Tuesday, May 3, 2011

move on over to see hope!

I just started a new blog to share about our journey to our newest daughter, Hope. Follow us here: Our Gift of Hope

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

be part of a miracle

Want to be a part of a miracle for an 8 year old boy in Eastern Europe?

Click here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

the agency question

A few months ago I posted a question here. It's a forum for families who have adopted or are in the process of adopting a child from China.

This was what I wanted to know:

We are thinking/almost ready/I'm pretty sure going to start our 2nd adoption soon. Although I LOVED our previous agency, I am curious to know what other agencies are highly recommended. Please pm w/your recommendations. I'm noticing a somewhat significant difference in costs w/a few agencies. It's hard to match up fees exactly when comparing agencies but from what I can tell they can vary by about $5,000 or more. I'm looking for a lower costing one but don't want to sacrifice service/expertise/communication availability, etc.

I got quite a lot of responses and even more personal emails asking me to share the info that I received. I had planned on cutting/pasting the responses I got but I just never got around to it. Which, by the way, happens to be a common theme in my life by the way. Not. Getting. Around. To. It. Thus the reason Anna's baby book abruptly stops about the time she started crawling and the reason why Nathan doesn't even have a baby book. And it's also the reason why after living in our home for 5 years I have no curtains for 80% of our windows. I've even talked myself into believing that I don't like curtains and don't need them. But the fact is that I do like them. I just have never gotten around to it. But I digress. Speaking of...I think I may change the name of my blog to that. "I digress". What do ya think?! It's kind of how I talk in real life too.

Back to the regularly scheduled program...


Here are the recommendations as well as a few cautionary emails I received. Feel free to comment below if you would like to add any others or extra info.


America World Adoption Agency (AAWA):

*We had a great experience, however I am not sure where they fall on the financial end. We were transferred to them from our small in state agency during the slowdown when our original agency closed. They called all hours with possible referrals and stayed late when we were reviewing sn files. I was impressed with their sn program. They also did an excellent job of counseling us through a couple of referrals we were not able to take on. I don't have to tell you this was very difficult, and they made a point of talking us through the situation. We had a wonderful travel experience.

BAAS:

*My agency is BAAS. The china coordinator is the best!!! I have also heard fantastic things about Madison and Small world as well. I feel like for the special need program the smaller agencies are doing much better working into the night to make matches and all that good stuff. If you use one of these agencies i just don't think you can go wrong.

*We/ve adopted from China 4 times and have used 4 different agencies--go with BAAS (Bay Area Adoption Service). You will be very pleased with Xiaoqing, the China coordinator. She checks the computer from her home office to see if any new kid's files have been added by CCAA--new kids are added all the time, apart from the big shared lists that come out. That's how she found our daughter. We woke to an excited e-mail that said "I think I've found your daughter!" She was exactly what we hoped for! While she is looking for your child, you will also be given access to view the shared list via password protected site, and agency list too, I'm sure, now that the program has changed.


CAWLI (China Adoption With Love):

*Very highly recommended, great reputation, ethical, small, good service, low fees. We are using them again.

*We were 100% satisfied.


CCAI:

*I just came back from China last week adopting our first child, and I will tell you this: the one agency I kept hearing about over and over again was CCAI. Everyone RAVED about them.

*We are using CCAI and we love them so far!

*We are LID 5/29/06 with CCAI- NSN program. Many of my friends have completed a NSN and more so a SN adoption with CCAI. NOT ONE PERSON has a major complaint and most have none. I would highly recommend them- they have been nothing but responsible and ethical- during this whole wait. I do believe that it has been hard for all agencies to get through this slow down- but they have done a great job.

*We are with CCAI...I LOVE them. They have been beyond fantastic. I NEVER wait more than 24 hours for a return email (communication is a big deal for me...) I really can't say enough good about them.


Children's Hope International:

*We really liked our agency - Children's Hope International. In fact, we will be a partner family with them and host an information meeting in our home this Fall. We were pleased with all of the organization of our referral and our trip.


FTIA:


*LOVE - FTIA

*Love love LOVE FTIA. My mom used them when adopting my sister in 2000. We used them in adopting our daughter in 2005. Used them, again, when we signed up for Nepal. They were super honest w/ us about the program and we soon realized it was not for us. We left that program. Ended up moving to the Taiwan program of another agency. If we were going to China, though, no doubt that we'd be back with FTIA. They held our hand the entire way and continue to keep up w/ us all these years later.



Holt International:
*They were fabulous.



Lifeline:

*We love, love, love Lifeline! I can't imagine there being a better agency!

*We are going through Lifeline Adoption (http://www.lifelineadoption.org/). They are wonderful! We started the process in February and were DTC on 8/20/2010! Lifeline has a track record of matching their clients within 1-2 months of being LID. Another agency that is good is Madison Adoption. They match quickly as well.


Living Hope:

*We loved our agency.



Madison Adoption Agency:

*We are on our 2nd adoption and LOVE LOVE LOVE our agency this time around! We are using Madison- they are a bit more than others I think, but really wonderful, amazing, hard working women who will go to bat for you to help make families. They are what happens when an agency is run with their hearts, not with their pocketbooks!

*They really are awesome people. I hear so many horror stories from friends about their agencies. Madison really is in it for the kids.

*LOVED our agency...Madison Adoption Associates

*We are with Madison Adoption Associates and can not recommend them enough! They are beyond fabulous. Seriously! This is our 3rd adoption and 3rd agency, and we will never switch from Madison. I had an urgent home study question on a Saturday afternoon, and emailed Diana the SN coordinator with my question, fully expecting to have to wait until Monday for a response. She emailed me back on a SATURDAY NIGHT a 11 PM her time with the answer! She is amazing! It was started by Aleda Madison, and she is now joined by her daughter Diana and a few others. They don't just do this for a job - they are adoptive families themselves. Aleda adopted two children and Diana and her husband have a dossier in China right now. They live this stuff.



Small World Adoption:

*We absolutely LOVE our agency -- Small World Adoption. Their web site is www.swa.net They are very proactive with matching families off the shared list (wait time is usually less than one month for a referral), are professional and knowledgeable, will do all your paper certifications and authentications if you want them to, and their staff in China is F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S.! We are in the process for our third adoption with them (sixth China adoption over all). I would never use another agency at this point.

*We are using Small World and I love them! They have been excellent. Upfront and honest.Kind. I think, there are a few who have slightly lower agency fees, but they have never once asked us for money. Never. Will absolutely use them again.



WASATCH:

*My agency was wasatch adoptions. The only thing I didn't like was how they did travel arrangement. They have someone in CA doing it and there was always a break in communication.




Here are are a few "cautionary" emails I received:

*Whichever agency you choose, please stay away from Adoption Ark. I beg you. They do not do China but many other programs.

*We have not been happy with CCAI...chinese children adoption international....they have great reviews...but we feel they are not working for us, not aggressive, and have done things that are unforgivable.....we still aren't matched...after 18 months.

*We just got back from China for our adoption and I won't be using our agency again. Great Wall China Adoptions for these reason. Very Very slow on returning phone calls or emails during the referral stage(sometime at least a week!)I don't think that they work very hard trying to match people. I think they are one of the more expensive agencies in regards to travel. They tried to charge me quadruple rate for the train to Hong Kong. They were good in the dossier phase and the travel coordinator was easy to deal with and I thought our guides were good. But I know there are better agencies out there.

*My first agency was Americans Adopting Orphans and they are only suitable for families who will happily sit blindly by and never ask a single question and not doubt it when your agency says "it will happen sometime..."- they HIGHLY discouraged communication between families and on Internet forums, and HATED when we asked questions that showed we understood the process. seriously, they are horrid...stay far far away from them......


Our agency recommendations:

I will close this by adding that we used All God's Children for Caleb's adoption. We were actually very happy with them and I would highly recommend them especially if you've never adopted before. They pretty much hold your hand through every process. There were just a few reasons why we even looked into other agencies to begin with. AGCI's fees were a bit higher than some others. And I was looking for an agency that had more connections among the families who were in the process of adopting. AGCI seemed to have a large number of families that were adopting from Ethiopia and not so many from China. I was looking for an agency that really specialized in China adoptions, in particular special needs adoptions.

We ended up choosing Madison Adoption Agency this time. And I will say that one of the nicer things about them is that they mostly communicate through their private yahoo group and email. If I have a question, I send an email or post a question on the yahoo group and I get a response within minutes every time. They have a very small office staff which I like. If we call we are never directed to voicemail or put on hold or shuffled through some large phone system. It feels like you're calling a family member. And ditto to all of the above positive comments. They have been wonderful and I'd highly recommend them!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

listen to those left behind

Hello. For those of you who don't remember me, let me introduce myself. Again. I'm Julia. I like to write it as "julia" b/c capitalizing on the keyboard makes me crazy. And b/c I tend to mis-type my name 90% of the time (usually it ends up as "juila) and the capitalizing always pushes me to 100% failure. And that's annoying...to misspell your own name. But I digress. I do that a lot. I think it's the fact that for the last 12 and 1/2 years I've been a stay at home mom and I tend to always get side-tracked in my actions and thoughts. It translates into not so great paragraph structure.

I'm writing here for the first time in months b/c I actually have something to write about. Again. Adoption! That's right. We're starting our 2nd adoption for our 5th child. Does five sound like a lot? Because it does to my husband and for some reason does not to me. I think it may be b/c I have a lot of homeschool friends and they tend to have larger than average families. So 5 doesn't seem that crazy. Andy, however, lives among the "real world" and out there people tend to think 4 kids is a crazy big family. So he is always hearing, "Oh. 4 kids. That's a lot." And I rarely hear that and even less rarely (I know, so not good grammar) think that. I find the whole thing fascinating...that "big family" is such a relative term.

Anyone who knows me for say, 5 minutes, probably knows that I was ready to go "back to China again to adopt" before we even got on the plane to get Caleb. I just knew that once I came face to face w/a real live orphan, once I touched the hand of child who had never known what a mother's hand felt like, once I walked through an orphanage, once I saw how many kids we would walk away from and leave behind, I could not NOT go back. I could not look at my life and say, "Nope. No more room. We're full. We're busy. We're done." I just could not say that. And trust me, all signs point to us being done. Our 4 bedrooms are full. Our van is almost full. Our calendar is generally full. Our kitchen table perfectly sits 6 and looks full. Our bank account, however, is definitely not full. So we have many, many reasons to be done.

But one of the many reasons why I can not say no is heard in this video. Andy took this on the day we met Caleb in his orphanage last summer. We were walking down the hallway and we heard these lovely voices singing in the background. We peaked into the door and what we saw you won't be able to see b/c we weren't allowed to take any video of the children there. But the image is etched in my mind forever and I'm pretty sure the sound will be etched in your mind as you listen. I can almost guarantee it.

video

What you don't see is a "classroom" of children standing on a small stage in a room that mimics a school gymnasium. The kids were elementary aged and were standing all tall and proud and were singing. For no one. For absolutely no one. The gym was empty. It should have been full of chairs w/doting parents looking on. But there weren't any parents. In fact, there were no chairs. Because no one was coming to hear them sing. And no one would ever hear their beautiful song. Their voices were echoing through hallways. Hallways that were always full of children and never full of parents. And I whispered to Andy, "No one is coming." And I cried. And that, my friend, is one of the many reasons why we're going back to China. How can we not?

Monday, August 9, 2010

you'd think i'd have this perfected by now

We started our official school year last week. Kara is in 7th grade, Anna is in 6th, Nathan in 2nd, and Caleb in pre-K. You would think that after all these years of homeschooling I'd have things figured out by now, right? Well, I do know what DOESN'T work. I guess that's a start! And I do know that no matter what I'll spend hours and hours researching and contemplating curriculum choices year after year after year. Well, except for Math. That one is a no-brainer. I did find the perfect math program for all of my kids several years ago and it's a keeper. That program is written in black permanent Sharpie ink in my mind every year. All the other subjects are in pencil.

And for all my homeschool curriculum obsessed friends...here are my 2010 winners. Enjoy! (All others may sign off now b/c you'll be bored to death!)

6th/7th grade:

Math U See. LOVE IT. Can't say enough good things about it. Worth every single penny. And it's not cheap, so that's saying a lot. I'd pay twice as much for it if I had to. But don't tell anyone that.

Alpha Omega's Switched on Schoolhouse Science and Bible. Once upon a time I swore, swore, SWORE I would never use DVDs or the computer as part of my children's school. Nope. That was what lazy moms did. And things like that ruined their creative minds. Well, I'll just say that "never" has come and my girls and I love this computer curriculum. If you have more than one child, it may become your best friend too. The Bible curriculum is good for learning Bible content and history. It's not easy. It's a ton of work. This is the second year the girls will be doing it. I wasn't going to buy it b/c we already had the "Who is God?" book (see below). But Anna BEGGED to continue on w/this one as well. Who can say no to a child begging to do extra Bible?! Kara, on the other hand, didn't beg so much. But she is doing it as well. The science is also not easy at all. The girls had gone through most of the Apologia science books and I was looking for a change last year. They both liked this. So we're doing another year of it. Then it will probably/maybe be back to Apologia.


Apologia's new Who Is God Biblical Worldview. Oh my goodness this one is good. It's the first in a series of books from Apologia. I love it. My kids love it. It's that good. Get it. This is a MUST HAVE book for all families. Homeschool or not. It's a great book to go through together as a family.

Notgrass's America the Beautiful. This hasn't even been published yet but is supposed to be out this month. I check my email everyday in hopes of getting an "It's done!" email from them. I'm pretty sure it's going to be worth the wait. I saw a rough copy of it back in the spring at a homeschool convention. I loved it. I was actually looking at their high school curriculum and was falling in love with it...as much as one can fall in love w/curriculum. Some of you know what I'm saying here, right?! Anyway, I loved how it blended history, literature and bible all in one. Three subjects in one?! Now that's speaking my love language!

Latina Christiana. Can't say much about this mostly due to the fact that I don't teach it and have no idea what the kids are learning. They have passed me up in my Latin expertise (uh, that wasn't hard b/c I know no Latin!). This is a DVD curriculum w/a workbook. I do purchase the extra activity book that goes along w/it (Ludere Latin). They all have answer keys and that's how I stay involved. I grade the work. I have no idea WHAT I'm grading, but I do. If I have questions, I ask Anna. She loves Latin.

Diagramming Step by Step. The girls had been using Rod & Staff's Building Christian English Skills for the past few years and I just kind of got tired of it. As did they. It's a great curriculum but it didn't vary a lot from year to year. I'll use it later on for Nathan b/c it was good. But this year I wanted to focus more on sentence diagramming for the girls. I bought this Step by Step book at the homeschool convention as soon as I spotted it. We'll see how it works out. It gets pretty intense so it may take longer than a year to get through.

IEW's Student Writing Intensive. If you're looking for a great writing program, this is it. Zero teacher prep time. Need I say more?!


2nd grade:

Mystery of History. Started this last year w/Nathan but never finished it. It's good. Really good. And I'm determined to make the time to teach it this year. I used Story of the World for the girls. It was good but wasn't strong on incorporating Bible history into the text. My plan is to use Mystery of History for a few years and then switch to Story of the World when Nathan is a bit older and will be able to appreciate/comprehend it a little better.

Writing With Ease. Just discovered this. Bought the wrong level so we haven't started it. But I'm very excited about this one. Again, no teacher prep. Open it up and begin. My kind of teaching!

Math U See. See above.

Easy Grammar. Tried and true. Used this for the girls years ago. Easy. Good.

Spelling Workout. Your typical spelling book. Doesn't work magic but is good for your average spelling student. Ick. Spelling. It's kind of like cleaning the dishes. You just have to do it. Nothing special or exciting. Just needs to get done.

Apologia's Exploring Creation w/Astronomy. Love this. My kids love this. We pretty much read it and enjoy it. They do keep a notebook. Perfect for elementary/middle grades.

Studying God's Word. Good book for independent Bible study. My kids have all enjoyed this series. The only bad thing is that the verses are all in KJV. I ended up buying a KJV paperback Bible so they wouldn't be so frustrated w/the crossword puzzles/games.

Flashmaster. If you've made it this far, I've saved one of my best homeschool finds to last. Flashmaster. It's basically an electronic flashcard/calculator. It's how all of my kids have learned their math facts. Great to take in the car or use when at doctor appointments/etc. All of my kids started out thrilled about doing this but w/in a few weeks dreaded it. Again, it's kind of like doing dishes. Not a lot of joy in it. But it's necessary. If you are at a loss as to how to get your kids to practice their math facts, get this. It's worth the price.

Friday, April 30, 2010

the long awaited april post

Just noticed that I hadn't posted anything since last month. And I could not let the whole month of April go by without a post. Cause that would be tragic for all of you. Right, mom. And whomever else out there still checks this.

All of my real-life friends are always asking how things are going with Caleb. And I never quite know how to sum it up. Because I could go on and on about how much progress he's made and how clever he is and how much he makes us laugh each day and how much weight he's gained (12 pounds since June! 10 of them were w/in the first 6 months of being home), how quickly he's learned English, and on and on. But I don't. I usually keep it simple and just say, "Great." Because that pretty much is the truth. I'm telling you, he is THE happiest kid ever. And I'm not sure how we managed to get the cutest boy in all of China, but we did. Or the smartest boy in all of China. Or the funniest. But he is all of that and more. Now, don't get me wrong, he's not exactly perfect. And his siblings will let you know that about 6 times a day (x3 siblings = a whole lot of tattling and bickering). Just this morning I woke up to the sounds of sibling bickering. So, as I said, he fits in perfectly. He holds his own among two very mothering and sometimes overbearing sisters and a brother who 1/2 the time just wants his little brother to leave him alone. And pick up his side of the room. Yes, that brings up Caleb's biggest problem. He completely trashes our house. And he does it in such a quiet sort of way that none of us realize what he's done until it's way too late. His latest tactic to "leave his mark" in every possible place and way?...He takes the hinged handles on my dresser and lifts them up. Each and every one of them. I'm not quite sure what the fascination is with drawer handles is, but he just can not resist the temptation. And cars and pennies. I find pennies and matchbox cars ev.er.y.where. His most clever place to leave them? Inside my shoes. I'll pick up my shoes to put them on and sure enough, I generally hear a ratt-a-tat-tat kind of rustling sound. I am getting pretty good at distinguishing between money and plastic cars. So, there you have it. A little known fact about him. And me. He has obsessions w/drawer handles and hiding cars. I can shake a shoe and tell you if I have money or cars in it. Random. Huh?!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

i don't want my kids to be happy

Ok, I know this is yet another "go read someone else's blog" post. But I have to do it again. Because it's that good.

You must read this. Because it's good. And true.

It's about a fairly common thought/concern/question that quite a few people bring up when discussing adoption. It's the "what about college" question. Well, to be quite honest w/you...Andy and I have asked ourselves that exact same question more than once over the past 12 years. Adoption or not. One kid. Or four. And my thoughts have always been pretty much what Missy so clearly writes on her blog "It's almost nap time."

Hope you enjoy the perspective as much as I do.