Thursday, February 07, 2008

My Take on the Super Bowl

This is a bit late in coming, but like a lot of the other people, I was thrilled to see Eli Manning follow in his big brother's footsteps and earn a Super Bowl ring. We were cheering for the Giants at our house because it's an NFC-East team. The Redskins couldn't get their act together -- Will they ever? -- but we were at least somewhat represented at the big dance.

I called my mother during the game and she didn't want to talk. She was too excited about the Giants pulling ahead to upset the undefeated Patriots -- with her boy Eli at the helm. She was equally excited last year about the Colts' victory, even though I chided her about rooting for the team that had abandoned the fair City of Baltimore, where I live, under the cloak of darkness. After all, her boy Peyton was leading the charge.

So what is it about those Manning brothers? My mother, a pro football fan?

In a nutshell, Peyton played for the University of Tennessee, and my father was the biggest UT football fan that ever lived. Daddy spent (or perhaps misspent) his freshman year of college at UT before he joined the Army Air Corps during World War II. After that, his blood ran orange. While he didn't get to attend that many games, he was always glued to the television or radio when the Vols were playing. The names "Doug Dickey" and "Bill Battle" were whispered in reverential tones at our house. Daddy cut clippings after each game and sent them off to my brother-in-law, an expatriate Big Orange fan down in Florida. He wore a UT ball cap when he did his chores or attended outdoor events. Though none of us kids decided to attend UT, Daddy was thrilled when a couple of his granddaughters ended up as alumna there. And on his last day of life, he lay dying in a hospital bed wrapped in my brother-in-law's orange and white throw something like this one, a Big Orange fan to the end. I am sort of glad that my mom didn't do this, however.

So what does this have to do with last week's Super Bowl? Daddy's enthusiasm for UT football extended to alums of that program, including Peyton Manning. Daddy was a huge Manning fan. (I can understand his affinity for Peyton, but I suppose Eli gets lumped into the pantheon because he's the little brother and attended another Southeastern Conference school rather than go somewhere in the Big Ten.)

Daddy died in August 2006. The Colts, led by Peyton Manning, won Super Bowl XLI in 2007. The Giants, let by Eli Manning, won Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

Does it sound like someone is exercising undue influence from the Great Beyond on behalf of the Manning boys?

Okay, that's a bit farfetched, but I'm sure Daddy is smiling this week.

Update on China Weather Crisis

I received this email message yesterday. It's a broadcast email from Jenny Bowen, executive director of Half the Sky. Although I haven't asked permission to quote it, I doubt she'd mind. In fact, she'd probably appreciate the exposure. The email shows both the severity of the crisis and the strength of the response. The part about Chenzhou Social Welfare Institute (SWI) brought tears to my eyes.

By the way, for those not familiar with Chinese customs, people travel to their ancestral homes for the New Year celebration. Young people who've moved from the countryside to the big cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou for work ride trains for 24 hours or more to get home, and the entire country essentially shuts down. The storms came in the midst of this annual migration, thus complicating the problem.

Dear Friends,

Tonight is Chinese New Year’s Eve. Families across China who’ve not had to cancel their holiday plans are cozy together preparing huge feasts to greet the New Year. Although it gets harder and harder to reach anyone,we at HTS have not stopped reaching out to orphanages in central and south China that have suffered through the recent storms.

Despite the difficulties -- anyone who possibly can has gone home, all shops and offices are closed, no one answers the phone, the whole country is suddenly quiet -- we had some success today in getting the word out. In all of the six hardest-hit provinces we’ve managed to begin spreading the word, town by town, that we (and you!) are here to help. We’ve begun getting calls from directors of some of the small county-level institutions. We expect their numbers to grow over the coming days.

The weather remains bitter-cold but no serious snow is forecast now until the beginning of next week. For families in China, that’s wonderful news, as relatives make their way from house to house with greetings and treats for the new year.

For our little ones in the institutions, it’s good news too. Thanks to you and the provisions and heaters and winter clothes you’ve made possible, most will have a snug and safe holidays.

There has thankfully been only one instance so far where we felt the children were in real danger. In Chenzhou, Hunan, the subject of many recent news stories, the institution has been without power or running water for two weeks. In fact, a giant power grid was destroyed by heavy snows and the whole city has been dark for days. Yesterday in Chenzhou,11 workers died in an attempt to restore power.

We were worried about the children at the Chenzhou SWI – over 150 infants,some of whom were falling ill. Food supplies were running out and coal for heat was becoming prohibitively expensive. The SWI director was borrowing funds from caregivers to buy supplies at inflated prices. Even candles tripled in price. To complicate matters, because of the power failure, all banks were closed and the roads were closed. We were feeling pretty helpless.

I’m happy to tell you that an intrepid little group, led by my husband, Richard, is now heading home from having successfully stabilized the situation at the Chenzhou SWI. There is now at least a week’s worth of food, 2 weeks worth of coal, blankets, diapers (another group managed to drop off diapers and clothes as well and today a local farmer came by with a cart of cabbage) and plenty of money to buy what they need if they runout. Richard tells me that all they lack are 60 infant snowsuits and, assoon as the stores re-open after the holiday, the director knows where to get them. Although it’s expected to take 3-6 months for Chenzhou to fully return to normal, we’re so relieved that the children are safe and, at least for now, out of danger.

I hope to be able to tell you more of the story soon. Meanwhile, we will continue to monitor the situation in Chenzhou daily.

We will not stop reaching out to all potentially affected institutions,especially smaller ones, that we haven’t heard from yet. We’ve made a commitment to the hugely over-burdened Civil Affairs offices, that we, as a community, are going to take care of the children through these critical days, with everything we’ve got to give.

You are giving a great gift to the children in this New Year. You are also giving a great gift to me and my colleagues at Half the Sky. It is such a privilege to be empowered to help so many children in need. I feel very lucky right now!

Jenny, by the way, is an amazing woman and Half the Sky has an amazing mission: To ensure that every Chinese orphan in an institution knows the love of at least one caring adult. Jenny was recently selected one of 8 foreigners, and the only American, to carry the Olympic torch on Chinese soil later this year in a contest run by the China Daily, the official English-language newspaper.

Today was Chinese New Year, and we are now in the Year of the Rat. Gong Xi Fa Cai, or ...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Weather Crisis in China

In case you haven't been following, China is in the midst of a record period of cold weather. Even areas of the country that are semi-tropical, including the area of southern China where from which Madeline hails, Guangxi province, have been griped by a freakish record cold snap, huge snowstorms and freezing rain. It goes without saying that the orphanages there are suffering. Most don't have much more than space heaters (and in this far south, central heat isn't required), and record snowfalls have crippled transportation and caused widespread power outages. Orphanages are running out of food and diapers, and their dedicated staff members have braved the elements for hours without proper coats and boots to care for the children.

There are several fine charities that work with the hundreds of thousands -- actually, I believe there are probably millions -- of children in Chinese orphanages, both the ones who are waiting to meet their forever families, and those who will never be adopted. Half the Sky Foundation is one of the best. It's a charity formed by the parents of adopted Chinese children in the U.S. Half the Sky provides training to orphanage workers and pre-schools for institutionalized children and pays for a high school education for older children (the Chinese government only pays for primary school for orphanage children). Kevin and I have supported Half the Sky for a few years now. I give through the Federal Combined Charities program, and we've also given contributions in honor of family members. When my dad died in 2006, a group of my adoption community friends gave a large donation in Daddy's memory.

Half the Sky is raising much needed funds to help the orphanages with this weather crisis. If you click on the link above, you'll see references to the Little Mouse Emergency Fund. If the spirit moves you, please give to this fund and give generously. There are also links on the home page to regular updates from the executive director, Jenny Bowen. The stories she tells are truly heart-rending. Please consider making a gift today.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Bariatrics, Part 10: Restriction!!

Wooohooo!!! The fill has kicked in, and I have restriction again. It usually takes a day or two from what I understand. I think that's because the saline has to work its way back through the tubing into the band, but I may be wrong. I just know that I felt no different on Thursday (except where she jabbed me on her first attempt), but I woke up on Friday with a very tight band. I have also lost at least part of the water weight. Might another scale drop be on the way?

Right now, my poor stomach is pretty upset from the insult of having the band around it tightened. Think of how your waist feels wearing a too-tight belt, and now imagine that it's your stomach and not your waist being squeezed. So ... I'm living on liquids -- tea, soup, milk, and the like. I know, however, that I'm not too tight for solid foods because I can get my meds down without a problem. Anything larger hurts, though. I took Madeline to International Night at a local elementary school last night, and of course, they had food from everywhere. It was at the dinner hour, and I was hungry, so I ate a dumpling from the Korean display. Ouch! Back to the Gatorade for me!

Madeline's dance class was part of the entertainment at the International Night. One of the girls in her class attends kindergarten at this school, which apparently has a huge international contingent, as do many of the schools in this area. The girls did their recital dances. Most of the entertainers, however, were adults -- there were two or three groups of Korean dancers, Indian and African dancers, Irish step-dancers, and an adult member of Madeline's dance company.

There were also children dancing from the Howard County Chinese School, which, for those not familiar with the concept, is sort of like Hebrew School for Chinese-American kids. Generally, these schools are run by Chinese immigrants for the Chinese community. They offer Mandarin, plus other classes such as Tai Chi, cooking and traditional Chinese dance. One of my colleagues runs such a school in Northern Virginia.

Madeline does take a class in Mandarin and Chinese culture, but not from a Chinese school. Her teacher is Mrs. Haas, a Chinese-American woman who immigrated as a child in 1949 (when Mao came into power). Although she is now 70 years of age, she still teaches 4th grade at a local private school. She's the sweetest woman you'd ever want to know and seems far younger than her 70 years. Most of the students are adoptees, and Mrs. Haas has said that she has a special place in her heart for these girls.

We considered regular Chinese school, but were hesitant to commit for a few reasons, including the fact that parents aren't allowed to sit in on the classes -- at least at the schools we explored. Although we are under no illusion that we can learn a lot of Mandarin, much less get the tones right, we did want to see what and how the children were being taught. Moreover, regular Chinese school is rigorous, a several-hours-a-week commitment. We felt that Madeline was already in school each day from 8:10 to 3:10 and already had homework (yes, in kindergarten, though it's hardly egregious), and it was unfair of us to saddle her with more school on the weekends, unless that's what she really wanted. (And, some day, if she does, we will certainly allow her to enroll.) Yes, we are wusses. Early exposure to a foreign language is an proven aid in fluency. Hopefully, she's getting enough exposure with Mrs. Haas each week.