family picture

family picture
We "want our very serve as HIS signature to all mankind so that all may know His work," Job 37:7

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Travel and Guangzhou

Yesterday we had a very leisurely day at the hotel. Joel's passport would not be ready until 3 and our flight was at 4:50. It was nice to get to lay around because Joel did not sleep well. He tossed and turned all night long. He and I took a nap together and then got up for a late lunch. Once done we headed to the Civil Affairs office. Joel's passport photo makes him look so big. It is pretty precious. It was easy to pick up and then the drive to the airport was uneventful.  

playtime in the hotel

At the airport we encountered some problems with luggage. It seems that we might have packed a little too much. We had to pay for an extra bag and then off thru security. It was hard to tell our guide Ashley goodbye. He was such a joy and we truly enjoyed meeting him and learning from him. We decided to take a bathroom break before we loaded the plane. Yes, EVERYBODY took a bathroom break. Ethan first, then I changed Joel then me. (WARNING POSSIBLE TMI! SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU ARE AFRAID) I had my very first experience with their public restroom. I had been so good and had always previously prepared to not go while I was out since I was uncomfrotable with my ability to use the 'hole" in the ground. But, this time it didn't work out that way. My bladder who has suffered through the trauma of birthing 4 babies, 2 of which were pretty big, told me I had to go and I could not wait. So I did. It was clean but it was still a hole in the ground and NO toilet paper. It just happened that I had been a little weepy because Joel was leaving his Province forever so I just happened to have a tissue in hand. So that answered that question. I will spare the other details for the world wide web but if you wanna ask me in person I will give you a play by play account of the event. You just need to know that I was successful in my venture and didn't have to change my clothes due to any mishap or miss-aim.

Joel did great on the plane and we were even delayed on the tarmac for about 20 minutes. He ate almost the whole flight (approximately 1 hour). Our guide Jack met us in the airport and took us to our hotel, The Garden Hotel. It is huge and beautiful and close to a ton of different things. We were so excited to be here. It is more Westernized and tourist friendly. We checked in and crossed the street to pick up some more formula and look for somewhere to eat dinner. We would have never tried this on our own in Changsha but we would here. We found an Italian restaurant and was so excited to have something beside authentic Hunan food. We like Hunan food but it was wonderful to find something different. We also found people of different races there which is something else we didn't seen in Changsha. It seemed outside of the hotel in Changsha we were the only caucasians to be found in the city center but here we have the rainbow and that was a nice feeling.
By the time we reached the hotel we realized that we were exhausted but Joel was not. He fought sleep desperately. We do not know if it was grief driven or just that travel had his clock all messed up or both. It took us a while to get him to bed and even then he had a restless night. Joel woke up at 4:30 ready to go. Thankfully he was content to play in the floor while we let Ethan sleep a little more. At 6 we found ourselves eating a delish breakfast and meeting lots of new moms and dads with their sweet bundles of joy. Here in this hotel there is a gorgeous garden right outside this restaurant with a huge Koi pond. It was the most peaceful breakfast we have had since we have received Joel. The fish kept him mesmerized. I can't wait to get him out there and get some pictures.
After breakfast we had our morning Skype with the kids. They are doing well and enjoying some time with Bebe. It has taken Leila 5 days to realize that Joel doesn't have a paci and she was not excited. She even acted like she was gonna cry. We told her that she could give him one of hers and that did not go over well. We miss them desperately. We then had a special Skype session with some of the college students from church. Of course, by this time Joel was taking a little snooze. I was a little sad that they could not see him awake and in full action. It was so good to see some familiar faces and it just made us more anxious to get home and reunite with our family.
We met our guide downstairs with the other family that is from our agency. Today was the medical visit. It was fairly easy. We did see that Joel knows doctors and he is not a fan. The past surgeries have affected him in a negative way. He was fine until they got the stethoscope to listen to his heart. My heart sank when he immediately turned away from them and started crying. I tried to calm him but he wasn't happy. The physician had read about his heart condition and was trying to listen to his heart. He closed his eyes in concentration trying to hear over Joel's sad whimpers. Joel constantly tried to push the stethoscope away and I cried silently while whispering," No surgery today, No hospital, I love you." The physician took us to the other physician to get a second opinion and see if that one could hear better than him. This time the new and slightly younger one listened while the first and older one handed Joel his stethoscope to push away (ingenious, they have obviously done this a lot). They confirmed that they still hear a murmur like symptom in his heart and they wanted to know if this is what we expected. They also looked at his fingers and toes checking for the blueness and of course they found some. They aren't really blue but more gray foggy looking. I was glad when it was over and we could head back to the hotel.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing. We went for a walk. Joel and I took a nap while E went to go get a couple of things. We then tried to eat a late lunch at an Irish restaurant called Patty Fields. We made it 3/4 of the way before we remembered that Joel needed some medication and we were already 2 hours late so I headed back to the hotel to give him meds and E got the food for take out. It was delicious or either we are so starved for different cuisine but I would like to say it was the latter. Starbucks was our after dinner drink while we walked around and went for a visit in the garden in the hotel. We have now spent the rest of the evening letting Joel play.
He is doing a little better with Ethan and even let me take a shower and played with E without a whimper. Going to bed was so much easier tonight which I am thankful for. A few more randoms-  Joel's breath has not smelled like roses even after I brushed his teeth. I haven't been able to figure it out until today. The formula. We bought the formula that the orphanage was using which he likes but I personally don't like the smell. While napping today E ran and picked up some Enfamil. We daringly tried to change him cold turkey and so far so good. He is a wonderful eater and we have slightly abused that. The past 2 days we have started dropping the local cuisine and since he eats off of our plates his has as well. His stomach would like for us to stop that nonsense and after what I smelled today I very well might comply with that request. He cracks me up in the tub. He makes the biggest mess and loves it.     

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Relaxing day in Changsha

After such an intense and overwhelming experience yesterday we were in need of a little break emotionally. So if I still have any readers, today's post will be light hearted and I hope to let you guys in on a little bit of our sweet boys personality.

Today was just what the doctor ordered. Joel and I were both up early because he went to bed so early. I was concerned that the visit to the orphanage would cause him to have a fitful night of sleep, but he slept fairly well. I on the other hand think that my mind is processing all of the events that have taken place because I had some CRAZY dreams. I woke at 4 because I had dreamed that I had just adopted 5 boys from Africa and I couldn't figure out how to get them all home from the airport. Go on, you can laugh. I did.

We got dressed, skyped with the kiddos and headed downstairs for a leisurely breakfast. I am so overwhelmed by how many families we have run into who are coming back to let their adoptive children visit their birth country and city. It is really popular in this hotel to see new families in the morning. This morning we met a family that was from NC and they were so excited to meet other southerners. ALSO, the dad had come to Tuscaloosa in April on a trip to help out families from the Tornado and help remove debris.

Today we had 2 things on the agenda: Wal-mart and Starbucks.
First was Wal-mart and, Wow was it different and yet the same. It's purpose was the same but the items were very different. Our guide was wonderful about walking through walmart and explaining to us all of the things that we saw. The seafood section was something to behold. 
(please notice the floating fish in the tank.  this is normal and people will still buy them.  Also notice the little tank on the bottom.  Those fish will jump from tank to tank.  Can you imagine having your stroller to close and a fish jumping in on your baby.  I am laughing just thinking about it)
They had an eel section were there were four containers full of eels and someone would come and you would tell him how many kilograms you wanted and they would get it out, kill and clean them for you. This wasn't behind a counter but out in the open. In fact I was inches from touching these things and the tanks are packed.
Same with the fresh fish tanks. There were even fish jumping from one tank to another. It was crazy. I saw two women make dumplings (not in the seafood area but right next door) I watched for a while because theirs were so pretty and mine always look like a hot mess. She actually turned her back to me trying to guard her secret. I was a little sad but respectful. Candy section was about the size of the produce section of the Tuscaloosa Walmart. When I use the word "candy" it is in reference to their candy not our candy. Unless you consider small vacuumed sealed fish bites in flavors that aren't very popular in the States, candy.
We did pick up a few items and it was a fun learning experience for both us and our guide. We were able to see so much of the cultures of everyday life just from the people who were there, the food that was popular and what was important to them materially speaking. Our guide also asked us lots of questions like, the use of the word, apparel and whether it is used in conversational English. There is a matching outfit set that is popular in China and he asked if we had this in the States and how would they do that because here you get a Male shirt, female shirt and one kids shirt. So all in all it was an awesome trip.
Then we went to a Starbucks, there are only 2 in Changsha and that is not alot compared to the sheer size of the city. The Starbuck's is the same with a few minor cultural favorites (green tea frappaccino topped with red beans). I did buy a mug that said Changsha on it. This is the first time I have seen anything in the souvenir type area. Souvenir's are not very popular in this part of China. Just in case you are wondering; green tea frappacinos will stain your clothes and Joel does not like them.
We then headed back to the hotel and laid around in the room the rest of the afternoon. I did a little laundry in the tub and picked up and read and played blocks, played telephone, played throw whatever you can find, played blocks, played ball, watched the traffic out the window (this really is fun) ate dinner and played. All, of course, with Joel.
Speaking of Joel, he has been nick-named Joely Poly. Not because he is round like a roly poly but more like a bean pole. He is very sweet, smiley and loves to play. He is doing better in some things and not in others. He does not want me out of his sight for long. I went to the bathroom today and he cried the most we have seen him cry and even started calling for me, "I-ee, I-ee". If you remember this means "Auntie" to him and to him, Auntie is care giver and in his little world the most important thing. I was super excited that he registers me as a care giver and I can't wait to transfer that to Mommy. All in good time, I know. He only wants Ethan on his terms. He started trying not to make eye contact with me when feeding and wants to feed himself even though he doesn't have the skills to use a spoon. He is even fighting laying in my arms to take a bottle and instead wants to sit in my lap facing away. We are working on that one. He climbs a lot which leads me to my second nick name of Spider Man. He can climb into the tub. It is wild and you really have to watch him. He loves blocks and he will stack them, knock them down, and put them back in the bucket. He is walking more. We have seen him take up to about 5 steps by himself. He likes the tile floors a lot. I'm guessing because they are familiar to him (like the orphanage). We have also noticed that he has a couple of behaviors from the orphanage (we think). When he gets frustrated he grabs his hands and pulls them apart hard and if you try to love on his hands when he is doing this he will stop that and pull at his legs almost in a pinching manner. When he is most frustrated, mad and confused he will pull his hair hard. We even noticed some scratches on his head when we got him and at first wondered if it was from heat, insects or worse. After we saw him pull his hair, we knew it was from that. We are seeing less of the hair pulling but we are still seeing the hands and legs. When he is confused or overwhelmed he gets very quiet and still. We have seen this twice, yesterday when we got to the Fast Train station and today when we walked into Walmart. His naps are crazy and that is making his bed time crazy. I think getting that consistent would help out a lot.
Ethan and I still like each other. This is the most time we have had with only one child in 7 years. He was just as overwhelmed with the orphanage experience. He was still able to keep it together better than me and was so sweet and gentle. He gave me some of the most tender pats on my back as he would help lead me from one place to another or help guide me down some precarious stairs. I could just tell how sweet he was being. He was of course my calm in the storm. I am so thankful for him.
Tomorrow is the beginning of the end of our trip. We have a very relaxed morning planned. It includes packing. We have a 4 something flight to Guangzhou. We will get there around 6 and hopefully be in the hotel by 7 or 8. If you could please pray for our sweet little one. Yesterday he left his hometown forever, tomorrow he leaves his Province forever and we are quickly counting down to leaving his country forever. While we are excited about this chance to unite our family, we can not forget that we are leaving a VERY important part of Joel's history. Hopefully we will get to update the blog tomorrow, even if it's only to post the tons of pictures that I have.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Visit to the orphanage and move

Today was our visit to the City and the Orphanage where Joel was cared for and loved for the past 15 months. We had an early day so we quickly got up and dressed, skyped, packed and ate breakfast. We met our guide and headed to the Fast Train. Hengyang City is approximatly a 2 1/2 hour car drive south of the city. With traffic we would be lucky if it only took us 2 1/2 hours so we opted for the fast train. Good choice. It took us 35 minutes. The orphanage sent a van to pick us up. Today was a very important day in Joel's life and we cannot go into great detail at this time. The best way we can explain today is "Beautifully Painful". We gained a lot of information that will be important to Joel. Most of it will need to be told to him when he is older and has more questions but frankly it is for Joel.

(Video from the fast train. Look at the beauty of rural China)
(Reflecting: We wish we would have taken more pictures and more video.  We were somewhat overwhelmed by the Joel's Rock Star status.)

But that doesn't mean I don't have anything to say.  Oh no, you didn't think you were gonna get off that easily without me sharing my thoughts about something.  Let me tell you today is a culmination of many things in my life.  Almost 2 years ago I took a bold step in my prayer life and started praying to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to "break my heart with the things that break His".  This was powerful and scary prayer and I have lost many hours of sleep with breaking for the very things that break His heart.  Part of that process lead me to this adoption.  I could tell you more about my experience but I think it would be better to tell you of someone elses story.  We will call her Beautiful.  Beautiful was adopted this week and was from the same orphanage as our son.  She is 4 years old.  She was abandoned at 3.  She couldn't walk when she was abandoned but while at the orphanage she was given a walker and low and behold she walked into the Civil Affairs office to meet her forever family.   When the orphange people went to hand her over and leave she fell apart. I don't mean cry.  I mean kicking and screaming and flailing around.  Trying to get away from these people.  Can you imagine what was going through her mind.  NOT AGAIN!!!! If she would have the use of explitives that is exactly what it would have been. The parents just smiled at each other. They were prepared for this.  The grief.  But can you imagine this little one and the pain and agony she felt.  I saw this scene taking place  but I had another job that needed to done and I tucked it away to be dealt with later.  Joel needed to come first.

Today when I went to the orphanage and saw what I saw the scene of this past Monday with Beautiful in the Civil Affairs office came running back to the for front of my mind.  I have to tell you I'm mad.  I'm emotional.  I want to know WHY aren't more people moving.  I am not saying run out and adopt a child but have you asked what can I do? Have you asked God how do you want me be a part of caring for widows and orphans?  If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and you haven't asked these questions let me remind you that we are commanded to do so. Not everyone is called to adopt a child but every believer can take part in ministering to the helpless.  After what I saw today I pray that I am forever changed and my priorities will be different.  I had a Schindler's List experience.  Just like the scene at the end were Liam Neeson's character starts ranting about that if he would sold his ring he might have been able to save one more.  Well I'm there.  These kids need families.  These kids need love.  My little boy was loved and cared for beyond my wildest dreams but having a the love of a mother and father is what's needed in these children lives. 

Here is what i want you to know there are numerous things you can do to live out Gods command to help the fatherless and the destitute (many of these kids who have been abondoned because the parents were destitute.) Dont be afraid to trust your heavenly father, it may seem to hard of or big a task but with the power that can resurrect Christ can enable us to do great things for His glory. Consider this you may can give emotional support to adoptive parents,  start or join a support group for Adoptive Families,  financially give to a Christian ministry supporting an orphan or financially give to a family who is willing to make an orphan a son/daughter(Ethan and I did not have the money it takes to do what we have done but God has used people to enable us financially!).  Support a family when they first return home from bringing home their new little one, like bringing them a lasagna (totally holding Tammy S. to this) or offering to help out with errands, household chores and supplies.  There are a many ways to help.  Just ask Him which one.  I promise it is better to walk in His will than in your own. Let's go back to Beautiful.  She did not know that two people were adopting her and about to love her extravagantly, who want to make her heirs to their family she only saw her current state of familiar being disrupted and didnt want to chance that something may be better in store for her. Don't we do the same thing.  We literally try to fight off God's better plan (and even God himself) because we don't want to or are afraid to let go of our old and comfrotable self. So I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone.  I challenge you to seek out your Creator and see what He has to say (in the Bible).

This journey hasn't been easy.  In fact it has been hard.  One of the hardest things we have done.  It is ranked up there with Korinna and the journey to her diagnosis but just like with Korinna and her diagnosis and the daily battle and struggle it is to parent a special needs child it is worth it.  Really worth it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Joel Peter Blankenship

As of today at approximately 11:00 Changsha time we became the legal parents of Joel Peter Blankenship.  

We dressed and headed downstairs for breakfast. He ate well but I noticed he was VERY busy a lot more than yesterday. When we came upstairs to the room we picked up, packed and skyped with the kids. All of them screamed when they saw him. They were so excited, but Joel was not. He wanted to get down in the floor and play. We talked about the day and I am missing them so much but they are having a great time. By the time skype was over Joel was getting very frustrated. I ended up putting him in the sling I brought and walked him around the floor. He fell asleep in it and slept for a good 35-40 minutes.

During this time we meet our guide Ashley and headed down to the Civil Affairs office. It was here that we completed the last of our paperwork to legally adopt him. Yippee!!

Getting footprints for his new birth certificate

 He did wonderful but was ready to get to a place were he could get down and play. We ran a few errands and made our way back to the hotel. Lately we have been eating a big breakfast ordering out for lunch and then snacking for dinner. We have not had a great
experience with room service.
Since Joel had a little cat nap earlier he had a late nap and again fought it like crazy, though he did let me rock him. We are noticing a lot more developmental skills today. He did more cruising today and would even walk to us every now and then. He is also trying to climb EVERYTHING. I think this is grief-driven just because he is trying to play so hard. He has also been a little discontent at times. We can usually walk around the hotel or take him to the play room. (side note: The floor that we are on is the only non-smoking floor and where they put all of the adoption families. They have a play room with some toys that we have actually used and enjoyed.) He is also starting to refuse Ethan. Yesterday Joel would tolerate him and even play with him but today he started refusing him. He is also refusing some of his meds. Paticularly the one we give him in a syringe. It has me a little worried because he is spitting it out so quickly. This is his blood pressure medicine and I am a little freaked out about it. I know how to give meds to kiddos, I do it all the time but the one I give meds to doesn't fight me (a lot anyway) and if she does I have ways that I can fight back.  We have a bond that I do not have to worry about, but Joel and I are still working on that.
We both took a nap with Joel and I set an alarm trying to make sure that I didn't sleep to late. It worked and made me feel a ton better. I am hoping that tonight will be my night for a better sleep.

Tomorrow we head to Hengyang City SWI. This is Joel's orphanage. He was in a specialized wing for sick babies who needed extra care (surgeries, therapies, and sometimes hospice like care). This is how he was able to get his 2 surgeries. This specialized wing is run by an Australian organization called International China Concern. I am hoping to get to ask some more questions and even maybe ask if they have had trouble with him taking his meds and what they do to help get them in him. We are so blessed by their work. It should be a long day tomorrow.

Last night Joel had a fitfull night of sleep. He rolled around moaning, kicking and calling out. At one point in the the night he even called for his nanny, pronounced phonetically 'I-EE'. We moved him in the bed with us at this point. He was never really awake but his little brain was definitly trying to process all that had happened to him. I am still not sleeping well but Ethan had his first night of true rest. I woke up at 4:27 this morning and just tried to relax until Joel woke up at 6:00. He did well seeing us and when I offered him my arms he quickly came to me.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Gotcha Day

We are still not sleeping great. We both start waking up at 3 AM Changsha time. E was able to go back to sleep but after 40 minutes I decided to break open the melatonin. I was finally back to sleep around 4:20. We started off the day at 6:00 a.m. We dressed and packed for our day and then skyped with the kids. Leila asks us about 100 times to come home and I do wish I could just zap back and forth. They all seemed happy and excitedly talked about getting to go to church with the Hocutt's. Of course, this news makes leaving them so much easier. We headed down stairs and found lots of families. There are 3 families here at our hotel adopting and then there were two families coming back to bring their children to visit the place of their birth. One of these little girls was in the same orphanage as our son. They were going today to visit the orphanage. We finished our meal and then headed upstairs to gather our things and get ready to meet our guide Ashley. 

We meet him in the lobby at 8:35 and started making our way to the Civil Affairs office.

When we got there, we were told that they would not be there for a long time. It was also here that we found out that 3 kids were coming from the Hengyang City orphanage.

After 1 hour passed and 3 other families showed up (2 more adopting from Hengyang and 1 from another city that I can't pronounce). Forty five minutes passed and a lady came in holding a couples baby. I offered to take pictures. It gave me something to do and it was wonderful watching this family unite. It was beautiful and the baby was beautiful and did very well. Another 15 minutes later I hear the elevator and I saw a man walking in with a little girl of 4, and then right behind him 2 more people holding babies and one of them was mine. I just grabbed E's leg and said, "it's them it's happening".

I don't know how to explain it but even though it was somewhat chaos you tune it out and have this amazing moment with your baby. We are supposed to wait to hold our baby for the civil affairs staff to check our paperwork and passports but the nanny after a few moments handed Joel over to E. Joel immediately bipassed E and came to me. He is longer than I expected. Long Oliver like legs but very tiny in weight. He has a mouth full of teeth. I haven't been able to count them all but I am thankful that E brought the teething tablets. Leila will be sad to find out he did not come with a blue paci. In fact he had zero paci. He was very sweaty, I could feel that his clothes were soaked through with sweat. He was very happy and I even was able to get him to giggle a little bit. We gave him a play phone that we bought yesterday and he immediatly knew what to do with it. We played drop the toy and pick it up over and over again. Then the Nanny gave him a cookie made of rice and he played hit my hand with a sly grin. Nana's game of "creep mousey" works internationally and this is the game that made him giggle.

He plays so well and interacts well. (Warning: Developmental talk) E and I have been very impressed with his fine motor skills. He is probably ahead of schedule in the arena. His gross motor however is still behind though we did notice that throughout the day he showed us a little more. He is crawling great and cruising well. He even tried to take a few steps. We did notice that he is hyperflexible. With my very little knowledge of gross motor development,  I wouldn't be surprised if the combination of the hyperflexiblity and the heart condition was why he isn't running at the moment. I was very impressed with his ability to engage us in play. Several times he started games with us. E said several times that we have hit the jackpot. He is a cutie that is for sure.
Towards the end of the day and at the last meal we noticed him shoveling in his food and not wanting us to help him. I think food might just be the way he is gonna grieve. He also didn't want me to rock him or hold him at bedtime. If we would have let him, he probably would have played until he just passed out from sheer exhaustion. Yes I did take notice of this signpost. I finally just layed him in the bed the hotel had brought him and laid down in the bed right beside him. It took about 2 minutes and he was asleep. It is in these moments of his basic needs that I see him struggling to understand what is going on.
Other randomness that I don't want to forget. He did wonderful letting me change his diaper and even tried to play games. He also handled changing his clothes well. I was afraid of doing a bath. I didn't want to do too much too fast. We will try that tomorrow. He has a cough that I am watching and runny nose (very common in orphanage living) I just don't want to do an ear infection here. I can't eat I am so wound up and pray that we ALL can sleep tonight. Please forgive me for not having any pictures. It takes forever to upload them on the hotels internet system and frankly I just can't do it. I will go back and add pictures when we get to Guangzhou. (MK: I added the pics from facebook for those who haven't seen them yet ;o)
Tomorrow's schedule is to go to the Civil Affairs office to finish paperwork and make Joel legally ours. We will then probably run to see if we can find a pill splitter for some of his meds and some tylenol. His teeth are really bothering him. He is cutting 4 at one time.
Thanks so much for all of your prayers. We are truly amazed, overwhelmed, and filled.

The nanny that came with him was his favorite Nanny. We have seen her in pictures before and it was obvious that she loved him. She opened a picture book up that we had sent him and pointed at the picture of E and said BaBa (Daddy in Chinese) then she pointed to a picture of me and said MaMa (nice that it is the same in English). On a side note it has been pointed out to me several times of how young I am. Our guide told us on the first night that he has been doing this for 15 years and this is the first time he has had a parent younger than him (he was born in 76). Then when introduced ourselves to the other families adopting, and it was mentioned again that I was young and too young to already have 4 kids. The last time was by the Nanny (she will forever be my favorite Nanny as well) said that I looked much younger and more beautiful in person. SCORE!!! She gave us so much information. She brought his medicine for the next 2 weeks. With a detaileled medicine schedule and lots of medical information. Come to find out that they have been consulting with a pediatric cardioligist in the states and we can contact that person. Double SCORE!!
We took a few pictures but the Nanny took a TON. She just hugged us and was so thankful and we were as well. We made sure that our guide told her how thankful we were for caring for our son. She was amazing in her response and she gave thanks to the whole team that helped Joel. They spent a lot of time with us and we noticed that we were the only family left. So we let the staff from the orphange leave and then waited a few minutes before we left. This is the only time where Joel got a little upset. The Nanny hugged me and I her and he tried to go to her. It was an instant but we both noticed and released each other and walked seperate directions.

(Reflecting: Smoking is so common.  In this picture the two gentleman are smoking.  Yep, inside and while we are picture taking)
As we took the elevator downstairs our guide mentioned that our union with Joel went better than he thought it would go. We waited on our guide to get the car and then headed back to the hotel. Joel started rubbing his eyes, the international sign of, I-am-ready-to-crash and I pulled out a a paci that I just happened to bring. He gnawed on it and then sucked on it and got very still. We got to the hotel and our guide quickly translated Joel's daily schedule so we would have some sort of idea of what we are looking at. I noticed that Joel started getting a little overwhelmed. We were near the main road and there was a lot of people walking combined with a lot of cars passing by. I think this was just too much for him. Thankfully we were able to get out of the car and in the hotel before he got upset.

When we got to the room we gave him a banana and made him a bottle. He took the bottle well and ate about half of the banana. He will not let me hold the bottle and kept pushing my hand away. We also called Jamie (family friend and pharmacist extrodinare) to discuss his meds with her. There was a typo on the directions sheet and we just wanted to check with her before we started giving him his meds. He did let me rock him to sleep. After nap he got up and ate a little bit of fried rice and milk as well as took his meds. He then played and played and played.

(Reflections: I will never forget looking out of the building onto the parking lot and the construction next door waiting for them to bring you to me, sweet boy.  I had the song 10,000 Reasons with Matt Redman from the Passion Cd running through my head.
Bless the Lord oh my soul
Ohh oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I Worship your Holy name)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day 2: Hong Kong and more travel

After I posted last night we went straight to bed. We had not been to sleep in over 24 hours and we were exhausted. We sleep fairly well and were both up by 6. The breakfast at the hotel was AMAZING. I started off Western style but after watching the Chinese side I got the guts and had a noodle bowl made. It was fantastic and E and I both ate too much.

view from our hotel in Hong Kong

We then freshened up and headed to do some sight seeing. We only had a couple of hours so we had to be careful what we chose. We decided on the Dragon Boat Race's on Stanley Beach. Hong Kong is very westernized. Everything is written in English and Chinese so, this makes it super easy to get around confidently. We took a tram over to a bus station and then took a bus to Stanley Beach. We didn't have much time to look around but it was fun to check out a market and see the beach. We headed back to the hotel freshened up, ate lunch and then headed to the airport.

On the subway system

Since up until 15 years ago Hong Kong was under British control they drive on the other side of the street and everything is in English.

An open air market on Stanley Beach.  Do you see McDonalds?

Dragon Boat Festival

Our flight to Changsha was about 1 hour and 34 minutes. After we went through immigration and customs we meet our guide Ashley, who will be with us while we are in Changsha. He drove us to our hotel which is about 30 minutes from the airport. He helped us get checked in and to our room. This hotel is older than the one in Hong Kong though it is bigger. We also went over our itinerary for the week. We are scheduled to get Joel Monday morning at 9:00. Tomorrow we will do a little shopping trip and then we will have most of the day free. I don't know how confident we are in getting out by ourselves. We might be watching a lot of movies tomorrow.
We are exhausted both of us are feeling a little bit like a Mack Truck hit us. Welcome Jet lag! You know its bad when taking a nap on the restaurant floor looks like a good idea.

Another note if you guys could keep Rin in your prayers. She has been having episodes not a lot but to me one is too much. Leila asks us to come home every time we Skype and of course that makes me very weepy. Other than that the kids are having a good time and I think Hannah is more than surviving.  
Our Hotel Room

Friday, June 22, 2012

Random Thoughts from our 24 hours of traveling

    Please do not let it be lost that I had to borrow my 6 yr olds backpack

  • Leaving the kids was hard.  Really hard, like I cried so hard that our friend taking us to the airport asked me if I was ok hard.
  • My mom was awesome enough to text me after about 10 minutes to tell me that they were all fine.  They were but I wasn't.  If the Bible tells me that children are  "arrows in my quiver" (Psalm 127 :5) then I must be Katniss and I have just been placed in the arena with out my weapons.  
  • E tried to make it better by buying me the largest starbucks coffee in the Birmingham airport and that helped.
  • Flying with E is fun.  Since I would call him a professional traveler it allows me to just zone out and follow him.  Plus there are fun perks like executive club rooms and getting to go to the head of the line because he is part of some sort of frequent flyer club.
  • E has an addiction to these bars called "KIND Plus".  I first noticed it in January when we went on a little trip together and he picked up 2 in Birmingham and then 3 more in Atlanta.  Today in the Birmingham airport he picked up 5.
  • I also saw a man who had the most disturbing ear hair that I have ever seen.  It looked like Templeton himself had set up residency in this mans ear canal.  You could braid them.  E could only respond with, "Wow, that's impressive."
  • So thankful I brought socks to wear on the plane.
  • So thankful there was a medical team on the flight to take care of the young woman having chest pains, shortness of breath.  It made for an interesting hour as they worked on her in front of my seat.  I was able to watch IV's, heart monitoring, oxygen saturations and general coolness.
  • So thankful that our Grand Adventure didn't involve a medical emergency landing in Russia.
  • I watched 4 movies, 2 episodes of the Big Bang Theory, 2 episodes of the office, colored in my coloring book (don't make fun me), ate, and walked around and sleep zero. 
  • The last 3 hours 45 minutes took FOREVER! 
  • We are tired and waiting to talk to the kids over skype.  After that we are going to try and finally get some sleep.
So as you can tell our Grand Adventure has been an adventure.  Tomorrow we will leave Hong Kong and fly to Changsha.  This is the capital of the Hunan Province and where all of the adoption paperwork is done for that Province.  This city is also 3000 years old.  Tons of history and fairly intimidating compared our short little history in our beloved United States.  I hope to be able to update tomorrow night and maybe post some pictures.
This is was the view from our hotel in Hong Kong

Monday, June 18, 2012

To China or Bust

The Countdown is coming to an end.  T minus 2.3 days till we leave for China on our grand adventure.
This is our finalized itenerary

June 21st: Fly from Birmingham to Detroit, then Detroit to Hong Kong
June 22nd: Arrive in Hong Kong
June 23rd: Fly from Hong Kong to Changsha
June 24th: Spend day preparing for Adoption proceedings and free time
June 25th: Gotcha Day (hoping for a mid morning appointment) and bonding time
June 26th: Adoption Finalization  and bonding
June 27th: Sightseeing
June 28th: Sightseeing
June 29th: Passport pick up and fly to Guangzhou
June 30th: Medical exam
July 1st:    Sight seeing
July 2nd:  Appointment with the U.S. Consulate
July 3rd:  Sightseeing and visa pickup
July 4th:   Drive to Hong Kong and fly to Detroit then on to Birmingham

We are scheduled to arrive in Birmingham at 4:26 pm. We have a cast of characters that have been and will be instrumental in this trip happening.  We continue to ask for your prayers during this time, on our own apart from God's amazing grace we could not do what we are doing. Please continue to pray that our great and mighty God be glorified and His name be made known thru obedience.  We are so excited to get new pictures to you and I am about to explode at the thought of holding my son.  I get all misty eyed just thinking about what it will feel like getting to feel him in my arms. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Daddy's, Daughter's, and a new Sister

Wow! What a weekend.  We have been on the move this weekend and multi-tasking is not even the word for what we have done just this weekend.  Let's start with Daughter.

Well much of you know my oldest is turning 10. Yep, the big double digits.  This blessed event is technically July 3rd but with Mom and Dad 1/2 way across the world trying to bring baby brother home on that day we chose to go on and celebrate this weekend.  She was keenly aware that this could happen and though we prayed that it wouldn't, God had another plan.  Since His plan is a much grander and more perfect plan we made lemonade out of our problem. Well actually, we made mani-pedi's, shopping, lunch more shopping and tons of fun. See yesterday Rin got together and did her birthday big girl tween style.

We started off the morning meeting up with 2 of her friends to do a little shopping.
  (look at her smile! She was about to explode with excitement)
Then we headed on over to get our nails did.
 (the girls received a lot of attention here and all of them loved it)

Then a yummy lunch at KOBE.

There might have been some food flicking across the table into someone's bowl and it might or might not have been me who flicked it.
(if you haven't taken this chick out to lunch you should.  I do not exaggerate when I tell you she had the attention of the whole table.  Here let me give you a topic: livestock at the Smalley Farm)
Then more shopping and more fun. 

Now let me get a little sappy.  We had so much fun and my little girl had a BLAST!  Most of it was because of these friends of hers.  They didn't do anything but treat her like they themselves wanted to be treated and let me tell you when you live a life in a body that doesn't function the way everyone Else's does relationships like this are critical.  She felt normal, she felt 10, she felt like for that day Rett Syndrome was not even on the radar.  I know that because you could see it in her eyes and her smile.  If you don't believe me then the next time you see her ask her a about it. 

Happy Father's Day!! Man "o" man am I thankful for Father's.  The father of my children rocks my world and not just because he is hot.
  He brings joy to my heart.  I love how is so completely different from me.  He is my stabilizer.  He is calm in the storm. His feathers do not ruffle easily and he is very laid back.  While I work at 90 miles a minute he is more like 30 miles an HOUR.  He dreams of having lots of land, sarcasm is his favorite type of humor, he is smart in business and not in pop culture.  He can be very serious but he can be very funny when he is around his very close friends.  He takes being the leader of our family even more seriously.  He desires to love me like Christ loved the church and to lead his house to serve the Lord.  I am so thankful that his hearts desire is to point our children to our Heavenly Father daily.
 My earthly father taught me so much about life and who I feel I share many personality traits.  Some of the first words that come to mind are hardworking, perseverance, loud, sacrifice, extreme, passionate.  His hands bare the work of years and years of hard work and the scars of a serious burn while he worked in the coal mines 7 days a week for most of childhood.  He also found time (how I still don't know) to take us fishing, showed us how to play baseball (which resulted in tons of broken windows), football, whistle like a boy (which I might add that out of all of my brothers I am the only one who mastered), and took us camping (let me add that it was in tents and we were always allowed to take a friend 2 adults + 4 kids + 3 friends= fun chaos). I don't think I would be as willing to take on the things that God asks me to do if it wasn't for watching my Daddy push himself ALWAYS! 
My father-in-law is pretty awesome and completely different.  We share a birthday but he is not loud, or extreme.  He is quiet and gentle in spirit but passionate about his family and always willing to do whatever needs to be done for you.  The word dependable doesn't even begin to explain this man's heart to serve his family.  I am so thankful God put him here to remind me of His dependability and that He is ALWAYS HERE.
So for Father's everywhere I pray you will search out the Heavenly Father and make him your example.  I am so amazed by the men in my life and thankful that they are the ones that I have to help point me to my Heavenly Father.

A New Sister;
Today was also a big day for our family because we celebrated Elaina's decision to give her life to God.  About 2 months ago she and I had several conversations about making God lord and saviour of your life and I knew she and God had some talking to do.  Several weeks later in church she lend over to tell me she was ready to make a public provision of her faith.  I was slightly stunned and asked that she wait until we could tell her Daddy.  That night she told E and they talked, then we spent several weeks talking to our pastoral staff.  Last Sunday Elaina made her decision public in front of the church body.  This Sunday she followed with believers Baptism.  I am overwhelmed with joy as I now get to call my daughter my sister in Christ.  There is no greater joy.
With family here to see her baptism and we decided to celebrate 3 events.  Father's, Korinna's Birthday and Elaina's Baptism.  We didn't go all out like we normally do because well frankly I just didn't have the time. But, we shared a meal, we ate cake, we sang, and we had gifts.  It was nice, it was wonderful and I am blessed.

Stop back by tomorrow for our finalized schedule for our trip to China!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Our Attachment Plan

As we plan for this very exciting trip we are about to embark on we are also planning on a very important transition in our son's life.  That is where our Attachment Plan comes in.
If you are new to the adoption world the use of this word my be new to you. If you have biological children attachment/bonding happens naturally with your biological children. In our adoptive child it is something that we will work for and something that we already pray about.
We have read books, articles and blogs.  We have gone to seminars, talked to friends and listened to professionals.  Forming a secure attachment to us is critical to Joel's development, well being, healing and growth in our family.  “Secure attachment helps children learn to believe that they are lovable, that trust in parents is wise, and that others will help them when they have needs.” (from the book Attachment in Adoption).  There are several situations that can cause a child to lose attachment:
Separation from parents through foster care moves
Adoption after attachment to another parent figure
Prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol
Sexual abuse, physical abuse and domestic violence
Mental illness of a parent figure
Orphanage care
Hospitalization of parent or child
We don’t know all of our little boy's story, but we do know that he has had several experience in his short life that has puts him at risk for attachment issues.  For this reason, we will be establishing a plan that will help us help him….This is our Attachment Plan
(I would like to give credit and thanks to Anna Dreyfus for allowing us to copy and modify her plan):
  • We will not be welcoming outside visitors into our home for the first few weeks.
  •  Ethan and I will be the only one to hold Joel for the first 6 weeks. 
  • We will carry him in a sling or front carrier, as much as possible during the day.
  • It is important that Ethan and I are the only ones to care for his basic needs….feeding, changing, bathing, and putting to sleep. 
  •  During his wakeful hours, we will not be answering the phone or be on the computer. 
  •  We are going to do our best to keep our family together as much as possible. We aren’t exactly sure what this looks like.  Due to our family dynamics (i.e. Korinna's care, extra curricular activities).
  •  Joel will sleep with us in our room for the first few weeks. 
  •  We will respond to every cry he makes and not let him “cry it out".
  •  For the first few weeks, we will keep his world calm and simple.  We will not bombard him with a lot of new toys, but will spend time in interactive play (nursery rhymes, finger plays, etc.)
  • We will keep Joel at home for the first few weeks, except for critical appointments and doctors’ visit.
  • We do not plan on putting him in the church nursery.  He will stay in the church service with us.
  • We will establish a healthy routine for him, so that he will feel “at home” more quickly.
  • We DO plan on inviting friends and family to the airport when we return from China.  However, he will remain in his carrier the entire time, because we know it will be very overwhelming for him.
We recognize that so many of you are excited about him joining our family.  I also know that it is very hard to fall in love with this little guy and then be told that you have to wait to hold and love on him.  I understand. We want you to be involved in his life.  However, the best way you can show him love in the first few weeks that he is home is by making it easy for us to stick to this plan. 
We hope the beginning attachment process will last about 6 weeks or so.  We can not put a time limit on this because we do not know how he will respond.  We do know that our hearts are so full with love from our heavenly father and we are ready to love Joel as a result of the love we have recieved.
"In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will" (Ephesians 1:4-5)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

It was Tuesday

Tuesday, June 5, I knew our case worker was in the office today.  I knew she would call us as soon as she heard and I figured if I was gonna know it would be early in the day.  So I waited.  So I carried my phone with me everywhere I went.  EVERYWHERE!  I even had a dentist appointment had my teeth cleaned with my phone laying in my lap and had warned the dentist that I was waiting on a call and if I received it I would need to take it immediatly.  But, the visit happened with no calls.  Lunch came and went along with zero calls being received.  I knew that if I hadn't heard by 1 that my time had come and gone.  I would wait another day. 
It's at these moments that I have to remind myself that God is the one in control.  I have to focus not on the calling but the the ONE who called me.  With the emotion of this process it easy to lose focus and get so intangled in the emotional rollercoaster, the web of paperwork and the endless steps that need to be done.  On this paticular day I combat my desire to complain and deal with it on my own with singing to God.  What was I singing? I am so glad you asked.  It is a family favorite (E is not included in this love)  by Lecrea

Yes, I love rap, Christian rap

So, I'm singing and I am refocusing because God is enough.  I climb in my car heading out to go pick up my sweet Leila at Rise.  I have accepted this is not the day that we will receive our Travel Approval.  I cling to my knowledge that my God is in control and He is enough.  So I don't mind telling my friends mother that we are still waiting. "Any day," I tell her and it is any day, any minute.  I don't mind telling one of the Mom's in my daughters class that we are plugging away preparing for travel.  It is amazing the peace that I feel.  A complete change from just an hour before.    That is what happens when we,
".....throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us"
 Hebrews 12:1.

Then the phone rings.  Right there were I stand with my friend in the hallway outside of  Commons (it is a little indoor play ground).  I look at the phone, what do I behold but that wonderful area code from Portland Oregon. 

My friend asks, "Is this the call!"
Me, "Could be!" "Hello"
T: "Hi Kara, this is T from All God's Children"
Me, "Hi"
T, "I've got some great news. I have received your travel approval"

I have to say that not much of what was said after that did I remember.  I am so thankful that she follows up with an email telling me what to do next.  All I can think about is that I am going to China and I'm getting a baby.  My Baby. 

We are finalizing our plans now and in the next couple of days I will be able to give you my schedule.  I will ask that you guys pray for me and the kiddos.  While we are so excited to finally bring home our little boy we are very sad that we have to leave our babies for such a long time.  When we told them that we were leaving soon several of the kids were very upset.  So if you could help us with preparing them, and lifting them up in prayer we would be so grateful.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summer Lovin

I thought I would continue with my summer time theme.  Introducing "Summer Lovin" from Grease (the words have been changed to better suit our story)

Summer lovin haven a blast
Summer lovin happen so fast

I've got some girls crazy for me!

Look at this boy cute as can be

Summer days driftin' away, to uh-oh those summer nights
Uh Well-a well-a well-a huh
Tell you more, tell you more
Like do we have Travel Dates?
I wish I did, wish I did
But China doesn't wanna state
Uh-huh uh-huh uh-huh uh-huh
So we're being creative making new friends

A little sad we won't be seeing the sand

While we pray, for our little man
And waiting for, God's perfect plan

Summer sun, something's begun, but uh-oh those summer nights
Uh well-a well-a well-a huh
Tell you more, tell you more
I hope he loves me at first sight

Tell me more, tell me more
But we're prepared for a fight!

We've packed up homeschool

And we're tryin to stay cool
With popsicles

The kids play in the pool

Summer things, mean everything, but uh-oh those summer nights
Uh well-a well-a well-a huh
Wish there was more, there was more
But I don't wanna brag

Wish there was more, there was more
But I gotta go play tag

shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop,shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, YEH

Gotta wear these kids out, so they'll go to bed
Cause at lights out, there's somethin planned

Sitting on the porch holding his hand

Me and my man, are more than just friends
Summer heat, boy and girl meet, but uh-oh those summer nights
woo, woo, woo
I think E's gonna die

Please don't tell him or I'll cry

So it's turned awkward-that's where it ends
But we can all still be friends

Summer dreams are made by all means,
bu-ut oh, those su-ummer nights....