Saturday, June 30, 2007

A post because my husband asked

Dan’s a big fan of The Office. While I sometimes do/sometimes don’t appreciate the show’s dry humor, the men and women in his “office” get a big kick out of it. So, with Thursday being his boss’s last day, they decided to take a trip over to the studio where it is filmed. (Don’t think Dan’s back at work for good though! He still has four more weeks of “bonding leave” before he has to go back, but decided to make an exception. I think he sensed that a lot of fun was going to be had.). When they arrived, they found a very accommodating crew member who was willing to let them on to the set for a few pictures. However, they soon ran into one of the executive producers who not only gave them the full tour, but invited them back for a filming and lunch with the cast in August. Needless to say, this was Dan’s “best day of work ever!”

If you don't watch the show, these photos will serve only to show you how handsome my husband is, but if you're familiar with the set, Dan is sitting first at Dwight's desk, and then in the break room.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bonding on the lake

We've had an awful lot of fun lately "bonding" with daddy before he has to go back to work in just 4 more weeks (we know, we're very spoiled!). Yesterday we took Reagan out on her first waterskiing trip. She was a trooper, just taking it all in, and sleeping under the captain's chair at naptime. Alyssa and Parker always love going out on the lake, but this time Parker especially enjoyed "driving" the boat "super fast!" and Alyssa finally got up the nerve to try knee-skiing all by herself!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A letter from the President

No matter your opinion of George W. Bush (I personally am a fan), you have to love this letter that accompanied Reagan’s certificate of citizenship. It brought tears to my eyes and Dan’s…

Dear Fellow American:

I am pleased to congratulate you on becoming a United States citizen. You are now a part of a great and Blessed Nation. I know your family and friends are proud of you on this special day.

Americans are united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals. The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, and that no insignificant person was ever born. Our country has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by principles that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every citizen must uphold these principles. And every new citizen, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.

As you begin to participate fully in our democracy, remember that what you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to serve your new Nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens building communities of service and a Nation of character. Americans are generous and strong and decent not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it.

Welcome to the joy, responsibility, and freedom of American citizenship. God bless you, and God bless America.

George W. Bush

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Laura, the black sheep

Since we’ve come home from Vietnam, I feel a little like a black sheep. For the last year I have been actively involved in an on-line forum sponsored by our agency to bring together prospective adoptive parents. It has been a great source of support and information, but since I’ve dared to post something less-than-100% positive about my agency, I’ve become somewhat of an outcast. I’ve not been attacked outright, but just little jabs here and there have let me know that it’s really not okay to go against the flow. All of which I totally understand. Over the past 2 years I have defended my agency countless times against well-meaning people who don’t understand the process or the lengths to which agencies must go in order to ensure adoptions take place in the most ethical manner. It’s a lot like criticism against a family member: You can be annoyed to death with your sister/grandpa/uncle/mom, but you’ll defend them to the end against a stranger who might say something disparaging. So I really don’t blame these ladies for getting their feathers ruffled. Some of their comments are probably even my fault, since I’ve never really sat down to tell the whole story of our last few days in Vietnam. Perhaps some people have gotten a wrong impression of what we went through and how exactly everything transpired. So here’s our story…
When we started the process with Vietnam, we were told to expect to spend 15-18 days in country. Since then, we had adjusted our expectations toward the longer end of that time frame, while still hoping that some miracle might bring us back to our two older children sooner. We were, of course, thrilled then when just days into our trip Dillon presented us with a new schedule that would take us back to the 15 days. While they were clear that the schedule was in fact tentative, they said we would know for sure by Tuesday, May 22nd whether or not we had the Thursday appointment at the U.S. Embassy (which was necessary for a Friday departure). So, when we saw our agency’s staff Tuesday morning, we were excited to be told that we did have an appointment for Thursday and could go ahead and change our tickets to come home Friday. We tried repeatedly to confirm that fact with our agency’s lawyer in Vietnam, but he was unavailable. So we changed our tickets, told our families, and pointed our noses toward home. Imagine then our disappointment when at a dinner that night, we were told we did NOT have an appointment for Thursday, but Friday instead. I'm not saying that anyone from our agency lied to us, but there obviously was a miscommunication, and a devestating one at that. Knowing that with the Memorial day weekend we would not then be able to pick up the visa until Tuesday, and also knowing there were no flights available on Tuesday or Wednesday, we instantly felt a little trapped in this lovely, though very foreign, country. We loved our time in Vietnam, but by that point we were ready to go home and unite our now-complete family. Another week, full of no official business other than waiting for what was literally a 30 second “interview” at a bank-teller-type window, would also mean spending at least another $2,000. The most frustrating part for us was the fact that our agency requested a “Thursday OR Friday” interview, without even considering asking for one on Tuesday or Wednesday – free days designated for travel and sightseeing. We would have been willing to let our agency try to fix their mistake, but instead their response was “Sorry, it’s out of our control.” Our intent was not to remove Reagan from the land of her birth as quickly as possible, but rather to unite her with the family who had been loving and praying for her for 2 years as soon as practical. We thoroughly enjoyed Vietnam and look forward to someday showing Reagan just what an incredible country she came from. The people were beautiful and incredibly friendly and we took literally thousands of pictures trying to document all that we experienced on her behalf. However, she is far too young to have any sense of what her homeland is - her world changed as much as she could comprehend the moment we left the orphanage. She is old enough, though, to appreciate the love of her siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, the medical care, and the consistency of a schedule and environment, which we could not provide for her while in Vietnam. All of that, and the fact that our agency’s staff in the States virtually hung up on me when I asked for their help, prompted us to venture out on our own. Since by the time we received the bad news we had only about 12 hours to try to work something out for Thursday, and the Embassy was already closed for the night, we decided to call our congressman. Though a stranger to us, and holding no political clout of our own, his office was incredibly helpful and sweet. Based on the promise that we would bring Reagan in to meet all of them, they wrote a 2 sentence e-mail asking if the U.S. Embassy could squeeze in one more appointment on Thursday instead of Friday. It turns out that was a scheduling change the Embassy was happy to accommodate, and in fact, everyone at there and at the Consulate was very friendly toward us. They even made space on Thursday for the other 5 families we were traveling with, as well as several other families from other agencies who were just sitting around at the Embassy hoping for an interview. So Reagan’s visa was, by God’s grace, ready for us on Friday, we went straight from the Embassy to the airport, and by Friday night we were sleeping in our own home with three of the most precious children in the beds down the hall.
Clearly God’s hand was in all of this. He was in control of each little detail and disappointment, and we would still be confident of that fact even if things didn’t work out as we had hoped. However, we were glad to get on that plane and into the waiting arms of Alyssa and Parker! We’re also glad that we didn’t just sit back and trust our agency, as we had for the previous two years. Generally, I think our agency does a fabulous job. I will forever be grateful for their work in bringing us to Reagan, but a little disillusioned about their travel processes and staff. I firmly believe that with a few minor adjustments to the process we could have been home even sooner with far less stress. There is, of course, value in spending time in your child’s birth country, but travel time and expense is a huge factor in many families’ decision to adopt or not. A shorter stay might persuade more people like us to welcome a foreign child into their home. We were diligent to see as much as we possibly could of Reagan’s homeland, spending very little time in our room, taking every possible side trip. Of course we didn’t see all that we wanted or hoped to see, but I lived in Israel for 4 months and still missed stuff. We were there long enough to get a great sense of what her life might have been like, and to develop an appetite to return some day. I believe that keeping families away from home and family any longer than necessary is a disservice to those individuals and potentially adoptable children. In our case, if we hadn’t stepped out, we would have been gone an extra week simply because our agency was unwilling to try to correct their mistakes. I know that others have stayed in country much longer. I know we probably look a little spoiled to them. But I also know that this process is constantly changing – especially since Vietnam is still a relatively new program. Even our agency’s staff has changed. Many of the same players are still in place, but they are far busier with an every-growing caseload. They seemed to be doing the best they could, but were limited by time and language to be able to accomplish the best result. Another recent change is that up until about a month ago the agencies’ hands were tied by the Embassy. In the past, visa interviews were only granted on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Now that appointments are available 5 days a week, agencies need to re-think their processes and adjust their schedules for the good of the parents, children, and adoption community. We in no way believe that our course of action has made things any more difficult for those following in our footsteps. Rather, I hope that our story will inspire other families to think outside the box and change the process for the better.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Packing list

If you're not a prospective adoptive parent, you really won't care about this post. However, for those of you that might be travelling in the near (or even distant) future (congrats to Tricia, Jessica and Erin!), I thought it might be helpful to post my packing list. So, here it is, take it or leave it. I've put a "-" next to the things we didn't use, and a "+" next to the less intuitive items I'm very glad we brought. Note that most of the "didn't use" items are medications, which is just a reflection of the fact that, by God's grace, none of us got really sick. They don't take up much room, and I think I still would bring most of them again. Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions! (

-Tylenol infant drops
-Motrin infant drops
-Benadryl (Children's)
-Baby Orajel
-Cradle Cap shampoo/medicine
Robitussin infant drops
-Children’s saline spray
-Children’s gas relief drops
-Advil PM
Anti-fungal cream
+Pepto Bismol chew tablets
-Cough drops
+Rx malaria meds
+Rx Xanax for plane and adjusting to time change

-Peanut butter (we saw this in a grocery store)
+Balance bars (fabulous meal replacements in Ninh Thuan where our stomachs were a little "off")
-Nature Valley bars (available in Vietnam)
+Dried apricots
+Candy (to eat and to give)

Toiletries (all full size)
Shampoo & Conditioner
hair gel
ponytail holders
small bag of make-up
face wash
nail scissors/file
contact solution
contact cases
extra contacts
Feminine products
-Baby powder
Haircutting scissors... I was just dying to get my hands on Reagan's long strays

Chapstick with SPF

Pillowcase (for the plane)
Washcloths in ziplocks (to freshen up on the plane)
Money pouch (one each)
Tide individual laundry packets
-Travel size Oust
+bug spray & wipes (we didn't use it often, but were glad to have it on a few occcasions)
+tissues - travel size (for squatty potties)
+hand sanitizer
+Ziplock storage baggies (all sizes)
+Lap top
+Skype (purchase minutes in the US)
+Skype headset
+Cell phone (to call family in airport when we got home)
Adapter (necessary in Hanoi but not elsewhere)
Camera, extra batteries, extra memory, USB cord, battery charger (I wish I would have brought blank CDs to back up my photos, though it's quite cheap to do it in HCMC)

Web cam
Video camera, extra tapes, charger
-Calculator (the exchange is pretty easy to do in your head: 100,000 dong = $6.25)
-Dryer sheets
-Tide to Go pen
+Earplugs (came in very handy on the plane seated next to a snorer!)

(ALL CARRY-ON! Plus copy for checked luggage)
Original, notarized home study
Copy of dossier
Copies of Reagan’s legal papers
I-864 & I-600
W2’s & 1040’s from past 3 years
Phone#, Fax# & Email to all agency/contacts/travel agents, etc
Copies of credit/debit cards & non-800 customer service numbers (call ahead to alert them you'll be using them in Vietnam)
Email, phone #’s of family & friends

We actually didn't need any of these documents, but it was still good to have them.

Clothes: Laura
1 dress
2 pair pants
10 t-shirts/tanks
3 skirts (these were very comfortable in the heat)
2 pair of pj's
-1 light jacket
3 pairs flip flops
+2 pair crocs (the BEST shoes for walking, especially in the rain when flip-flops were slippery)
-swimsuit (we didn't swim: jellyfish in the ocean, algae in the pool)
underwear/bras/socks (as many as I could fit)

Clothes: Dan
2 pairs shorts
2 pair cargo pants
3 t-shirts
3 button-down shirts/polos
-1 light jacket
+1 pair Crocs
-1 pair sneakers
2 pair pajama pants
undershirts/underwear/socks (as many as I could fit)

Baby stuff
2 Bottles
Bottle brush (wish I would have brought a little dishwashing soap)
100 bottle drop-in liners (only used about 50)
Baby carrier and sling (Baby Bjorn was great!)
Plastic backed bibs
Baby wipes (lots!)
-20 American-strength diapers (unnecessary because you can even get Huggies in Vietnam)
-5 Swim diapers
-2 Pacifiers (Reagan prefers her hands and a silky blanket I brought)
Poly-V-Sol vitamin drops (Reagan didn't appear to be anemic or otherwise malnourished)
-Baby toothbrush/toothpaste (Reagan has no teeth)
Lact-aid (I am trying to breastfeed)
4 cloth diapers/burp clothes
-3 lap pads
+2 Blankets
+Small toys/books
5 Onesies
7 Pajamas
7 Outfits/dresses
6 Socks
Baby lotion
Baby shampoo
Changing pad
Formula dispenser
Baby photo album of home/family

$240 in twenties
$60 in ones
$700 in hundreds (total $1000 cash, we came home with $350)
-2 ATM cards (we didn't use them, but might have if we were in Vietnam longer)
+2 Major credit cards (accepted almost everywhere)


Orphanage Donations:
All age clothing
Toys without batteries
Stuffed animals
Children’s gummy vitamins
+Candy (it was really fun to have little candies to pass out at the orphanage, as well as just about everywhere else we stopped and interacted with the local people. Even adults approached us to ask for a lolipop!)

Orphanage Caretakers gifts:
Framed picture of Reagan
Jewelry (women)
Watches (men)
+Gift bags, tissue and ribbon
I wish I would have brought one special gift for the nanny responsible for Reagan.

Dillon Staff:
Thomas: family board game
Minh: Size M short-sleeved dress shirt
Phuong: watch
Thinh: watch

All of this fit into 3 rolling duffel bags (one each for Dan and I, one just for orphanage donations and gifts), and 2 carry-ons. We didn't feel like we had too much luggage, nor did we feel like we did without anything. We did laundry once ($8 for a suitcase-full at a local laundromat in HCMC) and would have had to do it once more if we stayed another week. Coming home, all of our souviners fit into the orphanage donation bag.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Home two weeks

I now understand why blogging really drops off after your children are home. It’s not that three is so much busier than two, but that I’m now busy with normal kid stuff. I’m no longer obsessing about the adoption. I feel more normal. I’m not so dependent on the adoption support group that is blogging, forums, and other adoptive moms’ blogs. I’m no longer trying to calculate time frames and make guesses about G&R dates. Life is now more about things like feeding schedules, sick kids, laundry, car seat aversions… things that all moms can relate to. Plus, Dan is home, and we’re just too busy having fun when he’s around for me to spend much time on the computer. So instead of another long post about bonding, etc, here are just a few pictures of the last few days.
We got Reagan’s ears pierced on Thursday, and before you think I’m a terrible mother, she only cried for a moment and was her normal happy self before we even left the store. She’s been a trooper through all of the blood work we’ve had done this week too! Of course we’re only on stick number 2 of probably 5 trips to the lab since there are so many tests to be run and she has such tiny slow veins. Next week might be a different story!

About the only time we get a real sense of Reagan’s lung capacity is on the occasional long car ride when she finally decides that she has had enough of being restrained. This is Parker’s solution to the problem:
He is proving to be a very thoughtful (and inventive!) big brother. He and Alyssa regularly discuss whose turn it is to sit next to Reagan in the car and are eager to distract and entertain her anytime she might be sad. We are so blessed!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Home a week

Already Reagan seems like a fairly natural part of our family. At times it seems strange to me that we have a baby in our home – permanently! – but even a biological third would be an adjustment. Reagan is sleeping great and growing like a weed. We were impressed with her development from the first day we met, but she’s already scooting around so much more quickly and getting stronger by the day. We had a couple of rough nights adjusting to the time change, but she’s already sleeping 12 hours at night and taking 2 naps totaling about 3 hours during the day. Hard to complain! Alyssa and Parker are in heaven and haven’t displayed an ounce of jealousy. They’ve already assigned themselves childcare duties (Alyssa cleans and shakes the bottles, Parker disposes of the dirty diapers – but only after taking a peek at what’s inside – such a boy!). The only downside I see so far is that mama no longer gets all the first hugs and kisses when they wake up in the morning and from their naps: Reagan does! She is eating up all the attention and already seems pretty bonded to us. She makes lots of eye contact with us, smiles freely, notices when we leave the room, and seems to understand that we’ll meet her needs. I’m not sure what an “un-bonded” child would look like really, but I take those as good signs. We’ve yet to really test her with others and will still keep her close for at least a few more weeks, but I think God has blessed us with another very sweet, easy child.
Thank you all for your sweet comments and prayers on our behalf during this fun time!