Saturday, August 01, 2015

Meeting Miss Mabel

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Around 8:30am, we left our hotel with our guide to go to the registration office to meet Mabel for the first time.  Zak and I were feeling nervous (I could hardly braid Storey's hair that morning, I was so distracted) and I hardly ate anything.  Well, it was either nerves or the fact that the breakfast is disgusting.

We were taken to an office in the registration building and told to wait for the orphanage representative to bring Mabel and another boy in (there was another American family adopting from the orphanage as well).  They offered us tea, which we politely declined, explaining it was for religious reasons and tried to make small talk while we waited.  A few minutes later, a man walked in holding a little girl.  It took Zak and I a moment to realize that it was Mabel because she was so much bigger than we had expected!  All of the measurements we had been given were of this tiny little thing and here before us was a much bigger baby!

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She was dressed in a very frilly white dress (with several layers underneath since it was only 80 degrees outside) and looked a little shell shocked, poor thing.  I quickly stood to hold her once I realized this was our little girl!  I knew it when I first saw her picture on the Facebook forum and it was reaffirmed to me in that room as well.  She is ours.

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She wasn't quite sure what to make of all of us.  Zak and I took turns holding and cuddling her.  She wasn't very smiley at first, but as soon as I sat her with Jakson and Storey, they started playing and got her to smile for the first time.  They are so cute and wonderful with her.
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Storey has been waiting to be a big sister for a long time and has absolutely risen to the occasion.    She even downloaded an ABC game for Mabel on her Kindle so she can work on teaching her the alphabet.

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Each of the kids took a turn holding her "by themselves."  Jakson tried to play peek a boo and talked in a sweet baby voice.

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Storey pulled out the stacking cups that we had brought and helped her bang those on the table while Zak and I signed the paperwork stating that we would be responsible for Mabel for the next 24 hours before the adoption would be final.   It's like a trial period to make sure that you want to sign the paperwork to make it official.

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After signing the paperwork, taking some pictures, going to the passport photo office to have her passport photo taken, and paying our orphanage donation at the bank, we headed back to the hotel to start a new chapter in our family. 
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Just in the first hours together, we learned that she sucks her knuckle or arm when she sleeps, can stand on her own if she doesn't realize she's doing it, loves rolling around a water bottle and chasing it with her brother, plays a game where she tilts her head back and forth and wants you to do the same, loves being in the carrier, and is super silly.

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We were able to introduce Mabel to both sets of grandparents over Skype as well.  She wasn't quite sure what to make of the people on the computer screen.  While I was talking to my parents, Mabel started sucking on my arm, something we've discovered over the past few days that she really likes to do.  It's very slobbery, but we let her do it whenever she wants (as long as she doesn't bite us!).  As I told my parents, I'm trying to be happy that she hasn't really cried at all, but also I worry about the fact that she's not expressing her emotions or seems sad.  Overall she is a happy, smiley baby.  She seems a little wary of us at times but is playing and content.  I have a feeling that right now it hasn't sunk in that this is a permanent change from her foster parents.  I hope to see her grieve at some point just because I know how healthy that is.

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We were able to find a Pizza Hut (thank you, Google Maps) and went for linner (lunch/dinner).  It was like manna from heaven.   I don't really eat Pizza Hut in the States, but it was so so good.   Then we went shopping to see if we could figure out some snacks that she would eat.   In Watson's (a chain of stores like CVS), everyone literally stopped what they were doing to stare at us.  We had about 20 people following us around the store as we shopped.  It was a little ridiculous.  I told Zak he should ask where the condoms were just to see what the crowds of people following us would do.  I find myself extremely amusing sometimes.

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After getting home from eating and shopping, Mabel started to get very melancholy.  She didn't want to play as much and seemed to figure out that she was not going to be going anywhere anytime soon.  She was stuck with us crazy Americans.   She cried a little bit and finally fell asleep on me.  She's quite snuggly and likes to touch my face before she falls asleep.  Of course she was also sucking on her knuckle or arm.

We have seen miracle after miracle with this adoption process and today was no exception.  We are so excited to have Mabel in our family.  I told Zak at the end of the day that all of the yucky food and stares and misinterpretations were worth it because we got our girl.  We love her so much already.   God is in the details, He knows what we need, and He led us right to our daughter.  

Xining Day One

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 View from our window of Xining

We arrived in Xining on Sunday around 2pm.  The flight from Beijing to Xining was very different from our previous flights because we were the only westerners on the plane, which meant a lot of stares and the kids getting touched.  Also, it seems that when there are less westerners, the Chinese people assume we know Chinese, otherwise what are we doing there?  So several people came up and tried talking to us, but we just shake our heads.  The guy next to Zak on the flight asked Zak in English if he knew Chinese.  When Zak said "no" he turned away and didn't speak to him again.  Maybe he wanted to make sure that he could talk about us behind our backs???

We had a few harrowing moments when the security had an issue with our checked bags.  Apparently they don't allow AA batteries on checked luggage, something we didn't know.  When they called us back, we had no idea what was wrong with the bags, just that there was an alarm going off and a security officer had to come.  It took awhile for us to understand since we speak no Chinese.  Once we got on the plane, we noticed a couple of odd things, such as no one obeys the seatbelt signs and EVERYONE on the plane had to go to the bathroom at least once.  It was a two hour flight.  Not even Storey had to use the restroom.

We met up with our guide at the airport.  She's a nice lady, but I was under the impression (because of what our agency had told us) that she would speak really really good, fluent English.  Unfortunately, that's not been the case.  It's been frustrating, especially when it comes to the food situation. 

She can only understand about half of what we say.  For instance I asked her about getting pizza for our family and she told me that I can wear t shirts every day if I want.  I also had to basically act out "baby crib" (this is more difficult than it sounds) in order to get one for our room for Mabel's arrival tomorrow.  It makes makes the whole experience much more difficult.  There are no western stores in the city and after the guide got us to the hotel she just took off though I thought she was supposed to help us find out which food or restaurants would work for us and help us find a local supermarket.  Finally she agreed to come back to take us to dinner, but we were starving so went to the hotel restaurant and got French fries and fried chicken.  They overcharged us by double we think (even as we added up everything we've spent here in Xining today, Zak and I looked at each other and scowled about that dumb overcharged lunch from three days ago).

I asked our guide if she had an ideas or suggestions for things to do during our "free time" and she said "no".  What is the point of having a guide if she doesn't guide us!?!?!?   We are here until Friday.  I guess we will hang out in the hotel room a lot (we found out there is no pool in our hotel).

We took a walk around a pretty park across the street which was the highlight of the day.  People seem to be less inclined to take pictures of the kids here it they certainly do stare!  We are the only westerners that I've seen since being here. The guide did come back and took us to a local Muslim restaurant that had a good noodle dish we would be willing to try again. She also ordered a beef dish for us that turned out to be yak and I don't recommend it.   Chewy and gross.  Definitely the opposite of pizza (but at least I know I can wear t-shirts if I want).

Tomorrow morning will make all of the language difficulties and bad food and frustrations worth it.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

China Trip: Beijing

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On Wednesday morning we flew from Houston to Korea, had a 4 hour layover in Seoul, and then flew the rest of the way to Beijing.  During that over 24 hour time period, Zak and I probably slept for about an hour so by the time we landed in Beijing we were slightly delirious and ready for bed.  Thankfully it was 8:30pm Beijing time so we took a couple of pills to help us sleep and all went to bed.  Well, first I modified the bathroom sink with a Ziplock bag and a rubberband over the faucet (to avoid any accidental drinking of the water in the middle of the night), then we went to bed.   It was great because our bodies have adjusted to China time really well since then!  We have hardly had any jet lag (going back is going to be brutal though, something I keep warning Zak about since he's never experienced it). 

During the flight from Korea to Beijing, Storey started getting her picture taken, something she is thrilled about.  Some random lady on the plane also felt her face and nose, which was weird and not something Storey enjoyed but I told her to get used to it.  Even Monkey was the star of the pictures because Storey held it up next to her face.  People now have a photo of an American kid and her raggedy monkey.    What do they do with pictures of some random kid???

Our driver showed up at the airport to pick us up (first win in China!) and I was expecting the crazy driving that we'd been warned about, but he drove SO SLOW.  Way below the speed limit and all of the other cars on the road were passing us.  We eventually got to the hotel which is all that really matters.
Friday morning we ate at the hotel's breakfast buffet, which was delicious and well worth the money for the convenience and food (the kids are free.  Jak because of the rollaway we ordered and Storey because she's short.  Who knew that would ever be a benefit???!)  There are two sides to the buffet-the Western side and the Chinese side.   I made the kids try a few things from the Asian side.  Storey is now in love with spring rolls.  She ate about 8 for breakfast. And they had donuts that taste just like churros and bacon so Jak was pretty happy too (he wasn't impressed with the Chinese breakfast choices).
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After breakfast we headed to the Great Wall and had a taxi driver (Lee) arranged by the hotel.  Lee was awesome and so helpful.  He spoke very little English but Jak kept coughing in the car (his asthma has been bothering him today) so he pulled over and went into a shop to buy him some cough drops. Jak of course gagged because of the taste but it was really thoughtful. He also walked us up and helped us buy the tickets for the shuttle and Great Wall.   Storey had to use the bathroom before we rode the chair lift up and I was so glad that I remembered to grab a roll of toilet paper from the hotel.  I still don't understand the lack of toilet paper.  They weren't selling it anywhere either!  
 
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We took a chair lift up to the wall, which scared Storey to death (she is not into heights).  Even Jakson thought it was a little bit scary and had a tight grip on the rails.  Zak and I thought it was beautiful and peaceful (well peaceful surroundings, Storey kept going on and on about her imminent death).

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Once we got to the top, the kids weren't too impressed with either the heat or the stairs.

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When we got to hot, we would stuck our head between the gaps in the wall to feel the breeze from below.  It was a nice reprieve.

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We walked around for about an hour and a half and then when we got tired of listening to the kids ask how much longer before they got to go down the "Alpine Slide", we rode down on the toboggan.

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Unfortunately there were some slow people ahead of us so we didn't get to go as fast as we wanted, but that's probably safer anyway.

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We bought chops (stamps) for all three kids with their name in English and Chinese carved into it at one of the booths on the way to the shuttle.  It's always interesting to negotiate the price of everything.  We bought each of us an ice cream as well and the lady started at a ridiculous price that no one would ever pay for an ice cream.  Very different than what we are used to, though I guess I could start trying that out when I go shopping.
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On the way home we went through some intersections where we experienced the much talked about crazy driving.   I thought for sure we were going to get hit or hit someone.  The people on bikes and scooters are crazy!!  Zak said it's a lot like the driving on the Las Vegas strip just throw in a lot of bikes and scooters and probably more recklessness.

We went to the Wangfujing Night Market Friday night.  It was right down the street from our hotel.  Lots of crazy food skewered on sticks.  Starfish, roach, cricket, scorpion...we even saw fried tarantula (I think it was fried).

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We also had our first encounter with a kid peeing on the sidewalk just wherever he felt the urge.  Strange and gross (especially since so many people were eating in the same area, no such thing as the 10 second rule here).  Jakson didn't notice which is a good thing since he probably would have dry heaved all the way back to the hotel.  The kids held their noses the whole time and didn't want to get too close to anything.  It definitely was an experience! 
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As we walked back to the hotel, we stopped to watch a bunch of people dancing in front of a church (kind of a town square area in front of the church). There were several different groups of people who all seemed to know the dance of their group.  Some looked like they were doing a line dance of sorts, one group a more traditional dance, and then there were couples dancing what looked like a fox trot but had one too many steps in it.  We finished our walk home and went to bed.  The kids were exhausted.

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So far we have eaten every meal in the hotel.  We eat a big breakfast at the buffet and then snacks we brought for lunch and then eat in the executive lounge for dinner, though the kids weren't really hungry for dinner last night and just picked at everything (also I am now sick of pork dumplings).   Storey mostly ate fruit (which may explain today's issue on the way to the Forbidden City).

This morning Storey was very disappointed to see that there were no spring rolls at breakfast.  She even went and found someone who spoke English so she could complain about the lack of spring rolls.  There were samosas in their place, which she tried but didn't really like.  Instead she ate more fruit (again, probably a contributing factor to the afternoon).

After breakfast we headed to the Pearl and Toy Market, the most anticipated adventure of the Beijing part of the trip by the kids.  They have talked about it nonstop.  We rode the subway (something they also were looking forward to) and it was super easy to do.  Plus both kids were free (which we didn't discover until the ride back).  Thank goodness for short kids.  As we were walking to the subway, we ran into Lee, our taxi driver from yesterday!  He was excited to see us and even offered to drive us to the subway station for free.  We weren't too far so declined but he helped us figure out which stop to get off at, etc.  What a nice man.
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We went to the Toy Market first. We walked around and looked at everything, though the kids already had a good idea of what they wanted when we walked in.  It's set up sort of like a flea market with booth after booth of pretty much the same knock off stuff.   Jak was looking for Legos and Storey a watch.  We bargained with several different shop owners and the kids each got a couple of things.  Storey ended up getting a cute watch and Jak got a couple of small Lego sets (called Ninjaga instead of Ninjago).    It was fun, but I was terrible at bargaining because I can't convert currency fast enough in my head.   I am really bad at math.   They would type out on a calculator the "super low price just for you" and you'd type a price (much much lower) to start the negotiation.  Unfortunately,  I had to borrow their calculator a couple of times just to see what the conversion would be.  Zak did a great job though (well at least we think so).   My mom taught Storey to say "too much" in Chinese.  She threw it out there a couple of times and the booth owners were so impressed.  She's China's little sweetheart.  
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After we got back to the hotel and dropped off our purchases, we decided, since it was already after 2pm that we would forego our plans of visiting the Summer Palace (about an hour away) and go to the much closer Forbidden City instead.  We tried to get a taxi (where is Lee when you need him???) but were told that taxis can't drop people off at the Forbidden City?    Not sure if we got that right but figured we would just take the subway instead since it worked so well this morning.  The subway station was a different direction, about a mile away.  We almost reached the station when suddenly Storey started yelling about needing to use the bathroom. "Right now!!"  Thinking it was one of her usual shenanigans, I got a little upset with her and lectured her about telling me before she starts peeing.  We went into a nearby mall and found a western toilet, which is when I discovered that she actually had diarrhea.  Oh my.  Thankfully we had plastic ziplock bags and toilet paper from the hotel room so I could help her clean up.   She hung out in the smelly bathroom (thank goodness it was a western toilet!!!!!) for a little while and then turned around and walked back to the hotel.

The life of a celebrity never stops though and she had to pause several times on the way back to the hotel to have her picture taken.  They got a grumpy look from her instead of a smile.  I took the opportunity to teach the kids the very valuable lesson that they never want to actually be famous because then people accost you all the time.  Not sure of that was effective but I don't get very many chances to give that lecture.

My worst fear was that we would t make it back to the hotel before she had another episode, but after the peeing kid last night, I guess when in Rome???

So we won't be seeing the Forbidden City, but we have done and seen a lot and are really working with the kids on being "flexible thinkers" instead of "rock thinkers" (Jakson therapy speak) this trip so figured this was a good time to set that example.  Who knows, maybe we will all come back when Mabel is older and then historical sites will actually mean something to them.

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The kids have been AMAZING.   I'm so proud of them.  Storey didn't even dissolve into tears when she found herself feeling a little sick in a strange country on a dirty toilet (thank goodness for Handi Wipes).   It has been such a fantastic experience so far and we are do glad to be doing it together.  I think it has been really valuable for the kids and since I have them to worry about, I haven't had time to freak out about the fact that we meet Mabel in about 36 hours!  

Okay, maybe I'll freak out now.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sing it loud.

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Storey's birthday is the day after we get home from China.  Needless to say, we will not be doing much celebrating.  I hope we will be sleeping instead.  I gave her the choice to have her family party/presents/cake now or wait until we'd be home a couple of weeks.  Like any red blooded kid, she chose now.  Because who doesn't want to get presents early???!?

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Dad always trying to be the center of attention.

I found a little tutu/leotard get up at a thrift shop a couple of months ago and she put it on today, declaring it her party outfit.  But she added a half tee underneath the leotard to keep it modest, though I'm not sure how her lack of pants achieves that goal.  She's a rare kid.

After opening all of her other presents, Grandma and Grandpa won the day by giving her my old karaoke machine.  Zak spent the rest of the evening with PTSD (his older sister had a similar contraption and for some reason his parents were crazy enough to let her take it on road trips and sing in the van!!!), but Storey was in heaven.   I've noticed a trend with the gifts my parents give the kids.  First a plastic drum, cymbals, maracas set and now this.  I think they want us to go deaf....or insane.   I'm not sure what I ever did to them.   I was a perfect child.

Storey has announced that she will be performing at all upcoming family get togethers and Pie Night.  So yeah....we may have a lot less guests this year.  You've been warned.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Q&A: All About Mabel

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I've had a lot of people ask questions about Mabel, so figured I would try to answer the most common questions in one place for those who are interested.

How old is Mabel?
Mabel will be 20 months when we pick her up at the end of the month.  20 months and 2 days to be exact.

Where does she live currently?
Mabel lives in the province on Qinghai in the city of Xining.  It is close to the Tibetan Plateau and is predominantly Muslim.   In China, it's not considered a very large city, since it's only 2 million people.  We will likely be the only Western people that Mabel has ever seen.

What is Mabel's living situation?  
Since she was five days old, Mabel has been institutionalized.   For the first 11 months of life, Mabel lived in the Social Welfare Institute of Xining.   An organization called Christian Action works closely with her orphanage and built several apartments on the same grounds as the orphanage and hired foster parents to take care of some of the orphans in a more family setting.   Mabel has been living with foster parents since last October.  They have raised their "one child" and he is currently away at college.   We've heard really positive things about the care in general at this particular orphanage from other adoptive parents. 

Will Mabel ever know her birth parents?
Because she was abandoned at five days and taken in by the orphanage, there is no record of her birth parents.  To ensure that birth parents have a chance to claim their children, the government places a "finding ad" in the local newspaper for each child that is abandoned.  This includes a photo and the location that the child was found by local officials.  We wish that we could show them that she will be well taken care of and given every opportunity (plus a couple of great siblings!), but unfortunately that's not possible.

What are you most worried about?
We are definitely most concerned about Mabel's grief and attachment/bonding to our family.  It's wonderful that she is living in a foster care situation, but this, of course, will mean that her grief is more significant.  She's been sharing a bed with her foster mom since she started living there and to have that relationship ripped away for her is going to be so so tough.   We are hopeful that because she has attached previously, she will be able to transfer her attachment to us eventually.  Professionals compare the trauma of an adoption at this age to a kidnapping.  We have spent a lot of time praying for her and would love continued prayers and thoughts for her in the coming weeks.  Poor baby is going to have no idea what hit her.

Are you taking Jakson and Storey on your trip?
Yes!  We know this will make the trip more stressful (adding children, especially one with special needs is bound to add stress), but we wouldn't trade this experience.   We started this process as a family and plan to finalize it together.  Jakson's therapists also think it's going to be very beneficial for him to realize that little sisters don't just appear from airplanes.   Zak and I have felt strongly from the moment we decided to adopt that the kids would travel with us.    We started prepping them several months ago and will be doing China Boot Camp for the next couple of weeks.   

What is the schedule for the time you are in China?
We fly out on a Wednesday, land in China Thursday night, and then will spend 2 nights in Beijing, visiting the Great Wall and a couple of other sites as well as hopefully getting our bodies adjusted to the time change.  On Sunday, we fly to Xining City.  Monday is Family Day (when we will get Mabel) and Tuesday the adoption is finalized with the Chinese government.  We have to spend several more days in Xining to wait for Mabel's passport.  After that we are off to Guangzhou.  We have a medical appointment on Saturday and then our Consulate Appointment on Monday (we will go to a local LDS church congregation on Sunday).  We then have to wait for her visa, which we should get by Tuesday evening when we leave for Hong Kong.  We will be in Hong Kong for two days and then fly out late Thursday night/early Friday morning.  The whole trip will take about 2.5 weeks. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The miracle of the hotel room.

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Posts are always better with pictures of cute babies. 

Zak and I are not credit card people, but after reading thread after thread with the suggestion to get the Marriott credit card to pay for our hotel rooms in China, we did extensive research and signed up.    Dave Ramsey would not be proud, though we do pay it off every month and will be canceling it as soon as we get back from our trip.  In the end, it is going to save us roughly $1500-$2000 in hotel costs while in China.  Can't pass up a great deal like that!

Also using advice from other adoptive parents, once we received our LOA and kind of knew the timeline that we would be traveling, I reserved two different weeks with points in the hotel we were going to be staying the longest (in Guangzhou) and that books up the quickest (all adoptive families have to visit Guangzhou).  We really wanted an executive suite because there will be 5 of us and China hotel rooms are notoriously small.   I tried to reserve three different weeks (because we aren't exactly sure when we are traveling), but the other week I wanted didn't have the "executive suite with points" option available, meaning it had probably already filled up.   I didn't think much of it because I figured that particular week was probably too early for us to travel.

Fast forward a month and with our medical expedite turned in, I decided to check the earlier week for points rooms again.   It wasn't an option to book, so I went ahead and reserved a regular room,  still thinking it probably wasn't likely that we would travel that week anyway.

A few days later, our medical expedite was accepted, making the earlier week for travel a reality.  In fact, it made it the most likely week we would be traveling.   I resigned myself to being cramped in a teeny tiny room instead of a nice big suite for the week.

But something made me check the Marriott site again.  And when I say "something" I mean, I woke up in the middle of the night the day before we received our Article 5 pickup with the thought to check the site again in the morning.  I almost didn't do it because I kind of thought it would be useless.   I followed the prompting anyway and checked the site the next day.   I was shocked to find that the executive suite was available to reserve for the dates I needed!  Quickly, I reserved it and then did a little cheer. 

It may be something small, but it was pretty important to me (especially for the older kids who may be stuck in a room with a screaming little sister for two weeks and this will give them some extra space).  God knew it and gave us the miracle of the hotel room.   Because He cares about the details.

The day God gave me a stroller AND a crib

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The lesson that stands out to me the most from this adoption experience:  God is in the details.

Even down to the cribs and the strollers.

A couple of years ago, I got rid of our strollers (except for an extra large stroller that doubles as a bike trailer).  We need a stroller for our trip to China, but I'm pretty picky about this stroller.  It needs to fold like an umbrella stroller, but not BE an umbrella stroller, must have an awning that Jakson can hide under (he is terrified about all of the people that want to take his picture), must have large enough wheels that it can handle gravel, have a basket big enough to store a diaper bag plus, and can't cost over $150 new...like I said, picky.  I watched a ridiculous amount of stroller review videos on YouTube (for some reason Storey watched them with me, though I don't understand the appeal) and I finally narrowed it down to two models and began my search on Craiglist (picky AND cheap).  I found the perfect stroller, contacted the owner, talked down the price, and arranged to meet her. 

Two seconds into our meeting (the stroller is perfection by the way), we figured out that we were both adopted (she was adopted from Japan) and she and her husband have been discussing adopting from China for several months, but just didn't know how to move forward.  See what I mean about God being a part of this???!?  We had such a fabulous conversation.  She mentioned how selling the stroller to me, of all people, was meant to be.  And I couldn't agree more. 

After meeting up with her, Zak and I took a load of donations over to CAM (a local thrift shop).  Since I was there, I ran into their furniture store to look around for a minute and right inside was a folding crib exactly like the one I was planning on buying on Amazon for $149 (I took pictures of all the clients at Jakson's therapy clinic a couple of months ago and they sent me a generous Amazon gift card as a thank you).   Only $20!!  I told Zak that God provided that crib.  It was amazing!  We bought it, brought it home, and it fits PERFECTLY in the corner of Storey's room, just as I hoped.  Because I only paid $20 for it, I don't feel bad painting it yellow to match Storey's bed (did I mention it was only $20????).  Eventually I'll post an after picture.  First, I need to get around to painting it.  Trying to delegate that job to Zak.

As soon as I got home, I texted my friend Sabrina the picture of this crib and how we found it (we'd been discussing cribs recently) and she wrote back with "That is totally a God thing!" Amen, my friend. 

Less than a month!

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The past month (really, the past 10 months) has been a whirlwind. 

While waiting to get through all of the final steps, we (and by WE, I mean I) have been prepping for the next 60 days.  Picking up prescriptions for travel, school clothes shopping, school supply shopping, ordering stuff for travel (all kinds of over the counter medicines, new shoes, travel routers, money belts, etc), setting up doctors appointments, getting immunizations (you know I love someone when I'm willing to get shots to go and get them from China!), discussing Jakson's needs with the public school and his current therapists/psychologist, buying gifts for the notaries and other government officials we will be dealing with (fish oil for all!  Weird gift, huh?), setting up lawn care for the time we will be gone, making freezer meals, booking attachment therapy appointments for Zak and I, arranging for a new social worker to do our post placement visits (our home study social worker is no longer in Houston), getting paperwork notarized and printed off for the trip, sewing the girls' dresses for the sealing, and prepping the kids for the trip by making slide shows of every dang thing we might encounter (ever been to an FHE lesson about squatty potties???).

Oh, and both kids have been stung by a wasp in the backyard in the past week, so I gotta find someone who can come take care of the wasp problem we apparently have.  And I broke Zak's lawn mower while trying to mow the yard as a Father's Day present.  Thankfully, we went ahead and hired someone to mow the lawn one week earlier than planned to solve that issue. 


With the estimated dates we had been given for travel, our family would arrive back in the country TWO days before school started.  That would be a nightmare, especially since Jakson is going to public school for the first time and jet lag is brutal (in other words, we would be starting school a week late).   Because of that, I asked our international adoption doctor to request a medical expedite for our Article 5 (one of the steps in getting Mabel's visa) and instead of it taking 10 business days (normal timeline), it took ONE!  What a huge blessing and answer to prayers.  It's been amazing to see each how prayer has impacted this entire process.  The Lord is absolutely in the details.   The expedite changed our travel schedule immensely and we think we will be traveling a lot sooner than originally planned, a really great thing (though possibly adding more stress)!

Tonight all of the stress was worth it as I opened an update that our agency sent us of Miss Mabel.   It looks like she may be crawling now!  They are starting to grow out her hair and one of the pictures included some of the items we sent in her care package, which means she got it!  What a relief.   Sadly, she spent almost a week at the beginning of June in the hospital.  The update says that it was pneumonia, but I'm not sure if that's accurate or if it was more like RSV.  Some things like that get lost in translation.  It made me really emotional to think of our little girl sick and in the hospital without her mommy.  I am hopeful that her foster mom was there to comfort and hold her.  


The update also gave us new information about her sleeping arrangements.   Apparently she sleeps in the bed with her foster mom.  I am glad that her foster mom cares for her so much, it is such a blessing, but this fact makes me worry about her adjustment to us.  It also said that she is scared of strangers.  Yikes.  Double whammy.  Already we've been told that adopting an older child is the same kind of trauma as a kidnapping and I am nervous about how much more difficult this will make it for her.  Poor sweet baby.    Please pray for her.

Currently we are waiting for our travel approval.  We are hoping to have it later this week and then we can finally buy plane tickets and make plans!!  For this control freak, that is definitely something to look forward to!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Miss Mabel

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For the past several months I've been posting on a private blog for family with details about our adoption process.  We have not been ready to share everything with the general public, but received our Letter of Approval from China (one of the last BIG steps of the adoption process) yesterday afternoon, which we decided was the milestone for announcing publicly.

Introducing Mabel Anne, soon to be a Vermillion!

Mabel is currently 18 months and lives in Xining City, Qinghai province.  We should be traveling at the end of July/beginning of August to China in order to finalize everything. 

Unlike other adoptions, where the birth mother chooses the family, or a baby is placed in your arms, sight unseen, with the Waiting Child program the family reviews files and chooses their child.  Because we are adopting through that program, this can happen one of two ways.

ONE:  We receive a referral through our agency of a child that matches our medical checklist (we filled this out with our original agency application), review her file (though medical files included may be 18 months old or more), and decide that she's ours....or not (we've been warned this way may take about 12 months)

TWO: We find a child through one of several advocacy sites.  We request her file, have it reviewed (again medical files included may be 18 months old or more), and decide if we want to lock that file.  This option can take much less time.

I found a picture and short description of Miao (her Chinese name, pronounced meow, like a cat) on an advocacy Facebook page back at the end of February.  She was posted by an advocate (basically an adoptive parent that volunteers for the agency) from another agency.    I contacted the agency right after her picture was posted and was told that because we weren't with their agency (and aren't willing to switch), we would have to wait until all of the families (from their agency) that wanted to review her file had passed on it.  Well, the likelihood of that happening was very small.  There were several families interested, she's quite young (which is desirable for adoptive families), and her needs didn't seem to be very significant.  I asked for her file anyway and showed it to Zak.  We watched the included videos and tried to Google words from her medical records.  This was February 20th.
 A screen shot of the original post that tugged at my heart  (her advocacy name was Maisie)

I spoke with a social worker on February 27th (Friday) and she let me know that still one family was reviewing her file.  I told Zak that I felt like we needed to take a leap of faith and pay to have her file reviewed at the International Adoption Clinic (Baylor Medical) here in Houston.  It's $500, so not a cheap step of faith, but one I felt strongly we needed to make.  Zak agreed.  When I told the social worker that we were going to go ahead and have it reviewed, she let me know that it was fine BUT if anyone else stepped forward from their agency, we would still have to wait for them to make a decision as well. 

I called the International Adoption Clinic and they told me there was no way that we would be able to get an appointment on the following Monday.  In fact, she said that it would probably be late in the week or the week after because they were so short staffed.   Then she put me on hold and came back a few minutes later with an appointment on Monday at 11am.

We spent the whole weekend praying that we would receive a clear and quick answer.   It was quite overwhelming. 

Monday morning, around 7:30am, we received a call from the International Adoption Clinic canceling our 11am appt because the doctor had a family emergency.  Again, we were told that there was no way we would be able to get a different appointment on Monday.  Unfortunately, they are closed Tuesday and the remainder of the week, Zak had training meetings that he was not able to get out of.  Monday was our only option.  Zak told the lady on the phone this and she said she would try to find a doctor, but it was highly unlikely.  I knelt down and handed this whole thing over to the Lord.  There was absolutely nothing more that we could possibly do.

We also had a meeting with Jakson's psychologist scheduled Monday morning.  On the way to that appointment, we got a phone call telling us they had a new appointment.  Be downtown at noon.  Truly a miracle.


The appointment with the doctor was really helpful and optimistic.  She has reviewed over 2000 international adoption files, so knows what she is doing and what to look for.  She was impressed with the quality of the videos that were included in Mabel's file and said that the person helping her knows exactly the milestones that a doctor would be looking for and had her demonstrate them in the video.  She also talked about how impressive her orphanage is--good ratios, she's receiving physical therapy, and seems to be well nourished.

Zak and I felt very calm after the appointment, but kept asking each other "what do you think?" We were both afraid of making a wrong choice or being the one to decide.  On the drive home we discussed that we would call, find out if the other family had passed on her file, and then make a decision from there.

I called, only to be told that the other family was still thinking about it and was waiting for a doctor to get back to them.  I was assured that we would be told as soon as all of the other families passed.  Two days went by without hearing anything and we were sure someone else had locked her file.  At this point, Zak and I knew that if her file got to us, she was ours. 

Thursday morning at about 11am, I received the call that answered all of our prayers.  Despite the many, many odds, all of the families had passed on her file and they were willing to transfer it to our agency.  The social worker said to me "I guess they passed because she's yours."

And yes, she is.

 Mabel is about 6 months old in this picture.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Kid Christmas Party

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I had so many photo shoots and hours of editing in the fall (in an attempt to earn more for our adoption) that I didn't plan much in the way of fun Christmas activities for the kids.  To make it up to them, I decided to put on a small, simple Christmas party for them.  They each invited five friends.

As the guests came in, I had a little "photo booth" set up (peg board with wrapping paper taped on) along with some props that I have bought in previous years at Target after clearance Christmas.  The kids had a blast striking poses and being ridiculous.

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Then they went into the kitchen where I had glass plates for them to decorate for Santa's cookies.  I bought the plates at the dollar store and had the kids use ceramic pens (from Michael's) to decorate them.   Ceramic pens aren't supposed to fade like a Sharpie would.  When the kids were done, the plates were placed in the oven at 300 degrees for 30 minutes.   They turned out so cute!  Of course, there were a lot of Minecraft themed plates from the boys.

plates

After plate decorating, we headed upstairs for a couple of games.

Bow Fight
I taped a line down the middle of the room and we played boys against girls.  I dumped an equal amount of dollar store gift bows on the boy/girl sides and then explained that they were to try to throw as many bows to other team's side as they could in two minutes.  Whoever had the least amount of bows on their side when the timer went off, won the game.  It was a huge hit!.  We played this game about four times because the kids liked it so much.  The kids told me that it's also called "Take Out the Trash."
bowfight

Santa Charades
Again split into boy and girl teams, I had a bowl of charade prompts and everyone had to act them out for each other.  I found some great charades ideas online.  The main one I used was from here. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of charades.

While I was finishing up charades, Zak was downstairs setting up for ice cream cone tree decorating.  Originally I was going to have the kids decorate gingerbread houses, but this seemed so much easier.   I purchased large plastic containers (tall enough for an ice cream cone) at Dollar Tree.  Then I had Zak drill holes in the bottom and looped a ribbon through so the kids could carry them.  I got the brilliant idea here.   Before the party, I made frosting that hardens (like you would use on a gingerbread house) and "glued" a cone to each lid.   I gave each child green frosting, mini M&M's, candy rope, red hots, and a few other small "ornament" looking candy to decorate their trees.

trees

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Right before parents arrived, we had a gift exchange. I asked each guest to bring a wrapped present for a boy (if they were a boy) or girl (if a girl) under $5. The boys sat in a circle and the girls in a circle. I read this version of Twas The Night Before Christmas (though it's very long, so skip some of the "LEFT" and "RIGHT" if you are short on time).    Be sure that the kids playing know their right from their left.  Frankly, these guys are all old enough that they should, but there was still mass confusion. I don't know if we'll do this again-there was some whining about gifts and I'm just not sure we need more presents at Christmas.     I think the party would have been just as fun without a gift exchange.

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Having a Kid Christmas Party was a ton of fun (and really didn't take much prep).  Hoping to make it a yearly tradition!

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