Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas Eve!

Since my last blog entry, the following things have happened (some automatically and others with great effort, many tears, and lots of stress!)...

1. I booked our flights (yikes!). Now we're just hoping the dates work out, or we're going to be out a lot of money. I wasn't officially supposed to do this until we had Travel Approval and a confirmed Consulate Appointment, but I took a risk.

2. Our Article 5 document was picked up. This happened as expected and was just the next step in the process.

3. We received Travel Approval (yay!) in just 3 days. It doesn't get much better than that!

4. Jonas's passport FINALLY came. This one involved some tears! Let's just say that I reeeeeeally wish the post office worker had asked for his Certificate of Citizenship (which I had with me) at our appointment way back in October. And I think I may have talked to every single person working at the National Passport Information line over the past few weeks!

5. I found someone who will be able to get our visas for us in time. This one was pretty stressful, because we needed Jonas's passport (which just came today) before we could do anything. And now of course no mailing services are open until at least Monday. The courier that almost all adoptive parents use is taking vacation the first week of January, so finding another courier was necessary and much more difficult than you would think. But I think we're good to go.

6. We celebrated Jonas's 4th birthday yesterday. It was fun, but bittersweet knowing that we won't get to celebrate Johanna's 4th birthday with her in a few days. She should be getting a cake on the 28th, as I organized delivery of one through my agency. We should get pictures and/or a video of that, so I can't wait!

The last piece we're waiting on should come Tuesday morning. That's our Consulate Appointment confirmation. We had to put in for our top five choices of dates, and as long as we get one of our top three choices (which shouldn't be a problem, but you never know), then our flights will work and we can finalize the rest of our travel details. Right now I've got lots of refundable hotel reservations spread across various weeks, tentative itineraries, and various packing lists and to-do items. I'm looking forward to getting everything confirmed soon, so we can start looking forward to our trip!

And now we're off to celebrate our final Christmas Eve as a family of three!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

If Only...

If only the Fuzhou orphanage director...
...would answer my WeChat messages and let us know if we can video chat with Johanna again soon.
...would confirm that Johanna received her package with our photo book.
...would answer the rest of our 10 questions from the care package (we only got updated measurements).
...would randomly send us pictures of Johanna.
...would give me the contact information of her foster family.

If only China...
...would issue Travel Approval (TA) before our 12/20 Article 5 pickup (not possible) so that we could finally book flights.
...would quickly issue TA after that Article 5 pickup (by 12/23 would be nice).
...would quickly give us our first choice Consulate Appointment after getting TA.

If only...
...the passport office would issue Jonas's US passport in time for us to get his Chinese visa before we travel (they screwed up big time and now we are in a major time crunch).
...flight prices wouldn't keep going up as we wait for TA.
...we had a definitive idea if we'd be having a 1/8 or 1/15 Adoption Day.
...I had the guts to book flights now (we're not supposed to before TA) so we could save lots of money and I could stop obsessing over flight routes and prices.

If only Johanna...
...was looking at her photo book regularly and learning to recognize us.
...didn't have to spend another birthday without a family.
...knew we were coming for her soon!

Friday, November 25, 2016

What's in a Name?

So a few people guessed it, but our new daughter's name will be Johanna! Yes, Liz and Aunt Kathy, you'll be getting a prize from China! Anyway, here's the story on our girl's name...

Zack came home one evening and said he had a name idea from a song he had heard in the car...Joanna. I immediately dismissed it, claiming that it sounded too much like an "old-lady name." But the next day, for whatever reason, I looked up the name's meaning and realized it had the same meaning as Jonas, which is "gift from God." Some websites also say it means "God is gracious." So that was pretty cool and appropriate.

Joanna is one of the only named women in the New Testament of the Bible. She was one of the first to witness the empty tomb and declare the resurrection of Jesus. And she's a saint. But what I soon noticed and got kind of excited about was a form of the name Joanna...Johanna. Hannah was one of my very top name choices, but I don't like how it seems to have become pretty popular in recent years. Johanna has the "Hanna" in it without being too overused, and it has the "Jo" part to go along with her brother's name, Jonas.

I researched the name Johanna a bit more and found out that Bob Dylan has a song called "Visions of Johanna." Dylan is probably Zack's favorite musical artist ("Dylan" was even in the running for a boy's name before we chose "Jonas"), so I knew that was a plus. The next day, I told Zack that I was on board with the name Johanna instead of Joanna, and I found out that he actually already knew about the Bob Dylan song (of course!). We also looked up the original song he had heard in the car, which is called "A-Punk" by a group we like called Vampire Weekend, and go figure, the lyrics are actually about a girl named Johanna, not Joanna!

Later that night, I suddenly remembered something that pretty much sealed the deal. When we lived in Australia for two years, both of our Christmas holidays were very special. In 2012, we were touring around the South Island of New Zealand, and it was on that trip, unbeknownst to us at the time obviously, that both of our children were born! But in 2011, we camped on a beach along the Great Ocean Road in Australia. We basically had the entire gorgeous beach to ourselves, and we had an amazing time there. Guess the name of the beach? Yep, Johanna Beach! What are the chances? So that's the Australian connection, though I do like the "joey" explanation some guessed! By the way, all of the pictures in this blog post are from Johanna Beach.

A few days later, I had a strange feeling that I remembered the name Johanna from my research a few years back on So I looked it up, and guess what? My great-great grandma's name (on my mother's side) was named Johanna! Her father's name was Johannes. I've also got a great-great-great grandma named Johanna, who isn't related to the other one, and her father's name (my great-great-great-great grandpa) was Joannes. They were all from Holland, as in the Netherlands, and I grew up in Holland, Michigan. Anyway, this Johanna and Jonas thing goes way back in my family!

So, with all of these "signs," Johanna it is! I do worry that some people will spell/say it wrong, getting it confused with Joanna, but such is life. For those who don't know, it's pronounced like Joe-Hannah. We can't wait to get our little Johanna home!

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Our new daughter!
Happy Thanksgiving! I thought today would be a good day to reveal our daughter's name and picture, so say hello to Johanna!

A few nights ago, her orphanage director set up a video chat with us via an app called WeChat. Even though we didn't speak the same language, it was so cool to wave at each other and show her things in her room. She said "hi" and "Mama" and "Baba" (Daddy in Chinese). Best of all, she was smiling and seemed happy. Hopefully we can video chat a few more times before heading to China, so she'll at least recognize us.

In other exciting news, we have reached our goal in our Puzzle Fundraiser. In fact, as of right now, we are at $10,875! All of the puzzle pieces are gone, and I'll be spending my Thanksgiving Day putting together all of the white pieces! We are so grateful for everyone who contributed. Best Thanksgiving gift ever!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Why Should I Pay For Your Kid?

Asking for money is awkward. There's no way around it. Yet, for a couple of months and for another week, that has been and will be my life. This post is a reflection on my thoughts so far about this process, what I've learned along the way, and my gratitude and humility for the outpouring of support.

Before we found ourselves in the middle of this fundraiser, I had mixed feelings about people who tried to raise money for adoptions. I'm going to be totally honest. Here were some of the thoughts I used to have, and maybe you've had the same: Why should I pay for them to have a kid? If they can't afford their adoption, why are they even doing it? If they can't even afford to get the kid, how are they going to afford to raise her? I know they live in a nice house and have good jobs, so why don't they have the money? I think those are all fair questions, and I'm going to try to address them in this post.

Only white pieces left to do!
For some people, adoption is a calling. This especially seems to be the case with international adoption. For example, the other night, I was having dinner with several other Chinese adoptive moms, and I was the only one there without biological children. Several families take to heart the Biblical calling to give homes to orphans, adopt others as God adopted us, etc. Of course, all of this is wonderful and should be celebrated, and I wish more families felt this calling.

But our story is a bit different. For us, adoption is the only way to grow our family. The "old-fashioned way" hasn't worked for us. Thousands of dollars spent on various fertility treatments didn't work for us. We'll never be able to pay our little deductible or copay like most people do and head home from the hospital with a brand new baby that looks like us. And that's okay. It's more than okay; we can't imagine life now without Jonas! But it's obviously completely unfair. We didn't choose our infertility, just like our son and daughter didn't choose to be orphans. We're all being brought together (thankfully) by situations that are out of our control. So adoption is a choice for us, only in the sense that we didn't want to remain childless. We also didn't feel like our family was complete with just Jonas, so we made the choice to pursue bringing him home a sister. The $30,000+ price tag is definitely not a choice!

Some folks looking from the outside in might be confused. Yes, we live in a wonderful neighborhood in a nice home. Yes, Zack has a good job and we live a comfortable lifestyle. Here are some things you may not know, and I share them here not to prove our need or defend our fundraising efforts, but to illuminate how the "inside story" might not always be known.
  • We only have one car; Zack bikes to work each day. 
  • For the few hours Jonas is at school each day, I work at our church's school to make some extra money. 
  • We have two mortgages on our house. The second one will be paid off within a year, because we threw some extra cash at it when we could, but it's still there for now.
  • All of Jonas's clothes and 95% of his toys are gifts, hand-me-downs, or consignment sale/Craigslist finds. 
  • I create a weekly meal plan and buy what's on sale, so eating out is a huge rarity for us. All three of us eat leftovers for lunch. 
  • Zack quit his traveling position at his previous company and took a nearly 50% overall pay cut to work locally and be able to come home each night when we adopted Jonas. 
  • This summer, right after we started the adoption process, both our water heater and air conditioner broke beyond repair (just our luck!). We paid for the new water heater, and we'll be paying off the air conditioner (interest-free) for the next year. We also recently had an expensive repair on our Jeep. I know, first-world problems, but still, $8000+ worth of problems!
  • Zack's former company provided a $10,000 adoption assistance benefit that was key to us affording our first adoption. This is why our fundraising goal is $10,000, as his current company provides absolutely zero adoption assistance. 
  • Oh, and I'm typing this blog post on an extremely slow laptop that's nearly ten years old, and it's our only computer!

While we try to spend and save wisely and don't carry any debt other than our house (and now that darn air conditioner!), we simply don't have $30,000 sitting in our savings account, ready to spend on an adoption. I don't think most people do. However, most people don't need that kind of money just sitting there ready to hand over in order to make their dreams of having kids a reality. To be honest, we also didn't expect our adoption process to move quite so quickly this time around. Even though we were excited to get a fast referral for our daughter, it definitely limited the number of months we were able to build up our savings. We literally just do not have the money required right now to bring our daughter home.

The only pieces left to "buy!"
It's hard to not feel guilty when you're living your life in the middle of fundraising. You end up constantly questioning your purchases. Should we really order pizza tonight for dinner? Is it "okay" to have a date night and go to the baseball game? Did I buy too many kids' clothes at the consignment sale? Is it a splurge to get ice cream with Jonas this afternoon? I've learned that we just have to live our lives. Yes, we definitely do without many of the "extras," but we don't say no to some simple pleasures every now and then.

Then there's what I call the "annoyance factor." I'm 100% positive that some (many?!) people are tired of my puzzle posts on Facebook. I hate being one of those people who keeps on posting about the same thing. But, every time I do a post, more donations come in. So it works! It's a delicate balance of trying to have a successful fundraiser without totally alienating everyone with constant badgering. If you need to block me until it's done, I understand!

One of my main concerns when I considered starting the fundraiser was feeling embarrassed...embarrassed to ask for financial help, embarrassed that we didn't have the funds ourselves, embarrassed that we needed others to make this adoption a reality. While I still struggle with this feeling, I'm working on feeling humility instead. It's humbling to say, "We need help." It's humbling to accept that help. It's humbling to witness the outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and even strangers. It's also very humbling to realize that people actually want to help and like being given the opportunity to do so! While I had researched and been warned about the possible negative comments and feelings that might come our way with doing an adoption fundraiser, we have only witnessed positivity and love.

Our family has been blown away by the generosity of people so far, and we feel so grateful for the support. We've had donations from some extremely giving family members. Childhood friends, high school acquaintances, college dormmates, graduate school peers, coworkers, former students of mine, parents' friends, members of our church, and fellow adoptive parents have all bought pieces of our puzzle. We've had people buy pieces in honor of their children or grandchildren; we've even had a few friends buy pieces for their dogs! There are some people who have donated twice, and there are a few families who have bought pieces in memory of children who passed before they were born. Donations have come from people of all ages, from a nine-year-old girl to a ninety-year-old man! They've also come from all over the country and world, from California, Texas, and Michigan all the way to Australia and New Zealand. How cool is it going to be to some day explain to our daughter how all of these people wanted to help bring her home?!

You've probably noticed that unlike most people who do adoption fundraisers, I haven't fully shared our daughter's picture yet. That's kind of been on purpose, even though I know showing it may have helped our cause. Yes, it might be easier to hand over $10 to help bring home a cute little Chinese girl whose picture you have admired. But what if you haven't seen her? What if you just know that there's an orphan out there who needs a home and a family out there who wants a daughter? Is helping to bring them together enough reason to help? You can call it my own little social experiment, but I think there's something really special about people donating to help our family without even having a picture of our girl to tug at their heartstrings.

One thing I worried about in the past when people I knew had fundraisers was the "pressure" to give and the judgmental thoughts people might be having about me if I didn't give or gave "too little." I can only speak for myself, but I honestly don't give much thought to who did or didn't give and/or how much people donate to our fundraiser. As an example, I hadn't even realized my own brother hadn't bought a puzzle piece until I received a notification of his contribution one day. I know that people have their own causes they support, reasons they can or can't or won't give, factors that affect how much they can donate, etc. I promise I'm not judging you! I'm just grateful if you're even reading this blog entry and learning more about adoption fundraising in general. And if you go and buy a puzzle piece right now, I promise I won't "read into it" and think that you only did so because you read this post. For all I know, you've been meaning to give all along, and this was just a reminder!

Each piece purchased reveals more of our girl's picture and name!
There is one week left in our fundraiser. We're nearly at our goal of $10,000. As of this moment, we are exactly $820 away. That blows my mind. In less than three months, people have rallied around a girl they have never met or even seen and given $9180 to help bring her home. In doing so, people have rallied around us as a family. We feel cared for, loved, and supported.

In darker days, I cringed when people would say that a pregnant woman was "blessed" with a child. "So I'm not blessed?!" I would think to myself. Now I see that we are indeed blessed, with 150+ individuals and families who have decided to become a "piece" of our family's story forever. I just never realized the blessings who were all around us, in the form of those who want to see our dreams fulfilled by helping to give a home to a little girl living on the other side of the world. To you blessings, all we can really say is thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. And we hope that it will put a smile on your face to see our daughter at home and happy in a few months, knowing that you played a part in bringing home our missing piece.

If you would like to "buy" one of the 82 remaining pieces in our puzzle fundraiser, please visit Thank you for helping to "Bring Home Our Missing Piece!"

Monday, November 21, 2016


Just a quick post with some updates...

1. I found out when I called USCIS today that our I-800 was approved on November 18th, four days quicker than expected. Woohoo! Our next step will probably be delayed a bit with the Thanksgiving holiday, so it all kind of evens out in the end. But it was good news nonetheless.

2. We have decided to take Jonas along with us to China. This of course will add significant flight costs, but we can't imagine leaving him for two weeks. We've never been away from him for longer than a night or two, so going for that long, especially with bringing back a new sibling, would no doubt set us back significantly with our attachment and bonding with him. Luckily, Jonas is a very easy kid about 90% of the time...a great traveler, eater, sleeper, up-for-anything kind of kid, so we aren't terrified of bringing him on this long adventure! We also think having him there will help "Panda" adjust more easily. Jonas can demonstrate how a child acts within a family and "show her the ropes." He is very excited to teach her things and be a big brother, so we know it will be wonderful to have him there (most of the time!). Which brings me to our next update...

3. My sister Morgan is going to come along with us to China too! She's well-traveled, outgoing, independent, and comfortable with all that we will ask and need of her. She will have several roles:
a. Our personal photographer, capturing all of our important family moments on the trip.
b. Jonas's "nanny" when he needs special one-on-one attention, when we are at appointments with Panda, or when we need a break!
c. Our pack mule, if/when we need help with luggage, especially getting on and off trains between provinces.
d. Information seeker, if we need assistance finding a restaurant, store, subway route, taxi, etc.
e. Our "go-fer" if we need food, supplies, or whatever, and we need to stay in the hotel with the kids.
f. Whatever else we may need!
Jonas is very excited to have his Aunt MoMo coming along!

4. I've made some (completely refundable) hotel reservations already, since it looks like we are still on track for the January 9th Adoption Day. We won't be able to officially book travel until we have Travel Approval and a Consulate Appointment from China, which will probably happen around Christmas. Then it will be a frantic rush to get everything booked, so I'm trying to get a head start!

5. Tomorrow I'll have a longer blog post about our fundraising efforts (yes, with the updated picture/name reveal for those of you not on Facebook!) and my thoughts about that process, but as of now we are down to just 92 puzzle pieces left to reach our goal. Yay-we're so close!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

World Adoption Day

Today is World Adoption Day, right in the middle of National Adoption Awareness Month. We're just in the middle of waiting on our I-800 to be approved. In the meanwhile, enjoy the most recent version of the picture and name reveal!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Adoption Fairy Strikes Again

There's a myth, urban legend, theory, whatever you want to call it, which claims that once a family starts the adoption process, certain things happen or break or go wrong, and fixing them costs lots of money. Some say it's the devil working against the adoption, others say it's the Adoption Fairy visiting, but no matter what you call it, it seems to be unfortunately true!

We started our adoption process in April. Then Denver had one of the hottest summers ever, and our air conditioning unit broke. Totally unrepairable. In fact, we discovered that the unit was over thirty years old, so we're lucky it lasted as long as it did! We "survived" (that's a relative term) for several weeks without air conditioning until we finally broke down and bought a new one in August. We couldn't take it anymore. In a house that's almost 100 years old, fans just don't cut it, and circulation is basically nonexistent. We weren't sleeping well, we were crabby, and it was just miserable. So now we have one year to pay off a $5500 interest-free loan, but we won't have to suffer next summer.

About a month later, our water heater broke beyond repair as well. It was pretty old, so it made sense, but the timing was not ideal. $1300 and two days later, we were able to take showers and run the dishwasher again. Ugh.

For the past few weeks, the heat on the driver's side of our Jeep hasn't worked. We debated just shutting the vents and using the passenger side heat all winter, but when that went out as well, we had no choice. It's our only car, and mountain trips or mid-winter commutes just did not sound appealing without heat! So yesterday we paid $800 to have it fixed (which was actually a deal considering what had to be done), and we're hoping that the Adoption Fairy only strikes three times!

Can you see why we're doing that Puzzle Fundraiser?! Here's hoping our furnace lasts the winter...

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Big Reveal

Yesterday, we got some updated pictures and a video of our girl from our in-country coordinator. The previous information we had was from six months ago, so it was great to get. According to the updated measurements, it sounds like she weighs the same as Jonas but might be a couple of inches taller than him right now! And thankfully it looks like they're letting her hair grow out a bit.

We are down to less than 200 pieces left in our puzzle fundraiser, which we're going to end on November 30 so that we can request the funds in time for the fees due at the Travel Approval step. So we thought it might be fun to reveal our girl's picture and name along with finishing our fundraiser.

Here's the deal: For every piece purchased from here on out, we'll reveal a red square. Underneath is a picture of our girl, along with her name! So once the puzzle is done, you'll be able to see her and know what she'll be called. I even revealed two pieces already to start things out.

If you're just dying to see her or know her name, but you've already purchased a piece, nobody will stop you from buying another! You could request something other than your name to be written on it if desired, such as "Go Irish!" or "Love from Michigan," or whatever you want. :)

I know that not everyone's on Facebook, so I'll try to update the picture reveal on here every few days as well. Also, did you know that 1000 piece puzzles don't necessarily have exactly 1000 pieces? I think ours has about 1028!

Below is a picture from today of what's done so far. We're at $8435 of our $10,000 goal. The white pieces on the table are purchased; I just haven't been able to put them in yet. I think I need to wait until all of the white ones are there, and then I can try each one by one. Doesn't that sound like fun?!

Anyway, have fun with this. Let's get this puzzle done, so I can hang it in her room before she comes home!  Click here for our fundraising page. Thanks everyone!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Diagram to Dissect

If you've ever wanted to understand the complicated process that comes along with Chinese adoptions, go ahead and try to understand this diagram! On Tuesday, we drove an hour up to our agency to sign the hard copy of our Letter of Acceptance from China. So we just finished Step 9, sending our LOA and I-800. Before being matched, we completed the I-800A, which approved us to adopt a child within the age limits and special needs we specified. The I-800 now approves us to adopt our specific child. It'll take two weeks to get approved, and then we can move on to the next step.

Assuming all of our remaining steps go smoothly, we are looking at an Adoption Day of January 9 or January 16. Families usually receive their children on a Sunday and there is a 24-hour "harmonious period." After that, you sign papers making the child officially yours on a Monday. We NEED to hit one of these dates or we run into Chinese New Year closures, which would mean we wouldn't get our girl until February. I'm getting over the fact that we won't be there by her birthday, mostly because I've heard flight prices are double during that time period versus when it looks like we'll be traveling!

In the meanwhile, we can start researching flight and hotel options, though nothing can be booked until we have Travel Approval (TA) and a Consulate Appointment (CA). The exciting news is that I've been in touch with our in-country coordinator via an app called WeChat, and we will hopefully have some updated pictures and videos soon. We haven't quite decided when/how we'll be sharing pictures online (and her name!), as we may tie it into the ending of our puzzle fundraiser. So stay tuned!

Signing our LOA...can you tell Zack had a fever of 102 degrees here?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

10 Questions and a Gallon Bag

Some folks from our agency are headed to China on Friday for a short trip. They won't be visiting Fuzhou, where our girl lives, but they will be in Nanchang, which is nearby. So we had the opportunity to send a package to be delivered to our daughter. But it was only allowed to be the size of a gallon sized bag, as there are several other families sending packages to their children. We also were able to include ten questions that they will ask the orphanage director and/or her foster family. So just imagine for a minute if you had the opportunity to fill one bag for and ask just ten questions about a child who will be yours forever! What would you include? What would you ask?

Well, the most important item we put in the bag was a recordable photo book. Zack, Jonas, and I each recorded our voices, and it includes pictures of each of us individually, our house, her room, and family shots. Hopefully this will help her recognize us and get used to our voices a bit. Jonas's page is the most adorable, and Molly even had a page and I got her to bark! We also included a separate family picture that she can hopefully carry around or hang somewhere. I filled the rest of the bag with a little book, stickers, play dough, beaded necklaces, a headband, a fun straw, a panda finger puppet, and a mooncake. Oh, and a flash drive, because sometimes they will fill it with pictures for's hoping! I really wish we could have sent more. I was trying so hard to put a Christmas shirt in there for her, but it just wouldn't fit. Hopefully once we have LOA we can send another package, especially for her birthday.

As for the ten questions, it was very hard to limit myself! I'm a part of several China adoption Facebook groups, and the 10 question deal is kind of a common thing, so lots of good suggestions float around. You can see my list off to the right if interested. Hopefully when we are there, we'll get a chance to visit her orphanage and get many more answers.

Our dossier is now out of translation and review, so LOA could come any day, though it will probably be next week. It's definitely looking like early to mid-January travel now. It kills me that we won't be there for Christmas or her birthday, but I'm trying not to think about that right now. Anyway, that's the latest!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Name That Name!

Back when we were adopting Jonas from Kyrgyzstan, we called him "Shamrock" as a nickname for months before we had decided on a name for him and before we shared that name with everyone else. While we haven't come up with a nickname for our daughter (maybe "Panda"-her room is black/white with purple?), we did decide and agree on what will be her first name just last week. We also know her Chinese name, which we will probably use in some form as her middle name, like we did with Jonas Shukhrat.

Lots of people ask us what our girl's name is going to be. I'm not sure if we'll be sharing it after we get LOA, or if we'll wait until we're in China. But I thought it might be fun to play the name guessing game like we did with Jonas. The winner (if there is one!) will get some sort of Chinese treat in the mail. Last time, two people guessed Jonah, which I decided was close enough to earn them some yummy Kyrgyz (Russian) candy!

To help you out, HERE is the link to my "personal naming rules" blog post that I wrote for Jonas's contest. Yes, I realize I am super picky and OCD about name choices! The only changes/additions I would make to that list include the following:

  • It would obviously very clearly be a girl's name instead of a boy's name.
  • I actually have taught one (just one!) student with this name in the past. I liked her, so it's all good.
  • Some people might ask how to spell it and/or pronounce it wrong, but they really shouldn't if they are looking/thinking!
  • It goes well with the name Jonas, especially since they are basically twins with their birthdates.
  • Along with a Biblical and personal connection to the name, this time there are also musical connections, ancestral connections, and an Australian connection!
Okay, that's probably too many hints for you super sleuths! Play along if you'd like, and comment on this blog post with your best guesses!

Friday, September 30, 2016

So the File is In!

On Monday we got the great news that our girl's official file is in! Several other families with our agency (AAC) got the same good news, so a whole batch of files must have come in at the same time. The file is pretty much the same as the pre-file we saw back at the end of July, but there are a few fun details that have been added. Some of the facts that made me smile were that her favorite activity is playing on the slide and her favorite toys are plush toys.

We had already written up our Letter of Intent (LOI), which is a letter to the Chinese officials saying we wish to adopt this girl, so our agency was able to submit that on the same day the file arrived. Now the countdown is on. Once a dossier arrives in China, it goes through a translation process for about thirty days. Then it goes through a review and match review process, which supposedly takes a few weeks. Our dossier was logged in (LID) on September 5, and the average wait until LOA is about forty days right now.

LOA (Letter of Acceptance) is the hugely big milestone step where China basically says, "This kiddo is yours!" It's at this point that we can request updated pictures and information, share pictures publicly, send her a package, possibly Skype with her, etc. We will definitely be celebrating when this happens!

Basically, to have any chance at all of being with our girl for her fourth birthday on December 28 (it's going to kill me if she has to spend another birthday without a family), we'd need to get LOA from China by mid-October. But with the Mid-Autumn Festival and next week's Golden Holiday break thrown in there, we've lost a lot of Chinese work days. It's looking pretty unlikely that we'll travel before 2017, but I'm still holding on to a tiny bit of hope.

In other news, her bedroom is coming along. Bye bye beloved music room! Zack was kind enough to move his guitars and stuff downstairs. I've picked some paint colors and found some very cheap (or free) furniture at consignment sales and on Craigslist. I'll even admit that I picked up a pretty cool white cube thing next to a dumpster in our alley the other morning! Hey, adoption isn't cheap, so I'm not above dumpster diving at this point!

And so now we wait. After LOA, it's a pretty predictable 8-10 weeks until leaving for China, so things will move quickly at that point. Come on mid-October LOA!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Have a Heart

Every child adopted from China nowadays has some sort of special need. Needs can range in severity from minor and/or correctable to very severe. Our daughter's special need is a ventricular septal defect (VSD) in her heart. It was already repaired with a surgery in China, so all she should need in the future is some cardiology follow-up appointments.

I didn't really know (okay, I had no clue!) what a VSD was, so I figured I'd educate you all along with myself. Basically, it's a hole in the wall (septum) separating the two lower chambers of the heart. Normally, the wall closes before birth, so the oxygen-rich blood on the left side can't mix with the oxygen-poor blood on the right side. A VSD causes the heart to have to work harder to provide oxygen to the body's tissues.

Our girl's VSD was diagnosed because she had an ongoing heart murmur, an extra or unusual sound heard with her heartbeat. Other symptoms include shortness of breath or poor eating, but we don't know that she had problems with that. This is a very common heart defect; about 1 in 500 babies are born with it.

In November of last year, our girl had a surgery to repair her VSD. Instead of having an open-heart procedure, she was able to have her repair done by catheter. The surgeon in China inserted a thin tube (catheter) into a blood vessel in her groin and guided it to her heart. A specially sized mesh device called an occluder was inserted to patch the hole.

We had a couple of cardiologists review our girl's file, which included results of her echocardiogram after the surgery, and they said everything looked great. We already know that Children's Hospital here in Denver is awesome, so we'll definitely be taking her to the cardiology department there for a check-up right when she gets home. But overall, we're very happy that she's so healthy, she didn't (and won't) have to have open-heart surgery, and that her prognosis seems so positive!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Our $660 Decision

When we originally completed all of our paperwork for this second adoption, we indicated that we were open to a girl up to age three with a minor or correctable special need. When we were going through the Kyrgyzstan adoption process, we were originally hoping for an infant, but we ended up with 2-year-old Jonas! So from our experience with him, we knew it actually wasn't scary to bring home a toddler. He caught up and caught on quickly, yet there was still enough "baby" in him to satisfy that parenting desire. We assumed we'd get a referral of a girl of about the same age, perhaps even younger.

Well, near the end of July, just before our dossier was going to be sent to China, we got an e-mail from our agency saying that they had a file they wanted to talk to us about. We called and were told there was a little girl living in one of their partnership orphanages whose file was being prepared. The coordinator said that the girl had a minor heart condition that had already been repaired (so she fit our desire for minor/correctable needs), but that she was older than we were open to on our paperwork. "She'll be turning four at the end of the year," we heard, and immediately thought of Jonas's fourth birthday on December 23rd. At that point, she couldn't reveal the girl's exact birthdate, but she laughed and said, "Well, there are a few days difference between them!"

We agreed to look at the file, knowing that there was no harm in checking it out. Our agency is very understanding of clients saying "no" to files that don't feel right, so we didn't feel any pressure or stress about looking at it. Their theory is that one family saying "no" allows the child's meant-to-be family to say "yes." Our coordinator said that she'd send the file that evening (including pictures), and we could think about it for a few days. I refreshed my e-mail feed every two seconds all night long until I finally had to go to sleep! I woke up early the next morning, and it was finally there.

Zack and I opened the attachments and looked at the pictures and video together. We often get asked if we knew right away that Jonas or this girl were "our children." And I know several adoptive parents do feel something special when they see their kid's picture for the first time. That's not the case for us. Personally, I just kind of think, "Hmmm...okay..." That's what happened for both Jonas and this girl. Maybe it's just my rational, left-brained personality...I don't know. For what it's worth, when we met Jonas in person, I did feel like, "Okay, this is definitely MY son!" So, sorry to disappoint, but we didn't see her picture and fall in love and say, "Let's do it!"

AAC Adoption Agency Fee Sheet
We talked about it for a few days, and we came to the conclusion that the only reason in the world to say "no" to this file was because of her age. We researched "artificial twinning," which is what we're doing by creating a family with children of the same age. We contemplated what our family would look like with two children of the same size, possibly in the same grade, who would be reaching milestones at the same time (driving, going off to college, etc.). But in the end, it came down to the fact that here was a basically totally healthy beautiful little girl without a family. How could we say no? Why should we?

So we said yes. And that decision cost us $660! We had to pay $300 to get a home study addendum, since our original one said we were approved for a child up to age three. We also had to pay $330 to USCIS for a Supplement 3 to our I-800A form. Basically that means that the US immigration department had approved us to adopt one child up to the age of three, and that needed changed as well. Pretty ridiculous, eh? We were originally quite annoyed and wondered if it was a sign that we shouldn't go through with it, but we're trusting that when this girl joins our family, we'll understand why she was meant to be a Keys kid, and that we'd gladly pay $660 to have her be ours forever!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Mid-Autumn Festival

The cool part about adopting a kid from China is that you can start celebrating all of the fun Chinese holidays! Our daughter might not be home with us yet, but we celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival yesterday (a day late) anyway. It's also called the Moon Festival, it's the second biggest holiday after Chinese New Year, and it falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of China's lunar calendar each year.

On this festival day, it's customary to eat mooncakes, admire the bright full moon, and think of family and friends who live far away. Seems rather appropriate! We have an awesome Asian store just a few miles away from our house, so Jonas and I picked up some dumplings for dinner and mooncakes for dessert. The best thing about celebrating a day late is that the mooncakes were 20% off! Mooncakes are beautiful circle-shaped pastries imprinted with Chinese characters for longevity or harmony. They are filled with sweet bean paste and a salted egg yolk, which represents the moon. They're pretty good, but very dense. We all shared just one!

It's also customary to celebrate with lanterns. Jonas picked a green lantern to light and send off to his sister underneath the full moon. Some day, we'll be able to tell our daughter we were thinking of her before she was even home. Next year, we look forward to eating mooncakes and lighting lanterns together as a family of four!
To Our Girl in China

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What is Where?

I know that I definitely did not know much at all about China when we started this process, especially where certain cities were located, so I thought it might be helpful to educate others as well. Let's start with the big picture...

See Kyrgyzstan? The little yellow-colored country on the Northwest side of China? Yep, that's where Jonas is from. Only the Tien Shan mountain range separates his homeland from hers. Now let's zoom in a bit...

Our girl is from the Jiangxi province. It's the greenish colored one in the Southeast side of the country. Beijing is straight North of there, indicated by the B in the Hebei province. We'll also have to travel to the Guangdong province, South of Jiangxi (in yellow). We'll probably fly out of Hong Kong, indicated by the H just South of Guangdong. Time to zoom in some more...

Here's our probable path of travel. I totally copied this map from another adoptive family! We'll probably fly into Beijing and get over our jet lag while hopefully doing a bit of sightseeing for a day or two. Then we'll head to Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi, probably by bullet train. That's where we'll pick up our daughter and spend a few days doing paperwork. After that, we'll head to Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong, probably via another bullet train. Our girl will have a medical exam done there. That's also where the US embassy is located, so we'll get her visa. From there, we'll probably take a bus to Hong Kong and fly home. Okay, one more map...

So our daughter currently lives in a foster home on the grounds of the Fuzhou orphanage. Fuzhou is a city that's a bit Southeast of Nanchang, a couple of hours away by car. You can find it above the 'X' and 'I' in Jiangxi on this map! We are hopeful that we'll be able to take a day trip from Nanchang to visit her orphanage and possibly her foster family. Fuzhou in Jiangxi is not to be confused with the more well-known Fuzhou in the Fujian province to the East.

Well, hope that was helpful for getting an idea of where things are in China. Just don't ask me how to pronounce any of these words correctly! Now if our girl's official file would just come in, we could start getting a lot closer to getting to all these places!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

So What's the Scoop?

So I know that it's a bit of a pain to navigate all of the pages on this blog and figure out what the heck is going on. I'll do individual posts on some of these topics in future posts, but lots of people just want a general idea of what's happening. So here's the scoop in an easy-to-read bullet point format:
  • We started the whole adoption process in mid-April. There were a few things we didn't have to redo (like training classes) because it was our second time around, but basically, we had to start from scratch, especially since we used a different agency.
  • We received an e-mail in late July and then talked to our agency about the pre-file of a little girl who was outside of our original desired age range. On August 1, we accepted this pre-file, and when her official file comes in (which it will, as she's with one of our agency's partnership orphanages), it'll be designated to our family.
  • Our future daughter's special need is a repaired heart condition called a ventricular septal defect (VSD). More about that in a future post, but basically she'll need nothing other than cardiology follow-ups.
  • Our girl is five days younger than Jonas. She'll turn four at the end of the year. We had originally hoped we'd have her home by then, but it's looking like we won't get there until January. This isn't in our control. Right now she lives with a foster family (including a foster brother who's her age!) on the orphanage grounds in a city called Fuzhou in the Jiangxi province. Maps to come!  
  • Around January, once all of the paperwork is done (more on that in another post), we'll go to China for a two-week trip. We'll probably fly into Beijing and spend a couple of days there, take a bullet train to her province to pick her up and do paperwork, and then take another train to Guangzhou, where everyone adopting in China has to go for embassy paperwork. We hope to bring Jonas along with us (if financially feasible) to aid with bonding and help with attachment (for both him and her). 
  • We can't share our daughter's Chinese name (and we haven't decided on her English name) or her picture online at all yet. That can happen after we get something called Letter of Acceptance (LOA) from China, which should come through about a month after her official file comes in. Her official file should/could come in any day. We do have pictures and a video from May. I can show you on my phone if you see me in person. Our girl seems sweet, quiet, and cute. She has a terrible haircut though (think bowl-shaped with short bangs!).
  • We are doing a puzzle fundraiser to try to raise $10,000, which is the amount that Zack's former employer provided to us in adoption assistance when we were in process to bring home Jonas. More on our reasoning and thoughts about fundraising in an upcoming post! The link is on the right side of the blog; it's only $10 to help us "Bring Home Our Missing Piece."
Hopefully that helps give an idea of where we're at and what's going on. The FAQ tab has a lot of this information (and more). I'll be posting more on specific topics in the upcoming weeks. Thanks for reading! Oh, and here's a screenshot of our very first step (the online application) in this process back on April 12!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Help Us Bring Home Our Missing Piece!

"Adopting one child won't change the world; but for that one child, the world will change."

Purchase your puzzle piece here!

On the other side of the world, a young girl waits for her family. She's been waiting for a Mommy and Daddy for almost four years. She's never splashed in a swimming pool, had a puppy lick her face, enjoyed an ice cream cone, picked a pumpkin, sat on Santa's lap, hiked in the mountains, played at the park, had her own bed to sleep in at night, or felt a loving hug when she wakes up in the morning. Our family feels called to change that for her, and we'd like to invite you to be a part of this mission.

Zack and Aubree Keys adopted their son Jonas from Kyrgyzstan in 2015. They believe that this little girl in China is the missing piece to completing their family. They'd love to welcome her into their home and make her a Keys kid forever. However, international adoption is not inexpensive. Visit our Cost tab to see all of the expenses already incurred and those to come, but our agency estimates it will cost about $35,000 total to bring home our daughter from China. It's going to take a village, and you are our village. We are humbly asking for your financial assistance in the form of a puzzle fundraiser we're calling "Bring Home Our Missing Piece." 

Here's how it works. We have created a 1000 piece puzzle with an adoption-themed word cloud around the shape of China. Each piece can be "purchased" for $10. A $100 donation would get you 10 pieces! "Buying" a piece means your name gets written on the back. You can buy as many pieces as you would like. Maybe you want one for each member of your family or one in honor of someone special. As the pieces are purchased, we'll assemble the puzzle. When it's complete, we'll preserve it in a clear frame, and it will hang in our future daughter's room. She'll be able to read all of the names of the loving and generous people who helped bring her home. Go here to purchase your tax-deductible piece(s) now!
Our goal is to raise $10,000. We know this is a large amount, but we believe it can be accomplished with everyone's help. We're hoping that $10 won't hit your pocketbook too hard, yet you can still feel like you are a part of bringing this girl home and giving her a family. When Zack worked in a traveling position for Accenture, the company gave us $10,000 in adoption assistance to help bring Jonas home from Kyrgyzstan. Zack quit his position there in order to work locally when we adopted Jonas, taking a nearly 50% pay cut so he could come home each night to his new son. His current employer provides no adoption assistance, so we are hoping to replace that now-missing $10,000. The donations from the puzzle fundraiser will go directly toward our agency's Phase 2 Processing Fee ($3000), the Paper Processing Fee in China ($2200), and the required Orphanage Donation ($5800). So your contribution will be helping other orphans as well!

Saint(!) Teresa once said, "We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if the drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of the missing drop." $10,000 is a very large ocean, and your $10 drop is needed. A little girl in China without a family is counting on your drop. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for helping us to bring home our missing piece. Even if you are not able to help financially, we greatly appreciate your love, prayers, and support as our family grows through adoption once again.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Adopting Again!

An Announcement Limerick

Our life's full of joy with our son,
but soon there won't be only one.
To China we'll go,
Jonas now the big bro.
Adopting a girl sounds like fun!

That's right...Jonas is going to be a big brother! We are excited to announce that we are adopting a little girl from China. She's also three years old...only five days younger than Jonas! The whole process has moved incredibly fast (we just started in mid-April), and she should be able to come home with us around January. We are excited to share this journey with you via this blog and our Facebook group. Follow along if you're interested. Please also check out our puzzle fundraiser. Lots more to come!