (and notice the soldier’s clenched fists, which is the way they all stood).

If you look carefully at the outdoor photograph, you can see a North Korean soldier standing at the top of the steps of the Panmungak building on the North Korean side watching us through binoculars. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being there and the tension that exists. American soldiers are also stationed here, and so there is an American flag in the MAC building. It is now a plastic flag because a North Korean soldier made a point of polishing his shoes with it once. We were given all this information and I’m still thinking it through. You can hear the sadness and anger in the voices of the South Koreans when they talk about North Korea. They want reunification, but they are deeply hurt by the North Koreans hatred of them. It’s very complicated. The other photos are taken from a vantage point where you can see North Korea across the Inchon River. We bought a bottle of North Korean brandy in the JSA store and will leave it unopened until reunification. I’m sorry to say I think it may be sitting unopened for a very long time…but I hope not. On the way back to Seoul, a North Korean defector answered questions. That’s a story for another post since this one is already far too long.

We came back to the hotel around 3 p.m., rested, then enjoyed an Italian dinner and shopping on our last evening before heading home. Erin was able to join us after sleeping off her migraine. What a strange day. I guess the next time I blog we will be back in Tulsa and I promise my posts will be shorter. I have many other photos to share and more stories about our trip. You can continue to read the blog if you’re not too tired of hearing about China. I will eventually transition to other subjects, but I’ll be thinking about this trip for quite a while.

Goodnight from East Asia. It’s been an incredible adventure. Life should be full of these.


This has been our first full day in Seoul. Kyle was here in January and couldn’t say enough good things about it, but I had never given visiting much thought. I had many other places on my travel wish list, and the opportunity to stop over for three days at the end of our China adventure seemed like nothing more than a relaxing way to end the trip. I had no idea we would all be so enamored with it.

We began the day visiting Eastern Social Welfare Agency, which is the agency Dillon works with to place babies from Korea. Dillon also supports the many other services that Eastern provides to children and families in Korea. We tagged along with an adult adoptee group that has returned to Korea to learn about their birth country. It is a group of five young adult adoptees from all over the country who were placed by Dillon when they were babies. It was so much fun to spend the day with them. We also had an opportunity to be with families who have traveled here to receive their babies. They had that dazed and blissful look on their faces that we had on ours nine and a half years ago. We spent some time with the director of Eastern, Dr. Kim, and then accompanied the adoptees to a tea-making ceremony and painting class. From there, we hurried back to the hotel to change into nicer clothes for a dinner with Dr. Kim. It was a traditional Korean restaurant where we sat on the floor and were served a seven-course meal (it may have been more than seven course, but I lost count). The food was amazing –kimchi, bean paste soup, root salad, pork, shrimp, cold noodles – to name only a few courses. It was unlike anything we had in China (or in the U.S.) We loved the food and didn’t even mind sitting on the floor!

Tomorrow we visit the DMZ. I’m hoping to have good photos, but there are only certain places and moments where photos are allowed. Should be interesting.

We’re tired, but enjoying memories of a wonderful day. Tomorrow is our last full day of this amazing trip. It’s hard to believe. It’s flown by, but it also feels like months since we have been home. There is so much to think about and process. I’m ready to get home, but also not quite ready to end the adventure. All good things must come to a close, however, so tomorrow will be our closing day. We’re going to squeeze everything out of it that we can.

Goodnight from Seoul.

Cooking in Yangshuo and an Unplanned Stop

I have a very good excuse for not blogging last night. First, I’ll chronicle yesterday. We started early with a cooking class at the Yangshuo Cooking school in Chaolong Village, which is on the outskirts of Yongshuo. The school, although owned by an Australian woman, is real Chinese cuisine. Surprisingly, this was one of Colin’s favorite activities of our trip. Who knew? Our menu was three dishes made from scratch: stir-fried water spinach with garlic, stir-fried pork with vegetables (red pepper, carrots, and onions), egg-wrapped dumplings, a favorite snack of the village children (we used duck eggs and pork for filling), and steamed chicken with mushrooms. The prep and stir-fry took about an hour – each of us had our own wok and cooking area – and then we each enjoyed our created dishes. Delicious! We were all quite impressed with ourselves. It was hot and I’d like to say we are getting used to the heat and humidity, but it’s the kind that takes your breath away. Of course, we were sipping hot tea the entire time we were cooking. Tea is the anytime, everywhere drink. I’ve uploaded photos from our cooking adventure, as well as a few from around the village.

After we finished our lunch, we climbed on the bus for a two-hour ride back to Guilin to catch our flight to Beijing. No surprises – the plane was delayed by about 40 minutes. We were still due to get in to Beijing about 8:45 p.m., which was late, but acceptable. Our flight to Seoul was scheduled to leave at noon the next day. All was going fine as our plane cruised toward Beijing, and then a flight attendant made an announcement in Chinese. Our first hint of trouble should have been the collective response of the Chinese: they began to talk excitedly, laugh, and rustle around in their seats. The English version came next. We were being diverted to Zhengzhou because of bad weather in Beijing. And that was it. We would land in about 20 minutes, and they said they hoped we had enjoyed our flight. We wondered whether we would get another flight out tonight to Beijing once the weather cleared, or maybe we would be spending the night in the Zhengzhou airport. Hopefully it was modern and comfortable. When we landed on a strip surrounded by rice paddy, a wee bit of panic set in. There were no city lights anywhere that we could see. This was not good. We immediately called our Beijing guide, Vivian, who was supposed to meet us at the airport, and she did confirm that there was bad weather in Beijing, but said that it was clearing. We sat on the tarmac for about two hours with Rebecca making several calls to Vivian and handing the phone to the flight attendant so Vivian could find out what was going on. All the planes had been diverted from Beijing, so we were waiting in line to take off from Zhengzhou. We were relieved not to be staying there. Later, Vivian informed us that the city is the capital of Henan province – a very “traditional” Chinese province (translated, poor and backward). “Probably good you didn’t go there,” Vivian said.

We got into Beijing about 1 a.m. and to our hotel a little before 3 a.m. But we made our flight to Seoul today and we are so very glad to be here. We’re finishing the trip with a little family time in a nice hotel suite, complete with a kitchen and washer/dryer. Such luxury! We have several activities planned here, including a trip to the DMZ (the border of North and South Korea) on Friday. Tomorrow we will visit Eastern Social Welfare Agency where we will meet up with a group of Korean adoptees and tour the agency. We’ll also attend a tea-making ceremony and painting class tomorrow. By the end of the trip we should be experts on tea and art!

Seoul is very westernized, and so we enjoyed pizza and scones tonight. I’m actually tired of rice, which is something I never imagined. Everyone is still doing well. Tired, but glad to be saying….

Goodnight from Seoul.