We Are Blessed

For months now, I've hardly written in this blog, and when I have, I've mostly written about where we are with the adoption. For the first two months, I felt like I had to live, eat, and breathe adoption paperwork and to-do lists. However, since November, I've had way more time to just enjoy Ryan and the kids!

I had a two week break from work during October for Fall Break (I love the new balanced calendar!). We decided to take a quick trip to St. Louis, as it's one of the many places we put on our list of places to visit. We left one Friday night after work and drove to Edwardsville, IL for the night. Noah loves staying at hotels, and Liam (surprisingly) went to sleep without issue. The next morning when we woke up, we grabbed a quick breakfast downstairs at the hotel, and then we drove to the St. Louis Zoo. If you've never been there, OH MY GOODNESS. Now that is a zoo! Subsequent trips to the Indy zoo have left me feeling "bleh." I mean, I knew our zoo was pretty basic, but seriously, the St. Louis Zoo is INCREDIBLE and my favorite price - FREE. Dalia and Kevin met up with us for most of the day's adventures, which was a lot of fun for all of us! We had dinner at Imo's and stayed at a different hotel downtown St. Louis. We took the boys swimming and had a nice quiet evening at teh hotel. We were beat!

The next day we went to visit the arch and walk around downtown. It was a really fun experience! The view was incredible, and we really liked the museum under the arch. We grabbed a quick lunch at Jimmy Johns and hit the road. The boys slept most of the way home, and Ryan and I enjoyed quiet, uninterrupted conversation during the drive home. Here are some of my favorite moments captured on film digital file.

Eating dinner at Kahuna's somewhere in IL

Brothers at the hotel.

Getting ready for the day's adventures
I love elephants. The only thing better than one elephant is a mama elphant with her baby

My absolute favorite exhibit - we went twice - the hippos! INCREDIBLE!


Brushing goats

Eating lunch - super delicious and healthy unlike the fries and burger options in Indy

The coolest little bears!

Penguin exhibit - it was huge and FREEZING inside!
A fun carousel ride!

Made me think of the movie Project X. Beautiful.

This was HILARIOUS! These two chimpanzees were walking in unison holding grass in front of "themselves." HYSTERICAL!

Noah snapped a great picture of us!

 Noah and Ava (wedding slideshow material, I think!)
Happy Nate!

A train ride around the zoo to say goodbye to all of the animals

Dinner at Imo's Pizza (smooches are the best!)

Beautiful day to visit the arch!

In the pod getting ready to take a trip to the top of the arch

Love these boys!

Best buddies!

Goodbye St. Louis! We had a wonderful time!

We are so blessed.

Application for Immigration

Last night we celebrated a very special occasion in our adoption journey! We received our final home study reports on December 18th from MLJ, overnighted them to Lifeline December 19th, and they sent our I-800A application (Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country) to US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) yesterday afternoon (December 20th)! For anyone familiar with the adoption process, this is a exciting step in our journey!! We were told that within 2 weeks, we should receive a Notice of Receipt from USCIS. Then, 10-14 days later, we will each receive a notice for our biometric fingerprint appointment. Our fingerprints will be filed with the FBI, and our pictures will be taken.

The home study process went very well with MLJ! We had four visits total with them in November. The first and last visits occurred at their office downtown Indy, and the other two appointments took place in our home. The home visits were each 2-3 hours long and involved lots of questions and conversations so that our social worker could really get to know our family in order to write a thorough Home Study Report. She worked very quickly and very hard for our family! We were extremely fortunate that our social worker completed her report in less than one month from when we turned in our binder. She then sent her report to Lifeline the first week of December, as MLJ is Hague Approved not Hague Accredited. Our agency is accredited, so they conducted a review to make sure that all necessary requirements for a China Home Study Report, including Hague Accredited language, were all included in the report. This review process took approximately 2 weeks. After completing a few last minute pieces of paperwork, Lifeline approved the final Home Study report, and MLJ signed it, notarized it, and gave us the thumbs up to pick them up! We are so very lucky that the entire process from turning in our binder to receiving the final report only took a little over 6 weeks. I just heard someone say that it took them 6-7 months! Now that is probably rare, but still, we are counting our blessings.

Not only is the Home Study report needed to apply for our I-800A with USCIS, but a copy of the report will also go to China with our dossier. Our agency sent us the next part of our China manual, which explains the dossier process. Fortunately, we've already collected several documents for our dossier. The timing is again incredible because today begins 17 days off work for me! Hopefully we can get everything together so that when we receive our approval from USCIS (which typically takes 2-3 months), we can send out our dossier right away.

In the meantime, I've continued communicating with lots of people who are part of a Yahoo group specifically for families adopting children with cleft lip/cleft palate. Additionally, a new acquaintance created a Facebook Group for people who are adopting and should travel within the next year. We are connecting with lots of people who are just beyond the stage we are in, people who are just applying with USCIS, and people who are just completing their home studies. It's so nice to have support during this process! I am praying that I can be a resource and support for some of you who decide to take this step. It is such an exciting process, and I cannot believe that we could have a new son or daughter home before next Christmas. What a perfect gift! All FIVE of us will take our Christmas pictures together next year, and I can't wait.

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