Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009

As Christmas came and went, we were reminded--yet again--of Grace's absence. Every year, we assume "this will be our last Christmas without her," but every year, we have to eat those words.

And, I'd like to say that we've learned our lesson. I'd like to report that this year we have no plans of making such declarations. But, then, I'd be lying. It has to be our year.

There are now just 14 "numbers" in front of us. (For those familiar, we have a LID date of March 15, 2006 and LIDs have been matched through Feb 28, 2006). Again, just imagine being at the DMV (BMV in Hoosier speak), and you are waiting for that little dotted number machine to get to your number. When you walked in and took one of those pronged tickets, there were hundreds and hundreds of numbers ahead of you. Now, as you sit in that uncomfortable chair, there are only 14 numbers in front of you. Now, just imagine--that instead of being called up to "renew your license"--you are being called up to pick up your baby girl, a baby you have dreamed about, prayed over, and have waited anxiously for--for what seems like forever.

It would seem, with 14 numbers to go, that 2009 would be our year. Each month, the Chinese agency in charge calls a set of numbers; sometimes, two numbers are called; sometimes, seven. So, if we do the math, it just has to be our year, right? There is a website, with lots of mathy stuff on it, and it predicts our referral will come in March or April. That would be wonderful. I, personally, think we're going to have to wait until June or July, but I'd gladly be wrong (well, wrong in favor of sooner... not later).

Here's what we can expect as we get closer to the date:

1. There will come a point where we "might" be next. We will wait for a whole month, right on the edge of our seats, hoping the Chinese peeps in charge of this process call a few extra numbers.

2. There will come a point where we get THE phone call from our agency telling us that we have been matched; at that time, we'll get some quick information about Grace: age, height, weight, Chinese name, etc. We'll also find out whether Grace has been raised in an orphanage or in foster care. We hope and pray she's been raised in foster care, but we're prepped for the potential issues that come when a child is raised in an institutional environment.

3. We'll accept the match (duh!), and our agency will overnight a package complete with a full medical history, information about her eating and sleeping habits, information about likes and dislikes, and best of all, her pictures.

4. We'll have 6-8 weeks to prep for travel. Since we are not first time parents and because Bret travels to China frequently, we are not remotely stressed about what to pack or what we'll need. The biggest decision we'll have to make at this point is whether or not we will be taking Grant. We are still unsure.

5. Then, we'll travel to China, have a few days to acclimate, and then, on about day 3 of our 14 day trip, we'll get Grace. She'll be legally ours from that moment on...

6. When we touch down in the United States, most likely in Detroit or Atlanta, and her little foot touches U.S. soil, she'll be an official U.S. citizen.

We can hardly wait to see what 2009 will bring. Grant talks about Grace all the time, as he often wants to play in "Gracie's room." I guess I can't blame him. The poor kid has been sleeping in the orange (yes, I said, orange) remains of Bret's former office and media room. The little guy has had an REM poster hanging over his bed for a few months. Today, as I paint (well, prime and paint--it was orange after all) Grant's room, it becomes even clearer that the crib in the other room is for Grace. The bows that are stacking up are for Grace. The few Christmas presents she received were most obviously for her (pink and polka dot). There's always been a space in our hearts for Grace, but today, there's a space in our home too.

Come on home, Grace. We're waiting for you baby girl.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Post-Christmas Takeaway

Here it is, the Monday after Christmas. I'm back at work here in engineering central with one other poor schmuck who's out of vacation days. The upside is that I can listen to my iPod at full volume without the dude in the cube next to me donning gay apparel in protest (in this case, ear protectors designed for military use).

Grant has not recovered as successfully from Christmas as we had hoped. On Christmas day, Erin and I waited until he went to sleep, then we pulled the tree and all offending decorations down, stuffed them back in boxes, dragged them out to the garage and began pretending that Christmas never happened. We figured we had to let Grant know that this was a very special occasion, not soon to be repeated.

Our success was very limited. He immediately began asking to "do the ad caventer" (Grant-speak for "Advent Calendar.") He also informed us on a minute-by-minute basis that he wanted to "do more presents." Oy.

To make matters worse, our house now looks like a Fisher-Price outlet, and I can't walk down the stairs without embedding a small metal car or army man in the most tender portion of my foot. And don't get me started on the trains. I'm about to inform the Israeli air force that the Island of Sodor is housing a large number of Hamas militants.

I, on the other hand, received nothing from the sheds of Sir Topham Hatt for Christmas. I received a new wardrobe of shirts, a six pack of Goose Island ale, a very nice set of earphones for use on my frequent airplane rides, and a GPS to play with in the car.

As we enter 2009, Erin and I are starting a new commitment to trying to live more carefully within a budget. What this really means is Erin is no longer going to turn a blind eye to my unfettered spending. With this in mind, I decided to join eMusic for the coming year's music needs.

This is a sharp change of tone from my past stance on electronically dissiminated music. In the past, I've been a fan of having the whole package -- the CD, the artwork, the little plastic shell that's already cracked. But now, as we stare at the dual realities of being in our house for far longer than we originally intended and the need to not spend more than $10 per album purchased, I've decided that buying my music electronically is not such a bad option.

So I've signed up for a year subscription to eMusic. This will let me acquire the majority of the music I like for a couple of bucks per album, and I'll be able to fill in the albums they don't carry via iTunes or Amazon. I had a short-lived trial subscription to eMusic seven (!) years ago, but I cancelled it because they only had approximately six albums available, and three of them were by Little Richard. These days, they have the entire catalogs of Merge and Matador Records, so I can probably fill my monthly quota with those two labels alone.

Last night, I snagged the following albums for my first post-Christmas tunes (and to play catchup on some stuff I should have already purchased):

Vampire Weekend - s/t
Snow Patrol - A Hundred Million Suns
TV on the Radio - Dear Science
She & Him - Volume One
Arcade Fire - Funeral

In an effort to keep Erin from dreading the next car trip, I've purposefully avoided purchasing (for the time being) any new albums whose reviews include the words "shrill," "feedback," "shards," or "searing." Those can wait until after Valentine's Day.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas


We hope you all have a wonderful Christmas. We're are so grateful for you, our friends and our family, so thankful that God loves us so much that He gives us gifts beyond measure or belief, and so thankful for our little family.

We're excited to be home this morning, and we can hardly wait for Grant to wake up. Look what is waiting for him downstairs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A student of mine asked if I wanted her brother's old train stuff (he's now 14). Yes, dear student, yes.


We'll post pictures and such when we catch our breath.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I'm Dreaming...

...of a white Christmas.

We'll fill you in on the Ornament Exchange 2008, three Christmas celebrations, the food (no doubt, Bret's entry), trips to the zoo (and trainland!), and much, much more.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Easiest Cookie Ever

I stole this "recipe" (as there are only two ingredients, I'm not sure it counts as a recipe) from this blogger, and while I just love to bake, there are times when you're in a pinch, and these cookies are a go-to in these situations: like when your husband tells you about pitch-ins at work at 11 pm the night before, or, surprise, you're up for snacks at preschool, or, "wow, I expected that homemade biscotti to fill up that Christmas tin... now what do I do?"

Peanut Butter Dreams
150 calories or 3 points each on Weight Watchers

Preheat oven to 350.
Really Grease mini-muffin tins (Pam or whatever).
Scoop premade peanut butter cookie dough (in a tube in grocery store) into tins.
Bake 8-10 minutes.
While baking, unwrap mini Reeces Peanut Butter cups; do not wait.
After removing from oven, press cups into the soft cookies shell.
Let cool completely and remove.

These are great kid cookies, in that kids can help. Grant even likes to unwrap the Reeces cups (for about 1 minute... and I do end up with gold foil flecks all over the floor). Also, there are at least two cup removing casualties per batch, so it makes for good eating while you're working. There is one key, though, so be warned: do not overfill the tins with cookie dough... you just want the dough in a ball about half way up the side of the tin (that took some practice).

I've been encouraged by a friend (hi, Alison) to put up some healthier recipes, and I'll try... maybe.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Laundry Skillz

I do all of the laundry in our house. Erin bathes, feeds, and provides Grant with the skills necessary for him to become an acceptable, even productive, member of society. I do the laundry.

In this capacity in our household, I have learned to deal with several, shall we say in such a way as to not sleep on the couch this evening, quirks peculiar to Erin in this regard.

First, all of Erin's clothes are black. All of them. She has blue jeans, but they're dark. She has a stray pink or yellow T-shirt, but they're badly worn at this point in an effort, no doubt, to ensure that they are soon replaced by similar black options. At times, I feel like I'm doing laundry for Morticia Addams or Johnny Cash. If Erin removes her shoes and walks across our family room floor, it ends up covered in little black pills from her black socks. Our carpet ends up looking like raisin toast. I have encouraged her to vary up her color selections, but as a male engineer, my words carry little weight.

Second, Erin never unbuttons anything at the end of the day. She really is ridiculously flexible (which irritates me no end because I can't get off the commode without pulling a muscle). When she comes home from work and decides to change into her home garb, she goes through a series of gesticulations and convolutions, waving her arms and legs about in what looks to the rest of us like some sort of Houdini escape act, until all of her clothes are in a heap at her feet -- not a single button or zipper dislodged. It's truly an amazing feat. Perhaps someone in our family can ask her to give a demo after Christmas dinner.

Third (and most astounding to me) is that after my dear, sweet wife removes her, uh, underpants (as we say in the holler), they end up looking like a silk or cotton baton. I don't get this at all. At the bottom of every hamper is a little pile of what looks like baby blue or light pink fruit rollups. They don't even look like underwear anymore. They're just a little wad of completely rolled up fabric. I have to pin one end of them down and spend ten minutes unrolling them like a Biblical scroll before I throw them in the wash. I've tried to make my underwear do the same thing, but I cannot. I've pulled them off real fast. Nada. I've pulled them off slowly. Nothing. I go to the gym, sweat for an hour (or perhaps 12 minutes) then yank them off as I hit the shower. No go. I have no idea how she makes her shorts do this, and I guess I'll never know. (Especially since I have a strange feeling that after this blog, I may never see her underwear ever again.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Class of 1993

Yesterday, one of my best friends from high school left a comment on this blog with a link to her blog, and in one amazing cyber-minute, we were reconnected. How did we conduct life back then in Elk Grove, California in 1993?

Endre (yes, that's her name. She has spent a life time spelling it for people, defending it to others, and wearing it proud... and I don't blame her) is now married with three kids (figures), is still gorgeous (figures), and thin (figures), is in to yoga (figures), reads really great books (figures), is still full of sass and spunk (figures), and is really, really, really funny (figures).

It's validating to reconnect with old high school friends. It's validating to know that I picked good ones. No, seriously. High school wasn't exactly my shining moment (I'm still waiting for that, by the way), so it's good to know that despite my freakish height, total insecurity, loud mouth, and bravado ways, I had cool friends who were good people... well, not just good. Smart and funny too.

Endre has a blog of her own (Rants in My Pants) which is laugh out loud funny. No really, I laugh out loud with every single post. So, when you look to our friends and family section, you'll see my new and old friend Endre, a most important and humorous edition to the site.

Our Morning Breakfast

Here's a long, long interview with Grant, mostly about trains (as that is what we talk about most). It's really only for time-honored fans! I'm trying like mad to get a video of Grant singing some Christmas songs (or his version of Christmas songs which usually only includes about the first four lines), but this will have to do for now. There is talk about that mysterious penguin who lives in his ear... and plenty of talk about trains. He does mention Kai, as he calls her, which is JaKai, his birthsister we just visited with last week. It was a great visit with his birthmom and two sisters! It's such a joy seeing them, and Grant loves them tons and tons. Other conversations include Africa, school and his breakfast of choice. It's fun times in the Hawkins' home.

video

Grant does love his youtube songs, and if you have kids, they're nice: green anaconda, the umbrella bird, the iguana, mr. rhino, etc. He loves them, and if you have tivo, you can pull them up via the TV... nice touch.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Just so You Know...

...if your new personal trainer asks you where you are sore, it's a trick question. If you answer honestly, pointing to various muscle groups, but then admit that--while tired--your legs are not sore, she will do really mean, mean things to your legs. I made it home, but as I climbed my own stairs to the shower, I had to alternate lead legs just to get up the stairs. And don't think for a moment that I didn't put my hands on my knees for added propulsion.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

All Kinds of Fun


He loves it for about 1 minute at a time... but it's got to stay in the middle of the kitchen floor because those 1 minutes come along all throughout the day. He's getting so big.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I Can't Get the Soap Out of My Hair

Today, I did a very dumb thing. Sure, for some people, it might be a step in the right direction, but for me, it was dumb. Very dumb.

This morning, I rolled out of bed, put on my shoes, headed to the gym, and--here it is, the dumb, dumb, dumb thing I did--hired my fat butt a personal trainer. She was small (go figure), cheerful for the 5 am shift (go figure), and she seemed relatively nice.

Looks can be deceiving. She was mean. Really mean. I thought we might tour the gym, drink coffee (really needed) and talk about my goals; I thought we might even lift a few weights, if we had time.

No such luck.

She's a tricky one... that little sprite of a personal trainer. I would think we were done, and then I'd hear dreaded phrases like this: "Hold it, for just ten seconds," "Now, let's do pulses of that," and my least favorite: "Now, let's turn that stretch into something else."

I don't want to turn that stretch into something else. The only athletic ability I have is flexibility, so I want to sit my tired rear down on the mat and touch my toes. It makes me feel good about myself. I don't want to stretch AND do a squat or a crunch at the same time. And, if I hear one more word about my "core," I'm going to go after that little-fleece-and-athletic-pant-wearing-wonder. I don't have a core, and if I do, it's buried. Really buried. So, let's just leave it alone for a bit, okay?

Needless to say, I made it home this morning, and somehow, I had enough energy left to turn the knob to the shower. Unfortunately, I realized as I tried to lift my arms to both put in and rinse out the shampoo, I was already sore.

I'm going to see this Melissa, as she calls herself, on Monday and Friday mornings. Nothing says fun like "I don't think there's enough weight on that one" or "don't forget to breathe" or "tighten up that core."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Another Recipe Winner

Are you ready for the easiest way to get rid of leftovers? This idea shouldn't even be legal.

Here it is: refrigerated pizza dough. Now, say with me.

Buy a tube of refrigerated pizza dough. Cut it into matching rectangles (I cut it into four, but if you have small kids, you can cut the dough into smaller rectangles.). Every rectangle needs a partner (a bottom rectangle and a top rectangle).

Fill it with stuff. I'll come back to this point. Seal up the dough, bake at 350 for 14 minutes. Serve with salad and soup.

Okay, so it's nothing more than a glorified hot pocket, but it's dreamy easy and dreamy good. My first venture included cheese, ham slices and ranch dressing. Presto: a hot ham and cheese hot pocket. But don't worry; I've got tons of ideas. Any meat leftover works (spagetti meat sauce, chicken curry (recipe to come... if you can handle the heat), sloppy joe mix (or what Hoosiers call--wait for it California people--Spanish hamburger), beef strogonoff sauce). All you need to do is add a binder: a cheese, for example. You can stuff them with veggies, roasted peppers, lunch meat, pepperonis.

It's as easy as can be. Bret loves them, and they even reheat okay. Next installment: the easiest cookies ever.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

My Little Guy

Today, after picking up Grant from his little Thursday morning pre-school class, we had the following conversation:

Grant: (complaining) I dropped my manifying (magnifying) glass. Mommy get it.
Mommy: I can't get it, Grant. Mommy's driving. (much wailing [from Grant, of course].)
Mommy: (after a bit) Grant, what were you looking at with your magnifying glass?
Grant: Angels.
Mommy: Oh, where do angels live?
Grant: In Africa.
Mommy: Oh.
Grant: (a stop sign later) I see a penguin.
Mommy: Where?
Grant: Over there.
Mommy: Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo (Grant laughs; this "I see a _________ over there" is his current form of joke telling).
Grant: Now the penguin is in my ear.
Mommy: You have a penguin living in your ear?
Grant: No, now he lives in Africa.

It all makes sense now.

Here's a video from the wedding. I know it's dark, but here's a little sneak peek at Grant dancing it up at Bret's cousin's wedding. Too cute!


video

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Holiday Wrapup

OK, so let's see. On Thursday, we ate a lot of food with Erin's parents out at the Kopper Kettle. On Friday, we drove to Bedford and saw a bunch of people I'm related to, as well as their offspring. Grant played with some trains and some cousins, and I got to catch up on the latest game of "Pin the Tail on the Hillbilly" courtesy of the Police Log in the Bedford Times-Mail. On Friday night we drove from Bedford to Louisville, with a brief stop at 10pm at a Taco Bell in Salem, Indiana in an effort to make Grant stop screaming, "I want a quesadilla!" No kidding. What 23 month old child says "quesadilla?" It's ridiculous. It's even more ridiculous that we actually stopped. As I tossed his second dinner to him in the back seat, I half expected, "Where's the hot sauce, pops?" to come out of his mouth.

On Saturday morning, we awakened to a lovely day in Louisville and a 10 hour break before my cousin Nicole's wedding. While Erin and Grant slept, I checked work email and staked out a breakfast haunt called Toast on Market. It got rave reviews online, and it was close to our hotel. We headed that direction at 9am, and when we arrived, we knew we'd hit a gem. I ordered a pretty standard omelette that was wonderfully prepared, while Erin ordered an item on the menu called "The King." The King was french toast stuffed with peanut butter, bananas, and mascarpone cheese. Sound too rich and heavy to be edible? I agree. But it tasted unbelieveable. It really might be the best piece of breakfast food either of us has ever eaten. Erin let me have a few bites of it, and if Grant hadn't been getting antsy to head back into the outside world, I might have been inclined to order a second breakfast. It was amazing.

After Toast, we headed back out to an antique store we'd passed up the street on the way to breakfast. Joe Ley Antiques turned out to be an adventure in itself. They had five or six floors of antiques, and nearly all of it held some sort of interest for Erin and I. It was fascinating. Everything from old furniture to architectural salvage stuff like doors and window frames to old signs to old instruments to gently used caskets. It was a hoot. We turned one corner and found ourselves in front of a case full of old toy trains. Grant literally put his hands on his knees and yelled, "OH...MY...GOSH!" After briefly trying to encourage him in the use of the word "goodness," we let him bask in the glow of the antique toy trains. He pocketed a toy caboose for home and made nary a peep for the rest of the morning.

Already noting that the morning had turned out to be an unexpected joy, we made a brief stop in Jeffersonville at the Schimpff's Confectionary. Grant was, again, spellbound by the all of the different kinds of candy and the art of making candycanes. In the end, he declared that he wanted Chicken McNuggets for lunch, so we made the obligatory stop at McDonald's.

On Saturday evening, my cousin Nicole got married in Louisville, and I got to catch up with lots of the Hunter side of the family that I don't see very often. Nicole looked happy and lovely and glad to be married. Me? I was just happy to have gotten to spend a great couple of days with Grant and Erin, and I spent a little time reflecting on how blessed we are as a family while I watched Grant show everyone his dance moves at the wedding reception.

We relaxed on Sunday and headed back into the work week on Monday. December is a BUSY month for all of us. Erin has the end of her school semester to deal with, and I spend the month preparing for the 2009 model year and CES. Life is a whirlwind, as always.

My next blog entry will be titled "That Thing Growing on my Face" or "Why You Shouldn't Do Surgery On Yourself With An Exacto Knife." Hurry back now, ya hear?.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Budget

Our gas bill (for the car... not the house) went down this last month by 225 dollars. Dreamy.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Holiday Pictures

I'll let Bret describe the holiday happenings, which include but are not limited to: the best meal of my life, lots of crazy cousin fun, antique shopping, a beautiful wedding, lots of dancing and one kid figuring out how to use the sit and spin. But for now, pictures will have to suffice.





Sunday, November 30, 2008

Right Now

"Right now" is one of Grant's new phrases. Yesterday, we were leaving the hotel when Grant started screaming and crying (a full blown tantrum) because he "wanted Christmas right now!" "Right now" is my least favorite phrase in the English language. It takes all of his needs (and mostly wants) and elevates them (or at least he thinks it should) to priority numero uno. So you can expect our reflections and pictures from the holiday weekend, but you're not going to get them "right now." Welcome, as I say to Grant, to "Mommy time."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

From our home to yours: with talk about trains, Oprah, Jesus, and his teachers (Miss Carla and Leigh.
video
We are thankful for so many things this year--for family and friends, for a God who loves us, and for our little family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don't Ask




Nothing says "current fashion" like the naked hat look. Is it all the rage where you live?

Monday, November 24, 2008

I can't keep up

Grant isn't talking in just words anymore, so it's impossible to keep up the chronicling of all the things he says. He still, though, amazes me with some of the words he uses. For example, today he saw the very first picture of the three of us (taken day 2 of Grant's life). Grant's response: "that's us in the hospital." Hospital? Where did he get that? Or today, I asked him if he wanted milk or water for dinner. His response: "No, I want a Diet Coke." He's never had a Diet Coke, but I guess he's willing to try.

Grant recognizes his name when spelled on paper or spelled aloud for him. He then pretends to spell words. He says: "I-W-E-M; that spells Daddy." Then he shakes his head, looking down and goes: "Oh me." I think that's one you've got to see, but while not funny to you, I just had to get it down so I'll never forget it.

I counted today, and he Grant knows the names (and can identify) 19 of the Thomas the Tank Engine characters. For those of you without a toddler boy in the house, I guess you're wondering how there can be so many of those blasted trains, but let me tell you, there are many more, and Grant is bent on learning every single one by name. I bought him a Thomas book the other day at Half Price Books (my favorite store ever), and he already can repeat entire lines out of the book: "Gordon is a big, strong engine." It's too cute.

Grant also has figured out stop signs, and every time we pass one (which is quite a bit, you know), he tells me, "stop, Mommy, stop; there's a stop sign."

The scariest of all, though, happened tonight as Bret was flipping on the TV. Bret went to the main Tivo page (I'd give up a lot of things before I'd give up my Tivo). On it, there's a main menu, and at the bottom of the screen, it read: "Order Pizza through Tivo at Dominos." It had the Dominos Pizza emblem.
Grant walked up and pointed to it and said, "Pizza, Mommy." I asked him to point to it again because I just wasn't sure he knew what he was talking about, but sure enough. Scary.

By the way, we have ordered pizza through Tivo--just in case you were wondering.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Delayed

Sorry, but a nasty, nasty bug has us feeling under the weather... really, really under the weather. We'll be up and running soon. Okay, we'll up, at least; running--who are we kidding?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Easy and Good

I love to cook and to bake. But, to be honest, I don't really have the time in a given work week to make standout meals. Sure, I can boil some pasta, bake some chicken or toss up a salad, but the cooking I'd like to do often has to wait for special occasions. So, I've decided to start a new post, and any faithful reader out there is highly encouraged to participate.

I'm going to provide a recipe (from time to time) that is a winner. But, here's the catch: it has to be super, super simple, the kind of recipe you make, but then as people compliment it, you almost feel guilty because it was so easy. There will be no food processors, very few dishes, and lots of smiles. I share these recipes, and so will you, with the assumption that the owner gets dibs. If we're going to be at a party together, you don't get to make my dip, or my soup, or my pasta. You can make it in your home, share it with your friends, but when our lives intersect, I call dibs.

Buffalo Chicken Dip
(and I don't even like Buffalo Sauce)

1 block cream cheese cut into cubes
1/2 cup blue cheese dressing
1/2 cup buffalo sauce
1 cup cooked chicken (I used precooked chicken from Costco)

Put in microwave safe bowl, and cook for 5-6 minutes (until cheese melts), stopping very often to stir. Serve with Frito chips, crackers, celery sticks, etc.

What about you? Do you have a recipe to share? If you do, just type it up in your blog, and I'll link to you!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Sixth Sense


The other day, Grant visited the local nursing home with my parents. Grant loves to go hang out with the people there, and it doesn't hurt that the nursing home has a cool aquarium or a huge cage of birds. Grant is very sweet with the residents, giving them hugs and pats on the leg. We tell him before he goes that we're going to "go see the old people who are very lonely and need lots of love." He translates that with his big heart to mean leg pats and hugs and lots of jabbering, which I think is a pretty fair translation.

This last week, the story goes that Grant added a new skill to his visit. I guess he ran up and down the halls, pointing at the people in their wheelchairs, yelling, "I see old people. NeNe, I see old people."

Luckily, I don't think the residents cared... or for that matter, heard.

In other news, yes, Bret is back, as we have failed to blog, and Grant and I are happy he's home. Bret caught an earlier connection out of Newark, so he made it home before Grant went to bed. When I realized Bret would be home before bedtime, I made the mistake of telling Grant that Daddy had a present for him. While he's grasped the "how to be nice to old and lonely people" ability, he still doesn't get the whole "it's better to give than receive" idea. He spent the next TWO hours whining about wanting his present. When Bret got home, Grant sprinted to see him, threw his arms around his neck, and screamed, "Daddy." One hug and one breath later, and Grant said, "present for Grant?"

At least he says thank you, I guess; sometimes, he even says it without prompting.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Headin' Home

It's Tuesday morning here in Shenzhen, and I'm due to fly back to the U.S. tomorrow morning. This is always a good day at work. You get up, have breakfast, checkout of the hotel, go to work, go to lunch, come back for an hour or two, and then head for Hong Kong for the final evening.

This has been my second good trip to China in a row. I got a TON of work done, ate a lot of great food, and probably most importantly, I'm leaving with more friends than when I arrived last week. I can hear the nervousness in Erin's voice when I tell her each night how well things are going, as she assumes this to mean, "Oh great, more trips."

I've tried to convince her that this is a GOOD thing. If I'm going to have to come over here, I might as well enjoy it, and these last two trips have been pretty enjoyable. Plus hopefully she knows that while I have enjoyed my time here in China, I'd always...ALWAYS...rather be home with her and Grant.

Yesterday I took a brief trip up to our factory in Huizhou. Huizhou is a small city of a million people just a couple of hours north of Shenzhen. It was nice to see a little more of the countryside.

I went with a colleague who I've known for a couple of years named Alex. We also were accompanied by a new colleague named George who is moving into the role previously held by Alex. Both guys are in their late 20's and are very personable. Alex is getting married this week, so I've been telling him what a wonderful experience that has been for me. He's concerned because his new wife is a big shopper, apparently. Since I can't get Erin to buy new ANYTHING, I can't really relate, but alas.

When we arrived at the factory, Alex bailed out for a meeting, so George and I had to hunt around for lunch. George had never been to Huizhou either, so this turned into an experience. Luckily we found a place serving the cuisine of northwest China, and it turned out to be excellent. Here's a pic from lunch:

In the back, you can see fried chicken. This is then dipped in spices as you eat it and was quite tasty. On the left side you can see what are basically like tortillas, then you put the beef and vegetables on the right side in the tortilla, and it's very similar to a fajita in the U.S.

Back by the chicken you can see a bowl which contained some sort of pudding that was in little cubes. It didn't have a lot of taste, so I only tried a few bites. The final item closest to the camera was a bowl containing tofu and duck's eggs. The eggs were hard boiled and then placed in some kind of gel. It tasted better than it sounds, but it definitely took a little getting used to. George informed me that this dish is very special in China.

After lunch, we toured our factory. Here's a shot of the inside. It looked just about like every other factory I've been in:



In front of the factory was a large apartment building with many restaurants in the bottom floor. Apparently this building is over half occupied by people from our factory alone.

After the tour of the factory, we returned to Shenzhen where I had the rest of the evening to get packed up for my return home. I'll be arriving to a new airport terminal in Indy, which I suspect will feel a little bit surreal. Hopefully my luggage doesn't end up in the old terminal.

Gremlins, House Elves, or Toddlers?

Can someone explain how a contraband box of Halloween candy (Charleston Chews... what are those anyway?) ended up empty in my bathroom sink? Or how a piece of petrified chicken nugget ended up at the bottom of my Ugg boot? Or how several finger puppets ended up in my purse?

I think I know who is to blame.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Window of the World


After two days of using it to get around, I've now decided that perhaps the Shenzhen city bus is my favorite mode of transportation here. You can ride all the way across town for $1 US, or you can cruise around the local Nanshan district here for under $0.25 US. If you can stand the occasional crowd and small seats, it works wonders.

This morning I hopped the 113 to Window of the World, Shenzhen's premier tourist attraction. In a city developed entirely in the last 30 years, there are few historic sites. Therefore Shenzhen has built several interesting theme parks to keep the crowds entertained.

I won't be able to do the park justice, but Window on the World features miniature versions of dozens of world landmarks. The scale is inconsistent, so you spend all day towering over some things, and gazing up at others, but the place as a whole is a hoot.

Here is a woman attempting to sit on Angor Wat, one of Cambodia's finest historic sites:

The Taj Mahal:

The Sydney Opera House:

And Niagara Falls (doubling as a drain for the toilets, no doubt):

The whole things was fascinating. I even took the plunge and ventured to the top of the 1/3 scale Eiffel Tower, which can be seen for miles. Here's a view of Shenzhen from above:


Interestingly, the Manhattan skyline still featured the WTC, so it is apparently in the process of being redone in another location in the park. They're also adding the Golden Gate bridge and numerous other attractions.

My picture didn't turn out, but they also have an indoor ski center. It was short, steep, and featured some sort of icy frozen substance. People were careening down it at high speed. I considered making a few runs, but decided that without having mapped out the location of the nearest ER, I'd better pass. Overall though, this was a delightful, if not rather bizarre, experience.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Fairy Lake


No, really. My butt just doesn't cut it. I look at other people, and when they sit down, they have at least a little bit of padding. Not me. I've been told I got it from my dad. Who knows. All I know is that I spent an hour and a half (each way!) traveling to the Fairy Lake Botanical Garden on a Shenzhen city bus today, and I felt every bump on my little plastic seat. Those buses don't even brake for speed bumps or bodies, and I know I lost at least a little bit of bone on the ride out there. The whole way I kept thinking, "Hmm...If I could get some kind of 'gut-to-buttectomy' I'd be a happier man right now."

In any case, the botanical garden was a lovely experience. It was sort of like a giant state park, complete with trails, a fairy lake, lots of Chinese people, and one out of place Hoosier dude. I'm quite sure that I was the only westerner in the park today. It was a beautiful day to hike around -- right around 72 degrees with a steady breeze. Since the park is located up in the hills, it doesn't feel nearly as claustraphobic as the rest of Shenzhen. Today was one of those days where despite REALLY wanting to be with Erin & Grant at Chuck E. Cheese, my job didn't feel quite so bad.






Tomorrow I'm headed over to Window of the World. It should be equally entertaining.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Banner Afternoon


Mama's had a bit of a stressful week without Daddy, so when Grant woke up this afternoon happy as could be, I made a rash decision. We changed and packed up in ten minutes, and we loaded into the minivan. After a long walk along the White River, we ended up going to the Indiana State Museum (I have a free Educator's pass, and Grant qualifies for the glorious "2 and under" free category).

The museum provided lots of space to run around, but except for the Woolly Mammoth and its remains and the old steam engine, Grant cared more about the elevator buttons and the other kids than he did the museum. You can't blame him; the entire third floor was an exhibit on the history of the Girl Scouts. There was a cool canoe, but on the whole, he couldn't care less about those green sashed do-gooders (well, except for those cookies that come each spring).

Then, just to exhaust him further, Grant and Mommy had a date at Chuck E Cheese. Yep, I said it. I paid my twenty bucks, got a salad and a pizza, and loaded up a cup of gold tokens. But, this is what I realized. Chuck E Cheese might be a parent's best friend. Had Bret been there, we could have had an entire uninterrupted conversation, as Grant ate pizza and watched that dancing mouse. He watched the kids, the TVs, and even danced in his high chair. He loved every single second of it. He didn't care if I talked to him, helped him eat or even looked his direction. I could have read several chapters of a book. See, you think it's going to be terrible, but truth be told, it'd be nice to have a conversation with my husband without having to draw a happy face, cut up apple slices, or pick up chunks of chow off the floor.

Grant LOVED the guy dressed up as Chuck E (is that right...? It just feels wrong), and he didn't need any tokens, as he just enjoyed climbing up into the cars and pretending to drive. There was one "game" (I say that hesitantly as there was no real way to win or even to compete, but it still gave you tickets) where Grant got to push a lever and watch a train go round and round for 35 seconds (it actually counts down for you like it's a pop-a-shot game). It doesn't do anything else, and there's no real point, but Grant loved it, and I guess that's all that matters.

We ended the evening with a quick run to Grandma's (NeNe in Grant speak) church to hang out with some people with special needs. Grant had a good time playng basketball, eating ice cream, and charming everybody. But now, thankfully, he's snoozing in bed, and Mama isn't far behind.

Some pics from our outing:
Cousin Kate bought him these supa' fly glasses a long, long time ago, but he's just started wearing them (as opposed to throwing them, biting them, or trying to bend them like a gumby doll).


Nothing says "a fun afternoon" like a wigwam.


Notice that both buttons have been pushed, and don't think that I haven't heard "is everything all right in there?" once or twice from INSIDE the elevator. "No, I am so sorry; my son just hit the alarm button."


I thought he was scary, but Grant seemed to love the large mouse. Can anyone say trip to DisneyWorld? There's an even friendlier mouse there, Daddy.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I can't feel my underwear

I've been in China for going on two days, and I still cannot feel my rear end after sitting on the plane for the 16 hour flight from Newark to Hong Kong. I'm not kidding. Every morning I wake up, roll over and think, "Can I feel the sheets? Nope."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Talking Up a Storm

This video cracks me up because it's so random. Sorry for the bad camera work, but I was holding the camera, talking, and trying to deal with an all-too-mobile toddler.

A couple of cute things to notice: further discussion of his birthmom, which makes me happy. His reference to God (who was Grant's final decision for president). I asked Grant tonight: "Grant, who is going to be the new president." His answer: God. That's deep. I think it comes from his first memorized Bible verse: "God is light" found in 1 John 1:5. He says it all the time now, and it just melts my heart. But, if you wait until the end of the video, you'll notice that God does have his place... and in Grant's world, it's pretty close to cheese. I think cheese is pretty darn important too.

video

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

I showed up to vote, like I always do, at 5:50 in the morning. Several times, I have been the first voter in my district. With all the media hype, I thought I might be about 20 (dare I say, 30) people back, but nothing prepared me for the HUNDREDS of people in front of me.

I think voting, no matter your candidate of choice, is so important, so I was really excited, but as excited as I was, I was under-prepared for the frigid temps in my flip flops.

I love election night, but with Bret boarding a plane for China as I type this, I will be by myself tonight. But, don't worry. I am planning my own Election Night party complete with a sleeping toddler, leftovers and a bottle of wine. I'm going to watch those California (shout out to the mothership home state) come in, even if it takes until the wee hours of the morning.

Like Mommy, Grant is really into the election too. He identifies Barak Obama (which he says perfectly) and "Cain" (which he doesn't say perfectly) every time either is on the TV (which is a lot). But, when I ask him who he is voting for in the election, I get one of two results (clearly, he is an independent, bi-partisan voter who waits for all the info to come in before he casts his ballot): NeNe (my mom) or, as of late, birfmama (birthmama). He's been talking a lot about his birthmama, as we call her, lately, and I think he might be on to something. In the end, she'd be a great choice for president.

We'll see if she gets enough write-in votes to be a contender.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Piano Man

Grant loves to sing, but getting a complete song that can actually be understood has been a long time coming. Here's a quick video (so many more cute ones to come in the next week) of him playing the piano (he likes the accompaniment) singing his version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." See if you can follow along at home.

video

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Pumpkins, Candy, and Grandparents, Oh My

Well, Grant had a great second Halloween. He loves candy now, especially M & Ms and Skittles. He could care less about candy bars, but suckers are high on his list of great things in the world. But more than all of it--more than the costumes, the candy, the neighbors--Grant loved to pass out candy... especially with his Papoo (that's my Dad in Grant speak). Grant had all four grandparents over, so it was pure attention bliss.

Here are a few photos from the evening. I even used a slr camera in hopes of getting some decent pics, but Grant is constantly on the move, and just getting him to look at the camera is hard enough.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Stuff

Here are a few of the pics of Grant dressed up in last year's costume for the cold, bald-headed ZooBoo last weekend, and here he was last year in the same costume.



We'll have this year's costume posted on Friday. Grant practices trying to get candy everyday. "Skittles, please, Mama" or "Trick or Treat; get candy from all those houses," he says as he points up and down the street. He's really excited.

I have a couple videos coming of Grant (to die for cute toddler singing), but for now, oversized toddler bee pictures will have to do.

Oh, and gas was $1.82 today. I usually don't pay attention to the price of ANYTHING (if I need it, I need it), so I didn't think gas could make me so happy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Weekend

Since Erin is still sobbing and actively watching Grant's scalp for the slightest signs of hair recovery, I thought I would go ahead and do a post about our ridiculously busy weekend. (And in case you're wondering, telling your wife a tale about how sometimes when you cut a toddler's hair, it never grows back, is only funny looooong after your toddler's hair has actually recovered from a mishap like ours.)

Erin's fall break was Thursday and Friday, so we made a trek down to Cincinnati with Nene and Papoo (Grant's names for the inlaws). First stop was the Newport Aquarium. Having been to other aquariums, I was ready to be delighted at watching Grant enjoy mother nature's underwater wonderland, as well as ready to be gagged by the stink of rotting fish flesh and alligator poop. I have to say that the Newport Aquarium was a far better than average experience as a parent. They had tunnels beneath many of the displays where you could watch the fish swim overhead. It was neat because somehow the glass used made the fish appear to be sort of floating in mid-air. Grant loved the up close views of sharks and sea turtles, and the lack of crowds meant we got through the aquarium in relative haste.

After the aquarium, we made our way to a restaurant in Sharonville called Vincenzo's. We gorged ourselves on salads, pasta, various seafood specials, wine, and dessert. Nene and Erin had to move Papoo and Daddy back to the Sheraton using a fork lift. Highly recommended.

Friday morning we made our twice-a-year stop at IKEA (which according to Eric is pronounced "icky-uh" in Singapore). Grant was fairly tired following a night of light sleeping, and by the end of our Swedish furniture buying experience, Erin and I were tired and somewhat at our wit's end. Luckily Grant ate enough of a hot dog to return to his normal, cheerful self, so we pressed onward.

After IKEA, we visited a place called Jungle Jim's International Market. We didn't really have time to take this whole place in, but it's basically a giant grocery store. Actually it's a REALLY giant grocery store -- think the size of a Meijer but with ALL groceries. They had an "international foods" section the size of our Wal-Mart. We raced around, already running late, but I did get to pickup a six pack of a Bell's product that I'd not prevoiusly seen, so I'll be enjoying that this evening.

We made our way back to Indy and dropped Grant off with Mamaw and Papaw. Erin and I were helping with a pre-marital retreat for our church, and Grant was spending the night with his grandparents. The retreat went well and Erin and I were again reminded multiple times that we're rapidly aging. Suddenly when people who are getting married are in their early 20's, Erin and I are 10+ years older than them. How did that happen?

On Sunday we took Grant back to the zoo with his cousin Brakston for the ZooBoo. Since Grant had previously gone as a train engineer (and had since lost all his hair) he went as a bumblebee using last year's costume. The bumblebee costume comes complete with a head covering, so it serves the dual purposes of keeping his head warm and keeping him kosher with various fundamentalist religious groups.

All in all, a very busy but very enjoyable fall break. I'm sure Erin will post pictures when she stops crying.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Uh Oh

We just returned from a BUSY weekend. I'll post more about all that later, but first, we have some bad news.

Last night Erin informed me that it was time to cut Grant's afro. It was starting to look like the buffet at Golden Corral, and he was scratching at it a lot. She also informed me that the guard for our clippers was broken. I told her that since we cut Grant's hair close anyway, we should do it carefully without the guard.

So this morning at about 8:00am while I was still lying in bed, I heard the trimmer start. By the time I got to the kitchen, Grant looked like the victim of a flesh eating disease. There were patches of hair missing everywhere, and there was a large strip cut to the skin on the very top.

I worked with it for a while, through Grant squirming everywhere and Erin sobbing. Finally I gave up. I told her that I thought we'd reached the inevitable. I went and got my safety razor, a fresh blade, and a can of Edge gel.
What I immediately noticed was the similarity to these dudes:

(I've always referred to these guys as "the butt heads from Star Trek.")

In any case, it didn't turn out THAT bad, and Grant is enjoying touching his head and yelling "NO HAIR!"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Digital TV transition

Given that I work in the television industry, the upcoming transition to digital TV is a big deal, to say the least. The video below has been floating around work, and it cracks me up every time.

Papaw -- This one's for you. You can thank me at Christmas for having had a hand in creating this mess. :-)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Grade Night

I'm sitting right now at Grade night (or parent teacher night in some parts of the world), and thanks to the beauty of wireless internet and my mobile tablet, I'm writing this as I wait for a parent to sit down. But, seeing how I'm part-time, I don't have nearly the parent load I used to have.

But, that's not the point. The point is that I have seen at least three parents tonight that I swear are younger than I am. I am looking at a guy at a neighboring table who is talking to one of the math teachers. He's young, hip, wears an earring, and has a goatee. He looks about 30, maybe even 29. And he's not alone. I actually had a parent sit down to talk about her student, and she didn't introduce herself as the mom, so I thought she was the older sister sitting in as a proxy.

Gone are the days where my students see me as hip, in the know, or even close to being "one of them" (I was never "one of them," by the way). My students are almost 20 years younger than I am, so I guess it should come as no surprise that I am starting to look more like their parents than I am them.

But, I'm still freakin' out here. I'm 33. These people can't be much older. But they're having conversations about geometry grades and college options while I am talking about pooping in the potty, big boy beds, and covering one's mouth when coughing.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lessons in Life

This weekend, Grant learned a lot of new lessons about life.

Lesson #1: Be wary of lions.

On Friday evening, we took Grant to the ZooBoo at the Indianapolis Zoo. This is a yearly opportunity for small children to dress up in little flammable costumes and to parade around the zoo in search of voluteers handing out candy contained in wrappers destined to eventually be improperly discarded and choke an increasingly rare species of wombat.

On this particular Friday, we ventured first to the lion cage. We immediately noticed that the lions were actually visible, something rare to our zoo. Usually the lions are chilling out in the back of the "forest" playing cards or maming a handler. But on Friday, two big lions were close enough to the fence to make things exciting.

There was a large crowd of parents and plastic costume adorned toddlers hanging out watching the lions prowl around, looking for discarded Kit Kats or Twizzlers to eat. We watched for a couple of minutes, at which point the male lion appeared to notice something on the back of the female lion. (At least I assume it was a male with a female, although Indiana is becoming increasingly liberal.)

A moment later and the lions were, uh, thoroughly enjoying each other's company. Horrified (and probably a little jealous), all of the mothers began gathering up their children and making a mad dash for slightly less inclined species like the rhinos or sea urchins.

Rather than kill the mood, Grant, my father in law, and I watched the entire show...even through the credits. The whole thing lasted maybe 30 seconds.

"Boy, that was fast" stated my father in law.
"Get in, get the job done, and get out. I like his efficiency" I remarked.

At this point, Erin returned from a discussion with a zoo employee about where the trick or treating was taking place to inquire as to why all the OTHER parents were rounding their kids up and getting out of dodge. I explained the situation to her. She was a little astounded that I had let Grant stay through the whole affair, and she was a little more mortified at my comment above. I noted that there were other fathers chuckling, but she was still not pleased.

Lesson #2: Dudes don't bellydance.

After our visit to the zoo, we made our way to our favorite Greek restaurant in town -- Santorini's. I dig Santorini's because they give you enough food to feed the entire Greek army, and I also like it because they have a bellydancer on weekends.

This Friday was no exception. About half an hour into my gyro and "baba noush" as Grant called babaganoush, here came the finger cymbals and cellulite. The dancer immediately showed an affinity for Grant, and he took kindly to her blond hair, ample bosom, and tingling cymbals.

After a few minutes showing Grant how to gyrate his hips, my father in law slipped her a bill. I'm sure Grant will appareciate having learned how to "tuck a buck" at such a young age.

Lesson #3: Model trains won't get you dates.

On Saturday morning, we took Grant with my parents to a model train convention at the state fairgrounds. Grant is IN...LOVE...with "Thomas the train" these days. His first words this morning were "Thomas the train...all day long." It's ridiculous.

The train exhibition was a dream for Grant. There were several large model train layouts and various other things put together by single men, including a large scale replica of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Indy 500 day done in Legos. My friend Eric was way into Legos when we were growing up. But then he discovered boobs. Apparently some guys never get the new playcall. I told Erin at one point that I was quite sure that there were more prosthetic limbs than wedding rings at this particular convention, but alas.

In all fairness, everyone was very nice at the model train convention, and there were lots of people with toddlers running around looking for displays without "DO NOT TOUCH" on them every 3 ft. One can only imagine the horror of spending 11 years in the basement creating a scale replica of the B&O, only to have it destroyed in one fell swoop by Toddlerzilla.

Grant had a wonderful time at the convention, and afterwards, we went for his new favorite food -- Chicken McNuggets. That's my boy.

To cap the evening off, I showed him how to roll his own cigarettes and left him in bed with a dirty magazine. I figured with the way the rest of the weekend had already gone, why stop now?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Learning His Letters and Fall Fun

Recently, Grant has taken up a love for pointing out letters and numbers; sometimes, he's right, and sometimes, he's wrong, but he's getting better and better. Here's a short video clip of Grant identifying letters (and sounds too). My favorite part comes later in the video (and you've got to listen closely) when Grant says "thank you" and "welcome" (Grant speak for "you're welcome") back to back. He knows they go together, so sometimes, he just does your work for you by saying both of them.

video

He's also starting to speak in sentences more than words, which as an English teacher, I just love. Yesterday, while hiding from Bret, Grant said, "Daddy, I see you over there." Now, if I could just get him to identify the subject and the verb, I think we'll be on to something.

Here are also a few pictures from a week or so ago. I wanted to try a pumpkin patch suggested by a friend, one with all kinds of fun stuff for kids. We got there as it was closing (which I now realize is the trick), so there was no charge to go in. We spent about 30 minutes roaming around as the last of the paying patrons made their exit. It was perfect... and cheap.



Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Banner Weekend



Well, I'm sick again. Yep, that icky viral infection that plagued me a week or so ago is back. The high temps, the swollen glands, and it's fun, fun, fun.

But, before the craziness began, we had a great weekend. On Saturday, we visited with Bret's cousins: Boomer, Heidi and Erin (and aunt Penny too). In addition, Grant got to love on Brakston, his cousin just about 6 months younger. We ate, went to a pumpkin patch, and had a blast.

In addition, Grant transitioned to a twin bed. Ever since the surgery back in September, Grant has been a horrific sleeper. Bret sat in his room the other day and discovered that Grant is so large and moves so much that he often gets his arms and legs stuck. So, we pulled out an early Christmas present (his Thomas the Train sheets), and we buckled down for what might be a hard transition. Thankfully, it's been seamless, no problems whatsoever... plus full nights of sleep. What a blessing.