Throwback Thursday: Wedding Trip Part One

When we committed to pursuing adopting our 4th baby this year, we knew we’d need to be especially frugal in the coming months, which meant no huge, adventurous travels this year, but we also knew we’d definitely be heading east for my brother’s wedding in May. I never actually got the chance to blog about that trip, so I’m coming back to share about it now! In addition to keeping our friends and family updated on our lives, serving as a place to share my contemplations, and offering a window into our lives for others who may be interested in adoption or home-schooling or special needs parenting, this blog also serves as a journal of sorts for our family, so I try to document our adventures, even if I don’t get to all of them right away!

Our family of introverts sometimes has a hard time being in enclosed spaces with any number of people for any length of time, so it wasn’t long before this set-up arose in the car :)


In general we have a good time, though :) And we made it to Louisville on our first day and spent the evening hanging out with our friends Luke and Ann and their kiddos.


We don’t get to see Luke and Ann often, but we are always blessed by the time we do get to spend with them. We so appreciate those friendships that feel like a taste of true home – you can pick up where you left off and enjoy laughter and fun and deep conversations all at once, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen each other.

We then took two days to drive from Louisville to the east coast. In the past, our strategy has generally been to drive as much as possible each day, but this was our first trip after Matt’s heart attack in New York, and we both were a little nervous and felt the need to make it as low-stress as possible. For Matt that mostly meant not having to get up super early or rush out the door in the mornings and drive late into the night to make it to our destinations, so we planned much shorter drives for each day on this trip. We were able to stop and have lunch with one of our friends from Matt’s grad school days one day, and we found a reasonably priced hotel midway between Louisville and Virginia and spent the night there and let our kids enjoy the pool and the access to cable tv!

Then we made a slight detour and spent a couple days with my best friend from high school, Jessie, and her family. We were going to be pretty close to where she lived, and I hadn’t seen her in years, and we hadn’t met each other’s youngest kiddos, so it was really great to get to spend some time with her and her family! On top of that, she agreed to embark upon an adventure to see the ocean with us :) The girls, especially Miranda, have been asking for a couple years now when they’d get to see the ocean, and it seemed a shame to be so close without making time for it, so we all piled into the van and drove out to Virginia Beach one day. It was cold and fiercely windy and even rained on us a bit, but it was also glorious!

Miranda especially could not have loved it more.


She’s like her mama in that way. I don’t think there’s anywhere on earth that I experience the majesty of God like I do standing on the shore of the ocean. The immensity of the expanse of the water, the power of it all – it’s sublime. I don’t really have the words for it, but it’s always a powerful experience for me to visit the ocean.


It was great to get to experience that with my kiddos!


(Yes, this is the best picture we got of the 4 of us – I mentioned the wind, right!?!)

The kiddos loved playing in the sand, and there was an amazing playground on the beach where we enjoyed playing and ate our lunches.



Then we headed back to Jessie’s house for the evening, and the next morning we were off, on our way to Luray, Virginia for Danny’s and Sharon’s wedding!


Reconnecting with my Kiddos

Parenting always has its ebbs and flows, but we’ve had a rough past couple weeks around here, with one of our children in particular. Some of that has been us, I’m sure – when Matt and I are stressed out or focused on other things, we don’t do as good of a job at parenting, and he’s in the middle of his semester, and I’m working hard on accomplishing everything on my pre-adoption to do list. But some of it was definitely her and for no reason we could discern – perhaps the upcoming changes in our family? Perhaps just a phase? Who knows. It’s been hard, though. I called our social worker and asked for her advice. I asked a few friends to pray for me.

And I’ve upped my connected parenting game. I’ve sought opportunities to say yes. I’ve gotten down on my kids’ level to talk with them. I’ve been willing to work with the girls on compromises that help each of us work toward what’s important to us. I’ve proposed outings to the park just because they would be fun.


I’ve been putting my phone down more. We’ve been role-playing tough situations. We’ve been having a lot of re-dos. I’ve been doing one-on-one dates with each of my girls.


And the past week or so has been better, and I’ve been encouraged. It’s been hard work, but it’s worth it. I want to be able to help my kids work through conflict and handle their emotions well, and it’s worth the time it takes to help them learn those skills. And I want us to have good, healthy relationships, and it’s worth the time it takes to build those.

Even in the midst of that context, though, I was shocked by an experience we had this morning. A friend of mine, another adoption mama, is spending a week in Texas at a TBRI (trust-based relational intervention) Practitioner Training, and I’ve been following along with her blog and Facebook posts, hoping to glean any pearls of wisdom that might be helpful to me in parenting our kiddos. She posted yesterday about an example of an “I Love You Ritual.” Matt and I have the book but haven’t drawn on it as much as we probably should have. I pulled up the video to which she linked and watched as parents and children sang to each other, to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, about how precious they are:

Twinkle twinkle little star
What a wonderful child you are
With big, bright eyes and nice round cheeks
A talented person from head to feet
Twinkle twinkle little star
What a wonderful child you are

I watched it a couple times with my kids and then told them I wanted to sing it to each of them. I expected them to think it was corny and get bored and run away. Not so. I was blown away by their responses. Atticus is already picking up on the motions. Miranda stared into my eyes, beaming, soaking up the message. Madeleine CaiQun refused to make eye contact at all – it was too much for her. But immediately after I finished singing to her, she crawled into my lap, curled up, and opened up about some of her fears about our upcoming trip to China. This was a holy morning at our house, my friends.

Dr. Karyn Purvis, who truly helped to bring hope and healing to so many adoptive (and non-adoptive) families and who pioneered so much of the research upon which we draw in our parenting, has a quote that is often repeated in adoption circles – “All children need to know that they are precious, unique, and special, but a child who comes from a hard place needs to know it more desperately.”

I have been underestimating the degree to which my children need to hear that message. I do need to be spending time with them, reading to them, taking them out on dates…but I also need to make sure I’m speaking directly to their hearts with my words and telling them exactly how precious and wonderful they are to me. I have a feeling this song is going to get a lot of air time in our house in the coming days and weeks and months, and I’ll be seeking out other methods of reaching out to nurture their hearts, as well.


Some Adoption Updates

Well, friends, we have been making solid progress through our adoption process! Last time I wrote, we had just received our Letter of Acceptance / Letter Seeking Confirmation from China, which we, of course, signed joyfully when the hard copy arrived!


Since then, we have received our I800 approval (10/12/2016), our GUZ # yesterday on 10/20/16. That is basically our new case number indicating that our case has been assigned to the consulate and Guangzhou, and it’s important because it allows us to fill out form DS-260, an immigrant visa application, which I did last night. And this morning, I woke up to the RTF/PDF of our letter indicating that our file has been forwarded to the US Consulate in Guangzhou!

All of this will allow our agency to drop off what’s called our Article 5 paperwork with the US Consulate in Guangzhou on Monday, and assuming all looks good (which it should, because our agency has reviewed everything to make sure that it does!), they should be able to pick up our Article 5 paperwork 10 business days later. Then everything gets sent back to the CCCWA in Beijing, which will be responsible for issuing our Travel Approval – our invitation to come to China to adopt our little Fang Fang! Travel Approvals generally take a week or two to be issued but have been coming pretty quickly lately. There are no guarantees, but we believe this should happen in plenty of time for us to have a December 12 Family Day, which is what we’ve been hoping!

In the meantime, we’ve been working hard at home. Some of that is adoption-specific – I applied for our China entry visas, and we got a Power of Attorney form notarized and certified, and it should be getting authenticated right now, which will allow me to adopt a child on Matt’s behalf :) Of course both spouses have to participate in the entire process, but in the end, it’s surprisingly easy – one piece of paper! – to adopt a child in your spouse’s absence!

Beyond that, though, I’ve been working on preparing for travel and our life once home with all 4 kids. I’ve been stocking our freezer with meals for Matt and my mom and the kids to eat while Madeleine CaiQun and I are gone and for all of us to enjoy in those early days and weeks of settling into life as a family of 6. I have Fang Fang scheduled for her first OI clinic in Omaha in January, where she’ll see some of the top OI experts in the world, and we’ll be advised on how best to care for her and proceed with her medical treatment. I’ve talked with our school district’s coordinator for Early Childhood Special Education. I’ve started all of our Christmas shopping.

I’ve made my “To Do” list of everything that truly needs to happen before I travel and everything I’d like to have done before I travel. I’m making some progress, but I don’t really know exactly when or how it’s all going to get done. To be honest, it’s feeling pretty overwhelming, more some days than others. I’ve had some days of feeling pretty anxious. It feels like there are so many moving pieces, and I’m the one responsible for getting them all to fit together the right way. The logistics of travel themselves are complex, and then we’ll want to be able to jump into life back home as quickly and easily as possible, too, and that will be no easy feat, as we adjust to being a family of six (with 4 kids age 6 and under!) and gain experience with OI.

I’m trying to remind myself of a few truths. First, we believe God has called us to this and is making it happen, and though I’m sure we’ll encounter many challenges along the way, He is and will be with us, and that really makes a difference. I’ve been working with the girls on memorizing some Bible verses for AWANA, and that has been a good reminder to me to dive back into my own Scripture memory – I think I’m going to try to tackle Psalm 46, a passage that has long been encouraging to me, but which I haven’t ever memorized. Second, I’ve been reminding myself that it’s not going to go perfectly, no matter what I do. Travel won’t go perfectly, things at home won’t be perfect while I’m gone, and adjusting to life at home won’t be seamless once I’m back. I need to prepare for everything as well as possible, but I also need to realize that it’s okay that there will be things that don’t go according to my plans, and it will still work out.

And I’m reminding myself of the sweet little girl for whom we’re doing all this. A friend is in China right now adopting her baby from the same foster home in which our little girl lives, and it has so sweet to see their pictures and realize that in less than 2 months, that is going to be us! She and her husband were also kind enough to deliver a mini-care package for us, a family photo album and a small Comfort Silkie security blanket like the ones all of our other kiddos have and sleep with.


Once we have our Travel Approval, the foster home will share the photo book with her and begin to prepare her more specifically for our coming. It won’t be long now!


Homeschooling So Far This Year

My last few blog posts may have given the impression that my life these days consists entirely of adoption-related activities, but that’s actually not quite true! While my time and my heart are quite occupied with adoption, as the mama of three kiddos here at home, I have a lot of other things going on, too!

We are about mid-way through our 7th week of homeschooling, and when I shared about our curriculum for this year, I promised I’d write about how our school year was starting, so I want to do that now!

Honestly, I’m really happy with all the curriculum we’re using. The girls are plugging along with hand-writing, not really learning anything new per se, but continuing to hone their skills.


Math is going well. Miranda regularly reports that math is her favorite subject, and she does well with it, though as she’s gotten older and the lessons are longer, she sometimes has a hard time staying on task and motivated for long enough to finish an entire assignment – but she understands the material and loves learning new concepts.


I think I may have let Madeleine CaiQun speed through Kindergarten math a bit too fast last year, so this year we’ve taken some time to slow down and make sure she is really grasping the concepts being taught – I’ve had her use manipulatives when she isn’t coming up with the correct answers for addition and subtraction questions right away, and that helps her tremendously. Singapore Math seems to be very heavily a mental math curriculum, and while it’s awesome for Miranda, I’m not sure it will continue to work well for all of my kids all the time, but we’ll continue to re-evaluate that for each child as needed. One thing I love about homeschooling is that we have the freedom to do that :)

One area in which Madeleine CaiQun truly shines is reading. This girl loves to read and has grown in leaps and bounds in her reading ability in the last year and a half – I started her last year reading consonant-vowel-consonant words, and now she excels at the grade 2 readers I have her doing and could really probably be tackling more advanced books! She does enough of that on her own, though, that I think it’s good for her to hang in there with the grade 2 books for school, just getting some practice slowing down and enunciating as she reads out loud with these. Her consistency and desire to learn have really paid off in this area.


It’s interesting to me that both girls recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and see where the other shines, as well, but neither appears to be jealous or angry about it.

We’re all enjoying the Bible and Language Arts curriculum we’re doing this year, and I see the girls learning in both arenas. We’re studying some characteristics of God this year, which has been cool. And in Language Arts, they’re beginning to learn about some simple grammar (i.e. nouns), memorize some poems, and acquire the basic building blocks for learning to spell. This Language Arts curriculum feels more focused and straightforward than what we were doing last year, so I feel good about making the choice to switch and try something new, and the girls like it better, too.

And, of course, we’re enjoying Sonlight’s read-alouds, the literature books I read out loud to the girls each day. We started off with Charlotte’s Web, and when we finished, we had a family movie night to enjoy the film!

I wasn’t sure what studying ancient history with 6-year-olds would really be like, but so far, it’s going well! We’ve learned about archaeological digs (and had a conference call with my brother, who spent a summer working on a dig in Italy!), and this week we’re reading about ancient Egypt, mummies, and King Tut.

In science, we’re learning about animals, and the girls are really enjoying that. The internet-linked capacity of our animal book is something they really love, getting to watch videos of many of the animals about which we read each day. We also took a day recently to drive to St. Louis with some friends and visit the zoo to see many of the animals firsthand (and, of course, to ride the train).




I’d say the biggest struggle for me is fitting it all in each day – and the result is that we usually don’t fit it all in each day! I’m constantly going back and forth about whether that’s okay (they’re six! they learn through play! they don’t need to spend 5 hours a day doing school or hit every subject every day!) or whether I really need to get us on track now (we’re going to bring home another toddler soon, so we need to accomplish as much as possible before then! we should have a solid routine that allows us to accomplish everything each day! we should check things off our lists!). Being a checklist-oriented person, I still cringe inwardly every time I think of taking 8 days or so to do 5 days’ worth of scheduled work, but I also think it’s what’s working best for us now. We’ve had a number of doctor appointments recently, we’ve had adoption paperwork to do, we’ve taken advantage of some nice days to meet friends at the park, and I don’t want to sacrifice those things in order to guarantee that we hit every subject every day.


The girls are learning and growing. We’re taking time to talk about character when needed – it may not be on any checklist, but I have to remind myself nearly every day that addressing character issues and teaching my kids about what it looks like to follow God is so much more important than getting through every subject on the list each day.

I do worry about how we’ll all adjust once we have two little mischief makers underfoot instead of just one, but I imagine we’ll figure it out :)


And if it takes us more than a year to get through this year’s curriculum, but we do it well, so be it. They’re six, and it’ll be okay – or so I keep telling myself :)


We’re spending time together as a family, learning about God and life, learning about the world, and (even if not as quickly as I’d like), checking off the boxes on our curriculum :)

China LOA

China said yes!

This morning I sat down and started to write, sharing my heart and my disappointment that we had not yet received our Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC)/Letter of Acceptance (LOA). A number of families – many of whom had submitted their dossiers after ours – received theirs on Wednesday, and to say that I was disappointed when ours was not issued at the same time was an understatement. I had been so sure it would come. Our case worker assured me that this often happens, and there’s really no discernible rhyme or reason for it. She believed that if the CCCWA had any questions about us or our dossier, they would already have asked them during the dossier review phase, and our agency had never had the CCCWA deny an LSC/LOA to a family, so she really thought it was coming and would be here soon. The wait and the not knowing were still hard, though, and I felt very discouraged this week. I tried to trust that God would lead us where we should be when we should be there, and focus on the things I actually could and should be doing – preparing freezer meals, doing school with the girls, etc.

And then today the call came – the CCCWA computer system showed this morning that our LSC/LOA has been issued!

China LOA

This is China’s official approval of us as adoptive parents of our precious baby #4, Fang Fang, as her foster home calls her. We couldn’t be happier! As I spoke with our case worker on the phone, I had to go hide in the play room, as the girls were running around screaming in their excitement, “We got our Letter of Acceptance! We got our Letter of Acceptance!”

Travel before Christmas is still by no means guaranteed, but it just got a whole lot more likely!

This news was particularly wonderful to receive today, as it follows a rather difficult week for us. First was our disappointment that we didn’t receive our Letter of Acceptance on Wednesday with so many other families. Then later that night, after the kids were in bed, Matt ran over to the art department to get some files he needed for a talk he’d be doing Thursday morning. He was gone for half an hour, then an hour, and then I texted him to make sure he was okay. No response. I knew he had his phone with him, because he’d come back inside specifically to get it before leaving. I waited 20 minutes and texted again. No response. I called and got his voicemail. I figured that the most likely scenario was that his phone had died, but I was still getting concerned. We were approaching midnight, and he was almost certainly alone in the building, so if anything was wrong, there probably wasn’t anyone there to help him. Finally I messaged one of our friends, a colleague of Matt’s, and asked if he’d mind going to check on him. He did, and actually right as he pulled up in the parking lot next to our van, Matt texted me that his phone hadn’t been working and needed to update its operating system, and he had just then gotten my messages. Phew!

So Matt came back home, but it was less than 14 hours later that he sent me a text message, “I am at hospital,” and we had the following exchange:


That’s a picture every wife wants to get from her husband! A friend graciously came over to hang out with our kids, and I drove to the ER to be with Matt (whose colleague had, thankfully, talked him out of driving himself there). They ran a number of tests (bloodwork, head CT, x-rays, an EKG), and everything came back normal, so essentially they think he was tired (it hasn’t been a great week for sleep here at our house) and potentially dehydrated and probably fainted for a moment. They told us what symptoms to watch for but discharged him and said they expect him to be fine. He’s pretty banged up and sore today but generally feels alright.

And now, we are heading into a weekend that we hope will be filled with catch-up sleep, catch-up work, and some time for Matt to rest and heal, but also some celebration that we are officially approved to become parents of our FOURTH child! This is a great feeling, my friends :)