Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

What a wonderful, rewarding and joyful Christmas 2007 it has been! The morning started out quiet and peaceful believe it or not with Anya Rashi slowly waking up looking very cute in her own sleepy way. Then the boys woke up. We read the Christmas story out of the gospel of Luke and sang some Christmas songs together. Then we opened up our simple gifts to one another. A book here, a toy there. It was a great way to start the day.

Aaron said. "Better than all the gifts that we can get today is the fact that we have each other and Jesus." That really melted my heart.

I (Peter) went to church to help support the Christmas Day services. We have a family-oriented service on Christmas Day and I do not normally have to "work" that service, but it was neat to see families come to church on this day with their kids and have kids up on the platform answering questions and sharing their funny, insightful answers to questions about what Christmas is all about.

After that, Nancy, the boys and I went to celebrate Christmas with my side of the family. Nancy's family is smaller (her mom, dad, her brother Matt and her sister Alicia and us).

My family is definately not small! I have six brothers and sisters who came from all over the Midwest to my sister Lynn's home near Fond du Lac. Some of them are married so they of course brought their kids. The place is a riot: food, card games, cousins playing with each other, great conversation and time together. It can sometimes feel a bit crazy to have that many people in one space, but each year we try and carve out pockets of time to connect with one another.

My family was very excited about seeing Anya Rashi. She did a pretty good job with the big crowd. I really appreciate the love and support that both our families have given us. They have extended their prayers, time, finances and love to her, our boys and to us. We are so blessed! My dad even had a picture of Anya Rashi on the cover of our family calendar this year. Thanks Dad!

We have invited them over for some breakfast tomorrow morning, so there is still a bit of work for Nancy and I to do before then.

Our hearts are simply overflowing with awe and gratitude to Jesus for His goodness and to our families for their pure, simple love and kindness to us this Christmas. It will not be one to forget.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Family fun

We have been settling in pretty well -- by day, that is! Each night continues to be a little bit different for amounts and quality of sleep. :o)

Peter and I think it's like having a newborn, in terms of building trust, and trying to respond quickly to her at night. But this "newborn" weighs about 20 lbs., and man, does this girl like to move! She will have no trouble keeping up with her brothers.

She is a very bright, chipper, active little girl, and our days have been very fun. Anya Rashi likes to explore everything in the house, and can entertain herself with plastic containers, a piece of wrapping paper, Christmas tree ornaments, and Nathan's Rescue Heroes. Sometimes, she even plays with baby toys!

She loves to clap her hands, dance to music, and say "ta-dah" while holding a toy on her head -- something Aunt Alicia taught her while we were in Kolkata. She also blows kisses, and kisses the Cabbage Patch doll from our friends Molly and Maria.

We celebrated Christmas with my family yesterday, and will celebrate with Peter's family tomorrow. So far, we've stayed home, so tomorrow will be the first time she's left the house. She is very interested in our back door, however, and how people come and go . . . so we think she will enjoy being one of them.

A merry and blessed Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kolkata redux

Since we couldn't get internet access on our last day in Kolkata, I thought I'd post about it while my memory is still functional! We had a low key morning, eating at the hotel, and letting Anya Rashi nap on the bed.

In the afternoon, we decided to walk a few blocks to St. Paul's Cathedral, where a seasonal surprise awaited us: we discovered people setting up a life-size Nativity scene outside the cathedral. It was breathtaking, with palm trees, gorgeous fabric costumes on the wise men, life-sized camels, and a man applying dark black hair to the infant Jesus' head!

We were moved to see how universal the Gospel message is. All the members of the holy family were brown-skinned with black hair, reminding us that the birth of Jesus brings hope to all people, all nations.

After seeing the inside of this beautiful cathedral, we headed back to the hotel, stopping at an indoor shopping center to purchase some Bengali music for Anya Rashi and the boys. Ironically, the place was called "The Air-Conditioned Market" -- but it was approximately 90 degrees inside! We were the only ones in short sleeves, and the only ones sweating. :o)

While I stayed with Anya Rashi for her nap, Alicia and Peter ventured out to the Kali Temple. There were lots of people crammed into a small space. The temple feeds over 2,000 impoverished people twice daily (but the temple is not open for visitors during the mealtimes). In return for their donation to the food program, Alicia and Peter were given tokens of incense, red thread bracelets, and an orange dot on their foreheads.

After they returned, we began packing up. We had to leave the hotel at 1:30 a.m. to go to the airport for our 5:00 a.m. flight to London. Our plans for a 4-hour nap were foiled, though, by a really interesting cultural event happening right outside our window. A family had rented the hotel's courtyard for a ceremony celebrating their baby son's first solid food.

It was a very elaborate party, with over 400 guests, hotel catering, a DJ playing Indian music, complete with live video feed of people entering the party and baby Vivaan eating his first rice. There were even balloons with Batman and Spiderman on them! The courtyard was decorated, and the women were dressed in splendid sarees. Anya Rashi slept right through all the excitement!

At breakfast and dinner, the hotel staff always came to check on Anya Rashi. One particular waiter was very fond of her, and Anya was fascinated by him. He had very thick glasses that made his eyes look really animated, and he was so very kind. He asked if he could stop by our room that evening to say goodbye to her -- it was so sweet. Everyone at the hotel was so warm and accommodating. We highly recommend the Kenilworth to anyone staying in Kolkata.

With that, we were ready to head home.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Home at last

We've had a great homecoming! We were met at the airport by Appleton friends Tina and Todd, and Chicago friends Heidi and Charlie -- it was so good to see familiar, loving faces. We drove to Milwaukee and met Peter's folks and brother Bob for birthday cake, courtesy of Alicia's friend Renee, and an hour break for all of us to stretch a little after the long flights.

This morning, Anya Rashi met her brothers for the first time! We kept them home from school today so we could have some time together. Anya Rashi seemed surprised to see some non-adults, and the boys thought she was adorable.

We three travelers are quite tired, and our body clocks could use some major adjustments. We are doing fine, all things considered -- especially because we've had so much help. Our friend Kathy brought us a meal tonight, and Peter's mom helped with laundry and boy-tending today so I could nap when Anya Rashi did. Nancy's mom picked up the boys from school and has been very helpful as well.

We feel so grateful for the loving people in our lives. Know that we are unbelievably grateful for you, even if the thank you notes and Christmas cards don't arrive for a while! Please pray for a quick recovery from jet lag . . . and for many fond memories to be made while we get to know our baby girl. We will try and post some photos in the near future.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On our way home!

Hi all,

Sitting here in London awaiting our connecting flight to O'Hare. We have heard there may be some snow there, so we are praying for no flight issues. Soon we will be home, tired and worn out but very happy.

What an adventure this has been and will continue to be.

Today is Anya Rashi's first birthday!!!!!

Happy Birthday dear Anya.

Thank you all for your prayers and support on this special journey. It will feel great to be home again with our family together at last.

Thank you too Alicia for coming along and sharing this special trip with us. It was an honor to share this with you.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Out and about in Kolkata

Today, we decided to see a few Kolkata sights (for as long as Anya Rashi seemed comfortable!). With baby asleep in her carrier, we did a quick jaunt (15 min., with our mandatory guide!) through the Marble Palace. It was built in 1835 by Raja Bahadur, who was an obsessive collector of Victorian statues, paintings, furniture, etc. Some family members still live in part of the mansion.

Next we went to one of my favorite places so far, the Pareshnath Jain Temple. It was built in 1867, and the entire surface is covered in mosaics of colored glass, bits of mirror, tiles, and colored stones. It was spectacularly intricate and beautiful. (Liz and Kathy H., you would've loved it!) We couldn't enter the temple itself, but the outside was gratifying enough. The Jain religion is very respectful of every living thing -- I've read just a little bit about it, and find it fascinating.

The highlight of our day, however, was Mother Teresa's house. It was so peaceful and inspiring. We heard the sisters singing and participating in Mass, and saw a new exhibit about the call on Mother Teresa's life. What a tremendous impact she's had on so many lives, all born of her love for and emulation of Christ.

After that, we went to the Victoria Memorial, the most British thing on our itinerary so far. It had extensive gardens and a huge domed building housing statues of British leaders, the Queen, and British artists' depictions of India. It also featured an exhibit about Indian independence and the experience of ordinary Indians under British rule . . . the only place we've seen that addressed this topic.

Anya Rashi did very well with our sight-seeing. Today saw the end of her 36-hour liquids strike, and she drank juice and formula with gusto! We received many stares with her in our arms, and a few people asked us directly why we're adopting her, if she was really an orphan or if we had arranged for someone to give her to us, and why we would adopt her since we already have two sons. It was interesting to try and read the thoughts and feelings behind their questions. The first of many, I'm sure.

Back in our room we put on some Bengali music and she swayed to it and clapped along with us. We plan on just chilling out with her for the rest of the night. She will get her first bath tonight with lots of olive oil to treat her skin! We hope she enjoys it. We've received strict instructions from the hotel staff about Indian baby care: namely, that she should not be immersed in water because it is too cold in winter (70+ degrees today!). Only sponge baths for our darling!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

All about Anya Rashi

Today was all about getting to know Anya Rashi. I wondered how she would feel when she woke up in a strange place . . . At first, she was a little quiet and hesitant. Within about 15 minutes or so, she was turning around on my lap to see the hotel room, and reaching for a drinking glass and her bottle.

She was very vocal and happy all day. Unlike yesterday, she wanted to walk around and explore, and was interested in toys. I can't believe what a change there was compared to last night. We were prepared to hold her all day, and kept our expectations low about seeing smiles -- but she surprised us all!

Peter and I had to take her to the embassy today to complete her travel visa. While we were there, we met a family with a 17-month-old named Aisha. They are headed to the U.S. to work at ITT in Chicago-- the husband is a physics researcher. They were very curious about why we chose to adopt when we already have two sons, so we gave them a very short version of our story. Anya Rashi and Aisha had fun playing together while we all waited.

We felt brave, and went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Anya Rashi did very well, eating papaya, shepherd's pie, and an Indian sweet for dessert. She likes to eat, but not to drink much. Ms. Roy said she doesn't care for formula, so they try to get it in her by mixing it with cereal and biscuits. So, we have been experimenting to see what she likes; mango/orange juice -- slightly. Water -- a little. Ms. Roy said she likes sweet lime juice, so we'll have to scour the stores for it.

She took two naps today, and is sleeping beside Peter now. In the early hours last night, she flung her leg over Peter's neck! He tapped me with his foot to wake me up, so I could take a picture. Too funny!

We also called Aaron and Nathan tonight, so they could hear their sister's babbling. They are so excited to meet her, and are bringing yesterday's pictures to school to show their classmates. We feel so blessed to call her our daughter. We have been enjoying her so much . . . she is definitely worth the wait.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Meeting Anya Rashi

As I write this, Anya Rashi is sleeping on the bed. This has been an amazing day, when our family of four officially became a family of five! Our lives will never be the same, and we are so grateful God created our daughter and joined our lives together through adoption.

This morning, we made arrangements to meet Ms. Roy, the orphanage director, at 2:oo. I have to admit, I was a nervous wreck! Not sure why -- I thought I'd just be over the moon and excited, but Peter said I deserved a free pass for however I felt, since I was in "labor" this morning!

We spent the rest of the morning bagging up our donations for the children -- many thanks to all of you who contributed! We also wrapped our presents for the ayahs (nannies), although the gifts seemed so small in comparison with the jobs these women do every day. Then, we went shopping! We found some Indian clothes for Anya Rashi to grow into, and a few other gifts for family and friends.

Then, we were off to Matri Sneha (Mother's Love) baby home! We met with Ms. Roy and signed Anya Rashi's paperwork. Ms. Roy is an amazing, caring, thoughtful woman. She answered all our questions, and was so humble and kind. Next, we were in for a great surprise: they had compiled a baby book including Anya Rashi's newborn picture, her favorite foods, and a description of her personality: calm, quiet, cheerful, playful. Of course, I cried. :o)

Then, it was time to meet Anya Rashi. When we went into the room where she was waiting with all her baby friends, I was immediately struck by how happy, healthy, and content they all were. Then, we saw her . . . she was so dear and beautiful. She was a little apprehensive about being picked up, so we took it slowly. There were a few whimpers and cries, but she did all right as we carried her down to the car.

We also got to see the other facility, where the newborns and special needs children live. A note for some other waiting families: we saw Luke Swarnadip -- he has loads of personality and seemed very outgoing! He was such a lively cutie! We also saw Prasun, who had a completely endearing (and quick) smile. He is a charming little man! Elizabeth's family will be glad to know that she was playing fun with her friends, and seemed healthy, happy, and full of fun.

After seeing all the children, we brought Anya Rashi back to the hotel. She was tuckered out, and fell asleep on the ride back. The deep breathing of a sleep-heavy baby is so sweet . . .

This first night, Anya Rashi was pretty bewildered. She woke up after her nap in a strange place, with pasty pale people! She stuck to me and Peter like glue. As the night went on, she relaxed a little, laughing when Nancy kissed her tummy, when Peter made funny noises, and when Aunt Alicia kissed her hands. When our dinner was delivered, the two men spoke Bengali to her and she lit up! It was so good to see.

We can't begin to tell you how much joy we feel tonight. The only thing that would've made this day better would be having Anya Rashi's big brothers here too. Aaron and Nathan, we can't wait for her to meet the two best boys in the world!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In Kolkata

We've arrived safely in Kolkata!

This morning, we decided to see a bit more of Delhi. We made two shorter stops, at Jama Masjid (a centuries-old mosque in the midst of a large Muslim neighborhood) and Raj Ghat, the place where Ghandi was cremated. A black marble slab surrounded by gardens memorializes him there. It was a very peaceful oasis.

We also spent quite a bit of time at the Red Fort. It was another enormous fortress built by Shah Jahn -- he was a busy man! The Shah and his queen lived there, and there were separate quarters and a bath house for the women. There was amazing inlaid stone work, including empty hollows where the British removed diamonds and other gems when India gained its independence.

It is an immense compound, with a red sandstone wall stretching on and on around it. During British occupation, the Red Fort housed the British army, then after Indian independence in 1947, the Indian army was headquartered there. It was opened to the public only very recently in the year 2000, if my memory serves.

Then, we did a little shopping -- not our favorite activity, but we wanted to bring home a few reminders of the trip. :o) After that, it was off the to airport!

From our first glance, Kolkata has a very different feel than Delhi did. It seems much more like a "big city," with more billboards (including one for Kohler!) and many more multi-storied buildings. It also has that electric feel that Chicago or New York have, while Delhi was bustling but more old-world.

It's 1:oo a.m. and I don't know how I'm going to sleep! We are so excited for tomorrow, and getting to know the new addition to our family. Thanks, everyone for posting comments and sharing this journey with us. We love knowing that you're praying for us.

A note from Peter:
It certainly has been great for us to take in this culture and history for both now and for the future, but another great part of the trip has been getting to know the people like our drivers, hotel workers, etc. They've shared their stories, their hopes and dreams, and even their beliefs in God. I had some wonderful conversations with one of our drivers about his beliefs (Sikhism) and was able to also share my Christian beliefs with him.

It is awe inspiring to me to know that God knows every one of the 1.2 billion people in India.
A billion to one.....tomorrow we meet Anya Rashi!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Embassy day

Today was embassy day! Everything went smoothly, except for the ride there. Our taxi driver had to stop three times to ask for directions! (For those of you who aren't sure what embassy day means, it was to begin the process for Anya Rashi's travel visa, which will be completed in Kolkata.)
The immigration officer, Officer Patel, is Indian but grew up in California. He is working here for two years, and isn't sure if he wants to stay -- the summers are too hot. His brother lives in Chicago, so he asked us how cold it was when we left. :o)
Afterwards, we decided to see a little more of Delhi. We went to Humayun's Tomb, which is closely related to the Taj Mahal, but not nearly as famous. It was built by Haji Begum to memorialize her husband Humayun. It was built before the Taj, and the Taj was modeled after it. The banyan trees in the gardens have been there since the Mughal era (1500s).
We also spent a little time at Purana Qila, a fortress built from 1538-1545 by Sher Shah, who briefly interrupted Humayun's rule. While we were there, we got to listen to the Symphony Orchestra of Parma, Italy! They were rehearsing for an outdoor concert that evening. It was quite a bizarre combination of sights and sounds.
One funny note for all you Wisconsinites: there was an article on the front page of today's Delhi Times about yesterday being the coldest day in three years. The low was 50 and the high was 70!! Everywhere we go, people (especially children) are bundled up in layers, sweaters, hats, and even winter coats (on some little kids).
The best part of this day has been knowing that we're so close to meeting Anya Rashi. Going to the embassy really solidified that for us! Tomorrow, we will shop for a few gifts to bring home, then go to the airport for our late-afternoon flight to Kolkata. Then, Wednesday is the big day!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A day in Agra

We set out for Agra today, and like the tourists that we are, our destinations were the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. Johan once again defied natural laws to squeeze through tight traffic.

We learned that the Indian term for high-beam headlights is "dippers," and they're used (in conjunction with much horn-beeping) to indicate that someone needs to get out of your way so you can pass, weave, dart, or otherwise snake your way around them. "Use horn" and "use dippers at night" was painted on the bumper of almost every truck we saw.

After the noise and excitement of the ride, the Taj was an oasis of peace. It was more beautiful than we could've imagined. The shimmering white facade grew more detailed the closer we came, until we could see the inlaid jade and carnelian floral designs (which looked merely black from further away), and many other semi-precious stones. Shah Jahan must have loved his wife Mumtaz very much (if you can overlook the other 4,999 he kept over at the fort!).

The outlying buildings were fascinating too. To our left was a mosque, to the right a guesthouse. There was a little museum about how the Taj was built, including ivory portraits of the Shah and his bride.

The sheer scale of the Agra Fort was staggering. It was truly a fortress, housing multiple castles, courtyards, and facilities all surrounded by thick red sandstone walls. It was interesting to see portions of the fort built during different eras, and compare the styles and materials.

On an atmospheric note, our time in both Agra and Delhi has been filled with the scent of wood fires. December and January are the coldest months here, so people on the roadsides, in the country, and in the cities keep warm by huddling around fires -- we even smelled wood smoke on the ground floor of the airport when we arrived.

Another bit of Indian life: Johan told us that November, December and January are the busiest months for weddings in India. This month, in Delhi alone, there were 20,000 marriages performed in a single day! The cool weather allows for food safety for the wedding feasts, which often take place on four separate days.

One difficult thing to deal with has been people asking for money or food outside the tourist sites. I know all the guide books say not to give anything, but I couldn't help it, and gave my bottle of water and granola bar to a girl and a mother with a baby. I am a soft touch, and not cut out for saying no constantly.

The other reality we have seen is people living just a few feet from the roadside, in ramshackle huts built of whatever is available. In the city, that means aluminum, cardboard and plywood; in the country, that means thatch roofs and wooden or bamboo walls. Some dwellings have a lightbulb or a TV, while others provide fewer comforts. Most have only one or two walls, and are open to the street.

We saw so many homes like these as we drove. God knows each person who lives in them, He knows their stories, and He loves them all dearly. It is humbling to think of all that we have, when so many have so little. It leaves us wondering about Anya Rashi's birth parents and their circumstances. They must have cared greatly about her future to have placed her at a baby home where they knew she would receive such loving care.

On a much lighter note -- Aaron and Nathan: we saw lots of monkeys today! They were scavenging for food. We also saw two pigs, countless goats being herded beside the busy roads, and more camels. You'll be happy to know that the Taj Mahal was as amazing as it sounds on your India story tapes, and we were thinking of you the whole time.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Exploring Delhi

After a few hours' sleep, we set out to see a little of Delhi. We discovered that our driver Baldras was the older brother of Johan, who picked us up at the airport last night.

Our first destination was the India Gate, a stone arch built in honor of the 90,000 Indians who died in WWI and two other military actions of the same time period. There were many school groups there, and lots of local businessmen (and boys and girls) trying to convince us to buy their wares. Aaron and Nathan -- you'll be happy to know that we saw a snake charmer playing his flute to make a cobra rise from its basket!

We drove by the President's residence and Parliament on our way to the National Museum. It was an enormous facility -- far too much for us to see in the time we had (especially for an ex-museum employee like Nancy!). We saw metal and stone sculptures from as far back as the 5th century, which made us all think about how young our own country's history is. We also saw artworks that resembled illuminated manuscripts depicting Hindu and Buddhist scenes.

Many places we went had beautiful arrangements of real flowers and petals decorating the floors, stairways, and entrances. They were arranged in elaborate patterns and were glorious.

Next, we spent some time at Qutb Minar, which is the site of the country's first Islamic site. It is Delhi's oldest monument (dating from the 1190s), and was built using stones from earlier Hindu and Jain temples. The intricate tower is the most striking feature, along with beautifully carved stones. There are 379 steps inside the tower, but the public can't climb them anymore following a few fatal accidents. Yikes.

We ended our tour at the Bahai temple, which was definitely the most recent architecture we saw today. It was built in 1986, and looks like a lotus flower opening. It was surrounded by petal-shaped pools of water. We had to remove our shoes to enter, and total silence is observed inside -- except for the chirping of birds that flew in and couldn't find their way out. It reminded us of the opera house in Sydney, Australia (but we don't know if it was created by the same designer).

Another lasting impression from today was being totally flabbergasted by the traffic. We saw busses, cars, autorickshaws, horse-drawn carts, as well as handcarts and bicyclists carrying enormous loads -- all accompanied by lots of horn-beeping and completely non-existent multiple lanes! It was dizzying, and we were so grateful for Baldras' driving skills. If we had tried to do it ourselves, I'm sure there would've been some kind of international incident!

During our rides, we also saw lots of urban wildlife: camels loaded with goods, an elephant being led down the road, a yak resting calmly on the median, and a group of cows going the wrong way down the street. Everyone made room for them, of course.

All in all, a fascinating first day. Just few more days until we meet the star of this show!