The Birthday Party

Even after suffering several long days (and nights) with a fever and horrible cough, Carter was all smiles for his birthday party this afternoon!
We had a small family gathering to celebrate our little guy's 2nd birthday. We ended up not going with any particular theme, as Carter can be a little fickle. One day he's all about Pooh. The next, it's Mickey Mouse. That night, the Little Einsteins. I could just envision him throwing his cake on the floor because it was Elmo rather than Agent Oso. So...I had a little of everything. :)
My favorite (and Carter's as well) was this kid-sized Pooh balloon.
His allergy-free cake.

And for the rest of us, the oh so yummy cupcakes from Dreamcakes in Edgewood. Half were Wedding Cake...

And the other half, Red Velvet. They are amazing! (And yes, we felt a teeny bit guilty for eating these in front of Carter.)But as you can see, he didn't really care what anyone else was eating. In fact, when someone asked if they could have a bite of his cake, he said, "No!" That fist in the cake was there to hold onto to it so it couldn't be taken away. :)
We had a rough start to the party. Carter spent the first 20 minutes in time out at the fridge. Toddlers....so unpredictable. Or maybe they ARE predictable.

Carter wasn't sure what he thought of the birthday hats.
But he sure loved his gifts. After opening a gift, he'd say, "More presents? More presents?" Can you tell he's the first grandchild on both sides?
Aunt JuJu even got him a bottle of his favorite food EVER. You name the food, he dips it in ketchup. Fries, grapes, bananas, marshmallows.... yes, seriously.Does anyone remember this clock from our childhood? Fisher Price is recreating some of the toys from our days, and I loved hearing the wind up music from this classic clock rather than digitized melodies.

Grand Mary and Papa
Gram Me and Aunt JuJu
Aunt Coco and Uncle Ivan
GrandDad and Aunt JuJu

(Carter missed his Uncle Stuart and Aunt Noelle and can't wait to see them soon!)

A fun fun day! Now, just where shall we put all these toys?


Happy 2nd Birthday, Carter!!

Carter Brown, what's today?
"Ma burrfday!!"
How old are you?
"Two yahs old!"
Happy Birthday big boy! Here's your first gift!
(His expression running over to the trike.)
Testing it out
It's been an amazing two years, Bud!! Happy Birthday from Mommy and Daddy!

(More birthday posts, pics and of course, reminiscing to come over the weekend.)


Anyone else having problems with SPAM??

Almost every recent post ends up with a spam comment and a link that I can only assume leads to a virus or something else undesirable. My comments are set up so that you have to put in the shown password, but that doesn't seem to be helping. 

Any ideas or suggestions?


Her Finding Ad

About 1 to 2 million baby girls are abandoned in China each year. Most Americans probably believe baby girls are abandoned because Chinese families want a boy to carry on the family name. While that may be true in many cases, there are more complex issues that lead families to abandon their daughters (and sons, too). See my post Found for more insight.

It is actually against the law there for parents to give their children up for adoption. This means they can't simply bring their child to an orphanage if they can't or don't want to keep them. Instead, many birth parents leave their babies in a well-traveled area where he or she is sure to be safely found. When a baby is found, it is protocol for the police to attempt to find the birth parents and, beginning 10 years ago, it became law that the orphanage place an ad in the local newspaper, with the hopes that birth parents would claim their children. This is called a finding ad. There is a company here in the States that can locate a child's finding ad, and after a couple months of searching, they found Virginia Grace's ad for us! Here is our little girl in, probably, the earliest picture of her that we'll ever see ...Translation:

Name: (cannot disclose her Chinese name on here until after we're home)

Gender: Female

Age: one month (our report said she was 20 days; parents often end up with several birth dates projected)

Finding Place: The construction/work site near the gate of subdivision No. 2 of Dong Jun Wan residential area, which is a jurisdictional area of Shu Guang Local Police Station

Finding time: 12-15-2008

Birthmark and personal items: None (We were really hoping she'd been left with a letter from her birth parents, but this is more rare than common.)

We are anxious to get the hard copy of the paper in our hands (on it's way) because you can tell in this image that the folding of the paper left a line and a mark over her mouth. I also want to see the picture closer up, as I can somewhat detect the tumor on her tongue. It looks so swollen. Poor baby. But what a beautiful baby!


What Now?

Thanks to all of you for sharing in our excitement! Many of you have since asked about what happens next. In short, we wait 6-12 weeks for our TA (travel approval), and we leave for China within 2 weeks from then. 

As of a few months ago, the wait was 6-8 weeks. However, with some changes just put into place that added extra steps, and with the Chinese New Year holiday (Feb. 14-28) which closes down their offices, our wait will probably be much longer. It's disappointing, but there's nothing we can really do about it. We're hoping to leave end of March, but we might have to wait until April.  We're praying for favor and expediency!

For those of you who want all the nitty gritty details, here are the steps leading up to TA:

1.  We signed the LOA yesterday and turned in relevant paperwork (I-800). Our agency overnighted it all to the USCIS office (branch of Dept. of Homeland Security), where they will approve Virginia Grace's file. (We ourselves have already been approved by them to adopt, but the US now requires the actual child being adopted to be approved.) It is currently taking between 15-20 days from the day you send in your I800 to get approval. It may take up to 2 weeks for you to be logged in to their computer system. Once you are in, you will be approved within 48 hours.

2. Once our I-800 is approved, the National Visa Center will 'cable' (send) our approval to the American Consulate in Guangzhou about one week after our I800 approval.  They will also send us a letter letting us know our paperwork for Virginia Grace was approved...we must turn this into our agency. They then send it to the American Consulate too. (Why the consulate needs two copies to proceed, who knows? But it slows down the process.)

3. While we're waiting for our I-800 to be approved, we've filled out the form DS230.  This is the application for the visa for our daughter to immigrate to the US. This, along with our signed LOA indicating that we accept the child, will go back to China.   

4.  When our cable gets to Guangzhou along with our signed LOA and additional copy of approval letter, our Article 5 is signed in 2-3 weeks.  This is the American Government giving us final approval to adopt our child.

5. Our paperwork will then be taken to the CCAA (China Center for Adoption Affairs) again, where our Travel Approval is issued between 1-4 weeks later.

The nice part about this phase of the process is that we'll receive notifications along the way of specific approvals.  And now you'll understand what I'm so excited about when I post about being cabled and Article 5 being signed! :)

Please continue to pray for Virginia Grace as she waits. At her young age, every additional month in foster care and the orphanage can lead to more significant development and attachment issues.  Parents, imagine your child being taken from you at 18 months...imagine your child's confusion and devastation.  Please pray for God to protect her heart and prepare her for such a big transition. 

Much love,



Can you believe it????? Less than 24 hours after the update I just posted! I am practically in tears from the awe and joy and gratefulness that's overwhelming me. Thank you, Lord!!


The Red Thread

An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance.
The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.
- Chinese proverb

This Chinese proverb has been cherished by adoptive parents for years.  It's a sweet thought and image. (Although, I hope our red thread to Virginia Grace won't "stretch" much longer.) :)

Many of you have asked for an update. I wish so much that I had one to give. The step we are waiting on is called LOA (Letter of Approval), and the average wait is 60-90 days, but it can be much shorter or longer. We're currently on day 68.  

Conveniently, there is a chart that keeps track of this on Rumor Queen, an online community board for China adoptive families. I am able to see what the averages are, when people receive their approvals, etc. Everyone on there is so supportive and helpful in answering questions and celebrating with each other when a milestone is marked.  Anyway, from the time we receive our LOA, the average wait for TA (Travel Approval) is 6-8 weeks. However, some people have recently waited as long as 12 weeks!  We will then travel within 2 weeks following receipt of TA.

Our hopes of traveling in March are slipping away, but we're still hopeful to leave for China in April. By then, our little girl will be 16 months. The idea of the red thread is beautiful, but all this red tape is not!

In the meantime, we've enjoyed watching several friends travel to China to bring home their daughters.  And right now, a couple I met through the RQ site are in the Yunnan province adopting their daughter from the same orphanage where Virginia Grace is! Their daughter, Anna, has actually been in the same foster village.  We compared pictures of our girls, and they're posed on the same play mat! We've talked about how they probably play together and may even live in the same home and family.  It's amazing that they are in such close vicinity to Virginia Grace right now.  And I am learning a great deal as they navigate the in-country process.  You can follow their journey on their blog, Red Thread to Anna. 

And a HUGE thank you for the outpouring of encouragement and prayers  you've given me through your comments and emails.  Each one brought tears and hope and reminders that God is holding all of us in His hands.  God's "unfailing love" seems to appear in every verse I've read lately, so I am pretty certain of the theme of His lessons for me right now. :) His mercies and compassions are indeed new every morning...thank you for showing them to me.  


Confession of Fear

Over the last few weeks, I've felt fear taking hold of me. It actually first appeared a couple of months ago, but it seems to be growing stronger every day.  My fear is that Virginia Grace will never make it into our arms.  I've had nightmares about her foster mother kidnapping her because she doesn't want to give her up. I've worried about some random tragic accident or health crisis taking our little girl's life. I've had thoughts of a bad diagnosis or financial crisis canceling approval to bring her home. 

Please understand, these fears are not completely unfounded.  Yesterday, a family on the China adoption community online forum shared their news that their son has been moved to a hospital.  In just days, he went from running to walking to limping to barely holding his head up.  The orphanage has notified this family that he will have a major surgery to help this unexpected spinal condition, but the outlook at this point isn't great.  And while the boy has another special need, this spinal issue appeared out of the blue.  Of course, this is an exception and not the norm. I know that. 

The biggest source of my fear, I believe, is the mindset that has been programmed by my experiences. Four times, we've had a child on the way...and then we lost him or her.  That's what I've become used to. What I expect. While I consciously predict that everything will be fine, the fear sneaks up on me without me realizing it.  And before I know it, my heart is racing and I am filled with dread. The fear pops up in my dreams or in quiet moments of reflection.  Sometimes it even takes me a while to recognize the icky feeling that's come over me. 

Why I am blogging about this? Well, I guess I hope that declaring my fear publicly will cause it to lose power over me.  Facing the enemy head-on often weakens the battle. But I also have to keep pressing on to truly trust God. Not trust Him that nothing will happen. But trust Him even if something does. 

I covet your prayers as I try to surrender each moment of fear to our sovereign and loving Lord.


For the Book Lovers

One year, one month, and 24 days...that's how long I've waited to get my hands on these gorgeous Penguin Classics. Coralie Bickford-Smith designed this ten-book series and included a beautiful matte foil design on each piece. My friend, Stephanie, sent a link to these literary classics last year, but at the time, they were only available in the UK. They quickly sold out, and I've spent all year searching online bookstores in Australia and Canada who were rumored to carry the books. They are finally available in the US. You can find them on Amazon or even in your local Anthropologie.
I love to read, and I love pretty books....so I am thrilled to finally own a few of these myself.


Christmas Highlights

Despite spraining my ankle and spending Christmas Eve morning in the ER, and trying to deal with my son's total rejection of his mother (more on that to come), we enjoyed a peaceful, yummy food-filled, Mexican Train Dominoes-dominating, family-loving, Christ-adoring Christmas. (And yes, those were the main themes of our wonderful visit to my parents in Cary, North Carolina.) Here are a few highlights through pictures...Carter loved the life-sized (well, his-sized) Nutcracker.
Carter stacking blocks with Papa.
Reading a new book with Daddy.
More hugs for the Nutcracker!Santa Claus gave Carter a Thomas the Train tent.Inside was a book and a fireman's hat with a siren (that doesn't turn off unless you switch it off! What parent-hating person designed this thing???)The tent was a hit!With his fireman's hat and doctor's kit, our little guy was prepared for any and all emergencies. (Too bad my clumsy fall happened two days before...I could have skipped the ER.)This was the first outfit I smocked for Carter. Okay, so it's the only one I've smocked so far. I made him wear it every day. :)

My sister, Courtney, and her husband Ivan. Aren't they a good-looking couple? They also play a mean game of dominoes. Have I mentioned that we spend HOURS playing Mexican Train Dominoes? At practically every family gathering? It's addicting.
Carter, Scott and me
Mom and Dad gave us a tea set for Virginia Grace. It will look so cute on her little white table!
In the Charlotte airport, passing the time during our layover....
Yes, I know...he gets his dramatic streak from me.

We celebrated Christmas with Scott's family on January 2nd. Pics to come soon!


Lia Kate is Home!

Well, 2010 isn't starting off well for blogging consistency, but be patient with me and I'll catch up. As many of you know, my friend Emily and her husband Danny spent Christmas in China picking up their little girl, Lia Kate. We joined some family and friends to greet them at the airport when they got home to Birmingham on January 1st. I cried as they came down the walkway! Here are a few pictures... (you can also link to their blog on my sidebar for more pics)
Don't you just love this beautiful face???Big Brother, Britton, waiting with Emily's mom for his parents and new baby sister to arrive.

The Giffens, family of 4, all together!
Britton meeting his little sister for the first time!
Lia Kate, we are so thrilled for you to be home with your amazing family! Your parents already love you beyond words. Welcome home, sweet girl!