19 December 2009

Finalized Home Study!!!!!!

This is me with the FedEx envelope as we overnight our finalized Home Study to USCIS. Since it's Saturday, it won't get out until Monday for delivery to the USCIS office in Texas on Tuesday.

This is a significant milestone in our adoption journey. The Home Study is the key ingredient for both the USCIS approval as well as our adoption application (the "Dossier") that is submitted to the Ethiopian government. With the Home Study finalized, we only have three items left to get the Dossier to Ethiopia.

We received the Home Study from our adoption agency (AWAA) today - just 52 days after our Home Study Orientation at the AWAA headquarters in McLean, VA. USCIS needs this to finalize our application. With any luck, we'll get fingerprinted in January and shortly thereafter receive the Immigration approval form (the all-important I-171H Form) that we'll take with us to Ethiopia. This form allows us to legally bring our son into the country for the first time - kind of important! That means we can't lose it while we wait to travel.......which will probably be about this time next year.

AWAA periodically updates the waiting time for the various age ranges of boys and girls who are adopted. Last week's update showed the wait time for infant boys at 4-6 months, considerably shorter than when we first started (about 9-12 months). The official start of the wait time is when the Dossier gets to Ethiopia. That's why we're anxious to complete all of these steps as quickly as possible. If we can get our Dossier to Ethiopia in January, then we may have a referral (the Ethiopian Govt nominating an infant boy to us for adoption) around July-ish.

We're not holding our breath for a referral just yet. We have a lot to do between now and then (just read my mini-tirade in my last posting). We head to Florida next week to spend Christmas with family. With any luck, I can finish shopping before we leave!

14 December 2009

Baby Steps with the Paperwork........Almost Done!

9 weeks and 4 days. That's how much time has elapsed since we received the paperwork from AWAA (our adoption agency) to begin this process. Forgive the pun, but we're taking baby steps at this point. AWAA is reviewing our Home Study and will finalize it very soon. We hope to have it in hand by the end of the week so we can forward it to USCIS.

Speaking of USCIS, we received notification in the mail today that they received our I-600A Form. While it is a standard notification, it indicated the next step is a fingerprint appointment. This gives us some slight encouragement that there's a slim hope to get fingerprinted before I leave for Navy schooling in February.

As Christmas fast approaches (I just realized we'll be driving to Florida for the holiday in just 8 days......I've got to start shopping soon) and we continue to make incremental progress on the paperwork and read a couple of the adoption books we've purchased, I realize that it's quite possible we could have our son by this time next year. Following the adventures of other families through their own web sites and the Ethiopian adoptive families Yahoo Group have been invaluable. Their experiences show that we are not even half way there yet; most of them have taken at least 12 months before traveling to Ethiopia for their child. That still seems forever away at this point.

As with all other challenges we have already faced and those still in our future, we will rely on the Lord's strength instead of our own. Luckily for us, our path between here and Ethiopia has plenty of intermediate challenges to get us warmed up: (1) looking for a house to rent in San Diego - a city we barely know, (2) packing and moving everything....again, (3) renting this house while we're in San Diego, and (4) taking command of a ship.

As always, we will rely on your prayers throughout this journey!

04 December 2009

There's Always Another Form

So there I was......thinking we were near the end of the paperchase. We indeed are well past the half-way point, but I noticed a major form I had forgotten - the I-600A Form. Fortunately for us, another couple adopting from Ethiopia posted when they had submitted the form.

The I-600A Form is what prospective international adoptive families submit to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) to begin the process of applying for an entry visa for the child. Like everything else, this form requires other forms to accompany it. We also have to get fingerprinted again. We've been fingerprinted already for the FBI's background check (which came back clean....scheeewww!). This fingerprinting session is for USCIS to do their own background check, just in case the FBI overlooked something. Of course, this isn't as simple as mailing another fingerprint form......oh nooooooo. We now wait for USCIS to contact us with our appointment. Yes, we'll travel to the local USCIS office and get fingerprinted. I'm just hoping that office isn't three states away.

This is where things could get complicated. I start my Navy school pipeline in February. Therefore, we really need the fingerprinting appointment in January. Here's the other complication - our Home Study isn't finalized yet, and we're not sure if we can get an appointment without the Home Study. Our completed report will be sent to America World next week for finalization. I decided to mail the form without the Home Study in the hopes of getting a fingerprint appointment without it because I figured it couldn't hurt.

We are still super-psyched to have come this far so quickly; keep tabs of our timeline on the right side of our website. We still hope to get the Dossier through the State Dept and to Ethiopia before the end of January. We've come to think that "Dossier" is French for "ginormous packet of forms that requires hundreds of signatures and notarizations."

And no....this hasn't sunk in yet. I think when the Dossier is finally to Ethiopia, we'll begin to realize we'll soon be parents of a wonderful boy.

29 November 2009

Almost Complete with the Home Study

We had a great Thanksgiving with my mother visiting. She and Alicia were gracious enough to allow me to cook the Thanksgiving dinner.......all by myself.
With Alicia's expertise on the pie, we had a fantastic dinner. I cooked a bone-in turkey breast with vegetables. I opted to enclose the turkey in a foil tent to keep it moist. I took the additional measure of placing a number of butter pats between the skin and meat. I'm sure that was the key to a moist bird......and a few extra calories!

We're almost done with the Home Study process. Chuck the social worker has conducted all of the visits, and he is now writing up his final report. He expects to complete that sometime next week. After that, he will submit it to AWAA for final review and completion. Only the background checks from the various police agencies are required to finish this stage of the paperchase. We submitted that paperwork a while ago. We must have criminal and child abuse checks by the VA State Police, CA (we briefly lived there a couple of years ago), and also a second check done by the Child Protective Services of VA. Oh......and a fingerprint and background check by the FBI. Needless to say, we hope all of those background checks are processed quickly and get to AWAA to complete the Home Study. With the number of times my background has been checked and rechecked for various security clearances and accesses throughout my Naval career, I just wanted to tell AWAA to trust me that if I had any skeletons, they would have been found by now! I wonder how many background and criminal checks birthparents go through before they welcome their child in their home? The Home Study is only half of the pile of papers we'll submit to the State Department as our official adoption application. We're almost done with the other half. Luckily, we're still on track to complete the dossier before the end of January - about four months after we started this journey - super-quick compared to what we've heard from fellow Ethiopian adoptive families.

With any luck, I'll be able to say our Home Study is finalized in our next posting!

19 November 2009

Home Studies are Almost Done!

We must do four Home Studies; the first one was the Orientation back on Oct 28th. We've met with our social worker, Chuck, two times, and the final meeting (the one where he meets with Alicia alone) is next week. Chuck has been very encouraging and has done a great job putting us at ease throughout the entire Home Study process.

Today was the in-home visit with all members of the family, to include Chloe. Chloe was well-behaved during Chuck's visit. In the spirit of making a good impression, I vacuumed last night to get most of Chloe's black hair off our light-cream colored carpet. I wanted to tell Chuck that our carpet is rarely this clean and he should make special note of our cleaning abilities in his final report. This is an especially-tremendous achievement now because the unusually mild weather has transformed Chloe into a four-legged shed monster. Alicia was grateful that I didn't share that detail with Chuck. All in all, it was a great visit.

I must confess the Home Study process is going much quicker than I expected. Chuck met with me last week; he visited the house today, and he'll meet with Alicia next week. It looks like our Home Study final report will be all wrapped up and submitted to AWAA by early December.

07 November 2009

The Rowland Coffee Shop is Open!

Just in time for holiday shopping or simply satisfying your caffeine addiction.

If you didn't know, the world's original source of coffee beans was Ethiopia! Last year, a family adopted two daughters from Ethiopia. The father is in the coffee business, and was so captivated by Ethiopia that he now runs a coffee bean supply company specializing in Fair Trade coffee. Part of JustLove Coffee's mission statement is to help families adopting from abroad, specifically Ethiopia, with fundraising.

Whenever you purchase coffee (or other items) through our website, we receive a portion of the proceeds. You can drink Fair Trade coffee...from the birthplace of coffee...and help bring our son home. We are still in the paperchase portion of the adoption process, but we intend to adopt an infant son. It's only a matter of time (and additional paperwork!).

Join us in bringing him home through our new coffee shop!

01 November 2009

The Number of Orphans in the World

We stumbled upon this video through one of our fellow Ethiopian adoptive parents. It puts in perspective the estimated number of orphans in the world. The latest estimate of the number of Ethiopian orphans is around 4.0 - 4.5 million. As you watch the video, keep that number in mind and how it compares to the various city and country populations that are in the video. To say the least, it's staggering!

29 October 2009

Home Study Orientation

We completed the Home Study Orientation yesterday and remain supremely excited about this journey! It was very clear the entire staff is well grounded in Christ and works very diligently to ensure every T is crossed and I is dotted so our adoption paperwork gets through all of the bureaucracy as smoothly as possible. There are literally dozens of documents required for the Home Study and another few dozen required for the Dossier, so this is no small task!

Lesson #1 for anyone considering embarking on this journey : be super-aggressive in completing as many forms as possible before the Home Study Orientation. The Orientation is considered visit #1 of 4 of the home study process so it all starts with the Orientation. David worked very hard over the past couple of weeks compiling all of the information and forms - to include notarizing! Because we turned in so many completed Home Study forms last night, we expect the first in-home visit (technically Visit #2) by the social worker to be within the month. The Home Study Coordinator who conducted the Orientation last night expected us to be able to complete the Home Study before David heads to Newport, RI, for his Navy schooling in January. That would be fantastic and is what we were secretly hoping for!!!!!

We drove to the AWAA National Headquarters in McLean, Va, for the Orientation, and it was great to see the folks who will be guiding us through the next few months. We met our Family Coordinator, Caitlin, who was as excited to meet us as we were to meet her. She is one of three Ethiopia (ET) Program Family Coordinators, and she currently represents about 40-50 families. The ET Program has nearly doubled every year for the past few years, and AWAA recently added a third Family Coordinator (Caitlin) because of the increased work load and to minimize the time consumed by paperchasing. She was so excited because she rarely gets to meet her families in person - as we're spread throughout the country. All of the Family Coordinators for AWAA work out of the national headquarters office. As we exchange what I'm sure will be dozens of e-mails with Caitlin as we compile the 20-30 documents required for our Dossier (official "adoption package" that will be routed through the State Dept and to the Ethiopian Govt), it will be nice to put a face to those e-mails.

15 October 2009

Preparing for the Home Study......and Celebrating Alicia's Birthday!

Last week, we received the bulk of the initial paperwork required for the Home Study. This was in the form of two e-mails, each containing at least a dozen attachments. Most of what was sent were forms that we will review - many requiring our signatures. A few of the attachments were pamphlets that describe the process and which forms and fees are due when. That has been especially helpful.

We will attend an orientation at AWAA headquarters in McLean, VA (near DC) at the end of the month. We're not sure how often they are offered, but the orientation is the first step of the Home Study. Our schedules allowed us to make the trip this month so we figured we would take advantage of the timing and get the process started as soon as possible. In the mean time, we certainly have enough to read and keep us occupied. Another requirement is to complete an on-line course - the National Council for Adoption Hague Intercountry Adoption Online Training Course. All prospective adoptive parents are required to complete this course. Alicia has started, and I will start next week (I've been on three ships conducting assessments over the past 3 wks). Alicia and I did a good bit of research (along with a lot of prayer and discussion) before deciding to adopt, but the folks at AWAA have done a great job in presenting a ton of information in such a way that we're not overwhelmed. We feel very well-informed and prepared for each step.

On top of getting a lot smarter on the adoption process over the past couple of weeks, we celebrated Alicia's 40th birthday. Alicia loves the mountains so I planned a surprise celebration this past weekend at a place in the Blue Ridge. I activated the Surface Warfare Nuclear Officer part of my brain - the really meticulous part - and planned everything for the weekend, to include a nature hike, horseback riding and a celebration dinner. I also managed to fit in a little golf for myself......you know, a little something for the effort.

The entire weekend went perfectly thanks to my nuclear planning......and also to our wonderful friends who could celebrate with us! I'm especially proud of the fact I kept all of this a secret from Alicia because I started planning in mid-August. I only told her where we were going after we were on the road. She grilled me for details while she was packing the night before, though. After a secret phone call to the place, I then could tell her that hair dryers and bath robes were included in the room - a detail I never considered but I now realize it's a crucial element in a woman's packing strategy. To maximize the surprise effect, I didn't tell her some of our friends would join us!

When she ran into her brother out of the blue as we headed to dinner the first night, I knew I succeeded in surprising her. Before our nature hike the following morning, Alicia ran into two other couples who joined us for the celebration. At this point, she began to suspect that all of these folks didn't happen to choose the same place for the same weekend just by chance. She wondered who else she would discover as she turned around the next corner. I successfully resisted her questions!

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner Saturday night, where she met the last few couples who joined us for the weekend.

We continue to need your prayers for strength, determination, and an unquenchable enthusiasm for our adoption adventure. This journey is only just beginning, and we are just as excited today as we were a month ago!

30 September 2009

Step #4 - The First of Many AWAA Paperwork Packages

We mailed the first of many packages to AWAA today. This package was very simple and only required three forms to be signed and returned. Once they process those forms, AWAA will assign us a case worker, and then the real paperwork begins! We have quickly learned that adopting isn't for the faint of heart. By the end of this process, we both will have gone through extensive background checks, physical exams, one home study with two additional in-person interviews, and a ton of more stuff! It is all worth every bit of it. For anyone considering a domestic adoption and how the expenses of that compare to international........From the research we did as we prepared for our adoption decision, we learned that domestic adoptions can be just as expensive as those from Ethiopia. Many of the European countries and China are much more expensive than Ethiopia (and domestic adoptions), but we discovered the range of average expenses for Ethiopia are comparable to those of domestic adoptions.

In the paperwork we recently received, we learned that the wait time for adopting an Ethiopian infant boy is slightly less than that for infant girls. At the moment, we are planning to adopt an infant boy. We say "at the moment" because Alicia would prefer to adopt a girl while David would prefer a boy. It's interesting we both provide the same reason for our preference: "Girls/boys are more fun." The home study is where we make the final determination as to our adoption preference. We hope to do the homestudy within the next month, but we won't know anything until AWAA processes the forms we mailed today. Based on feedback from other couples who have adopted from Ethiopia, we plan to keep a broad perspective regarding the age. We'll most likely say we're open to adopting in the age range of infant to 2 years old. As far as whether we'll put a boy or girl, we're still discussing that!

Our Church has a "Blessing of the Animals" every year in October. We call it "Animal Sunday" and we have been fortunate that our church here in Va Beach as well as the one we attended when we briefly lived in San Diego both observe this custom. Everyone brings their pets (of all sorts -- we've even seen a ferret!), and the pets sit in the pews for the entire service. I must admit that communion is a different experience with half the congregation on all fours. It's even more of an experience when a ferret is in the pew behind you.......and your dog knows it! Animal Sunday is this Sunday, and that gave us reason to look at the pictures from last year. Chloe has been our completely-spoiled-rotten dog for about seven years. It's hard to believe she's been with us for that long. She's a mixed breed we adopted from the local animal rescue society. She's got a lot of Chow and a little Shepherd which means we could vacuum every 15 minutes in the summer!

26 September 2009

Step #3 - AWAA Acceptance........and a Mini-Vacation at the Beach

AWAA called yesterday; we have been accepted into the program. We're sure at some point we should stop numbering these steps because we'll probably lose track because there are so many! We remain very excited but we have a long way to go. By following the adventure of many other couples who have adopted from Ethiopia, we know this process will take over a year. Luckily for us, we'll have plenty of activities to keep us busy between now and then.

Between now and next fall, we will find a house to rent in San Diego (Alicia will probably do most of that by herself as David will be in Navy schools to prepare him for command of the CURTS), drive two cars and across country as we move to San Diego, and David will assume command of his ship and be away from home for about two months at sea.

Speaking of keeping ourselves busy, we decided to play tourist at Virginia Beach by spending the weekend at a hotel on the oceanfront even though we live in the area. Through his travel, David had accumulated two free weekend nights with a hotel chain so we decided to treat ourselves. The room was labeled as a "city view" and we assumed that meant it would overlook the city.........not exactly.

As you can see, our view wasn't exactly of the city. We overlooked the roof of the portico. Since we were there to enjoy the beach area and check out some of the great restaurants there, we didn't particularly mind the "city view." ....that, and it was free.

We also enjoyed the boardwalk. The wind was brisk and put enough of a chill in the air that we needed a pull-over but nothing more than that. Alicia regretted forgetting to bring something to keep her hair back. Watching her comb her hair later that night was especially entertaining.

09 September 2009

Step #2 - The Application to AWAA

We took step #2 of our Adoption Adventure by mailing the application today to America World Adoption Association. We remain excited about the prospect of welcoming a child in our home, but we know that moment is not exactly around the corner. None of this has sunk in yet, and I'm sure it won't until we hold that child. We expect to hear from AWAA within a couple of weeks (they say 10 working days on the application) and conduct the home study at some point after that. We fully expect to have to conduct another home study after we move to California, but we didn't want to wait until after we moved.

Part of the application requires a picture of the two of us. As we looked through the literally hundreds of pictures from holidays and vacations, we realized we do not have very many pictures of the two of us. There are plenty of just one of us. Nearly all of the pictures that have the both of us are self portraits. You know - one of you holds the camera at arm's length, hoping the camera is both steady and aimed at your heads! We ended up sending the picture that we are currently using for our profile on this blog.

David is slated to assume command of a frigate stationed in San Diego (USS CURTS - FFG 38), and we will move in April and he'll leave to report to the ship in early June. Since the ship will be on deployment, that leaves Alicia in a new house to do all of the unpacking. Needless to say, we'll have our hands full getting settled in San Diego through next summer. Waiting to start the adoption process until then would have added too much time. We've waited long enough to grow our family, and we weren't interested in waiting an additional year!

07 September 2009

The First Step on a Long Road

We took the first step of our adoption adventure yesterday (6 Sep 09) by deciding to adopt from Ethiopia. We'll mail the application in the next few days. I guess the very first step was the AWAA seminar we attended at a local church about a year ago. As we talked about the seminar on the way home, we both realized that Ethiopia had made a significant impression on each of our hearts. As we further explored adoption, we contacted a few couples through the AWAA web site who had adopted from Ethiopia. Their enthusiastic and quick responses were very encouraging.

We are moving to San Diego in April 2010, but we didn't want to wait until we were settled to begin the paper chase on the road to adoption. We fully expect anywhere from 12 to 18 months to go by before we have a child in our home. Tacking on another six months to that did not excite us. I'm sure we'll have to repeat some of the paperwork or maybe a home study, but that is a small price to pay to begin the adoption process now

We worked our way through various challenges to get to this point. Without belaboring the various hurdles on the way to making the decisions to pursue IUI and IVF, we attempted IUI four times. After those unsuccessful attempts, we decided on IVF. We went through one IVF process unsuccessfully in May09, and the results did not lead us to believe that another IVF attempt would yield different results. We then considered adoption. As I said, we didn't stop talking about Ethiopia since we walked out of that AWAA seminar!