Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Curling...a new guilty pleasure

Being home with a nine month old and a three month old means a lot of time in front of the TV. As such I've found myself watching USA/MSNBC/CNBC coverage of the olympics. The coverage is very good and I've enjoyed it.

What surprised me is how much I enjoy watching Curling. It's perfect for dealing with kids. Lots of lag time between shots, some strategy to make it interesting and you get to hear the competetors talk strategy.

I suppose it's a lot like watching a more sophisticated shuffleboard, and I am amazed that I can watch it, but it's quite enjoyable. If you have the chance take a peek. It's also very good to have on while you work on your taxes or surf the net, very good programming for multitasking.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Guatemalan Adoption Trip Posts

We finally made our trip to get Savannah last week. We left exactly one week ago and returned on Tuesday.

I've got hordes of thoughts and comments about the trip, but I thought it best to post them in multiple posts ordered by the actual day they happened. I'll be posting over the next few days as I have time. Having two infants is quite a change and Lori and I are still getting used to it and attempting to figure out what sort of routine we will attempt to get to over the next week.

So keep an eye out, posts will be happening soon.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Heading Home

It's early Tuesday and we're cleaning up and getting ready to go home. We have all of our stuff, just getting all of our carry on bags ready to go since Savannah will have a few more needs than the two of us.

About 6:30 we head down to grab breakfest. We eat well since we aren't sure when we'll have a decent meal during the trip. Once we get back to the room we scope out the room several times and head out to catch a cab at 7:30 to get over to the airport.

The airport was slightly annoying. Many sky-cap types who won't leave you alone. Unfortunately, I have next to no small bills to tip anyone. So I ended up giving the guy the shaft on the tip. I told him no, but he wouldn't take no for an answer, I guess he should have listened.

We check in, get our bags hand checked and head downstairs to pay the security fee. I was impressed with all of the security. We had a strict check at the terminal, followed by another check at the gate. It was interesting to have that 2nd check and block off the gate from the concourse.

Boarding was quick and the plane was very empty. We were fortunate to have the first row after first class. On this 737 model there was a lot of room between the separator and the seat, which provided plenty of room to work with changing diapers, playing, etc.

The first flight wasn't bad, Savannah didn't have any big crying fits and was generally tired and perhaps a bit scared. Fortunately, Lori had her in a Snugli and kept her feeling secure.

Once we got to Houston we had to go through the immigration process. Fortunately, we only had a few bumps and were only delayed about 10 or 15 minutes from making it through cleanly. Overall about a 40 minute process.

We then headed towards our gate...and then found that we must be in America...we had encountered stupidity. It could be that when we were in Guatemala we were the "rich" Gringos, and that here, we're just a couple with an infant....but wow did we encounter a real winner at an ice cream stand. She just provided horrible service and was absolutely no help at all. It was sad.

We got Savannah changed and fed and boarded our plane, which was completely full save 10 seats. So, we were very concerned. Luckily Savannah slept the entire flight home where she got to experience cold for the first time as it was 28 degrees when we landed.

We headed through security to see Evan! Grandma and Grandpa had brought Evan to meet his sister. Evan was grinning from ear to ear as he is a very social guy and loves to flirt and chat. We got Savannah changed and fed and headed over to the Max and Ermas in the airport so we would miss rush hour traffic.

After a nice dinner we said goodbye to Evan until tomorrow. We would take Savannah home and get her acclimatted to her new bed and room before bringing her brother into the mix. This way all of us could get a good night's rest after a long trip. We'll pick up Evan around lunchtime after we take Savannah into Children's for an analysis of her illness and begin to get used to dealing with the both of them.

So our adventure is over...but a new one begins with our new daughter! We are very happy to have her home safe and sound.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Textiles, Volcanos and Turkey Soup

Today was our final full day in Guatemala City. We had to meet Eduardo at 10 to go for a quick tour of the city and see some local sights. We awoke around 6:30 and got ready for the day and headed down to breakfest around 9. We were able to have a nice meal before we met our guide.

Eduardo gave us a nice talking tour of areas we passed on the way to the textile museum. We drove past the Guatemalan "West Point" which was a very pretty structure along the road. Looked like a fortress.

Eventually we headed down into the small valley where the Museo Ixchel was located. A very pretty structure with the brick of the building designed to look like a Mayan textile pattern. A nominal fee and we were in, and able to see the exhibits of all sorts of art and textiles to the native Mayan people. It was more interesting to see what tribes they were from and how the styles were different. We were even able to find textiles that matched Savannah's birth mother's tribe by matching up her mother's native language with some of the exhibit information.

We enjoyed the museum and took some pictures before heading up a hotel with a view. The Quinta Real, quite picturesque and contained a great view of the volcanos on this day. One of them was even erupting visibly on this day, spewing some smoke up into the air.

After viewing the volcanos and taking pictures, we headed down the hill and across the city to see a sculpture that was a relief map of Guatemala. It was quite interesting and amazing to consider it was created 100 years ago without the help of satellite or helicopters.

After checking out the places that Eduardo would take us when we come back sometime, we went to a restaurant in Zona 1 that served a Turkey Soup from Copan Honduras. It was amazing. They serve the soup with a turkey leg sticking out of the soup. it was a spicy soup with slight tomato taste. It was served with a corn meal mush wrapped in banana leaves. You take some of the mush and dip it into the soup. It is a great taste that I won't soon forget. The restaurant served us all for about $30, and we had a great meal with soup and meats. The restaurant also had a band which played for everyone and made it a very festive place. Savannah soaked it all up and ate more Cheerios. :) When we were done we headed back and paid Eduardo $30 plus tip for driving us around for 3 hours.

When we got back to the hotel we rested for an couple of hours while waiting for our representative to show up with Savannah's Visa. She arrived around 4:15 with everything we needed to get into the states and have Savannah here legally. We then had her passport and could head over to Continental Airlines checkin counter at the hotel (nice perk). We were able to purchase Savannah's over the water ticket so that she could sit in our lap to come home.

By this time we were getting a little tired and decided to head back up to our room to start to get our bags together for our big journey back to Ohio tomorrow. We would set our alarm for 4:00 so we could get up and grab some breakfest before heading to the airport at 7:30.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Checking out the Market & Super Bowl

This morning we work up to a windy and overcast day. In fact, it felt downright cool at times. We awoke and downed some Gatorade to keep hydrated. Savannah is beginning to really warm up to us and is taking her medicine better today. She is still coughing a bit, but hopefully it will end up getting better. She played peek-a-boo with the bed sheet with us by pulling it over her head and throwing it down on her belly. She is "humming" a little song and tends to make small squeaks and make the classic "pfffft" sound with her mouth.

We went down and finally partook in the complimentary breakfest at the hotel. Lori was interested in trying the fruit, but was skeptical because of her experience the day before. After watching many others eating the fruit, she decided to go for it. As it turns out, it was washed properly and OK.

We decided to go to the Handicrafts Market near the airport today. I thought it would be a good idea to get some cash, and decided to try to use the ATM instead of the changing at the hotel. It turns out this was a good move. I was able to take out 800 Quetzales + a 8.10 Q fee for what ended up being about $106 + a 2% fee from my bank. So for about $108 total. The hotel was providing 149 Quetzales for $20. So a mental note if you happen to be travelling to Guatemala for your adoption and are reading this. Check with your bank, look into the fees for internaltional ATM. Expect the ATM in Guatemala to charge about $1. You will likely end up better off getting your Q that way.

Anyway, we then headed off to find a taxi. We got the folks at the Mariott to get one and went to the market. We ended up speding 100 Q for the trip, but the guy waited for us. So for about $14 or so we had a ride back and forth and the guy waited an hour. Not bad for us, and likely good for him.

The market was nice, be sure to negotiate, and also be sure to price check the Marriott's store. Many of the items at the market can also be found there and it is worth your while to have an idea of the price at the Marrott's store before you go to the market. We picked up some nice items for Savannah and for our use. Lori picked up a nice table runner for around $25-30 after talking the guy down from around $40.

We ended up coming back and thought we'd sit out at the pool, but it ended up being too cold! Instead we went back to the room and watched about 3 episodes of American Idol back to back on the Sony TV station while we rested.

Around 4 pm the sun came out so we went outside and hung out at the pool. Around 5:15 or so we headed in and wanted to grab dinner, but it was closed until 6pm. Instead, we went to the sports bar where the Super Bowl was on. Talk about a surreal experience. ESPN Latin American was on showing the ABC feed with ESPN graphics and an enthusiastic Spanish announce crew. Much like the WWE's Spanish announce crew....only different. The feed also seemed like it had the crowd miked in much louder than we experience here.

We hung out and tried some drinks and watched the beginning of the game. We had to leave as it was much too loud for Savannah. I tried a Gallo beer which is a local Guatemalan beer. It was a tasty lager. Lori tried a margarita and enjoyed it. A table across from us was cheering for Pittsburgh. Many folks just cheered for big hits or runs. I motioned to the guys cheering for the Steelers that they were quite lucky on the interference call against Seattle. They didn't speak English, but sports sign language for "lucky" is universal.

We had some dinner and headed back upstairs. Savannah began to get worse with her cough. I was concerned so we called Dr. Cunningham again at Childrens. He said we should try to find another drug and we were able to find it at the local drugstore using the hotel concerige. Big props to Pablo at the desk for working so hard to find the drug and trying to translate the English name to Spanish. This drug will hopefully work better and help.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Columbus International Adoption Clinic Help

Savannah was feeling ill this morning, and we thought we'd start her on the Amoxicillian that our doc at the International Adoption Clinic at Childrens. However, her cough was getting worse and worse so we thought we'd go ahead and use the calling card we bought to call the doctor at the clinic. When we signed up with the clinic, we were offered the ability to call the on-call doctor and talk to them about the child and get advice.

So we gave them a call and got ahold of Dr. Cunningham. He was very nice and told us to keep her on the drug since it should do the trick. It was very comforting to be able to make that call. Hopefully she will be doing better tomorrow.

A Long Night, But Fun Day

Friday evening and Saturday morning were not so fun.

Lori ended up being sick. Everything you would expect from being sick in Guatemala, happened. The whole nine yards. Savannah somehow slept through it all. We think it had to be due to eating the Guatemalan Chicken Soup at the Marriott. You would think it would be safe, but I guess not. We were later able to have fruits at the Marriott and end up OK, so it seems odd that soup would be the problem, but there isn't any other choice since we ate the same things.

Regardless, this lesson did teach us to drink Gatorade. It was the best drink for making yourself feel good and rehydrated. I think dehydration was the biggest problem I had, just not taking in enough water.

In the morning, I placed an order to the concierge to get some Imodium. Somehow the Imodium ended up on my front car seat and not in our bags on Wednesday night. So that helped us to get ready to meet our tour guide Eduardo at 9 am to take a trip to Antigua.

Eduardo was a very interesting guy and very good for a guide. He charged the three of us $60 to drive us to Antigua and some other attractions nearby. Lori saddled Savannah up in a Snugli and we were off driving the Pan-American Highway heading through Guatemala City towards Antigua.

Our first stop was not in Antigua itself, but at a home/museum that seems a little bit like a tour guide tourist trap in retrospect, but it was pretty cool regardless. The home was lived in, but the family who lived there had opened it up to a weaving business and a museum of Mayan clothing. They even dressed Lori up in some traditional Mayan garb and showed us how the Mayans would hold Savannah.

The home was also surrounded by a coffee plantation where we met the man who ran the farm. it was a bit challenging attempting to talk with him and not knowing any Spanish. But basically, we learned that he had been farming the land for 10 years and growing organic coffee on the hills surrounding the home. They had a nice deck with a view and we saw red coffee beans that were ready to be harvested as well as cotton plants. It was a great view of a nearby town and all of the hills surrounding the town were growing coffee.

So not being coffee drinkers, we sampled the coffee, and it was pretty darn good. I could see drinking it for sure if I had access to a product this tasty. So of course we picked up some. We also picked up a nice blanket for Savannah that we would give her later on when she is older.

We then headed down to Antigua to visit the Cathedral of San Fransisco This was quite interesting to see. It wasn't particularly elaborate, but it had some impressive carvings and murals on the walls. It also contained the tomb of the new Saint Hermano Pedro. It was a very holy place, gave you that feeling of peace. The people haven't updated all of their trinkets however, because the candle we purchased still had him as Blessed and not yet canonized.

We left the church and checked out a local Jade shop where they created Jade jewlery and masks. It was very neat to see and we again found a gift for Savannah later on in life. We will try to give her a gift on each "Gotcha Day" which would be Feb 2.

Once we completed our visit here we checked out a local restaurant where I tried some beef and Lori tried some chicken. We bought Eduardo lunch and I think the bill ran about $30. It was the quality of a $60 meal here in the states.

We did have a slight issue while in the restaruant. We thought it best to change Savannah and took her to the bathroom. However, Savannah had totally blown through her diaper and soiled her outfit. To our horror we discovered that we had neglected to pack her a spare outfit...we should have known better! We ended up cleaning her up and wrapping her in her new blanket. Fortunately this was our last stop and we headed back to the hotel.

We enjoyed our trip back through the mountains and around the Water Volcano. It was unfortunate that it was so cloudy which prevented us from seeing the tops of the volcanos from the ground. Eduardo said we would find a way to see them on Monday when we would meet for another short trip around the city.

When we returned to the hotel we got cleaned up and headed out to the pool area where we enjoyed the sun and relaxed while feeding Savannah Cheerios. We decided to skip dinner and just snack since we were so full from lunch. We rehydrated ourselves and decided to rest up for Sunday.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Visiting the Embassy and Zona 1

We woke up around 4:30 in the morning to try to get ourselves ready to make our 7:45 appointment at the Embassy. The US Embassy is about 15 minutes away from the Marriott in Guatemala City, but knowing us, we'd need all of the morning to try to get everything ready to go and grab something quick to eat.

So around 4:30 we got up and began showering and getting ready for the day. Savannah slept pretty well for us during the time, waking up around 6, which allowed us to get ready and get her ready and fed in the morning. We met our translator at 7:15 and made it to the Embassy without a hitch.

The Embassy was very busy. We waited outside (nice that it's in the low 60s at this point in the morning) and met with a "gatekeeper" person who checked our appointment time and would eventually allow us to head through the security check. What was surprising was the number of locals at the embassy as well to receive Visas to visit or work in the States. There were easily 100 people outside also waiting their turn to get inside and receive a Visa. I was happy to see that there were apparently plenty of people who took the time to find a legal way into our country rather than try to skip across the border. Granted, it's a long way for these folks to travel to the US since without a Visa they would have to drive all the way across Mexico to make it here. Otherwise they can catch a flight.

Regardless, we made it into the Embassy and began waiting for our papers to be filed. We sat while our representative filed the paperwork for us and fed Savannah some Cherrios. There were many families there adopting, probably a good dozen who were in the Embassy at some point in the process. After about a half hour or so, we were called in to the interview. We were asked some simple questions, signed some papers and then waited again.

At this point the paperwork had gone back so that they could make sure that there was nothing that the US doctors saw wrong with Savannah. This report was in the sealed documents that we presented to the embassy. Since there was nothing, we received our recipt for the Visa and an appointment time to come back on Monday to pick up her Visa.

All said, it was about an hour process. We were then able to take a quick trip down to Zona 1 with our representative. She wanted to show us the difference between the poor and the weathly in Guatemala. You could see it in Zona 1, Many old buildings, homes. Seemed to be fairly safe during the day, but at night you could see it was a rough neighborhood. At first glance, when you see the private business guards with the semi-automatic weapons, it's a bit shocking. However, once you realize what they are there for, it's not so shocking. It actually makes you feel nice and safe if you were to shop in those establishments.

We then drove over to Zona 14, where many of the weathly live. We were able to head back into a gated community and see some of the other consulates for other countries and many of the larger homes worth millions of dollars. The differences between the rich and poor is probably very much like what you would have seen in the US during the time of Carnegie and Rockefeller.

One of the other things you notice is all of the American style fast food. McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Taco Bell. It's all here. Camperos was the Guatemalan fast food and it was also everywhere. There are other things that seem odd as well. There's a Hooters in Guatemala City. The Hooters Golf Tour makes a stop here for the $200,000 Guatemala International Open event the week of Feb 13. We saw many adverts for the open on the sides of bus stop shelters. Stuff you wouldn't expect to nessesarily see, but you see it here.

Once we got back we decided to grab some lunch at the Mariott. We were able to sit in a covered outdoor patio and it was very nice to be able to do that. We then head over to the local grocery to pick up some water and see if there was anything else we needed. We had been told not to eat the fruit unless it was in a peel, but were tempted when we saw apples with the familiar Washington State sticker on them that we see here. Again while we walked to the store we saw the familiar armed men guarding the various businesses.

The rest of the day we spent relaxing as we prepared to head to Antigua tomorrow with our tour guide Eduardo.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Meeting Savannah

As we rushed into the Marriott Hotel in Guatemala City, we found an friendly staff that spoke English very well. We were able to check in very quickly and made our way to our room to freshen up to meet Savannah and the foster mother.

Before we knew it, the half hour we had was up and we were heading downstairs to meet them before retiring to the Marriott's "Baby Room" on the 3rd floor. The "Baby Room" was a nice feature of the Marriott. They had converted two rooms on the floor into a giant suite containing a bath/changing area, a microwave and bottle cleaning items, spare food and snacks left behind by families, Internet access, and a lot of highchairs comfy couches and toys. It was very nice to be able to head to the room to gain a little more space and privacy when we met the foster mother and Savannah.

When we arrived in the lobby, we were surprised to see our translator and the foster mother already sitting there (we had been warned that they are often several hours late!). Savannah was sitting on the foster mother's lap, acting very well behaved and in good spirts. Lori felt a flood of emotions hugging the foster mother and thanking her for taking such good care of Savannah. The pictures we received of Savannah during the adoption process did not do her justice, she was very beautiful. We quickly headed upstairs to the baby room.

Meeting the foster mother was a wonderful oppurtunity. We felt her warmth and love for Savannah and learned some things about her patterns and her likes and dislikes. It was a wonderful oppurtunity. We let the foster mother hold Savannah until she was ready to let us hold her. After about a half hour of talking and learning she placed Savannah in my arms. What a feeling of joy to meet her. Once we had done that, we took some pictures, paid for the foster mother's cab ride and provided her with some humble gifts as a thank you for being a great provider for Savannah. You could tell Savannah was in a loving home while she waited for us to come and get her.

Once they left, we retired back to our room. I called the wonderful concierge to place an order with the local drug store for Savannah's formula, baby cereal and some bottled water. We hung out while we waited and eventually decided to take a trip downstairs to find something to eat in one of the three restaurants. We eventually decided on the Champions Sports Bar, which was themed much like your typical American sports bar, with typical American sports bar food....yeah brave choice! It was here we discovered that Savannah enjoyed Cheerios, which was good considering we needed some sort of food to be able to calm her when she was feeling restless.

The food at Champions was OK, we ate what we could and retired to our room to spend some time with Savannah and get some rest for our big trip to the Embassy early in the morning. Fortunately, the first night was uneventful for Savannah, she slept very well. I had a slight battle with the altitude as I ended up feeling deydrated. I kept drinking water about every 2 hours or so, but did get plenty of rest. Fortunately the television was very good in the hotel and gave us plenty of choices to fall asleep to. There was a raw CBS feed (no local commercials) and several South American TV channels (AXN, Sony) that would show American TV shows with Spanish subtitles. This provided plenty of entertaining options.

Flying To Guatemala

We woke up bright and chipper on Thursday morning (3 am to be exact) to try to get out of the house by 4:30 to catch our 6:20 flight. We ended up leaving at 4:45. Fortunately, traffic is nonexistant in Columbus at 5 am. We ended up making it to the airport parking at 5 after 5 and were checked in by 5:30. We were soon boarding a very crowded flight to Houston.

This flight was rather uneventful, except for the larger man who had the window seat in my row. It was quite difficult to snooze. Houston was a nice airport, I had never flown through it before and was impressed with the nice well lit terminal E. We grabbed some lunch at Wendy's before we found the gate for our flight to Guatemala City.

Unfortunately, there were problems with our flight. The plane had problems with the radio and they got us a new one from the hangar. So we ended up leaving an hour late. This put us in a little bind. We were supposed to land at 12:30 in Guatemala City, and meet Savannah and her foster mom at 3:00. As it happened we landed at 1:30 which gave us very little time to get our bags and get to the hotel. Fortunately, the process for immigration was very quick and we were able to get our bags in about 20 minutes.

Landing in Guatemala City was a culture shock. Flying there brought us amazing views of mountains that just appeared out of nowhere. Guatemala City appeared to be on a plain that looked like a mountain that had been sliced off. It was very flat with canyon crevices where the creeks and streams flowed. Once we landed, you could see the tin walled shacks that worked as storage for tools and supplies at the airport. It was amazing to think that the same aircrafts flew out of Houston to here. It was like a time warp.

Similarly, La Aurora airport was a bit of a shock. Walking out with out bags into the crowd we were confused. Fortunately we saw a rep for the hotel which offered a shuttle. However, we were supposed to meet a representative from our adoption agency. That was when I glanced outside of the airport plaza to the passenger pickup area to see a white board with our name on it. A young lady was holding it up ready to take us to the hotel and explain things.

We rushed outside to her car and attempted to pile ourselves and four bags into the Guatemala equivelant of a Volkswagen Golf. That was a bit challenging, but we did it. We then began to experience the streets of Guatemala and the difference from driving in a medium sized city. They know how to use their horns. It's basically a warning that says..."I'm coming and I'm not stopping". If you used your horn like that here, you'd end up in a wreck. Here, the other car wouldn't stop. It was scary that we did not see more accidents, but it was something that they were just used to as part of the culture.

We eventually did make it to the beautiful Mariott hotel where we were quickly able to check into the hotel and make it to our room with a half hour left to freshen up and get ready to meet our daughter for the first time.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My Barber's Famous

Today I went to get my hair cut and found my Barber was in the local paper, because of his Super Steeler fandom

What's funny is that we had just talked about his Three River Stadium seats last month during the last trim.

He's all fired up for the Super Bowl, of course. And I guess business has gone up a little for him :)