Monday, June 29, 2015

Table for two, please.

Yesterday was a terribly challenging day. For almost a year, all of the waiting, paperwork, and stress culminated into a 15  minute bus ride to a nondescript grey office building. Standing in the window were a few children, one of them my little cutie. She was hesitant to meet me, staying true to her file as a shy, and cautious little girl. When she was finally brought into the room with me and the other families, it was the start of a difficult day trying to sooth her through much confusion and grief. I managed to get a few pictures, but not many, as I was very worried about my little girl.
A few moments of calm at the Civil Affairs office. 

We left to get our official family photo taken, after which she fell asleep from the exhaustion of the entire ordeal. We made it to Wal-Mart to get some essentials, and she finally calmed down once we started trying on shoes.... :-).
Checking out the fish at Wal-Mart

It is going to be a rough road ahead for my little one, but these signs of grief are testament to her close bond with her foster family, to whom I am forever grateful. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Big Day

Today is the day I officially become a mother. I have been laying awake for hours, unable sleep for many reasons, luckily the food in China is not one of them. Even though it will be hours before I can be "Mom", I am already worried about my little girl and rough day she will have being separated from the only home she has ever known. I will be by her side as she grieves the loss of her foster family, her home, and everything familiar to her. She will cry herself asleep, completely ignorant of the bureaucracy that brought her to my hotel room in the capital city where she was found.
I worry this morning, acutely aware of the circumstances that put her in this position: the heartbreaking choice of her birth family to place her in a public place to be found and cared for.
We witnessed this very type of event happen yesterday at the train station: an elderly woman, frantically approaching a train station officials with the abandoned baby she found. Moments later, and empty baby carriage whisked past us on the elevator to collect the child for delivery to the local Social Welfare Office.

So as you get ready to tuck your kids to bed tonight and every night, hold your babies a little tighter, a little longer, and send some good thoughts to those parents and children separated by circumstances outside their control.

An introduction to China, aka: "Hey Yellow Hair Lady!"

I left early Wednesday morning on flight 1622 from Boston to Dallas. Arriving early, I had just enough time to grab a snack and some pictures of our gate before boarding flight AA89 to Beijing.
Getting ready to leave!
The plane was brand new, with a very friendly flight crew (who hooked us up with a delicious Chilean white....) and interesting meals (meatballs and rice???). Our flight path took us directly over Canada, Alaska and Siberia with some stunning views of the landscape
River winding through Siberia
Mountains of Alaska

Upon arrival in Bejing at 1:40pm local time on Thursday, we were picked up by our guide Anna and driver Mr. Wong. Fighting through the traffic, I was checked into the Landmark Hotel and attempted to get some sleep. 
The following morning we hit the ground running for a tour of the Mitanyu section of the Great Wall of China. The 30 minute drive through the outskirts of Beijing offered some great views of the suburbs. This section of the Wall was breathtaking, not very crowded and very clean. Not to mention the easy ride up in the cable car and heart pumping ride down in a sled.... 

We finished up the day's touring with a boat ride through the lake in the Summer Palace. This was a great opportunity for us to witness some locals enjoying the views. 

 We grabbed some dinner Friday evening at a great restaurant called Eudora Station which had a great selection of Western Style food (and happy hour) before turning in for the night. 

Saturday was just as busy, starting with an unexpected breakfast accompanied by Linda Pearlstein, the director of Cradle of Hope, who was touring Shanxi province orphanages with our hosting director, Patrice. 

Following breakfast we were off for a visit to the Temple of Heaven. This was an eclectic study in Chinese architecture, mathematics and social interaction. The locals were out in droves, practicing Tai Chi and playing everything from card games to instruments.
Our touring continued with a loop around Tiananmen Square and some photos outside of the Forbidden City. The lines to get in were so long we never made it inside, but had a great time people watching and snapping some photos with the locals...many locals. 
Outside the Forbidden City
Grabbing some lunch at a local spot was an adventure in authentic Beijing dining- you know it is going to be an interesting meal when google translates something as "donkey rolls" which ends up being date paste in glutinous rice.... 
By far my favorite part of the day was exploring an old neighborhood or "hutong". It was bustling with shops, vendors and rickshaws and offered a glimpse into Old Beijing.
Me and my rickshaw driver
On the rickshaw tour
Most amazing stationery store
Crazy Lava drink
One of our many new Chinese admirers-15 years old and did a great job practicing her English skills with us!
After some dinner at the hotel, I was off to pack for our journey by train to Taiyuan City on Saturday. We departed the hotel the next morning at 8:30 to catch the 10:15 out of Beijing. The station was massive and organized even through the chaos of the crowds. 

Watching the Shanxi countryside fly by at 300km/h was a real treat. Our train pulled in to the spotless Taiyuan station 15 minutes early, and after some tense moments trying to find our guide we were on our way to the Wanda Vista hotel to settle in before Gotch Day tomorrow!


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

FUNdraising Adventures!!!

**Note- Pardon the interruption in your regularly scheduled blog postings....This post was written a few weeks ago, but got delayed in posting after some very depressing, stressful and terrifying issues with lost paperwork in China. However, we are now out of the woods and back on track! Now, back to your regularly scheduled post:

I can never express the gratitude I feel when thinking about how many individuals have contributed to homecoming of my little girl. Over the last few weeks, two fundraisers took place raising in excess of $2500- almost HALF the required orphanage donation!! People have been so generous; it is humbling to know that my family is on the receiving end of some of the world's greatness. Here are some specifics from our FUNdraising efforts:

My sister and brother-in-law Chelsea & Art Hill coordinated a fundraiser at her local Painting with a Twist in Saint Petersburg, FL. This festive event took place on April 26th and participants created paintings of their own pets, along with trying their luck at some great raffle prizes. A HUGE thanks to my sister and brother-in-law for not only coordinating this massive event, gathering raffle donations from local St. Pete's businesses, as well as managing to keep it all a secret! A special thanks also goes out to those artsy locals who participated, as well as Painting with a Twist: St.Pete!
Check out some great pics from the day:


Our second FUNdraising event was a GIANT yard taking place on May 16th & 17th. With over 20 families donating items, we worked from noon on Friday (plus a few weekends prior picking up and organizing donations) until after 7pm Sunday night (plus some more time the following week donating left-overs to local charity organizations). It was a grueling weekend of downpours, sunburns and haggling but was a huge success. A special shout out goes to my mom, Janet, for her non-stop energy (and sandwiches!) that helped get us through the weekend, and to all my friends who stopped by to help sell/organize/clean/negotiate our way through the sale: Erica, Rachel, Stephanie, Jen, Kelly & Anthony- THANK YOU! An enormous thanks goes out to everyone that donated items for the sale, as well as those who stopped by to pick up some goodies. Rachel Fazio, a close family friend and talented photographer, was on scene to help with the sale and take some photos to document the day. Check out Rachel's site, Love Mission Photography here as well as some photos of the event:

In the spirit of paying it forward, all leftover yard sale items were donated to the Norwalk Open Door Shelter, The East Norwalk Library, and the United Church of Rowayton. Additional seasonal items will be donated to the Norwalk High School Jr. Air Force ROTC coat drive and Prom Dress donations through Norwalk High School.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Travel Planning!!!

My final travel call with my adoption agency took place this weekend! Three hours and multiple pages of notes later, I am ready to get on a plane and get my girl. :) In planning my travel I am fortunate that at least part of my airfare will be paid for by points, so that is a great help financially. However, I got the AMAZINGLY great news that our trip is tentatively planned for late June/Early July! Bad news....we are right at the beginning of "travel season" in China, also known as "Holy CRAP, those flights went up in price again?!?!?!"

I am reaching out to cyber space in the hope that someone, somewhere, would have some Marriott points they would be willing to donate for our hotel stays. At this point, the low estimate is about $150/night for 14 nights- well over our original budget and about a month before we had planned on traveling. If you or anyone you know can help- please contact me through this blog and thank you in advance! :)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day and....

Besides the obvious celebration of Mother's Day, today marked a very special occasion: Exactly one year ago today I informed my immediate family that I was in the process of adopting a child.
At the time, I was planning on adding a 5 year old Ugandan boy to our brood and blissfully unaware of the term "disrupted adoption". Only a few months later would I learn of a bull-dozed slum, some questionable ethics and the unknown whereabouts of the child I had hoped would be my own.
Fast forward to today and we are excitedly awaiting the arrival of a 3 year old Chinese tot who, in 6-8 short weeks, will call the United States her new home.
As I make the final preparations to bring home my little girl, I cannot end this day without paying respect to two very special people who have made this entire process possible: Elizabeth's birth mother and foster mother.
It was her birth mother's sacrifice that will allow me to have a family to call my own; her protective instinct for this little girl to bring her to a safe place; and her love that made sure she her complex medical needs were cared for.
It will be her foster mother's tears that I will share while in China over the departure of the baby she watched grow the last 2 years, tell me how to sooth when she cries, and clue me in as to the things that make her most happy.
This Mother's Day, and every one to follow, will be a time to remember these important women who helped to bring my little one home.
For some more insight on the adoptive mom perspective, check out this piece by Kathy Lynn Harris and have a Happy Mother's Day!

On a not-so-sappy note:
Come check out our Amazing (But Possibly Too Big For My Yard) Yard Sale this weekend! All proceeds to benefit Cradle of Hope Adoption Center's Zhang Guan Ning. :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Warning: Tear Jerker

Throughout this adoption journey I learned of adoption stories of many people in my life. An unforeseen benefit were students of mine approaching me to "just talk" about their adoption stories. One such student has shared her emotional journey of being adopted into a loving (also single mom) adoptive family and has given me some insight into the unique, adolescent, perspective that is a teen dealing with adoption.

Even prior to knowing her adoption story, this student has stood out in many ways: maturity beyond her years; sensitivity to other people's needs; love of learning and inquisitive mind; and a general ability to just "get it". I feel lucky to have had this child cross my path professionally, as well as personally, especially after today.

This student walked into my classroom during last period today saying "I got you a present Ms. Engle!!! Well, it's for your daughter, but since she isn't here yet, you can open it. Sorry- I only had tissue paper to wrap it."
Nestled within about 10 layers of white tissue paper was a small, ceramic box, adorned with 2 small rabbits, each of a different color.
"I found this in the back of my closet" she said, "I used to get them from my mom every adoption day. Well, except this one. This box was given to me by the judge on the day that my adoption was finalized. I hope your daughter likes it."

"...except this one..."

After unsuccessfully choking back tears, I hugged her, then proceeded to spiral into an ugly cry. "Why would you give me something that was so meaningful to you?" I asked. "I don't know" she said, "maybe because you are just doing a good thing and hopefully it will mean something to her."

I can never thank her enough for this small/not-so-small gesture of understanding. I will make sure that Elizabeth knows the story of my student, this box, and how special it is to our family.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Ups and Downs of Adoption

Last week ended with the amazing news that my "Letter Seeking Confirmation" (LSC), also known as "Letter of Action" (LOA), had been issued by the CCCWA. This letter is sent to my adoption agency, immediately mailed to me to sign, scan and return to my agency. At this point, the LOA is joined by my I-800 paperwork and off to US immigration.
Although LOA's usually arrive within a day or two, mine was unfortunately absent from the DHL shipment arriving at my agency from China this week. As frustrating as this may be, I refuse to let the wait and countdown for her homecoming consume my every thought.
Therefore, I will turn to something that is constant, true and unwavering in my life: Science. :)
Check out the fantastic research by Dr. Charles Nelson recently featured on NPR this week. It is an enlightening look into power of love on the mind of an orphaned child.
NPR Article on Dr. Charles Nelson

Enjoy and hopefully I will be able to share some exciting updates soon!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Meet Elizabeth

This entire process has been a test of patience, resiliency and strength. An odd aspect of parenting through international adoption is the inability to share photos of your little one, let alone a sonogram. Usually adoption agencies ask that you wait until you have been officially matched by the country from which you are adopting.
Originally, I was told this could take about 3 months. I am happy to announce and introduce, after only 34 days, my little Elizabeth. One step closer to home my little one!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

I am surrounded by amazing people

Today was one of the first major fundraisers in our effort to bring my little one home. In short, the entire affair was humbling and enlightening. Family and friends from across the country joined us at Muse Paintbar in South Norwalk to sip some wine and (attempt to) paint a scenic mountain landscape. We also offered 10 different raffle prizes along with snacks and good company. The day was rainy and cool- perfect for enjoying the company of other indoors. In total, we raised almost $900 towards the orphanage donation for Taiyuan SWI. This is a huge weight off my shoulders for many reasons; Not only is this less of a financial burden, but I consider myself extremely lucky knowing that I have the support of so many amazing people in my life.
Here are a few pictures of our general awesomeness:

Serious concentration
All of us showing off our masterpieces!
The staff at Muse were wonderfully accommodating and the company was astounding. :)
Following our painting, everyone signed a fortune that will be added to Elizabeth's lifebook. I am so happy knowing that she has so many people looking forward to her journey home.
Our fortunes from the day, signed by everyone.
Needless to say, the wait for our Letter of Action (LOA in adoption-speak) is much easier knowing I have so many amazing people waiting right along with me. :)

Monday, February 9, 2015

The wait begins...

Last week a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders: my dossier was sent to China. (For those of us using "adoption speak"- DTC!)
Now the real wait begins. A little insight into the process that lies ahead:

  • My dossier will be delivered to Bejing, then sent to the CCCWA (Chinese Center of Children's Welfare and Adoption.
  • My dossier will be "Logged In" (LID) within 4-14 business days.
  • The dossier will be processed, translated and officially matched with my daughter (about 45-60 days)
  • I will then receive a Letter of Action (LOA) stating that my little one has been officially matched to me, if I still want her (seriously). At this point I sign the LOA and send some more docs to USCIS (the I-800, to US Immigration). 
  • Then I sit back and wait for the US and Chinese governments to shuffle some documents back and forth and wait for my Travel Approval (TA). 
This entire process, from DTC to TA, usually takes anywhere from 12-16+ weeks. Realistically, this would have me hopefully traveling either the last few weeks of May, or the first few weeks of June at best. 

Meanwhile, I am hopeful that some updates on my little one will land in my inbox. It has been almost 4 months since I have received any new photos or information, and it gets harder every day. While I wait, we will continue with our fundraising efforts and learning as much about China travel as possible!

Friday, January 30, 2015

One dollar at a time :)

There is no denying the financial burden that adoption imposes upon a hopeful family. There are fees associated with just about every stage in the process:
USCIS (Immigration) approval; Agency Fees; China Fees; Background Checks and Fingerprinting; the mandatory orphanage "donation"; and travel costs.
These fees are necessary to ensure that the adoption is conducted in a way that meets the national guidelines for both countries involved, allows agencies to maintain their licensure, accreditation, and quality staffers, and provide automatic citizenship for children once the adoption is approved.
Most families that adopt internationally will participate in some type of fundraising. Not only do fundraisers assist offsetting adoption financial obligations, but they are an enormous source of strength and support from your family, friends and community (I speak from personal experience here!!).

To give you an idea of the creative lengths PAP's (Potential Adoptive Parents) go to raise funds, here are just a few of the fundraisers I am in the process of working on:

1) My page. All proceeds from this "crowdfunding" site go directly to assist with adoption-related costs. This page is comprised of all adoptive families and is similar to a "go fund me" page.

2) My Paint and Sip for a Cause fundraiser. There are many "Paint and Wine" places popping up all over the country and many are happy to hold fundraisers. We are hoping to fill the space with 48 painters, along with some raffle prizes and libations it promises to be a Saturday afternoon not-to-be-missed!!!

3) The brain child of my crafty friend Erica and her mom, we are selling holiday-themed chocolate lollipops. In a short 4 hours one afternoon we were able to crank out over 450 of these yummy Valentine's treats. We hope to repeat this fundraiser for every holiday leading up to my travel day. What a afternoon full of laughs and piles of chocolate- it doesn't get much better than that!

Erica unmolding the pops
Our stash about half-way through the afternoon
My mom (front left) finishing up the red chocolate, Jan (rear, Erica's mom) using her ribbon curling skills, and Stephanie finishing up a mold of bite-sized candies. 

Me, trying not to burn my fingers
Our finished stash- 416 pops, ready for sale!

4) General donations made directly to Cradle of Hope Adoption Center. These have been made even more effective given the fact that many of my friends work for companies that match charitable donations- doubling the amount and helping even more AND getting a tax benefit, as Cradle of Hope is a non-profit organization. Be sure to specify that your donation is For Benefit Of: Zhang Guan Ning.

I have more FUNdraisers to planned over the coming months and please leave any additional ideas in the comment section!!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hosting children

One of the many ways a child can find a home is through hosting. Older children, usually those diagnosed with a correctable/manageable medical condition as a young child, are identified through agencies. These children are then brought to the US or other countries and stay with a host family for a few weeks at a time. This can often result in a child being adopted by the host family who may have wanted to explore the option of adding an older child to their family. Other times, the child will be available for other potential parents to meet or to better understand the full extent of medical issues, if any. In other instances a child's host family will serve as an advocate to assist in finding a family that may in be interested in the adoption of the child. At minimum, advocates and agencies can learn more about the child's personality or health issues to better match the child with a potential adoptive family.
At any rate, there are an amazing bunch of kids visiting the US through the Bridge of Hope program coordinated by Cradle of Hope Adoption Center. If you or anyone else you know may be interested in adoption, please forward this information along. Most kids that are hosted can have their timelines expedited in order to bring them back to their new US home as quickly as possible.
Available Children

Monday, January 19, 2015


After a long and relaxing weekend spent with family and some intense brainstorming of fundraising ideas, I needed one more smile to end my weekend. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pictures and Painting.... :)

Every passing day gets me closer to my LO ("Little One" if I keep up with the adoption acronyms!). To get her home as quickly as possible, we will be holding regular fundraisers to aid in offsetting the fees and "mandatory donation" required as part of the adoption process. In addition to a tag sale (being held in early May- save your stuff!), a bottle and can drive (stay tuned!) and change drive, we will be having a Paint and Sip for a Cause on March 14th at noon at Muse Paint Bar in South Norwalk. The event will also feature raffles and prizes- the more the merrier! Click here to sign up- seats are limited so sign-up early! Special thanks to Muse Paintbar for helping to bring Beth home!

In a pathetic attempt to keep my "artistic" theme of this post, check out this amazing info-graphic portraying the often confusing procedure that is international adoption. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Acronym Game

I have learned a new language since embarking on this adoption journey. No, it is not Mandarin or any other dialect of the expanse of Chinese tongues. It is the dizzying maze of abbreviations those of us in the adoption world attempt to manage to aid in the estimation of timelines and completion of documents.
An example? I was PA in Oct, and I am hoping to be DTC next week and LID before CNY. Yeah- I had to ask for some assistance in navigating this labyrinth of letters. Luckily, I have joined quite a few online adoption groups that have been my life preserver. One member has put together this list of terms/steps/processes required for the adoption of a child from PRC (People's Republic of China....yeah..another one).
Thanks so much to Rebecca Coleman for putting this together. Please check out all of the waiting children on this site while you are there- they all need loving homes. :)

Adoption Terms and Timelines