Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

And it ends…

Friday, September 18th, 2009

I don’t really mean for the title to sound as depressing as it sounds, it’s actually a good end.

Finally.

We JUST got back from traveling to Memphis to interview with Homeland Security so they could review all of our documents and give us final approval for Ellery’s citizenship. But first… a little back story about how we got here.

(This may be a little recap for some of you, so sorry)

While in China we learned that our i600A form had expired. This caused us to almost have to spend an extra two weeks in China until we could get another form completed and approved. However, the US Embassy in Guangzhou allowed Ellery to travel into the US with a foreign visitor permit. That expired about 8 months ago. So, we’ve been trying to get her ‘status adjustment’ processed since about two months after we got home. We talked to a lawyer who wanted anywhere from $3000-6000 and so we decided to just file the forms ourselves.

This would prove to be a little naive since we just assumed the process would work. Month after month we’d check the Homeland Security site and Ellery’s ‘process’ date slipped months and months until finally we called and learned that they had misplaced her form. They didn’t lose it, it just more or less slipped out of the processing queue. Awesome!

So, we got someone on the phone who put it back in the queue.

Problem solved, right? Nope. Guess what happened AGAIN? Yeah, it got out of the queue. So, the last time we called we ended up with a sympathetic person who escalated our case and said they would send it to Memphis and then we’d be contacted with how to proceed.

Time frame here? 16 months. This whole process should have taken 3-4 months. Instead it was 16 and we still had to wait another 30 days before Memphis contacted us. We can’t file income taxes because we don’t have a Social Security Number for Ellery so we can’t use the GIANT refund the government is sitting on because they won’t let her be a citizen. There is a cycle in there somewhere and I’m sure it’s vicious.

Anyway, fast forward to two weeks ago and we get a letter from the Memphis office of Homeland Security telling us they would like to interview Ellery and her husband (what the?). Obviously a form-letter, but still a little weird. The date? Right in the middle of the time we are going to be in Florida on vacation. ¬†What’s the word I’m looking for here? Oh yeah: awesome! The letter says that we can reschedule our interview by sending them a letter and requesting a new date and my wife notices we can re-schedule on-line as well. So, we do both and show up today for our timeslot (which we were approved for on-line).

The guy at the window tells us the website schedule isn’t the same schedule as the interview schedule and there is no one there today who can interview us and that we’ll have to come back at some later date.

My heart sank. We had just driven 3.5 hours for nothing…

My wife (bless her) loses her damned mind on the guy telling him that we’ve been waiting for almost two years now and we’ve been misplaced, mishandled and mistreated the entire time. So, the guy at the window leaves to go talk to a supervisor.

And stays gone a looooooong time…

He gives us back all of our paperwork and tells us to go to the interview office in the next room. Which is completely empty (since today isn’t an interview day). A Homeland Security employee comes out and invites us in, checks over the paperwork and apologizes for the problems with the process but he says the magic words “At this point she is approved and is a U.S. Citizen”. All of the frustration and anxiety melted away. FINALLY our baby girl was here legally and this whole thing would be at an end.

The whole journey has been amazing and honestly it’s something I never thought I would do. The experiences are something I will always cherish, the good and the bad. They’ve both been a part of this amazing process of bringing this amazing little girl into our life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything (except maybe the part where I had the flu).

This will likely be the last post here, but I plan on keeping this up as a guide to others. Hopefully someone will learn one little thing that they didn’t know before they came here – and that will make it all worth it for me. I also leave it up here for us as I can still imagine myself typing in the updates on the day we got Ellery and she was playing on the bed behind me as I was typing.

Thanks for being here with us.

2009 Update

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Yes, yes. I’m sure you all thought we were so busy playing with Ellery that we would never update again. Well, you were partially right. It just SEEMED like never, but I am updating! Yay!

Here is where we are – we were thinking that we’d have Ellery as a valid, honest-to-goodness US citizen by now, but alas, we do not. However, all her paper work is in and we’re just waiting on them to process everything. We were told it was going to be February and now it is probably going to be more like April-May. Wow, takes a LONG time to get the paper work in doesn’t it?

Developmentally Ellery astounds us with sentences like the following: “Bring it closer to me so I can see it”. Which she said in response to Robyn trying to get her to see a flash card she was holding up. Her vision is still kind of a question mark for us (hence the flashcards – we’re using them to guage her site as best we can). You know, in February of this year she only knew Chinese, now she speaks AMAZING completely fluent (and slightly Southern-hickish) English. It’s really amazing when we stop to think about it. She’s so smart, so funny and such a character. She’s completely and totally embedded into our family and home life at this point and it all came about seemlessly. It’s like she’s been here all along (I think I may have said that before). She is recognizing all her colors and most letters by sight at this point.

We’re just amazed on a daily basis.

Our Last day in Hangzhou

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

We’re really starting to get a little sad at the prospect of leaving here. Our guide, Sarah has really been amazing and more helpful than we could have ever hoped for. She’s been a dream.

On our last day here we went to the Tea Museum. Tea is a very important product in this portion of China and there is a nice, large museum devoted to its history. We toured that museum (and took lots of pictures) and then went to her friends house again, since it’s right next to the museum, for some more fresh tea. We sat and ate sunflower seeds and enjoyed the day out on their front porch. It was very relaxing and very nice.

We then asked Sarah and our driver, Mr. Liang to join us for lunch at what Sarah said was the nicest restaurant in Hangzhou. It was on the water and at one time (not so long ago) served lunch to former President Nixon. We ordered the shrimp, a river fish, a beggars chicken and some friend rice. There was PLENTY of food and the best part? It was cheaper for all seven of us to eat there than it was for five of us to have the western buffet here in the hotel! The local food was excellent, and prepared (and served!) with care and pride. I took some pictures of the restaurant because it was so beautiful on the inside. Then we walked through a garden we found on the way back to the hotel. I took a lot more pictures in there, since it was just so stunning.

If we’ve learned nothing else in our time here, it’s that Hangzhou is some place we would like to come and visit again. The people are wonderful and the sights are inspiring.

We’re packing now and preparing for the early departure in the morning. Plane leaves at 9:30, so we’re going to be heading out of here at 7:30. I’ll fire up the laptop again once I’m there and let you know about the plane ride to Guangzhou (a short two hour trip).

Wednesday we’ll be four short days from getting back home! Yay! Did I mention that we’re really starting to miss home now?

Dinner

Monday, February 18th, 2008

We decided to give the kids a little treat and be typical Americans and go for some regular American fare. Connor and I decided to head up the street a little bit and get some pizza. Turns out that it was a passable version of US style pizza. The crust was spot on, the cheese was different, not bad – just different. The ham on the ham and pineapple pizza was awesome. So, all-in-all a good experience on our next-to-last night here. Tomorrow I think we’re going to the Tea Museum and then maybe to lunch at Sarah’s friends house (provided it isn’t raining) and then we’ll be packing like crazy people for the flight to Guangzhou. 9:30am flight. Short flight too – only two hours, yay! And with that, it’s about 8:00pm here. Robyn just laid Ellery down after her bath (crying, but better this time – we think we’re figuring it out!) and we’re going to be heading to sleep soon.

Robyn just reminded me of a moment I need to mention. Earlier today Ellery was running, well, running how she runs – kind of like a drunken sailor (think: Jack Sparrow) and she ran into the bedroom here, where I was uploading pictures and I was “booping” her on her butt. Which is poking as she is running away screaming in laughter… Anyway, one time she ran up to me and I said “Give Ba Ba a kiss” and made a kissing motion – and she walked up closer to me and SHE GAVE ME A PECK ON MY CHEEK! I’d like to point out that I was the VERY FIRST to receive this gift. Right after that Robyn called her into the other room and asked Ellery to make her day by giving her one as well – and she did! Then Maureen and Connor got pecks on the cheek as well. It was a very sweet thing for her to do and it made us all warm and happy. :)

Robyn also just pointed out my grammar. I’m going to apologize now for the “shotgun style” I’m using. It’s how I get my thoughts out – and I don’t have time to make second and third passes over it like I would if I were writing something for work. Sorry it’s annoying, but when I sell my first book the grammar will bees perfects, I promises.

See that? Humor right there. It’s late, and the humor is getting worse.

Bump in the Road

Monday, February 18th, 2008

The next morning we got up and went down to breakfast before we started the next part of the journey. In December, China changed the rules for new parents and now require that you do passport paperwork in your child’s orphanage province. Which meant that we needed to travel to Wenzhou. Which is a pretty well-to-do part of China. It also meant a five hour van ride there, with Ellery.

Off we went.

The five hour drive was not so tough, we stopped a few times and were instantly the sensation of where we were. The locals in these areas didn’t see many Americans, so, we drew crowds and lots of interested stares. We got to see a great many different cities and we went through twenty tunnels! Yes, we counted. Some of them were MILES long. Impressive engineering to say the least.

When we got to Wenzhou we were met by the ladies from Ellery’s orphanage who immediately ran from their car and came over to goo-goo and coo at Ellery. And Ellery was having none of it. She became very upset and cried. Which had been the first time she had done that. So, the ladies got back in their car and we followed them through the insane traffic to get to the passport office. Here is where it gets annoying…

Once in the passport office one of the caregivers, apparently a caregiver who spent a lot of time with Ellery and even took her home occasionally, was in her face talking to her and then grabbed her out of Robyn’s arms. Well, this made Robyn mad, made Ellery mad and made me mad. Ellery was screaming her head off at being with this lady and the situation really started to get tense at this point. In our mind Ellery was confused and not happy about being back in her old “life”, but to this lady Ellery was a constant little companion, so somewhat after the fact, we understood a little better, but we were pretty mad right then and there.

We could hear Ellery crying and howling as she was sitting for her picture, which we will have to remember that moment forever.

Finally that was over with and Robyn explained to Mr. Wu and Professor Liu (our local guide who also taught at the University) that this was just unacceptable and wrong to do to Ellery. Talk about confusing! She is in her Orphanage, then with us, then back with her caregiver? Could you blame her for being upset and confused?

Mr. Wu completely understood and explained the situation to the local orphanage Director. Once Robyn got Ellery back in her arms I would have bit someone in the face if they tried to grab her again. Thankfully, that didn’t happen as I stood between Ellery and the lady whenever she was around. And I realize, now as I type this, that this sounds harsh – but you have to understand, we’re trying to introduce Ellery into our family and giving her glimpses of old life and new life all at once is just too much for a small toddler to have to cope with. I hope you guys understand how we were feeling at this point – VERY protective of our girl.

We ended up having to leave the passport office and then go to a local police office (this was the first time this orphanage and Mr. Wu had done this new procedure). The local police office had to approve some things, then the passport office would be free to complete the paperwork. Thankfully the local police office was EXTREMELY helpful and nice. Everyone there oooooh’d and aaah’d over Ellery.

Once all the paper work was done we retired to our hotel room. We had ditched the idea of two rooms and asked for a suite instead. We all like the idea of being together, it just works out better.

We played and ordered room service for the rest of the night.

And I should mention that this hotel was only a three star hotel (I say that like it’s a bad thing, it isn’t), but that when we called to ask the front desk for a room service menu in English, the manager offered to come up to our room and read the menu to us while we ordered! Amazing service. Just amazing, and just like all the other hotels – they fully understand the concept of service here. I should note that the manager didn’t have to do that, she found us a menu and then sent a very willing and nice bellman to take our order. We got steak over noodles that was to DIE FOR! It was some of the best food I’ve had here in China.

The next day was a trip to the passport office to finalize everything and then we were back in the van for Hangzhou. Unfortunately this time there was traffic… a LOT of it. So, the five hour trip, became a seven and a half hour trip. Ellery? Not so much as a peep in the van. She ate, played, slept, etc etc the whole time. Talk about a trooper!

Also, before we left Wenzhou we asked if the driver could take us to the place where Ellery was left. She was found abandoned at the entrance to a fairly nice subdivision. Seems her Mother had hoped that some wealthy family would find her and adopt her as their own. I don’t know about the wealthy part, but I hope we would fit the bill. I would very much like for her Mom to know that Robyn and I will see to it that Ellery gets every chance that life has to offer.

At long last, we finally got back to Hangzhou, and checked back into our hotel (and requesting a suite) and all was right with the world once again. I’m almost caught up now as well. This occurred a few days ago, so not many more stories to go!

Also, I’m adding captions to the pictures in Picassa. And the pictures (unlike the blog at this point) are current. The West Lake area is stunning in its beauty, just stunning. But, I’ll tell you all about that soon.

Now I have time to write!

Friday, February 15th, 2008

The current status is this: We’re awake on Saturday morning and we’re all nice and rested after what could only be described as harrowing days of travel. Not being negative, just wow. Anyways, more about that later. I’m going to try and start at the beginning and catch up with where things stand today. Robyn has Ellery on her chest and they’re both taking a small siesta. Luckily for you that means I have time to describe all of the recent events that have been going on, so without further adieu:

The Wall

Aside from the train, this was the one thing that I was looking forward to more than anything else (obviously, I mean aside from getting our little “cute butt”). I have read and seen SO much about the Great Wall that it was just awe inspiring for me to be there. It was just stunning. To be walking on those steps, to be making that climb, Wow. The one thing that brought me back to reality was the brutal cold – and the crowds. In some sections you were shoulder to shoulder with people going down while you were going up. Plenty of people in China, yep.

The construction was pretty impressive too. The day we went the winds were literally howling through the tops of the wall and through the buildings. It felt more like scaling Everest than climbing the Great Wall at times. And when I say howling, that’s no exaggeration. We had bundled up pretty well (you can see in the pictures), and it was still cold, cold, cold. I don’t want to seem like I am complaining, getting to hike up the wall was great. Surprisingly, it was physically demanding. The steps are uneven, which is something that never occurred to me. I don’t know why I expected them to be perfectly even, but they weren’t even sorta like that. And the railing was VERY short, many times I had to lean over to use it. Again, in the overall scheme of things I didn’t care – I was just happy to be there. Out of breath a lot, sweating a lot, but happy to be there!

We were there for two hours, but it felt more like ten minutes. We were bundled up, and you would have laughed to see all the business men in dress shoes and suit coats walking up right beside us. And women in heels. That boggled my mind!

Jade Factory

One thing we learned really quickly is that most businesses (the jade factory included) don’t have HVAC. The show room and the dining area of the restaurant that was attached to the facility DID have HVAC, but the factory where the people worked? Did not. And the public areas of every civil building we’ve been in so far, also did not have HVAC. So, when it was 1-2 C, that meant it was only a little warmer inside.
The Jade Factory started with a brief tour of the facility that explained the many different types of Jade and the ways to spot real Jade from fake Jade. It was a very well practiced and nice introduction, but we immediately felt that we were just kind of along for the “commercial ride” as we were shown the workers who were busily making these beautifully ornate pieces and then led to the showroom. It wasn’t over the top, and we certainly weren’t required to buy anything, it just felt a little contrived to me. And this was only the first taste of it, there was much more to come. I also want to be clear that we weren’t blindsided by this, we came to China knowing we wanted to buy things, oh yes, a great many things. :)

The Hutong

Hutong is a traditional Japanese living area where one family would spend their lives all in relatively close proximity. The particular Hutong that we visited was a quadrangle of living space, kitchen, eating area and rooms. We were taken to this Hutong via Rickshaw. Which probably really stunk for our driver guy, but he didn’t complain – he moved us right along. I should also point out that the Hutong was not only a popular destination for Westerners (Big Noses as we’re called), but it was also a very big destination for Chinese. Seems that many come to see how those just a generation or two before them managed to live.

Our Hutong visit was finished up with a tea ceremony handled by the gentlemen who had bought this particular Hutong for his family to live in sometime around 1946. He was extremely nice and his Oolong tea was VERY good. He was very open and answered every question we had. He seemed genuinely honored to have us visit his home and even shared a story of how last year a young couple who had just graduated from Harvard had come to be married in his home. The experience with him mirrored many other experiences we’ve had so far, people are very kind and open.

I’m going to go ahead and post this segment now, and then I’ll put the rest of the activities in a follow up post (in just a few minutes).

About to leave for Hangzhou

Monday, February 11th, 2008

We’re going to see Tiananmen Square today as well as the Forbidden City. And about 7:30 tonight we’re going to be taking our train (overnight) to go and pick up our little bundle of joy. I wanted to post again to thank everyone for the comments and tell you guys that we’re all happy and healthy and ready to go get our girl. It’s really been anexperience and I promise to comment the photos soon, there are just so many to go through and I have ZERO time. I’ll have lots more time later on this trip. So, all of you be good and we’ll update the next time when we have a cutey!

First, an introduction.

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the reason why we are going to China in the first place. So, let me explain. Sometime around October of 2005 the wife and I decided that we weren’t done with having kids (and I mean younger, nicer kids) in our lives. We have older (brattier, grumpier, thankless-er, i.e. typical) kids now, but we wanted one more chance to make a nice one. (I’m kidding of course. Well, kind of.)

Anyway, we started looking into places where we could adopt. We talked about Russia, we talked about South America, Korea, Vietnam and a great many other places. Then we looked into China. China has/had an excellent reputation with regard to the structure and completeness of their system and we were immediately drawn to the fact that there were nearly one million children waiting to be adopted. Also, females are particularly plentiful since China is still desperately clinging to their gender stereotypes about boys being superior. The fact that the wife and I wanted another girl (more than a boy) pretty much sealed the deal.

So, we knew what we wanted to do – the next step was finding an agency. We went to the biggest one in town and were sort of disappointed with the result. About the same time there was a person on a message board that I haunt (ArsTechnica) who was writing about his experience with a Russian adoption. I asked him about his agency and he whole-heartedly recommended them to me. The agency was the Gladney Center.

Over two years later we’re ready to travel to China at the end of this week and go get our little girl. Along the way we also decided to adopt”special needs”. In China, just about any physical deformity or condition is considered “special needs” so we ran down this laundry list of “special needs” that we thouht we could handle and sent the form back. We actually didn’t select Albinism but our agency sent us a picture of this little girl and it was love for us at first site. Seriously, we were head over heals. Here is the first picture of her that we ever saw:

(If you can’t see the picture above, it’s because I host all of my pictures at Flickr and your company may be draconian in their Internet policies – since everyone knows that Flickr is somehow considered a “bad” site).

Anyway, now you know why we are going. How could we not go? How could we not want to allow this little adorable person into our lives and do everything that we possibly can to give her a good life and an opportunity to succeed? We couldn’t. So, we’re off!