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To all of our family and friends,

We want to thank you all for all the support we have received since we started this journey.  I know it has been a really long time since I've updated this web site. I'm sure you all know how crazy life could be bringing a baby into the house!

I just decided it was about time I update the site! So I'm changing the first page around a little to make it flow better time wise... bare with me as I make these changes!

Dearest Family, Friends, and Assorted Visitors!

We decided to start this web page as a way to let everyone know about our progress throughout our journey into international adoption, and to share our joy.  I will continue to update this site as often as possible, so we hope you will come back often! And please be patient with me, since I’m REALLY new to the whole web site design thing!

I am including many links throughout the site.  If you see something underlined, it will be a link to another site and will open in a new window.  Also, at the bottom of each page you will see a Ladybug (in China, they are believed to be good luck!).  Click on the ladybug to get to the next page of our site!

            So watch as our journey unfolds... 

Our Story...

Let’s start right at the beginning.  When Tom & I decided to try to start a family, it was devastating to learn that I would never be able to have any biological children. That's when we started discussing the option of adopting.  It was an obvious choice.  We looked into local and international adoption and the pros and cons of both.  After reading several articles about China's Lost Girls and seeing an Oprah episode about Lisa Ling's coverage of the story for National Geographic, I stopped thinking about adopting from anywhere else!

In China, they still maintain a "one child per family" law, which was designed to curb the population explosion in that country. Traditionally, male children are preferred because they are responsible for caring for their elderly parents later in life, as well as carrying on the family name. Therefore, baby girls are often abandoned for no other reason than the fact that they are female!

Thankfully, many of those babies are found and brought to the orphanages, where they are generally well cared for. However, these children do not get as much of the individual love and attention that every baby needs and desires.  We want to change that for at least one beautiful baby girl, and give her a forever family! 

So the decision was made… and now the fun begins... We found a great adoption  agency; Great Wall China Adoptions. They specialize in China adoptions. We started gathering all the documents for our dossier, and hardest of all, finding the funds to pay for it all!  The costs for adoption are staggering, although worth every penny in the end.

The first agency we contacted summed it up by saying “you will now beg, borrow, steal and sell everything in order to come up with the money you will need to go through the adoption process!”  Well, she was right!

We are looking at a bill of around $25,000 by the time the adoption is final, and that doesn't include any of the typical expenses for a new baby! (ie: clothes, diapers, furniture, etc.)  So, we have started doing all kinds of fundraising in order to make this dream a reality. 

This brings us to another reason we have created this web page and why we are passing it on to everyone we know…

Would you donate to our fund? Every $1 makes a difference!   

Update: December 2005 - We are FINALLY done with our paperchase!!!  All the paperwork is now on its way to CHINA!!!  In a few weeks, we should get our Log in Date (LID) from the CCAA (China Center for Adoption Affairs).  I am told we are now considered "paper pregnant"... how funny is that!!!  So once our papers are logged in with the Chinese officials, they go over everything with a fine tooth comb to match us with the perfect child!  I could not be more excited and anxious!

UPDATE: January 2006 - Ok... so after going shopping with Victoria in Chicago, I really got the uncontrollable urge to shop & play. So, I broke down and registered at Babies R Us... oh BOY was that fun! I really did have a great time with that laser gun!  (wish I had one for every day! LOL)Anyway, if you are interested in seeing what we chose (including the nursery furniture!) click on this link:  Babies R Us - Shaw Registry.  Also, you will see we registered for 2 of some of the bigger items, like crib & car seat, etc... keeping our fingers crossed we get the referral for twins!

UPDATE:  February 2006 - What a great way to start my morning.  I received an email today from the agency.  We now have our official Log in Date it's my mom's birthday!!!  So this is the date China officially recognizes as having received our dossier and the official start of the long wait

Update: June 2006 - Well, there has not been much to write about here, since things have slowed down to a dead crawl for referrals. Our paperwork has been sitting over in China since January, and here we are 6 months later and our dossier still hasn't even been through the Review process there.  When we first started this process, the wait time was 6 months from LID to Referral. Now that time has been extended to around 12 months to referral. The waiting is SO hard. All we want is to hold our little precious baby in our arms... but we will have to be patient and just keep remembering that everything happens for a reason..

NOW... I have to share an absolutely amazing thing with all my friends and family. I'll make this the "Readers Digest Abridged" version...

I received an email the other day from Paypal, saying we had received a donation to our adoption fund... it was from one of my bestest buds.. my Tori-pie... I was blown away, of course.. but also really confused, because at the bottom was a note saying "Happy Birthday Ilyse"... ok.. strange, I thought... (For those who don't know, Ilyse is one of my oldest & dearest friends who now lives in France with WONDERFUL G-dkids Steven & Juliette) Then I opened another email from Paypal... this one also said we received a donation and the note was from one of Ilyse's family members..  Anyway, then I open a THIRD Paypal email from a person I'd never heard of... Finally, I come across an email from Ilyse... (I read my emails from newest to oldest...) It was a note she sent out to all her friends & family, reminding them that her birthday was coming up and in lieu of lunches or presents, she asked them to come here to our adoption web site and make a donation to our adoption fund.  So there I sit at work, bawling my eyes out like a little baby... I am still reeling at the generosity.  So I want to take this very public place to say a VERY special thank you to Ilyse.  You are an amazing friend, and I want everyone to know!  I love you!!!

UPDATE: Sept 2006 - We've had a busy month, what with our 7th anniversary, our big Labor Day Shrimp Boil, and the last of our company visiting us. It was so wonderful seeing Zulema, Beth & Kate & Victoria!  We only wish we could have company more often!  We are still seeing slow downs but it looks like our paperwork is FINALLY in the review room.  Now if things continue the way they are, it looks like the paperwork will remain in the Review room for at least the next 4 or 5 months. We are desperately hoping things will start speeding up again and cut that time down somewhat. It will then be a few more months after review for this to go to the Matching room.  The truly depressing part is that the slow down means we will have to lay out at least another couple of thousand dollars!  This is because our fingerprints and our INS papers will expire before we get to China. If anyone has any political connections and would be willing to write to help with this, please let me know. We are trying to get the US Government to adjust the rules currently in place regarding the expiration of these documents (the expiration dates were randomly chosen. There was no rhyme or reason to any of it and we are hoping they will extend the expiration dates to 24 months each across the board!)

UPDATE: Nov 2006 - First I have to say Happy Birthday to my Dad & to Z!  Ok... so we are still waiting... and waiting... and... well, you all know the drill.  No word from China yet about any referrals for the month of October, which was really a downer. We are still hopeful that things will begin to pick up and that we will see some news by around March or so...
We have started another fundraiser, but this one seems to be doing much better than the others!  I have started making Swarovski Crystal Jewelry by request and sales have been pretty steady! (Thanks mostly to the gang at FHP!)  So if you are looking for some great items for holiday gift giving, check it out! 

BIG UPDATE: Nov 3, 2006  -  I FINALLY have some good news to post!  It is official!  We are finally out of the Review Room!  This is a HUGE hurdle. That means our paperwork is finally in the Matching Room.  This is where the Chinese Center for Adoption Affairs decides what baby will be a perfect fit for our family!  So we are just waiting for our referral. It will probably still be several months before we hear anything more, and we still have to go retake our fingerprints & refile our INS paperwork, but we are now one step closer to getting our daughter home!!!!

UPDATE: Dec 2006 - Well, we had our Fundraiser/Garage Sale this weekend. All in all, not something I would EVER want to do again, but we got rid of some stuff and made about $250 to add to the adoption fund!  The good thing was meeting some AWESOME people that stopped by either to donate items for the sale or to just say hi!  It was especially terrific to meet some of the people I had been chatting with in the various web groups! *Very special thanks to Trish & her terrific hubby... they stopped by and ended up working to help me pack it all in at the end of the day!!  you guys are SUPER!

So a reporter came in from the News Press as well as a photographer, and they are running a follow-up article on Tuesday about how we did with the sale.  The reporter this time was RACHEL!  love that name!  :-)  Anyway, here is a link to the first article they wrote last week:  News-Press Sunday 12/3/06 

Here is the link to the follow up article - There is even a cute picture of Tommy (I'm in the background in my tie dye shirt, of course!)  News-Press Tuesday 12/12/06

UPDATE: Dec 26, 2006 - What a terrific holiday season we are having.  As I write this I am sitting at our friends, Brian & Debbie's home in New Jersey.  We got to spend time with my family & Tommy's family for Christmas Eve & Christmas day.  Next stop is Zulema's place in the mountains, and then off to Cape Cod to visit Marla & the gang! Then we will celebrate New Years Eve back at Brian & Debbie's before heading back home.

 I am glad we did this since I was starting to get really down about the fact that we still don't have our little girl with us yet. This was originally going to be the trip where she got to meet the rest of her family, but we are still waiting... and waiting... and... well, you get the idea... but NEXT YEAR!!!!  :-)

UPDATE: Jan 2007 - Happy New Year to everyone.  I think we are still trying to recover from our wonderful trip up north.  It was so terrific to see all the family we hadn't seen in so long! New Years Eve was really nice. I had no idea Brian was such a terrific singer! 

Now for the latest on the adoption updates:  Unfortunately, the news isn't very good. As you probably know by know, things have slowed down considerably for Chinese adoptions. The latest statistics were put together by someone on the adoption boards, and they made a list of predicted/antcipated referral dates.  According to the research, our new anticipated referral date will be sometime in AUGUST!  That means we should now be expected to travel to China probably in early October.  We are really disappointed, but again, this is mostly supposition and rumor.  We are still keeping fingers & toes crossed that the Chinese adoption officials will step up the pace and things will speed up... but we aren't going to count on it.  So, that's it for this time around.  I'll write again when there is something important to let you all know about!

UPDATE: May 2007 - Hello, everyone. I know it has been a very long time since I have updated this site. Unfortunately, that's because I just haven't had anything new to report. Things have slowed down to a near halt in China. The last batch of referrals was only for 1 day of logged in dossiers. It has been really depressing for all of us. We know that when all is said and done, we will be the proud parents of a beautiful child, but right now, it all just seems like it will never happen. When we first started this journey, we were told it would be six months from the time we were logged in to China until we get our referral. Well, it is now 16 months, and we still can't see the light at the end of the tunnel! We have already been re-fingerprinted, and now we will be re-filing for our I-171h. I'm not rushing, since it will only be valid for 18 months, and I'm almost afraid it will take that long to finish this! But I will try to remain positive and as soon as we get the money together, we will resubmit our application to Homeland Security. (Still angry we have to pay for that all over again... ).

Hopefully, there will be something positive to report sometime soon.  But in the meantime, we just keep trying to keep the faith.  We are also staying somewhat busy by playing with Penny. (See the latest puppy pics on the photo page). Tommy and I are also taking a week off from work at the end of this month to work on the house. Specifically the baby's room. Once that is done, I will post pictures of that too. That's about it for now.  Please keep us in your prayers for a speedy and happy ending to this whole process!!

UPDATE: June 2007 - Hi friends & family.  Well, today was a big day for me... I went to Babies R Us and ordered the furniture for Rachel's room. Finally decided I had better get started on making that room "baby ready", even if we still have no idea when we will be bringing her home. The latest "Rumors" & "Predictors" guessing that we won't be heading to China until at least March of 2008. That is based on the fact that China has only been sending referals for about 6 days of dossiers each month. For example, our dossier was logged in on 1/23/06. The last group referred had their dossiers logged in between 11/1/05 and 11/7/05.  so if you figure that they are taking a whole month to do 1 week's worth of dossiers, we are looking at around 14 more months. Needless to say, I'm finding it harder and harder to "keep smiling".  I even had a little "minor meltdown" in Babies "R" Us today. Just seeing all those cute outfits and tiny little shoes brought me to tears... again... oh well... Sooner or later, it will happen, right?

UPDATE: July 2007 - Welcome all.  No, we don't have any news yet. Just figured I should post a little something each month until we do!  Oh... Check out the photo section for pictures of the nursery.  Still have lots more to do in there, but at least the furniture is in!  So the only thing going on lately is we had our dear friends the Luz family come visit for a week.  It was AWESOME... we had a great time and can't wait for them to come back again!  We celebrated Paulie's birthday while they were here and hopefully he enjoyed it as much as we did! Guess that's about it for now...

UPDATE: September 2007 - First and most important... Happy 50th Anniversary to my parents!!!  Holy COW... 50 YEARS!!!  Pretty impressive... and just to make it even more special, we got our updated I-171h on the 21st.. THEIR ANNIVERSARY DATE!  So far, all of our biggest updates have happened on dates around my parents... Mom's birthday for our LID and this... wow... Oh... and Tommy and I celebrated our 8th anniversary this month too!  So still no idea when we will become parents, but at least it was a nice month!

UPDATE: November 2007 - Hi friends.  Yes, I know it seems like forever since I updated.  Actually, it HAS been forever... but it's much harder to get motivated to update the site when there just hasn't been any good news. But I decided I needed to post something at least once a month, so from here on out, all my updates will be posted under here. 

I guess one good update is the nursery furniture is FINALLY all in and looks great. I still want to put some finishing touches on the room (like stencil some flowers & stuff on the walls to help break up the pink a little!) but after 5 agonizing months, Babies R Us finally got all the pieces of furniture to us unharmed.  Of course I now have a collection of "slightly damaged" pieces that we will sell off (each time they brought a piece that was damaged they told me to keep it and dispose of it how I want... they could have avoided all the hastle if they just would have gotten me the touch up paint!)

Anyway, we are holding on to the extras until after we get our referral, just in case of a miracle and we get the referral for twins! 

Today was a bit of a downer.  I had met this really great lady online.  She was selling some baby clothes and I contacted her to buy them (various sizes, since we have no clue what size our daughter will be!  figure whatever won't fit her I will donate to the orphanage when we arrive).  Anyway, she has just started a home business and decided she wanted to have a fundraiser for us.  I couldn't believe the generosity of someone I had just met. It was amazing.  So fast-forward to this afternoon. The day of the fundraiser.  Well, it was a total flop.  Not ONE PERSON showed up... with the obvious exception of my mom... I KNEW she would be there for us... anyway, we told all our friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.  Several people said they would be there but for whatever reason, they just didn't come. We even had it posted online on the community calendars and on the various message boards I belong to.  So, I now have a whole bunch of stuff we planned on raffling off (things that were donated by local businesses).  We are going to try to sell them at half the value on the local web sites... We did get one donation from a man who was playing pool near our set up (we had it in the lounge of the bowling alley).  Oh well... maybe next time.

Well, that's about it for now... I will update again in December! (unless something wonderful happens before then!!!)

UPDATE: January 2008 - So it is a brand new year. I sure hope it moves faster than LAST year, at least until we get "The Call" (our referral). One thing I have decided is that effective immediately, I am keeping nothing but positive thoughts that we will get a referral for twins, so from now on, I will be talking about "them" and our "girls". Hey, we've got a 50-50 shot, so why not hope for the best, right?  I've already come up with our 2nd daughter's name too.. Haley. Not sure about a middle name yet, but that will come with time.

There is still no news to report, other than the complete flake-out of the lady I met back in November who wanted to do the fundraiser with us... she apparently had some personal issues, so she decided not to do the catalogue sales thing she was planning, and she also "lost" all the gift certificates that she kept after the failed fundraiser at the bowling alley. I actually had someone who wanted to buy 1 of them but I couldn't sell it to her since I didn't have it in my hand... should have known it will all be too good to be true.

This month also marks the 2nd anniversary of our log in date... what a total drag THAT is. We never imagined we would be remembering THIS anniversary instead of the anniversary of our "gotcha day" (the day we meet our girls!)

UPDATE: March 2008 - Ok, so it's been a LOT longer than I planned since the last update, but the truth is, there really hasn't been anything to say.  Well, finally, there is some better news... NO, we did not get THE CALL yet... but the CCAA has FINALLY completed all the referrals for families who were logged in in 2005.  So we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel!  As of right now, we are anticipating a referral in June, and hopefully we will be heading to China before the Olympics!

And with that being said, I have started the whole preperation thing... I've started gathering up all the stuff we will need to bring with us (lots of travel size items, packmate bags, etc) as well as getting the items we will send in our care package to the orphanage - this will include a couple of single-use cameras for the staff to use to take pictures of the girls, along with instructions so they know we want the cameras when we come to pick them up, also baby blankets which we will sleep with for a couple of days so they get our scent, some candies for the "nannies", a photo album with pictures of the house, the nursery, us, lots of family shots, etc.

We will also be gathering all the gifts we will have to bring with us for the nannies and other staffers... I signed up for another message board that is helping me come up with lots of ideas.

UPDATE: April 2008 - We got our updated 171h back from Tampa. Yippee! Too bad this month's referrals only covered 5 days again... So we are back to PRAYING that we will get a referral in June so we can travel before the Olympics!

On another note, I've gotten all the gifts for the nannies taken care of. I've also arranged to get the gifts for the officials. One of the local fruit farmers here makes homemade preserves & chutneys... anyway, he's agreed to can some mango preserves and star fruit preserves for me in plastic instead of glass. I'm going to make a nice little bag of things for the officials and include a jar of each in the bags. Thought they were very "Florida". (It is suggested that you bring them gifts that are representative of your area, so what better than Florida fruits!)

UPDATE: June 2008 - Ok folks... this is a biggie... the latest batch of referrals is coming out right now and no, we are not in this batch BUT... the cutoff date is January 22nd.  What does that mean?  Well, it means we are ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY GOING TO GET OUR REFERRAL NEXT MONTH!!!!!!  So if you are following this little drama at all, I suggest you make a daily trip here starting July 1st to see the big news in the banner!  Once the referral comes in from our agency, we will post the referral pictures here, as well as all the info we get. 

So the next obvious question will be "when do you travel"?  Well, that - of course - will be the big question from us too.  From what I understand, it will be at least 6 weeks after our referral.  But because of the Olympics, we don't know how it will all play out, but when we do, we will post the info here too! 

So this is our news of the hour... can't wait till we can post more.

HUGE UPDATE: June 27, 2008:  So as I sat at a red light on my way to work, I decided to check my email. I was going in for overtime, and I don't know why I needed to check right then and there, but I did... and what did I find?  Well there was an update from Beth - our current referral counselor (Kim had a family emergency).  Updates are not that unusual, but this was the 2nd one today. and it was really late for them... it was almost 6pm our time. Anyway, I read the update and as I'm sitting at this red light, I start screaming... out loud... making the guy in the car next to me look at me like I was nuts!  The update was to let us know that "a package was already enroute from China and should arrive Monday or Tuesday". What this APPEARS to mean is that instead of waiting until around July 7th, we will be getting our referral THIS WEEK... Monday or Tuesday!!! 

Tuesday is the most likely, especially in keeping with our "milestones happen on important family dates". Tuesday is our friend Paulie's birthday!  Funny, but ages ago, we thought maybe we would get our referral on Victoria's birthday in May but instead it looks like it will be her hubby's birthday!  WOOHOO... So as one of our travel mates stated so perfectly, "We are in Labor... BREATHE, girls, BREATHE"

HUGE UPDATE CONT'D: June 30, 2008 - Well, we all received an email from our counselor Beth this morning.  The package will not arrive until tomorrow.  So, as I said, Paulie's birthday!  The email also had a little disclaimer about the fact that nobody knows exactly what is IN the package, and there IS a possibility that it does NOT contain our referrals.  However, someone asked if Great Wall was waiting for anything ELSE to arrive from China (like Travel approvals or Letters of Intent) and the answer was NO...  so there is a better than average chance that the package contains our referrals.... the next 24 hours is going to be absolute HELL.

Disappointment - the package was not referrals... we don't know what it was, but it wasn't what we hoped for... we have to wait even more... I am beyond sad... but I know it will happen soon.... probably not until after July 4th now...

UPDATE: July 7, 2008 - Today was the BEST day of our lives!!!!!  We have our referral!!!!!  Words just can't express how happy we are. Check the post at the bottom of this page.  I've posted her pictures and info in the photo section!  She is beautiful!  We are told we should travel around the end of August.  Can't wait to hold her and pinch those chubby cheeks!!!!

DRUMROLL PLEASE: July 7, 2008 - It is with immense joy and happiness that we introduce you all to our precious daughter!!!!  She is currently known as Chen Qun Xin. She was born on Dec 2, 2007 in the Hunan Province. She was left at the gates of the Chenzhou Orphanage in Changsha and has been in their care ever since. Chenzhou is sponsored by "Half the Sky" which is an amazing charitable organization. What that means is that she has been REALLY well cared for since being placed there, and is an incredibly healthy little girl. We have put her referral pictures in the "Photo" section.  Can't wait to add more but it seems that won't be till we are in China with her. We have no idea when we are leaving, but so far the best guess is the end of August or beginning of September.  Our only disappointment is that because of the Olympics, we will not be allowed to travel to Beijing. After all these years of imagining taking pictures of our new family along the Great Wall, it's sad that we won't be able to do that... but maybe someday we can go back and do that with her when she is old enough to appreciate it!

UPDATE: August 4, 2008 - TA's arrived today. That stands for Travel Approval. So now that we have APPROVAL, all we are waiting for is our Consulate appointment. That is the final step to complete the adoption. Once our agency gets the appointment date, they will let us know and we have to backtrack 2 weeks for our departure date. That means the earliest we would leave is on August 29th, but they said it could be as late as the middle of September. I am keeping fingers & toes crossed that it will be the end of August. I've had it in my head for so long that we would be there and already have our daughter before our wedding anniversary on Sept 5th.... so I'm going to stick with that thought and hope for the best.

UPDATE: August 13, 2008 - We FINALLY got our confirmed Consulate appointments! Now all we need to do is book our flights!  WOOHOO...   so here is what we got from our agency:                                                                                          Tentative group travel schedule:

Depart U.S. on September 08, 2008
Arrive in China and overnight in major city such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangzhou etc. September 09, 2008 (This arrival city will depend on best price for international flight for you or city of your choice to have overnight before flying into your child's province.)   **** we are going to Hong Kong...
Fly to your province on the morning of September 10,2008                                **Meet Child on September 11, 2008** 
Pick up child's passport on September 18, 2008 
Arrive in Guangzhou:  September 19, 2008
American Consulate appointment- September 23, 2008
Family goes to AC to pick up child's passport with visa and take oath – afternoon –September 24, 2008       On September 25, 2008 we head back to Hong Kong and on September 26, 2008 we head home!

UPDATE: August 15, 2008 - Flights are booked.  It's really going to happen!  This was a good day and a bad day... We are confirmed on our flights from the states to China and from Hong Kong to the Hunan province. on the down side, Marla has decided the trip is going to be too much for her due to the heat and the length of time we will be gone. So she's opted not to come with us after alll. I was really disappointed, but TOTALLY understood why she made the decision.  So I'm just hoping the weather will make a major turn and cool down enough for her to change her mind and meet us in China after all... that's always a possibility...

UPDATE: September 4, 2008 - I am starting to firmly believe in the old adage "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger..."
Today was hell... got a call at noon from our credit union. I was expecting their call because today was when my new money was going to be delivered so they were calling me to pick it up... or so I thought... but NO... instead they are calling me to tell me that despite all the promises and assurances they gave me not 2 days ago, they could NOT get the new money... I blew my top... I got hysterical... I cried, screamed, cried some more... and all they said was "sorry". So I called the main HQ in Tampa... freaked out some more on the phone with them... told them it was doubly aggravating having to listen to their message on hold, which kept repeating how much they value their members and value our trust... yeah right... ok, so I call my girlfriend Kim... my savior... I'm hysterical crying to her on the phone... I asked her to take the end of the alphabet and I had already started the beginning and we would meet in the middle and call every freakin bank in the county until I got enough new bills... well, she stops me and says her mom works at a credit union up in Punta Gorda... SO... she calls her mom, they have new bills, we are taking a road trip to PG... so I go to my credit union branch on Santa Barbara (because if I go into the one on Del Prado, I would do some serious physical harm to them) and I'm going to withdraw $6000 to take up to Punta Gorda... while I'm in line, my phone rings... its the main office in Tampa... they found new bills for me but they are not at the Del Prado branch... they are in the Santa Barbara branch! I tell her I'm standing in the Santa Barbara branch... she tells me to ask for Joanne.. so I do... they have my money in an envelope in the back... all in new bills, no marks, no folds... just like I need. So I call my girlfriend and tell her the road trip is off... and now I need Valium!!!! or ice cream... LOL... Nothing like a little excitement/aggravation to start my day!
BUT... we did get some GOOD news... we got an updated itinerary from the agency... seems we are NOT going to get our daughter on the 11th... we are actually getting her on the 10th!!! the same day we arrive in Changsha!!!
We get in around 11am, go to the hotel, unload, and have to be at the civil affairs office at 3:30pm!!!! WOOHOO!

UPDATE: FINALLY:  January 2009 - Well obviously, it has been FOREVER since I updated this site.  Since going to China, our lives have changed so dramatically for the better. So I'll try to do a summary update here...

We left the States on Sept 8th and arrived in Hong Kong on Sept 9th.  We just had time to check into our hotel and get to sleep.  First thing in the morning on Sept 10th, we were back on a plane heading for Changsha China.  We arrived at the Dolton Hotel, checked into our room, showered, changed, and headed down to the lobby to meet all our travel mates and get on a bus!  We were heading to the Civil Affairs office to get our daughter!!! It was an amazing journey to say the least.  The bus was hot, sticky, and uncomfortable but nobody seemed to care... we were on our way...

When we arrived at the civil affairs office, the babies were already there.  The nannies from the orphanage were all seated on the wooden bench seats under the windows, holding all the girls. We had to wait until they called our names to see them.  It was so hard to stand there and see all those beautiful little faces and not run up and grab them and hug them.  I didn't know how long I would last.  Luckily, we were one of the first ones called!  First they had to compare our pictures and paperwork to us, then compare her paperwork to her... then they placed Chen Qun Xin into my arms and I cried.  I don't think I STOPPED crying till after we got back to the hotel!!  We were finally a family!  So our little girl walked into the civil affairs office as Chen Qun Xin and walked out as Rachel MeiLi.  I truly think the rest of the day was a complete blur. All I remember was feeling complete... whole... and also I remember that my daughter put her arms around my neck and held me.  Almost as tightly as I was holding her.  She didn't cry.  She was happy. It was beautiful.

The next day we had to return to the civil affairs office with the girls. We had to fill out more paperwork and testify that we were going to accept this child as our own... as if there was any doubt!  Just another red tape formality, but I wasn't going to argue.  So our official adoption day I guess is Sept 11th but we will probably celebrate our Forever day as the day they placed her in our arms... Sept 10th... a day that will be permanently engraved in my brain!

We spent 10 days in Changsha.  It was an experience to say the least. We did lots of sightseeing and walking in the 500 degree heat and 1000% humidity.. it was miserable.  We were lucky enough to be in China for the mid-Autumn festival - Also called the Moon festival.  We went to a beautiful park for all the festivities... unfortunately, many people in our group decided they wanted to go back to the hotel early, so we missed most of the best events.  But we did get to hear some great music and enjoy the park.

One of the things we found totally incredible was the fact that everywhere we went, we drew a crowd of onlookers and gawkers... we felt like celebraties... but it was also very unnerving.  Complete strangers coming up to us and taking pictures of us... but the most frightening was when they would actually grab Rachel out of her stroller and run into a store with her!  It was just to show her off to fellow co-workers or something, but it was scary to say the least.  It was also funny when some of the older Chinese women would "scold" us for not keeping her bundled up... even though it was hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk!  We had heard about that before we left, but I didn't really believe it!

The food was really good and we got to eat in many different restaurants.  Our guide Michael took us to several places, and most of the time he ordered for us. I didn't do much experimenting, but Tommy tried a few unusual dishes.  We also had fun shopping in the local stores. There was a store called "Wacko" which reminded me of 7-11, only gloomier... That's where we bought our daily supply of water (you can NOT drink or even brush your teeth with the water in China... ). 

On the day we were going to Walmart to buy all our baby supplies, the news broke about the tainted baby formula.  Originally, we were told that a couple of different brands of formula were tainted.  Some of our group had purchased them so they had to be returned.  We had gone with a brand that was not on the list... YET... turns out by a day or 2 later, we found out that almost EVERY brand was tainted.  The manufacturers had mixed Malanine into the formula.  It is cheaper than the formula so they were trying to make more money at the expense of the babies. Several newborns died and many other infants were hospitalized. The tainted formula was damaging the kidneys. Turns out that Rachel was on the tainted formula from birth!  So we knew we would have to have her tested as soon as we got home. Thank goodness she loved to eat from day one.  We gave her as much regular food as possible but we did have her on formula every day. We bought the one that was listed as having the lowest possibility of being tainted (some brands tested much higher than others) and prayed for the best.

One of the other memorable parts of Changsha was the water trucks.  The streets and sidewalks are washed down several times a day (they must be since most people use them as toilets!).  They have water trucks that drive up and down the streets and spray water to clean them.  The truck plays music... either Happy Birthday or Auld Lang Syne!  The crazy part is, they don't care if there are people in their path.  They will hose you down as soon as look at you!  Some shop workers grabbed us and pulled us into a side street to avoid getting soaked with that nasty water!

After Changsha, it was time to head to Guangzhou.  It was a totally different experience there.  It was very much like an old European village.  We stayed on Shamian Island at the Victory Hotel.  All the other members of our travel group were staying at the White Swan.  It's a much more "palacial" hotel, but the Victory was less than half the price, plus they offered free internet and DRINKING WATER!!!  Basically, we had to walk 3 blocks to get to the White Swan to meet up with everyone every day for whatever it was we were scheduled to do.  It was the best move we could have made... even our  travel mates agreed. After all, we just needed the room for sleeping!  It was still insanely hot and sticky, but we survived... and Rachel was amazing the whole time. She was one of the happiest babies of the group!  She still is!

We had 6 days in Guangzhou... lots of shopping, lots of walking, lots of sweating.  Oh, and we had some of the best ITALIAN food we've ever had at a great restaurant on the island!  La Dolce Vita was amazing...  we ate there twice and had them deliver pizza one night too! YUMMY... We bought lots of souvenires, like a tea set, chop sticks, etc.  We also got Rachel a good set of pearls for her 18th birthday.  So it was a long hard trip, but we all survived and we made some amazing friends along the way!  Our travel mates were absolutely awesome.  We are sure we have made lifelong friends. It was an amazing, incredible journey to say the least!

So after the 3 weeks of sweating and sightseeing, it was time to go home.  We had another overnight trip to Hong Kong, but this time we had more fun... Not only did we have our precious little daughter to share it with, but we got to spend some extra time with our friends Jeff & Laura and Jeff's parents!  Their new daughter was our Rachel's crib mate in the orphanage, so it was extra special to spend time with them.  And Jeff's mom Josephine was Rachel's surrogate grandma!  When Rachel would see her, her face would light up and she would laugh her head off!  So getting to spend a little more time with them was really special.

On Sept 26th, it was time to leave Hong Kong and head to the states.  We had a much nicer plane on the way TO China, and as it  turns out, I had picked up a virus while in China and it started to kick in while we were on the longest part of the flight.  We arrived in Newark to find out that our connecting flight was canceled. We ended up flying from Newark to Atlanta and from Atlanta to Sarasota.  We didn't get in until after midnight!  When we stepped off the plane, Rachel was happy as a clam... Mom and Dad, on the other hand, were ready to kiss the ground!  We had spent 26 hours on airplanes! We were SO glad to be home.

When we got to the airport in Sarasota, we got quite the welcome!  Margie & Charlie had driven and brought my parents with them. Rachel went straight to my mom. That was perfect.  My dad was elated. It was absolutely wonderful.  And we also got lots of congrats from the airport workers, who had heard our whole story by the time we arrived! LOL..

UPDATE: Sept 1, 2009:  It's hard to believe it's been almost a year since we brought Rachel home.  She has been the most incredible joy, and I can't express how happy she has made us all. She is beautiful, smart, and amazes us every day.  I can not even remember what life was like before she made our family complete.  Her daddy & I have been completely taken in by this little angel. 

Tomorrow Rachel will be 21 months old.  She now runs everywhere, talks a little (actually, she talks a LOT but we don't understand most of it yet), and she has an amazing personality. She loves music - she dances to everything, even commercials!  She loves singing too.  She just learned how to sing and do the hand movements for Itsey Bitsey Spider!

I don't think we could have chosen a more perfect child for our family.  She is absolutely amazing. She is affectionate, happy, smart, and well... just the most beautiful thing we've ever seen.  Ok, so maybe we are just a LITTLE prejudiced, but what can I say?  We are officially PARENTS so we are SUPPOSED to be prejudiced!  LOL

In a few weeks, we will be having a reunion with several of the other famlilies who traveled with us to China.  Our girls were all adopted the same day from the same orphanage. We are going to make a special photo album of the weekend, and send it off to the orphanage for all the nannies to see.  I'm also hoping that some of our fundraisers will start pulling in something and we will include a donation to the orphanage as well. They obviously took such amazing care of our beautiful little girls and we would love to give something back. 

In the meantime, we hope you continue to stop by for updates, to see new pictures, as well as finding out ways you can help us to raise funds for the orphanage at  Chenzhou. 

If you would like to help us in our fundraising efforts, please feel free to check out the different areas of this web site.  You will find lots of ways we are trying to offset some of our expenses, as well as ways to give something back to the orphanage Rachel came from.  Thanks for any help!!!

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