Family Vacation 2018: South Dakota

After our time in Omaha, we headed off to phase two of our summer travels – a few days in South Dakota! Since we don’t live near any of our extended families, most of our trips have been focused on traveling to see them, but especially as our kids get older, we want to make it a priority to show them more of the world, as well. We thought that with the ages of our kids, a trip out to South Dakota could be a good fit – some tourist attractions and opportunities to learn about nature and history but no long days in museums (which would be heavenly for Matt and me and much less so for our children!), and it was close enough that we wouldn’t have to drive forever to get there.

We left Omaha on Saturday morning and drove out to Wall, South Dakota, where we were joined by my mom and brother David – it was so nice to get some time with them on this trip, too! After a night in the hotel, we got up and visited Wall Drug the next morning. The kids actually did a great job of browsing and enjoying the experience without asking for 50,000 toys, and at the end we let them each choose one item that we’d buy for them.

Then that afternoon we drove through the Badlands, which were beautiful beyond what I can describe.

Had I realized we’d be able to get out of the car and climb around, I would have put everyone in shoes other than flip flops! It worked out alright, though 🙂

For the rest of our time in South Dakota, we’d arranged to stay at an AirBnB, which, we’ve discovered, is really what makes vacations work for our family. Spending days at a time in a standard hotel room is too overwhelming, but having more space and being able to prepare our own meals makes everything so much more manageable.

The morning of our first day on the western edge of South Dakota was spent at its most well-known attraction – Mount Rushmore! The big kids and I will be starting to learn about American history this year, and this was a great introduction, giving us an opportunity to talk about some of the presidents and a bit about the history of our country.

Knowing that we were heading into some red states and that we already stand out as a multiracial family with a child who sometimes uses a wheelchair, I intentionally did not pack any of the kids’ and my political t-shirts. I hoped we’d be at least a tiny bit inconspicuous. Miranda does not share that desire, and she and I had the following exchange while at Mount Rushmore:

Me: “Why do you think that they chose those four presidents to be on the mountain?”
Miranda: “Umm, because they thought they were good ones?”
Me: “Yeah, I think you’re right.”
Miranda, loudly: “Well, they won’t be putting Donald Trump up there, that’s for sure!”

We’re hoping the rest of the country comes to its senses and joins her in that opinion soon, as well.

We went from Mount Rushmore to Crazy Horse, which Matt had seen about 30 years ago but which the rest of us had never visited. It was fascinating to hear about its history and construction and the plans for its completion and to compare and contrast it to Mount Rushmore. There was a bus tour that allowed us to get close to the monument itself, and we were so glad we took advantage of that opportunity. The bus driver doubled as a tour guide and gave us more information and stories about Crazy Horse and its construction, and it was great to see a closer view of what was actually happening. Seeing a monument of this size being financed privately and in conjunction with efforts to support Native Americans was so impressive.

The next day we drove out to Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower, something to which Matt had been looking forward for quite some time! The kids really loved it, too. Miranda and Atticus are enthusiastic climbers, and Miranda talked a lot about coming back to climb it someday (we saw several climbers while we were there!), and she enjoyed any opportunity to climb on the boulders around the path we walked around the landmark…and I spent much of my day trying to keep Atticus safe while he attempted to follow her!

The following day I got up early drove out to Rapid City (everything is so spread out in South Dakota!) to meet a friend for breakfast, one of my co-moderators in the Facebook parenting group I help to moderate. It was a joy to sit down with someone who just gets it, who parents a child who has lived through trauma and who subscribes to the same parenting philosophy Matt and I use in interacting with our kids. It was so nice to meet her and spend a few hours together!

Our van’s brakes had been grinding, and it was in desperate need of an oil change, so after my breakfast date, I called around to local repair shops and sat around for a couple hours while our brake pads were replaced and oil changed – not super exciting but necessary. I didn’t get back to the rest of the family until around 2:00, which limited our afternoon options, but Matt and David researched some choices, and we ended up taking a scenic drive and getting out and walking around a bit. South Dakota is so beautiful!

The next day it was time to head out, so we packed ourselves up and started the long drive back home. We had one more attraction to see along the way – the Corn Palace!

And then after an overnight stop in Omaha on the way back, we made it home 🙂 Overall, it was a great family vacation time. There was some drama, but overall, the kids did really well with the driving time, and we really enjoyed our time as a family in South Dakota. It was so nice to have my mom and David there, too. The kids love hanging out with them, and though our night time adult hangouts were shorter than we would have liked, it was good to get even those little bits of time. We got to enjoy experiencing a new place together and talking about our country and its history. All in all, I’d say it was a successful vacation!

Post-Surgery and Travel Update

Thank you so much to all of you who prayed us through our travels to Omaha for FangFang’s oral surgery and our return trip back to Missouri!

We left early Thursday morning and made it to the hospital just in time to meet the dentists who would be performing FangFang’s surgery the next day and do our pre-op consultation with them. After that we had the evening to ourselves, so we went and checked into our hotel…

…and then went out to dinner at Block 16, a hipster sandwich shop downtown, which all of us enjoyed! We tried to get FangFang a good last meal with all her teeth 🙂

She went to bed pretty well, and she actually did better than I thought she might with not being able to eat or drink after 8:00 AM. I woke her up around 7:45 to give her a clear liquid breakfast (jello and apple juice were her choices), and then I let her play with an iPad as a distraction while Catherine and I took turns getting some breakfast. We had a 10:00 AM check-in time at the hospital, so the morning was actually reasonably leisurely, and it wasn’t long before we were playing in the hospital playroom with brief breaks to consult with our nurse, a nurse practitioner, the dentists, and the anesthesiologist.

She was pretty happy right up until surgery. I actually declined Versed, and everyone seemed to think that was a good choice, because she seemed so comfortable and happy interacting with everyone, but as soon as she got about 10 feet down the hall from me, she started wailing, and they said I could come back with her. Her oral surgery was taking place in the procedure suite, which apparently has a lower standard of sterility than the OR, so I was allowed to walk into the room with her. I really wish all hospitals would do that for all procedures, whether they’re in the OR or not. FangFang is going to need a number of surgical interventions over her lifetime, and I’d prefer that, as much as possible, she see hospitals as places that help her, as opposed to the locations of traumatic experiences. Nurses seemed very concerned that it might be overwhelming to me to see her go under sedation in preparation for the procedure or have her throat suctioned afterwards, and they didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable. I assured them that I’d witnessed my husband experience cardiac arrest, so nothing they were going to do that day was going to make me uncomfortable, and if I needed to get out of the way, I’d do it. And most importantly, this is about FangFang, not me – if she’s more comfortable with me there, that trumps all else. They let me hold her and sing to her while she went to sleep, and I was so glad.

Catherine and I grabbed some lunch at the hospital cafeteria and then headed back up to our room to wait for FangFang. The dentists came and talked with us and said they’d pulled 5 teeth – the offending back molar that had the deep cavity giving her so much pain and her 4 front teeth, all of which had significant cavities. Because they’d pulled so many, they hadn’t needed to cap any teeth, but the crowding in her mouth will continue to make brushing and flossing a huge priority. They do not believe she has dentinogenesis imperfecta but that it’s more likely that we’re playing catch-up from her years in an orphanage, plus the crowding of her mouth, which is good news, because it means there’s some chance she won’t continue to have such serious dental issues.

It wasn’t long before I was allowed to go back to FangFang in recovery, and I walked in just as she was starting to open her eyes. She was in pain and angry. We got her Tylenol right away, and she wanted to leave that area, so we got to go back to our room right away, but she was still mad. We gave the Tylenol a bit of time to work, but it didn’t seem to be taking the edge off at all, so it wasn’t too long before we requested something stronger, and once she had a dose of Oxycodone, she started to calm. She cried for the mouth pain and cried in hunger and cried from her sore throat every time she had to swallow (she’d been intubated for the procedure). We started gradually introducing some clear liquids – apple juice and water and then jello, and she handled that well (no projectile vomiting!), and just before 4:00 they said we could go!

We weren’t sure how FangFang would do on the car ride home, and I was so thankful to have another adult with me who could help monitor her while we drove. She was pretty content watching Frozen and Daniel Tiger, though, and slept just a bit. She was even happy enough to try on goofy hats at a truck stop where we stopped to give her more pain meds and get gas!

We made it back home just before 11:00 last night, and she was very happy to be back, as was I!

Honestly, the trip itself went pretty well. That was really largely due to Catherine’s presence with us. I so enjoyed getting to chat with her on our drives – it was so much more fun than just driving by myself – and as a mom to four, it almost never happens that I get 10+ hours to hang out with a friend! And she was so helpful in assisting me with everything FangFang needed, getting juice or jello or washcloths to wipe up blood, and entertaining her while I talked with the doctors and dentists. I’m so, so thankful she came – such a blessing and encouragement.

And I’m so glad to be done with the procedure. FangFang was in a fair amount of pain yesterday but seems to be feeling a million times better today. She’s really been in pain for almost a month, and I’m so glad we were able to get this dental work done quickly and be done with it.

Re-entry is always rough, at least for me. I’m so excited to see everyone, but I’m also worn out. I really just want to have some quiet, alone time to read a book and relax. But there’s unpacking to do, and I’m behind on my work week since I was gone for 2 days, and kids need to be fed and cared for, and things at the house are just a little out of sorts any time I return from being gone. It always feels overwhelming to me, and I get snippy. There’s nothing that reveals your selfishness like parenting – and I think that’s doubly true when you add in any special needs. I do feel stretched, and I do feel tired, and I do feel overwhelmed at times, but that’s not a license to be unkind to anyone else, and I definitely fail at living that out.

I’ve tried to spend some time helping everyone settle back in. FangFang and I snuggled and read a book this morning, and a bit later Madeleine CaiQun and I got some one-on-one time reading on the couch together. Miranda and I had some chats, and Atticus came and snuggled with me for a while.

Matt has the kiddos out at a park right now, and I’m hoping to use this time well, doing some catch-up on all the tasks I need to tackle, but also to recharge and be prepared to love well when the rest of the family returns. I spent some time reading my Bible and praying and journaling, which has helped to settle my heart. I’m hoping that when everyone comes home, we can have an evening of enjoying being together, both in cleaning up the house some but also in just spending time together. These people have my heart, and I want to live that out, day by day, moment by moment.

Throwback Thursday: Wedding Trip Part One

When we committed to pursuing adopting our 4th baby this year, we knew we’d need to be especially frugal in the coming months, which meant no huge, adventurous travels this year, but we also knew we’d definitely be heading east for my brother’s wedding in May. I never actually got the chance to blog about that trip, so I’m coming back to share about it now! In addition to keeping our friends and family updated on our lives, serving as a place to share my contemplations, and offering a window into our lives for others who may be interested in adoption or home-schooling or special needs parenting, this blog also serves as a journal of sorts for our family, so I try to document our adventures, even if I don’t get to all of them right away!

Our family of introverts sometimes has a hard time being in enclosed spaces with any number of people for any length of time, so it wasn’t long before this set-up arose in the car 🙂

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In general we have a good time, though 🙂 And we made it to Louisville on our first day and spent the evening hanging out with our friends Luke and Ann and their kiddos.

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We don’t get to see Luke and Ann often, but we are always blessed by the time we do get to spend with them. We so appreciate those friendships that feel like a taste of true home – you can pick up where you left off and enjoy laughter and fun and deep conversations all at once, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen each other.

We then took two days to drive from Louisville to the east coast. In the past, our strategy has generally been to drive as much as possible each day, but this was our first trip after Matt’s heart attack in New York, and we both were a little nervous and felt the need to make it as low-stress as possible. For Matt that mostly meant not having to get up super early or rush out the door in the mornings and drive late into the night to make it to our destinations, so we planned much shorter drives for each day on this trip. We were able to stop and have lunch with one of our friends from Matt’s grad school days one day, and we found a reasonably priced hotel midway between Louisville and Virginia and spent the night there and let our kids enjoy the pool and the access to cable tv!

Then we made a slight detour and spent a couple days with my best friend from high school, Jessie, and her family. We were going to be pretty close to where she lived, and I hadn’t seen her in years, and we hadn’t met each other’s youngest kiddos, so it was really great to get to spend some time with her and her family! On top of that, she agreed to embark upon an adventure to see the ocean with us 🙂 The girls, especially Miranda, have been asking for a couple years now when they’d get to see the ocean, and it seemed a shame to be so close without making time for it, so we all piled into the van and drove out to Virginia Beach one day. It was cold and fiercely windy and even rained on us a bit, but it was also glorious!

Miranda especially could not have loved it more.

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She’s like her mama in that way. I don’t think there’s anywhere on earth that I experience the majesty of God like I do standing on the shore of the ocean. The immensity of the expanse of the water, the power of it all – it’s sublime. I don’t really have the words for it, but it’s always a powerful experience for me to visit the ocean.

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It was great to get to experience that with my kiddos!

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(Yes, this is the best picture we got of the 4 of us – I mentioned the wind, right!?!)

The kiddos loved playing in the sand, and there was an amazing playground on the beach where we enjoyed playing and ate our lunches.

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Then we headed back to Jessie’s house for the evening, and the next morning we were off, on our way to Luray, Virginia for Danny’s and Sharon’s wedding!

The Great Road Trip of 2015 (Part 3) and MCQ is 5!

It has taken me longer than I’d hoped to get back to share this final installment about our trip out east (feel free to go back and check out parts one and two if you missed them earlier!). The last big part of our trip was spent with Matt’s side of the family in upstate New York. We don’t get to see them very often, but we always enjoy the time we have together!

We stayed with Matt’s sister Denya and her husband Tim and their two daughters, Cassi and Elisabeth. Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun settled right in with them 🙂

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We all very much enjoyed swimming in their pool that week!

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The girls always love helping Denya cook…

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…and Elisabeth was kind enough to help them and their cousin Averie make and decorate Frozen-themed cookies one afternoon!

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They also enjoyed coloring with their cousins and Matt’s sister Stacey 🙂

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Meanwhile, Atticus continued to cultivate his love of dogs.

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And everyone got in some good snuggling time 🙂

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We really enjoyed our times just hanging out at the house with family, but we also had some fun outings. One day we went to the zoo with Stacey and Averie, which everyone enjoyed!

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We even got to see a little baby elephant!

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And of course the girls are always excited about penguins, since they are Sharon’s favorite animal 🙂

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Averie is about 6 months younger than CaiQun, so all 3 girls are at a great age to play together and enjoy each other. Miranda and Averie – being firstborns – had to spend some time working through each of their desire to be in charge at all times, but really they all did pretty well together 🙂

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Another fun outing was our evening bowling. Elisabeth and her boyfriend Michael are part of a bowling league, and they made sure we were all set for a fun night out!

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Then the next morning, Madeleine CaiQun’s birthday, Michael came over early, and they made a special pancake and waffle breakfast for us!

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Our little mei mei was so excited to spend her birthday with family, and the day did not disappoint 🙂

Matt’s older brother brought over a bounce house, which the kiddos loved!

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I did let Atticus crawl around in it a bit but only when things were very tame, so for much of the time he enjoyed some snuggles while the girls bounced 🙂

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And of course mei mei got some fun gifts! One present we got for her this year was a photo book with pictures from when she was in China up until now. She loved looking through it.

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She also loved getting gifts from her grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.

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So much fun with cousin Averie 🙂

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Our little puzzle-lover was gifted several puzzles this year for her birthday, and she loved getting to do some of them with family on our trip!

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We were also able to visit the museum at Matt’s alma mater, Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute, which has an awesome children’s area. Our kids loved it, so they hung out there with me while Matt walked around the museum with a former student of his. I actually can’t say enough good things about our experience there. CaiQun left a Frozen ring, which she’d just received for her birthday, in the children’s area, and, when I called about it, the staff went back and found it and mailed it to us at home in Missouri – so sweet.

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Atticus was particularly taken with Matt’s step-father, Papa Dan, and especially Papa Dan’s cane, which he spent much time trying to grab!

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On our last night in town, there was a sweet cousin-and-uncle game of Uno 🙂 You know you’ve got a good group of high schoolers when they’re willing to spend their evening teaching 5-year-olds how to play a card game!

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And as much as we enjoyed our time in NY, it was over quickly and time for all of us to head home. The kids really did pretty well with all of the driving, but the highlight of the trip home was definitely our stop in Ohio mid-way through our drive.

In the orphanage at which Madeleine CaiQun lived until we adopted her, the toddlers shared cribs, usually 2 (but sometimes 3) to a crib. Her cribmate and friend was adopted about a month before she was. Her mom was kind enough to send us some photos of CaiQun when they traveled to adopt Lily, and we were able to reunite the girls and meet as families 2 years ago on our way home from New York. On the way home from this trip we were able to stop and have dinner with them again!

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It was such a joy to spend an evening with them and reflect on how these two girls, 2.5 years after being adopted, have settled into their families. As they are only 4 and 5 years old, there is obviously not a great depth in their interactions right now, but we are thankful that they have this connection and can maintain it as they get older as they choose – and for now, they can enjoy playing together!

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After our visit with Lily and her family, we drove on to Cincinnati, where we spent the night with my brother David, who graciously put up our family of 5 in his 1-bedroom apartment! It was nice to get another couple hours with him, but then we were up early and on the road again the next morning. And after 16 days away, as wonderful as they were, it was very nice to be home 🙂

The Great Road Trip of 2015 (Part 2)

The Great Road Trip of 2015 was so great that it is necessitating multiple posts, in order to avoid any one post becoming so lengthy that even my family doesn’t want to finish it 🙂 If you missed part one, you can check it out here.

As our time in Virginia came to an end, we piled back into our car and headed to Washington, D.C. for a couple days. Danny and Sharon had asked if it would be possible for us and for her family to meet during this trip so that we’d all have an opportunity to get to know one another a bit before the wedding next spring. I’ll admit that I was somewhat nervous about how it would go to have so many people packed into one apartment for 2 nights, but it all worked out!

We arrived in the city on Friday afternoon and were treated to a motorcade passing in front of us at an intersection – Danny and Sharon guessed it most likely belonged to Vice President Biden.

After getting settled into Danny’s and Sharon’s apartment and having lunch, we headed out for an afternoon of sightseeing. We opted to travel by metro, much to the girls’ delight!

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Madeleine CaiQun said, “Mom, do you know why I’m crying happy tears?”

“No, why?” I asked.

She replied, “Because I’m just so happy that the train is moving so fast that I have happy tears.”

Asked later, both girls said that their favorite part of the day had been the train ride.

However, we were also able to take in some other noteworthy sights! Our first stop was, of course, the White House!

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Moments after we took this picture, security guards asked everyone to back off across the street.

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They didn’t tell us why, but Danny and Sharon said they’d never seen that happen before, so something interesting was probably going to happen. We could see snipers on the roof.

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We waited around for probably about half an hour and were just getting ready to move on when we heard a helicopter flying overhead. We were able to see one helicopter fly behind the White House to land…

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…another take off from behind the White House…

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…and another fly by off to the side.

Apparently any time the President is flying in a helicopter, there are also 2 decoys that fly nearby to provide added security for him. We definitely enjoyed getting to see that! But then we headed to our next stop, the Washington Monument.

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We would have loved to see more of this awesome city, but the girls were getting tired, and it was approaching dinner time, so we headed back to the train…

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…in which we managed to fit 5 people into one seat, which was highly entertaining to my mother 🙂

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The next day we spent relaxing at Danny’s and Sharon’s apartment and at their pool.

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And we did indeed get to meet Sharon’s parents, who are lovely people 🙂 I’m really thankful that, just as I married into a family of people I genuinely like, it seems like Danny will be marrying into a family with great people. Unfortunately, I apparently considered the day to be so relaxing (I actually took a nap! by the pool!) that I failed to get a single picture of us hanging out with them! We really enjoyed the time with them, though, and it was nice to meet in person in a low-key environment.

Sharon’s mom, Patti, actually suffered a stroke just 2 days after our meeting. She seems to be recovering incredibly well, which is a huge answer to prayer, but if you are a praying person, I’m sure she would appreciate continued prayers, as she has a long road of recovery. We’re looking forward to seeing both her and Sharon’s dad again next spring at the wedding!

After Sharon’s parents left, we just hung out at the apartment for the rest of the evening and enjoyed our time together. Atticus, in particular, enjoyed their sweet dog, Dixie 🙂

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That was our last night with my side of the family, and the next morning we headed out toward Matt’s side of the family in upstate New York (coming up in part 3!).