Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Scary Thought for Everyone Who is 29

I have no idea where this came from but I just realized that when you celebrate your birthday you are celebrating the end of your year not the beginning.

When Ehren turns one he will have finished one whole year on earth.

It means I haven't really been 30 I've just been working on my 31st year.

Gives this so much more meaning for me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One Month as a Family of 3.5

Feels like forever since we were lying on a beach in Thailand. At the same time it seems like we just got home with the cutest kid ever made in Taiwan.

Let's eat!

Since being home Joshua has started up 4 architecture projects, I've gotten 3 new clients and Austin has irreparably hurt her back (although she is recovering). Then there is the kid with the biggest grin and cutest dimple who now eats "solid" food, can roll and pull himself along the floor and no longer fits in the first round of clothes we had for him.

You want to know the crazy thing? We have been home one month and already Joshua caught me staring at a map last night figuring out where we want to go next. 2011 will be a domestic year since we were abroad in 2010 so that means it's easier for some of you to join us for a week or two.

I'm thinking New England in the fall. Lobster? Leaves?

Start that saving account now!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Just When We Were Getting a Handle

Our bodies were just adjusting to the little bursts of sleep we get and we were figuring out how to do our work routine while juggling Ehren and then yesterday we hit a snag.

Austin jumped up on the couch, screamed and now we have a pretty hurt puppy. The vet ended the exam with "well the good news is she isn't paralyzed" however, I watched her do her tests and Austin stopped reacting to some of them about halfway down her back. The short story is she still has reflexes in her back legs but her brain has lost control of them because of a ruptured disc around L4 in her spine. We are still hoping that she will recover with some medicine but if not we have to decide if we want to pay for surgery and the chances of the issue recurring are huge.

For now she can't walk at all and we have to carry her outside and keep her in her crate. So one of us carries a kid and the other carries a dog. We aren't outfitting her for the wagon she can roll herself around in yet but the mental image does make us giggle a little bit. Hopefully it won't come to that because I think the giggles would all disappear. For now we are just waiting to see and this is the extent of her day.

Austin-sick

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And it Begins

As of yesterday Ehren is no longer a static baby. He isn't crawling yet (thank God), but he now scoots as far as he can get which will take him off his playmat and into the dining room if we aren't paying attention. I have no doubt he would make it under the table if we would let him. Yesterday Joshua set him down to play and then sat on the couch to do a bit of work on his computer. Not two minutes later he jumps because "something" grabbed his foot. And of course it was our son who had wiggled his way 3 feet from where he was placed, chewing on his foot.

This is about to get interesting.

In other news he loves to have his picture taken. I'm sure this was a talent fostered by the nannies at Hannah's Hope. Here's the photo progression.

TOTALLY UNAWARE:

Bath Time 2

REALIZES THERE'S A CAMERA

Bath Time 4

AND POSE

Bath Time 5

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Birthday Celebration

Ehren @ the park 2

Today I (Joshua) turned 31 years old. And to celebrate, we partied it up took Ehren on his first trip to the park. The weather has been great here this week, so we're soaking up as much sun and warmth as we can before it turns cold.

I can't believe it's already been a year since I turned 30. So much has happened in the last year it felt like I just skipped being 30 and went straight to 31. In less than two weeks it will be one year since my dad died. During that year I spent as much time traveling as I did at home. I've been stretched, beat up, disappointed, pushed to my limits in every way, excited, encouraged, supported and loved. I can't think of a better way to end the last year than to become a father.

We've been back home one week and life has taken a huge turn all at once. Our family has adopted a new member and he is amazing. All-consuming, but amazing.

Ehren @ the park 3

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fat Baby in a Little Hat

Fat Baby in a Little Hat

Ehren got his first walk in Crieve Hall today. The weather is beautiful, 60 degrees, nice crisp air. There's still a bit of color left in the leaves on the trees. The pines are foreshadowing Christmas.

Ehren loved seeing the neighborhood, and watching daddy rake leaves for a bit. A good time was had by all.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Baby Jet Lag

We are home and back in Nashville. We had quite a greeting at the airport and we played pass the baby one last time before Joshua and I are sequestered at the house with him for the next month.

Welcome Home 2

I've spent the last 3 hours working while the boys are sleeping. The three of us are having quite a time adjusting to our new timezone on the other side of the world. However, Ehren loves his new house. He had a bit of trouble doing anything but staring when we first got home. Now that he has adjusted to the blue walls it is a toss up between whether he likes the mirror or playing best. I can't quite decide.

We've also transitioned to the cloth diapers and realize we need a LOT more. Hasn't been painful at all though. The only thing that is painful is the fatigue. He naps great but now he is napping through the night instead of sleeping which is so tiring. Hopefully he'll transition soon to the new schedule and then it will be all peaches and rainbows, right?

Next step is pediatrician appointment, social worker visit, starting the American adoption proceedings and those pesky vaccines. Should make for a full week month!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

So Ready for Home

We are back in Taipei and Ehren successfully survived his first plane ride. We had our AIT appointment today and we are sitting in the hotel room waiting for 2:30 when they said his visa may be ready. There is a small chance they call and tell us there was an issue with the birthmother interview but barring that we got the "clear to go" and we get to pick it up this afternoon.

AIT was interesting. They do your interview just out in the open so you can hear everything. The couple before us met online and he came out here to marry her. They have only seen each other 3 times and they are trying to get her visa so she can come to the US. I can't imagine the stories these officials hear because just this one was fascinating.

Currently Ehren is asleep, Joshua is out finding us lunch and I'm frantically trying to figure out if we can get on a plane in less than 12 hours. The only earlier flight we can take is tonight so I'm trying to be prepared for everything if we get his visa. We have a southwest flight to book, hotel in LA and then packing us all up again. We wouldn't normally be in such a rush to get home but we are 3.5 weeks into the traveling and home just sounds so great.

So if you don't hear from us again that is a great sign and we'll be home on Saturday night. If we don't get an earlier flight then we'll get to buy a cheap ipod, computer and drink more milk bubble tea so it won't be all bad.

Here is America's newest immigrant:

Ehren asleep

Why I Wasn't a Camera Op

I have a really hard time documenting things when I just want to experience them. So sorry but you are left with very little pretty pictures. When we left for the afternoon I turned to Joshua and asked if we had the camera. Nope we had forgotten to grab it. But we did have 4 diapers, a bottle ready to be made and one content little boy with us.

Our last day in Taitung was spent checking out more of the aboriginal side of the area and learning a tiny bit about Peinan which is the tribe of Ehren's birthmother.

Peinan Cultural Park

Then we sufficiently freaked out our waitress at dinner. We decided to eat at the hotel and invited some of the Hannah's Hope staff to join us so we could eat family style to try a few dishes. They needed to eat later than we normally did and it corresponded with Ehren's play time instead of sleep time. Not a problem! We brought a blanket and laid it out on the hotel restaurant floor between our chairs and let him play while we ate. The first waitress laughed and then brought the rest of the girls to see what we were doing. It didn't seem that weird to us but they were very concerned that we understood that the floor wasn't clean. Hello, we brought a blanket - he'll be fine!

Josh & Ehren - Hotel Naruwan

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hot Pots

It's like Taiwanese fondue but with potentially scarier ingredients. I vowed to wait until we had our translator to try it so I didn't offend by not eating anything I was served. Sansan and Lanfen invited us to dinner and were able to help me negotiate the menu to an original beef hot pot that I loved. They have these great mushrooms that I couldn't get the name to, all kind of "tofu cousins," beef, and an egg. There were unidentified fish parts that I left in the pot so I'll leave them out of the blog as well.

I basically copied Sansan as she ate her hot pot because the way you cook it is just as important as the ingredients. Took quite a bit of time to eat with Ehren strapped to me but it was really good.

Would I order it again? Absolutely! Without supervision? Probably not.

Tiff at Dinner

Dinner was a lot of fun talking, laughing and getting to know these great Taiwanese women who had both heard of couchsurfing - how crazy is that? We laughed so hard over the impression we had made before coming and the fact that we forgot our camera when we showed up to pick up Ehren that I actually woke him up from his nap. It's like friends away from home.

We are the first family that has been here and not jetlagged so we are getting to hang out with the staff a lot more which I think is so important to the experience. Besides couchsurfing we also had the scooter in common. They have Vino scooters over here and Sansan just thought it was great that Joshua and I drive a scooter like they do since that is so rare in the US.

SanSan & Lanfen

High five for not being jet lagged and having a scooter!

Ehren took the best nap ever (you know in the last 2 days) so we stopped by this thing on our way home:

Tiff @ gift to the gods
Taitung has a lot of aboriginal tribes in it. I thought they had something to do with this but turns out it is a Toaism thing. This is a show for one of their gods to watch. There is some important festival starting tomorrow and so they erect these things all around the city to entertain the gods.

Closeup of gift to gods

Three stories. Animatronics. Sounds. Lights. All night. Outside our hotel.

Austin vs. Ehren

Growing up I was called the dog's name more times than I was called my siblings' name. I understand the tendency but after being away from "Austin the Dog" for 3 weeks I didn't think we'd slip into it so quickly. Turns out seven years makes quite a habit.

As a matter of reference for all involved here is how we are going to tell them apart:

Austin hates baths - Ehren loves them.

Austin barks at people she doesn't know - Ehren smiles.

Austin is cool to sleep for 8 to 10 hours - Ehren is NOT.

Austin hates traveling - Ehren seems to be fitting into the Fykes world traveling quite well.

And the most obvious... Austin has white hair - Ehren has black.

Should be simple.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day One of the Rest of Our Lives

This is one loved kid. I mean he has fabulous parents but you should have seen the special mothers who have cared for him the last six months. They had written him cards, had gifts for him and couldn't stop balling and telling us how much they were going to miss him. By the time we left everyone but Ehren was crying.

Special Mothers 2
The way it works at Hannah's Hope is there are 3 shifts and in each shift the child has the same caregiver. That means he had 3 people who cared for him specially while they were there. The start that Hannah's Hope gave Ehren is unlike you see in normal orphanages and we will be forever thankful for the love and care he received in Taitung from his special mothers.

Ehren's Crib
I can't wait to show him the notes and cards that everyone gave him. Show him the videos of everyone telling us exactly how he likes to nap/eat/play. And most importantly I can't wait to bring him back here to see what a fabulous place he lived in for the first six months.

Fykes in Ehren's room

After leaving Hannah's Hope we spent some time buying the things we think we need for a baby. We'll see if we were right. We'll probably spend some time tonight googling stuff. Like do we need baby powder? What is baby oil for? You know crucial parenting knowledge.

Most of the day he was happy and playing but we had a small issue with a nap that I think he would label a catastrophe and that meant the rest of the day he wasn't his bubbly self.

It made for quite an interesting situation at the restaurant where we tried to eat dinner. Are they staring at us because we are Westerners with a Taiwanese baby or because we are Westerners with a screaming Taiwanese baby? We'll never know!

Introducing......

Ehren Taylor Wen Fykes

In case you didn't get that he said "Can't wait to meet y'all." You just didn't catch it because it was in Taiwanese. Love you all!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hello Taiwan

Guess what it's doing in Taipei?

That's right it's raining.

Though even with the rain this place is great. I think we'll have no trouble coming back here and having a great time once Ehren is older. God willing everything goes so smoothly with AIT that we won't have time to even scratch the surface of Taipei which will leave us plenty to do on our next trip.

The only difficulty is that everything is in Chinese and almost nothing is in English. Thailand was a breeze because 80% of everything was translated. I can't imagine this being the first international city you ever visit. For us it just means a much greater sense of accomplishment when you figure something out. We were able to buy our train tickets to Taitung and make a payphone call to the person meeting us when we arrive... all without any English. You would have thought we had negotiated peace between two unstable governments. It makes travel feel new and exciting.

Taipei-floral expo ad

One other thing of note is everyone is in winter coats here. I don't exactly know the temperature but I'm in short sleeves and in a really crowded place I still sweat. I know it gets very hot here so this is their winter temperature but a fur lined jacket? Really? We only brought Ehren short sleeves so we may have to find him a jacket.

While we stopped for some ice cream there was a little girl sleeping on the bench next to us. She was probably a year old and Joshua and I just stared at her. Her mom was probably keeping an eye on us thinking we were going to try to grab her and run. Don't think the idea didn't cross our minds. I'm having trouble sleeping I just can't wait to get Ehren.

Tomorrow is the train ride and then Monday is the big day. I don't know exactly the time but if you think about it on Sunday night probably 8 or 9 send some prayers our way that everything goes smoothly for Ehren. This is going to be a pretty traumatic experience to be ripped from the only people he has known and given to these strangers who smell and sound funny. If all the adults in this metropolitan city stare at us, I can't imagine what a six month old will think.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Goodbye Thailand

Chiang Mail-Old City Gate
Today is our last morning in Thailand, we catch a flight from Bangkok to Taipei shortly. Thailand has left a great taste in our mouth, we will definitely be returning. The people are the most hospitable we've encountered anywhere, and we have a new appreciation for Thai cuisine. We've also gotten to experience two very distinct seasons in the life of tourism here...Low Season and High Season. When we first got to Bangkok it was low season. It was oppressively hot and humid, but there weren't very many tourists. Now, two weeks later in Bangkok it's like a switch got flipped. The temperature has dropped to the 80s and the tourist population has tripled.

November 1st apparently really is the date. That's when everyone knows to hit Thailand. I would say being here right at the change has been perfect but if you want a comfortable trip with a little higher price tag and you don't mind crowds I say wait until November.

Chiang Mai Trek 3
It's hard to believe it has only been about two weeks since we left Nashville. Tiffany wants Dr. Pepper pretty badly but other than that we could stay here for much longer.

We're only three days out from picking up Ehren in Taitung and the excitement is starting to be too much. While we're in Taipei our task is to find 18 gifts for him, so we have something from Taiwan each year for his birthday. Wish us luck!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

See You Guys in Taiwan in a Few Days

Our last day on the islands gave us a short reprieve from the rain. And when I say short I mean just long enough for me to be totally toasted. We continued on our quest of relaxation but we were able to snap a few photos without the rain.

The only thing missing is that you can't see the emerald water. This should just whet your appetite to vacation at Thailand's beaches - we don't want to take away all the surprises.

La Laanta-beach

Crab Circles

Ko Lanta-Josh & Tiff

La Laanta-Our Room

La Laanta-Courtyard

La Laanta is by far the most amazing place we've seen on the beach. Ideal honeymoon place and seems very family friendly as well. Tell your friends!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sorry To All the Other Tourists

Right now the locals say it is very rare to have this much rain in Koh Lanta. Its the beginning of high season which means the sun should be shining and the hotel prices sky rocket. We are good on paying twice what we paid last night but is has been two days without the sun. Cloudy is one thing but it has been raining for two days as well. Actually there is now flooding in the southern part of Thailand. It just follows us around. More than anything it makes for a miserable beach retreat for everyone who has made the journey south in Thailand. For us it is a nice change. It leaves us with nothing to do but talk, spend time together and sleep which is probably exactly what we need right now.

On Monday our family will expand from two to three. Ours days will no longer be ours and the reality of our new jobs raising a little boy will be upon us. We will no longer think 7am is an early morning and everything about how we live our life will slow and change.

Are we ready? Probably not. Does that make us any less anxious to get our hands on his already six month old head? Not in the least.

I think all this rain is just for Joshua and I to relish in the seven and a half years it has just been the two of us while getting us rested and unbelievably ready to go get Ehren.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ramada Ballers

On our flight to Phuket we sat in front of a couple American guys - our first encounter with Americans. We're at the back of the plane waiting to get off and I decide to introduce myself, ask where they're from etc. etc. Mike & Sam are old friends from LA/San Fran and come to find out they're heading to Phi Phi - the island we're heading for as well. So I say "hey you want to split a cab to the pier and catch a boat together?"

At this point we all knew we missed the last ferry, but we didn't know that it was going to be extortionist pricing to get a private boat. After weighing all the options we decided to bite the bullet. We found another couple that was "in the same boat" (sorry, had to) that made the final price 18,000 baht ($642) for six people.........for a 45 minute boat ride......in a country where your hotel room is $35.

It took them 30 minutes to gas up the boat and by that time we were over the disappointment of the price and looking at the bright side: We get an awesome private boat ride right? Not so much. More than an hour later all of us and our bags had been drenched and we were sufficiently beat up by the choppy water. We did get a great view of the sunset and Phi Phi at night as we came into the pier. Oh but we didn't get to dock at the pier. Nope. They anchored and we waded into shore. With our bags. For $107/person. It was our Phi Phi walk of shame.

Upside is the first Americans we met turned out to be great beach partners and we had more than a few laughs over the whole experience "On a Boat." We also decided the boat ride had bound us together. Although we slept at different places we ate together, scubaed together and hung out until they left this morning.

Ramada Ballers

Also for your information scuba makes snorkeling seem like a joke. Seriously, it changes how you view open water. We will now always wonder what we could be seeing down below. We also can't wait to get certified and do more dives. Is there scuba for babies?

Our Scottish dive instructor Gareth was a character and a great teacher. We did two dives with a lunch break in Maya Bay at Phi Phi Leh ("The Beach") Amazing. Honestly, the only reason we decided to dive was how helpful the dive instructor was when we had arrived after dark with our bags and were looking for hotel on our Phi Phi walk of shame. Taking a lesson just seemed like the best way to compensate him. If the boat ride was for nothing more than to meet our new American friends and learn how much we love scuba it is well worth the price of admission.

Speed Boat @ Maya Bay

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation-Tuk Tuk

Chiang Mai The Final Day

After waking up at the elephant park and watching the next group of tourists feed the elephants we headed out on a trek up a mountain/hill. We were rewarded with a waterfall to swim in at the top and then a reverse hike down the way we came up.

Chiang Mai Trek - Waterfall

Josh & Tiff Chiang Mai Trek

You like those pants? Totally functional in this weather and everyone is wearing them over here.

We ended the day with a white water rafting trip and then a traditional Thai bamboo raft that Joshua had to steer. Not maybe worth the plane ticket over just for this day but in the grand scheme of life - still fun!

Tomorrow we head to the beach. And when I say "the beach" I mean "The Beach." Ten Points to anyone who is not Carl who can name that location.

Friday, October 29, 2010

English Word for the Day

We totally lucked out on our elephant adventure. We decided to splurge and spend a day and a night at the elephant park and hands down most interesting part of the trip so far. Do you know the english word for elephant caretaker?

Baan Chang tiff riding elephant 1

Baan Chang joshua feeding elephant

It's mahout. File that away in useless knowledge. These guys basically adopt an elephant and spend every day taking care of them. The elephants only sleep 3 or 4 hours so these guys only sleep that long. They get paid basically nothing but they do it because they love elephants. I liken it a bit to being a ski bum.

Baan Chang elephant and mahout Baan Chang 29
These were my two favorite mahouts that we met over the campfire that night. The one on the left is the leader of the mahouts and takes care of the 2 year old elephant. He also lost all of his front teeth in a scooter accident. The one on the right took us to see the sleeping elephants. Both are from Burma. Did you know that elephants sleep with their trunk in their mouth? And that is item number two of useless but interesting knowledge for you. You are welcome!

Baan Chang-Josh & Tiff in water

The most fun/gross part of the day was cleaning our elephant in the pond. I won't go into details, but let's just say the bottom was about a foot of "sludge", and only half of it was dirt. Still an amazing experience though. We walked away from the day saying "did we really just do that?"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thai Cooking 101

Did we make the perfect curry paste? Nope.

Did we give it the college try? Absolutely

Thai Cooking School-Joshua cutting ingredients

Thai Cooking School-papaya salad

Thai Cooking School eating

We do know enough now to attempt pad thai, 2 different kinds of stir fry spring rolls and in theory we can make curry paste from scratch. We also know that I don't like pumpkin in coconut cream. Well worth the time I think.

With every passing day we are noticing that we don't come across many Americans. Like none. We've met all kinds of Europeans, Canadians and plenty of Aussies but our country is poorly represented in this side of the world. I don't understand how we could have met two separate groups from Belgium in two different parts of Chiang Mai but not a soul from the States. It's crazy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chiang of Pace

After 15 hours of train/bus travel we arrived in Chiang Mai. The feeling of decompression was immediate. I liken the city to Verona, Italy: quaint, laid back, idyllic in many ways, but still plenty of city life, history, culture, etc. We settled in at our new temporary abode: the Thapae Boutique House. The value in Thailand is amazing. For roughly $28/night we have a lovely room, free wi-fi, breakfast and service that puts Hampton Inn to shame (and most every other US hotel experience for that matter) all located in the heart of the city. They even do take out laundry: $2 for a full bag of clothes. I could definitely see staying here for a while.

Thapae Hotel
Once we settled, we got out and did a little walking tour. Saw some more buddhas, got a dirt cheap massage at the women's prison (wouldn't have thought women doing hard time would laugh that much, but I think it's awesome that they're learning a trade and getting to practice on tourists!) then explored Tha Pae Road.

Wat Phra Singh
(in case you don't recognize it, that's excitement on Tiff's face)

Once the sun exited we hit the night market for a bit

Night Market
then grabbed some dinner at the "Good View Restaurant". Although the name leaves something to be desired in creativity, the ambiance and view more than compensated.

Good view restaurant

Ping River

Tomorrow's agenda: A day learning how to cook Thai food at a local farm. Curry here we come!

The Fykes and Floods

2010 may be the year of the Tiger but seems to me it should be the year of floods. Thailand is having some crazy rain in the north that is causing some serious issues with the rivers and canals further south. We just barely made it out of Bangkok last night because the rail lines are starting to be covered with water and impassible. We had luckily arrived early enough to catch what was going to be the last train out.

Along the way they had to take us off the train and put us in buses to drive through the worst part. Personally, I would think a train through water was safer than a tour bus through water but my Thai isn't good enough to argue with the transit authority so we just got on the bus and tried not to notice the feet or 2 of water we were driving through.

We were passing through the worst of it just at dark and it was crazy to see these houses they had built on stilts still having water getting into them when it wasn't even raining. Not to mention the people laying on mats at all the high land because I presume they had already been flooded out. The Nashville flood was horrible and as I watched people trying to sweep the water out of their houses I had quite a flashback to doing the same thing at a neighbor's house. However, when their option isn't a friend's home but a tarp at the top of the hill it seems even more tragic.

We are safe and dry in Chiang Mai but I know my Nashville friends can appreciate first hand the tragedy of homes being overtaken with water. I doubt the news is telling you anything about this so I thought I'd let you know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Two Sides of Bangkok

We started the morning at the Grand Palace. It's my understanding the king and queen don't reside there anymore but it is still the place where he's coronated and all kinds of other grand ceremonies that require a canopied throne which we aren't allowed to photograph.

Grand Palace 2

Grand Palace

Grand Palace 7

I loved all the sparkling colored glass but Joshua was most impressed with this chunk of stone.

Grand Palace 6

He said it made him want to go see Angkor Wat in person. For me, I felt like I had a pretty good view from here.

Then there is a New York side of this huge city too. There are still walls around all building - the windows are all gated at night but wow are there buildings.

We hit Siam Square which is around what I would say is the fashion district. Tons of small shops by designers along with a huge mall called "MBK."

MBK Center

Then there was also this restaurant in the business district.

Moon Bar @ Vertigo 5

Moon Bar at Vertigo was most definitely worth the 160 Bahts for the taxi and then 700 bahts for something to drink.

Moon Bar @ Vertigo 4

Special thanks to Ian from upstate New York for sending us this way.