Monday, May 28, 2007

Scenes From Around The Garden

Some nice (and one not-so-nice) pictures from around the gardens today.

Shasta daisy



Summer Wine Ninebark (flowering)



Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle





Spidey.



By the way, I don't care if this spider is beneficial for the garden by eating bugs. It's NOT harmless, as it freaked me out when I saw it in my wood shed. It was a good 4 inches long or so. I quickly dispatched it with some blows from my shovel. Yuck, Yuck Yuck. I then tortured myself further by actually looking at spider pictures online to see if I could figure out what kind it is, to no avail. Maybe a fishing spider (nursery web spider?), or what about a wolf spider? Does anyone know? Yuck, Yuck, Yuck.

With my brother's expert help, I bought a new (used) Canon 1D camera well over a month ago and finally bought a cool zoom lens, which should arrive in the next week or so, enabling me to actually use the camera. No more slow shutter lag times for me! (Although my Nikon E8800 has been good to me, as you can see.) If you think the animal and gardening photos are sickening, just wait until I start sharing baby photos!

Oh, and I had to pick another tick off of Sophie Dog today.

Great. I've given myself the heebie jeebies just in time for bed.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Adoption Health Preferences

Part of my heart is broken a little bit. I had to decide if I would consider adopting a baby with any developmental or medical problems. And if so, which of the conditions that are more prevalent in international adoption I’d consider.

In a way, I found this process bordering on distasteful. Even though we talk and talk and talk about how it’s not at all like picking out the appealing puppy at the shelter (I’m totally opposed to pet shops that sell puppies, by the way), there is a resemblance on a certain level. We are, after all, doing some choosing up front. We are ruling out (or in) some babies and children. I’m not suggesting that’s wrong. In fact, I think it’s a vital and necessary part of international adoption. But we are picking.

And that’s also part of what makes this decision so gut-wrenching for some of us. Because we could love any one of these children, whether they have a cleft palate, fetal alcohol syndrome or club foot. We love our children before we even know them. Yes, if you gave me a child with cerebral palsy, I would love it to death. But could I do right by it? Maybe not. And that’s where we have to get over that mountain of emotion into brutal facts.

This may be especially important for those of us adopting as single parents, or for dual working parents. Although some day I hope I’ll get married, I’m going into this right now on my own. I work full time. Would I have the resources to care for a baby with cerebral palsy? Probably not.

It’s true that we don’t know whether the baby we’ll come to call our own will be healthy, even if he or she appears to be initially. There may be unknown problems, and this has happened to parents who unexpectedly must face serious health problems in their child. But that’s not the same as knowingly taking on a baby whose needs we may not be able to adequately meet.

I had to search my heart to make sure that I wasn’t just unconsciously looking for an excuse to adopt a healthy baby by telling myself that I don’t have the resources. I don’t think that’s the case. I think I’m being honest with myself. I really wanted to be able to consider some health issues. I think this was more compelling to me because of my own health problems and history of cancer. How could I say no to a baby with a health problem when I’m so far from perfect myself?

Well, what about a minor health problem, then? Something “correctable?” This is another part of the issue that’s such a struggle. My agency gave me a health checklist to review. I looked it over and decided to consult a highly respected international adoption clinic for guidance. I had a lot of questions I needed answered, such as:

  • Is it possible that a baby’s medical report from the orphanage would downplay a health condition?


  • How accurate are these medical reports?


  • What happens if you are open to a certain condition and are referred a baby with that condition, but then the adoption clinic you consult with tells you that the condition seems much more serious than indicated?

Unfortunately, the adoption clinic I consulted was simply unable to provide any detailed information; they can’t offer information unless you have a specific referral.

So, instead, I had a thorough conversation (again) with a couple of people from my agency. They, too, had few answers to some of my questions, simply because there are so many unknowns, not through any fault of theirs.

It’s one of those big unknowns that helped seal my final decision. As part of the new adoption rules Vietnam issued this spring, people who turn down a referral that was deemed appropriate based on their stated preferences could be forced to wait an entire year before being eligible to adopt again. So, if I had said I would consider a baby with a minor heart problem, but adoption clinic experts determined that the condition was actually quite serious or life threatening, for instance, and I turned down the referral, I may have to wait an entire year before being eligible for another referral. It just seemed too risky.

So, with my more limited resources and the high risk involving any medical conditions, it was with a heavy heart that I decided to state my preferences for a healthy baby. I also decided to state a preference for a girl, whereas before I thought I’d be open to either gender. And I decided to state an age range up to 18 months, whereas before I was considering a limit of 12 months. AND, yes, with a very happy heart, I said I would be open to twins or siblings. (That is extremely unlikely, of course.)

In the end, I’m comfortable and happy with my decisions. I think I did the right thing for me and for the babies and children waiting to be adopted. I love them all even now, but that’s not always enough, is it?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Growth

"For one's health it is necessary
to work in the garden and see the flowers growing."


I’ve been spending a lot of spare time these past few weeks tending my small and ever-evolving gardens. It’s very relaxing and therapeutic. You can’t be stressed out while gardening or simply sitting still and playing the observer as nature moves across the path of your life.

Tonight, my infamous Back 40, which I’ve been trying to tame for going on three years now, got rototilled by neighbor, who volunteered his time and rented machine after digging up a plot of his own land for a vegetable garden. It's now down to the rich, bare earth I've been craving, and it may one day become my child's favorite play spot. Yesterday, I re-planted the tulip bulbs I’d salvaged after my mom and I dug up parts of my front garden the other week. I had over 200 bulbs, after separating them all. But it was the end of a long day and I had no patience to plant 200 bulbs individually, so I ended up doing mass plantings – digging holes and tossing in handfuls. I'm not even sure the bulbs are in decent condition anymore. But it’s very freeing to let yourself not care about things you really don’t need to care about.

So, we’ll wait another 11 months or so and see what grows. In the meantime, I have a “Rumba” weigela to find a spot for.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

This Little Light Of Mine

What is it about Maya Angelou that captivates a world? That brings us at once to tears and laughter? Is it because she embodies vibrancy and vulnerability both? Because she sings what’s in our souls? Because she speaks what we leave unspoken? Or because she is the lion to our cowardice?

I had the privilege of hearing Maya Angelou speak the other week, and my mom went along with me. Ms. Angelou (pronounced Ann-jeh-low, not loo, by the way) was a commanding presence on the stage, even with bad knees that forced her to clutch the podium for support. She possesses a strong, resounding voice, with a certain accent and crispness. (She’s apparently performed a very similar speech for at least a couple years now, but that doesn’t dilute her power.)

Ms. Angelou weaved together stories of her past, bits of poetry, song, and important messages. She told about being raped as a young child, about struggling with her identity and race, about making it because people who cared shined a light for her to find her own way through the darkness. She urged the audience to let their own lights shine, too. It’s not bragging, she said, to let your light shine, to let what you have accomplished brighten the path for others so that they can find their way through their darkness.

“This Little Light of Mine” is actually an old African-American spiritual, a gospel.

It goes like this:

This little light of mine
I'm going to let it shine
Oh, this little light of mine
I'm going to let it shine
Hallelujah
This little light of mine
I'm going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Ev'ry where I go
I'm going to let it shine
Oh, ev'ry where I go
I'm going to let it shine
Hallelujah
Ev'ry where I go
I'm going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

All in my house
I'm going to let it shine
Oh, all in my house
I'm going to let it shine
Hallelujah
All in my house
I'm going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

I'm not going to make it shine
I'm just going to let it shine
I'm not going to make it shine
I'm just going to let it shine
Hallelujah
I'm not going to make it shine
I'm just going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Out in the dark
I'm going to let it shine
Oh, out in the dark
I'm going to let it shine
Hallelujah
Out in the dark
I'm going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Who are you lighting the way through darkness for?

Tuckered Out

Once in a rare moon, Sophie Dog does in fact get tuckered out from her busy day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

USCIS, Here I Come

I'm remiss in posting and now feel terribly far behind. I've been busy wrapping up another semester of graduate school, doing freelance work, doing my real job, gardening, having a bone marrow biopsy, celebrating Mother’s Day with my mom's visit here, attending to a court case for which I'd gotten subpoenaed to testify, and various other minutiae.

But the big news on the adoption front is that my wait for the infamous I-171H has finally begun. The I-171H is a document from the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). The I-171H is the “Notice of Favorable Determination Concerning Application for Advance Processing of an Orphan Petition.”

Here's what must be sent in order to apply for the I-171H:


  • The I-600A application

  • Application fee

  • Fingerprint fee and fingerprints

  • Statement about marital status (in my case, single status)

  • Home study report


Receipt of the I-171H means that USCIS has approved your I-600A application, and it essentially states that you are eligible to adopt a child from a foreign country. It can take weeks or even months to get this coveted document from USCIS, and the wait inevitably sends prospective adoptive parents into a frenzy of agonized waiting.

I don’t feel like I’ve agonized a lot over all of the waiting involved in international adoption, and that may simply because I’m too busy to really stop and think about waiting so much. It seems like time has just flown by since I filed my application, in fact. And I really just haven’t had time to do everything on the adoption front that I’d like to. Actually, I really haven’t done anything much that I’d like to! And I’m only half-way through the Cs in my baby-name book, which means there’s approximately 49,147 names to sift through yet. I need to get cracking! I’m thinking about taking the summer off from my graduate studies so that I can indulge some of my adoption studies.

The waiting I can deal with. What I do tend to agonize over is getting information about what’s going on. It’s that lack of information that leaves me sputtering and gasping for air. I feel like a two-year-old asking, Why, why why? Why can’t you tell us how many people are on the waiting list? Why can’t you tell us when we’ll get a referral? (In truth, my agency has been pretty good at answering all of my Why’s, and when they can’t answer, they generally have a good reason.)

So, the fact that I’m waiting for the I-171H means that my home study was completed. And the fact that my home study was completed means that I finally made a decision about the health, age and gender preferences for the child I’ll adopt.

But you’ll have to check back for that update, as I’m going to watch “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” a new TV show about a family with 6-year-old twins and 2-year-old sextuplets. Now that’s something to agonize about. (By the way, I TIVO'd it.)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

"Living With Cancer"

Leroy Sievers has been blogging about his impending death for more than a year now. Each time that it’s come down to a few months, something bizarrely wonderful has happened, and he’s made it through. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002, after a routine colonoscopy, and it later metastasized to his brain and his lungs.

Leroy was the focus of a new documentary called “Living With Cancer,” with Ted Koppel, that premiered tonight on the Discovery Channel. The two are long-time pals. Lance Armstrong and Elizabeth Edwards were also featured. Leroy has been a journalist for 25 years and now has a show and a blog on NPR. Throughout much of the filming of this special project, neither Leroy nor Ted thought that Leroy would be alive to see it actually air. Leroy has bluntly and honestly chronicled his cancer experience, almost matter-of-factly. Near the end of the broadcast, there was a glimmer of the much deeper emotion that lies just below the surface. Ted asked Leroy’s long-time partner (a woman whose name I forget already, and it isn’t clear to me if they’re actually married) why she was hesitant to appear on the show, and she indicated that it was simply too painful for her and that she didn’t want to break down on national TV. As she spoke, the cameras panned to Leroy, and if you didn’t know better, you might think he was just sitting in stony silence, a journalist so cynical he was untouched by his own process of dying. But it was there, that cauldron of emotion that he fought to contain.

When I listened to Leroy tonight, I became an instant fan. Here’s an excerpt from his blog:

In the end, I come back to the way I looked at cancer the first time. It's just something that happened to me. It's not who I am. But the things I have learned from it? They have become a huge part of who I am, and for that I'm grateful, as strange as that may sound.


I always think it’s absurd when people insist that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to them. But Lance Armstrong said that very thing in the documentary tonight. For the vast majority of people, cancer is not the best thing that has or will ever happen to them. It hurts. It makes you throw up a lot. Some people, including kids and women, go bald and lose their eyebrows and eyelashes, too. A lot of families have serious financial problems or even go bankrupt. It makes you tired a lot. It makes you forgetful. Some people don’t have health insurance to cover their treatment. Or they don’t have access to the best treatment and the best providers.

Lance Armstrong is truly an exception, yet he’s often held out as the target all cancer survivors should strive to be like. Elizabeth Edwards seems so much more down to earth. She immediately acknowledged that many people don’t have access to the kind of care she has had, and that not everyone has a loving, capable and supportive partner. She acknowledged that she gets depressed, and she said it’s her obligation to make sure that the public sees those darker moments of living with cancer. Indeed, we need to see all of its dimensions, especially the ones we may not want to know about.

I’ve been living with cancer for seven years now, and it’s both a big part of my life and a small part of my life. It is, however, no longer the focus of my life. Ironically, I think it would be less a part of my life if I weren’t writing about cancer issues as a journalist. But then I would not have met so many amazing people who are also on this strange, scary, interesting, crazy journey.

I think what people mean when they make comments like Lance did, and which Leroy alluded to in the quote above, is that what they learned from cancer is the best thing that ever happened to them. I just wish we could have learned this in kindergarten, along with all of the other important stuff.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Adoption Distractions - Hiking

Working up a sweat outdoors is a good stress relief from the relentless Adoption Wait.

So this morning, Sophie Dog and I went hiking in a nearby woods/recreation area, one of my favorite spots. It's especially nice at this time of year because it's virtually deserted. It's very tranquil there (besides the reverberating honking of Canada geese).

Sophie Dog found a new love -- fetching in the water. We were playing fetch when a flock of Canada geese came swimming over to investigate the racket we were making. They stayed the whole time we were there and swam back and forth in the direction Sophie Dog went. They had no fear of her. And she had no interest in the geese -- some retriever! You can watch the video of her fetching at the bottom of this page (hahah -- boring dog videos!).

Here are some boring dog photos.

Taking the plunge: Sophie Dog dives in




She comes up with the ball




A dog's favorite bath: Getting the humans wet