Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Almost there!

We had Article 5 pickup 2/21 and got Travel Approval a week later. The hard copy finally came today. I am in a flurry of preparation and packing. I'm trying to catch up on laundry and cleaning (pretty unsuccessfully). The boys room is finished. The Legos have been relocated to a safe location. New spring chicks are being fed and watered in the garage. Doctor's appointment has been made. Still so much to do! He's finally coming home soon!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Full Speed Ahead!

Boy, things sure changed quickly. January was a pretty awful month all around until the very last week, then everything got much better. The sun came out again during the day and Orion and the big dipper shone bright at night. The dog remembered that she is indeed housetrained and the rooster decided he values his life more than fighting with me. I even got my broken tooth repaired today. Our I800 got approved the day it got on the officer's* desk (after 3 weeks of transit time), and I got the GUZ 1 week later, filled out the DS260 late that night and got the RTF (PDF) email the next morning. We had to wait a few days because it was still Chinese New Year, but we had Article 5 dropoff as soon as they reopened. Now there is nothing to do but wait and prepare. Art 5 is always 10 business days for dropoff (plus another day for Presidents Day... could we possibly hit any more holidays?). I should not be impatient; my to do list is very, very long. But I would really like to be able to buy the plane tickets now while they are still cheap and have my arrangements made. I am so excited! We are SO close! But then I get queasy when I think about all the unknowns. And when I think about having a medical emergency in a foreign country. Or taking child #2 on a plane. Or how our new son will react to us. Mostly, I try not to think about unknowns, otherwise my stomach churns and I break out in cold sweats. This is where God stretches me and molds me. This is the really hard part for me. I am trying to control my excessive researching and over preparing. I know staying up until 2am reading China travel tips and Trip Advisor hotel reviews is not necessarily helpful, but it gives me a false sense of control. When I realize how little control I have, I have to breathe
deeply and remember that God set the path before us and we are following it. He holds us in the palm of His hand, and I have to trust Him to provide everything for this journey. And my how He has provided! I cannot believe all the ways He has shown us that this is His plan. The support, the smoothing of the details, the ladybugs, and the dates are all little pictures that God gives us that encourage and sustain us. The date numbers are pretty amazing and hilarious. My husband thinks I am a total geeky dork for being so excited by the dates. See, I noticed Child #5's birthdate at almost the same time I noticed his smile and his name. Our kids birthdays are all fifty days apart and Child #5's birthday is fifty days before that. So he would fit right into birthday season. Also, his birthdate has the numbers 1, 2, and 3 in it, which isn't all that spectacular, but the way our dates have fallen has become downright fascinating and comical at the same time. As we were keeping track of dates on FB, I started to see something funny.
LID 11/2
In Review 12/1
LOA 12/23
I800 Received 12/30
I800 Approved 1/23
Am I the only one that thinks that's kind of cool? You would too if you knew when our Article 5 pick up is scheduled and when our proposed Family Day should be. I can't wait to tell you!

*officer - I just want to say that I am pretty sure I got the sweetest USCIS officer there for our I800. Officer F., if I could have kissed you through the phone I would have. I was going to send you cookies, but I wasn't sure they would make it. Also, I didn't want to make my husband jealous. From all of us adoptive mommas, we know your name on the message boards, and we love you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Don't Poke the Bear

This has not been a very good couple of weeks for us. Last week, everything I tried to accomplish, did not want to be accomplished. If possible, things worked backwards and my to do list grew longer. Not to mention, USCIS took FOREVER to even open the envelope that I worked SO hard to overnight to them (from the Podunk FedEx office). Seriously, they took two full weeks to send me a confirmation text (should only take 2-3 days). I also lost a piece of my tooth last week. It just broke off. Add that to the to do list. And my rooster decided that he wants to kill me. He has gotten so cocky! It really is time to introduce him to the stew pot. Except none of us can figure out how to catch him. Here are some more highlights of the last week....

We went to get our last few agency forms notarized and instead of our normal notary, we got the SLOWEST, nosiest notary ever. She was actually reading my forms! (A few of them were contract forms that had prices and agency practices.) She kept telling me how to sign - like I have not already done this 20 times! She asked nosy questions about what the forms were for. She took over 30 minutes. I gave her very clipped answers to her questions. My husband could tell I was very unhappy and busied himself with the one child we took along. She probably took 30 minutes because she kept talking to Child #3 and asking her questions. Finally, finally we paid, took our forms and got out. Keep this in mind when you read about what I did next.

I had been trying to get our applications finished for the Chinese visas, but the new photo requirements totally had me stressing out. We went to Walgreens right after that awful notary to get new photos that would fit their requirements (no smiling, no jewelry, no accessories, no logos, must show ears, no glasses, etc.). We took up a good chunk of the poor Walgreens photo lady's time as we had her make them just a little smaller so they would fall within the required millimeters (which are NOT the same measurements as a passport photo, they are just slightly smaller so as to make you go just slightly crazy). Still a two by two photo, but your face and shoulders have to fit in it. Anyway, there was a couple waiting behind us - we'll call them Chip and Buffy. Chip was waiting to get a passport photo and they decided to make small talk with us, a decision I'm pretty sure they came to regret. "Are you moving to China?" he asked.
"No, no. We're adopting." My husband walked away to put away the ruler we were borrowing to measure the faces in the photos.
"Is it a little girl?" he guessed. "No actually, a boy. Our second adoption, fifth child..." I proceeded to unload my pent up frustration on them with a verbal tirade about paperwork and how this was three times as hard as our first adoption with all the minutiae and requirements and notarizing, etc. My husband returned around the end of that and gave me a funny look. Chip got his photo taken and smiled very wide. The Walgreens lady told Chip to have a neutral expression.
"No smiling. You're not allowed to smile." I contributed. He finished and came to stand by Buffy, smiling again.
"Well, it's a real good thing you're doing." Poor guy. He was trying. I looked at Buffy as we left the store.  She was a deer caught in headlights, total shell shock. I looked at myself and started giggling as we drove away - no makeup, sweat pants, tennis shoes and an attitude. Oh dear, I don't think I have been this effective as a birth control advertisement since my last trip to Victoria's Secret with young children (was that seven years ago, mom?).

I finally started to cross a few things off my to do list on Monday, so I decided the tide had finally turned in my favor and went to FedEx. I had carefully organized each Visa application according to the six pages of instructions from the courier along with our payment check and actual passports (yes, the ACTUAL passports). I put all of that with a cover letter inside an envelope which I then put inside a Ziploc bag. Once again, I did not get my normal FedEx person. She can't make it fit in the normal envelope. "Could we just take it out of this to make it fit better?"
"No. Definitely no. Don't you have a slightly larger envelope? I've used one before."
Oh yes, look at that, she found a larger envelope. I told her I also needed an airbill to put inside for it to be shipped back to me. "We don't do those anymore. FedEx is going totally paperless now." After a lot of back and forth and actually calling the courier it was going to, we settled on me creating one online later and emailing it to the courier.
"I need a piece of tape across the top also." I told her. Twice.
"I will." She went back to entering the information in the computer.
I had to call FedEx customer service to have help creating an online label without a specific date that I could email. I asked about them going paperless and doing away with airbills. They had not heard anything of the sort. "Maybe it's just that location." Of course. Of course it is. And I never saw her put tape on it! So I had a minor panic attack that she later opened the envelope and stole our passports.

I have been an emotional basketcase this week. Anxious to bring our son home, excited to travel, impatient to get through all these steps, fear of being in a foreign country and having an emergency, fear of anything going wrong. I cried yesterday and I don't remember which reason it was. I cried Friday when I finally received our text from USCIS. I'm really trying not to think about the I800. So much of our timeline rides on when we get approval. I have heard horror stories of lost paperwork and weeks of delay but also most others have approval within two weeks (obviously not this month because of all the holidays). I want to make packing lists and shopping lists, but I feel like I can't get excited or start planning until we have approval. If you have a moment, please pray it would come miraculously soon and take that stress away. Anyway, that's where I am right now. I'm hoping January gets better and better. At least my husband finally seems to be over the pneumonia and bronchitis so that's something!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

January Already?!

Let's face it. I am not a natural blogger. My apologies.
So what did you miss during the last month?
During December, my niece got into a sweet routine with our family and my girls loved spending every day with her. It took all the squabbles away. The hectic month peaked in mid-December when we hosted a Christmas party for our adoption group. It was the first time I ever hosted anything, so I was really nervous. I remember vacuuming and dusting and sitting on my island filling a giant crack with wood putty. I remember windex-ing the light fixtures on the ceiling and wiping the dust of the pot rack as my mom hand painted the wood putty to match the wood grain. I don't actually remember much else from that day. I think it went well. People showed up and they laughed a lot and stayed longer than an hour, so I'm going to take that as a success. I even got compliments on the food and punch. I told my husband I might consider doing it again next Christmas. Maybe. Definitely not sooner. Of course, I was planning so well that I coordinated that my brother and his family would come stay with us the next day. As it happened, my husband, who had been traveling during the week and developing a flu, got very sick Saturday. He had a fever that went on all day and he stayed in bed for about 24 hours. He briefly got up Sunday morning then went back to bed. My brother and his family had a good visit, short but good. I only got marginally angry at him and had a very hard time saying goodbye to my niece.

My husband started to improve a bit once they left (coincidence?) but still had a nagging cough. We had a little bit of breathing space in the week before Christmas, and we received a phone call and an email an hour apart from two grants. I was stunned. Just a couple weeks before we had gotten approved for a matching grant and I was filled with gratitude for that. I really wasn't expecting any direct grants. We had already been denied by 3 or 4. I cried on the phone call. I don't know if she was expecting that or not. Hopefully she was. On the 22nd, we found out our dossier had moved to matching. That was as good a Christmas gift as I could hope for. I had been praying for LOA before Christmas, but matching was the next best thing.

Christmas Eve we all did stockings then I stayed up way too late staging the photos for the great Elf Present Scavenger Hunt. Every year some wily plush villain steals the presents and gets chased around the house by our elf leaving a present for each kid and a photo clue at every spot. This is the problem with creativity. You do it ONE year, then your kids expect it the next year and the next and the next... Then it is tradition and legend and lore that the kids discuss before Christmas morning. Secretly, I have a ton of fun but every year I think, "Couldn't I have planned this earlier so I'm not up at 1am Christmas morning?" To be fair to our heroic elf, he is pretty lazy the rest of December. He didn't show up until the 16th then he only moved TWICE. He doesn't bake cookies or decorate or anything that other crazy people's elves do. No wonder he gets so active on Christmas Eve.

So the day after Christmas we packed everyone in the minivan and drove to my dad and stepmom's house in Oklahoma. Now Oklahoma doesn't normally excite me and there are whole stretches where I get NO cell phone reception, but where they live is like a little paradise with green hills, giant trees, peaceful breezes, a big lake and lots and lots of birds. It is lovely and I always oversleep when I am there. The second day we were there I received an email that we had soft LOA from China. I called for details and found out they actually issued it right before Christmas. That meant the hard copy would be arriving at the agency anyday. We had to make some plans about where they could FedEx it. That was fun. As it turned out, my husband along with my dad and son had to drive about an hour and a half to a place where it could be overnighted to. Thankfully it came around lunch, so they had time to hotfoot it back to meet me in the little town we were in. There in the tiniest, strangest FedEx outpost I've ever been in, we had fifteen minutes to sign and date the LOA, photocopy it, and send the photocopy with our I800 application overnighted to USCIS. We did it though! BUT we forgot to take a photo of us signing it!!! Admittedly, it was hard to remember much of anything in that little shipping office. I had four kids in various states of obedience and volume, "Stop touching that!" I was trying to remember what I needed copies of to send with the I800, "Don't hit your sister!" I was not allowed to use the copier so I had to have the young lady working there copy all those precious documents, "Don't touch anything!" I kept correcting my kids while keeping half an eye on my papers. It occurred to me fifteen minutes after we drove away that I hadn't even read the LOA or checked it for errors. This is SO not like me! My middle name is Preparation and my other middle name is Research. I read through it and finally felt the import of what that paper said. (Thankfully everything was totally correct on it and as I triple checked all my papers, I had included all the correct docs for immigration.) There were our names at the top. There was his name and birthdate with the title "foundling". We check marked the box that says we accept. AAAAHHH! The original is on it's way back to China while the copy and bulk of the paperwork is back with USCIS waiting for their stamp of approval once again. The time we weren't running after documents, we spent with my dad and stepmom doing puzzles, playing board games, going in his new Jacuzzi, riding horses and going for a brisk walk to see the area. Also there was a lot of eating too. We headed back home and my husband's pesky cough seemed to worsen a bit. Three days later, his side was hurting so bad he couldn't take in breaths. So I drove him to a doctor. She listened to his lungs and frowned deeply. She quickly wrote off five different prescriptions, had a nurse bring in a nebulizer and put it on him and as soon as he finished the breathing treatment, he got a steroid shot in the butt. She listened to his lungs again and sent him straight to get chest x-rays. Turned out he had pneumonia and bronchitis. It really knocked him down. He kept working though. Of course. He seems to be improving now.

While we wait for I800 approval, I will leave you with the adventures of our elf...

Monday, December 5, 2016

December Already!

Days of waiting really drag by, but then I look at the calendar and see that it's already December. Every day is one day closer to bringing home Child #5. That is a really tough thing to remember when weeks go by with no news. I was busy for sure, but the impatience is always there in the back of my mind.
I felt like I wasn't distracted enough, so I invited my cousin's family over for Thanksgiving along with her parents, my mom's brother and sister in law. You would think I would have poured that energy into being an amazing hostess with matching placemats and name cards, but mostly it meant that I spent two days cleaning then ran out of energy halfway into planning the menu. Thankfully, they are easy going, and my aunt enjoys cooking improve. "No evaporated milk? I think it will taste better with sour cream!" Thank you Lord that I invited a baking genius! She was right, it did taste better with sour cream! My turkey and mashed potatoes were perfect, so I consider that a success. But I didn't really feel that hosting one holiday was an adequate distraction from the waiting, so when my mom asked if my 16 year old niece could stay with us for three and a half weeks... Sure, why not? She's very sweet, but she's also very different. She has some special needs (autistic traits), so maturity wise I would put her at an 11-12 year old level. She spends all day long with my girls and they love her. She does school with us. She is similar in many ways to Child #2 in that she writes comics and tells stories in her head all day long. The tricky part is that her parents haven't taught her a lot of basic manners, so we are working on those. I also think she has very low self esteem, she hunches over and hides her face so often. She shows some awareness of being different or "weird", so it makes me sad to think of how she views herself. I think she will be a very famous author someday though. Her drawings and characters are amazing, better than many children's books I've seen. I don't know how, but I want to see her get published someday...
So pretty much that's why I haven't posted anything lately. I didn't really succeed at distracting myself; mostly, I just succeeded at having less time and being more tired.
I waited the entire month of November, but then I saw someone with the same LID date as me post that they were out of translation. So I broke down and called. Sure enough we had moved to in review also! I lost most of my enthusiasm when I saw fifty more people post that they were also out of translation on the same day. Their LID dates were from mid October to mid November, so now I don't know how much importance it has. But still, I have my hopes up that we might hear something new this week, or more likely next week. In the meantime, this is kind of how I feel...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mid November Blessings

This week was busy, exhausting, crazy, and surreal but above all, it was filled with blessings. I am not doing well with patience. I know I need the time - to prepare, to get our school year in, to raise/save/make money, and to learn some rudimentary Mandarin, but I'm going crazy. I haven't watched our videos of Child #5 in weeks because it's painful. Will he still look like that or be that size or is he talking more now? It's possible we won't have an update until just before travel. That's... difficult. But this week brought many surprises. We have had a ladies Bible study group at our church praying specifically for our family and for Child #5. I am so appreciative for each of those ladies that have taken it upon themselves to pray for us and think about our family. We go through times of spiritual attack that have been much more recognizable since we started this process, and I know we would have a very hard time in this process if not for others' prayers. So this week, I had the pleasure of meeting those ladies and getting to talk with them and be prayed for by them. They were all so sweet and interested in our family and process. I'm not used to being the center of attention, and it was humbling to experience such attention. Then they sent me home with a Christmas card/gift to use for the holidays! What a totally wonderful, unexpected blessing. These feelings... I don't know how to express my gratitude. Then later that day, I found out that my dad and stepmom wanted to help with our adoption. I was speechless by that point. We did not ask for money from them, they just wanted to. We absolutely need the money, but I feel totally unworthy and undeserving of such a gift. They asked for nothing in return. We have done nothing to merit this, no labor, no goods, nothing to offer in exchange. I feel compelled to make personalized Christmas ornaments or bracelets to try to repay their gift, but I can't offer anything that would compare to what we have been given. That feeling of complete unworthiness and immense gratitude all rolled up together - that is when I finally understood the picture of God's gift of grace, a gift I am totally unworthy of and absolutely unable to ever repay.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

DTC!!!! (Dossier to China)

We received the approval toward the end of last week, so I got it notarized within an hour of getting it in the mail. Mom, the girls and I got up at the crack of dawn the next morning armed with the notarized copy of the I800A and lunch boxes and drove to Austin for the certification. They went to the Capitol Visitors Center again while I went across the street to the Secretary of State. The very kind lady had it certified in under fifteen minutes. Back in the car we went to drive to downtown to the consulate again. Thankfully, I had remembered to type out my authentication form the night before, along with the copies of documents and my passport. The line was only a half hour this time, and we were done. So it was possible to get it notarized, certified and left at the consulate all in 24 hours. I called it The Amazing Race: Dossier Edition. I went back this week and got there 15 minutes before they reopened after lunch. It was my fastest trip yet, I was done in under 10 minutes! Frankly I was so happy to have successfully authenticated all my documents without having any rejected during all those trips, I wanted to hug the security guard on the way out. I don't think he would have appreciated the gesture though. After stopping at home to scan and copy, it went straight to FedEx. I had confirmation this afternoon that the whole dossier was shipped to China today!

I am beyond delighted. I finished my last grant application this week too, so I have run out of paperwork. What a freeing feeling! I'm back to Ebay, and I am finalizing getting my bracelet fundraiser off the ground this weekend - look to the right margin ;). I have been hoping for March travel all along because pragmatically, the prices, weather, and timing would work well. My husband will not have enough vacation days before March either. Also more time to get the money together. It occurred to me today though that there is a very, very slim possibility that we could travel in February. That kind of excites me and freaks me out - cold weather, high prices, not enough money, but I wouldn't want him to wait longer than he has to. And we would get to celebrate his birthday with him. I'm just praying over the timing of everything. And money.

Next step: we wait for our LID (Log In Date) which would mean we are officially logged in. Then China will translate and go through the entire dossier before they decide to match us with him and give us LOA (Letter of Authorization). Then it all goes back to USCIS. Fun fun fun!

Friday, October 14, 2016

So close...

Our superstar home study agency worked on the RFE as soon as we received it, and it looks like we are unofficially approved at this point for our I800A. I hope to see that in the mail sometime next week. I just want to take a moment to give props to the kind officers working at the uscis. I called almost everyday and everyone I talked to there, especially my officer was so kind and helpful. I am so thankful they didn't blow me off or put off my application because I was a pest. In the meantime, I returned to the Houston Consulate this week to pick up all of our other dossier documents. I was so nervous last week when I went there for the first time. I had my mom drop me off because the parking there is non existent. I went the day after they were closed for the Chinese holiday, so it was packed. I waited in line over an hour, but I was just so happy they accepted all my documents and I did it all correctly! And I was more than delighted to pick them all up again with no issues! What a weight off my chest. For all intents and purposes, my dossier is all finished except for the I800A approval. I am curious if it's possible to get it certified and dropped off for authentication in the same day. I do so enjoy a challenge.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

USCIS, Perhaps Email Is a Better Delivery Method?

Every evening I eagerly checked the mail only to be disappointed. By Friday, I was sure it should be here, but there was only magazines and junk. Strangely no envelopes. Then lo and behold, my neighbor came walking through the scrub brush holding a bunch of envelopes. Yes, my mailman delivered a stack of very important mail to my neighbor, including all our finger print notices! Oddly, the exact same thing happened on Saturday too. Our neighbor walked over a bunch of envelopes again (the junk mail is actually being delivered to our mailbox, just not the important stuff), including MORE finger print notices. Because of course they love to send duplicates. I can't figure out if our mailman is that inept or just hates us. It makes me nervous about the fate of any eventual approval notice coming through the mail...

So today was Monday. My husband is traveling most of the next two weeks, so we drove over an hour to the ASC (Application Support Center) armed with our notices and got there soon after they opened. They were BUSY. As soon as we got up to the counter, she took one look and told us we would have to come back after noon. But she said we could come back! So we puttered a few hours by looking at larger vans and trying to figure out how in the heck we will get our car issues sorted out. We decided that was too big a problem to consider right now and went to IKEA. There we ate $2 breakfasts and looked at the dishes and silverware and home organization stuff. This is the section of the store I never see because it is toward the end when everyone is tired and cranky and sick of being there. It was fun to window shop. We headed back to the ASC and it had totally cleared out. Most of the employees there were really nice and we were excited to have it done with!

This evening we actually received all our mail (I think), and I saw another envelope from USCIS. But this time it was a pink letter. That can't be good, I thought. Sure enough, it was the dreaded RFE (Request for Evidence). Apparently there was some required language that did not get included in our home study for one of our household members. It was very disappointing to know that this is going to add I don't know how many days for the paperwork and all the mailing back and forth. However, I have to give them kudos for their thoroughness in finding a detail like that in a twenty page report. Well done!

I am going to try to get the authentications done this week, so I hoping that goes a little better.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

USCIS, Here we come!

I know you're wondering what I have been up to. Here's the long answer:
First week of September: Bother the home study and placement agencies everyday while they revise and edit and notarize and mail. They did get it done pretty darn fast, so squeaky wheel and all that. Plus, I have been totally blessed by my agency workers so far.
Second week of September: Celebrate my husband's birthday and get ready to go on an anniversary trip to Dominican Republic that we prepaid for with our income tax refund back in March. Quite honestly, if we had not already paid for the hotel and plane tickets, we would not have taken any vacation. It's just another indication that God is sovereign in His timing and in the details. While on vacation, Grandma gets home study in the mail and sends in the USCIS copy with all the application stuff I have already put in a Fed Ex envelope for her.
Third week of September: Get back to regular life, but mostly struggle with some nasty stomach problem I brought back with me from the DR. Also, we got royally screwed by Expedia and had to pay extra to the hotel. It made for a stressful time, and I bent over backward fighting it. But it was almost as if God was saying, just pay it, just let it go. That was very hard for me, but I figured God's glory would just be bigger because of it. All this made for a dark week back from vacation. Then our main computer died. Then my trunk door had the hydraulics go out (the things that hold the trunk open, so it takes two people now, one to hold the door up and one to load/unload the groceries). Then the dog ate the vacuum cord into seventeen separate pieces, and I love that vacuum! Oh, and the insurance denied coverage for our blood tests last month, so our credit card got charged $500 by the lab. I had a revelation though. We have been reading George Mueller's biography and finished it, but I finally got it this week. George never plans ahead, never saves money, total opposite of me. He just prays for what they need, then for what the orphans need. Every day, sometimes just day by day. And they never went hungry, not once. God always provided, sometimes at the last minute. And every year they were able to take in more and more orphans. How can I worry? Also, I'm out of energy for worrying. We had a fun day trip to the capitol to get some state certifications and we stopped at the visitor's center for a little learnin'. We figured out that it was cheaper to drive there than pay FedEx overnight shipping, go figure.
Last week of September: My stomach seems to have sort of remembered how to digest food today, so I think there is hope. I think. This is day 10 and I'm sick of it. I'm sort of better but only because I only eat bread, eggs, fruit and vegetables now. Too much caffeine, sugar or grease and I start all over. I have no idea what I got in the DR but I'm petrified of something similar happening while we are in China. Stomach viruses knock me out! Anyway, this week is looking up, let me tell you how: my genius husband replaced the hydraulics on my trunk door and then on the same day he took apart the vacuum and rewired a new cord from Home Depot. And we got a special needs grant from our agency. It's not massive, but we have never gotten any kind of grant before so it was huge to me! Just the fact that somebody picked us is amazing! It was a wonderful sign to me that even in the dark times, God is watching over us. I also realized this week that I neglected to mention my husband's college expenses in any of the grant applications we filled out. Kind of a fat expense to forget, right? Oh well, it's all in God's hands anyway and He seems to be taking care of us.
Well, I am sick of talking about money and my stomach. This week I am eagerly anticipating our fingerprint notice. Like super eager. Of course, this is the week we have a new mailman and they are bringing our mail when the sun goes down.