Monday, June 29, 2009

Still on the ground...

We should be somewhere over Alaska by now, however, Northwest has delayed the flight until tomorrow morning due to mechanical problems. Apparently the aircraft we were to be flying on got struck by lightning during the trip in from Tokyo.

Everything was on schedule for a 3:20 pm departure up to about 2:00. At first it looked like a small delay - 4 pm. About 3:00 they told us it looked like 5 pm. At 3:30 they told us they were going to have to push the airplane to the hangar, and our new departure time was 6 pm. At 4:00 that had moved to 7 pm. They finally scrubbed the flight just after 5:00.

Since NWA doesn't keep a spare 747 in Minneapolis, they gave all the connecting passengers vouchers for local hotels and T-shirts. They kept our checked luggage, and told us to come back first thing in the morning for an 8:30 am departure.

Us? We're back home, with Northwest's apologies, $10 food vouchers for the airport, and 2000 extra WorldPerks miles in each of our accounts.

Losing a day from this trip is not an option - we would only have two walking-around days and that's no good.

So I've just spent the past three hours fixing all the problems that have come up as a result of this incident. First, I called, where we bought our entire package through. The first two people I talked with were not native-English speakers, the connection was awful, and they weren't inclined to help. I had to escalate the call to the Customer Service supervisor, who explained that their computer couldn't change international itineraries once a flight had started.

The supervisor seemed to understand the airplane was sitting on the ground and not flying, but "that's how our computer works." He could change the hotel reservation, but not the flight reservation. He suggested I call Northwest to see if I could change flights, then call Expedia back to change the hotel.

My next call was to Northwest. After explaining the situation, the agent told me, "our policy is to help our passengers preserve the number of days they had originally planned, so we will get you out on Sunday the 5th with no charges or penalties."

Yes, you read it right. Even though the Sunday flight looked totally sold out on their website, the NWA agent was able to find room - three seats in a row no less - on the Minneapolis nonstop run. Delta, you'd better not mess with the Northwest call center or customer service team, because they really came through for us here.

I called Expedia back with the good news about the flight. After talking with yet another agent for fifteen minutes, she determined that she could not extend our room reservation - Expedia's computer said the Keio Plaza Hotel (where we were supposed to be staying in Shinjuku) was completely sold out. She suggested I try calling the hotel.

Since I'd signed up for their Executive Club card, and we were staying in their best class of room, I figured we'd have a pretty good shot with the direct approach - like I just had with Northwest. I called the Keio's Los Angeles sales office ... "Our office hours are 9:30 am to 5:30 pm Pacific Time. If you would like to leave a message, we will get back with you tomorrow as soon as possible." The time I called? 7:40 Central ... 5:40 Pacific. Ten lousy minutes.

We are a persistent family, as the previous hundred blog posts show, so I wasn't going to stop. I called the hotel itself in Japan ... it was coming up on 10:00 am there, and the reservation we held was for that night. Surely there were rooms. There are *always* rooms, especially when the country is in a panic over the swine flu...

No. Completely full on Saturday, July 4. I explained that they have us for three nights and that we would love to give them the business. No rooms available. I expressed the wish to not have to search for other competitive options. No rooms available. I stated that they would be losing bookings by not being able to accommodate us. No rooms available.

A very odd sales person I was dealing with there. Apparently business is SO GOOD they didn't want my money. (The way she said "Expedia" did have a certain disdain to it.) I told her I would speak with Expedia further.

So a third call to Expedia. This time I got an actual person in America. Another forty minutes of discussing hotel options. Some confusion over the International Date Line, and the inability of Expedia Customer Service staff to see what the website was showing. (Our second-choice hotel in Shinjuku, the Hyatt Regency, was showing wide open on the website, but the Customer Service person couldn't even find it on her booking computer.)

Finally. Different neighborhood -- Akasaka, which is the diplomatic district, near the Diet and most of the embassies, but on several key subway lines. A little cheaper; we're getting just over $100 refunded on the package, but similar kind of room.

At least we're not homeless in Tokyo.

We get up early tomorrow and take another crack at it.

(No pictures - the transfer cable is in the checked luggage... Wynn held up pretty well for most of the afternoon but fell apart by the time we got to the car; no nap today of course.)


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

They finally got her passport done!

I had to utter the magic words "I'll pay for expedited service" and fork over another $60 plus $14.95 for FedEx overnight shipping, but at long last Wynn's passport is complete and being loaded onto an airplane in Charleston, SC for arrival here tomorrow morning.

I learned during my call with the NPIC yesterday that while they received Wynn's Certificate of Citizenship on Wednesday 6/10 (because I'd shipped it Next Day Air), they didn't actually resume working on her file until Monday 6/15. So that was three days they wasted in the process.

And of course, they snail-mailed the letter telling us they wanted her C of C... printed the letter on Tuesday 6/2, didn't actually mail it until 6/3, and didn't arrive here in Minnesota until Monday 6/8. So that was another five days they wasted (they had phone numbers and an email address on the application.)

I suppose we'll never know if my paying the expedite fee was what got the job done, but for certain we'd have had to cancel or postpone next week's trip if they'd sent her passport by regular postal mail. We do feel that we've gotten a bum deal from the State Department in this matter.

Our experiences two years ago getting our own passports was smooth and lightning-fast (normal processing time and fees.) Having seen how the agency dragged its feet for Wynn over nearly two months, yet moved at warp speed when I pulled out a credit card, makes me ask the question, "is it because she's adopted, or because she was born in China?"

That really hurts to even have to put that in print like this. Ann and I are both proud to be Americans and honest believers in our government's capability to effect positive change. There are many, many good people who work for us; but we also know that rulebooks and procedures are to be followed. We will be following up with a complaint - when we get back - gotta figure out to whom. (We are kind of short a Senator up here. Our state's Supreme Court could use a lesson in timeliness as well.)

Anyway, now that this is wrapping up, we can push full steam ahead with packing.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Past and Present

On this date, two years ago, we became a family.

Last night I read through our blog posts from that time; I smiled (and teared up a little) as I remembered those first few days of discovering one another.

As is our custom, we had pizza and Cheerios for dinner tonight - just as we did for our first family meal together in China. As she sat there slurping down her chocolate milk and making goofy faces at me - the latest of which I call her "great Norma Desmond" look - I couldn't help but think about how far we've come. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that there was a time when she wouldn't even let me hold her, even though I know it's true.

Today was also what Wynn calls a "girl day" - when I'm home for the summer, and she stays home from daycare. The big excitement on this day was that it was Wynn's first time going to music class at the MacPhail Center.

Now, I happen to be sick as a proverbial dog this week - we've been taking turns with the stuffy nose, low-grade fever thing, and it's my turn at bat. But I managed to take enough Tylenol and decongestant to get us over to Minneapolis and through our first class.

Wynn was oddly shy for much of it. Maybe it was the unfamiliar people and surroundings. Or that she wasn't quite sure whether I was staying or leaving. In any case, instead of pretending to fly around like a woodpecker, Wynn wanted to be held by Mom. So I held her, and we flew like a woodpecker together. And it was fun.

Near the end of the class, the teacher brought out a parachute to play with. Wynn got one look at it and started jumping up and down, "Oh, I like THAT!" And any hint of shyness disappeared.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Six-Month Assessment

Wynn's surgeon has us come in for a speech assessment and check-up every six months, so we went in today to see how our girl's doing.

Though she acted very shy and insisted on sitting on my lap the entire time, she was very good with the speech therapist - talked about the pictures on the cards, repeated words when asked, etc. All went well until the therapist brought out the fancy gizmo - it was black board, kind of shaped like a smile, with microphones on the top and bottom. Wynn was to hold part of the board on her "moustache" and repeat some sounds; then the device would measure how much of the sound was coming through her mouth and how much was being directed up through her nose.

Kinda cool because you got to see little blips on the computer screen that showed the data.
Wynn was not buying it.

The therapist did it.
I did it.
We talked about how silly it was that we were drawing pictures with our noses.
Wynn still wasn't buying it.

We put the thing against her face, and she went completely mute. The therapist even tried to bribe Wynn with assorted candies, but the stubborn little one just said, "No."

The therapist had enough data from the other assessments to tell us that Wynn has good resonance, has made great strides in the last sixth months, and still needs to work on her initial consonants. No big surprises.

We moved to to height and weight - 25 pounds and 35.5" - and then went to meet with the surgeon.

He asked Wynn to repeat a few words and looked in her mouth. Then he asked if she'd seen anyone in speech today. When I told him who, he stepped out in the hall and barked at the nurse to, "Get speech on the phone." I could hear him talking to her about consonant substitutions and initial p's and b's, and I could tell he was not pleased.

He came back in and told me that he's very concerned about Wynn's struggles with initial p and b sounds and the way she substitutes other consonants in their place ("Blue's clues" comes out "glue's clues", and "puppy" sometimes sounds more like "duppy"). He told me that at her age and with the amount of speech services she's been receiving, he'd expect her to be doing better. If she doesn't show great improvement by our appointment in December, she'll need to have another operation.

The surgery would entail taking tissue from the back of her throat and bringing it up over her palate. It takes about half an hour, requires two nights in the hospital, and has a "rough" recovery. Apparently, about 20% of cleft palate kids end up needing this.

As he talked about the surgery, my heart just dropped. All I could picture was how miserable she was after that last operation - how she stood there and cried, drooling blood and holding out her arms in those hideous no-no sleeves. Then I looked over at her in the exam room, happily showing her Dora doll how to do a puzzle, and thought about what a sweet little girl she is. And how much I love her. And how I want to protect her from pain.

So the next six months are going to be all about words that start with p and b. We're going to practice like crazy and hope that her speech issues can be resolved with our efforts instead of with a surgeon's knife.

We know she's made tremendous progress in the last six months, and that makes us hopeful that we can accomplish this very-specific goal in the next six.

Wish us luck.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

3 weeks from now, we'll be right up there

Good news on the passport - I called the NPIC at 8 am Friday morning (which apparently is the right time to do it; was on hold for only a minute) and they confirmed receiving Wynn's Certificate of Citizenship. Processing has resumed for her passport.

Also good news with the germs; this cold seems to last only a few days. I'm feeling much better compared to mid-week, and Ann seems to have only suffered a glancing blow. Wynn would appear to be getting better too (although some mighty sneezing has taken place this morning.)

We head out on Monday the 29th, and return on the 4th of July.

Coming up this week is Gotcha Day, the 2nd anniversary of our coming together as a family. Hard to believe it has been that long!


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

So very ready for summer

Summer Vacation starts for Ann next week and it couldn't be coming at a better time, unless you're thinking of two or three weeks ago, in which case, yes, I guess it could have come at a better time.

About four times per week we've strapped on our hiking shoes & put Wynn in the backpack to do a vigorous 40 minutes at the nearby park. These walks are something we did before going to China to improve our stamina and endurance; it worked for us then & it is working now. (I've lost six pounds so far this season and dropped a pants size.) With a little over two weeks to go before the Tokyo trip, we are putting more miles on on our nightly hikes than we're likely to walk each day while overseas.

Frustrating story developing with our government about getting Wynn's passport. We put her application on April 25, before we even booked the trip, and with plenty of time for processing. We know that there are more applications being processed than usual because of new border-crossing rules, but as we hit Week 6 of waiting, we started getting antsy. Well, two days ago we received a letter from the State Department saying they couldn't process her application further because they needed her Certificate of Citizenship issued by the US CIS back in 2007.

Now, I'll note what the passport application instructions say we have to provide for a child:

STEP 2: Submit Evidence of US Citizenship (One of the following):
  • Previously issued, undamaged US Passport
  • Certified birth certificate issued by the city, county, or state
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
  • Naturalization Certificate
  • Certificate of Citizenship
We included the birth certificate from the State of Minnesota. That would seem to meet what the rules spell out - after all, it says ONE of the following... but apparently, if you've adopted from overseas, there are Super Secret Rules you don't get told about.

All the more frustrating: the letter was written from the Passport Center on June 2, not mailed until June 3, and took a full five days to get here. Why, I ask then, do they want us to give them phone numbers and email addresses on the application form, if they're not going to use them when there's an issue?

Doing the math, it seemed dubious that I could get Wynn's Certificate of Citizenship down to the Passport Center (Charleston, SC), have them finish processing, and get the completed Passport up to Minnesota before the trip.

So, Monday night I called the National Passport Information Center looking for some clarification: was the Minnesota birth certificate not good enough? Doesn't the Homeland Security computer talk with the Social Security computer and the two of them talk with the State Department computer?

After an hour on hold, I finally got through to a live operator who quickly established she really couldn't help me at all, outside of proving that our government's computers do not talk with one another. "What does the letter say? Well, that's what you should do, then."

As this was now well after 9 pm, the only thing left for me to do was to run down to the nearest post office and send her Certificate of Citizenship out via overnight envelope. (I just checked the tracking code and it arrived in Charleston this afternoon.)

I'll have to call the NPIC on Friday (during work hours, I'm afraid) and sit on hold for who knows how long to find out whether they've resumed work on her application & when we'll get her actual Passport.

Meanwhile, I've been fighting a miserable cold since Sunday. Wynn just barfed up a bellyful of snot, and Ann is beginning to feel it in her throat and chest. No fever in any of us, so we think this is merely a cold. They're scanning for fever among arriving passengers at Narita Airport in the H1N1 "crisis", so this had darned well better be a cold.

More later this week - still much to do. --Scott