Sunday, August 25, 2013

Letters to My Daughter - End of Summer


It's 6:30PM on Sunday night.  You are laying on the couch next to me falling asleep.  I'm sitting here dreading going back to work tomorrow.  You went back to school on Tuesday but my going back officially signifies the end of summer.  We've had such an amazing summer.  It makes me sad to see it go but I know that we both need to get back to structure, routine and bed times!

It was so great for both of us to have this time together.  We had the same amount of time together in the winter but I think we were both so in shock that we didn't really get to enjoy it.  This summer was all about fun, family, and being together.

I learned so much about you.

*I learned that you prefer to stay up late and sleep in.  We got back into our habit of staying up until 9 and sleeping in until 8.  You are definitely struggling to get back on a school schedule.

*I learned that you do not like to be hot.  Bogota is so high that it never really gets hot there.  You've been outside for a couple of hot days this summer and you become very crabby.

*I learned that the only thing that makes you crabbier than being hot is being tired.

*I learned that you are an amazing traveler.  You have been from one end of the country to the other this summer and have done amazingly well.  You seem to thrive on travel---just like your mom.

*I learned that you love to swim but you have no idea how to do it.  You want to be let go in the pool but you don't even try to stay up.  You just sink like a rock.  I learned that you need to take swimming lessons soon.

*I learned that you don't really know how to play with children your own age.  If you can't be in charge, you don't really know what to do with other kids.

*I learned that you love people and love to meet new people but you still want mom nearby.  Even in the midst of playing, you will come check in with me to make sure that I am sharing in the excitement.

*I learned that you like people on your terms.  You aren't fond of people who are too in your face.  You prefer the ones that are ignoring you.  You like smaller groups of people and can get overwhelmed in a big crowd.

*I learned that you are even more famous than I thought and that you charm everyone you meet.

*I learned that 5 sounds so much older than 4.

*I learned that you have no idea what a birthday is but you love the attention that it brings.

*I learned that bandaids don't fix your owies.  They actually make them worse in your mind.

You've learned a lot too.

*You've learned so many new words.  You can say Mom now.  You call me that all the time when it's just the two of us but switch to Natty when other people are around.  Sleeping (seepin, seeping) is one of your favorites along with "Wait."  We were all pretty sure you were saying "Zip It" when we were camping but I haven't heard that one in a while.

*You've learned how to unbuckle the seat belt on a plane and in a car.  This is a problem.  I think you're going to be in your 5-point harness seat for a while.

*You've learned not to be afraid of falling water.  You will now play in sprinklers and take a shower.  You still don't really like the rain but it doesn't stress you out nearly as much as it used to.

*You've learned that sometimes we stop at a gas station just to get gas or go to the bathroom.  We don't get a snack every time.  This was a heartbreaking lesson for you to learn but you seem to get it now.  You get so excited when you do actually get it snack.  It's precious.

I have absolutely the best summer with you.  I loved watching you meet so many of the important people in my life and charming each and every one of them.  I loved the days that we got to sleep in and cuddle in the mornings and the nights when I let you fall asleep on the couch next to me.  I loved taking you to almost every kind of medical specialist around and having almost all of them tell me that you are doing amazingly well and completely healthy.  I loved that my only job this summer was to be your mom.

Sadly, summer can't last forever and I have to earn a paycheck so we can continue to have fun.   I can't wait to see what the fall brings for you.  I'm excited to see you play soccer and take swimming lessons.  I'm excited to see how much you learn in school.  Most of all, I'm excited just to be your mom!


Friday, August 23, 2013

The Things I Wish I Had Time to Explain....

On more occasions that I can count, I have been given unsolicited parenting advice.

*Sometimes it's very direct.  "You know that your child is way too big to be in a stroller, right?"

*Sometimes it's less direct.  "I just took one of your french fries.  Get over it.  You need to learn to share."  

*Sometimes it's from complete strangers.  "Does she belong to you?  She shouldn't be touching people.  Have you ever told her not to touch people?  Tell her not to touch people."   

*Sometimes it's from friends and family.  "She's not eating any vegetables?  Don't you make her eat vegetables?"

*Sometimes it's from doctors.  "You need to set limits.  This is cute now but won't be later.  Kids with Down syndrome still need boundaries."

I sometimes wish I had time to stop and explain a few things to these well-meaning people.

Here's the thing:  All of those issues are valid.  She shouldn't hit or touch.  She should share.  She should eat vegetables.  She needs limits.  She is taller than the stroller.  These people are well meaning and usually right.

Here's the other thing:  I don't have it all together.  I don't know everything about parenting a 5-year-old with Down syndrome.  I regularly seek advice from others:  other DS moms, friends with behavioral experience, other single moms.  I'm pretty good at managing behavior in the classroom but parenting is so different.

Here's the BIG thing:  My child has issues.  She is not a typical child.  She is not a typical 5-year-old with Down syndrome.  She is a child who spent the first 4 1/2 years of her life in an institutional setting who is still learning English and also has a disability.  She may seem like she's completely adjusted and doing well.  Her transition has been amazing and she is adjusting so well but there are underlying issues the result from the first 4 1/2 years of her life.  They aren't major issues like some kids face.  They are hard to see but they are very real and they make parenting her different.

When you start the adoption process, you are required to do some training and to read some books. I took an online course about adopting an older child.  I remember being shocked that my 3-year-old (at the time) was considered an older child.  I now know why.  My child spent 4 1/2 years of her life in multiple settings.  They were good places but she was never parented and most likely got very little 1:1 attention.  There are some results of that they we will continue to deal with into her future.

These are the things that I wish I could explain to people when they give me unsolicited parenting advice:

*My child has a lot to learn.  
Sara has come so far and learned so much.  I don't think she left the orphanage much so she doesn't have any concept of social norms or appropriate public behavior.  She's matured so much.  I can now run into the gas station or drug store with her for a few things and not have to strap her into a stroller.  She knows (but doesn't always like) that she has to hold my hand in a parking lot or on the street.  There are so many rules and social norms to learn.  I can't teach them all at once.  We work on major issues that come up.  The more minor stuff is going to take her a while to learn.  When she steals fries from a random child in Portillos, I make sure she knows that's not ok.  Some of the other things she does are not ok but not as urgent.

*My child has issues with food.  
No little child likes to share food but Sara's issues go beyond this.  Emotionally, at this point, she can not share food.  If food is placed in front of her, it is hers.  She is willing to share food with me if I divide it before placing it in front of her.  Once it's in front of her, it's off limits.  If her ice cream cones is melting and needs to be licked, that's just too bad.

If you take her french fry, she WILL melt down.  It's not because she doesn't want to share.  She will gladly take two lollipops at the doctors office and give one to me.  She will not, however, let me touch hers.  She even has a hard time handing me things to be opened.  She does not want to let food out of her hands.

I don't know how food was handled in her orphanage.  She wasn't growing much.  Maybe she didn't get quite enough.  Maybe she had to defend her food from other kids.  Maybe she got in trouble for taking other's food.  I'm not sure.  But I do know, that she is very protective of her food.  Someday, I may choose to work on sharing food with her.  Right now, leave her fries alone!

*My child thinks everyone is her friend.  
When a child lives in an orphanage setting, they "know" everyone.  Staff may come and go but everyone there is "safe."  They can talk to anyone they meet and ask everyone for help.  Sara doesn't know that strangers exist.  Yes.  She will touch and hug everyone she meets.  No.  It's not appropriate.  It's something we are working on.

*My child hits.  
I don't think that this is entire the result of orphanage life.  Some of it is due to her limited verbal communication skills and her developmental stage.  This is probably my main focus right now and something she is doing so much better in.  She used to bite when she didn't her way.  She hasn't done that in a long time but she will hit or slap me if she's overwhelmed in a situation or if she doesn't get her way.  This is not acceptable behavior and my reaction to it is consistent based on her reason for hitting.  I think when people see a 5-year-old hitting, they assume the parent has allowed them to hit for 5 years.   Not the case in our situation.

*My child needs to be carried.
Sara has grown 3 inches and gained 9 lbs since January.  She is not the tiny little toddler I met 8 months ago.  Carrying her is getting more difficult every day but I still do it.  I realize that it probably looks ridiculous but I think it's so important for bonding.   I'm sure she wasn't carried much as a young child.  (Developmentally, she still is pretty young.)   Her stamina has greatly improved but she doesn't always want to walk, even when she physically can.  She's learning that she can rely on her mother to meet her physical and emotional needs. So, as long as I can and as long as she needs me to, I will carry her.

*My child is still learning English.
Sara understands a lot of English but she pretends to understand more than she really does.  She will answer yep or no to any question you ask, even if she doesn't know what you said.  It takes years to master a language and speech is definitely Sara's biggest struggle.  Sometimes when she doesn't listen or obey, it's because she just doesn't understand.  She really is a good kid and almost always wants to do the right thing.  I will switch to Spanish if I really want to her to understand something.  She's not being defiant.  She's just confused.

*My child is learning about limits.
Sara is learning all about limits and consistency.  When you are being parented by a staff of people, it's hard for them to be consistent.  When you only have one parent, it becomes much easier.  (Not that I'm as consistent as I would like to be but one person has to be more consistent that 10 or 20.)  Sara is responding well to limits and rules.  There are just so many rules to learn!  She can't be expected to learn them all at once!

*My child is experiencing everything for the first time.  
Pretty much every experience right now is new for Sara.  Birthday parties, parades, picnics, restaurants, parks.  They are all new.  She doesn't know how to act in a situation because she's never been in it.  There are lots of stories of adults doing offensive things in other countries because they didn't know the social norms.  Imagine how many obnoxious situations you could get into in Africa or the Middle East and we're adults that can read social cues!

I've thought about getting a shirt made that says:  "It's only been 6 months.  You should see where we started!  Cut me some slack!"  Maybe I'll just get cards made up with the blog address instead and hand those out.....

Monday, August 19, 2013

August Adventures - Part 2 - California

After we finally got out of Adult Time Out, we made our way to San Diego.  We spent a couple of hours visiting with Anna's cousin until my sister came to pick us up.  (We were early since we got through customs so quickly.)  When we got to Janelle's house, her roommate had a Snow White dress and doll for Sara--and she didn't even know it was her birthday! 
Sara felt that Snow White should be in the picture.  

Tuesday was Sara's 5th birthday!  
She really didn't seem to know what that meant but she loved all the attention she got.  

We spent her birthday at the San Diego Zoo with Janelle, Anna, and Jonathan.  (I realized that he does not appear in one of my pictures.)  

Examining the turtles.

The panda bears were pretty much my entire motivation for going to the zoo.  

With the panda bear! (She was not nearly as impressed as the adults!)

Isn't that how everyone poses to check out the zoo animals?

The birthday girl on the SkyTram.  She LOVED it.  (Notice that the cute birthday bows are already gone.)

A little nervous at first.

Look what they gave to Janelle as we got off the SkyTram.  (I'm sure it was for Sara but it was a lot more fun to mock Janelle for her inability to wait in line.)  I wish we'd had it when we waited in line for the Pandas.  Sara does NOT wait in lines well.  She does not believe in personal space.  She will stand so her toes are touching the heels of the person in front of us.  Or, she will weasel her way through the line to find a new family to stand with.  She does it easily and then I have to try to squeeze through and get her.  She also likes to sit down and refuse to move.  When I pick her up, she flails and flops---inevitably kicking someone else in line in the process.  I think that waiting in line will be a skill that we work on for a while.  

She fell asleep on the bus tour of the zoo---which was kind of the point.  We were all hot and tired and wanted to sit.  There was a line of sleeping children by the time the bus stopped.  

She wanted a picture with the lion---as long as mom was in between her and the lion.

We had a stroller with us but this is definitely her preferred method of transportation.  She was not a fan of the huge hills at the zoo.

We went to Tommy's diner for her birthday dinner.  What more can a girl ask for than a hotdog and ice cream?

She makes some AMAZING faces in this video  

In our drives between San Diego and Janelle's house in Orange County, we passed through Camp Pendleton.  The sign on this tank on the highway scared me a little bit.

The next day they were blowing things up on the side of the highway.

On Wednesday, Janelle had to go back to work.  So, we went to Zoomars with Janelle's roommate.  It was the perfect place for Sara.  She loved it!
Mango Smoothie in a cute San Juan Capistrano coffee shop.  Perfect way to start the day.

A pen full of guinea pigs is almost my worst nightmare.  At least they hid in the corners so I didn't have to worry about them running over my feet or anything.
Sara clearly loved it!
She is so kind and caring.
She did NOT want to hold them, though.  Good girl!

She loved the train!  She waved like Miss America in a parade the entire time.

She spent a solid hour in the corn bin.  I wanted to my dad to build her one but he informed me that it would attract rodents.  If you know me, you know that I DO NOT like rodents.  (I found a dead mouse in my house once.  It took me forever to get the guts to scoop it up with a dust pan and dump it in the trash bin outside.  I then puked on it.)

Yesterday I did our laundry from the trip.  I found a kernel of corn in the bottom of the washer.  I wonder if that was the last one.


She was exhausted by lunch time.

Our flight didn't leave until the afternoon on Thursday so we spent the morning chilling with Anna and Jonathan.  Sara has decided that bangs are annoying.

Anna's teaching her all about Pinterest since her mommy refuses to begin another on-line addiction.  

Our flight home was, thankfully, uneventful.  We had a minor run in with some rude people at the airport who stole our prearranged taxi but we just squeezed ourselves into a tiny cab with all our stuff and made it home with no problems.  

I found this in my suitcase when we got home.  Of course the TSA searched the same bag as the fruit dog.

Friday, August 16, 2013

August Adventures - Part 1 - Baja!

So, before I was a crazy, single, adoptive, blogging, special needs mom, I was a crazy, sun-seeking, flip-flop wearing "missionary" in Mexico.  (I say "missionary" because my life there was pretty cushy.  Not like missionaries in African huts or anything.)  I met some amazing friends down there and spent every free moment I had there from 2005-2009.  Vacations, summer breaks, and even a school year.  (I actually blogged about it on a Xanga blog that has probably since been deleted.)  

I met my dear friend Anna down there.  Neither of us have been there much since we left in 2009.  We were looking forward to visiting and showing off my new daughter and her new fiance.  We've been planning this trip forever!  

So excited to be responsible for two US Passports on this trip.  

Loaded into the cab and ready to go.  She was not too thrilled about the early morning thing but she is always up for the airport.  

She always does very well on planes.  Surprisingly well.  (Well, except for when she intentionally poured my Diet Coke in my lap.... Maybe Nana's been telling her how bad it is for me.)  After a four hour flight, she fell asleep ten minutes before landing.  It set a pattern for the day.  She fell asleep ten minutes before we stopped for lunch and ten minutes before we got to the last rest stop before the mountain drive.  

Riding on the shuttle bus to the car rental place.  She looks like she could be a California girl!  

On a side note, do not EVER rent from Thrifty/Dollar in San Diego.  I've hated Dollar for years.  I thought we were renting from Thrifty.  I've always liked them but apparently they combined with Dollar.  Bad move!  We waited for over an hour outside in the sun to get to the counter.  We were then told that they didn't have any cars left.  (Why weren't they telling the huge line of people that?)  They "found" a couple of SUVs we could choose from but charged us twice what we had planned to spend.  The entire experience was a nightmare but the thought of shuttling back to the airport and trying another company made me want to cry so we paid up.  The line was just as bad when we returned the car a week later.  The staff said it's always like that.  How frustrating to get off a four hour flight and then stand in another long line!

Sara did pretty well in line--except when a plane flew over.  The first time she freaked out and planted her face into the butt of the man in front of us.  Awkward!  Especially since we had to stand behind him for another hour! 

We made it to In-N-Out burger for a very late lunch.  Sara was very excited that we finally decided to feed her.  Personally, I don't understand all the hype.  It's just a burger but Jonathan wanted to try it and Sara loved it.  

We had a very uneventful trip south.  We didn't get stopped at the border or any military check points.  We had to make a few extra stops with the munchkin but Anna and I know where all the usable bathrooms are.  (And the ones you can use if you really, really, REALLY have to.)  

We stopped in to check in with our friends Andrea and Ricardo.  It was so good to see them and Sara and I were very blessed to be able to stay with them.  It's so nice to have a "home base" when traveling with a child.  A hotel just isn't the same thing.  

We stopped at the mission to check in with our friends there.  Of course, everything took longer than we had planned.  By the time found a taco place that was open, Sara was EXHAUSTED!

On Friday, we got up early and went to devotions at the mission where we used to work.  It was so good to see everyone in one place!  We then stopped in and checked on our old students.  And they are OLD!  It's amazing to see how much they have grown and changed in 4 years!  

Unfortunately, something about the mission and the learning center triggered something in Sara.  She did NOT like it there.  I'm not sure if it was all the Spanish or the institutional setting or the complete exhaustion but she freaked out--especially in the learning center.  It was not pretty.  She made it very clear that she did not want to be there.  Because of that, I didn't get to visit with my students like I wanted but Sara's needs definitely come first and she needed her mommy in that moment.  I carried her out to the playground and assured her over and over that she was safe.  Mommy was not going to leave her here.  Mommy and Sara were visiting and then we would leave.  TOGETHER.  She calmed a bit after that but was pretty vigilant when ever we were on the mission grounds and wanted nothing to do with anyone who was speaking Spanish.  That was definitely one of the moments when I wished she had more verbal skills.  I wish I knew what triggered those feelings of panic in her.  

Anna and I joked that were really going to Baja for the food.  (It's kind of true.)  There are foods there that you just don't find anywhere else---like fish tacos.  (Don't turn your nose up.  They're amazing!  And I'm the worlds pickiest eater!)  We gathered a group of friends together and headed down to the taco stand in town.  Of course, there were other people there as well and we all crowded into the little stand.  Randomly, one man looked at Sara and said "she looks adopted."  Ummmmm?  What???  I mean, she is but how in the world did he know that?  I hear all the time that she looks just like me.  It was the weirdest thing.  (He later asked if we were down in Baja to drink for the weekend.  Why, yes.  I always take my four year old to Mexico to drink.....)   I also had my old supervisor ask if she was really my daughter or if I adopted her.  I informed that she really is my daughter because I adopted her.  (The things people say....)  

Sara and Micah watching the animals!  They rotated that, Annie and Glee.  They both LOVE to dance!  Micah was fascinated by Sara.  She prefers people that don't try so hard---and people that don't try to steal her shoes!   

Reading a book with Kevin.  

Watching Monster Trucks with Micah and his Daddy.  

The best group of staff the Day Home will ever see!  
These girls were my amazing co-workers when I lived in Mexico.  We taught some really great kids with special needs.  These ladies worked tirelessly creating curriculum and activities to teach children that were not being educated in the public school system.  I miss working with these girls and being inspired by them!  

(Not sure what those faces are....)
Saturday morning we went to Shipwreck beach for breakfast.  I've heard people talk about the amazing breakfast there but have never made it out there.  It was just as good as every one says.  The French toast was phenomenal.  

Checking out the Pacific Ocean.  We've seen both of the oceans this summer!

Hanging with Mommy and Tia Anna.  

Contemplating life.  

We had planned to go to the beach but it was crazy windy.  Fortunately, Micah has a pool.  These too were incredibly happy and didn't fight or argue while they were swimming.  

How many people can you put on a couch?  
A big part of trips to the Baja involve slowing down for a bit and just BEING with people.  There really isn't much to do there (besides eat).  You are forced to slow down and just enjoy being together.  And watch Human Planet.  

Hanging out at Andrea and Ricardo's house.  

Ricardo took the kids out to play.  They both ended up in the pool fully clothed.  I can't say that I was surprised.  This girl LOVES water.  

Sara ate this chip and then started begging for water.  Apparently the salsa was a little much for her.  
On Saturday night, Ricardo's brother had a concert for the release of his CD with his band Press One.  It was at a local restaurant so we headed over for dinner and some music.  Sara had a blast dancing away to the house music before the concert started.  Poor baby was so tired that she was asking to go to bed before the concert actually started (an hour and a half late).  So, we didn't actually get to hear them play but my burritos de machaca were great!  

It would seem that they were tired of Human Planet.  There were looking for a different DVD.  (It's not often that Sara looks so tall!)  

Sunday's lunch involved cheese quesadillas and guacamole.  (Even those taste better down there!)  Sara helped me make the guac and then ate some---even though it was GREEN!  (She did pick out all the tomatoes, though.)  

We told them we were going out for tacos.  They had their shoes on in record time and were waiting for us at the gate.  I think I may have to install one of those.  It's very handy.  No random dogs in.  No kids out.  Win/win.  

Andrea gave her a lime to lick because they forgot to make her quesadilla.  She loved it!  

Only some of the kids come to the learning center on Fridays so we stopped back on Monday morning to see my two boys.  Sara is playing on the playground with Uzzi since she didn't want to go back into the learning center.  At this point, he's begging her to slow down!  Notice the difference in how they are dressed.  The differences between Americans and Mexicans are very apparent sometimes.  And, my child refuses to ever admit she's cold.

The great kids that I used to teach English to that just aren't kids any more.  I'm so proud of how much English they have learned.  I still maintain that's the most important skill they can learn!

Anna and Jose.  He's so grown up!

Anna and Lupita.  I have known this little girl since she came into the clinic at 3.  She has a heartbreaking history but such a great future!

My little Martin just turned 8!!  I taught him back when he started in the learning center after just turning 3.  He did nothing but cry all day.  He couldn't do anything for himself.  He drank from a bottle and showed no emotion towards other people.  The only time he reacted to anything was when we turned on his road at the end of the day.  I watched him learn to feed himself, drink from a cup, give hugs, and recognize people outside of his family.  I almost cried when I watched him pick up his pencil and trace some lines.  He's come so far but I swear he still recognizes me.  His face lit up!  Sadly, my little Angelito was sick that day so I didn't get to see him.

After our visit, we loaded into the car and headed to the states.  I volunteered to drive through the mountains so Anna ended up in the back with Sara.  (I prefer to be in control of the car as it winds up and down.)  

Tia Anna has a hard time saying no to Sara.  

I have mastered the art of playing dumb at the military checkpoints.  You want them to think you speak a little Spanish since you are driving in their country but you don't want to let on that you are fluent.  If you do, they ask a lot of questions.  So, when they ask where we are coming from, I mumble that we came from Zapata and are going to San Diego.  I then pretend I don't understand their next question.  (It's helpful that they all mumble so it takes me a second to process.)  They then tend to let me go.  I can't imagine getting Sara out and standing on the side of the highway while they search our car.  Maybe they didn't want to deal with it either.  Maybe that's why they let us go.

I stopped driving just before we got to Tijuana.  I HATE driving there.  I always get lost.  ALWAYS.  EVERY SINGLE TIME.  So, I got out and jumped in the back with Sara.  Anna decided to tackle the awful city.  She got lost.  Really lost.  Every sign that we saw that pointed to the US was on a road that was blocked off.  We know how to get to the border but all our usual routes were blocked.  The poor GPS was working over time trying to find us a route.  We were all getting a little frustrated.  TJ is not really a safe place to be lost.  

We finally found a sign that said USA so we made an illegal U-turn and got in line.  I saw the Sentri signs but it was too late.  We were in the line.  I wasn't really sure what Sentri was but I knew we didn't belong in that line.  18 minutes later we were at the booth.  (The wait is usually HOURS!)  We handed the guy our passports and he informed us just how wrong we were to be in that line.  Sentri is a program for people who cross the border frequently.  They go through background checks and interviews to pay for a card that allows them to cross easily.  We explained that we were not from California or Tijuana and that we were really lost.  We didn't mean to break the rules. 

He put that yellow cone thing on the windshield and sent us to Secondary Inspection.  They brought over a "fruit dog" that supposedly found something in my suitcase.  They completely ripped it apart.  There definitely wasn't any fruit in there.  They kept asking things like "were you eating an apple when you packed this?"  Sara alternated between wanting to pet the dog and yelling at it for being in my suitcase.  Both of these things were unamusing to the agent.  After a while, they said the bag was fine and we would have to wait while someone processed our paperwork.  Sara was starting to wander between cars so we were allowed to put her back in the car.  

She watched a movie while we waited for them to "process our paperwork."  After a while, we realized that we were the only ones with a yellow cone.  And the only white ones.  And the only ones not getting processed and leaving.  It was then they we realized we were in Adult Time Out.  No one would make eye contact with us.  No one would even look our way.  Finally, after about an hour, someone came over and processed our paper work.  He told us that if we do it again, it's a $5,000 fine!!!  We reiterated that we really were lost.  We weren't trying to skirt the line.  We had no where else to be that day!  We weren't in a hurry.  He basically told us that they made us wait for a while since it wouldn't be fair to let us go too quickly since we didn't wait in line.  He said that because we weren't local they believed that we were lost and were going to let us go this time.  They let us go exactly one hour after we got in line.  

*Just in case anyone important sees this, we really do understand how serious of an offense it was.  We would never intentionally do such a thing.  We really were very lost and frustrated.  It WON'T happy again and we are very grateful for the grace shown to us.  None of us have an extra $5,000 lying around!  

After finally getting to the US, we spent a couple of days in California hanging out with my sister and celebrating Sara's birthday.  Check back for that post.