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Monday, June 25, 2012

Barefoot in the Kitchen

     Today, I'm interrupting your regularly scheduled adoption programming to talk about a portion of life I enjoy.  I think I've been taking this little piece of happiness for granted for quite some time.

                                                     I love being in the kitchen. 

     Cooking isn't something I always thought I'd love.  When I was first married, I really dug my feet in about spending time in the kitchen.  Sure, being Chris' homemaker hero sounded great for about 5 minutes, until I actually tried making a recipe.  I mean, the TIME it takes to cook.  I had no idea!  Even a simple casserole or salad with some chicken and special toppings can take a novice chef a few hours.  (Or maybe just me... if it's just me, please just leave it alone... I don't want to know how terribly awkward I used to be in the kitchen...)  Adding a few hours to my night after spending 3 hours just to commute to work in Northern Virginia was not how I imagined married life would be.
     Add to that being a brand-new military wife trying to navigate my way through the commissary to get our groceries each week.  The commissary can be a very stressful place for a brand-new 2nd Lieutenant's wife.  The "powers-that-be" ingrain it into your little newlywed head that your husband is an officer.  He is going to be a leader of Marines, so you better be a good example.  They tell you things, like "don't drive faster than 1 mph in the commissary parking lot, and never wear flip flops on base.  Don't chew gum, never wear jeans, get that frizz out of your hair, and if you put too many cookies in your cart, you're done."  They tell you to watch how you dress, what you say, how you smile or the way you reach for things, because someone is watching you.  And just when you think all is safe, you'll mutter under your breath that those d***, unbehaved, screaming kids the next aisle over better shut up, and there will be a General behind you.  He will ask you your husband's name and rank, and then a stamp will go on his permanent record.  Actually, not just that, they'll probably just dishonorably discharge him on the spot, because he didn't reign his wife in.  And your husband will never be able to get a job again, and you'll be poor and starving, and it will be all your fault for using a four letter word in the commissary. 
     Alright, so maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, and I'm proud to say I've never used a four-letter word in the commissary.  But seriously, this is how you feel when you walk into the commissary your first couple of months as a military wife. 
     Despite all these deterrents to cooking, I realized something: my husband's love language is FOOD.  Not words of encouragement, physical affection, gifts, quality time, or acts of service.  He literally gets fed both physcially and emotionally by eating good food cooked by me.  All those other ways of expressing love are perfectly wonderful and nice, and he appreciates those, but he will never feel fully loved unless he is getting home-cooked food from me.  I'm not joking.  If Chris wasn't blessed with such an amazing coal-fire furnace of a metabolism, I might have found a kind, gentle way to tell him to find a new love language, but this is not the case.  Besides, even if his metabolism had special needs, I could still find ways to cook healthy meals for him. 
     There is something wonderful about giving your spouse exactly what they need.  When you see their eyes light up and you can tell they feel perfectly content and loved, really, there's no better feeling.  I'm also blessed to have a perfectly grateful and merciful dinner recipient.  I have botched more than my fair share of recipes, but Chris eats every single one of them with a smile and tells me "thank you".  He has an amazing ability to tell me something is not his favorite while simultaneously making me feel loved and appreciated for my efforts.  I think if he started cooking appreciation classes we could save marriages all over the country! 
     The more I cooked, the more I realized I got something out of it too.  There is something incredibly relaxing about chopping vegetables and stirring sauces and not thinking about anything else.  It's the kind of relaxation that you can't get by just sitting on the couch watching TV or even reading a good book.  There's too much guilt associated with sitting on the couch for too long.  With cooking, you feel good about yourself for accomplishing something, but it's a stress-reliever at the same time.  The rest of life I'm either at work thinking about how to keep my kids stable and comfortable, and when to call the resident and when to suggest something and when to keep my mouth shut, or I'm at home thinking about when I'll get to meet Holden or what on my list of 100 things to do I should be doing to get ready for him, but when I'm cooking, all of that goes away.  It's just me and my kitchen.  I'm in charge, and guess what?  I don't even have to listen to the recipes.  I modify EVERYTHING. 
     By the way, when a recipe says, "clear" that means "see-through", not "colorless".  You might wanna keep that in mind if you're making strawberry candy and you've been stirring it for 2 hours waiting for it to turn "clear".... just sayin'. 
     After you have a year or two of cooking under your belt, you can look at a recipe and say, "that way of cooking chicken will make it dry and terrible, I'll keep the ingredients but make it this way" or "Please, that is not enough siriachi and way too much coconut milk... I'll do it this way."    Honestly, I get such pleasure out of modifying recipes and doing things my own way that sometimes I modify things just because I CAN.  I'm nowhere close to being a gourmet cook, but for me I know I've reached the mountaintop of cooking when I can make something like this: Chicken with Olives, which includes two of my husband's most hated ingredients: onions and green olives.  And he will eat it.... and he will LIKE IT.  It's pretty awesome, I'm not gonna lie.
 So bust out those pots and pans (measuring cups optional), play your favorite music, provide your fan-base with a little coaching on how they can best support you, and give cooking a second chance. You can do it, and you will be awesome at it, I promise!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When is Holden coming home?

     The question I get most often regarding the adoption is: "when do you get to bring Holden home?"  I would give up my clothing budget, stop eating candy, and pull weeds every day for the rest of my life if I could have the answer to that question.  (Those of you who know me best know that's saying a lot!)  Unfortunately, adoptions from India don't come with a set timeline.  There are a lot of factors that determine the wait.  I'll attempt to describe them below.  And yes, I agree with everyone else's sentiment that once a child has a family, shouldn't they get to come home as soon as possible?  Yes, in an ideal world they should.  However, most countries have quite a backlog of work when it comes to adoptions.  Holden is not the only child waiting to come home.  There are hundreds more who have been waiting along with their families longer than he has.  So, we take a number and stand in line.... and hope and pray that India and other countries somehow get "caught up" on their work in the next few years. 
     Here's what we've done so far in the adoption process.  Applied to be Holden's parents and got approved.  Then, we had to update our home study to meet India's requirements.  Our home study agency was great and got this done in a month's time.  Then... our state's department of social services had to approve our home study before it could be sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration.  This is not a requirement in every state.  Unfortunately, that added a good extra month to the process.  Once USCIS received all of our paperwork, they approved us pretty quickly...within 3 weeks, I think.  They issued us the I800, which basically says that they approve us to be the adoptive parents of Holden, and everything appears to be in order for him to be legally adopted and brought to the U.S. to become a U.S. Citizen.  (Usually, you apply for the I800A first - which we in the Fall of 2011 while we were still in the Thailand program.  That step required fingerprints from Chris and I and took a little longer to process.)  Let me say this about USCIS.  We have had nothing but wonderful, helpful experiences working with them.  Not what you would expect from a government agency, right?  Our adjudication officer talked with us directly on the phone to clarify parts of our application and home study and gave us really good advice on what and when to submit things.  Everyone at USCIS has been super nice and helpful and has responded to our inquiries really quickly.  Even when we walked in to the USCIS office to get our fingerprints, the workers there were very friendly and helpful.  I know not everyone has had that experience with USCIS, but that's been ours.  We're super impressed with them and have no complaints. 
     Wow, this is getting really boring.  Maybe it will help someone else considering inter-country adoption to grasp how all this works.  If not, I apologize for this incredibly dry post!  Plus also, before we could send everything to USCIS, we had to gather up a brand new dossier for India to send to our agency, Holt.  The dossier is just a bunch of paperwork (when I say a bunch, I mean A BUNCH!)  that describes who we are as people, what jobs we have, our physical health, etc.  Then, we had to fill out a bunch of acceptance paperwork regarding Holden.  (Again, I mean an enormous, ridiculous, almost gave the notary debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome for life BUNCH!)  We had to sign and notarize every page of Holden's medical info and progress reports.  Thankfully, since Holden has gotten such great care in India, this meant a TON of papers to sign and notarize.  We spent about 2 hours with the  notary that day, and the bill came to about $200 worth of notary and shipping fees.  Yikes! 
     Oh wait, and we also had to get the Article 16 to send to USCIS - this is just paperwork that shows that Holden is free and clear for adoption.   Holt gathers this up for us.  After we got our I800 approval from USCIS, it gets forwarded to the National Visa Center, who then sends it on to the appropriate Consulate in India along with Holden's visa photo.  The Indian Consulate then issues their approval of the adoption in the form of Article 5.  THEN... all of our paperwork, the dossier and acceptance paperwork and Article 5 get sent to India's Central Adoption Resource Authority, or CARA as we affectionately call them.  CARA has to issue us the Non-Objection Certificate, or NOC.  This is what we're waiting for right now.  I love that it's called the NOC.  It's not a resounding approval of the match, it's just India's way of saying, "Well, we don't exactly love the idea of you taking an Indian child and raising them in a mostly white world and removing them from their birth language and culture and religion... but given the fact that this child needs a family, and you seem to love him, I suppose we don't exactly object to this arrangement..."  Love it! 
     Holt told us it would probably be 4-6 weeks to get the NOC.  All of our paperwork was mailed to them on May 2nd, so we're now sitting at 6 weeks of waiting tomorrow.  Which means, we should have that NOC in our chubby little hands any day now!  After we get the NOC, there is sort of a light at the end of the tunnel.  Our paperwork gets filed with the Family Court in Bangalore, India.  Then, a judge picks a court date for us.  We might only have 3 weeks notice to buy our plane tickets and head on over to India to appear before the judge.  On this trip, I'll go with a friend and leave Chris behind.  I'll get to meet Holden and spend about 2 days visiting with him.  Then, 30-60 days after the court date, Chris and I will head back to India to bring Holden home!  Here's the catch, though:  the courts in Bangalore are really backed up, and have always taken a good long while to pick the court date.  In the past, the court date would literally get rescheduled about 5 times.  So, just because we might have the NOC in our hands this month doesn't mean we won't be waiting months and months more to get news of that court date.  So... when will Holden come home?  We have no idea.... no idea....  could be by the end of the summer, could be the fall, could be January 2013.  Who knows... I'm hoping not any longer than January, but there are no guarantees. 
     Plus also, you made it! You're now no more closer to knowing when Holden will come home than you were when you started reading this post a year ago! I'm kind of chuckling an evil little chuckle inside right now; thinking about how frustrated and impatient and confused you are at the moment.   Welcome to international adoption, my friend! 
     If all of this sounds incredibly complicated, you're right.  It is.  But.. at the same time, it makes sense to ensure things are done ethically and correctly and in the best interests of children who need homes.  Is it frustrating and confusing and trying to our patience?  Of course!  But in the end, we'll be the proud parents of the most darling little boy on the face of the planet.  I would do this all over again 100 times to have that kind of happy ending.