Thursday, October 16, 2008

Travel Approval

I just KNEW it would have to happen today. I could feel it in my bones. And it did happen today, just as I predicted.

We just received our Travel Approval from China, meaning things now shift into high gear. This is the last document necessary for a trip to China to bring our daughter home. We will be tentatively leaving on November 7 for China, and returning to the USA on November 19. We will probably meet our 9-year-old daughter for the first time on November 9. Once we get a visa appointment in place in China, then these dates will firm up and we can make actual travel plans. This should happen in a couple days.

You can follow our adventures in China on our travel journal here.

The trouble is, I just KNEW it had to happen yesterday, and I could feel in my bones that it would happen last Friday. I've been having these feelings for the last three weeks.

Hopefully I make a better dad than a prophet.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Letter of Confirmation

A long awaited milestone in our adoption process has arrived.

We just received our Letter of Confirmation (LOC) from the CCAA in China, which is basically a letter that we sign indicating that we still wish to go through with this adoption process. This gets sent back to China, and after they sit on it for a week or three, they will issue a Travel Authorization (TA), at which point we can begin to make travel plans.

Receiving this letter means all the long wait times are over. Up till now, the wait times have been measured in months, now we're down to mere weeks while we wait for our Travel Authorization. We will most likely travel just a few weeks after the TA arrives (perhaps in October). Stay Tuned...

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Day at the Friend Home

Life around the Friend home is pretty dull. To give you an idea of just how dull it is, I thought I would describe to you a typical dull day...

Tuesday, July 21, 2008

Deb canned five quarts of beans today. This normally would not be noteworthy except she has no kitchen right now. The only burner available is the side burner on the barbeque grill, so the beans are boiled and then canned in the garage. I guess the one small advantage of this is that it keeps the heat out of the house. Which is good because we have been having unusually cool weather for the month of July.

In addition to not having access to a stove, Deb also does not have a sink. So there is a table in the garage with two large tubs where she washes the dishes. We fill the water glasses and the ice cube trays in the bathroom.

The reason for all this is I have been putting new countertops in the kitchen. Granite countertops. Somehow, everything I do is a new learning experience, and working with granite is no exception. I figured out how to cut it reasonably well so I have my table saw set up in the garage with a jig I made to help cut straight lines through stone. I do the actual cutting with an angle grinder and a diamond blade. Hand cutting stone is a rather slow process and creates enormous amounts of dust. So I set up a big fan in the garage to blow all the dust outside. So far this makeshift workshop works reasonably well. Except when Deb is washing the dishes. It makes for rather dusty plates.

With most of the granite mounted and grouted in the kitchen, I spent some time sealing the granite to prevent stains. While I was doing this, I had David replacing some hoses on a project we have going: a 1979 MG Midget Convertible. I had just obtained a license plate from the Secretary of State's office, so if we could get some of the last problems fixed up, we could maybe take it out for a ride this evening.

We bought the MG in May as a project car as it needed a fair amount of work. I got it for a bargain, mostly because it suffered a rather unfortunate fire in the engine compartment. The fire was started by a wiring fault and burned up many of the plastic and rubber parts in one area under the hood, and scorched the paint on the hood and the passenger side fender. Since then, David and I have been working on it off and on, rewiring the car, replacing parts under the hood, etc. We actually got it running this past Saturday. So we were both itching to take it for a ride.

With the granite sealer taken care of, I helped David put the front bumper on the car, finish some wiring, test the lights, and get it ready to go. We then squeezed in and took off to our first stop: the gas station. Three gallons of gas was enough to make the needle point to 3/4 tank, plenty for some running around. We took off down Baldwin street, intending to stop at a friend of David's, who shares his interest in cars.

We both decided that riding in a convertible is a lot of fun. Especially during a pleasant sunny evening. David commented that you really don't want your hand to hang too far over the side of the car. This car is small enough and low enough that your hand may actually drag on the roadway.

Two miles later, the engine suddenly lost power. We had enough forward momentum to coast into a side street before coming to a stop. It now refused to start. One minute it was running great, now, not at all. Hmmm. What to do? We didn't have the presence of mind to bring any tools along, but I did drop a cell phone in my pocket just before we left.

I called Deb. Deb, for all her many talents, is somewhat tool-challenged. But she came through after my descriptions of what I wanted and came out in the van with the requested tools. David and I tinkered and poked for a little while and then the engine inexplicably roared to life and stayed running. Must be some sort of fuel problem. I had Deb follow us home. We lost power once more and I managed to coast into the parking lot of a local pizza joint. This time, it started right back up again. We got some strange looks, driving this tiny car with no hood and a burned fender, and coasting into the parking lot entrance marked "Out", but, as they say, "any port in a storm."

All the while, Deb was shaking her head and calling up visions of a 1978 Winnebago Motor home, which died one of its many deaths in that very neighborhood about ten years ago (it also was a fuel problem; we ran it out of gas on one of our joyrides).

Once we got home, we pulled into the family gathering place (you guessed it: the garage). Now it seemed to be running just fine. Maybe we'll stick a little closer to home for a while.

Josh had just got home from work at the bike shop when we arrived home, and I think he really wanted to take the car for a ride, but it was getting late, and he still had a lawn to mow, so his drive would have to wait.

The phone rang shortly after that. It was someone interested in looking at the pickup. With four vehicles crowding the driveway, it was time to get rid of one, so we had the truck for sale. The only car that actually fits in the garage right now is the MG, and that just barely, because of all the other activity going on there.

The guy came about a half hour later. It was dark by this time so I had a flashlight to help him look the vehicle over. He was gone for while, test driving it. I think I heard the sound of squealing tires down the street. He then came back and made me an offer I couldn't refuse. With the condition that the truck was in, it would have been hard to refuse ANY offer. We filled out the necessary blanks on the title on the hood of the pickup, by flashlight, slapping at mosquitoes the whole time. Then I watched the pickup disappear down the street and it was gone, the last echoes from the hole in the muffler fading shortly after. After 15 years of ownership, it was time to sell it. Just to fill the tank with gas was pushing eighty dollars.

Later on that night, Deb awoke to the sound of someone walking around in the back yard. The motion sensor light on the barn had come on, and she heard footsteps and other noises. She had visions of whole armies of theives stealing all our stuff, but after she woke me up, the night was quiet, and the light eventually turned itself off. I solved this mystery the next morning. Two voles had fallen into Joshua's window well and were scrabbling about, keeping him awake. He could still hear them with the window closed, so he got up and went to the barn in search of something to aid in dispatching the varmints. That would explain the footsteps and the light being on.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I took David out for breakfast this morning and let him drive. He is just learning to drive a stick shift. At the first light, he killed the engine three times and we had to wait for the next cycle. So he was a little flustered by the time it turned green again. Adding to that was the fact that there now was a large SUV waiting behind us. He killed the engine twice more and was becoming quite agitated. I told him that he was not giving it enough gas. So the third time, as the light was turning yellow, he gunned the engine and we shot forward, engine screaming, gravel flying, and tires squealing. I think we would have done reasonably well on a quarter mile race track. The SUV didn't make it through the light and voiced his frustration by honking his horn.

Yesterday, I managed to replace the stove and sink in the kichen. The sink took me nearly all evening, but now Deb has her kitchen back. She managed six quarts of beans today and said it was infinitely easier than canning in the garage on the barbeque grill.

I had a few ideas on the fuel problem after doing a little Internet sleuthing. I began to suspect some scale or rust in the fuel tank which suddenly blocked the fuel line to the engine. I had David begin to take the fuel tank off while I glued a few more tiles down in the kitchen.

With the fuel tank off, we could see some large particles sloshing around with the gas. It looks like we found our culprit. We drained the tank and stuck a fan in the opening to dry out the inside. While it was drying I finished the evening's tile work in the kitchen. The tank couldn't dry fast enough for David. He was really itching to get in the car and drive it.

David and I vaccuumed out the particles in the now-dry tank and mounted the tank back on the car. With David at the wheel, we took off towards the church parking lot down the street.

This was a good opportunity to do a little more practice driving also. We drove circles around the parking lot for a while, and this car seems a little more forgiving than our other car. This one will actually lurch and buck and snort a few times and then start going when David lets out the clutch too fast. The Mazda just dies. We stopped and started and shifted until I noticed that the temperature gauge was hugging "hot". I had David drive it back home. Looks like there is some additional work to do before taking it on any expeditions.

So now here we are at the end of another day. With all the boredom in our day perhaps I should do something a little more exciting. Perhaps I'll take up watching TV.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Long Distance Birthday

Abigail turned 9 a few days ago. We threw a party for her and gave her some gifts. She is wearing her new outfit in this picture, one of her gifts. I only wish we could have been there. We could only observe using the pictures that were sent to us from twelve time zones away.

We were grateful for the pictures, though. Being separated by half of a world, different languages, and different cultures, the amount of information we are able to receive is quite small, so this was a welcome glimpse into her life and a few of the others at the orphanage.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Dossier to China

Our dossier is officially on its way to China. Various portions of it have been "authenticated" at the China consulates in Chicago and San Francisco and now, having been gathered together again as one big sheaf of documents again, was express mailed to our adoption agency's office in Beijing. From there it should be just a few days before being submitted to the CCAA. And then the next wait cycle begins. If the normal estimated time frames are used, we should be able to travel sometime in October.

Meanwhile, Abigail will be celebrating her 9th birthday on July 6. Being separated by twelve time zones, we won't be able to celebrate it with her, but we'll be sending a care package to her. She will at least have some pictures of her family on that day.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dossier Away!

This morning I packaged up what amounted to about five months of work, copied in fourplicate (that's one more than triplicate), and notarized, certified (there may be a few more "ied" terms that are applicable), a bunch of required photographs, checklists, and a few other sundry items, and stuffed the whole business into a FedEx small box.

Each step of the way has added more value to that sheaf of papers, from the 51-page questionnaires that Deb and I each had to fill out for the homestudy, to the medical exams, to the numerous trips to the bank to have documents notarized. Add to this trips to be fingerprinted, loads of information to be digested from our adoption agency, not one, but two trips into Grand Rapids Secretary of State's office to certify all the documents and varying amounts of cash for many of these steps.

But the most valuable thing that package represents is an 8-year-old girl waiting in a Chinese orphanage, waiting for her Dad, Mom and two older brothers to come and pick her up and take her home to join the family.

All this, in a FedEx small box, which is now on its way to begin the next phase of the adoption process.

Please handle with care.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Today we received a letter from the US Department of Homeland Security. It was the long-awaited FDL, or Favorable Determination Letter. This single page sheet was the culmination of nearly 11 weeks of waiting, a trip across town to be fingerprinted, a rather hefty application fee, and a rather large set of documents that were sent in near the end of February.

The next step now is to get state certifications for this and most of the other documents in our dossier, make several copies of the whole business, and then ship the stack of papers to our adoption agency so it can be authenticated, translated, spindled and mutilated and finally sent off to China.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Several years ago, Deb and I placed a spare mattress and a bed frame in our three-season porch. We slept out there for many of the Spring and Fall months that year. The combination of the evening breezes coming through the windows, the crickets, an awesome view of the night sky, the morning songbirds and other factors made this a pleasant sleeping experience. It was sort of like those delightful summer evenings, camping in a tent with all the flaps rolled back to let in the night air, only without having to sleep on the hard ground.

The next year, we extended this into the winter by piling more blankets on the bed, and into the summer by opening more windows. We soon swapped the spare mattress on the porch with the good mattress in the master bedroom, because now the master bedroom was only used on those torrid July nights where air conditioning was the only way to sleep, and on those winter nights in the teens when our breath would condense and freeze on the pillows. Our master bedroom now serves as a guest bedroom, because we don't use it much anyway.

We've had some rather interesting experiences while sleeping out there. About ten years ago when straight-line winds tore out many trees and caused lots of property damage in the area, we were one of the first to know the winds were coming, because they lifted all the blankets right off the bed. We had a duck take flight early one morning and attempted to fly through one of the windows. The noisy crash and quacking that went on didn't break the window, but it did jolt us rather violently awake. It's amazing how loud a duck sounds when it hits a window 18 inches from your head.

We also can hear, in crystal clear surround sound, when a raccoon decides to start eating the corn out of our garden, which is just behind the porch. More than once I have dashed outside in the middle of the night and lobbed apples from the nearby tree at the corn-stealing varmint to chase him away.

I suppose you could say we're a little closer to nature out there. We're probably as close as we can get to being out in nature while still maintaining a roof over our heads and a few of the human creature comforts that we've come to enjoy.

Last week, nature came in to us.

Deb noticed while cleaning that there were several winged ants peeking out around the window trim near the floor in one corner of the porch. We cleaned these up using some bug spray and the central vaccuum. But we could tell there were more where they came from. Several minutes later, there were a few more ants peeking out from the same location. After a few rounds of cleaning up ants and then seeing more of them, we decided to call it a night and go to bed.

The next night was a warm spring night, and as we were getting ready for bed, we noticed that the floor around the bed was black with ants. Most of them were dying or already dead, but there were hundreds of them. They seemed to be literally coming out of the wood work, from the trim around the windows, to coming out from behind the window tracks, whereever there was a hole or a gap. We spent quite a bit of time vaccuumming them up, and eventually had the place looking ship-shape again.

I did some looking on the Internet to figure out what kind they were. Carpenter ants. The article I read indicated that swarms of ants could indicate a colony nearby. Do tell! I'll bet it's in the wall right next to the bed. So now I have a new project, removing the trim and the wall below the window so that I can go ant hunting.

We had some family over the next day. My 8-year-old nephew brought over something he wanted to show us. He took it out and placed it on the kitchen counter next to where Deb was making dinner. It was a small clear plastic box that glowed a soft blue when you plugged it in and turned it on. An ant farm. Lots of little ants making their tunnels through the blue-illuminated clear gel.

Ants. On the counter. In the kitchen. Sure, they may be contained, but its about the last thing Deb wanted around while preparing food. After the appropriate ooh-ing and aah-ing over the ant farm, it was moved to the floor of the dining room so Deb could finish the preparations without all that company.

This one was at least easy to remove. It went home with my nephew when they left. The carpenter ants in the porch walls will be an entirely different matter. Probably fit for another story.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night

I was awakened yesterday morning by the characteristic squeak of our bedroom door. The squeak is not all that unusual, as one of us will occasionally get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. However, this particular squeak arrived in my unconsciousness out of order. If Deb is the one who gets up, her movement wakes me up first, and then I hear the squeak of the door when I am awake. So to a person who is aware of the order of things, even while asleep, this particular squeak was particularly jarring.

While I was still clawing my way into a state of semi-consciousness, a three letter word floated about just beyond my reach. I think it was repeated a couple times before finally sinking into the mire far enough to be recognizable, but it eventually got there.

It was a distinctly male voice.

"Dad!" the voice said.

It took a few seconds to assemble all the pieces of my mental facilities together. The fog was still pretty thick. Auditory cortex... check! Prefrontal cortex... check! Brain stem... check! Primary visual cortex... Primary visual cortex.... Oh! check! Motor cortex... having a little hard time of it, but, check! Cerebellum... down!

"Dad, I need some help!"

All those brain facilities that have lurched to a start have been brought up so fast that they are now overreacting. Stark visions of fire, flood, ceiling collapse and other apocalyptic events swirled about as I struggled out of bed. Josh has been in his new bedroom for about a week, so I imagine there could be many things that go terribly wrong that I haven't even thought of.

I sure wish that cerebellum would come on line. I could use a little balance about now.

"Dad, there's a mouse in my bedroom!"

A mouse. No fires, no broken pipes and flooding, no major gas leaks, no cataclysmic events. I just went through the laborious process of brain initialization and startup at 4:30 in the morning for a mouse?

I followed him downstairs to his bedroom, grabbing the first weapon I could find along the way--one of Deb's shoes. I entered his bedroom, armed with the shoe, ready to do battle with a mouse. I squinted in the dazzling brilliance, not able to focus on anything at all, as Josh described hearing the mouse running back and forth beside his mattress. I imagine it was a little disconcerting, hearing the little rodent scrabbling about so close to his ears. I wouldn't be able to sleep either.

We drew up our battle plan. He would pull the mattress away from the wall and I would go in for the kill. I held the shoe high while he yanked the mattress up. No mouse. We searched the rest of the room for our prey. Nothing. I finally told him to get some sleep. We'll set traps or mouse bait in the morning.

I rolled back into bed, but sleep had long since fled. Deb noticed several minutes later that Josh's light had come back on. It was on for a while and then was back off.

When I arrived home from work that day, we pieced together the rest of the story. The mouse was active again immediately after Josh got back in bed so he got back up and managed to corner it against the wall and then trap it in a small bucket. He then carried his captive into the garage and left it there, where it later escaped. He also discovered that it was not a mouse but a vole.

It didn't take too long to figure out what a vole, which normally does not live in a house, was doing in Joshua's bedroom. It was rather warm the night before so we told him to open his window. He discovered that the screen I had bought for the window was the wrong size and could not be used so we told him to just open the window anyway because there are no mosquitoes or bugs at this time of year.

The thought of rodents coming in through the window didn't even cross my mind. As near as I can figure, the vole had fallen into his window well during the night and could not climb back up the smooth plastic sides. So it took the only path available to it--Joshua's open window.

This evening was rather warm again, so I went down in Joshua's room to open the window. I had looked for a screen at Lowe's this morning but they were out of stock. So I made sure to check all the corners of the window well before opening the window.

This time it was a young rabbit that was huddled in a corner. I removed the rabbit but wisely left the window closed. I can just about imagine what a rabbit would do for someone's sleep.

I am also wondering just what's next... a raccoon? Or maybe a snake?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Initial Contact

We received an email from China today. I had contacted a woman who lives in Beijing and she put in a phone call to the orphanage where Abigail is at (did I mention that we have decided to name her Abigail?). I had Angela (the person in Beijing) ask about ten questions of the orphanage staff. This also is usually the first indication that a child is being adopted, when the adoptive parents make some form of contact. After making the phone call, she emailed me back with the answers. Following is the text of her email:

From: angela
Sent: Fri 3/21/2008 9:30 AM
To: Friend, Tim
Subject: ??: Orphanage Phone Call {FRIEND}

Hi Tim and Deb,
Sorry it took so long! Here is what I got today.

1. Updated measurements: Height: 121cm [right at about 4 feet]; Weight: 22.5kg [50 lb.]; Head: 50cm; Chest: 59cm; Foot:18.5cm; Teeth:23

2. Any updated pictures?
We have taken many pictures for her. We will give them to the family when they come. (I have asked them to send me few through regular mail. I am hoping to get them next week. If so, I will scan and forward them to you as soon as I can).

3. Does she know she is being adopted? Could you let her know and explain the process to her?
She knows she is going to be adopted. We told her: Your Daddy and Mommy are Americans, they love you! They are coming to take you home soon in the future.

4. Does her name have any special meaning?
Her name was given by a doctor, no special meaning.

5. How is she doing in school? Are any subjects difficult for her?
Abigail gets along well with her school mates at school. She studies hard. She often helps other students. She likes to help others. Teachers and classmates all love her very much! She is especially good at Chinese subject. She has her own opinion and she often gets on her feet to speak. She gets praise from the teachers and classmates often. Her math and other subjects are on the ordinary level.

6. How would you describe her personality?
She is fairly extroverted, active and enjoys helping others.

7. What makes her happy?
To buy her new clothes and toys make her happy. Such as: Barbie dolls and stationery.

8. What makes her angry or upset?
If other children take away her favorite stuff, she will get angry and cry. But after uncles, and aunts talk to her, she will be fine soon.

9. Is she frightened of anything?
She is afraid of stuffed animals and worms.

They didn't answer last two questions. When you come to adopt her, you will get a copy of a finding ad. Make sure you ask them on the Gotcha day, in case there is no one. And on the Gotcha day, they will have a piece of paper tells you if there was anything left with her when she was found. Make sure you ask that, too.

Have a wonderful Easter!

We're putting together a care package to send to Abigail and it was good to receive this email because we had several stuffed animals in it. I wouldn't want to send along anything that she would be frightened of.

In the mean time, we are progressing on the new bedroom in the basement. I had a guy come out last week and cut an enormous hole in the concrete foundation wall of the house. I now have installed a daylight window and have been working on trimming it out today. The drywall is just about done and we should be able to start painting hopefully next week.

Today was the first full day of Spring here and Mother Nature celebrated by dumping six inches of wet snow on us (and counting; it is still snowing). We didn't make it to the Good Friday service at church because all the roads are pure ice. After sliding through a major intersection, we decided to just stay put at home. I'm hoping the snow won't stay around long. The large hole I dug in the back yard for the window is now full of snow, and I would like to install the window well sometime soon.