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.

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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!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

One year older

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Jakson is turning 9 in a week.  I feel like he was just born and spitting up all over my dad at Zak's graduation yesterday, and yet instead he's a tall and lanky and tells ridiculous jokes (Zak read this and commented that Jak is not actually very tall, but I explained that he is taller than he was when he was a baby.  So there.).

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Jakson has been seeing a really great speech therapist for the past few months. They've been working on telling stories and understanding abstract language, like idioms and sarcasm. She's even been working on his joke telling (much needed).

On the way home from Scouts on Tuesday, Jakson expressed some concern about becoming a Bear next week.   He's a little worried because there's a boy who apparently uses a lot of "potty language" like fart and poop. He said to Zak, "Dad, I'll just feel like a fish out of water!"  Ha!  Good use of an idiom.

We are going to celebrate his birthday by going to dinner at his requested restaurant...Cracker Barrel. Breakfast for dinner.  Definitely his father's son.  

I love this boy so much and can't imagine our family without him.  He's such a sweet, kind, happy kid.  We're a lucky family.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Soccer Stars

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I was so excited when Jakson decided that he wanted to play soccer this season.  He had such fun last year.  Zak volunteered as his coach again and ended up with about five other boys from the ward on the team as well.  It's great because it's a very safe environment for Jak to play with his dad and friends around him (and Zak is amazing for dealing with a bunch of kids who don't listen to him).

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Storey also decided that she wanted to play soccer.  In fact, she chose soccer over ballet!  We have a family rule about not committing to more than two activities per kid, so Storey had to make a choice. Honestly, I was a little worried about Storey playing soccer (well, any sport).  I thought she might stand on the field and cry every time a ball came near, but instead she plays full body contact soccer.   In fact, she goes into what some of the other parents refer to as "beast mode": she runs screaming after the ball and scares everyone out of her path.   She doesn't need a cheer to remember to "Be Aggressive!"

She does occasionally still stop to hug or talk to one of her "besties" also on the team (this picture is with Emme). I mean, she is still Storey after all.

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I'm grateful for the way my kids continue to surprise me...and that she stops the ball by literally laying on top of it when she is goalie.   Free entertainment on a Saturday morning. 

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Annual Christmas Present Post

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We try to make sure the kids don't get too spoiled at Christmas, but have decided not to stick to "three gifts for Christmas" because it's the only time the kids get anything, besides birthdays, unless they buy it themselves with chore money. And I like to throw in things I was going to buy them anyway (like shoes and underwear), because I just really love wrapping stuff.   It's so relaxing.   I don't like to put a huge emphasis on Santa though, so he only brings one gift each year (usually the big gift).

The "big" gift this year from Santa was a Kindle Fire for each kid. They also got bikes (new to them), some games, a couple of movies, and some great gifts from aunts and grandparents. 

Obviously, Storey also got an Anna dress and her much wished for microphone.

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It's amazing how different the kids look from year to year in these present pictures.

Jakson's "wished for" gift was a remote control helicopter.  He had three things on his list for Santa on Christmas Eve but as he went to bed, he asked Zak to cross out everything but "remote control helicopter" (because Santa only brings one gift).  Thankfully, Mom came through! 
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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Adoption Update

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I haven't been writing about our adoption lately mostly because there's not a whole lot to report.  Unless you like to read lengthy descriptions of paperwork that we've had to fill out.

I didn't think so.

We are finally getting past the paper chase (as it's called) and are now in a position to start really looking at files of children in China.  There's still a long road to go- we will be matched with a child (undetermined amount of time), then have the match approved by China (which often takes 5-6 months), get travel approval (another 1-2 months) and then head over to China to pick up our little one.

But rather than think about how far we have to go, I'd rather focus on how far we've come!

By the way, you'll see the word "dossier" repeated several times below.  Dossier is another word for "more paperwork than you needed to secure your last home mortgage."

Made the decision (after lots of prayer) to adopt from China: August 10, 2014
Contacted and interviewed several agencies: August 11-15, 2014
Agency approval: August 22, 2014
First agency fees paid: September 2, 2014
Fingerprints for home study: October 17, 2014
Finished parent training: October 23, 2014
Home study completed: November 7, 2014
Fingerprints for immigration approval: December 17, 2014
Immigration approval:  January 9, 2015
Immigration approval in our hands: January 21, 2015 (a GREAT birthday present!)
Finish getting everything notarized for the dossier: February 3, 2015
Walk everything into the State Department (in Austin) to be certified for dossier: February 4, 2015
Take everything to the Chinese Embassy in Houston to be authenticated for dossier: February 6, 2015
 Dossier received at agency along with another agency fee and the CCCWA fee: February 23, 2015
I'm just hoping that China really loves the picture of Zak (above).   Hey, even bureaucrats need a little laugh now and then, right???

Now our dossier is going to be bound and translated into Chinese, then sent to China.  We will receive an LID (log in date) once our paperwork is accepted into the system by the Chinese government. Hopefully that will happen in the next 3-4 weeks.

As for a match, we have looked at files of a couple of children, but nothing feels right yet.  It's quite daunting.  Unlike other adoptions, where the birth mother chooses the family, or a baby is placed in your arms, sight unseen, we actually CHOOSE the child.  Because we are adopting through the Waiting Child 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.

Either way, because so little information is included and much of it is old or incomplete, this is not a LOGICAL decision.  It will all be based on faith and guidance by the Lord.

In other words, pray for us. 

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