#aphotoaday Concentration

Lucas, once settled from other distractions, has an uncanny ability to remain focused on something for a long time. Of course, when we’re trying to get out the door and he’s focused on something not related to getting out the door, it can be frustrating. But it also means he can immerse himself in a task completely and enjoy the moment.

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Lucas and Micah’s Drawings

Every week our 3rd grader brings home a movie from the school’s library. One particular DVD they bring home is called Angel Wars. Honestly, I can’t say I’m a fan. The topic of destruction is a heavy one and the animation and story line are lacking. But, the boys like it and I can just leave the room when I’m annoyed at it.

AngelwarsSo, this week when they brought home another DVD from this series I was again disappointed, but then, once we put it in, I realized it was actually a “how to draw angel wars” DVD. This I can handle. I happily set them up with paper and pencil and let them at it. I wasn’t expecting much. The boys don’t particular like to draw nor have they made any spectacular drawings. But, they actually did a pretty great job!





This reminds me of a regret of mine. I was in kindergarten and boy named Justin was an excellent drawer. I remember all the kids would huddle around him as he worked on and displayed his latest works. At one point I was chatting with him and he said, “Drawing is easy. I can show you how. Would you like to learn?” (I don’t know if that’ exactly what he said. That was like 1986…). And I, for whatever reason – shyness?, said “no”. I’ve literally regretted that decisions forever. I still do. (Don’t worry, it’s not something that keeps me awake at night. Just when I think about it, I feel regret.)

Playing Chess


The other day we went to a friend’s house and my children discovered a Lord of the Rings chess game. Anna pulled it out and asked me to remind her how to play. I coached her through a game and she did quite well. I had taught her the rules some time ago, so it wasn’t brand new.

However, what I didn’t expect was Lucas to, first of all, be interested in the actual rules of the game, and secondly that he would stay focused enough to stick with it. I mean it is Lord of the Rings themed, which is super fun, but throughout the entire game that I was coaching Anna, I was noticing that he was following along quite well.

On the way out the door, our friend decided to just give us the game because they didn’t really have an interest in it. So, as soon as we got home, Lucas and Anna played a game together. What impressed me the most was that Lucas not only understood the rules without me actually directly telling them to him, but he also understood the concept of sacrificing a piece to be accomplish a different objective. That seems like an abstract concept to me.

Later, Lucas and Micah wanted to play a game, too. Micah really just liked the Lord of the Rings pieces and wanted them to fight. It was a bit frustrating for them to play together because they kept calling to me from the other room saying, “Dad…he’s not playing right!”
Or, “You can’t do that!”
“Yes, I can!”.

On one such occasion Lucas came in and was trying to give me the full description of what was happening. I bent down and said, “Lucas, Micah isn’t really ready to play this game and really just wants to pretend fight with the pieces.” Lucas immediately nodded his head, ran back out to the room and completely switched modes to just making up rules and fighting with the pieces. I thought it was a pretty amazing transition.

At this point, both Anna and Lucas really need some coaching, but I’m very impressed at their interest in this game.

Bring On The Rolls

My son was born at a healthy weight of 6lbs 15oz but quickly began to lose weight, as do most babies right after they are born. Unfortunately with Lucas he continued to lose weight and at 16 days Lucas weighed in at 5lbs 14oz. Doctors recommend that babies should be back to their birth weight by 10 days! As you can see by the picture on the left Lucas was very skinny and dehydrated. It was a very difficult few weeks nursing constantly, carefully keeping track of feedings, wet & poopie diapers and weighing him every night to see if we were making any progress.

Today Lucas is 3 months old and looks very healthy (picture on right). Today he weighed in at 12lbs 14oz!! Way to go Lucas, you even have a double chin!!

To Shanghai and Back Again…Now Repeat

We knew for quite some time that our daughter, Anna’s, passport and visa were going to expire soon. We planned to go and take care of it as soon as our son Micah was born. After all, he would need a passport and visa as well. We might as well take care of it at the same time. Plus, Jacquelyn was really in no shape to travel being as far a long as she was.

We Pause now for a Context Explanation: In order to get a new passport for a 5 year old, both parents must go to the Embassy or one of the Consulates and show a photo for every 6 months of life of the child proving that the 5-day old picture of your child on the old passport is the same child 5 years later. Also, before we could get a passport for Micah, we had to get a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) – which is like the equivalent to an American birth certificate for us Expats. Again both parents must go and show their marriage certificate and passports along with the new baby’s Chinese birth certificate (which is a rather interesting process in and of itself…I’ll share that another time, I guess.) In both situations, it takes about 10 working days to process the paperwork, make the new passports in the US, FedEx them to China, and, if you do it in Beijing, they’ll mail it to you!

So Micah comes and we’re extremely happy just enjoying our new treasure. Micah was born on a Thursday and the following week was spring break…great timing for a birth, actually. I still had several paternity days, which we were planning to use to go take care of the passports.

During this pre-paternity-days spring break I went online and scheduled the earliest appointment available at the Beijing Embassy. The appointment is 1 week before the Anna’s passport and visa expire. I’m not too worried about it, though. Surely, as long as the passport is being processed, the visa can go over a couple of days. After all, the Embassy could provide proof that the passport was being processed. So, on the first day back to school I check with our visa liaison to make sure this was okay. It turns out that my assumptions were wrong. The visa-processing-people would not be able to accept that the passport was being processed as, “there was no policy for this situation”. If Anna overstayed her visa, we would be fined 500 RMB (75 USD) for each day overstayed…plus she would have a “bad record”. I’m not sure what a bad record means, but I do know overstaying your visa accidentally or otherwise is not something you want to do. You can end up in jail in addition to the fines and bad record.

This was not the news that we wanted to hear. So I get on the phone with Jacquelyn and talk about our different options. We could try to go to Beijing and just do a walk-in appointment, but there was no guarantee that we’d be able to see anyone.

Context Explanation: The lines outside of the Embassy are tremendously long. Of the 1.3 billion people in China, about half are trying to get a visa to the US…okay, not half…but the line seriously snakes around the block for along way. Being American citizens, we most definitely probably wouldn’t have to wait in that line…but still, the thought of being in any line that resembles that one scares me. I actually have a recurring nightmare about such a line.

Another option was getting to Hong Kong. Although the Consulate down there didn’t have any appointments available either, we don’t need a visa to be in Hong Kong for like 30 days. But that would have been ridiculously expensive. Finally, we came up with the idea of going to Shanghai. Shanghai’s Consulate had appointments right way. Jacquelyn finds tickets online for that very evening and books them! We’ve got plenty of time. I can go home from work at 4:30, eat a nice dinner, pack up clothes and head out the door for a stress free trip to Shanghai.

As a review, here is the timeline up to this point:
-Monday 7am – find out we need to get the passport sooner than expected
-Monday 8am – talk to the embassy on the phone and try to figure it out
-Monday 9am – panic
-Monday 1pm – purchase tickets to Shanghai

I get home as planned and have a nice dinner. Just after finishing, I go to the computer and check online to make sure that we have all the documents needed as requested by the Consulate. Marriage Certificate – check; Anna’s age progression photos – check; current passports for the whole family – check; Anna’s CRBA – not with the other stuff. Hmm, okay, the search begins…

Remember, the CRBA is the equivalent to an American Birth Certificate. We cannot update Anna’s passport without it. We tear the house apart looking for it. We can’t find it. I have this faint idea that it is in a green folder. I had to use it to apply for Anna’s SSN like a year ago. Oh, no. Does that mean that I left it at my office? So, I pack several days worth of clothes, not sure if I’ll be matching in Shanghai or not and head out the door to my office. Jacquelyn continues looking for it at the house just in case it’s not at my office.

The taxi driver is not the best driver. He’s one of those drivers that can’t seem to figure out how to slowly press the gas, gain speed at a steady rate, and then in the smooth and calculated way press the brake when needed. If you’ve ever ridden with someone who rides the brake, you know what I’m talking about. We’re a block a way from the house and I’m already car sick and contemplating if it would be too rude to ask to get down sooner than what I already told him in order to change taxis. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for such luxuries. But one things was for sure, I was not going to ask him to wait for me at my office to take me home. I’d try my luck at finding a different taxi – even though taxis aren’t as frequent out at the office.

I finally make it to the school and look everywhere for this thing that I think should be in a green folder. It’s not there. I run up to my storage room in case it inadvertently got moved up there. The lights don’t work in the room, so I’m using my cell phone as a flashlight. It’s not there. It’s got to be at the house. This is not good. I’m 25 minutes from home not helping in the search and just wasted about an hour going to the office. We need to be leaving for the airport in about 45 minutes. There’s no point in going to Shanghai if we can’t find this cursed CRBA. Can we get money back for the tickets that we purchased?

In the taxi ride home Jacquelyn and I go over the places that she’s looked and she starts re-looking in those places. We say a panicked prayer to God asking for help. She opens a backpack – somewhere that she’s already looked – and locates a green folder. Inside is the CRBA! Tears of frustration are replaced by tears of joy.

Lucas Dunking

Lucas has grown in many since moving back to the States. Both his physical and mental skills have greatly improved. It’s been such a joy to see him enjoying life. He loves cars, trucks & trains more than anything else. In fact, the way to coax him into going to Sunday school is by saying something like, “Lucas, I think they have a truck for you!” (It works every time.)

He also like balls, which of course thrills my heart since I’m also a fan. He gladly joined me in playing basketball on this afternoon. We were at Anna’s school picnic at a State park. Despite his fear of heights (he’s our timid one), he overcame for a few seconds to dunk the ball. He actually wanted to do it several times, which, of course wore me out.







Picture notes:
Jacquelyn took this picture and I edited it. I did my original edits (cropping, B&W) in iPhoto and then moved over to Photoshop to add the puzzle effect. I also removed my arm pit shadows as it was distracting and the first thing I looked at. (See original and cropped B&W.)

Lucas Dunking B&W Cropped

Lucas Dunking Orginal

Ordering a House

Anna my 6 year old is screaming from upstairs in her bed for me to come up to her. She’s not screaming because she’s scared. I can tell from her voice that she’s just got something to tell me. It’s the typical persistant, ever growing louder by each call type of yell. I can tell she really wants to talk to me because I can hear her all the way from the sound-killing family room as I try to watch the NBA playoffs. Lucas, who is younger than Anna by 4 years is also screaming. But he’s doing it because Anna’s doing it. It’s a game to him. Plus, the result of the game is that daddy comes back in the room.

Someone in the kitchen, where it’s much easier to hear what’s going on upstairs, alerts me to their cries by saying, “The kids are asking for you.” I make the snide remark, “They’re asking for some discipline is what they’re asking for.” as I make my first motion out of my recliner. I’m a bit upset. It’s the second time we’ve completed this exercise tonight. As I get to the stairs, I’m contemplating the type of discipline I’m going to dish out. But by the time I reach the top of the stairs, my attitude has changed and I decide to hear her out on what this “urgent” need is. (Then I’ll decide what type of punishment she would get.)

“Yes, dear, what’s the problem?”, I say.
“Daddy, I miss China.”, she said at first fine, but by the word “China” is forcing out a tear and overemphasized wording.

Two thoughts occur to me at this moment. The first is, Man, she’s such a drama queen. Should I let her turn on tears like that? The second was, Man, I’m really glad I didn’t come in here without hearing out what my daughter had to say.

Except for Micah, who was like 4 months old when we left China, we’ve all done some type of grieving since leaving China. Lucas, 2, struggled with the unfamiliarity of everything and everybody. Anna’s biggest anxiety came in the form of her room. She misses it. She misses the colors, the bedspread, the closets, and that she had a room by herself. (Her brother shares a room with her now.)

Jacquelyn and I continue to struggle with our grief over leaving China, too. There are lots of manifestations as a result of our grief, but one of the main roots of the grief is our purpose. Or better put, the lack of purpose. What’s our ministry here?

“Daddy, I miss China”, Anna repeated, this time in full forced tears.
“What is it that you miss about China?” I said, trying to think of something that would comfort her. I sit on the bed and give her a snuggle.
“My room…You know that cover with the colors on it and it was purple and it was my blanket”, she said, using her hand to draw the designs of the comforter. “I want that. Can we get that out of storage.”
“Yes, we can get it out of storage. Did we bring it back with us from China?” I say.

“I miss my friends”, she continued.
“Well, your mom and I are praying about going back”, I said, realizing that by the time that we would actually get back to China her memory of the place would be very little and everything that we knew would be different. Plus, she probably will be pretty engrained in life here in the States by that time.

The statement was true. We are praying about going back. In fact, just that day I surprised myself with my response when the pastor of the church we are attending asked me where I see my self and my family in 5 years. Without hesitation I said, “Back in China, or if not China, some place around the world.” His reply was one of excitement, “Well, that gives us something pray about, doesn’t it?” He then probed a bit further, “What would it take to get you back there?” Again, without hesitation I said, “Two things. A specific call to do a specific thing and Jacquelyn and I take the next step in our spiritual growth.”

Anna had a puzzled look on her face and repeated what I just said as a question, “Move back?”
“Yeah, we’re praying about it”, I offered.
“But we just ordered a house”, Anna said, truly confused as to why we would “order” a house and then decide to move.
“We didn’t order a house, dear”, myself now confused.
“Yes, we did. Mommy got a piece of paper with a house on it. We ordered it.” she said quite positive of her memory.

Jacquelyn had taken Anna to look at a house that was for sale and picked up a flyer about the house.

“Oh, well, we didn’t order it. Mommy and you just looked at the house and that piece of paper just listed all the things it includes.” I said with a big a smile on my face.
“Can we get that blanket out of storage?” she said in her scattered, non-sequitur kind of way.
“Yes, dear. Now go to sleep. Put your head on your pillow and close your eyes. Good night, dear.”
“Good night, daddy”

Lucas, who up to this point was sitting up in his bed, repeating everything that Anna was saying, with the same intonation, looked at me with a huge smile.
“You, too, bud. Head down. Eyes closed. Go to sleep.”
In his 2 year-old, cute way he replied, “Go sleep”, and put his head down.

Update on Life in the USA

We’ve been back in the States for about 3 months now. God has blessed us in many ways since being back. The biggest thing has been His providing of a job for me. For the last month I’ve been working as the Webmaster for a family-owned chain of grocery stores here in the Hudson Valley of NY. I love the work and the people there are great.

Additionally, I’ve started working some freelance web-design projects. I just finished the first project and am quite happy with it. I’ll be writing another blog about it later.

Jacquelyn has adjusted pretty nicely, too. It’s been tough on her as she’s had to adjust her routine to me finding a job. Am I there all the time? Am I working on freelance projects? Do I have a job? Now that I’ve been working for a month, though, she’s finding her stride. Even though we’ve only got one kid in school, it seems like there’s already a bunch of running around to do.

Anna is attending the same school that her mother attended when she was a little girl. We’ve seen her shine so much since starting school. She was definitely ready for school! She’s reading very well. Jacquelyn is giving her piano lessons, as well, and Anna is doing EXTREMELY well with it. She’s got such a high aptitude for learning. She’s still having some hearing issues, but we hope to get our insurance situation worked out shortly and we will be visiting an ENT to get it fixed soon.

Lucas has taken a bit of time getting used to things around here. It took about a month of tears every time we left him in nursery at church for him to finally embrace it. But he’s such a fun and easy-going kid. He’s now loving being there. We’re also thrilled to report that He is now peeing and pooping on the potty! Woo Hoo! We’ve had a few accidents, and will probably a few more in the future, but he’s basically got it down.

Micah is super-cute. It’s hard to have a bad day when he’s around with his huge smile and crazy get-up-and-go crawling and attempts at walking. He’s very much like his big sister and the opposite of his big brother. When he and Lucas get older, I think it’s going to make for a very interesting relationship.

My Boy, Lucas

Lucas spends most of his time in his own world. When he wakes up he looks around for a little car. Once he plays with that for a while, he gets hungry, goes back to playing until lunch, takes a nap and then plays some more. He’s so different than Anna at that age. Anna almost constantly needs someone to entertain her. Lucas is good on his own.

He’s also a very cuddly boy, which is alsovery different from Anna. But they are both similar in that they are super cool!

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.

*Video – Ode to the Binky

Every now and then the family will have a jam/dance session. J-Dogg leads on the guitar, Anna the Orchid interprets with dance, and the Mean Bean Lucas will add lyrical dissonance (crying). Orchid Mama usually (wo)mans the camera, but will pipe in when the moment’s right with sweet resolution (usually, when J-Dogg fails to resolve on his own).

Below is a short clip of how these jam/dance sessions go. This is an original: “Ode to the Binky”. (All rights reserved.)

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Lucas’ First Crawl…Combat Style

Lucas is now 8 and a half months. He’s getting bigger everyday and learning new things. He’s just picked up crawling! It didn’t take long long for him to realize that he can move quite well. Jacquelyn was able to capture the first moments on video.

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Goodbye Spit Up

Lucas’s goodbye hug to me this morning included spit up all over my shirt. I guess he wanted me to stay home a bit longer.