Friday, December 26, 2008
My heart is full of joy watching my children this Christmas morning. This year due to the next adoption, we "cut back" actually way back- our children however, had such JOY- they are very happy with what they received. I am praying each day that the Lord helps Juan and I teach our kids the joy of living, being content with what you have. Joy is not the next "gift" "thing" "toy" that we want. Joy is inside- and Once we accept Christ as our Savior, JOY is a choice.
My heart is breaking over the facts of this world. You know we all can do something. Maybe it is not for you to adopt, maybe you are past the stage in your life that that is what you can do. However you would be surprised how the older you are- the more calm, you are, with the kids- But it is true, not everyone can or should adopt. There are however so many other things that each one of us can pitch in and do. Just off the top of my head- I know of several orphanages that need supplies, babies are dying. There is a project in Haiti digging wells to bring clean drinking water to towns. There is a project that helps widows to be trained in a "job" so that they can support their children. (This is the project that I plan to work very hard on this next year- I so believe in helping others help themselves.) While I was in Ethiopia 2 years ago, I went and visited this project and plan to go again with our next trip. Hopefully SOON!!
IF anyone wants more information on any of the projects that I have just mentioned- or want to talk about other projects, please just email me. I can get addresses and more information to you, so that maybe you can start your "grass roots" project. EVERY single person that helps, even a little bit- Helps! It only takes one person to start the chain of events that can help the world. I CAN HELP.
My heart is breaking over the following facts.
What is the need?
Over 143 million children have lost one or both parents. 1
At least 16.2 million children worldwide have lost both parents. 2
Every 14 seconds a child loses a parent due to AIDS. 3
Conflict has orphaned or separated 1 million children from their families in the 1990s. 4
Where are they?
43.4 million orphans live in sub-Saharan Africa, 87.6 million orphans live in Asia, and 12.4 million orphans live in Latin America and the Caribbean. 5
1.5 million children live in public care in Central and Eastern Europe alone. 6
At any given point there are over 500,000 children in the U.S. Foster Care system. 7
In some countries, children are abandoned at alarming rates, due to poverty, restrictive population control policies, disabilities or perceived disabilities, and cultural traditions that value boys more than girls. 8
What about AIDS?
More than 14 million children under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to AIDS, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa. 9
By 2010, the number of children orphaned by AIDS globally is expected to exceed 25 million. 10
AIDS is more likely than other cause of death to result in children losing both parents. 11
As the infection spreads, the number of children who have lost parents to AIDS is beginning to grow in other regions as well, including Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Eastern Europe. 12
What happens to the children?
Children are profoundly affected as their parents fall sick and die, setting them on a long trail of painful experiences often characterized by: economic hardship, lack of love, attention and affection, withdrawal from school, psychological distress, loss of inheritance, increased physical and sexual abuse and risk of HIV infection, malnutrition and illness, stigma, discrimination, exploitation, trafficking, and isolation. 13
Orphaned children are much more likely than non-orphans to be working in commercial agriculture, as street vendors, in domestic service and in the sex trade. 14
Unaccompanied boys are at high risk of forced or 'voluntary' participation in violence and armed conflict. 15
Orphanages, children's villages, or other group residential facilities generally fail to meet young people's emotional and psychological needs. 16
What about foster care?
On average, children stay in foster care for 30 months, or 2.5 years. 17
118,000 children were waiting to be adopted on September 30, 2004. 18
On average, those children waiting for adoption have been in foster care for 43.8 months, almost 4 years. 19
Each year, an estimated 20,000 young people “age out” of the U.S. foster care system. Many are only 18 years old and still need support and services. Of those who aged out of foster care: 20 Outcome 21 Earned a high school diploma: 54% Obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher: 2% Were unemployed: 51% Had no health insurance: 30% Had been homeless: 25% 22 Were receiving public assistance: 30%
Is there any hope?
Yes. There is One who infinitely loves each orphan and calls His people to join Him in caring for the fatherless. Each one of us can Show Hope to an orphan.
If only 7% of the 2 billion Christians in the world would show hope to a single orphan, looking after the child in their distress, there would effectively be no more orphans. We can each do something.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Yes, we do exchange gifts in our family and we buy gifts for friends, and we donate to causes for some. Yet, we never lose sight of why this particular day was set aside...to remember that our salvation came to this earth as a man child. He was born helpless but He was the only source of hope for all mankind. We also realize that it is man's idea to celebrate the memory of His birth, and it is Jesus' command to celebrate/memorialize the event of his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection for our sakes.
This morning we watched our children's eyes as they opened their various gifts. We bathed in the glow of their adoration (as long as it lasts). We made our traditional call to Grandma & Grandpa. We'll eat our traditional Christmas feast. We will pray for our sisters and brothers around the world who can not celebrate openly because they are being persecuted for Christ's sake. We will pray for those who have no earthly treasures to open this morning; while at the same time they have more to celebrate because their faith tends to be more real than mine.
Celebrate & Pray - Remember and never forget...Jesus is the only reason!
God Bless each of you with Love, Joy, Peace, and Prosperity.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
But hey, we got this step and I shouldn't complain. Please pray for good timing on all the rest of this journey. Thank you to all who are our prayer partners throughout all of this.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
They also have each of them losing two years in age. Pam and I are hoping this was just a clerical error because that would put the youngest one in kindergarten - Pam has had enough of kindergarten, let me tell ya. We had each of our boys repeat kindergarten in order to gain both academically and maturity. This would be five years of kindergarten Mommy - not something she's looking forward to.
Then the shock of all shocks...they shaved our baby girl's head. I'm sure it done in order to help treat some type of fungal infection, but it was shocking none-the-less. She has about a quarter to half inch of hair on her little head. I was almost in tears imagining how she must have cried so hard when they did that to her. She's still the cutest little peanut with a precious smile.
The middle one, we expected to see a cast on his arm because his medical report said he had a healing fracture of the elbow. No cast. Shrug. Either the medical report was wrong, or they didn't put a cast on it for long. We'll have to remember to have an x-ray of both of his arm's when they finally get home.
We are STILL waiting for our I-171 form from the INS!! We've written twice and our social worker has written once, to no avail.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Because we live in a tourist destination area, we don't have "trickle down" effect, we have "Flood down". When people lose jobs, they don't have the money to take vacations it's simple math. If they don't take vacations, they don't need hotel rooms or beach houses to rent. If they don't stay at our hotels or beach houses, they don't eat at our restaurants, they don't shop at our gift shops, they don't buy our gas or our groceries. Then the supporting businesses suffer in kind. We don't need to clean the rooms or houses or pools, fix broken things, deliver anything, and on and on. If the beach houses can't be rented, the owner can't make his mortgage, she/he has to sell the house or lose it. We're seeing both in increasing numbers. I haven't seen it to recognize it yet, but our public services will start suffering more because if there are less rentals, then there's less sales and occupancy taxes being paid. Less taxes leads to less public services, which leads to layoffs there too.
All these actions lead to people losing their jobs with no local prospects. This means people will have to move out of the area, which means people will stop renting their houses, and apartments. Or they have to try to sell their houses (or lose them), we're seeing both in increasing numbers. People moving out of the area will mean more "flood down" effect for those of us remaining.
Now imagine this for hundreds of tourist destination areas around the country. This goes for all of the beach front regions (oceans and lakes), all of the ski resort regions, even your gambling towns. Thousands and thousands of families being effected. Then you throw them in with the auto industry, financial services, and home building/sales. Multiply that out and you see where our country is right now.
But in all this I bless the Name of the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever! Bless His Holy Name! He is merciful. He is mighty. He is loving and kind. Even in our darkest of hours we can stand on His promises like a rock. His word says, "I will never leave you as orphans." I KNOW that it true.
Pray for your brothers and sisters here and around the world. Give where you can help. Share what you have. Hold a hand, cry with the crying and rejoice with the one who rejoices. DO something.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Right after Thanksgiving, Pam and the girls pulled out our Christmas tree and the decorations. And let me tell you, they did up the tree so beautifully that it almost brought tears to my eyes. It is absolutely gorgeous. Simple, balanced and non-thematic. I actually love passing it and just gazing at it. And that's saying something because I'm not much of a Christmas person, (a left over neurosis from a previous marriage) but I'm working on changing it.
This year we plan on making Christmas small, but memorable. As time goes by we're getting to understand the wastefulness of the commercial Christmas and the lack of true giving. Of course I've always hated the part of spending gobs of time, money and effort trying to buy gifts for people when you haven't the slightest clue what they really want or need. That part irks me the most. But that's me.
There is a growing trend that our family and I hope yours will join - instead of spending gobs of time, money and effort on buying those mindless gifts that people don't need (and probably don't want), spend it on charitable causes. There are food banks, health care providers, orphans, shelters (for either people or animals), heck even "tree hugging, earth loving" organizations that could use your money. Send it to them. Send it in the name of a gift recipient. Give to someone who can't give back and truly enjoy the spirit of giving, rather than the spirit of exchanging. Give hope.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
We are thankful for our salvation. Without our salvation nothing else would even matter and there would be no reason to be thankful. We are thankful to God our Father and Jesus our Savior for the salvation of our Christian children.
We are thankful that God not only hears our prayers, but he invites us to pray to Him and then he answers our prayers. He doesn't always answer them in the way that we think that He should, but He answers them.
We are thankful for all 9 of our children. We are thankful for the 3-2-B ours. We thank Him for making it possible to eventually bring them home and for the blessings along the way to take away some of the financial burden.
We are thankful for our Church Family, for our birth families and for each other. And...we are thankful for our blog readers. You all give us encouragement and strength. May God bless each of you with Love, Joy, Peace, and prosperity.
May Jesus' name be praised.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Waiting, waiting, waiting!!
Friday, November 21, 2008
We believe that praying for our children before they come to us is very, very, very important. We pray for their health (spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical). We pray that they will blend in with the other kids. We pray that they will be able to adapt at home, church, and school. And very important, we pray that they will be able to attach to us in a healthy way. Attachment is a very deep subject that all adoptive parents have to deal with. Adoptive parents with older children have an even greater concern.
Attachment is what colors everything that goes on in the family dynamic. When we're dealing with the children, we have to look at every situation and gauge it on the child's age/expected maturity, education level, communication ability, their physical state and their mental state. We have to throw any attachment issues into the mix before we judge how to act or react. And just like any other sets of siblings, they are at all different attachment levels. The ability to attach starts out different for each child, and the amount of attachment changes or grows at different rates for each child. So we're both earning our Phd's in attachment issues. This builds character, let me tell you.
Short illustration - yesterday, our middle daughter came up and gave me a full on hug. This was without any prompting on my part and for no apparent reason other than to just do it. It was the first time she's done that in the 2 1/2 years she's been with us. It didn't feel 100% genuine, but it felt ton's more real than when I normally ask for a hug or a kiss. Every step is a welcomed step in the right direction.
Continue to pray for us.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Pam and I have an agreement in our marriage. I believe it is something that all couples should have in order to have a successful marriage. We agree to share everything 50-50. I do all the small, trivial things and Pam does all the hard, important things. Now ever so often, she gets the feelings that this agreement is a little tilted in my favor and I have to remind her that 50-50 means 50-50. I don't know why she complains! For example, I remember to turn the TV on when we want to watch it, and she remembers to pay the cable...50-50. She cooks great tasting nutritious meals, and I stop what I'm doing (which is normally pretty important, let me assure you) and I eat it...LOL
Marriage...isn't it a great institution? I'm committed.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
I found this article this morning. Come on people, we who have the ability, have the responsibility to do something, anything to help.
Ethiopia to see sharp rise in orphans running households: NGO
ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – Ethiopia will by 2010 see a four-fold increase in the number of orphaned children aged between nine and 19 who are heading families due to AIDS, poverty and conflict, a local NGO said on Friday.
Some 225,000 households will be run by children, up from 77,000 in 2005, Addis Ababa-based African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) said in a report.
"This is going to be an explosive problem," said Assefa Bequele, the agency's director.
"In some households, the oldest child is also the principal care-giver to a terminally-ill parent," said the report.
Ethiopia is one of the world's poorest countries. The government estimates that 1.5 million Ethiopians are infected with HIV, while the World Health Organization says nearly 2.8 million are infected.
We were sitting around in the family room watching a movie, when our oldest daughter comes in.
"Dad, how do you spell 'cowgirl'?" Now, I'm thinking, this has to be a trick question or something, but then I remember who's asking. Because of her struggling English skills, her spelling skills are dismal. So...
"C - O -W, girl. Why?" At this point she starts laughing hard, and sits down in her favorite spot in the family room. She has a huge comfort pillow in a corner of the room, on the floor. She actually dislikes sitting on the couch or the club chairs.
"I was talking with Corey on the phone and he was asking me what I dressed up like for Halloween." Corey is her big brother, a Marine stationed half way across the state. "When I tried to tell him 'cowgirl', he couldn't understand me, so he said for me to spell it. I didn't know how to spell it, I think. So I said "I think it's C-A-L-L-G-I-R-L." At that point Pam and I started laughing uncontrollably.
"Baby, you need to go call your brother and straighten that one out. There's a big difference between a 'cowgirl' and a 'call girl'."
"Why? What's that mean?" I'm in tears right about then.
"A 'call girl' is a prostitute, baby. Something I'm sure you don't want him thinking you were dressing up like."
"Oh, 'cause he was like, 'are you sure you have that word right? Where did you get that idea?' I told him 'Mom did'. Then he's asking if I'm sure again and again. I said 'yeah'."
Pam and I are laughing so hard we can't see straight. What made it even funnier was that we were at church on Halloween, because our church holds a "Trunk-or-Treat" event for the community and people dress up for it. Then we're having to explain to her little sister what "prostitute" means. The older says to her, "It's a bad girl." That doesn't quite get it, so I ask the older one to explain to the younger one in Amharic because the little brothers are there. She gets it then. Of course that's after one the little brothers asks, "What's a prostitute?"
She finally decides it would be a good idea to go up and call him again. After awhile she comes running into the room with her cell phone and says, "Corey wants to talk to you." She gives the phone to Pam. Pam is laughing so hard she can hardly talk.
When I get on the phone, Corey says, "I normally wouldn't want intrude and tell people how to raise their kids, especially you, but COME ON!" We talk some more and share a good laugh. He says he might be able to come for Thanksgiving. I say, "We'll all dress up for the occassion" and Corey say, "Yeah, I'm coming as a pimp."
Needless to say, it's times like this that all the troubles of being a parent, evaporate.
You gotta love it!
(For those reading this who live in the local area, be kind. Remember she's a teenaged girl)
Saturday, November 1, 2008
But not only does He want us to love Him, he wants us to love one another. Jesus even said that the whole Bible - this book of laws, rules, precepts, and theology could be summed up into two commands from God. Love God with all that we have and all that we are, and to love one another like we love ourselves. Pretty danged simple, but we have the hardest time doing it. Why? Because we love ourselves first; and in so doing we leave little room to love anyone else.
Truly love them.
He doesn't want "Lone Ranger Christians". The ones who think they can go it alone. Yet from the very beginning, He said that it was not good that man exist alone. He even knew that relationships would be hard work - for us. We need to start living without the masks that we develop over the years. The masks that say - Hey, I'm not perfect, but you'll never get me to admit to any unacceptable imperfections. The masks that say, I don't have any problems, I don't need any help, I don't have any doubts. The masks we form for our church family, the other masks for our work relationships, the other masks for our home family, and the masks we have for our friends and relatives. Taking off the masks, and being absolutely transparent is totally counter intuitive. Hold up the shields at all costs. We do that to ourselves and to one another. Take them off, be vulnerable to one another...truly love.
He wants us to be hospitable, accepting, humble, nonjudgmental, friendly to one another; especially to other Christians. "They will know you are my disciples by your love." Love for one another. I think we fail that by our dogmatism in denominations. Some people think that denominations are like salad bowls or soups with differing flavors, something to suit each taste. I personally think that is a crock. We need to work together not against each other.
Why can't we just get along? :o) Because my circle is better than your circle, that's why. If you don't believe me, ask God, He'll tell ya! That is what we do to each other.
Fellowship...get along, share, support, give, take, care...LOVE
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
That is the very last thing for us to do. Now it's the waiting time. Wait and wait and wait. Waiting and working toward something is not so hard; but just waiting is hard.
If you want to pray for something, pray with us that we can get a December court date. Our wish and prayer is to be able to travel and bring them home for Christmas. Can you imagine what kind of Christmas that would be? It would be great too because they could enjoy some down time with the other kids at home during Christmas break.
Please continue to pray with us for financial resources. We're still hoping for adoption grants and/or loans and haven't gotten anywhere yet.
Continue to pray for orphans and widows around the world. Pick a specific country or city and pray for all those that work with and for them.
As the economy continues to drag and struggle, please pray for those without jobs or who own small businesses that are struggling.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The purpose is not found "within", nor can anyone else tell us what it is. It comes only from God our Father. Just as all of creation has its purposes, each of us has a purpose. In my experience, you can sort of see the people who are living in a purpose driven life. It's not about them, it's about what they are doing. It's not about happiness or success. It's about obedience to God's leading.
I remember earlier in my life there were people who used the term "living in the center of God's will". Now as I look back, I believe they were trying to live a purpose driven life, but called it something else. This is not to say that they actually achieved this goal of living in the center of God's will, but they felt as if they were. I was sort of jealous of them. However some of them were fluent speakers of Christianese. You know, they're the ones that use that special set of vocabulary that only "mature" Christians could understand. Sometimes if you sat and listened to them you wanted to just say, speak English! They were so much impressed with themselves and they wanted to impress each other. These were the ones who tended to use the "center of God's will" conversations.
So finding our purpose, is it a journey or is it a goal? I guess a little of both. Once you find your purpose, it simplifies your life because you can drop all the other unimportant things in your life and you can concentrate on living that life. It helps you say "no" to other things that just clutter up and make you busy but not productive. It doesn't guarantee success in life. At least not in the world's definition of "success". But if you know that you are being obedient, you don't look for success, you just look to obey... That is what God is looking for from us.
Friday, October 17, 2008
We flew into Paris and as some trips will happen, things immediately go awry. We planned on buying local currency at the airport when we landed. That would have happened flawlessly had we not landed so soon before the currency exchange kiosk opened. Then we planned to take a bus into Paris to get near our hotel. We needed small change of course so we had to wait for the kiosk to open. Once we were in town we were going to get some money out of our savings account through an ATM machine and go on about our business. Except at the time, the European ATM only recognized checking accounts and didn't allow choices to access savings accounts. So we had to wait until the banks opened, called our bank and have them transfer funds from the savings account to the checking account.
And that was all in the first few hours of the first day! Pam was ready to get back on the plane home by then. Once we got to our hotel, settled in, freshened up and had Pam had a good cup of real French coffee, we were good to go. Paris is a very beautiful city, esthetically. Everything seemed so pleasing to the eyes. While there we frequented a couple of the tourist hot spots, but mostly we stayed off the beaten paths and had a great time. For those who haven't traveled to Europe, we suggest the same path. The people who don't have to put up with tourists all day, everyday, tend to be more forgiving, more communicative, and more friendly. Another word of advice. At least learn how to say "Thank you" in the language of your host country, if you at least try, the people are warmer toward you. And last but not least, don't automatically expect everyone to speak English. Just because we're American and we love our country, doesn't mean that everyone else does. Be a good guest and they will tend to be hosts.
One funny story...Pam and I were going to visit Versailles. We were following the directions of our guide book, which told us which train station to go to, which track the train left on and other general information. It was a Sunday so the station was fairly deserted. When we got to the track we were looking for, we wanted to be sure so as not to make complete fools of ourselves catching the wrong train. So I asked a gentleman in a nearby booth (Yes, I do ask for directions, Whoa!!) "Does the train to Versailles come to this track"? I pointed to the track I was talking about. He responded, "yes". So we sat down to wait.
After a few minutes Pam and I noticed a handwritten note on a post near the booth the man was in. It was in French (of course) and the word "Versailles" was in it. Pam and I looked at the note, looked and each other and wondered aloud about the note. So I went over and asked him what the note said. His response, "The train to Versailles does not come here today, you must go to train station (something I don't remember)" Then he had this smirk of a grin on his face. I'm sure he justified himself in his mind by saying that I asked him if the train comes there, I didn't ask if the train comes there today. I wanted to bonk him on the head. But we had to run halfway across town to get the train that would get us there in time to see Versailles and get the last train back for the day. So it was France 1, Stupid American 0 for the day. But Versailles is well worth the trouble...BEAUTIFUL!!!
By-the-way, we're considered "Stupid Americans" in lots of countries because we tend to only speak one language. Uncommon in most countries.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
I finally finished the budget (mostly), the end of month is done (mostly). I have to say mostly because there's always someone out there with something to change after you think you're done. I'm down about 20 hours of sleep. Have you ever noticed how long it takes to regain your strength after losing a lot of sleep? Tuesday I went to work and it was to be a very busy day because I had a conference call with corporate headquarters. I find out that I've screwed up something on one of the spreadsheets. Something that was very key, and of course, the most time consuming to correct. I ended up working until 4:45 the next MORNING fixing it! I drove home, caught a 45min nap, showered, shaved and was back to work by 8:00. Pam was obviously very upset that I worked all that time and then worked full day that day as well. Sometimes, working for publicly held companies are not all what they're cracked up to be.
When budget season comes in, she ends up doing all of the running around for the kids and sometimes only sees me for a couple of hours a day. Being in management means not ever having a good time to take off. There is always something. You basically have to try to find where it will do the least amount of damage and anger the least number of people...then just suffer the consequences of daring to ever take a day off.
Last Saturday our oldest daughter at home started her second attempt to pass the Drivers Ed class. It's a tough class on its own, and she has her limited English skills to pile on top of it. There are kids in her class taking it for the 3rd and 4th time! The school doesn't make it easy, which all of the parents are glad of, but someone has to keep driving her to and from school for the classes.
The middle daughter is still doing soccer. The team is made up of 7th and 8th grade boys and girls. Her team has been undefeated for years now. There was one season where only one school ever scored once on them. Since she's in the 7th grade, she doesn't get to play as much as she would like, but she's gaining skills during the practices.
The boys are still doing gymnastics classes and enjoying it. We let them all try something new to see if they'd like it full time. D seems to like it more.
Our adoption agency mailed our dossier off to Ethiopia this week!!!!!!! Now it's just waiting, waiting, waiting.
Well, this was just a quick update. I'll write on the European trip in a bit (maybe even today, after a nap)
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Saturday, October 4, 2008
We had decided to take along just the parts of the guide we needed. So we chose our countries, ripped them out of the book, stapled the sections, and threw out the rest. As we left each country we threw out that country's section to lighten the load. The guide was very useful; it told how to get to each country/city by train, gave a small selection of hotels within certain price ranges, a list of some interesting restaurants, provided a few rudimentary maps (not to scale - we found) and some points of interest in certain cities. It was a very good investment.
We stayed in the least expensive hotels we could find without having to go to hostels because we wanted to stay in the same room with each other. There was a couple times we had to use bathrooms that were down the hall and one time we stayed at a hostel that was more like a hotel than any we'd ever seen. One time the bed in the hotel room was so bad, I dragged the mattress to the floor to sleep on it. It felt like a cot from the World War II era or something.
Going cheap is actually easier than you would think. It just takes a little sacrifice and the ability to lower your normal standards a little. We also decided before hand that being lost was going to be the norm of the day, so we promised each other not to get upset when we couldn't find our way to or from something. It actually added in a little more adventure to the trip.
More to come...
3 Sturdy chest of drawers (a.k.a dressers)
Girl's clothes (6x - 10)
Boy's clothes (6x - 12), especially jeans
Double bed sheet sets
Bicycles (med size)
Girls and boys toys (7-10 year range)
i.e. Barbie and her clothes, soccer stuff, base ball stuff, etc
Thank you so much for all the prayers of those who have been following our blog. It's coming along.
Friday, October 3, 2008
We didn't do a lot of planning; it was to be a lot of ad lib and college kids kind of adventure. Pam had enough miles on one plan from her previous travels and those of her late husband, that the flight there and back was free. We bought 2 three-week Eurail passes, (at the time it was cheaper to buy them in the US, I don't' know about now). We set out a general tentative map to what countries we wanted to visit. Set our flights to fly into Paris and fly home from Frankfurt. The only hotel we booked prior to flying out was in Paris. We had planned on looking for hotels as we prepared to stop in each country and since we didn't have any solid plans we figured that a day's notice was all we'd have. We found out that was sufficient (almost all of the time).
The secret to our success - Fromm's, "Europe on $60 a day". It'll probably be $160 by now! Our plan was to visit France, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. As we were looking up things to visit, we found out that in Oberammergau there was to be the Passion Play, which has been put on every 10 years since 1633. We tried to get tickets but failed (a funny story to tell later). If we ever go to Europe again, it'll be the eastern European Countries, but we might try to slip in Oberammergau.
The adventures to come...
Monday, September 29, 2008
We found out that the NC State Department of Health and Human resources sent our paperwork to the wrong INS office. They were kind enough to give us a call and honestly explain what happened. That's a rarity in life - people taking responsibility for errors. So we'll have to wait longer to have our fingerprints done. Thankfully that won't hold up the other paperwork. The fingerprint approval meets up with the dossier in Ethiopia somehow.
After the adoption agency receives our dossier, they send it to Ethiopia to be translated and submitted to the court system there...then we wait. The court system has been closed for about 2 months, so our dossier will be put into the pile of cases waiting for the system to start chugging along again.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Sad. I'm sad that we live in that kind of world. I'm also perplexed as to what I feel I should do. Should I go back through all my posts and "scrub" them of all of our names? How do I share the wonderfulness of where I live without telling people where I live. How do I share about the wonderful people in my lives? Or should I rely on God, who says He is my protector and will always be with me? If I "scrub" up, I feel like I'm telling God that He can't protect me. If I just go on as usual, I feel like I'm thumbing my nose at the whoevers out there that are plaguing our world so much that we all run and hide from them. I feel like I'm challenging them to a duel. They have such a strangle hold on this world that we have to tell our stories and change the names to protect the innocent.
There's right and there's wrong. We all have rights, etc. But, as I once heard, "The right of right of way doesn't mean a thing until after you get out of the hospital."
What do you think?
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Juan and I have been called to adopt. We know this, both of us in different ways see what God wants us to be doing. Sometimes people that we know, and some of our family- really do not understand. But when God asks you to do something, He gives you the strength, love and the want/will to it.
It is because of this call that we have been abundantly blessed with each of our children at home today. Looking at my children that are at home- I am the most blessed mother-- they are four of the most loving, generous and beautiful children I have ever seen. Dylan was too young to remember his life before coming home to us and the other three often tell us bits and pieces of things they experienced in their past life in Ethiopia. A past that seemed absent of hope. A past that was nearly void of nutrition. A past that was void of a parent's love.
Three of our four at home have come to know Jesus as their own personal Savior since they have come home- That says it all for me- WE are doing what Jesus wants us to do--
I feel like the luckiest Mom on earth and sometimes can't understand why people find it so odd we continue to bring more children home. We are not following our will, but the calling He has placed on our lives to love each of the children He has brought into our home. God is using each of them in a special way. God is building traits in each of our children that will be used for His glory as they grow-up. God is building traits in us as their parents that could only come from having each of the children He has blessed us with. God has shown me personally that all things are possible with Him. There is no way I could do this without His grace, joy and love daily.
Being a bit older than the average mother of kids that are 7, 9, 13,and 15 soon to add an 8, another 9 and an 11 year old -- It is hard work, and I do get tired- doing laundry, make meals, clean-up with them. -- only God can pull this off! Not everyone is called to have a large family. Not everyone is called to be a parent. Not everyone is called to adopt. But when you hear your calling to "go", GO! It will not only bless those whom you are called to serve, but it will bless you.
Every one of us is called to help the orphans and widows. We are called to take care of each other and be the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth. How will they know we are His? They will know by how we love one another.
Guatemala has closed its doors to all US adoptions and there are thousands of children who will not have the opportunity to live in an orphanage, or a forever family, let alone live to see the age of 2. This breaks our hearts; especially after seeing the reality of life for those in villages where children walk the streets without shoes, dirty, eating scraps they found in the trash and knowing there is no clean water within miles of their homes.
Compassion International is help that is being brought to the villages for the forgotten children. There is hope and through organizations like this we can all make a difference in a child's life - one child at a time. I pray you will consider sponsoring a child in Guatemala.
The total number of orphans worldwide is projected to reach 44 million by 2010
Deuteronomy 10:17-19 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 24:19-21 “When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.
Psalm 10:18 To do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,That the man of the earth may oppress no more.
Psalm 82:3 Defend the poor and fatherless;Do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Zechariah 7:10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, The alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart Against his brother.’
I hope as I continue to share all that God has done for our family through the lives of the children He brought to us, that your heart is touched and you begin to ask the Lord how you can be used for His glory to help the forgotten children around the world today!
I used a lot of this from my friend Jill, but it is truly the cry of my heart- and the personal facts of of our family and children. I am pleading that the body of Christ comes together to help.
Pam for all of the Johnsons - here and on their way here......
- Patience is not a gift - it is a by-product of going and growing through life's experiences
- Each of our adoptions has been for different reasons, and I couldn't figure out why, until I realized that it was because we were growing closer to understanding God's heart more and more. (Not even close to being there, but closer than we were before)
- I have less fear with each adoption, not more - Jesus helps me overcome them little by little.
- Once I settled on the fact that we will never have any money, it was easier to surrender it all up and just let God do the worrying about it. If He's not worried, I'm not worried. If He starts worrying, than we all have something to worry about.
- Adoption is not for everyone. Every part of the body is needed, and not all can be the mouth or the ear. No part is more important than the other. But all the parts need to help each other in order for the whole body to work successfully.
- Pride is a real creature that has to be fought daily. I have to fight mine every minute.
- Once you get past the fears, you can imagine yourself doing anything. Pam's already talking about more kids. Is she crazy?!? No, just past the fear. Scary, huh?
- I don't love my chosen kids any more or any less than my biological kids. I love them all differently for different reasons. I still don't understand that yet, but I realize it.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
The trip from Beijing to Guango was short, thankfully. The most memorable part was watching the people who were obviously taking a plane ride for the first time. Seats were not assigned, so when we headed to the plan people ran to the plane in rush. Maybe they figured there were more people than seats. Then it was a struggle for the flight attendants to get everyone buckled in. The people were either unable or unwilling to comply. Once the plane started down the run way a bunch jumped up from their seats and ran to windows to watch the the takeoff. The flight attendants had to yell out for them to keep their seats (I'm assuming since it was all in Mandarin).
Well, we get to Guango, get to our hotel and we get Fujian Lo, that night. He was all ours. Ton's more paperwork, a trip to another city for more processing and then home. I've mentioned a lot of this in previous posts.
DJ was a very happy little toddler; and he's still a very happy little boy. His limited environment made for interesting times when we first got home. He'd never seen grass before and was afraid to step on it in fear that it would be like the water at the pool - he'd sink right through it. He screamed the first few times we put him in a car seat. We had to ween him from having the TV on all the time. The hardest thing was getting him to eat anything other than rice, egg, and noodles.
We had our granddaughter spend the summer with us, the following summer and that was a God send. He idolized this "big girl" and would do whatever she did, ate what she ate, watched what she watched. She was the big girl on campus, so whatever she wanted and said was gold for him. By the end of the summer, he had expanded his diet choices 50 fold.
But, the following summer, she had a rude awakening. DJ had been with us for two years by then, and when she tried to assert her superiority over him, she got serious push back. It was HIS house now and he wasn't playing second fiddle to some girl who didn't live there. It was hilarious. When she tried to commandeer Grandma's time or attention or choices, DJ objected. She said, "Well she's MY grandma!" To which DJ proudly responds, "Yeah, but she's MY MOM!" We could only smile and say to ourselves, "Yup, we're a family."
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Imagine the stress of that - a baby coming, a major trip half way around the world, and no job! Well, as a silver lining, I did get to spend some extended quality time with Pam and DJwhen we got home. We spent 3 weeks in China. We saw the Great Wall, Tianamen Square, The Summer Palace, a pearl factory, a silk embroidery factory, a couple of museums, and tourist shops galore. Unfortunately we didn't have a digital camera back then so all of our pictures in in books or frames around the house. I would love to share them here.
The Great Wall was more amazing in real life, of course. What's not apparent are the steps you walk up and down along the tops of the wall. There are a gazillion of them and they're not uniform in size so you can't set a rhythm. The rises range from only a few inches to around 2 feet with no rhyme of reason as to what the one step will be after the other. I considered myself rather fit (not an athlete by any stretch mind you), but I was absolutely exhausted by the time we got back to the bus.
Going around doing all the tourist stuff was fun. As you walked around there were plenty of people selling their wares. Mostly tourist trap stuff like cheap toys, tissues, post card and the like, but hey it's an honest living. We learned a lesson in that if you didn't want to be swarmed with vendors, you had to ignore the first person who approached you. You couldn't even acknowledge that he/she was there. If you so much as looked down to see what was in their hands, you were pegged as interested and 20 others would run over and they all pressed in with their stuff in hand. One person in our party thought it would be funny to tell one of the vendors that I had lots of money and wanted to buy something. He pointed at me and I was swarmed like ants on a dead grasshopper. All I could do was scream over their heads and hands, "I'm gonna get you for this!!" It was hilarious.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
While we were living in KY, we began looking into adopting a child. We were fairly certain that we didn't want an infant, though we wouldn't have turned one down. We first looked into the state run foster/adoption services. There are so, so many children in this system. What tore our hearts more than anything was to see so many older teens looking for forever families. There were kids as old as 17 who have probably been languishing in the system for years.
After going through the processes, and actually applying to adopt children, it never seemed to work out. Several times we had gotten to the stage of being considered among several parents, and another set of parents were chosen. Our age was a factor that we had to get used to. A couple of times, we were even given the opportunity to adopt through a private agency and the birth mothers either chose to keep their children (We pray that this was even a greater blessing for the child) or chose a younger couple.
After a few of these heart wrenching episodes, we decided to pursue international adoption.There are trade-offs for everything. The paperwork is about the same volume or more than foster/adoption, though each country has its on criteria. The cost can be significantly higher and each country has their own costs. After much prayer and looking at the criteria, costs, and length of processes for each country, we settled on China. One other country's system turned us down because we were a bi-racial couple. (Can you believe that?).
We found A Helping Hand, an international adoption agency in Lexington KY. We then began the "Paper Dragon". Wow it absolutely boggles the mind the amount of paperwork and the amount of hassle it takes. You have to provide a thorough background, which for us was a little involved because we'd moved around so much in our adult lives. You do a home study which combines, the background, character references, job references, financial status, health history and status, and self evaluation. Then a social worker visits with us at our home and at their office a couple of times. They then put together a report and give their opinion on our viability as parents. All this paper work must be signed, counter signed, notarized, and then sealed by the Secretary of State. (I'm sure Condolessa Rice is sitting down signing all these documents - NOT. Rubber stamped).
Because we were adopting from China, we were assured that we would be adopting a girl and we asked for child as young as available. Everyone takes it for granted that a Chinese adoption will be a girl because it seems about 95% of the orphans are girls. As a lesson in culture, it is not that the Chinese value girls less, it's because they have no retirement system like we do here in the States. It is the responsibility of the child to care for their parents. If you are only allowed one child - as is the law currently throughout most of China - and that child is a daughter, she will grow, marry and live with her husband. He will care for his parents, but will be ill prepared to care for hers as well. So the parents want a son - to care for them in their old age. That's the general sense of it.
One week we visited family in the DC area. It just so happens that it was on 9/11 when we returned. Yes, that 9/11. Because Pam and I happened to be listening to CD's the whole way we knew nothing about it until later. There were a bunch of phone messages on our machine when we got home that afternoon. We had apparently gone around DC not too long before the one plane crashed into the Pentagon. There were frantic voices asking about our safety and well being. We were clueless; probably a good thing at the time. We had thought it was odd that the flag at the KFC headquarters was at half staff. When we got home our water was off and I saw some men working in the street so I went out to ask how long it would be. Outside one of the trucks I overhead a radio announcer say something to the effect of "...no one has claimed responsibility for the attack". I went home and turned on the TV. When I saw the image of the plane going into one of the Trade Towers, I thought it was just a commercial for some stupid movie. That was until I figured out the video was on every channel and they kept showing it over and over. We figured out that at time that this happened, we were probably somewhere new Quantico. So ten years from now when people ask "where were you when..?", we can shiver in the thought that we just missed being eye witnesses.
When we picked up our mail at the post office that day, we received a letter from A Helping Hand that included a photo list of Waiting Children. These children were those that the agency was trying to strum the heartstrings of adopting parents. They are generally older and/or had medical problems of some sort. In the adoption world, healthy babies are first choice. As Pam and I were looking over the pictures of these little ones, we saw this little cherub with the cutest tiny pout and we both instantly pointed at him -him! FujianLo, a little boy about 2 years old. He was born with a cleft palate. We found out that he'd had the first surgery to close the lip by a Surgeon from Operation Smile. (More about that later) We thought that he was so cute, and the letter had been sitting in the post office for so long, he was probably already "taken". We called A Helping Hand the next day anyway. God is great!! He had not been chosen yet and we told them that he was ours now.
To be continued.....................
Monday, September 15, 2008
We thought that is would be a nice idea to tell some of our story- the before!!
So, Here goes.......
We're reluctantly being pulled into the 21st Century with all the other Bloggers.
I'm sure that many families out there that consider themselves and their lives unusual and are using the Blogging media as a therapeutic release. What can it hurt, right? This first post will be a bit lengthy, but how else does one start a story, but to begin with the beginning and that takes a bit.So what makes us think that we are so "unusual" that others would be interested in reading about our lives and our thoughts?
Our family is made of an African-American husband/father (Juan), a Caucasian wife/mother(Pam), one Chinese son(DJ), and a set of one son and two daughters from Ethiopia. Those are just the children at home.
Pam has two daughters , both of whom are adults with their own children. So that's nine children between us.Juan was born and raised an Army brat, had his own Air Force career and is now an accountant. Pam was born and raised in Upstate New York and is now an accountant. We know, the epitome of excitement, huh?
We're actually not your run of the mill shy and reserved accountant types, we sort of just fell into these roles over a course of adventure or misadventure.As mentioned before, we've both been previously married but we technically didn't bring kids into the mix because they were either already adults or living with the ex. We met at work 11 years ago. Actually Pam interviewed me for a job and the rest is history in the making. When our relationship developed to the point of talking marriage I told Pam that I wanted children to be part of our lives. Hers were adults and mine lived half a nation a way, so that left a few options to explore. Giving birth to them was already out for both of us; so that left adoption and or foster parenting. We prayed about it and felt that adoption would be the best for our lives and for the children who would come into it.
To be continued...
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I know that my God is on the throne in my heart and in Heaven, and I know that as His child, He is rooting for me to make the right choices. I am so glad that He is on my side.
We have started a 40 days of prayer at church about a week and a half ago. And I am praying for 15 minutes (above my normal quiet time) along with the rest of the body of believers. So there is prayer going on all 24 hours each day for the 40 days. I see this commitment as a direct correlation to the frustrating 2 weeks! When we are serious for God, Satan is seriously busy around our lives. I am so thankful for the blood of Jesus and that Satan is no longer in control of my life. He does however mess around it...
Several things for our adoption have taken a lot longer than I had planned. And we found out that there is an extra step in the paperwork that was not there for the last adoption, or the first adoption for that matter!! I want my new babies here, not there going hungry. (babies, 8,9 and 12!) This extra step may be as quick as 2 weeks, but most likely more like 2 months...
Another area of frustration for me has been getting the kids and myself back into the school routine. Each child has an extra after school "thing". For a couple of the kids it is everyday, good for them, bad for mom, and the other 2 the classes meet just one time a week. It is getting better each day, but by the time we get it all down pat it will probably be Thanksgiving break!
I guess my most frustrating part of my life is my weight issue. I have been watching my weight, in my case watching it go up- This summer, I have been very careful, and have been working on staying the same weight or losing some and it has been slow going and very frustrating. This 40 days of prayer has been good for me- It is making me stop at that time of day- and focus on the Lord. It is making me more mindful of the needs at the church. It has given me a great time of worship after the prayer time that I didn't take daily before, and it is refreshing for that time!
I am praying that the frustrating things will go easier in the next days. Thank you blog family and readers for your prayer support of us and the whole adoption process. Blessings...p
Friday, September 5, 2008
This was taken from our bedroom, I love waking up to that everyday.
DJ and JJ playing in the sound during the summer. We have a HUGE pool, it has to be about 2 miles to the other side. ;o)
The Please pray for all of us residents along the coast. Hannah and her boyfriend Ike are barreling toward the coastline. The people who have lived here on the OBX all of their lives are poo pooing Hannah, but are looking at Ike as a more serious threat. After Hannah goes through, I'm seriously considering boarding up for Ike. With our house only about 50 feet from the water, we foresee the possibility of water damage. But, we're sound side, so that may be some saving grace - I hope.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Addis Ababa is a city of over 4 million people. It has very little by way of public transportation, like subways or trolleys. They do have full sized buses, which I don't recall seeing, and minibuses. On the one day we arranged to travel about Addis, we went with one of the young men working at the foster home as our guide/interpreter, Musfin (whom LJ had a crush on). We traveled the same way most everyone else does, by minibus. A minibus is basically a minivan that have been converted to accommodate a few more people than would be comfortable here in the US. They travel along fixed routes and stops like city buses. The minibus has a driver, who has a partner who rides along hanging out the window calling out to people on the street. Now, I'm not sure if he's calling out his route, his fare or both. To save time, you pay after you get in and underway. The ride is relatively cheap and they cram in as many as 9 or 10 people - no seat belts or a/c, of course.
Musfin took us from bus to bus across town and back. You get to see the real life of Addis this way. The city is fast paced, dirty, yet very friendly. That day we went to the Mercato, a huge sprawling market place with hundreds and hundreds of little shops selling everything from apple to zippers. We were looking for clothes for the children, so that's what we concentrated on. Row after row, isle after isle of little shops (some only 5-6 feet wide) crammed with merchandise. None of the merchandise were price marked, so that meant negotiating. Musfin handled that for us. He wasn't treated too kindly because the merchants knew we were filthy rich Americans who should just pay what they wanted. I guess they figured he was some kind of traitor to them. Ever so often he had to tell us to move on because groups of men would congregate near us and were looking suspicious. Musfin understood what dangers that could entail and didn't want us to get robbed or worse.
We got a few items that day, just to tide us over for clothes until we got home. When we went out the next time, we hired a taxi for the day. It was a lot easier and less time consuming. It afforded us the ability to buy large items we wanted to bring home.
The worse incident was when I learned that Montezuma's Revenge has jurisdiction in China as well. We were forewarned not to drink the water. Don't brush your teeth in it, don't drink anything with ice or drink any water from opened bottles. We were OK with that. It was inconvenient, but we handled it...for the most part.
One day I had occasion to meet the hotel manager in the lobby of the hotel we were staying in, in Guongo. He was a very gracious gentleman, who thanked me for being part of the group who were adopting children from his country. In the conversation he asked what room I was in, I didn't think much of it and went on my way after the conversation. The next day there was a huge basket of fruit delivered to our room. Gorgeous! Well, yours truly took a pear and without further adieu washed it in the bathroom sink, dried it with a towel and ate said pear.
Montezuma visited me ALL NIGHT LONG! We're talking evacuation from both ends of the victim, at rapid and consistent intervals. "Sick as a dog" doesn't half cover it. "Sick as a dying dog, who's been hit by a truck and then kicked in the gut" would more closely describe it. I stayed in bed the entire next day and a half (between trips to the bathroom) and was only moments from succumbing to Pam's plea to call a doctor. (Shutter the thought - A man calling a doctor? What would all the fellas in the "We don't need no stinkin doctor", Fraternity say?). It finally subsided and we went on as usual...for the most part.
Monday, September 1, 2008
I mean really, if it weren't for the silly, funny, and cute things kids do and say we'd be hard pressed to explain why we keep the little cherubs around.
Prime example: One cool summer evening last year, we were sitting out on the deck of the last house we lived in (For one reason or other, we have moved around rather frequently, compared to other families). We were enjoying a God glorious sunset over the sound. The kids were quiet and we were all enthralled with the evening sights and sounds.
I remarked to Pam, "You know people pay good money to come here and do what we're doing right now. And, we get to do this anytime we want. It doesn't get much better than this."
AJ, our middle one asked, "Dad, how long are we going to live here?" She's already gotten used to the idea that we don't live anywhere too long; I'm hoping and praying that we don't make a life of moving around. I grew up an Army brat and then had an Air Force career. I lived in 13 states and 3 foreign countries, so far.
I respond, "Well, Lord willing, we'll be here a long while. I love it here."
DJ, pipes up, "Who's Lord Willy?"
You gotta love it! We all share a good laugh! After I explain who "Lord Willy" is or isn't, as it were, I tell DJ he can stay another couple weeks or so.
Another example. Last night we're watching the TV Guide channel looking for something interesting to watch. At the time, they're doing something like "25 hottest male actors ever", or something like that. Well, Hugh what's his name, who plays Dr. House was listed. Pam has a actor crush on him, "Yeah! He's a hunk!"
AJ says, "Ewww, He's not that good looking, he's old!" When we ask her how old did she think he was, she responds, "Like 70 or something!"
Do you remember how when you were a teen, and you thought anybody over 30 was heading for the old folks home? We all laugh and talk about how kids don't have a clue on how to estimate ages of people.
So I tell her, "OK, you can stay a little longer."
When I say that to the kids we get a little banter going bank and forth about how they'll gladly leave and take my car or move to their friends houses or whatever. Then I say they can only take the clothes they bought with their own money earned away from the house - which doesn't leave much.
Kids, Can't live with them, can't live without them...Right?
Friday, August 29, 2008
Going out to dinner with the other family that was there to adopt 3 children, and several of the people from the orphanage/foster home in Addis Ababa. We went to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. The "tables" are actually tall baskets, with a small top that holds a large, round, metal or pottery platter. The food in set in little plops situated around the platter. There are selections of different types of wat. Very thick stew like substances. There are types with meat , vegetable, bean or mixtures thereof.
There are no eating utensils used, so the first thing you do when you go in is to wash your hands. One tears off a piece of enjera (very flat, moist bread) and scoop up some wat and eat it. About 5-6 people sit around each of the tables that are about 30 inches wide. (very close and snugly). It was tons and tons of fun. A very neat cultural tradition is that to show closeness even more, a person will feed the person near him - hand to mouth. The kids did that with us and it brought tears to my eyes. I loved it. A lot of the food was very spicy, so Pam couldn't enjoy it as much as I, but we had a blast none-the-less.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
I remember our group going to church on Sunday in Beijing. It is called The International Church", for not always obvious reasons. It was established to give ex-patriots a place to attend a regular, semi-unregulated church to attend. The most obvious difference in this church and any other church I've ever seen was that you had to show your passport to get in. This was to keep Chinese citizens OUT. Because they didn't regulate what was said on done in the church, the Chinese govt kept its citizens from going in. Even more obvious were the weapons being carried by the military soldiers "guarding" the church. Our guide/translator, who is Chinese had to sit out in the bus until we came back. The service was in English, and was very lively. We met people from all of the world inside.
I remember Pam experiencing a hard learned lesson in a Chinese public restroom. Bring your own tissue. At some public restrooms, they have attendants that you "tip" for toilet paper when you enter and they only give you a few squares. Imagine...3-4 squares, you're in a big hurry because your tummy is rumbling, RUMBLING, relief...wait all I have are these few squares and now you're stuck back in the stall. With a hole in the floor style toilet at that. And nobody speaks English....
I remember experiencing Chinese food in China. It's almost nothing like here. The sauces weren't as thick and gooey as they are here. More vegetables, more variety, MORE food. They had the big round tables with the huge Lazy-Susan in the middle. That thing was piled high with food and they kept replacing empty dishes until we told them to STOP! It took us a little while to figure out they were trying to kill us by making us explode at the table. Of course I love Chinese food, so it was more like assisted suicide. LOL