India: Part 2 {Gotcha Day}

The journey to Hyderabad was long, difficult, and draining. Not only the physical travel from Birmingham to there, but also the 2.5 years of red tape from two countries. We were so tired, so worn down, so emotionally and physically drained that I wasn’t sure if I even had it in me to process what was happening.

But then there we suddenly were. The moment we had been anticipating, in some ways, for almost a full decade. For a year and a half, we only knew a name, a face, and a medical record. All we had to do was step out of the car, round the corner, and she’d be there.

So we stepped out of the car…Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 5.54.30 PM.png

…rounded the corner…

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In a little pink dress with 100 layers of tulle. Her pigtails had pink barrettes to match.

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As I was walking up and holding Evie’s hand, I remember looking back at Zack with this big dumb smile on my face, because I couldn’t even process what was happening.

She was perched against the wall, just outside of her little room, and had her hand resting on a handle attached to piece of pipe. My voice went up about 10 octaves as I tried to find the right first words to say to my daughter. (Fun fact: my first words to Evie were “you’re not going to fit into the clothes we brought for you” because she was a lot bigger than we thought she’d be. I’m really glad that my first words to D weren’t the same, because she was a lot smaller than we thought she’d be!)

She did the cutest little tilt of her head while she looked at me like, “who is this lady with a big dumb smile?” I was so hesitant to pick her up, because I kept thinking about how you’re not supposed to pick up adopted children early on, because they have to bond and attach to their parents. So after a couple minutes, I looked at Merissa, an SCH volunteer, and asked permission to pick her up. Amama had to physically push her towards me because I was nervous. I guess it was a few seconds later as I was physically, actually, holding Dhanya Sri in my arms that I realized that it was me—ME—who was the parent, and holding her was exactly what I supposed to do.

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I tried to sift through all the things we had been taught to do—how to bond, connect, establish that you are a safe place for them. It was such blur though. We were escorted into her room she shared with other beautiful little children her age, and then into their play room. We sat there under the watchful eye of Amama, Dhanya’s caregiver whom she loved, and who loved her. That had to have a been a hard moment for her too. We sat on the floor and I started pulling things out of my backpack—snacks, bubbles, little tactile toys. Again, just trying to think back to things we had learned through all of the education we had received through Lifeline.

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The next few hours were a blur in a lot of ways. We saw her little bunk bed that she shared with her best little buddy, squeezed and loved on her foster siblings, and hopped in an auto rickshaw and drove from Courage Home to Joy Home, where she had spent most of her life. The older girls of Joy Home couldn’t get enough of her. They fed her biscuits, passed her from one set of arms to another, hugged on all of us, walked en-masse with us up to see her old bedroom where her crib used to be, and jumped on the trampoline with her. It was so wonderful to meet these sweet young women who loved her so much. I think I even remember someone telling me that they called her “Baby Dhanya”.

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By time we got back to Courage Home, it was clear that she needed a break, and we did too. In some ways, leaving her that first—and last—time was hard, but I’m also glad that she got the evening to process the day’s events before we left for Ongole the next morning. I’m also glad that we got a night of rest too. The Lord gave us a peace as we spend the evening at the hotel and wrapped our head around the day. There were so many times that night that our emotions would surge and we’d just break down, then we were ok again. It was a crazy night.

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We all went to bed really early that night, after a dinner of really boring American food room service—something that would become almost a daily ritual that we found to be immensely comforting!

We woke up the next morning to meet our caseworker Morgan, her newlywed husband Jeffrey, and our guide Alex, who was already starting to feel like family. (He likes telling corny jokes—we speak that language.)

As we drove back to SCH, stacked like sardines in a little car and zipping through the city center of Hyderabad and over to Jubilee Hills, there was such a different feeling. A night of rest, a day to process, having Morgan there, and some big prayers hanging over us from half a world away were really helpful. We walked back into Courage Home feeling no longer like strangers, but rather as the newest family in the Sarah’s Covenant Homes community, and more importantly, like our family was actually complete. For so long Dhanya was there, but not actually THERE…but now she was!

When we arrived, Dhanya was running around with her sweet little friends, but wasn’t so quick to rush to us. That was ok. We were prepared for that. She clearly knew that something was up. The story from here on out, I want to share just bits and pieces of, because I want her to hear the full experience of the day from us so that she can own her story.

Let me be very clear: no orphanage is good, because no child should be raised without a family. But Dhanya lived in a good place. A wonderful place. So good that sometimes I wonder if there will always be a twinge of guilt in my life, because if we had matched with a child in a bad orphanage, maybe we could have brought more hope to that child. In fact, the state-run orphanage in her city has had many terrible, gut-wrenching stories come out of it, and the place she lived for the first 4 months doesn’t even allow the families to go inside of it.

But I can’t live a life of what-ifs. I’m so grateful that my daughter knew love before us, and I’m so glad for all of the beautiful children who live there who simply will not be adopted, because even if they won’t know the love of an earthly mother and father, they will grow up knowing the love of a Heavenly one. SCH started as a vision of an American who had a dream of taking special needs children in India and loving them forever, rather than letting them age out of the system and into obscurity. We were able to visit both their Hyderabad and Ongole locations, and believe me when I say, the Hand of God is shown everyday through the workers there. There are a lot of ways to support them: you can sponsor a child’s birthday party, you can send Christmas bonuses to the caregivers, sponsor a child in part or entirely, order things off their Amazon wishlist, and more. Learn all you need to know by clicking here.

Anyway, all of that to say, leaving her home was going to be hard regardless, but leaving the people who have loved her unconditionally made it harder. The plan was to spend a couple more hours letting her play, letting Morgan make connections with SCH workers, having a goodbye party, and then finally giving out one more set of hugs before getting in the car and driving to Ongole.

The day went exactly as planned. We have so much good video and tons of adorable pics of that day, which I can’t post because we want to protect the identities of the children there. But this one of Jeffrey is too cute! Jeffrey.jpg

I especially loved hugging on Little V, who is Dhanya’s best friend, and will soon be living with her mommy and daddy in Seattle!

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We gave her a little bear that my friend Abby had given us to give to her. It vibrates and makes soothing lullaby sounds, and is still a something she sleeps with almost every night, 5 months later! It was so sweet to see her holding it close and knowing that it belonged just to her!

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The tradition at SCH is to get a cake for the little one who is going home, let them cut it, and then every feeds him/her a piece of cake! Amama made sure Evie got to share in the tradition too, which was so sweet.

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As the kids happily ate their cake, I handed out small gifts to her caregivers. I gave them baskets filled with specialty chai tee, a couple of Moon Pies, and a hand-written note with some rupees clipped inside so they could have a sari made. I gave each of them the most genuine and heartfelt hug I’d ever given anyone. How do you adequately express gratitude to the people who RAISED YOUR CHILD before you physically get there to do it yourself?! Sweet Alekya, Mariya, Amama, and Prashanti: thank you. I don’t even know what to say besides that, because no other combination of words even start to touch how I feel. I also need to take this paragraph to extend my love and gratitude to Nikki and Merissa. Nikki is a long-time SCH volunteer who works tirelessly to advocate for the children and make sure they have mementos of their time at SCH when they leave, and Merissa was there to make sure that everything went smoothly. So grateful for every part of their ministry!

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The last thing to do was to gather Dhanya and her foster siblings and explain to them that Dhanya is going with her mommy, daddy, and sister to America, and then say a prayer for her. Merissa explained so beautifully that while they’d miss her, it was a reason to be happy. Her nurse Prashanti then prayed in Telugu for her as we all sat in a circle together. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

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Finally, it was time to get in the car and leave. This was so, so, so hard. I’ll never forget Little V and Dhanya hugging each other one last time, or her caregivers lined up and waving goodbye, or the look on her face as she started to cry just a few minutes later.

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The drive to Ongole was so long and so difficult. It never seemed to end. It was about 9 hours total, but it felt even longer. We held her as she slept, cried, and grieved. Several times we got choked up ourselves, as we continued to let it sink in that this day was here, and heaps of compassion for how hard that was for her, even if it was beautiful for us. In the picture below, you can see her tears on Zack’s shoulder. I didn’t even want to take that photo, but I’m glad I did. It’s so sweet to see that tiny little body in the big arms of her daddy who has loved her from afar for so long.

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We stopped for lunch just outside of Hyderabad, and Sudhaker, the SCH caseworker who was sent with us, fed her “Indian style”—she wasn’t really having it, me putting a fork in her face. Sweet, precious Sudhaker, who we just fell in love with—he fed her just a bit too much, and a few hours later, I was wearing that entire dish of yellow fry dahl on my shirt. She puked on me just as Evie stuck a wad of hot pink slime in her hair. We were, um, conveniently (?) passing through a rural Indian village, and when we pulled over for me to change clothes, a crowd of Indians crowded around us and stared at us like we were Martians. (Worse—we were travel-weary Americans!). Walking down the street to a public toilet to change my outfit and wash puke off of my clothes is an experience I will never forget!

I had picked up a set of Sea-Bands before we left, and even though nothing was left in her stomach (or so I though—LOL) and we had given her a dose of Dramamine, I offered them to her to wear. She put them on, and didn’t take them off until we were back in Birmingham. So as you see photos of her from here on out, this is where her cool wrist accessories came from!

Another round of puke later, we finally we arrived in Ongole and settled in at what was probably a good hotel—but a very, VERY far cry from the swank Starwood property in Hyderabad! Nevertheless, we were grateful for the hospitality and to no longer be in a car. I’m also grateful for the pair of scissors they let me borrow, and for not looking at me with too much judgement as I snipped the matted mess of pink goop out of Evie’s hair. Our hotel room had one double-sized bed for all 4 of us, a window AC unit, and that was about it. We had a long night ahead of us, that much was clear.

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That evening, before we crammed sideways into the bed (with Zack propping his feet on stacked suitcases), we tried our best to help her feel at ease. We offered her every bit of food we brought, coloring books, toys, and games, but she just looked at us terrified. Oh gosh, it was so hard. She was also freezing in the cold room (AC was not really part of her life, so far as we could tell), and after I put her in her little Sophie the First nightgown that SCH sent for her, I wrapped her in a bath towel for an extra bit of warmth.

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As the girls slept and Zack and I sat in the dark, we whispered about how that was the most traumatic day that our daughter had probably ever experienced–at least cognitively. We watched her sleep and what seemed like a never-ending stream of hot tears kept running down my face. I knew with every fiber of my being that this was WORTH IT, but my brain was so fried that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

The next morning, we went to the restaurant next door for breakfast, but no one had an appetite. Dhanya just sat on my lap with her head on my chest, with the most miserable, anguished look. She also started spiking a low grade fever, and gagged several times as we sat there in the oppressing heat and humidity. I sat at the table and tried to get my emotions in check, but wow, it was hard. I remember shutting my eyes and clenching my jaw tight so I didn’t just lose it. Morgan and Jeffrey were sitting there with us, and I didn’t want to look like the lunatic with no handle on my emotions. (Luckily, Morgan and Jeffrey have a lot of grace and know that this is just part of it. Bless them. They were so good to us.)

Oh gosh, sitting here and typing this and remembering back to that morning almost makes me want to break down again. Normally, being at a far-flung corner of the earth in a little open-air café is what I live for, but as I held that tiny body in my arms, I wish I could have been transported to Waffle House with a hot plate of bacon. I’ve never wanted so bad to NOT be in a foreign country.

A few minutes later, we walked down to the DCPU office to complete the final few steps that would make her legally our daughter and Evie’s sister. Part 3 coming soon.

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India: Part I

In February of 2015, we made an announcement on this blog that we were growing our family by adoption. For the next 2.5 years, we posted our progress on our timeline, finally culminating in what happened June 19, 2017. Dhanya Sri Ann Nichols, once a child represented by a vintage globe in our family photos, came into our family.

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I chronicled Evie’s early days home on this blog before moving it over to an Instagram page, and our early days with Dhanya Sri are every bit as important! Before Gotcha Day gets too far away, I’m kicking off this blog series in attempt to both hang on to these sweet memories, and also hope it will encourage others who are considering adoption or going through those early days with an adopted child.

I’ve got to get through some complicated backstory first, so hang with me. Without further ado…

As we approached our 3rd summer of the adoption process, we knew travel time was getting near. We had passed court, and were just waiting for passport to be issued. In India, travel approval is granted when the passport is processed, printed, and in the hands of the SAA (Specialized Adoption Agency). As it turns out, Dhanya, though she lived in a foster home in Hyderabad, Telangana, her legal process was through Ongole, Andhra Pradesh. See, Hyderabad and Ongole used to be in the same state of Andhra Pradesh. When she was transferred from Shishu Gruha in Ongole to Sarah’s Covenant Homes in Hyderabad, they were in the same state. But shortly after she moved, the state split. Hyderabad, once the capital of Andhra Pradesh, became the capital of the new state of Telangana. But, Hyderabad remained the de-facto capital of Andhra Pradesh until March of this year. Do you see how this is getting really complicated?

Let’s add to that complication. We were only the 3rd or 4th international adoption that Ongole had ever processed. I had become good friends with two sweet gals named Alicia and Kelly, whose children, Vignesh and Edi, were like Dhanya—legally processed through Ongole, but lived at SCH Hyderabad. Like us, they spent months waiting for their process to move forward but heard virtually nothing. Finally last fall, we all started to see some movement in our cases. Alicia and her husband traveled as soon as she found out they had a court date, spent one month in India, and came home with Vignesh at Christmas of last year. They had to apply for his passport in person in Hyderabad and wait for it to be processed and printed. Kelly and her husband went in May, and after a drive to Ongole and back to Hyderabad, found out that Edi’s passport had to be processed no, not in Hyderabad….passport operations for Andhra Pradesh had moved to a Vijayawada. Ongole and Hyderabad are 8 hours apart. It’s a hard drive through rural parts of India. If it hadn’t been for them blazing a path for our journey, we would have had no idea what all was in store for us. (More on that later!)

Once we got our written court orders on May 5, 2017 (news that was received in the form of a very tear-filled phone call from our Morgan, our caseworker!), we knew we were getting close, but still had no real clarity on passport. Were we supposed to go over there and apply for it in person? What if we got there and had to go back home and keep waiting? What if we got there and had to stay indefinitely? Traveling before passport is issued is completely against the norm in India, but after my agency got a follow up email from the DCPU (District Child Protection Unit) in Ongole that said, “PAPs [potential adoptive parents] are compulsory to attend passport office in Vijayawada”, and simultaneously getting feedback from Kelly about what they were experiencing with passport, we decided that that was our green light to travel, but knew it was still a risk. May 31, 2017: The day “covfefe” was born into American vernacular, and also the day we finally, finally, finally, got to book our tickets to India. Still seems incovfefeable that after all those years of waiting, this was actually happening.

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Here are some videos of me sharing the big news! No one was at home, so I had to FaceTime Zack and my parents!

By the end of the day, we had 4 round-trip tickets to India booked, plus a 5th one-way ticket from New Delhi to Birmingham. Shout out to Matt at Adoption Airfare who secured a great deal for us, and was an absolute delight to work with. I highly encouraged them if you are planning any type of mission or adoption travel!

We spent the next three weeks getting as prepared as we could.

We got vaccinations and started a malaria preventative…

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Ev and I had our last mommy-daughter breakfast date with it just being “us”, and we celebrated my parent’s anniversary with them…3

I plowed through all the paperwork and appointments that we needed to get in order before we arrived, like calling MaxMed at 2:00 am and making an appointment, getting our big accordion file filled up with the right paperwork, emailing the US Embassy in New Delhi, sorting through our visa applications, and all kinds of fun stuff like that. This is basically the adoption equivalent of nesting! It was tedious, but it gave me a great sense of accomplishment!IMG_1387

Evie looked forward to updating our countdown each morning…IMG_1471

And Zack had his own way of getting ready to go…by printing t-shirts with his favorite Bollywood stars on them. He thought they’d be good conversation starters in India. He wasn’t wrong! Hahaha. I love this guy. IMG_1460.JPG

And I started putting together all of the little activities and supplies together for the girls’ travel packs. In the months leading up to travel, every time I went to Target, I picked up a couple more things for their packs. They were a Godsend at all of our appointments, waiting at the airports, the long stretches of air and car travel, and the time we spent in our hotel room. 4IMG_1497

The white packages in the photo below were given to the girls by my dear friend Jennifer Scott. She got Shopkins and other blind bag-type toys and wrapped them up for the girls to open on the trip. These were huge for Dhanya, because they helped us convey that we cared for her, even in those early days when communication was very difficult. So grateful for you, Jennifer! 5

Finally, it was June 17th. I woke up early, went downstairs and made my coffee, and had the realization that this would be my last quiet morning to myself for quite some time. I couldn’t believe this day was actually here. After getting a surprise visit from our friend Ian, eating some McDonalds (a slightly shameful “last meal” before a long trip away from the familiar!), we did a quick video tour of our house on the iPad for Dhanya to watch, loaded up the car, and drove to my parent’s house. They rented a big van and we—me, Zack, Evie, Zack’s mom, my mom and dad, plus my nephew and niece—headed to the Atlanta airport. IMG_1522

Let me break for a second to talk about my mom and Zack’s mom. My mom had been planning to go to India with us for a long time. It was a big step outside of anything she was really comfortable with, but she was there for us because she knew that we’d need help with Evie. It was very important that Evie go with us, because we wanted our family to all be together from the get-go, instead of waiting to come back home and then introducing E and D to each other.

Mom was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer last December, shattering any chance of her going to India with us. This past Spring was the hardest season of my life to date. The uncertainty of India, Mom’s health, church planting, being a first year teacher….it all took a pretty hard toll on me. I’m really close to my mom, she is literally my best friend, and to not have her with me on this journey was like being stabbed and having someone twist the knife. Our goodbye at the airport was pretty weepy! IMG_1532

Enter my mother-in-law. Pam is as intrepid and level-headed as any person you’d hope to meet, and she bravely stepped in when we realized that taking Evie without a support person would be very unwise. She had all of 5 weeks to make this decision, get her shots, prepare, and go. And she did. And we love her for it. 7

We went through security with ease (thanks to Pam), popped our malaria meds for the evening, grabbed a bite to eat, and settled in at the gate. It was about 10:00 pm when they called for early boarding—families with young children. Boom, that was us. We were the first ones in line ready to get on that plane. Then out of the corner of my eye, I see Evie and Pam fall to the ground. Pam was holding Evie’s hand so she wouldn’t run around like a maniac, when Evie decided she was going to start swinging around like she was a monkey and her grandmother’s arm was a vine. Down they went. Pam immediately grabbed her wrist and we knew something was wrong. 30 minutes later, boarding was complete with everyone but us. Paramedics were surrounding Pam trying to determine what had happened.

Should she get on the plane and hope she had merely sustained a sprain? What if the pressure of the cabin made it worse and we had to make an emergency landing? What if it was broken? What if it wasn’t? Could we get medical help during our layover at Heathrow if she needed it?

Finally, we had to make a decision. We had to get on the plane without Pam. She had to go to the ER, and we had to go to India. All of our appointments were lined up, and being delayed by even 24 hours would create a domino effect that would mess up everything. But what about Evie? Could Zack and I really manage BOTH girls, a 4 year old and a 3 year old, by ourselves in an unfamiliar country? What if Evie stayed with Pam? Pam had to get in a taxi and go to the ER and then find a hotel room in the middle of the night in Atlanta. Maybe they’d both be able to get on the flight the next night and meet us in Hyderabad?

We had about 3 minutes to think through this all. Finally, we got on the plane with Evie. I was sobbing. SOBBING. The flight attendants were loading me up with wine and water trying to settle me down! Zack was pulling every encouraging and sweet word out of the dictionary he could think of. I tried to not tell Evie, “this is all your fault!” Wow. What a night.

Once God supernaturally gave me the ability to calm the heck down, it ended up being a lovely flight. Evie slept most of it, and was a rock star when she was awake.

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Here’s Evie and our super cute British Airways flight attendant. I mean, super helpful flight attendant! 9

We landed at Heathrow and prayed that we’d have a message from Pam that it was a small sprain and she’d been on the next flight. Turns out, her wrist was in fact, very broken. Zack and I had to go at this alone. I cried some more. It’s what I do.

The London to Hyderabad flight wasn’t nearly as lovely as the one to London. The crew was cranky, Pam’s seat was given away to someone on standby so we didn’t have room to stretch out, the food was bad, and Zack and I both were so riddled with anxiety that we didn’t even know which way was up. Um, the view of Eastern Europe were pretty though?

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That said, looking at the seat-back monitor and realizing we were able to land in the same city as our daughter…surreal. IMG_1566.JPG

We landed in Hyderabad and things continued to go downhill. Evie was exhausted, and rightfully so, after two back-to-back trans-continental long-haul flights. It had been something like 29 hours since we had left our house after all. When we finally got out of customs and immigration, our suitcases were no where to be found. While Zack elbowed his way to the front of baggage claim just in case, I took Evie to the customer service counter to file a report. The baggage handlers kept telling me that they would watch Evie while I looked for my suitcases. “She is like a baby doll!” they told me. Now I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they were NOT child traffickers, but no way am I going to leave me kid alone with you in an airport, dude.

We spent about 2 hours trying to sort out luggage. 2 pieces were found, but the 3rd was not. That suitcase had most of Evie’s clothes, as well as gifts for Dhanya’s caregivers, the SCH staff, and government officials in there. It’d be a week before we saw it again.

We got to the other side of security and met our guide, Alex. (More on Alex later!) It was raining buckets, and we were soaked as we waited for our car to pull around. Yay, monsoon season! I told Zack I was only taking this photo so we could remember this part of the journey. It was a hard part. We hooked up to Alex’s personal hotspot and had a follow up message from Pam that her wrist was broken so bad that she had to have surgery and physical therapy. Jesus, come quickly.

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Our driver got lost, but we made it to the hotel eventually. Alex kept trying to make jokes, but we were zombies. I also was still crying and texting things to my mom like, “please send Dad to pick up Evie and take her home” and “I can’t even remember why I’m here.” I was in a BAD PLACE.

We then had about 3 hours to shower, change into clean clothes, rest, eat, and get ready to meet Dhanya for the first time.

Luckily at this point, Evie was doing ok. Praise the Lord for our sweet little firstborn.

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Our hotel was beautiful, but our nerves were completely shot. Satan was cranked up to 10 as he tried to diminish the beauty of what was about to happen.

But Satan lost.

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Part 2 coming soon.

 

 

Santa at The Summit

Santa photos are definitely meant to be treasured. When Evie had her first Santa photo a couple years ago, all I really wanted was for our town to have a “pretty Santa.” I’m not trying to be a snob, I promise. But after wrestling your kid into a fancy outfit and shoes, fixing their hair, and standing in line with them for who-knows-how-long, why settle for a mediocre photo?

Enter: Santa at The Summit.

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We were pretty excited to be asked to be part of this launch. I’ve been shopping at The Summit since it opened when I was in the 8th grade, and we all know that their reputation for being Birmingham’s premier shopping center really can’t be touched.

It’s located down near Saks Fifth Avenue, and has its own dedicated store front. Here’s all of the problems the Summit’s North Pole solves:

  1. Waiting in line. You can make a free 15 minute appointment by clicking right here. SCORE.
  2. Having a bored kid. Oh my goodness, there is whole kid-friendly wonderland for keeping them entertained while they’re waiting their turn. Teddy bears, a mini kitchen, and kid-sized tables and chairs abound, all of which can be purchased at Pottery Barn Kids, should your kid latch onto something they suddenly can’t live without 😉
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  3. Weary parents. Sur La Table has a fancy Jura espresso machine set up in the middle of the North Pole, so you can re-energize while your kid plays. There is also hot cocoa for the kids!6U1A4575.jpg6U1A4447.jpg
  4. Ugly setting. Maybe it’s because of my career as a prop stylist, but I really value the scene around Santa as much as I value Santa himself. The Summit North Pole is expertly designed in neutral whites and metallics and therefor offers a no-clash-guarentee with your kiddo’s outfit. And yes, a full range of photo packages and photo gifts are available! And all of this gorgeous decor, mamas? West Elm!
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  5. Bonus features: one-stop Summit gift card purchases are right there, and the cool people at Swoozie’s donated wrapping paper to offer complimentary gift-wrapping with a suggested donation.

All photos are by the awesome Jennifer Hagler Photography, aren’t they wonderful?  Thank you so much Jennifer!! And thanks also to Jeannie Leighton for making this fun morning happen, you are something else, girl.

Merry Christmas!

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#ThingsToDoWhileMalindasAway

I recently took a work-related trip to Nepal. While I was away, my husband wanted to reassure me that he and our daughter were having a great time and doing productive things together. I had no idea he had cooked up this idea in his head…though I’m not totally sure he knew either. Once it got rolling, everyone got such a kick out of their daily adventures. Since they only live on his Facebook page, I wanted to make sure they were corralled together in one place before they got lost in his Timeline.

And don’t worry friends who enjoyed this series, I’m going on a trip with my mom in January, and I’m sure these will resume!

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August 31: Evie and I had so much fun playing at the power plant today. She’s such a camera hog. #ThingsToDoWhileMalindasAway

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September 1: I took Evie to her first UFC event. She had fun, but was a little bummed she didn’t get to see any good submission holds. #ThingsToDoWhileMalindasAway

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September 2: Evie and I tested our sea legs and dove with sharks. I started to get a little sea sick on the way out, but she smacked me on my back and said “Man up pansy.” #ThingsToDoWhileMalindasAway

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September 3: Took Evie to the outdoor range. She no-scoped a bullseye at 100 yards….twice. #ThingsToDoWhileMalindasAway

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September 4: Evie and I went skydiving. I told her I would only do it tandem – I was too scared to go solo. She said, “Would you like some cheese with that whine?” #ThingsToDoWhileMalindasAway

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September 5: Evie got some ink yesterday. I asked her to maybe put down the donut and she responded, “Silence. Let Trevor do his work.” #ThingsToDoWhileMalindasAway

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September 6: Evie said she wanted to hang out with her new friends. I’d never met them before, but Victor and Stephen seemed incredibly nice. #ThingsToDoWhileMalindasAway

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September 7: Evie asked if we could go bowling. While I was reserving a lane, she b-lined it to the bar. I kept asking when we were actually going to bowl and she just said “I’ll be right there Dad.” I got the feeling she wasn’t being truthful with me, because every time I turned away I heard her snickering with these guys. #ThingsToDoWhileMalindasAway

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September 8: Things have really gotten out of hand. We stopped at a convenience store to pick up some snacks. Evie picked up a candy bar and started to walk out. I said, “Aren’t you gonna pay for that?” She responded, “No. But we’re gonna…RUN!!!!!” We might have to lay low for a while. #ThingsToDoWhileMalindasAway

The adventures will resume January 14th, 2016…

Nichols, Party of 4

If you know us, you’ve heard us talk about how much we have loved visiting this country or that country. How we loved the food, the people, the museums, the culture, etc. etc. But there is a country that has been pressed so hard onto our hearts, a country we love so much…and we have never even been there. There is no particular reason why we would be drawn to this country, but sometimes God tells you something so clearly that you know it could only be from Him.

What is it about Ind!a that I couldn’t get out of my head? The bright colors of the Holi Festival? The way it lights up at Diwali? The marigold flower chains? I mean, I’ve pinned the same photo of the Pink Palace in Jaipur on my Ind!a & Nepal Pinterest Board more than once. Wait, why do I even know about Holi, Diwali, marigold flower chains, or the Pink Palace? Why do I have a Pinterest board JUST for Ind!a and Nepal?

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Well, God spoke India into our hearts, and this where Nichols #4 will be from. 

Years and years ago, we felt that we were called to international adoption. I actually can pinpoint it, for me at least, specifically to meeting the Hooten family, who had 2 biological sons followed by several adopted children. I just thought it was one of the most beautiful, Godly things I had ever witnessed.

We were married almost 6 years before Evie came into the picture, and had been saying for years that when our biological child turned 1, we would begin the adoption process. Well, God has a way of shooting down your plans in a way only He can. He knows timing better than we do, so we’ve learned to just trust Him and go with it. When Evie turned 1 (March 2014), we were literally in the midst of moving into a new home and of course the financial burden that came with it. We knew it wasn’t the right time, but we had a peace about that. Not to mention, the adoption agency we wanted to go through didn’t have a program for India at that time, so we just waited and prayed for God to make his timing super obvious. (Fun fact: we closed on this home one year ago to this very day! Almost to the minute that I’m typing this even. And Evie turns two this Monday!)

Last fall, I told Zack that I wanted to go to an informational meeting at Lifeline, the agency we knew we wanted for this. We expressed to them our interest in Ind!a, knowing full well that there wasn’t a chance of us being accepted into their non-existent program. But what do you know, there was a program.

It’s what called a pilot program. One family here in Alabama was pursuing their second Indian adoption. The first was with the only other agency in Alabama that does India adoptions, but this second one was through Lifeline. We left the informational meeting that night affirmed more than ever that Lifeline was the agency, excited that India was on their radar. But we also knew it would be a while, because they didn’t even officially have an Indian program. (Like, years.) We even decided try for another biological child sometime in 2015 and then hopefully when s/he was a year or so, India would be open through Lifeline, and what’s more, we’d have a couple years to get some finances in order before jumping in. Heck y’all, we even cashed in our airline miles and booked a vacation. HA! Let’s not talk about that right now, because I gave up stress/worry/anxiety for Lent, and I’m not going to hold to that if I talk about what we have planned for next month.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when I got a call from a gal at Lifeline just before Christmas wanting to talk more about our interest in Ind!a. Wait, what? I kind of felt like maybe she just wanted to have a casual convo, so when we had a hard time linking up around the holidays, I didn’t think too much about it.

Last month, the conversations went from informational to hypothetical to realistic. And on January 30, 2014, at 10:13 am, as I was sitting in the car with my mom driving up to the Summit, Meredith, the program director at Lifeline said “our group has been praying, and under my direction, we would like to accept you as the pilot family for Ind!a. We are so excited for you.”

WHAT?! I cried, obvi. Because I wear my heart of my sleeve and I couldn’t help it. We had a full conversation before she even said those words, those words I will NEVER forget…and wasn’t even expecting. My mom heard them too and grabbed my hand and squeezed it, how awesome she was there to hear the news! And I’m not even sure what I said next except for some version of “we’ll be praying about it.”

We had so much to process: we still want another biological child, when is that supposed to happen? How long will this take? How much will this cost? Weren’t we supposed to begin this process a few years from now? Isn’t that what God was saying? What happened to the other family in their pilot program? Is this timing right? Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a lot that night. (BTW, I have connected with the first pilot family through the wonders of social media and her blog, and she is amazing. They are now pursuing a waiting child from China, and we are so happy for our new friends!)

Two days later, never so sure of anything in my life, I emailed our social worker with a “YES!” Two days after that we began the application process. And now here we are:

We are the Nichols, and we are actively in the process of pursuing an adoption from Ind!a.

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We’ve been fielding some questions already from people who know, so here is a little FAQ section for you. We LOVE talking about this, because each person who hears our story also hears the story of the orphan crisis in India, a country that has meant so much to us, but now means even more.

Why are you adopting? And why Ind!a?
As Christians, why do we pursue anything of substance? Because God tugs our heart in certain directions and gives each of His children a calling. Quite simply, God has called us to Ind!a. Our entire married lives we have felt called to advocate for the unheard voices of the marginalized and impoverished (and the International Justice Mission is one of our favorite charities for this reason). Every Christian is called to orphan care in some capacity, and we feel this is the capacity to which we have been called.

As far as why India specifically, please feel free to ask us more about this in person!

So what about THIS child? YOUR child?
We don’t know yet, of course, if it will be a boy or girl, what part of India he or she will be from, or anything much more than that. But, we do know that it most likely will be a little girl, as almost 70% of the estimated 25 million orphans in Ind!a are girls.

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We also know that our child will have a special need. The only children available to non-Indian nationals are waiting children, which means that Indian parents or those with Ind!an citizenship get (and this is hard to type) “first pick” of “healthy” babies. What “special needs” means can vary WIDELY…it can be something totally correctable, and you might never even know that at one point in his or her life, s/he was considered “special needs.” Or it is very possible that there will be some extra considerations we’ll have to make for our child during his/her life. We have a lot to pray about for this aspect of our adoption process, and we would covet your prayers too.

We also know that our little one will be, in fact, a little one! From the information our agency has gathered, India prefers for their adoptive families to maintain natural birth order. Evie will be 2 on March 2nd, so we have set “parameters” for birth to 2 years. We would be perfectly ok with a older child, but we feel that we need to “play it safe” and request what Ind!a wants. And we are totally fine with bringing home a tiny, sweet li’l bit!

How long will this process take?
If you know, please tell us! We could get a referral before the year is up, or it could be 4 years from now before we’re home with our newest Nichols. It’s not a secret that I’m not the most patient of people, so we’d love it if you could join us in praying for a quick process. There is even a small chance that s/he is already born, which means that everyday that we spend in-process is another day that our family is missing a member, and another day that s/he has to go without his/her mommy, daddy, and big sister. I can hardly stomach the thought.

Also, there are certain steps that can only move forward when we can pay for it. And that’s a nice segway to…

How much does it cost to adopt from Ind!a?
A pretty penny, folks. Here’s a breakdown:

AGENCY FEES
Application Fee: $250
Agency Fee: $6000
Orphan Care Sustainability Projects: $250
Home Study Fee: $1750
Post-Placement Services: $1950
Post-Adoption Management: $250
Shipping Costs: $360
TOTAL: $10,560 that is due in 4 equal payments of $2640 (not including $250 app fee). As the pilot family, the 4th installment is scholarshipped, bringing our total to $8170

DOSSIER PREPARATION
Citizenship and Immigration Services Fees: $890
Immigration Affidavit of Support Review Fee: $88
Ind!a Visas for 2 adults, plus Courier Fee: $350 (only option available is a 10-year visas at $175 each)
Prepare & Enrich Marriage Assessment: $35
Crossings Training: $100
NCFA Parent Training: $195
Birth Certificates & Marriage License (5 copies of each): $107
FedEx Fees (dossier sent to Ind!a): $400
Legalization of Dossier: $600
TOTAL: $2,765

OTHER U.S. ADOPTION EXPENSES
Fingerprinting for 2 adults: $100
Full medical reports for 2 adults: $200
USCIS Update: $500 (This may or may not be ultimately be required of us; we will have to pay it if our immigration expires while we are waiting to travel to Ind!a and then back home. Please pray we do not have to pay this!):
TOTAL: $800

ESTIMATED IN-COUNTRY EXPENSES WHILE IN IND!A
(Based on 10 Days In-Country)
Round-Trip Airfare for 2 Adult: $3500
One-way ticket home for our child: $1500
Translator/Guide Fees ($100/day): $1000
Accommodations in Dehli and RIPA region: $1500
Accommodations for Translator/Guide outside of Dehli: $1500
Transportation within Ind!a: $800
Food (appx. $100/day/person): $1000
TOTAL: $10,800

FIXED IN-COUNTRY EXPENSES WHILE IN IND!A
Child Care Corpus Fee: $5000 (Paid in two installments to the orphanage and covers the care of our child and court costs. This fee may vary from RIPA to RIPA. A RIPA is an Ind!an orphanage.)
Child’s Medical $275
Child’s Visa $325
Bond posted for child $1000
TOTAL: $6600

POST-ADOPTION EXPENSES
US Court Adoption: $2000
Citizenship Certificate: $420
Birth Certificate: $20
Court Costs: $80
TOTAL: $2,520

TOTAL ESTIMATED ADOPTION COSTS: $31,655

And how are you going to come up with $32K exactly?
This is a scary number. I can’t even tell you how much this makes me want to look at heaven and scream “Are you KIDDING ME God?!” But we know for a fact that God will not let this stand in the way, because our God values all life, and He honors orphan care and adoption. God is the one who told us to do this, and He’s not going to let some dollar amount stand in our way.

Our goal is ambitious: to do this adoption debt-free. In addition to being the most budget-conscious people on the planet for the next while (no offense if we don’t go out to dinner with you, we got a kid to get home), we also plan on doing lots of fundraisers. FUN fundraisers. Funraisers? We don’t want to sit here and ask for hand-outs, but rather we hope to provide ways that benefit both us and you! Birmingham Craft Night will be a big one, my cupcake/cake orders will completely be going to the adoption fund. I also do substitute teaching here in Shelby County, we have a really awesome t-shirt in the works, and we are planning a huge multi-family garage sale with the help of our friends at House Peace. There are some great grants out there, and who knows what else? There was a point in time that M. Night Shyamalan had a grant for US families pursuing Ind!a adoptions, but I don’t think that exists anymore. Too bad, because I’d love to tell our kiddo that a super awesome director helped bring him/her home!

Please stay tuned to this blog and follow us on social media for the ways you can get involved if you want to!

So what can I do?
Pray for us. Love us. Encourage us. There will be times during this process that we will struggle hard. We will have roadblocks that will discourage us and try to break us. There will be times that it will feel like it’s taking so frustratingly long to get our child home, knowing that we are helpless over here in our comfy house will our child rocks herself to sleep in an orphanage an entire world away. After we have our referral (which is when we are matched and see his/her face), it will be months before we meet him/her. I can’t imagine what I would do if someone took Evie away from us for months, and I can’t help but feel that this will give me the same gut-wrenching feeling. This child is no less our son or daughter than Evie after all! After we are all home together, the process of bonding as a family will be tough. Nothing can be done in any point of this process without prayers, love, and encouragement.

And please pray for our child. A LOT. That s/he is being loved, held, fed, taken care of. If s/he hasn’t been born yet, please pray that the birth will be safe. Please pray for the birth parents who will not experience the joy of seeing him/her grow up. Adoption is an amazing way of showing God’s love, but it’s not natural. It’s not how families were meant to be. (That is a whole blog post on its own.)

Also, if you feel like you are led to support us in bringing our child to his/her forever home, there are so many ways. Donating items to our garage sale, buying a fundraising t-shirt from us, ordering some cupcakes from Malinda, babysit Evie while we work through our mountain of paperwork, sponsoring a fundraising event…like, whatever. We’re open to whatever blessings people want to bless us with, and are appreciative and humble beyond words!

What’s next?
Our application is submitted and approved (if you’ve ever adopted before, you know that’s a milestone in its own right), and now we come up with $2640 and start to put our dossier together. A dossier is a huge file of paperwork regarding every detail of our lives: fingerprints, birth certificates, marriage license, result of our home studies, etc., which then ships to Ind!a for translation and approval. There are three agencies in Ind!a who will either approve us or reject us, so please pray with us that not only will this process go quickly, but that it will also just…go. It’s terrifying to think “what if someone over there just stamps a ‘NO!’ across our application?” so please be praying specifically for those people in India who hold the fate of our family in their hands. (Also, this is about the most simplified I can make this. It’s way more complicated than this.)

Also, we’ll be hitting up fundraising pretty hard here pretty soon. But again, we hope this will be a lot of fun, a great way to expand our community, bring awareness to adoption and orphan advocacy, and more. Got a donation to make to our garage sale? Let us know, we’ll come get it from you!

Thank you all for taking the time to read a little more about us and our family…our growing family! And thank you for the love, prayers, and support we already feel around us. We couldn’t have made it through these last 2 years of parenthood without the love our people, and there’s no way we’ll be able to make it through this process without you either.

-Zack, Malinda, and Evie June Nichols

Happy Birthday Evalyn!

On March 2, 2013, we welcomed the most perfect baby girl into the world. On February 27, 2014, we moved into the house of dreams. It was a sad foreclosure we called “the beige box.” A week and a half, little to no sleep, a few gallons of paint, and lots of doses of Aleve later, we celebrated Evalyn’s birthday in our new home.

Ever since I found out I was pregnant and realized my due date would be so close to St. Patrick’s Day, I knew I wanted an Irish theme. When I found out a little girl was on the way, I knew going with a green and pink theme would be perfect. And when we put our house up for sale, I knew our little townhouse wouldn’t hold everyone we wanted to celebrate with us!

Kamin Williams took some beautiful photos of the party, which allowed us to focus on the our daughter and welcoming our family and friends into our home for the first time.

First, a few details:

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I set up kids’ table set-up with globes, shamrocks, and each kiddo had their own little milk jugs. The party favors packs for the kids had chocolate gold coins, stickers, tattoos, white chocolate shamrocks and other little prizes. I got almost everything on clearance after St. Patrick’s Day the year before since I knew what the theme for her party would be so far in advance! Thanks to my sister and my mom for coming over and helping me put all of these details together.

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The photos clipped to the frame were taken every month in her pink Eames rocker. Each week I took an overhead photo of her in her crib on the same Aiden + Anais sheet, and those photos were strung across the mantle and bookcases. I loved seeing how much she had grown, but it made me a little weepy too! This was the fastest year of my entire life.

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Since we had just moved, I was really overwhelmed and I knew we wouldn’t be able to invite every person we wanted to. We just had our immediate families, and a few friends who basically are our family. Each family took home their own “Ireland in a Jar” as our way of thanking them for everything they did for us, and every way they were there for us over the previous year and nine months!

bday4 bday5I found some huge balloons on clearance at JC Penny of all places, they were the perfect backdrop the table. A fresh strawberry cake, mini shepherd’s pies, gold punch (ginger ale and white grape juice), white-chocolate dipped Lucky Charms treats, and a few leftover white chocolate shamrocks for the guests to nosh on.

bday7Jessica Stalnaker of Empress Stationery made the most perfect invitations for us.  I think I almost cried when I first saw the proof, but I know I definitely squealed. Jessica and I worked together in magazine publishing back in the day (“the day” meaning our early 20s as fresh college grads), and I’m so proud of my girl for being one of the most sought-after stationers in the South!

But the cutest part of the whole party…the birthday girl:

bday6 Those cheeks. Have you ever? She is so sweet in her little moccs and pink diaper, and the dress (found on clearance at Old Navy!) is just short enough to show off those sweet chunky legs.

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The best birthday accessory by far was the beautiful floral crown that my best pal Tiffany of Studio Flower made for her. Isn’t it great to have such creative friends?! I did the cake for her son’s birthday and swapped her this. It’s been almost 6 months still the party and I still have it sitting on our piano!

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bday9For her smash cake, I just took the top tier off of the cake. There was plenty of the bottom tier for everyone to enjoy…and more than enough of the top tier for Evie to enjoy…

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She in fact enjoyed it so much that….

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…we all got to see it again a few minutes later. My mother-in-law was carrying her into the living room to open gifts, when her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she suddenly just puked everywhere. Every. Where. I can’t describe it. But, what can you do? We thanked everyone for coming out, then rushed her upstairs and plopped her into the bathtub.  I’m so glad Kamin snapped a couple of these photos. It’s an incident we were laughing about just a few minutes after it happened, and a story that will be told over and over again.

We assumed everyone had left, but when we came back downstairs, we were surprised to see everyone still there and were waiting patiently for the birthday girl to open her presents!

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Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to celebrate this precious girl’s first birthday, and to everyone who made it possible, too. I can’t even start to tell you how much people from our church family came over the previous week to clean, unpack, organize, paint, build and install bookcases (yeah). My mom and Zack’s mom came over super early that day to help with the last few details and polish up the house a little, and my sister spent over an hour tediously cutting out 53 photos of Evie for the mantle because my nerves just couldn’t handle it!

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I wish I had photos of every person who was there! I’m sorry I don’t, but the sincerest, heart-felt thank you for sharing this occasion with us!

And Happy Birthday to my amazing daughter. I am blessed beyond what I could ever deserve with you. And perfect timing, as I’m typing up these last words, you’re waking up from your nap! That means lunch time, then the pool!!

Thirty-One Gifts. Thirty-One Reasons Why.

If I can get a little sappy here for a second, I just want to say thanks for the slew of friends and family who took the time to attend my thirty-one launch party a couple weeks ago. I was unsure if this was right for me, but I went to bed that night feeling so encouraged, supported and inspired. I’m excited to be part of this huge movement of women who are realizing their goals, and partying along the way is a pretty awesome bonus. I loved baking, mixing cocktails, and crafting favors for everyone who was there, and can’t wait to continue to meet and get to know more amazing women.

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thanks for snapping this sweet pic, Courtney! | THE pink box chock full of goodies

One question that Thirty-One asks us to answer, is why? Why are we doing this?

These two are my #31why. I want time to meal plan and grocery shop so we could eat more healthy meals at home instead of picking up a fast food  2 nights (or more…) a week. I want to spend my days helping Evie learning to read and go to the park with her. I just want more time with them, and I wasn’t getting it being in a quite office 40 hours a week and with almost 10 hours a week commuting.

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my sweet husband | our perfect daughter who is growing up too fast

I’m also excited about this because it gives me an outlet to be creative and connect with others who share my values and interest. There is no doubt that the products and their endless uses are providing me all kinds of creative inspiration. Now that I’ve quite my full-time job, I was able to finally organize my craft supplies, and for some reason that just makes me feel more creative, you know?

 swizzle sticks I made for my launch party | a little packaging idea to market our $5 key fobs

swizzle sticks I made for the guests at my launch party | a little packaging idea to market our $5 key fobs

I really am just so excited about this new venture in my life. I feel like it is the perfect fit for my skills and what I’m passionate about, provides solutions both financially and organizationally (blog post forthcoming about the new downstairs diaper caddy and how much I love my Hang-Up Home Organizer!), connects me with some pretty awesome people (shout out t0 Amanda, Jennifer, and all of the awesome ladies on my Team Graves Facebook page for the unending ideas and encouragement), and honestly, it’s like, really fun.

It goes without saying, please let me know if you need anything! mythirtyone.com/malindakay