Archive for the ‘Adoption’ Category

Labor of Love

In honor of the Labor day holiday, we wanted to do a special interview with someone who plays a vital role in the lives of adoptive children. The process of adoption can be quite stressful for both families and their adoptive children, but thanks to a wonderful team of people called adoption specialists, thousands of children are adopted by families in the US each year.

The following interview with Kate Engle, MSW, LCSW, Case Manager, gives some great insight into one of these such specialists, her typical day, and the most rewarding parts of her job. To Kate, and all of the adoption specialists that make a difference in so many children’s lives, THANK YOU, for all the work you do.

AJP – Why did you become an adoption professional?
Kate– I studied Russian in college, and during that time I went on a trip to help out at a Russian orphanage. Meeting the children there, seeing what they had and what they didn’t, made me want to do more to help children like them get forever families.

AJP – What is your favorite part about being an adoption professional?
Kate – My favorite part is seeing children come home. It is particularly gratifying to play a part in helping older children or those with special needs come home to their families.

AJP – What does your typical day look like?
Kate – Because I work with families all over the US and our partners/representatives overseas, I spend a lot of time on the phone. I also do a ton of paperwork because international adoption requires satisfying the bureaucracies of two different countries at once without letting any documents expire.

AJP –What advice would you give to a family thinking about adoption?
Kate – Talk to a social worker. An adoption social worker can help you sort out whether adoption is a good option for you in growing your family, and point you in the right direction to get started.

AJP – What do you look for in a family that is looking to adopt?
Kate – We look for a good fit between the family, the children available, and the country requirements/process. The types of children in need of families through international adoption varies around the world, so one of the first things that we explore with a family is what sort of child the family is hoping to adopt, what their capabilities are, and from what countries they qualify to adopt. We want the adoption to be successful, right though the child’s and family’s adjustments to one another, so it is important for everyone to be candid and realistic from the start.

AJP – What makes adoption so special?
Kate – So many parents tell me they feel that “this is the child that was meant for me,” even though their child was born in a different country. It is definitely a special way to create a family.

*For more information about adoption, the adoption process, and whether its right for your family be sure to check out our selection of adoption books

Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections.

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Our AJ Panda Inspiration

*The following is a guest blog post by the founder of AJ Panda, Chris Deck. For more about their story of adoption, visit ajpanda.com/aboutus*

Last week I visited the Chinese Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and was reminded of the splendor and  beauty of Chinese Culture. It also reminded me of how long it’s been since I’ve provided an updated and shared how things are going with the inspirations of this site… AnMei and JiaLi.

Generally speaking, things couldn’t be going better. These precious little girls bring joy to our lives every single day. I know all parents think the world of their children, and I am certainly no exception… they are smart, funny, adventurous… really beautiful in every way.

They are well aware of their birth country, and we try to be open and mindful about celebrating Chinese culture within our family. I wouldn’t say we’ve reached our full potential, but we try. The girls love to get dressed up on their “fancy Chinese dresses” when we go to special events around town. We’ve explored Chinese tutors that have come to the house and local Chinese summer camps. It’s funny… the girls are quick to correct me when I make pronunciations errors with the few Chinese expressions I know. (The really funny thing is that, because of the “tones” that are so meaningful in Mandarin, I’m completely oblivious to their corrections because my ear doesn’t pick up the nuance.)

Anyway, the girls continue to inspire me and the site. They like to explore the “inventory” and look for the essential things they need for their room. They’re curious to hear about what people are buying and where they live. And they are quick to identify the things we need to improve (sorry we’re lacking suitable Chinese dresses on the site!). I haven’t put them to work yet 😉 but they’re eager and willing.

Above: AnMei and JiaLi observing the Chinese ship made completely out of recycled bottles and other materials a the Botanical Garden’s lantern festival. 

And about that Lantern Festival… it was wonderful. Although a bit crowded, the gardens were strewn with a range of impressive lantern displays that captured various themes of the rich heritage from Chinese folklore. We arrived a little before dusk and toured all the displays in their unlit state and then re-toured the park again when they were in their lit splendor. Very cool. My favorite display was the Pandas. The girls were trying to figure out which would be the “A” panda and which would be the “J” panda.

Above: JiaLi and AnMei with their matching panda counterparts. 

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The Tolman Twins

*The following is a guest blog post by Kristi Tolman, mother of  twin girls, Kenna and Michal adopted from China and brought home to the United States in July 2005.*

Every adoption journeys begins differently.

Ours began with a really difficult boss.

Eric and I had been married for 15 years and both had careers that we loved.   I ran a large marketing department for a high tech company and worked with smart, interesting people who I enjoyed being around.  We lived in Chicago but I commuted to Phoenix for my job two weeks of the month.  My boss was someone I had worked with at another company – someone whom I greatly respected.

And then my boss resigned.

The woman they hired to replace him was extremely challenging .  Throughout my career I had had many bosses.  Some had been wonderful and some had been difficult but none had been like this woman. Not one to give up easily, I tried being sickeningly nice to her.  I also tried being coolly professional.    But four months after she arrived, I simply couldn’t take it any more and called Eric and nearly yelled in the phone, “I’m going to quit.”

I was secretly hoping that he’d talk me off the proverbial cliff and tell me all the reasons why I should stick it out, try my best and make it work.

But he didn’t.

He simply said, “Quit.”

I immediately launched in to a long list of reasons why I couldn’t possibly quit but by the end of our conversation I’d written my letter of resignation.

One month later I was unemployed for the first time in my post-college life.

Voluntary unemployment has a sneaky way of making you stop and think about what you really want.  It was then, at that pause in our lives, that we decided what we really wanted was a family.  Our close friends and neighbors had a daughter from China, whom we adored, and it was surprising simple to decide that we wanted to adopt from China too.

We attended an informational meeting at the adoption agency our friends had used and three months after that our dossier was completed.  After our paperwork was assembled, we learned that our agency had a policy of not sending any dossiers to China until they had a minimum number of families who had completed all of their paperwork.  They thought it would be at least two months before they would be ready to send our dossier to China.

Waiting two months seemed like an eternity, so I turned to the Internet and started researching other agencies.  One agency in Texas kept coming up again and again so I called them.  They told me to FedEx them my completed dossier so they could review it and see if it met their guidelines in addition to China’s guidelines.

They called me the next night around 9:00 p.m., after staying late to go through it.  They said it looked great and they could send it with their group of dossiers going that week.

Three days later, on November 11, 2004, our dossier arrived in Beijing China.

And six months later, on May 23, 2005, we received the phone call that literally changed our lives.

Thanks to the Internet, I knew agencies had received referrals.  Eric went to work and I paced in the kitchen waiting for the phone to ring.  When I couldn’t take it any more, I called our agency.  They confirmed that they had received referrals and I should wait for a call from our social worker.

I had a neatly-typed a list of all the questions I wanted to ask her when she called.  Each question had a space after it so I could take notes.  I laid a pen on top of the paper to make sure I was ready.  I checked the Internet over and over and read one posting after another from people happily sharing their referral information.

And then the phone rang.

It was our social worker.

She was holding our referral in her hand.

She. was. holding. our. referral. in. her. hand.

She asked me one simple question that made my heart leap.

“Did you buy one crib or two?”

“One,” I answered.  Trying hard not to allow myself to believe that her question meant what I thought it did.

“Well, you better buy another crib because it’s twins . . . . and they’re beautiful!”

Almost everything after that is a blur.  My neatly-typed questions were never asked and I didn’t write down a single thing she told me. I spent the entire day in a foggy, blissful state celebrating that we were not just having a baby – we were having two.

On July 11, 2005, almost one year to the day after we attended the first meeting at our first adoption agency, two beautiful little girls, wearing identical pink flowered sundresses and too-big, hot pink sandals, toddled into a stuffy conference room in Guangzhou China and forever grabbed hold of our hearts.

Looking back now, I’d like to give my former boss a huge hug.  If it weren’t for her we might not have started the journey; a journey that lead to the two most amazing little girls I’ve ever met.

A journey that made me a mom.


Kenna and Michal are now 8 1/2 and about to start the third grade.  They both play the piano, dance, sing beautifully and swim like fish.  They are talkative and funny and are the best of friends — most of the time!  I truly can not imagine our lives without them.

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Follow the Tolman family on their blog at www.andbabiesmakefour.com

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*The following is a guest blog post by Chris Tracy, father of three whose youngest, Ellen Christine (Ellie) was adopted from China and brought home to the United States in March. 

I would like to introduce myself, my name is Chris, my wife, Julie and I, recently returned from China earlier this year in March, with the newest addition to our family, Ellen Christine (Ellie).  Ellie, who is two years old was welcomed by big brother and sister; Summer 15 and Wyatt 13.  It seems like such a long time ago in which we started the process to adopt.  Ellie was in the waiting child program, so our wait was relatively short, just 14 months.    She has quickly become such a fixture in our family, I can’t imagine a time in which she wasn’t with us.  Our lives have definitely changed since adopting Ellie, I would have to say all for the better.

As soon as Julie and I, met Ellie, we instantly fell in love with her.  I know some people don’t think it’s possible to fall in love so easily, but I was in love with her as soon as I saw her picture.  Our time in China was exciting, however, Ellie had a bad cold and we were unable to get out and see all of the sights we had planned.  We were able to visit the Terra Cotta warriors and other sights in Ellie’s home province, Shaanxi.  One of the things Julie and I were both fascinated with was the architecture.  To think some of the buildings were over a thousand years old and still standing, what an accomplishment.

Once we arrived home, we were met by family and friends at the airport.  Ellie, who wasn’t real comfortable around strangers, immediately went to our son and oldest daughter.  I think it was because she had seen pictures of ourfamily we had provided her orphanage.  They immediately took to one another, brothers and sisters in arms, so to speak.  Upon our arrival home, I took a picture of the three of them playing on Ellie’s bedroom floor with my IPhone, just a spur of the moment picture, it remains one of my favorites.

While recovering from jetlag and readjusting to our time zone, we remained at our home for about two weeks, just trying to get settled in as a new family.  Once we recovered, we began taking Ellie to all the places we like to visit as a family.  Trips to the park, local shopping centers, all the places a family goes when they’re ready to venture out and show off their newest addition.  People are drawn to Ellie and ask all kinds of questions about where she is from and her heritage.  We’re proud of her and tell everyone we meet about our adventure in China.

Earlier this year, we celebrated the Chinese New Year at two separate events.  We were excited because we were very close to going to China to get Ellie.  I can’t even imagine what next year’s celebration will be like with Ellie.  Hopefully, we will be in anticipation of travelling to China again, as we have started the process to adopt another little girl. As we move forward, we will be relying on our faith, family and friends, to help us bring our fourth child home.

Learn more about the Tracy family and the latest on their adoption process by visiting their family blog, Hopeful Hearts Waiting Arms.  

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*The following is a guest blog post by Stacie Hrabe, mother of two girls adopted from China. 

I first heard about Chinese adoption in the early to mid 90’s (before I was married or knew my husband) looking at the referral photo of a co-workers niece I knew instantly in my heart that I would some day adopt from China.

Ten years later my husband and I set out on the journey to start a family.  We realized that we would not be able to conceive (without IVF) on our own and after a few attempts we made the decision to adopt.  Chinese adoption had stuck in my mind and heart for those ten years, knowing eventually that we would find our child there but not knowing in what way it was to happen.  I am such an emotional decision maker, but this time I wanted to make sure that our decision was a rational one, as well, so I set forth on many months of research and due diligence into the different adoption programs both International and Domestic.  In all cases China seemed the most stable but most importantly I could not get China out of mind.

Long story short- the power of the Red Thread is unstoppable.  We were meant to be the parents of these two amazing girls. Zoey, our first, was adopted at 14 months old in the non special needs program (after a 2 year wait).  She is now 6. Violet was adopted last month at 30 months old in the minor special needs program after less than a year wait.

It was inn January of 2011 that I felt the tug of the Red Thread, once again.  I knew that I had left a piece of my heart in China and it was time to go back to find that missing piece. We chose to be matched rather than choose from a waiting child list because I wanted it to be a process that was completely out of my hands as I am someone who tends to overthink everything!   We had been unsure up until this moment as to whether we would adopt again but the feeling of “now or never” was so overwhelming that we jumped right in knowing that our daughter was waiting for us to come.

Celebrating Zoey and Violet and their Chinese heritage has become a way of life.  It is interwoven into our daily lives through festivals , celebrations and customs we take part in.  It is present in the Mandarin lessons, calligraphy, Chinese watercolor painting and the food we cook.  It is present in the school we chose that celebrates all countries and customs and welcomes Zoey to share hers from her first country.  It is present in the art and decorating we choose for our house and the friends that we seek out who share our daughter’s heritage.  We are excited to join a family culture camp in the next few years once Violet is old enough and look forward to many trips back to China, the country that has given us so much!

Every Tuesday, we feature a new family whose lives have been touched by adoption. If you would like to contribute by sharing your story, please e-mail amy@ajpanda.com. 

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I wanted to take a minute today and highlight one of the great books we have here at AJ Panda. The adoption process is long and complicated and nothing can help calm your nerves more than advice and stories from others who have already gone through the process.  While AJ Panda offers a large selection of books on Chinese adoption, culture and language, there is one that everyone seems to always love. A Passage to the Heart: Writings from Families with Children from China comes highly recommended for waiting families. It is a collection of 100 articles and stories regarding all aspects of adopting from China. It includes personal accounts from adoptive parents about both the joys of adoption and the challenges of parenthood.

One customer review on our site described it as “a compilation of stories related to the adoption process and experience; some of the stories are difficult and gut-wrenching and some are joyful and heart-warming. This balance in perspective helped prepare us for the many emotions and experiences that we encountered during our adoption process.”

No matter what step you are at in the adoption process or if you are just starting to explore adoption, AJ Panda has great resources for you. Or if you have already adopted, we have many great children’s books to help your little one learn about and celebrate their culture.

A Passage to the Heart

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AJ Panda has teamed up with The Alliance for Children Foundation (the Foundation) to give away one of our Mini La Baby Asian Dolls! This is one of our most popular dolls, made by Berenguer. The doll is wearing an adorable outfit with a matching animal-themed blanket. She is scented with baby powder and has a soft body with vinyl hands and head. Each doll measures 11″ tall.

To enter, go to http://www.afcfoundation.org/ and click on the picture of our doll. All you have to provide is your name and email address and wait for them to notify you when you win! A donation is not required to enter the contest, but all donations are greatly appreciated and help provide basic needs to orphan children world wide.

Good luck!

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Chinese Symbols

Happy Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is fast approaching! It will be celebrated on May 8 this year and it’s never too early to start thinking about how to honor all the terrific mothers in your life.

Mother’s Day is widely celebrated in the United States, and it is gaining popularity in China. The theme of the holiday falls right in line with one of China’s main traditional ethics – respect the elderly.

Moms make everything more wonderful so now is the time to go all out and find something terrific for your mother to show her how much she means to you. Our Mother’s Day Gift Guide can help! In addition to our collection of Chinese symbol jewelry, we have lots of gift ideas moms will love like our Chinese silk cosmetic bags or change purses. Authentic Chinese porcelain tea sets or teacups are always a hit, as are our porcelain chopsticks set. Moms who love to cook could whip up every delicious recipe in our Chinese cookbooks. Find something for the mother or grandmother on your list at AJ Panda.

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Dream Chinese Character Necklace
Dream Chinese Character Necklace

Chinese jewelry is very popular and frequently searched for online. And while a lot of those searching do have ties to China – be it heritage, adoptive children, or just an interest in the culture – many just like the look of Chinese characters. I have to admit, they are pretty cool. I guess that’s why so many people opt to get Chinese character tatoos. As the buyer for AJ Panda, I’ve searched high and low looking for pieces I think our customers will like. Most of our Chinese character jewelry is sourced from an American designer, Zia Jewelry, but I have found some interesting jade pieces from wholesalers in China, as well. The good thing about Chinese jewelry is that it can be a fashionable accessory while projecting a positive message like “love”, “hope”, “dream”, or “friend.” These positive messages are what makes them such great gifts. Not to mention the characters that say things like “mom”, “dad”, “jie jie big sister“, or “mei mei little sister.” So the next time  you’re looking for a unique gift, think of Chinese character jewelry. I’m sure the recipient will be grateful.

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Ni Hao!

With Easter coming up soon, some adoptive parents wonder how important the holiday is to their children from China. Popular to contrary belief, the Easter holiday is also celebrated in China. Even beyond the religious implications, Easter has many significances in the Chinese culture. Easter in China symbolizes the conclusion of winter and the magnificent rebirth of spring.

The three most common symbols that are associated with Easter in the West are:  the Easter egg, rabbits, and baby chicks and all hold significance in Chinese culture as well.  In one of the creation stories from ancient China, the world was created from an egg of chaos.  Rabbits and chicks can be seen in many pieces of art, often there to symbolize life and birth.

To wish someone a “Happy Easter” in Chinese, say:  fu huo jie kuai le. Literally translated it means “happy festival for the sign life”.

AJ Panda has the perfect goodies for any Easter basket. Use our Easter Gift Guide to help you select the perfect items to put in Easter baskets for children of any age. You can start with any of our Asian dolls and browse through our toy collection that includes gifts like Chinese noise makers and 3D puzzles. For older children, we have Chinese journals and a large selection or Chinese character and jade jewelry.

Fu huo jie kuai le to you and your family this Easter season!

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