December 21, 2012

To: Meili, From: Your Family


Now that we are through all the "official" stuff and are just waiting on paperwork for our travel to China, we have the opportunity to send a package to Meili. If you've kept up with the blog, you'll recognize the little lamb from this post. Browsing around on all my various blogs, yahoo and facebook groups, people suggest ALL kinds of things to send in care packages. However, our agency was quite specific about what should be sent. Apparently, keeping it pretty simple increases our chances of Meili actually receiving it.

It was a bit of a process to get everything gathered and ready.

 
The first item was Little Lamb. We snuggled with him every night so he smells like us. He's got a soft blankie and he's cute. I REALLY hope the orphanage staff gives him to her. For some reason, I really feel like he could help with the transition when we come to get her. If it doesn't seem like too odd of a prayer request, could you pray that she actually receives this little guy? It's the closest thing to us she'll have until we're actually there.

Next, we included a disposable camera.



This is for the orphanage staff to use to take pictures of her. I didn't even know they made these anymore! I had to pay $15 for it!! I thought that seemed like a lot for such old technology. Ideally, they would return this to us when we pick Meili up and we'd have some images that give us a glimpse into what her life was like before she was with us. Thankfully, we already have pictures and video from the wonderful family who shared them with us. But more would certainly be appreciated.

Third, we included a photo album. The agency specified a "soft" photo album. I learned those are quite hard to find. So we took a not-so-soft one and I made it soft by adding some extras that conveniently provide a little additional sensory input as well.


They were also specific on what should be included in the album.


A family picture, appropriately labeled.


A picture of siblings and pets, labeled as well. We also included individual pictures of each of our kids with their names and ages.


We were really living on the edge here....a "home" picture wasn't on the list. But I think it's kind of important!


Everything had to be translated into mandarin. A wonderful woman named Li helped us with that project. She's Chinese but has lived in America for over 20 years. It was so much fun to chat with her and we REALLY appreciated her help!

We included a letter that explained the items we were sending. This also needed to be translated into Mandarin.


Li helped us with that too! Thank goodness.


Keira decorated the box. By herself. When I wasn't watching. It was pretty darn cute.


I wrapped it in red. Because everything important in China is in RED. I was hoping this might also increase our chances of it getting delivered. Red symbolizes good fortune and joy in China. It is used abundantly during celebrations, gatherings and holiday events. If it is important, it is red.


Ready for delivery! It cost $44 to get it to China.
Estimated date of delivery?

Christmas Eve.

Wouldn't that be appropriate?

It is very common for children to never receive the care packages they are sent. This is probably due to a number of reasons; a few include:
1. Nannies who are overworked and don't have time/energy to manage one more thing.
2. When one child gets something "special" other kids want it and it causes problems so it's easier to just never give them anything.
3. It gets thrown into the pile of things that "need to get done" but never get done.
4. They receive the gifts initially, but other children snatch them up quickly and they disappear.
Etc.,etc...

We may never see any of these items again. But we would be so happy if we did. Please pray that Meili will receive this gift. Not because we want her to have "things," but because we want her to see our faces and smell our home and get just a hint of what's to come, even if it's minuscule.

Our son prays every night that for God to "help Meili to know she has a family" and we're trying our best!



December 14, 2012

USCIS update

Yesterday was a bit of a whirlwind, for many reasons. But mainly because when I finally got home and checked the mail at 3:30, I found the document we've been waiting for.

I was in such a rush that I didn't even take a picture of it. Approval of the I800-A update was the last piece of paper we needed before I could send the DS-230. I grabbed my paperwork pile and headed to UPS!

Since yesterday was Thursday, that meant I'd have to get the paperwork to our China team in Michigan early enough TODAY that they could go through it, and then send it on to China. If it didn't get there today, the next possible day would be Monday, and considering next week is the week before Christmas, I wanted to avoid that if possible.

I sent the whole packet Next Day Air to Michigan so it would be there by 10:30 today. I could have flown it there myself for what I had to pay for that!

Well not quite, but $50 seems like a LOT to mail 10 pieces of paper.

I've forgiven USCIS for their mistake (more HERE if you care to know) because the I800-A approval came pretty fast, so I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and (probably naively) assume that they actually TRIED to hurry it through for us.

Because it came so quickly, I think there's still a *chance* we could travel in January. If not then, February for sure (assuming everything else goes smoothly)!

If it helps, we're on step 11 of this chart now.
Step 12 takes 1-2 weeks.
Step 13 takes 1-2 weeks.
Step 14 happens while you wait for step 15.
And step 13 to 15 is about 2-3 weeks.


So if everything happens on the quick side, we could travel in January. Because of Christmas though, I'm thinking February is probably more likely.

Jon took this picture in our living room....


We'd really like to see those two pictures in ONE frame.
So we're still praying for January! 




December 8, 2012

Immigration Frustration!

When people say that paperwork and process involved in an adoption is massive, they're right. We, and probably everyone else who has adopted, understand why it has to be this way, but that doesn't necessarily make it less frustrating.

Here's where we're at right now (I'll TRY to keep it simple):

USCIS (United States Customs and Immigration Services) must have 2 documents from us.

1. The I800-A: Permission for us to adopt a child and bring them to the US.
2. The I800: Permission to adopt a SPECIFIC child and bring them to the US.

We must state on the I800-A the characteristics of the child we hope to adopt; girl, 18-48 months old, "this special need", "that special need", etc. We received I800-A approval before we got Meili's referral.

After we got her referral, our agency sent an I800-A update to add Meili's specific special need to the list. We also were able to send the I800, because we now had the NAME of the SPECIFIC CHILD we intended to adopt.

A couple weeks went by. We received our I800 approval, but heard nothing about the I800-A update. So I inquired with our agency who then inquired with USCIS.

Their response?
USCIS: "We never received your I800-A update paperwork"
Our Agency: "Yes you did. I have a receipt right here that shows proof of delivery."
USCIS: "Well too bad. We don't have it. And since the I800 has now been processed before the I800-A, you'll have to have your client file a Supplement 3."

The cost for filing a Supplement 3 is about $400.

Thank you, US government. (For the record, the Chinese government has been extremely easy to work with. The US government....not.so.much.)

So basically, they lost our paperwork and won't admit it. Even though we have proof.
Keep in mind that the USCIS is a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Yes, the one that is responsible for keeping terrorists out of the country.

I feel SO confident in their abilities right now...
Ugh.

We could argue with them.
Demand they search for our paperwork and continue to provide proof that they have it somewhere. 
Not pay $400 for their mistake...

Unfortunately, our agency advised us that that would take WEEKS.
And all the while, this little girl is waiting:


And we cannot bear to leave her in that horrible place any longer than we have to.
So we shut our mouths, filed our Supplement 3, paid our $400 and pretended like we're the ones who screwed up.

But, even in doing that, this is still a setback of about three weeks (in my estimation.) We were hoping to travel in January, but with this error, we are now hoping for February.

Now that I'm over being absolutely livid  about this situation, we're thankful that everything else has gone smoothly up to this point and praying that the rest of the paperwork will get processed as it should.



December 1, 2012

A natural, effective way to clean produce

Wow...it's been a LONG time since I did any REAL food posts! Ever since we got Meili's referral, things have been a bit crazy around here. With a referral comes a significant amount of new paperwork, and the ability to apply for grants, etc.

I actually have a list titled "My Fabulous Blog Ideas." I don't know if any of them are really "fabulous" but titling them that way makes me feel smart :) It's completely full of ideas...maybe someday they'll make it onto the screen.

Anyway....

I read several real food blogs and one of them had a great post today. The topic has been on my "fabulous blog ideas" list for a while, but this blogger wrote it out very thoroughly and just about exactly the same as I would have, so I just want to pass the link along.

It's about how to clean your produce, naturally. I've used the method she describes for a couple of years now and it works wonderfully! Be sure to check out the before and after pictures of her grapes! So interesting!

Take a peek at her post found HERE.

For those of you who just want the facts without all the "why's"....here's the short version:

Natural Produce Wash:
Fill a sink enough liquid to cover your produce using about 1 part white vinegar to 7 parts water.
(I also add a couple tablespoons of salt. It helps draw out impurities).
Let produce soak for 10-15 minutes.
Rinse with cold water for about 30 seconds.
Pat dry

That's it!
This method is very easy, inexpensive and effective.
Whattya know....the natural, homemade method is better than the store-bought option - AGAIN!
I love it when that happens :)

November 14, 2012

We've got mail!

We had a couple fun surprises here today.

The first one came in my morning email. A family we've been in contact with was able to visit Meili's orphanage because they just adopted a little girl from the same one. There was 5 wonderful pictures and an update written in ENGLISH!

I didn't have much experience with Yahoo groups prior to this adoption, but WOW - they have been helpful! There is a group for almost EVERYTHING! I belong to one for people adopting toddlers from china, one for parents of adopted children from China with the same special need as Meili, and one for parents who have adopted or are adopting children from her orphanage. I was able to connect with this special family through the orphanage group. They picked up their daughter just a couple days ago, and today were granted permission to go to the orphanage.

Even with the stress/excitement of their new daughter, trying to capture pictures and video for her, and having to use a translator, they were able to ask a couple questions about Meili and get some really great pictures for us. What a blessing! We are so grateful to them for being willing to do this. AND, we know these pictures are recent!
Here's our little peanut as of today:


They also included a couple pictures and description of the orphanage. It's so bleak, empty and cold. They said it has 3 rooms, two with cribs lined up against all the walls and one full of wooden high chairs. That's it. Hard wood floors and dirty white walls with some colorful stickers. No toys. No soft carpet to crawl on. You can see the floor and the bottom of one of the dirty walls in the picture above. That's about what the rest of it looks like.

Despite this, they also said the caretakers seemed like they genuinely cared about the children. I SO hope this is true!

The second great surprise came in our "snail mail."

I had mentioned in THIS post that our little girl had some crazy hair and some cute hats might be in order. A talented friend from high school took this to heart and sent us a wonderful gift!


Aren't they adorable!! We were just absolutely thrilled to receive these! It's the first gift anyone (besides grandparents) has given Meili!




Here's the best part:
We currently have purchased (or Grandma has purchased) three outfits for Meili. My friend who sent the hats had no idea what the outfits looked like, and didn't ask me for any color suggestions.
And here's what we ended up with:



And this is the outfit I was hoping to buy as a "coming home" dress...


...which I thought went pretty well with this one:


Seriously, could they match any better?!?
(Can God work through hats?! :) )

Thanks TM and SR for sending us mail that made our day!

November 12, 2012

Tapping into the POWER

I can safely say that raising funds and filling out paperwork has been one of the easier parts of our adoption process. Those two things tend to be reasons that people shy away from adoption, but at least they're tangible. Either you have the money, or you don't. The paperwork is done, or it isn't. They aren't easy to do, but they're not the most difficult piece of the puzzle

That award goes to the emotional aspect of the process.

We've mentioned the "rollercoaster" several times and I know that just like having your first biological child, you can't really understand it until you've been through it.

Just trust me. It's hard.

After we accepted Meili's referral, a million thoughts flooded my mind...
Did we do the right thing?
Is this the child God has for us?
What if we didn't pray enough and we missed something?
What if she has needs or disabilities that we aren't prepared for?
Did we misunderstand what God was trying to tell us?
Will we really be able to handle this?
Are we shortchanging our biological kids?
Are we insane for committing to a child we've never met or even SEEN?
...and on...
and on...
and on.

Even though I know that my questioning indicates a lack of trust in the Lord on my part, I couldn't seem to shake it. It was consuming my thoughts and keeping me up at night.

But Matthew 7:7-8 says "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

So I asked. And He answered. Times three.

ONE
A couple days later I was spending some time reading this book:


Have you read it? If not, it's definitely worth your time.
Chapter 3 is called "Beginning at the end of ourselves." It really challenged me to examine myself and see if I was living in such a way that I was depending solely on God's power and not on my own abilities. Am I trusting a God who drives out demons, feeds thousands from almost nothing, controls the seas and makes heroes out of ordinary people?

 And of course the answer was, "no."

The example Platt uses in chapter to demonstrate his point is George Mueller. George Mueller was an amazing follower of Christ who started with nothing and spent his entire life building orphanages and caring for parent-less children without ever asking anyone for a dime. He relied solely on God's power to provide and sustain.

What a perfect example.

TWO
As if that wasn't enough, the next morning I opened my YouVersion reading for the day to find 2 Corinthians 12:9. Paul was given a "thorn in his flesh" - a messenger of satan to torment him. "Torment" is a pretty strong word. I was worried and anxious, but Paul was "tormented."  And when he asks God to remove the thorn, he replies:
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness..."
After reading the rest of chapter 12, I had concluded this:


His power is perfect. His grace is sufficient.
And Paul, in his state of torment, takes God at his word and chooses to not only accept,  but to delight in his hardships and difficulties. - verse 10

I don't know many people who can do that.
But clearly, we're to be striving for it. "For when I am weak, then I am strong" - verse 10.

THREE
Less than a few hours later I grabbed the mail quick before leaving the house and an adoption article caught my attention.


I only had about 2 minutes so I flipped it open and quickly read one of the three stories included in the article. I don't think it was by chance that I picked the one I did.


Honestly, it was almost comical to read those last two sentences. God clearly wants me to know about his power and his grace and to rely on him when I'm weak. He will work through us during those times of weakness to make us stronger in him.

I can do nothing with all my questions. I can't guarantee that everything will go smoothly. I can't control what our family life will look like with Meili in it. I can't even hold her. But I can rely on a God who is capable of more than I can even fathom, and who promises his grace will be sufficient.

I love how Platt summarizes this chapter (emphasis mine):
"Why would we ever want to settle for Christianity according to our ability? The power of the one who raised Jesus from the dead is living in us, and as a result we have no need to muster up our own might. Our great need is to fall before the almighty Father day and night and to plead for him to show his radical power in and through us, enabling us to accomplish for his glory what we could never imagine in our own strength."
That's our prayer. That we'll be able to accomplish this task in such a way that it will be clear to everyone who sees that it accomplished by the power of his spirit, and not by the abilities of man.


October 30, 2012

Jehovah Jireh

I could write a very long post (or a SERIES of several posts!) about God's provision throughout our adoption process. And I probably will soon, because it's all just too great not to share.

But at the moment, I just have tell a quick little story.

One year ago tomorrow is the day we started this journey. In that year, we've been able to pay cash for every part of the process, without dipping into our emergency fund. We've probably paid slightly over HALF. Nearly everything we've paid for up to this point has been stateside - we've paid almost nothing to China. The remainder of our expenses will be travel costs, food, mandatory $5000 orphanage donation, etc. Basically everything in China.

Since they're telling us we will likely travel in January, that leaves THREE MONTHS to raise about 45% of our expenses. It took 1 year to raise 55%.

We were freaking out about this just a little.

Then the mail came. And our gracious God had sent us a little "note."


If you know of Steven Curtis Chapman, you've probably heard of his adoption ministry, ShowHope.
ShowHope decided to give us a grant for $3000!!

A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.!!

To be honest, I haven't even read through all of it yet. I don't know if I need to. The grant and the letter is from ShowHope. But God's message is clear...I know he was saying to us:

"Why do you doubt me? I've brought you this far, and I'll help you finish." 

Thank you, Jehovah-Jireh.

Translated, Jehovah-Jireah it means "the Lord will provide."

I absolutely LOVE the different names of God and how they each show us a different aspect of who He is. He knows exactly what need. Our early travel dates are not a surprise to him! What God calls his people to do, he equips them to accomplish. Over and over through this process we've been continually reminded that our Lord has given us everything we need to complete this work.

Not for our glory, but for HIS.




October 27, 2012

Introducing....

This is the post we weren't sure we'd ever get to write.

And now that we actually CAN, I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about it. Even though a lot of you have seen her picture already because we've chatted face-to-face, it's still a little intimidating to put her out there and officially say, "she's ours."

So, here it goes....

We're very happy to introduce the newest member of our family, Meili Grace!


Isn't she just a little sweetheart?!? We already can't get enough of her :)
(Even with the half buzz-cut, she's totally adorable! Apparently, she had a couple ouchies on her head and I guess it's easier to treat that type of thing if you just shave the hair off! I think some cute hats are in order :) )

Meili Grace is the name that we are choosing to give her. Many parents keep their child's given Chinese name as their middle name. We chose to give her an American name, but came up with one that has some Chinese "flair." Meili is the combination of two Chinese words; Mei (meaning beautiful) and Li (meaning dawn).
It should be pronounced MAY-LEE - to rhyme with Hailey or Kaylee.

This picture above is an updated one that we just received on Thursday. And even though it came in an "update" there was no date with it, so we can't even be sure how recent it is. It's all we've got though, so we're just going to assume it's accurate.

This is the picture we received with our referral paperwork:


Can you see how easy it was for us to fall in love with her?
We *think* she is about 22 months old in this picture.
And if the updated picture is accurate, she'd be about 29 months in that one.

So yes, she's very tiny. Barely on the growth charts for height and not on them at all for weight. But  growth charts are made for kids living in loving family situations, not kids in understaffed orphanages.

As thankful as we were to get our updates and our LOA, both of those things have really caused a lot of emotion. Her update tells us that she's pretty behind developmentally; particularly in speech and gross motor skills. Parent after parent after parent who has "been there, done that" has told me that these kids almost always grow and thrive like crazy once they're home and being given what they need. But it's still very scary. There's absolutely no way for us to tell if that will be the case for her.


So please continue to pray for us, and for Meili. Especially for her health, growth and development. And for us, that the Lord will equip us to handle whatever needs she has, and give us grace and patience to do it in a way that is honoring to Him.

October 26, 2012

BIG news!

Today came as a HUGE surprise.

I received a call at about 11:15 from our China coordinator asking if I had a minute to talk. She seemed very sober so I was a little worried. Considering the issue with our home study addendum, I was expecting the worst.

But, she wasted no time informing me that we received LOA today! This is the piece of paperwork we've been waiting for! It not only means our paperwork was accepted, it means they've reviewed our case, looked at our referral and given us permission to adopt the child we were referred. Prayers answered! Praise God!

Our LOA came in 28 days. That's over a MONTH earlier than we were expecting. Because of this, we were told today we may travel as early as JANUARY!

I'm expecting February. But either way, it's much earlier than we'd planned. That means we have about 3-4 months LESS to raise our travel funds. It's a little stressful, but we're counting on God to provide just as he has done thus far.

AND, that wasn't the only exciting thing that happened in the last 24 hours...

Yesterday, we received an update on Little One, including new pictures :)

Since we got LOA today, that means we can share her publicly VERY soon. And just to keep your curiosity piqued, she's pretty darn cute :)


More soon....

October 19, 2012

A Lamb for Little One

Jon and I have a deal when it comes to adoption process...
He makes the money.
I do the paperwork and research.

Well, he does SOME paperwork and research too. And I make SOME money. But in general, it's definitely my job to filter through the loads of information out there in an attempt to become as prepared as possible for bringing Little One home. And filter I do!!! Loads and loads, hours and hours of researching and filtering. Then filling Jon in on the most important and helpful tidbits of information. Then doing it again and again, over and over. Not that I mind...I love learning everything I possibly can. So I was pretty darn surprised when Jon came up with an idea that not only had I not thought of, but one that I had not even heard of!!.

We often ask God to somehow prepare Little One's heart for becoming part of our family, while wondering what we can do half a world away to help her get to know us.

This is where Lambie comes in.


Jon suggested that we actually sleep with a stuffed animal, so that in a few months when we send Little One a care package, she can have something that smells like us.

Kids who've lived their whole lives in orphanages often have attachment issues. And understandably so. There are just too many kids for the caretakers to meet ALL of their needs, and so they learn not to rely on anyone. Then they get handed off to some complete stranger who looks and smells differently, speaks a foreign language, eats strange food and takes them to a strange place. If something with our scent could help her even the tiniest bit, it would be worth the effort.

We were going to buy something new. Then when I was getting a bag of stuffed animals ready to take to church to donate to kids in Guatemala, I discovered little Lambie.

Our oldest son received him for a baby gift, 8+ years ago.


He was well loved.


Very well loved...


I just couldn't give him away. He's had over eight years to pick up the scent of the Sprang household, and his paws (hooves?!?) stick together because he's a praying lamb. He used to say his own prayer, but unfortunately that part of him doesn't work anymore.

But, Lambie's little praying feet will remind us to pray for Little One every night.


And maybe he can take those prayers to China with him!

October 16, 2012

And we wait...

I should be sweeping my floor right now.

Or organizing. Or cleaning the toilet that needs it OH SO BADLY. Or catching up on emails. Or working on church projects. Or a million other things.

But instead I find myself "accidentally" at my computer to check some one-little-thing and it turns into reading adoption blogs or checking in with my yahoo adoption groups. Or sometimes, occasionally, looking at cute outfits that I might consider taking to China for our new little one. Or trying to figure out what the current average time between LOI (letter of intent) and LOA (letter of acceptance) is.

I think it's safe to say I'm fairly distracted.

We're in wait mode right now. We've sent our LOI for our little sweetheart and are now waiting for our LOA. This step takes anywhere from about 30-150 days, with an average of about 60-70 days. Any way you look at it, it's a good, long while. As much as we'd like to believe that the beautiful little girl in the picture is ours, anything can happen - until we get our LOA. Once we receive that, the chances that we'll be able to bring her home become very, very good.

So many people ask us about the process, where we are, what's next, etc. I happened to run across this little image today and I thought it might help some of you visualize it a bit.


(For us, Homestudy agency and Adoption agency are the same, so those could just be combined.)

Underneath step 7, you could add - 7a. Receive Referral, 7b. Send LOI. Therefore we are currently waiting on STEP 8, if that helps. This particular step is the one that we're expecting to take about 60-70 days to complete, starting last week. So that puts us at about another 53-63 days. Roughly.

So far, this wait has been the hardest. Because if we do not receive LOA, not only will we not be able to adopt our little one, we will not be able to adopt from China at all

I wonder if God is getting tired of me asking for "guidance and patience" yet....

When we DO receive LOA, then the fun begins! We can share all our information about our little one (maybe I'll just call her "Little One" until then), including pictures, and hopefully we'll have some updates on her by then as well.

You can see that there are SEVERAL steps after the one we're waiting for. The time between each of these steps can be weeks. In addition to going through all the paperwork, the mailing time alone really adds up. This is one reason why (if everything goes as planned) we won't be able to bring her home for another 6-8 months. 

We're trying, Little One...we're trying!

September 28, 2012

The REFERRAL!

If you're one of the people I've crossed paths with this week, forgive me if I seemed a little distracted. So much has been going on, and after our experience last month, we wanted to make sure this was the real-deal before we started getting other people involved in our emotional rollercoaster. But that involved keeping everything that was going on stuffed inside, and I'm not sure I did that too well!

The waiting child matching occurred last Monday night. Truthfully, we didn't think much about it this month; still recovering a bit from last month, we weren't expecting anything. We didn't hear anything Monday night, which we did think was strange. Typically, you receive a message letting you know if you haven't been matched. And of course, you get one if you are matched as well. Since we got nothing, I sent a message on Tuesday morning to just check in. Shortly afterward, we received a phone call from our agency.

They DID have a match!

Let me tell ya - one thing that is HARD, is hearing you have a match, but waiting for the file to get ready and show up in your email! It takes a few hours. Last month, I just sat at the computer constantly pushing "refresh." This month, I realized that was ridiculous and kept myself busy running errands.

When it finally did show up we read through the text version before looking at pictures. What we read indicated that she'd be a pretty great match for our family. After looking at the pictures, we were hooked.  The last few days have looked much like they did last month - filled with calling doctors offices, faxing papers, doing research, checking our finances, etc. She's just a little peanut, younger than we expected, and she'll have some catching up to do. But we're so excited about this little sweetheart, that it's hard not to share!

Unfortunately, we can't share much else about her for a couple reasons.
One - it's against agency regulations. And we definitely don't want to do anything to jeopardize our chances of bringing her home!
Two - this one is the big one. Last week right before the matching, we received word that China is changing some regulations. Even though our paperwork is already in China, it hasn't been reviewed yet. There was an issue with our home study regarding these new regulations. We were required to have our agency immediately send an addendum to our home study or risk being ejected from the China program. Of course, the addendum was sent right away. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee they will honor it. We have every reason to believe they WILL, but until our dossier is through review and we have a LOA (letter of acceptance), there are no guarantees. We would so appreciate prayer for this issue! This is why we didn't receive news of our referral right away. Our agency wanted to make sure we were OK with proceeding, even though there is a chance our dossier might still be rejected. Please pray the Chinese government will look favorably on our addendum and allow us to move forward!

We truly believe God has guided us through every aspect of this process so far and we continue to trust in his plan for our little one. It is definitely difficult trying to avoid falling in love with her in case it doesn't work out. We're just praying that by God's grace, we'll be able to bring her home SOON!






September 23, 2012

No GMO!

Way back in April I did a little post on what REAL FOOD is (you can read that post HERE if you need a refresher). When going back to that post in order to write this one, I realized at the end I mentioned I would explain WHY we eat this way.

But I never did. 

That probably breaks all kinds of "good blogger" rules. I know you're supposed to be consistent if you want people to read your posts. What can I say.....I totally forgot. But, I've officially been reminded, so I'll put that post on the list.

I intended to do just a little short post about GMO's since I came across an interesting article about them. So I think I'll still do that, but I'll discuss it more in depth in another set of posts.

A brief overview:
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. They refer to plants (or animals, but mostly plants for what we'll discuss here) that are modified using gene-splicing technology. This technology allows scientists to insert desirable genes into these plants to create an organism that would never occur naturally in nature.  The two main crops that are at the center of the debate are corn and soybeans. These plants are genetically engineered to either withstand a specific herbicide, or emit it's own insecticide.

Why does this matter to me?:
GMO's have not been proven to be safe for human consumption. This point, is of course debatable. Especially if you ask the company that produces them. This particular company has been known for using it's massive amounts of money and power to shut up anyone who disagrees with them or dares to research their product.
"Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In nearly 50 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. In the U.S., the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale"  (source)
In my research, I've discovered the answer to that question is: NO ONE KNOWS!
For me, that's reason enough to avoid them.

And yet millions of Americans consume them multiple times a day, every.single.day. 

Where are they found?:
For starters, they're in about 80% of processed food. If you're consuming anything with corn or soy in it that's NOT labeled "organic," there's a high probability it contains GMO's.

For instance:


I REALLY had to search, but I found two things in my house that most likely contain GMO's.


See the 5th ingredient? Soybean oil. That's one place it hides.


Or here's a big one: HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. Also, plain 'ol corn syrup in this one. It's definitely in there too.

It's also probably in anything (not labeled "organic") that contains CANOLA oil and anything with SUGAR that isn't labeled specifically as "pure cane sugar."

Here's a list of  high-risk crops:

  • Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
  • Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
  • Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
  • Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
  • Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres) (source)


So, there's a brief overview.
Here's the link to the article I read. Take a look. It's a quick read:
http://rt.com/news/monsanto-rats-tumor-france-531/

(Or if you'd like the longer version, click HERE to read the actual scientific study. You can read about which organs were most affected in which gender....very interesting!)

You be the judge.

Ultimately, I decided I could not in good conscience feed my children foods that contain GMO's.  And that's a sneak-peak into one reason why we eat REAL FOOD!!





September 12, 2012

Saying "no"

This is going to be a short post. Well, short for me, anyway. I think I start out every post intending it to be short and most of them don't usually end up that way.

About 10 days ago (the Friday before Labor day) we got an unusual phone call. I answered it and was pretty shocked to hear our China coordinator on the other side. She said,

"I know you weren't expecting a call like this, but we have a referral for you."

I should also add that she followed that sentence with, "I should warn you, she's really cute!"

She was right....we were NOT expecting that! They had told us it would be 6+ months for a referral. But, they'd also told us we could easily have multiple referrals too. We had discussed this possibility beforehand and felt like we were prepared to deal with that, so we agreed to review the file. They were also right about her being cute. She was absolutely beautiful; two years old with big brown eyes, wispy hair and perfect little pink lips. The next few days were spent scrambling to find medical information on a holiday weekend and researching medical conditions I'd never heard of before.

After consulting with our specialist (who amazingly was in his office for 15 minutes that day RIGHT after I sent him the file) as well as other families who had reviewed that I was able to connect with on Yahoo groups, we determined that the special need listed in her file was likely a symptom of a more serious genetic disorder. Unfortunately, there's a huge spectrum with how it presents itself, ranging from virtually nothing to severe developmental delays, seizures, autism, etc.

With the limited medical information we had, we just couldn't say yes.
But saying no was so much harder than I ever thought it would be.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a crier. But after finding out several other families had reviewed her file and also said "no," all I could think about was how she'd feel if she knew all these people were rejecting her. That no one wanted her. I had to force my thoughts in a different direction to avoid losing it in front of my kids.

I think that I've mentioned that so far with this process, God has given us peace about every decision we've made...including starting this $30,000 journey with ZERO in our adoption fund and adding a complete unknown to our very "normal" family. And as much as we researched and prayed and researched more and tried to envision her in our family, we just didn't feel that same peace about this referral.

Not that that makes it any less of a heartache.

So for now we're just praying God will make it painfully obvious which one he wants to be ours. And also praying SO hard that she'll find a family. One who wants her so bad they can hardly stand it!

Some friends who just got home from China with their second child told Jon, "when you see the right one, you'll know."

I hope they're right.


August 27, 2012

Matters of the HEART


Tonight marks an interesting point in our adoption process. Beginning at 8am in China (roughly 8pm tonight our time) the Shared List will be updated. (see THIS post to learn about the Shared List) We've completed every government and agency requirement. Because of this...

WE COULD BE MATCHED WITH A CHILD TONIGHT!

The chances that that will happen however, are pretty slim. We were the 17th family in our agency's program, and although it doesn't necessarily "go in order," chances are many of those people have paperwork with requests similar to ours, and in those cases, they would be matched first. Bethany typically matches about 4-6 families per month, so if it did go "roughly" in order, we'd still be 3-4 months out.

There's only one thing that may change this...
I haven't shared a lot about the needs we checked "yes" to on our Waiting Child Openness form. But I did want to share one so that those of you who pray for us can pray specifically about this. After evaluating medical resources in our area, we determined that a child with a heart condition might be a good match for us. Heart conditions range from very minor to very severe, and our agency wanted to know VERY specifically which ones we were open to. The problem is that with EVERY condition, there is a spectrum. For example, one of the most minor is a VSD (ventricular septal defect). Basically it's a hole in the ventricular septum. Small holes often require absolutely nothing and close on their own and this is very common. But sometimes the holes are so large that they require open heart surgery.

The problem is, when the agency makes the referral, they have NO idea of the severity of the condition. All they see on their computer for a ventricular septal defect is "VSD".

We were open to a variety of heart condition in the mild to moderate range. Our China representative agreed this would be a good fit for us, but cautioned us that because you almost never know the severity of the heart condition until the file is reviewed by a pediatric cardiologist in the US, we may be looking at multiple referrals.

What this means for us, is that there's a very good chance we could get several referrals, that after being evaluated by a specialist, we will have to turn down. If the prognosis is too severe, we will have to say "no." We expect this to be a very, very hard decision...especially after we've seen the child's face. And even though we'll try not to get attached, it will be difficult to avoid imagining them as part of our family.

So if you're one of the dear people who has been praying for us, could you please pray that the Lord will make it clear to us which child is meant to be ours? And also that we'll find peace in our decision if we need to turn down a referral?

And in the mean time, even though WE don't expect a referral tonight, there will be many other families who DO get one, and I'm sure they wouldn't mind a prayer or two either :)


August 13, 2012

The China side (part 2?) - the hard stuff

I hadn't really planned on a "part 2" post about what happens in China.

But some of the things we learned in the last week about what happens there are worth sharing.

One positive thing we learned was that we have a log-in date of July 20th! We're officially eligible to be matched! In fact, we were eligible for the July matching, but our agency hadn't been informed of our log-in date so it didn't really matter since they weren't prepared to lock referrals for us.

Now for the other side...

Our agency requires the completion of a conference call between us, our local branch worker, and the China team. For us, this was about a three hour call, discussing the process as a whole and then the individual medical needs that we checked "YES" (or willing to accept). It was very eye-opening and extremely emotionally exhausting.

I was shocked to learn that only 20% of China's orphanages even have an adoption program. The rest can't even afford to facilitate adoptions. That's 80% of China's orphans that will never be adopted.

We learned that there are 70 agencies worldwide that have Waiting Child programs in China. Many of these agencies started their WC programs after the slow down of the traditional healthy child program. Our agency has always had a WC program. Each agency is allowed ONE computer (one IP address) that has access to the Shared List. When the new list comes out, each agency representative is ready. They scan the new referrals and when they see one that matches one of their families, they attempt to lock it. This process must be completed in 3-4 seconds because any other agency can lock that referral. Whoever enters the information first gets the referral. During that 4 seconds, the life of a child may bounce from the US to Spain to Brazil to Norway....anywhere. Therefore, the agencies must have their families files and log-in dates memorized.

The only information they have to make this decision with looks like this:
Male - 06-15-2009 - cleft lip/palate (Gender - Birthdate - special need).

We realized that the child who comes to us will in some ways, be chosen by who can type the fastest.

Almost every adoptive parent we've talked to mentions an "emotional rollercoaster" when discussing their adoption process. We're beginning to see where this could be the case!

As if that wasn't enough, discussing the individual medical needs with someone who actually sees the reality of adoption in China on a daily basis was discouraging. Everything we'd checked "yes" to - the things I'd stayed up late night after night researching, the things we had decided we could handle as a family, that we'd discussed with local and regional medical professionals - our China coordinator had a "but you need to consider this" scenario for every one of those things.

For the sake of an example, I'll share one. We were open to club feet. It's often easily correctable and we live (relatively) close to one of the top hospitals for treating this condition. There are other factors, but I thought I'd thoroughly researched them. Then our coordinator reminded us that because we're hoping to adopt a toddler/preschool aged child, if they still have club feet at that point in life, it's likely they may not know how to walk, and have been left lying on their back in an orphanage for 3-4 years. This would result in malformations of the skull, possibly little to no muscle tone in the legs, developmental delays and the need for significant physical therapy.

Wow. And down the roller coaster....

These types of things were the possible outcomes of needs we'd considered minor. And even in considering these needs (before the conference call) we felt like we were still taking a pretty big risk. Now it feels even bigger, and yet, still not nearly enough. Thinking about the reality of the lives these children lead just makes my heart feel like lead.

After three hours of conversation, we were totally drained. The whole thing made me question if we'll really be able to get a child with a need we can handle, or if the unknowns are just so great and so many that no matter what, we'll end up with more than we bargained for.

And.....this is where faith comes in. I'm beginning to wonder how you could really go through this process without Jesus. As scary as all the statistics and all the medical reports and all the worst-case-scenarios are, we have peace about the decisions we've made because we've seen God's hand in each one. We're praying over the forms and filling them out to the best of our ability, and have faith that we'll be matched with the child He wants us to have and that we'll be equipped to handle the needs of that child. We're so blessed to be working with a Christian agency who prays over their family files and prays and fasts throughout the matching process. But most of all, blessed to serve a great and sovereign God.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future...Jeremiah 29:11
....and back up the rollercoaster.



August 5, 2012

Refinishing project!

One of the good things about trying to save $$ for an adoption, is that it forces me to find creative ways to get the things I want. Luckily, this isn't too much of a sacrifice since one of the things I love to do is get good deals and one thing I love even more is to get a great deal and turn it into something really adorable and unique.

Granted, having three kids who are constantly in need of something hasn't allowed me to do this as much as I want. But, I sometimes manage to fit in a little project here and there.

I think the most recent one turned out really well, so I thought I'd share.

I have big plans for an "update" to our bedroom. Since this update is purely cosmetic and resulted mostly because I was tired of our dark comforter and dark walls, it will happen slowly, because I will have to get a STEAL on each piece or I won't be able to justify doing it.


I plan on simplifying and getting rid of some larger pieces of furniture. I wanted a small stool to replace one piece. When this ugly but VERY sturdy one popped up at the Habitat Restore for $1, I grabbed it.


It was love at first sight with this decorator fabric from Hobby Lobby. The green and brown matches the new (but purchased 85% off on clearance) duvet cover I got several months ago. And I just love the pattern. Two yards using the 40% off coupon was $13. This gives me enough to recover the stool and make a throw pillow for the bed.


Ah...my staple gun. I think everyone should own a staple gun...they're just so much fun.
I'm also realizing I didn't take very many "during" the project pictures. Anyway, all I did was remove the top of the stool, stretch the new fabric over and staple it on. I didn't remove the old upholstery or add any padding or anything.

Then I used an electric sander with 80 grit sand paper to strip the finish off the base and legs to prep for staining. I often paint things I refinish, but I wanted the wood grain to show through on this one. I used a 150 grit for a final sanding before staining.


I went with Rust-Oleum "Kona" stain because it was as close as I could find to an "espresso" color without being black. Minwax's darkest one looked more like a dark walnut to me.


Hmmm....it looks black in the picture. Trust me, it's dark brown.
I finished the legs with a coat of polyurethane and reassembled everything.
It doesn't match my living room too well, but after I make some progress in the bedroom, it will be perfect in there.

Stool - $1
Fabric - $6.50 (other half used for pillow)
Stain - $2 (it was $3.96 but it will definitely get used for other projects)
Total: $9.50

It was worth the $9.50 just for the fun I had doing it! I could seriously spend all day doing that kind of thing....maybe someday :)

August 1, 2012

The China side (part 1)

How many orphans are there in China?

This question is easier asked than answered. Relatively recent statistics put the number at 712,000. Unfortunately there's almost no way to to determine if this is an accurate statistic because it's quite likely that those in power (somewhat embarrassed of the orphan problem) attempt to keep those numbers much, much lower than reality. Some statistics put it closer to 3 million.

THREE MILLION. In China alone.

Since our paperwork made it to China, we're now waiting on them. Many people have asked what happens now, so I'll attempt to explain how things look, on the China side.

The majority of the children reside in orphanages. Some of them are wealthy, with toys and teachers and supplies in abundance, but most are not. There's a spectrum of care - wealthy to poor orphanages, group foster homes, and even foster care. Caring for someone else's child was something that wasn't always socially acceptable in China and so foster care was limited. As times change and those barriers begin to be broken, foster care is increasing. But it definitely isn't the norm, and it's very likely our child will be from an orphanage.

In China...

Once a month, China releases a "Shared List." The shared list is a list of adoptable, 'paper-ready', children with identified special needs. There was 1,759 children on the June list. Obviously, this is only a fraction of the children that need homes, but for one reason or another, many don't make it on the list.

Only agencies that work with China can see the shared list, and they are notified in advance before it comes out. It shows a birthdate, sex of the child, and lists their special need....and that's about it. When a new list is released (usually in the middle of the night here), representatives in the US are ready, at their computers, attempting to match children on the list with parents who are waiting. Children with minor needs are matched immediately - minor needs often include things like minor heart conditions, clubbed feet or an extra or missing digit. The children who aren't matched are left waiting on the shared list...sometimes for many, many months, or even years.

Many non-profit and charity groups have contact with certain orphanages and group homes and are able to advocate for children who are stuck on the shared list. And sometimes, they're able to find homes for them. Because of their close contact, they can often provide updated, detailed information about certain children, and this is definitely a luxury when it comes to adoption referrals! Their knowledge can give parents who are the 'on the fence' the courage to adopt a child with a need they may not have considered before.

Some agencies work closely with certain orphanages and so receive exclusive referrals. One thing we didn't realize when we started this process, is that prospective parents often search the many agencies for children they're interested in, and then sign with an agency to lock the file of a certain child. But since most of the needs we've agreed to accept are relatively minor, this probably wouldn't have worked for us anyway. We're signed with agency, and we'll wait for them to match us off the shared list.

Timeline

If we receive our log-in-date (LID) in the next couple weeks, we'll be eligible to receive a referral off the August list. I don't expect that to happen...I'm thinking it will take more like 3-4 months for a referral, but there's no way to tell. It all depends on which children are added to the list each month. Current wait time to travel is 6-8 months (partially due to China's new visa application rules), so the absolutely earliest we could be home would probably be March 2013. Realistically, we're expecting closer to June, but again, there's no way to tell. We were surprised that our agency only had 10 families waiting in the the China special needs program in July, so it could possibly be quicker than we're expecting.

And so we wait, and wait some more. For someone who's a type A personality, the unknown is hard! But at least we're getting close enough to sort of "guess" at a possible timeline. We'll keep you posted!


July 11, 2012

Got raw milk? Part 3 - Does it taste good? + other benefits


I've gotten a lot of different responses when I tell people that we drink raw milk. The most common is about how it's not pasteurized, but we already discussed that. The next one is something along the lines of, "ewww...doesn't it taste weird?"

Naturally, my thoughts on this are purely subjective. Although I am drawing from my experience with the rest of my family, and various people who come over and are brave enough to try it.

Personally, I think it tastes amazing. It's rich, creamy and smooth, with a thicker texture than store-bought milk. One of the reasons for this is that it's full-fat - no skim or 2% here! But even when compared to store-bought whole milk, there is a marked difference. I will say that the first couple tries take a bit of getting used to, but it's only because your palate is used to the taste and texture of store-bought and something new is surprising. Now, after drinking it for over a year, I could never go back, even if my decision was based on taste alone. My palate is used to fresh, raw milk now, and when I'm forced to consume store-bought for some reason, I can actually taste the chemical-ness of the synthetic vitamins and minerals they add to it (to replace what's lost during pasteurization).

My kids, hubby and almost everyone else I can get to try it agree - it just.tastes.better.

Changing the subject just a bit, I want to talk about the "whole milk" aspect. I'm well aware that the government and their ridiculous food pyramid tell us that skim milk is best because it's low-fat. I beg to differ. Any real-foodie will tell you, YOUR BODY NEEDS GOOD FATS!

Keyword: 'GOOD'.

What your body doesn't need is junk fats from things like soybean and corn oils. People have written entire books on this subject so you can read those if you want to learn more - I'll just summarize. Raw milk contains fat and cholesterol that is essential to our health and found in every cell in our bodies. It also contains incredibly healthy CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) but skimming it results in the loss of this fatty compound (see THIS post for more info on CLA and other health benefits). Our entire family has been drinking whole, raw milk for well over a year and none of us has noticed any negative weight fluctuations. My advice: whole milk tastes better and it's best for your body. Consume the fat and skip the skim.
OK, back to the main reason for this post...
It might be worth mentioning that my mom and her brothers all told me they remembered the milk they got as kids tasting "grassy" during the summer months when the cows were out to pasture. I've personally never had this experience with any of our milk. There are ways to avoid it - like keeping the cows off pasture for a few hours before milking - I'm not sure what our farmer does, but our milk always tastes great.

Other Benefits?

This is my favorite part. I have had so much FUN experimenting with the versatility of raw milk! Raw milk SOURS. It doesn't get ROTTEN like store-bought milk, it gets sour.

And what can you do with sour milk?

Oh SO MANY things!

Let's look at what happens to milk when you leave it on the counter.

Here's how it looks straight out of the fridge. You can see the cream on top with the milk below. This milk has already started to sour...it was about 9 days old when I set it out. At this point, you can remove the cream from the top because it has now turned to sour cream, and use it just like you would use sour cream from the store. Cool, huh?


The next stage is called "clabbering." Solids are beginning to appear, but it hasn't completely separated yet. If you shake it, it should just look thick and lumpy. You can stop right here and store this milk in the refrigerator to keep it from going any further.


I separated mine at this point. (It actually went little past clabbered here, but it still worked fine.)


I used what was in the bowl to make some soaked whole-wheat pancake batter - which I personally think is one of the best uses for clabbered milk!


 Seriously, these are some of the tastiest and easiest pancakes ever! (The recipe I usually use is here.)


The jar continued to be left on the counter for another day or two. You can see the separation here - it's beginning to form curds and whey.


At this point, I used a fine mesh strainer and a floursack dish towel and strained out the majority of the whey.


After the first quick draining, I pulled the towel up, attached it to my cupboard handle and let it drain for the rest of the day. 


When you remove the towel, you can see that this gets nearly ALL of the whey extracted from the curds.


Guess what you have now?!? Cream cheese! The texture isn't quite like what you'll find in the store, but it's so much better...fresh and full of probiotics. We spread it some banana walnut bread and put a drizzle of honey on top and it was fabulous! You're also left with a jar-full of whey, which should stay good for about 6 months in the fridge. I use ours in smoothies, for soaking grains and for making homemade mayo, but there are other uses as well.

I just find the whole process absolutely amazing. All you have to do is leave it on the counter and the good bacteria work their magic taking the milk through a process that leaves with an entirely different food that's even better for you than the original one!

Since sour milk is probably what most people end up with and aren't sure what to do with, here are a few other ideas:
Pancake, muffin, or quick-bread batter
Buttermilk biscuits
Add to pumpkin pie instead of evaporated milk
Mashed potatoes
Scrambled eggs
Smoothies
Use as fertilizer for garden plants
Feed to pets for a probiotic boost
You can drink it straight-up. It tastes like buttermilk.
One of my favorite uses is to soak batter for homemade breakfast cereal.
Soak frozen fish in it until thawed to improve texture
There are many, many more. If you end up with some you don't know what to do with, google can help you out!

I hope this little series has helped you learn a thing or two about raw milk. Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed those ones. And if you got brave enough to give raw milk a try, I would love to hear about it!