Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hail to Mother Nature

Ooh la la! We celebrated our 25th anniversary (June 4th) early with Soulmate's family by attending the Guthrie's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Very over the top, very funny. After that we all went to a Brazilian restaurant called Fogo de Chao (Portugese for "cowboy campfire" I think). Fantastic unless you're vegan. I'm stuffed for the 2nd time in 24 hours (see my previous post).



We just drove from Fogo de Chao in Mpls to Roseville, and we got hail and hard rain before we left. Now the sirens are going off, and radar shows big thunderboomers just north and east of us, moving over Hugo (where the big tornado hit last week and flattened most of the town). It's just missing us, and seems to be walloping Stillwater right now.



A tornado was spotted 10 minutes ago in New Brighton, 5 miles from here. Lots of weather around here lately. We've been hoping for warmer weather for months now, but this is the price we pay I guess. Here's the radar map from 10 minutes ago:



BTW, Chia Chi's girl is blogging from Shanghai China, where they've been since last fall. I've been following her site for many months, enjoying pictures and descriptions from urban China. We will be traveling farther west and south, where it is much less urban (though there are many large cities relative to the midwestern U.S.).

There's a chance that Soulmate and I might get to visit the orphanage in Beiliu City that little Katie has spent her first 12 months in. It's about 3 hours east of Nanning, the capital of Guangxi province, and her caregivers will be traveling with her to meet us in Nanning where "Gotcha Day" actually takes place.

Some time later that week we hope to travel (with Katie) back to the orphanage to thank the caregivers, take pictures of where she slept, ate, and played, and possibly examine the children of the orphanage for ear, nose, and throat problems (since I am fairly well acquainted with these places, having examined tens of thousands of them over the years).

This particular orphanage only started allowing international adoptions last fall, and as of yet, no foreigners have been granted permission to visit. I hope that my offer of medical expertise will tempt the officials to allow us a visit. I have a hunch it will be of great benefit to Katie in the future. You are welcome to say a prayer for favor with the authorities. I'll update our progress.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I love my church


I forgot how much I love church potlucks. I grew up in the Baptist church, and the church ladies would cook up any excuse at all to have a potluck after the Sunday morning service.

"Isn't that a new hat that Viola is wearing?"

"Yes, so let's have a potluck next week!"


I was not a picky eater at all, so the prospects of not just one but 25 casseroles to choose from made a big impression on me. It still does, even in Minnesota where they're called "Hot Dish".


Our church, Jubilee Worship Center, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this weekend, and it started off this evening with a potluck and fellowship. Families A to L brought a main dish and dessert (woo hoo!) and M to Z brought a main dish and a salad. There were a total of 12 tables full of home-made heaven on earth. My only regret was that I couldn't sample everything without splitting open like the guy in "Alien".


After completely gorging myself and doing penance for gluttony (we were in church, after all), we had an impromptu program with open mic so people could tell stories or thank the staff and elders for running such a great church (I happen to be an elder, so that's what I heard at least). Pastor Mark's doppleganger, Pastor Bubba, showed up like he often does for these events, and I laughed so hard, I thought I was going to do the Alien thing anyway. Here's Bubba and Lena talking (sorry, the audio is pretty bad from my cell phone--for that matter so is the video) about Bubba's cousin the missionary:

video


The funniest thing about it is that Pastor Mark is as straight-laced as Bubba is goofy. It really is a Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde situation. One guy I know in church saw Bubba's act at three different church events over a period of 2 years and still wouldn't believe it was really Pastor Mark in costume. It was a mental leap that was just too hard to make. I think what really started it all years ago was the set of fake buck teeth someone gave Pastor Mark; now the rest is Vaudeville history.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Eagle Has Landed

Really. In our yard up at the lake this weekend. Buddy the troll woke me up at 6am last Sunday to start his day of getting let out the front door and coming back in the side door every five minutes (truly). But, thanks to his early morning goofiness, I got some footage of our friendly neighborhood National Bird. Check it out:


GS knock-out

With only 2 riders each in the Cat 1/2 division and the Masters 35+ open division, the Green boys took 1st in the General Classification (aka the yellow jersey) at the 4 stage Memorial Weekend Stage Race in Duluth.

Ian Stanford blazed the Friday Time Trial, putting 1:15 into his nearest rival, and holding onto most of that for the overall win in the Cat 1,2 race. Daniel Casper put in a great effort for 5th overall.

In my division, the Masters 35+ Open race, Charles Jacobs was down by 15 seconds to Jim Cullen after the TT, but put 1:06 into Jim in the Saturday road race with some help from teammate Big Jim Bell, then held on in the Sunday road race and the Monday Criterium to win the overall by 29 seconds.

Most everyone else was in Iowa for the big boy races, where BK landed hard at Snake Alley (where lots of people have landed hard over the years) and ended up in hospital with broken ribs and other stuff. Get well soon, Brian--you're a tough dude with a heart of gold.


Oh, yeah, and thanks to SkinnySki, here are some fly photos from last week's Black Dog TT, the 2nd of three qualifiers for the two MN team spots for the upcoming NVGP. GrandStay has a strong lead at this point, with only the State Fair crit to go.




Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Duchess has arrived

Shouts out to my sister-in-law who has finally launched her own blog The Duchess of Reel on Blogger. I'm looking forward to some really great posts, since she has watched more good movies than almost anyone I know, and always has something erudite to say about them.

I hope to get some great tips for movie watching, though after July 3rd I'm likely to see more Barney and Baby Einstein than "No Country for Old Men".

And that's absolutely fine with me...

A Day at the Lake

The dogs woke me up at 6 this morning per their usual lake vacation routine. Buddy the troll then proceeded to bark to either go out or come back in at least 10 times over the next hour while I tried to nap on the couch. That would have been fine if I hadn't stayed up til midnight reading. Pip just sat out on the lawn soaking up the sun.

While I was trying to doze, a shadow caught my eye, and I looked out to see a bald eagle sitting in one of the trees on the lake shore. I got a pretty good video of it, and rushed back inside to upload it to YouTube, but then discovered I forgot the recharger base for my HandyCam. So, you'll have to wait until Tuesday to see the eagle.

I think he was actually checking out Buddy to see if he could manage to fly with a 17 pound troll in his claws. After going in and out so many times and ruining my nap, I almost held him up so the eagle could take him away. Soulmate would have disapproved strenuously though.

One more gripe on the HandyCam: it's a great little camcorder, with a huge built-in HDD and a 6 hour battery, but to recharge it or to download video to the laptop, it requires a stupid plastic base instead of a simple USB cable. Sony has been around long enough to invent a really handy camcorder, but apparently not long enough to make it easy to actually work with the footage.

Oh, yeah, I forgot that there's also a "Memory Stick" slot on the HandyCam so I could download the video that way, if only I actually had a memory stick or a memory stick slot on my Toshiba. Everybody else in the entire world uses SD cards, but Sony's quirky like that. Some of us remember Beta versus VHS.

On a much more somber note, I read this in the NYT this morning about the quake in Sichuan province. It would seem that finding adequate funding for schools is not just an American problem. I suspect that if we lost something like 10,000 students in a natural disaster because their school buildings collapsed as a result of poor designs, we would see a significant rise in spending on educational infrastructure in a hurry.


BTW, as usual there is no actual communication from China regarding Katie's welfare in the quake's aftermath, but given that she's almost 700 miles southeast of the quake's epicenter, she probably got shaken up a little, but nothing more. As long as she wasn't attending school in one of the poor kids' buildings...




Saturday, May 24, 2008

Some Shouts

Another attempt at video blogging, with shouts out to our traveling companions. If you have trouble with the video, drop me a line. Flaming is not necessary...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Doc's Big Adventure

It's unofficially official: we are going to China June 20 through July 3. Our guide for the process, Sabrina Chang, emailed us yesterday to give us the good news. The dates are tentative until we receive our travel approval, but once we do, Sabrina will make our appointment with the American Consulate in Guangzhou (Canton). That's the final step in getting little Katie's passport and visa so she can enter the U.S. with us as our daughter (and a U.S. citizen).

From that date, we work backward about 2 weeks so we can get all the paperwork done before the Consulate appointment, and that's what we'll be spending most mornings working on while in China. We will fly to Guangzhou initially, then travel to the capital of the province that Katie was born in. She was born in Beiliu City, in Guangxi province, so it looks like we'll spend a week or so in NanNing, the capital of Guangxi province. There we will take care of all of theChinese government paperwork to complete the adoption.

Then we will travel back to Guangzhou for another week to complete the U.S. paperwork leading up to the Consulate appointment. After waiting a day or so for the Consulate to make a passport and visa for Katie, we will be on the plane back to the States.

We thought about taking a few extra days to tour Beijing, but with all the hoopla surrounding the upcoming Olympics, we decided not to. Maybe we're wrong, but it seems like the hassle factor will be too great. We do plan to return at some point in the future with Katie and explore Beijing and Guangxi province in much greater depth. For now, we are totally focused on our daughter, as we should be.

We keep telling the dogs "you have no idea how much your life is about to change", but I suspect it's really a subconscious way of telling ourselves the same thing. I think it will be a pleasant, if hectic, change for all involved. More to come...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Saint Kathryn

Disclaimer: I am Protestant, not Catholic, and I don’t know much about the process of being recognized as a saint in the Catholic church. Furthermore, I don’t know if the subject of today’s post is Catholic or not, and I assume that to become a recognized saint in the Catholic church, you have to be Catholic to begin with. N’important. I have decided to start my own program of Saint recognition; requirements at this point are rather vague, but one person stands out in my mind right now.

Today I would like to publicly recognize our adoption coordinator from International Adoption Services, Kathryn Bauermeister. Kathryn has put in many hours of work coordinating the myriad details of our international adoption process. She helped us quickly put together our adoption dossier, guided us through the process of getting State Department approval, and finally having the dossier logged into the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA).

Then she became our counselor and therapist when months of waiting turned into years (3 this July, to be exact). We became somewhat numb during this period, but Kathryn faithfully updated us on how (slowly) the process was moving, and encouraged us to keep hoping.

Finally, she had the joy of notifying us 2 weeks ago that we have finally received an adoption “referral”. Since then, she has attempted to bring some semblance of order to the chaos that ensued. Some of that chaos is due to the Byzantine regulations governing international adoption, both by the Chinese authorities and their U.S. counterparts. Some of it is my doing (or failing to do).

There are basically 4 requirements for a successful international adoption: 1. fill out all the paperwork correctly to prove your I.Q. is 200 or greater; 2. have a home study done to make sure you’re not an axe murderer; 3. pay all the money you have (and more) to prove you are adept at taking out loans (you’ll need to do this when your child goes to college); and 4. get fingerprinted once a month or so, in case you become so frustrated with the process that you BECOME an axe murderer by going berserk in the fingerprint center in St. Paul.

OK, so #4 requires some circular logic to understand, but trust me, spending a little time in the St. Paul Application Support Center will twist your logic sufficiently. Our long wait necessitated updating (read that “completely re-doing”) our I-600A, the main U.S. government form that allows us to bring Katie into the country once we’ve adopted her. That form is good for 18 months, and since we’ve waited almost twice that long, we had to update it last year. It’s still good until December of this year, so we’re safe with that one.

The problem comes because “up-to-date” fingerprints (yes, I also wonder how fingerprints expire, since they never change during your lifetime) are required to support the I-600A form. Get this, though: my fingerprints expire after 15 months, not 18 months like the I-600A does. Only a governmental program can achieve this level of complexity. So, while the main government adoption form is up-to-date with plenty of time to spare, the supporting fingerprints expire the week before we are likely to travel.

This is where I screwed up: I thought our fingerprints expired when the I-600A did, and that we were all set to travel. Fortunately, Kathryn discovered the flaw before it became a fatal one. So, as previously posted, we filled out another fingerprint request form and sent it off. Last week we got a notice to appear at the St. Paul Application Support Center on May 27 at 8:00am.

So, let’s see: the day after Memorial Day, the first day of official summer, the day when most parents would love to have their child’s tonsils removed or whatever, the day when I already have a full surgery schedule; that’s the day that is convenient for the good folks at Homeland Security Administration to repeat our fingerprinting for the 3rd time. Huh. So that’s what “Home-icidal” means.

I asked Kathryn if we could just walk into the center on a Saturday morning and get the job done. She said that she had walked in on a weekday afternoon and that had worked, but Holly at IAS told me that a family had recently been turned away when they tried to walk up. I didn’t relish the idea of a 3 hour round trip on a Saturday morning only to fail and have to report on the 27th anyway.

I actually contemplated trying to reach Senator Norm Coleman’s office to request an expedited fingerprinting appointment, but finally decided just to clear my schedule on the 27th and take our chances on getting the fingerprint clearance back in time for our travel.

This is where Saint Kathryn comes in: she persisted in emailing the chief officer of the Minnesota BCIS (Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services) office, and finally on Friday afternoon got the OK for us to come in the next day (Saturday the 17th, which was yesterday). We were busy Friday night at a dinner and program until late, so I missed her urgent calls and emails. She finally called my cell around 10:00am on Saturday and told me we were due at the office between 1 and 3:30 that afternoon.

Soulmate had planned to go with Big Jim’s wife to Babies R Us in Maple Grove, but instead we took our third tour of the Application Support Center on University Avenue in St. Paul. We did manage a short trip to Babies R Us after reviving our fingerprints. Now, hopefully, we will get our fingerprint clearance form (I-171H, I believe) back before we travel. I may still have to borrow a favor from Sen. Coleman before this is all said and done.

Thank you, Kathryn, we couldn’t do this without you. Soulmate and I joke that population control would be simple and certain if every would-be family had to go through what an adoptive family has to. I wonder what form I have to send to Pope Benedict XVI to request canonization? I guess that will have to wait until after I wade through the sea of paperwork still awaiting us in China. Now, if I can only find my passport…

Monday, May 12, 2008

Smokin'

The boys in Green cleaned up pretty well last week:

Tuesday – Opus 1st /2nd/3rd/4th (small field but still)
Wed – Black Dog 1st (Casper)
Thursday- Buck Hill 1st (Doug)
Saturday- TT- 1st 2nd and 3rd (Ian/Casper/BK)
Sunday-MTB - Eric’s Spring Cup 1st (Doug)

I love this team!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Make that an "E" please

My very perceptive sister-in-law has picked up a discrepancy between Soulmate and I, semantically (or etymologically) speaking: I have been spelling our new daughter's name with two "A"s instead of one "A" and one "E". I decided long ago that we would most likely end up calling her "Katie", so I thought her full name should start with a "K", not a "C", but didn't pay attention to the vowels.

I'm generally not one to run to the court of public opinion in private matters, but this being a life-long appellation, I decided to google the various options. It turns out that Catherine and Katherine are about equally popular, with the K version slightly more popular, so that's a relief.

Katharine has in its favor an association with an Oscar-winning actress and three Shakespearian characters (from Henry V, Henry VIII, and Love's Labour's Lost), and it was favored by the Romans. Katherine was favored by the Greeks, and is overwhelmingly favored by Americans, Germans, and Brits.

Soulmate plays the trump card: since our last name is often misspelled, which given name is less likely to be butchered? The answer wins the day:

KATHERINE it is.

Contortions!

With all the waiting and paperchase over the past 3 years leading up to our adoption of little Katie, we feel like we've been bent into all sorts of odd shapes and contortions. Criminal background checks by the city police, county sheriff, state bureau of criminal investigation, and Homeland Security Administration; fingerprinted once by the sheriff and twice by BCIS; a home study done by a local social worker; monitoring Rumor Queen blog for ANY news about Chinese adoptions; bugging our adoption agency at regular intervals knowing that they don't know anything more than we do; and FINALLY last Friday night hearing the words we've been dying to hear for 3 years: "your adoption referral has arrived".

It's funny, but that sounds so clinical and bureaucratic, when what they really mean is: the little 10 month old Chinese abandoned orphan who has been living in a city orphanage all her short life has finally been allowed to join our family after a longer wait than anyone should have to endure.

Now we're scrambling to get paperwork together (and get fingerprinted by BCIS for the 3rd time), figure out what to pack since small town China may not have the exact style of Huggies that we prefer, and decide if we really want to visit 2 friends in northern China before we see Katie. At least it's not the mind-numbing wait we've been subjected to until now.

Anyway, in honor of our convolutions and contortions, I have uploaded a video of my nephew from a month or two ago doing a contortion act for his school variety show. He's pretty flexible as you'll see.



He is attending a Cirque du Soleil training camp in Montreal this summer, and hopes one day to be a performer in one of the Cirque touring companies. Being a perfectionist, he is not at all pleased by this video (even though he won the variety show with it and took home $100!), so he will probably be mad that I pilfered a copy from his house and uploaded it. Oh well, so sue me, little buddy!

While we were in Orlando together a couple of weeks ago, his gymnastics coach, who knows the Orlando Cirque head coach, got him a backstage tour between shows of La Nouba, and a chance to spend all afternoon at their weekly practice. He was really inspired by it, and especially loved the little Chinese girls who do the "Diabolo" spinning top routine. Which brings us full circle back to our little Chinese girl Katie.

I have a feeling I'll be able to bring almost any conversation full circle back to Katie, kind of like six degrees of Kevin Bacon.

BTW, shouts out to Chad and Holly who added another arrow to their familial quiver. He is Anderson Walter Macy, born May 8th, 2008, weighing 9.6 pounds, 20.25 inches long. He is awesome! Which reminds me, did I tell you about our awesome little girl, Katie?...

Friday, May 9, 2008

May 9 update

I'm trying out different video converters, so this video has "evaluation copy" written across my face. It might be an improvement, huh?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

And Now, a Word...

Ni Hao!

I just got a new toy: a webcam for my laptop. I'm warming up all this media stuff in preparation for our trip to China to adopt Katie. I now have a decent camcorder, a tiny digital camera, my Treo with camera and camcorder features, and this webcam.

I'll be video posting my mug periodically to give you up-to-the-minute news and commentary about the big event. Here's a test dose--if you immediately feel weak and nauseated, please engage your screensaver ASAP.




We have the good fortune of having connections in the medical community around here, and my friend Weining has agreed to take Katie on as a patient. Weining is a pediatrician and a Chinese native who has been practicing in our Metrop for a number of years. She has already read over the Chinese version of Katie's medical report, and gives us the thumbs up on her health.

Katie is small for her age compared with Caucasian babies, as befits a southern Chinese person (remember that Yao Ming, the 7 foot tall NBA pro, is from northern China). On U.S. growth charts, she is around the 25th percentile for height and head circumference, but near the 50th percentile for weight. Weining says that Chinese and Korean babies are often comparatively large at birth, and slim down a lot as they grow.

Our friend Xiaoyang, whom we met last year when she was a visiting professor at SCSU, has helped us translate the name the orphanage gave to little Katie. It's a little sad, really. Here's her recent email:

I saw little Katie; she's cute!
Yes, thanks to the scanned picture of her name, it has a meaning to me now! The first Chinese character means "country", which seldom is used as a family name in China. I guess it's the SWI workers who picked this word as her family name, which in this case would mean: Katie is a member of the big family--China and she'll be taken care of by the "country". The second character means "river" and the third one "a boat". So in general Katie's Chinese name means: she's like a boat on the river and will go wherever the river takes her...
Does my explanation make sense to you now?
My semester will be ended at the beginning of July so i'll be available during your stay in China. Hopefully you'll be able to visit my city--Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu Province! I guess you two are busy studying Chinese maps! :)
Looking forward to meeting you in China!


As are we, Xiaoyang! My GrandStay Hotels Cycling teammate, Chia, has been in Shanghai since last fall, and will be there until October or so. It turns out that Nanjing and Shanghai are fairly close together in northeastern China, so if we're able to travel for a few days before or after we are united with Katie, we'll try to get over to the east side and have a nice visit with both of you.

It may be best to stay away from Beijing on this trip since it's so close to the opening of the Olympics there on 08-08-08, and the denizens are in a fair tizzy as I hear tell. Hey, if I'd been spitting or smoking all my life to my heart's content, and suddenly the authorities outlawed it, I'd be pretty stressed out too. The whole Tibet thing has caused quite a bit of dyspepsia over there as well.

Well, time to see if Soulmate has left anything off the baby registry at Target.com and BabiesRUs. I have forbidden her to buy anything for Katie until she has at least registered, so her many friends can hope to buy anything for her upcoming shower. Otherwise, she would probably buy every baby item on the shelves tomorrow.

ZaiJian!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Introducing...

Katharine Grace Cragle, lately of Beiliu City, Guangxi province, China, soon permanently relocating to St. Cloud, Minnesota, USA. Welcome home soon, Katie!

Friday, May 2, 2008

We're Parents!

Soulmate and I just got a call from Kathryn at our adoption agency: we've been given a referral from the official Chinese Adoption Service, so we're going to be new parents soon!

We are pleased to announce that we have received a referral from China to adopt a baby girl, Katherine Grace Cragle (her Chinese name is Guo Jiang Zhu), DOB July 1, 2007, from Beiliu City in Guangxi province. We will get the official adoption paperwork on Tuesday, which will have some photos, so I'll share them then. Our best guess is that we will leave for a 2 week stay in China around the end of June. Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers during this long wait. We are very excited to be new parents!

Here is a Google map with a placemarker on Beiliu City. It is about 200 miles east of Guangzhou (Canton), where the U.S. Consulate is. We will spend one week in Beiliu City, bonding with Katie and filling out orphanage paperwork, and then another week in Guangzhou to do the U.S. paperwork and meet with the ambassador and/or his staff. Once that is completed, we can fly home knowing our daughter is already a U.S. citizen. More to come...


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