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?