Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas With Love

Somehow I managed to get all the presents wrapped and everything ready for Christmas with a whole day to spare. I had time to knit a scarf last night and today I even got to play with my camera. I saw a tutorial on how to make shaped bokeh (blurry or geometric shapes in the background) and decided to do hearts. I cannot believe it actually worked! This is one of the packages I wrapped (I made the bow too) in front of the Christmas tree. The colored hearts are the lights on the tree.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Christmas Letter

This year I was determined to send out Christmas cards, even though I had misplaced ALL of my friends' and family's addresses, even though I didn't have the inspiration or time to create a fun and festive picture for the card, and even though the clock was running out of time. I decided to plod along anyway.

All of last week was pretty much about decorating the house and baking goodies for a Christmas party that we hosted Thursday evening. Since I work full-time, there are just a few short hours available in the evenings to do all my preparation and with two little girls vying for attention, it is hard to break away. I tried to engage them as much as possible and Chloe turned out to be a big help in the kitchen, even if it was mostly just keeping me company.

So now it's the week before Christmas and I have made a commitment to, at a minimum, send cards out to fellow families who have adopted children from Chengdu China (which is where our Pearl is from). I scramble to find a picture for the card and settle on one from last Christmas, my first and only 9 exposure HDR (if you know what that is), and upload it to Costco, where I can pick up the cards (on the cheap) in only hours.

I send out pleas for addresses and most people comply, but now, I have realized this card really doesn't tell the story and I don't have the energy to write on every single card or even prepare a family letter summarizing the year. After all, the letter has to be printed on fancy Christmas paper (which I don't have) and slipped inside each envelope and now the postage will be double! I am too impatient and I want to ge these cards out NOW.

So for those of you lucky few who managed to get a card, but no letter, here is your Christmas letter:



Dear Friends, Family, Blogging Buddies and Chengdu Families:

This year brought us a nice combination of challenges and changes, mostly welcome.

We finally sold our home after four years of trying and we did it without going upside-down. We found a new large, yet cozy home just steps from the elementary and high school. We are renting it and are experiencing the bliss of non-home ownership. Even though this place is 4 years new, it has some electrical problems and the roof is leaking. We keep the landlords apprised and go about our daily business and they coordinate the contractors to fix things.

Before we moved, we had a large and very successful yard sale. We got rid of half of everything we owned, if not more. It felt like a cleansing to be unburdened from so much "stuff". Now when I look in my closet, I see only clothes that fit, crafts and projects that I use, and empty suitcases waiting for a quick getaway. I love the absence of clutter, but now I am digressing.

Once we became settled in comfortably, we realized that we missed having an exchange student around, so we signed up for our third hosting experience. The month of August brought us Liu Shuer, commonly referred to as "Effy", all the way from DongGuan China. She will be spending the entire school year with us. She is only 16 and a bit younger than our previous girls, but she is definitely "sugar and spice and everything nice". Effy has a lively and vivacious personality, yet she fits in so well with our low-key existence. She is an amazing big sister to Chloe and Pearl and she is willing to answer the same questions over and over, since that is what 6 and 7 year olds do. At least the girls can now count to 10 in Chinese.

Chloe and Pearl are having a great year too. Pearl has lost several teeth and now has one adult front tooth and one baby front tooth. It has been that way for months. We had to have Chloe's front teeth removed as they began to abscess. That was likely due to a head injury she suffered a year or two earlier. She is still waiting to lose her first tooth from natural causes.

We adopted Pearl 4 years ago from Chengdu China when she was only 3 years old. She was on a waiting child/special needs list, but turned out not to have any health issues that we are aware of. Pearl is in 2nd grade and reading like a 5th or 6th grader. She is smart and quick and makes friends easily. She is hyper and fidgety, yet she still manages to pay attention to her teacher in school, so we try not to worry about her constant motion. I think that is why she is so thin. She eats very well and loves lots of healthy foods. Chloe, on the other hand, is an extremely picky eater. Until this year, if anything had a fruit or vegetable in it, she wouldn't go near it. Now she has embraced a few fruits and veggies. The list includes lemons, olives, dill pickles, corn-on-the-cob and artichokes. She really loves artichokes and will eat an entire one with her dinner (except for the heart, which she thinks is 'gross').

We adopted Chloe from Qinzhou, China in the Guangxi province in April of 2005 when she was just 14 months old. I remeber I had wanted to adopt an older child and now I find that I would do anything to have that first 14 months with her. Chloe is in 1st grade and is a hard-working slightly above-average student. She is a deep-thinker and very intuitive. She doesn't have a lot of friends and only recently developed a "best friend". Wouldn't you know it? Her best friend is moving to Argentina in January.

Chloe took this picture of her best friend Madison, who is moving to Argentina.

I really love how my two girls can be so different and yet get along so well. They are the best of sisters.

My work hasn't changed much. I am still working for the City of Shafter and it has now been about 16 years. I get to do a lot of fun engineering and designing and it is mostly my responsibility to get our town looking good. I design parks and buildings and landscaping strips. My current projects include improvements to our public pool and the completion on design and construction of a new 10 acre park.

Pete's structural engineering work has managed to continue even though the economy has really turned things around in the construction and design business. Jobs that he used to turn away are now welcomed with open arms. Negotiating prices is much more of a business practice rather than "take it or leave it". The one thing that has kept Pete's clients coming back has been his accessibility. He's not always the smoothest with customer relations, but he certainly is responsive, reliable and quick on the spot. The work gets done on time or even earlier. And sometimes, if it turns out to be easier than he anticipated, he will refund the customer for the difference (even though he gave a written estimate). He seems to have some very loyal customers and for that, we are grateful.

My hobby in photography has started into it's second year and I am still eager to learn everything I can about it, especially the post-processing end of things. I attended a week-long workshop in October and I am scheduled for a shorter one next month. My Christmas present to myself was a new computer, a high-end monitor with color calibration software, and a large Wacom tablet and pen (which I haven't used yet). I am hoping that I will have some time to become familiar with all this stuff during the Christmas holidays. Then maybe, I'll be able to post more often on the blog in the coming year.

After trips to Europe and Hawaii, we decided to take this year off from a long family vacation. We have made lots of short trips and even fit in a trip to see our fellow Sweet Peas (families who were waiting to adopt at the same time) at a reunion in Seattle Washington in October. We even snuck in a visit to see Chris, our previous exchange student, who is now a Junior in college.

Since springtime, the girls have been practicing a dance in their Chinese dance class that they take weekly. In early December, the girls performed their dance in a competition in Los Angeles, CA and received gold trophies for their efforts (which is really 2nd place). I think they were the youngest dancers in the competition.

girls with their dance teacher
Other Chinese dancers

In August, I signed Chloe up for gymnastics lessons and Pearl for piano lessons. Two days before Chloe was to begin, she broke her arm as she fell off the monkey bars at school. It was a horrific ordeal, but it is so nice to have it beyond us and to have her arm fully healed and good as new. We are planning to start the gymnastics class again in January.

We will start the New Year with a big birthday party as Pete turns 50 on the 2nd of January. After that, we will just take it one day at a time. Thanks for following along and I wish you all peace, love and happiness in the coming year.

With Love,

Pete, Lori, Effy, Pearl, and Chloe

Picture of a tulip from my Christmas flower arrangement

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Visiting the Grandparents

I am way behind on what else is new? We have had so much going on that it has been difficult to keep up with it all. After working solely on a laptop for the past few years, it is now nice to have a real computer with a real monitor. I even got one that comes with color calibration software and super high resolution. I am loving it so far.

Anyway, last month we traveled to Pahrump Nevada to visit my parents. It is one of my greatest joys to see that my parents have lived long enough for my girls to know them. They also know their daddy's parents, who also quite elderly. Last month, my dad turned 91, so we made a trip to visit and wish him a very happy birthday.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rediscovering Old Talents

This past week I have finally gotten the urge to break out my old spinning wheels and knitting gear. I discovered that I had three large storage boxes in my garage loaded with wool and fiber and lots of goodies. Sadly, I think it's been about eight or ten years since I played with any of this stuff. It seems more just like a couple of years.

Mostly, I think the hesitation to get out my spinning wheel and wool was predicated on the fact that we now have little ones running around the house. I could not picture trying to keep my girls out of the angora wool or away from the spinning wheel (I am imagining lots of wool wrapped tightly around an axel). Especially, I worry about my poor Chloe, who I think must have some sort of a condition where it is essentially impossible to keep her hands off stuff, even when instructed to. I remember thinking when she was a baby that if I just taught her "No", I would be able to keep her from grabbing everything. Now at nearly 7 years old, I realize it is a lost cause and this is just who she is. Not surprisingly, she constantly caressed my wheels as I got them back into working order. This time, I allowed her to help me with the cleaning as I tightened the connections. She couldn't wait to get her hands and feet on the pedals so I taught her how to keep the wheel spinning always clockwise. Her curiosity and excitement are infectious.

This is my original wheel. I haven't tried it out yet, but I did get it ready to go.

Well, that was last Sunday and now a week later, I have done a little spinning. But, I did accomplish one other task. I knitted myself a nice oversized scarf from some wool/silk/angora yarn that I had sitting in my bags all these years. I still have enough to make a sweater, but my skills are so weak, that I need to start slowly and relearn all those old lessons. Chloe is modeling the scarf in the pictures above.

The next two weekends promise to be full of travel and adventure. First we are headed to Pahrump Nevada to visit my parents and celebrate an early Thanksgiving and birthday celebration for my dad who will be turning 91. I will return home for one day of work on Monday and then we are headed to the Happiest Place on Earth by Tuesday. Effy, our exchange student has never been to Disneyland, so I hope she will have a great time. Don't tell anyone we are playing hookey on a school day. On Thursday, I think we will have a low-key Thanksgiving dinner here at home. We may invite some friends over to join us, but not the extended family (of course they are welcome if they show up). Friday, we are off to the beach for a couple days of fun and exploration. I agreed to take some family portraits for one of my coworkers on the beach and she agreed to pay for a hotel room. I don't directly charge for my photography since I am still in a "portfolio-building stage" and I don't consider myself at a professional level yet, but I do hope to get there one day.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Indian Maharani Princess

My pictures of Pearl seemed to come out nicer than my pictures of Chloe. They were standing side by side, and yet somehow Pearl came out tack sharp and Chloe was fuzzy. My aperture was at 4.5, so I thought it should be OK.

Anyway, I have been posting more Chloe pictures lately, so today I will focus on Pearl. She really loved her costume and I didn't realize how much work it would take to place all those crystals on her face.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Preview

Chloe and Pearl were in the local Halloween parade tonight. There was also a costume contest. Pearl won second prize for her Indian Maharani Princess and Chloe won third prize as a leopard. When it was time to walk past the judges, Chloe hid her face and looked the other way. I think if she wasn't so shy, she might have done better. I don't know who won 1st prize, but there were two adorable buckaneers in front of us and I have a suspicion that they might have won.

Tomorrow for Halloween, I am not sure if I will put on as much make-up and jewels on the girls as I did tonight. It took me over an hour to get their faces ready. At least, we won't be stressing about how it looks.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Getting Ready for Halloween

Someone's safe this Thanksgiving.

Cinnamon the Bear really enjoys his Halloween pumpkin.

I must really be on a roll this weekend. I haven't quite fit in everything on my to-do list, but at least I kept up with the blogging!

Today I took Chloe and Pearl to our local zoo. It's sort of a refuge for California native wild animals who are either injured or unable to be returned to the wild. I didn't even know porcupines were natives of California. Since it was "Boo at the Zoo" day, lots of little kids were running around in their Halloween costumes. There were also lots of games and entertainment for the children.

After we came home from the zoo, I needed to practice on Chloe's make-up for Halloween. She will be dressed as a leopard and her costume is totally darling (IMO). I really wanted to paint her face to match, but I was uncomfortable with my face-painting skills. I tried it a few weeks ago and while it wasn't totally awful, it wasn't very good either. I could still improve upon a few things, but I think today's effort was good enough to pass.

Justin Bieber Mania

My husband Pete decided that he wanted to make a very special impression upon our exchange daughter Effy. Apparently, she is one of the many teen girls who is totally smitten with crooning heartthrob Justin Bieber. With that in mind, Pete purchased tickets and a VIP package for Effy to go to a Justin Bieber concert TODAY. They will be sitting in the third row. He is such a good dad that he is planning to go with her, so I will have the whole day to myself and Chloe and Pearl. I haven't decided what we will be doing today, but I know there will be some work on the girls' Halloween costumes. I think this year may even be more exciting than last year. Chloe will be a leopard and I will get a chance to perfect my face-painting skills. My first attempt a few weeks ago wasn't that good, but we are going to do another practice run today before the real date comes next weekend. Pearl's costume is way too big, so I will have to break out the sewing machine and make some adjustments. She also needs some more accessories, so we may have to go shopping!

If we have any time left over, the girls want to go to our local zoo. They have two new baby mountain lions in their collection that I have really been wanting to get a peek at before they grow up.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Mystery Spot

Elena stands in the door frame of the crooked shack.

Arranged in order from shortest to tallest, 5'-3" to 5'-11"
Arranged in order from tallest to shortest, however this time, they appear to be the same height, or even reversed.

I took a mid-week road trip to Santa Cruz for the day. While there, Elena and I stopped by the famous "Mystery Spot". The Mystery Spot is a location in the redwood forest where laws of physics are supposedly defied and distorted. Balls seem to roll uphill, people's height seems to change and a pendulum seems to rotate the wrong direction. While the effects and observations are based mostly upon visual illusions, it's still quite fascinating to take the tour in this Escher-esque place. Once inside the crooked cabin, I became extremely dizzy.

As it turns out, even the dizziness can be explained by the brain's difficulty in trying to match up what the eyes see with what the body feels. It's definitely a fun experience. Now back to the real world.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chloe's Cast Comes Off

Exactly 6 weeks to the day that Chloe broke her arm, it was time to have her cast removed. We had been counting down the days ever since we were within 2 weeks of the scheduled date. I think we were both a little fearful that the x-rays might suggest that we would have to wait longer, but once in the office, they didn't even take the x-rays until after the cast was removed.

Chloe had been bouncing around all day in anticipation of the event. She was even bubbly in the doctor's office. That is, until the cast came off. It only took a few moments for Woody to come in with his trusty saw and cut that cast wide open. We were thrilled to see it removed. What a strange sensation it was for Chloe. The nurse noticed almost immediately that Chloe's entire demeanor changed. She became somber and a little fearful. Her arm was feeling numb and she was afraid to move it. We noticed that the layers of skin underneath were built up and peeling. I was warned not to let her scratch for fear of tearing her sensitive skin.

It's been over a week now that Chloe has had her cast off. She is still favoring the arm and it does hurt from time to time, but she is almost back to normal and her skin looks great. She still writes with both hands and I am hoping that she will enjoy being ambidextrous. It is so nice to have this chapter behind us!