Monday, September 30, 2013

Dear Daddy, Come Home

I intercepted this letter from Willow to her dad. Adam is in Beijing (Saturday morning--Tuesday  night) for a teaching conference. 

Dear Daddy,

 Please come home. You've been gone for three days, and I don't know why. When I go to bed at night, you tuck me in and sing songs with me. We read about the moon, and you make sure I have my favorite stuffed kitties and bunnies. But then I wake up and mom says you're at 'school'.

It seems like you've been at school for awhile! When are you coming back? I like to call your cell phone and talk with on speaker phone. I am just so crazy! I like to ask you what you're doing, and I'm usually eating eggs or watching a movie or something.

Dad, when you're not here, mom has to clean up all my messes, feed me, play with me, change my diapers, take me outside, wash my face and brush my teeth. She has to do all those things for Noah too.

Today, I got in trouble because I was being disobedient. I wouldn't go inside to eat lunch. I told mom "no" and to go away. When she told me to eat my snack of applesauce at the table, I sat on the couch instead. She didn't know right away, because she was still in the kitchen--so I decided the couch would be prettier with applesauce all over it. The carpet too. So I got in trouble two times today.

I almost got in trouble three times, but I think mom was too tired to be consistent. I put cheese all over the place. It looked good. I painted the table with ice cream. That also looked good. I'm an artist, but mom keeps destroying my work.

I met some kids outside today. One girl gave me lots of Hello Kitty stickers. I went down the slide with a little boy. We also screamed as loud as we could, and hit the road with sticks. I saw a baby and a girl and tried to get them to play with me, but it didn't work out. I got to pet some puppies. They had freakish teeth, so they made me nervous. I told them to "Get Down!" like I learned on the farm, but they didn't understand English.

Dad, tonight I didn't get to read a book before bed. Noah was screaming, so mom sang a song really fast and that was it. Huff.

Did I tell you that I only like to hold Noah if he has a clean diaper? If he has a poopy diaper, I make mom change it first. Poop is gross. Except my poop isn't gross.

Every time the phone rings, I think it's you that's calling. Every time I hear someone walk into our building, I think that it might be you. I want to set a place at the table for you too, but I guess you can eat where you are right?

Dad, don't forget to get the moon for me. I almost have that book memorized. So I can read it by myself, but really it would be better if you read it to me. Mostly, I miss you playing with me. Mom doesn't know how to be crazy and wild and she isn't as fun as you are. She is so boring.

When you get back, we're going to have a dance party.

Love you,


Willow, reading her favorite book 


Birthday Thoughts

Last week, I turned 26 years old. It was one of those uneventful days, in that I spent the majority of my time changing diapers and wiping spit-up off my shirt. But I am learning to find joy in those seemingly mundane, tiresome, gross tasks. These little people have added many blessings to my life.

As a brand new mom, I used to pray that the days would go by faster. I was so bored or tired or exacerbated by being a stay-at-home mom. Even though I've always loved this role, sometimes I just wanted a break! Okay, honestly, I always want a break. This constant need-for-a-break leaves me feeling lazy...but breaks are awesome. Life was SLOW.

Now, caring for an infant with many needs while I have a toddler with many demands has lead to non-stop action. There's rarely time for housework, sleep, or any kind of down time.

The days go by FAST. Every year, time seems to grow shorter.

At 26 years old, with two little ones, I pray not that time would go by fast (because I need a break!), but that I would be able soak in the joy of each moment. I don't want time to slow down or stop. I don't want my babies to stay babies forever. I want them to grow up and move-on with their own lives (sniff, sniff!). What I really want is the wisdom to find peace and joy in each present moment.

Wow. Both of my kids just woke up at the same time. Two crying kids...I'm already being put to the test with my lofty aspirations of finding joy in each moment.

I know I fail at this ambition often. But the times when I have been able to enjoy life unconditionally, time doesn't seem too slow or too fast. It seems just right.

Sorry to be gross, but I had to go get my screaming baby....and this is how he thanked me. Real life testing out my recently typed idealism mid-post: this is real life.

Birthday Happenings

My birthday started like other days: battling Willow to a) eat breakfast, and b) eat at the table and not the couch. Also....the lighting in our apartment makes all the pictures look weird.

Willow and I baked pumpkin dream cupcakes with maple cinnamon cream cheese frosting. It took forever with my very helpful helper. Adam bought a kitchen aide mixer from some departing friends this summer. He totally surprised me with this purchase! How fitting that I used it for the first time on my birthday. I didn't think about the perfection of that until afterwards--it was a great present to have smooth frosting without breaking my arm. I was in shock with how easy it was...cutting down the mixing time by an hour, I am sure.

I look forward to using this mixer a lot!

We made these for my birthday, but also for the group of friends that comes over every Tuesday.
I didn't get a picture of all the completed cupcakes, or of the delicious chocolate cake with creamcheese frosting (also made from scratch) that Adam had a friend bake for me. Adam is full of surprises! Thank you for the cake, Kirstin. If you are reading this, I could have eaten the whole cake.

Besides being the first person to tell me happy birthday, in the middle of the night when Noah was crying...Adam also gave me jewelry. He thinks of everything.
The earrings and necklace are the gemstone for Noah's birth month. Last year, Adam gave me earrings with Willow's birthstone.

It was super hard to take these pictures since we have terrible lighting in our apartment. I couldn't really manage a good picture of the earrings. And I couldn't decide which picture of the beautiful necklace to

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Passport Baby: Round 2!

Noah's passport picture

Side Note

Wow. I am so behind in posts. How I think about, and plan, what I will write about is by the pictures I take. I don't think I take "too" many pictures--but it's probably a few hundred per week. Since I haven't really updated on common-life stuff since before Noah was born, and since we did add a new life to our family--I have THOUSANDS of pictures to go through. There are so many pictures that I want to share from the past seven weeks that I'm feeling overwhelmed. Should I just skip all those fun memories and start with a fresh slate, or should I try to catch-up? That would be a lot of editing and uploading time. A lot of posts to share as well. Is it worth it? For my own memory's sake, probably yes. But realistically, I wonder if it will happen.

Painful Passport Process

Willow's passport process was one of the most excruciating times in my life. Aside from labor, anyway.

You can read about the passport nightmares I had with Willow here and here.

There were 3 factors that made getting Willow's passport unusually difficult.

  1. Adam was in China. Meaning, I was the one on the newborn schedule, trying to figure everything out, not getting enough rest, getting up super-early to travel downtown everyday, and dealing with all the complications and detours. Matters grew worse when the consent we needed from Adam to apply for her passport was notarized incorrectly, leading to several extra trips to the passport agency downtown and a bunch of trouble for Adam in China.
  2. I had no idea what I was doing. Never having done this before, I was doing my best by researching the fastest routes online, and spending hours on the phone (bureaucracies like to put you on hold for undetermined amounts of time). We had to figure everything out one step at a time.
  3. It didn't matter what I would learn from agencies over the phone or online, once I was in their offices I usually found out ADDITIONAL information that made it impossible to apply for documents that day. I would have to turn around, go back home, get the additional info they requested, and try again the next day. This lead to lots of money wasted on gas, parking, food, and expedited service fees.

Fortunately, I wrote about everything that happened, including all my mistakes, on this blog. Which became a valuable resources to us the second time around. Furthermore, Adam didn't go to China without me. He stayed and helped with the whole process. Since the process of acquiring Noah's social security card, birth certificate, passport, and visa was so much 'easier' this time around--he thinks I am lying about how difficult it was to get Willow's paperwork completed!

Here is a list...I guess of mistakes we avoided and praises for details we had no control over but that the Lord took care of on our behalf.

Noah's Document Journey

  1. We made sure that the hospital checked the box on Noah's birth certificate application that said that we would apply for the social security card ourselves. This had been an issue with Willow, since SS thought we were trying to apply for two cards, so that we could sell one on the black market.
  2. Noah's birth certificate was ready to pick-up in five business days, instead of the 10 we were told it would take. Adam picked the certificate up with no problems, and didn't make the mistake I made with Willow's (having them stamp the certificate with an extra stamp that I thought China required).
  3. We only had to wait a maximum of 2 hours at the social security office--that feels like forever with an infant less than two weeks old, but at least it was doable. We also knew to bring a certified medical form from his pediatrician that stated our baby was in fact Noah Johnson.
  4. When we applied for his social security card, we had all the correct documents. But we were told it would take 4 weeks to receive Noah's social security card. At this point, that was very bad news, since we were going to be flying to China in 4 weeks time. But, by some sort of miracle, we recieved his social security card in the mail only one short week later!
  5. It is very difficult to take a passport picture of infant that's two weeks old. You need his eyes to be open, for his face to be neutral, for the proportions to be exact, for the lighting to be perfect, for the background to be was the most stressful photo shoot. I was not a happy person. But the picture that we ended up capturing, editing, and getting printed at Wal-Mart was a success.
  6. The next step was to apply for Noah's passport. By looking at what went wrong with applying for Willow's passport, we made sure we had EVERYTHING we would possibly need at the federal passport agency. There was hardly a wait on the day that we went, and we were not too late for our appointment (although we cut it pretty darn close--I had to go in with Noah while Adam looked for parking in downtown Chicago). We applied for the passport within a few minutes, there were no preliminary issues with the application, the passport picture we presented was satisfactory, and we received no phone call later that week telling us that there were problems with our papers (like we had last time).
  7.  While we were downtown, Adam and I walked with Noah (minus a stroller or baby carrier, because we forgot it) to another federal office; the Index Department. We actually passed it up accidentally, and had to backtrack a bit. But finally, in the sweltering heat, we made it to the Index Department, which can certify the authenticity of a birth certificate. I had a bad experience at this office two years ago. Anyway, it all worked out within five minutes, and we had the document that we needed in order to get Noah's birth certificated authenticated at the Chinese consulate.
  8. The day that Adam went to pick up Noah's birth certificate (it was a four day wait because of Labor Day weekend), was a success. The passport was ready when they said it would be, and Adam's name was called at the correct time. Unlike the time when I had to wait four hours with a hungry newborn to pick-up Willow's passport.
  9.  Adam tried to apply for Noah's visa the same day that he picked up Noah's passport. But the line was too long, so he decided to go early the next day. The one disappointing thing about that trip was he discovered that same-day service had recently discontinued. So Adam had to return again the following morning to pick-up Noah's visa. At the same time, he also applied for Noah's birth certificate to get authenticated. Between the Visa application and the authentication of the certificate, we needed to turn in 15 separate documents to the Chinese Consulate. It was a huge praise that we had everything that was required, and didn't forget a single document. Especially since the Consulate's website hasn't been updated in awhile and doesn't include everything you need to bring; this is when our past experiences were a huge help. We knew what we needed because of all the trouble we went through with Willow.

So, just like *snap of the fingers*, we had everything Noah needed to travel to China. He had his birth certificate (which had been notarized, certified, and authenticated), his social security card, his passport, and his visa--all within 3 weeks! This took twice as long with Willow because of how timing worked out. It was especially good that it went so quickly because we had only 5 weeks to get all this stuff done.

I'm still in shock that it went so smoothly. I was expecting a few more road bumps along the way, since Willow's process was terrible. With Willow, I had to go to the courthouse twice, the passport agency five times, the consulate 3 times, and twice to the Index Department. It was so much easier this time around. PTL!

I can't believe that we got all this accomplished, plus lots of shopping, hair cuts, dentist appointments, doctor appointments, specialist appointments, birthday parties, last minute visiting, a few road trips...not to mention packing 14 pieces of luggage...all within 5 weeks!

What a whirlwind.
I guess that's life with us, Noah.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


We are suspended in time while we wait. If I wasn't writing about it, I'd nearly forget that it is going on. It's easier to forget and ignore what is just under the surface. 

Our "normal" feels a little artificial. 

I look at Noah and wonder what his normal will be like. 

Here we are, on a "normal" Sunday, in September, in Shenyang. We enjoy Willow's giggles as she vies for attention. We soak in the feeling of Noah's soft, chubby hugs. We go on living life, while we wait--and that is our new normal. 

Yet, I can't help wondering how much longer this will last, and whether or not I will be strong enough for the next normal?

 But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;they shall walk and not faint.

~Isaiah 40:31

Jet Lag is Over

Adam is over jet lag.
Willow is over jet lag.
Noah is over jet lag.
I am over jet lag...just on the newborn schedule now.

Here are some pictures from our first week back in Shenyang.
I can't believe we've been in town for two weeks! Time is just flying by!
We've been very blessed this time around, because we were all over jet lag in record time.
It helps a lot when your plane lands at night so you can go right to sleep.
Unless your name is WIllow, and although you've only slept 4 hours in the last 24 that passed, you can't fall asleep until you play with each of your long-lost toys again. 

Another praise was that I didn't get mastitis this time around. Sometimes jet lag does that to me.

Adam had to go out of town with the middle school students almost immediately. We landed very late on Thursday night, he stayed with us on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday--and then Monday he was gone for three days.

I had been really worried about how I would be able to manage this. I'm known for not functioning well (let alone with a good attitude) on little sleep. Me + 2 kids on jet lag....and no Adam....that seemed like a recipe for disaster. But without even asking for extra help, friends in our community came to our aid.

First of all, meals were provided for us Friday-Wednesday. Which meant breakfast, lunch, and dinners were covered for and I didn't have to worry about cooking. Leftovers lasted several days longer as well. It was especially helpful at 3 in the morning when Willow wanted to eat dinner again.

Another friend came over and played with Willow each afternoon--taking her outside to be a naturalist. This gave me time to rest with Noah and entertained Willow thoroughly. She looked forward to her visits with Aunt Carol and we sure enjoyed eating lunch with her too!

Noah, getting ready for his first time to our Shenyang fellowship. Thanks, Mindy for the cute outfit!

Jet lag = lots of movies for Willow. Can you see both of the Johnson babies?

If you've met Willow, then you probably know she's obsessed with glasses. Here, she snagged Noah's hipster shades. Cool, dude.

I don't know if it was the onslaught of jetlag influencing her play routine, but for about a week Willow was very interested in making beds all over the apartment. They were more like nests, actually. In this particularly bed, she has pillows, her favorite stuffed kitties, and about 16 pairs of underwear. Whose underwear, you ask? They are Willow's for when she finally decides to be potty trained--she found them in the unpacking mayhem, and proceeded to play with them for the next few days. I don't have a picture of it, but she was also fond of wearing her underwear over her pants. over her diaper. She looked so hilarious!

I have had such terrible allergies in Shenyang. As soon as we landed, I could feel a difference. It seems counterintuitive, since I"m usually more allergic to nature...and this is mostly a non-nature city. Maybe it's the air quality or dust in our apartment? make-up and lots of allergy-induced suffering.
I'm also not in love with my hair cut. Fortunately, hair grows back.

Willow's room was one of the last 'zones' that I attacked in our unpacking process. She had toys EVERYWHERE and the thought of figuring out where they would all go was overwhelming me. Eventually, I took pity on the girl; who was trying so hard to play in her giant mess.

Noah's room is basically 'all his' now. I just have to change the pictures in those frames. They are all of baby Willow right now.

Cute pictures of Noah and his little friend, Nora. They are 5 weeks apart in age.

I'm so proud of Noah for holding his head up! He wobbles a bit, but gets better at head support everyday. These little things make my heart happy, since we're on the look-out for his milestone advancement.

Another thing Willow has been interested in is decorating her face and hair with stickers. She also decorates walls, furniture, and any person who sits too long---with stickers.

We went to a 5K and 10K run that was raising money for a medical organization that works with orphans in our city. Willow especially enjoyed the free face painting and balloons. It was fun to see more of our Shenyang friends who we hadn't visited with in so long.

This friend of ours ran in the race, and was dresses as a giant cigarette for his anti-smoking campaign.

A bride and groom with their photography team, on their way to take pictures by the river. This type of thing happens prior to the wedding celebration. I liked her platform gym shoes she was wearing. Haha.