Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Baby, A FOUR year old, and a Fun-filled Christmas

Where does the time go?  We are about to enter a new year and I look back and think how fast this past year went.  The past 5 weeks have been especially busy here with the addition of another child, three birthdays, and Christmas.

At the end of November we welcomed a new baby, Rowan, into our family.  Rowan was welcomed by his 7 brothers and sisters.  They are all just smitten with him.  Lena loves to sign baby boy and show him off to people every chance she gets.  Her other favorite sign is 'awake,' which she signs enthusiastically any time she sees his eyes open.   She also loves to rub or kiss the top of his head, especially when she is getting tucked into bed.  Having a newborn sibling has been a first for Lena.  She was too young to remember the babies at the orphanage.   It's been fun to watch her be a big sister.  She enjoys carefully watching how to take care of a baby.

 Meeting Rowan at the hospital.
 The kids were so excited to see Rowan the first morning he was home before heading off to school.

 Thanksgiving- Reid's 1st and Lena's 2nd.  We are thankful for both of these blessings!

Last year was Lena's first Christmas, but this year was so much more special.  She just LOVED the lights- lights on our house, on our tree, on other houses, etc.  Who am I kidding?  They all did.  Every house we passed with lights, they gasped and said precious things.  Gotta love the magical joy the holidays create! 

 Some of the kids checking out the lights the day they went up!

In December we celebrated Lena's, Jayce's, and my birthday.  Grandpa Linse decided to make a last minute trip up to Wisconsin from Florida.  He spent two days with us, which ended up being both the kids' birthdays..it was nice for him to be able to be here for their birthdays.  He also got to meet Reid and Rowan for the first time.
 Lena loves her grandpas and this grandpa absolutely adores her!

 All the kids together on Lena's big day!
 Lena proudly showed off all her birthday gifts and held up every outfit to show us. :)

 Lena with her cake (we had a oops on the decorating front, but she didn't care).
 We did two rounds of 'Happy Birthday' complete with ASL and a cool candle from China on the second round.  She absolutely beamed!!

Lena and grandpa with baby Rowan.

Christmas 2013- Lena loved everything about it...from being with family to playing with cousins and from special one on one time with aunts and uncles to opening presents.  

 All the cousins on the Henningfeld side with grandpa and grandma Henningfeld. 
There are 18 of them- 8 of them are ours. :)
 Cousin present exchange.  Lena received her present from her cousin, Nicole, and she gave a present to her cousin, Gina.  She loved her personalized purple tv tray and all the fun stuff she got with it!
 Showing off her Hello Kitty gift!
Christmas morning at our house!


January- Lena started pre-school at the school for the deaf, two blocks from our home.  She loves school and her teacher, Ms. Rene. She had her first dentist appointment, which she was not thrilled about- no cavities though! 

February- Lena celebrated her first Valentine's Day with us and we had our first Chinese New Year celebration to go to!

March- Lena celebrated her first St. Patrick's Day with a bowling fundraiser to help bring her brother, Reid, home.  She experienced dying Easter eggs, searching for her Easter basket, and hunting for Easter eggs.  She also met her Grandpa Linse for the first time. 

April- We were busy fundraising, giving back to others, and we got our letter of approval from China to adopt Reid.  We also celebrated Evan's 6th birthday with a party and a trip to Chucky E Cheese as a family.

May- We had our first trip to the zoo for the season.  We started meeting and getting to know more people in the deaf community, including our deaf mentor to be at a party at Pizza Hut for our sign language class.  We also celebrated Memorial Day and attended a local parade.  

June- Lena had her last day of school for the year and we started going to a lot of t-ball and baseball practices and games for the three oldest boys.   We also started the deaf mentor program. This has by far been one of the best things we have ever done.  I will admit, I was terrified.  God gave us the best mentor we could have ever been assigned.  Courtney is the perfect mentor for our family and she has taught our family sign language once a week since the end of June.  We have learned so much in the last 6 months.  We celebrated dad's 32nd birthday, Landyn's 4th birthday, and her great grandma's 95th birthday.

July- Lena pent some quality time with her dad and brothers while mom and Evan went to China to bring Reid home.  On July 11th, mom, Evan, and Reid came home and we became a family of 9!  We celebrated Elijah and Jonah's 5th birthday, visited with cousins visiting from Florida, and went bowling to celebrate the birthdays.  We also celebrated Lena's 1 year GOTCHA DAY and had a visit from our home study social worker for Lena's 1 year visit and Reid's 1 month visit.

August- Lena and her brothers got to spend the weekend with grandma and grandpa Henningfeld and aunt Renee while mom and dad went to an out of state wedding.  We started getting ready to head back to school and the county fair began!  The kids loved going to see the animals and "dad's barn" every day and the couple times they got to go on some rides.

September- Back to school!  Lena started her first full year of pre-school with Ms. Rene.  She had just 3 other kids in her class this year (two boys and one other girl) as many of the others moved up to kindergarten.  Her teacher said she is the leader and much more interested in what is going on around her this year. We celebrated nana's birthday, took many trips to Pearce's Farm Stand to climb and play on the hay bales, and we celebrated the Ethiopian New Year in Milwaukee with traditional Ethiopian food followed by a trip to the zoo with uncle Ron in tow.   We had Reid's re-adoption at our county court house, visited the apple orchard a few times, and Lena had her first play date with her friend, Katie, while mom took Reid to his transfusion appointment at Children's Hospital.  

October- We went to the annual family fall night at Landyn's pre-school.  The kids went to the St. Peter's fall festival with Rick's family.  We carved pumpkins at nana and grandpa J.P.'s house and went trick-or-treating at a couple of places, where Lena got to dress up in the many costumes nana has, including being a bumblebee, ladybug, and Snow White.   

November- We were busy with National Adoption Awareness Month and Orphan Sunday, creating awareness at our local church and online.  We helped run our church's Operation Christmas Child program. Our 4th baby and 8th child entered the world.  Lena was a big sister to a newborn for the first time and we became a family of 10- double digits!   Things have definitely slowed down and piled up around here since.   We were home in time for Thanksgiving and celebrated at the Henningfeld's.

December- A busy month as you can see from above!  3 birthdays to celebrate before Christmas.  It was a cold and quite snowy month, but we enjoyed a lot of family time!  Lena had her first Christmas program- she had a small part as a 'tree doctor.'  She got to visit with her grandpa Linse and see Santa at the Pizza with Santa event at dad's school.   

2013 has gone by so fast!   It was a very busy year full of blessings!  In the last four months Lena has really grown and changed so much.  She knew a lot of sign language before, but now she is actually using it all of the time and putting words together.  She is initiating conversations and she has become so much more animated with her body and her facial expressions. I really need to video it.  She is learning to fingerspell and write her name and is learning the alphabet and the signs that go with it.  Lena has also become a little bit more girly lately too.  She loves her pink and purple things, her hair bows, dolls, pretend phones, purses (she has become quite the bag lady filling them up with things from around the house), and all other things girly.  She has become a little more emotional and dramatic too and her teacher has noticed. She gets upset quite easily and cries for long periods of times about very little things.  She is very sensitive.  I guess we're getting a welcome to the girl world notice, having been so used to raising boys.   Lena is really loving coloring and anything crafty, along with her brothers Jonah, Reid, and Evan.  She is a true joy and has a smile that can light up a room.  She can charm the pants off of just about anyone- such a cutie!   She has helped us grow as parents in so many ways this year and we have been blessed to watch her grow and change over the year too!   

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Happy One Year Gotcha Day to our Little Girl!

Wow...I pretty much dropped off the face of the planet on this blog about 4.5 months ago.  I had to come back today though to post about today- our one year gotcha day celebration of having Lena in our lives.  In some ways it feels like much longer and in other ways it feels like that year just flew by...time is funny like that.  

Rewind to one year ago today.  We were waiting in our hotel room in Fuzhou, Fujian province- China for 3 p.m. to arrive.  We were anxious, nervous, and excited.  Time seemed to stand still.   Just before 3 p.m. we took all the important things we needed and headed to the hotel conference center.  Lena was supposed to show up at 3:30 p.m.  To our surprise, we walked in to see her sitting in a chair drinking a little milk in a juice box like container.  The assistant director of her orphanage sat a few chairs over near our guide.  We were so not prepared for that and so our gotcha moment wasn't quite how I had envisioned it would be.  I had very little time to spend with her before having to start some paperwork and ask questions of the assistant director.  We received the outfit she was wearing when she was found and a list of around 10 questions with answers we probably would of liked to have known.   Rick and Evan entertained her and she was a little scared at times, but laughing and hiding and being her silly self at other times.  Our time in China was not easy.  We had some major emotions, melt-downs, and many highs and lows.   But we finally had our daughter!  

 Our first glimpse of her.

 With our guide, Penny.
 Giving some love to big brother, Evan.

 Mom trying to get a hug.
 Loving our little girl.

 Spending some time with dad and Evan while mom did some paperwork.

 Being loved on by mom in our room.
 Back in the hotel room.
Asleep in the crib in our room.

Fast-forward to today- one year later.  WOW!   This little girl still has her highs and lows.  She can be quite emotional and dramatic at times.  But she can be the happiest thing you have ever seen.  Her smile can beam and she can light up a room.  She can charm someone she doesn't even know in a heartbeat.  She has been pretty hard on her dad- the only person in her life she really just won't fully let in.  It has broken his heart over and over again.  Just recently she has started to come around a little more- that may have to do with the fact that she just had dad to take care of her while I was in China for 2 weeks.  She is very observant and is a bright little girl.  She learns very quickly and went from no language what-so-ever to probably around a few hundred signs.  She can get her point across to just about anyone and she is really starting to show that she understands more complex ideas like "wh" questions and is putting more and more signs together.   She is a bit of a picky eater when it comes to certain things- especially carbs.  She will forever remain a tiny little thing.  I wish I had that problem.  She is probably the slowest eater you will ever meet, unless it is a popsicle in her hands.   She has completed a half year of pre-school at the school for the deaf near our home and loves it there.  She has a wonderful teacher and many sweet classroom aides and is thriving with her peers who are like her.   We know we made the right choice in sending her there.  Hearing aides have proven not to be of much help for her.  We will continue to build her ASL vocabulary, as well as our own.  We want ASL to be her first language.   Adopting a deaf child has not been a piece of cake, but it sure has changed our lives for the better and has introduced us to a beautiful new language and many wonderful new friends.  This year has been quite rewarding.  This child has blossomed and we cannot wait to watch her continue to blossom in the next year.  God has blessed us with a daughter who has taught us so much and we are forever thankful.   We love you so very much little lady!   Happy one year gotcha day!  We look forward to many many more.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Kings and Queens

I first heard this moving song by Audio Adrenaline maybe a few weeks ago.  Ever since, I have wanted to create a video for waiting children with this song in the background.  Awhile ago, an adoption friend of mine was looking for pictures of our adopted children- one from the orphanage and one once in a family/home.  I sent her two.  Today she posted the most amazing video of a before and after of many of the children of families who were going through the adoption process at the same time as us.  And wouldn't you know...it had this song in the background.  It was perfect!  It moved me to tears.  I had wanted to write the lyrics on my blog and I am glad I didn't get around to it until now.  So enjoy the lyrics and if you  haven't seen it yet, please check out the video and turn your volume UP and REALLY listen.  I hope this song moves your heart  like it moves mine.

Here is the video link:
Lena is the girl in red standing in the crib and then in the Thanksgiving turkey dress. She is a blessing!


Little hands, shoeless feet, lonely eyes looking back at me
Will we leave behind the innocent too brief
On their own, on the run when their lives have only begun
These could be our daughters and our sons
And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating
I know my God won’t let them be defeated
Every child has a dream to belong and be loved

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty 
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout your name in victory
When we love when we love the least of these
When we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won’t you look around these are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open


If not us who will be like Jesus
To the least of these
If not us tell me who will be like Jesus
Like Jesus to the least of these

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free shout your name in victory
We will love we will love the least of these
We will love the least of these
We will love the least of these
We will love the least of these
We will love the least of these 
We will love the least of these

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chinese New Year

February 10th was the start of Chinese New Year- 2013 is the year of the snake!

The Chinese New Year starts with the new moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon, 15 days later. The 15th day of the new year is called Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade. 

The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. In order to "catch up" with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an extra month once every few years (seven years out of a 19-yearcycle). This is the same as adding an extra day on leap year. This is why, according to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year.  

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day is a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. Much like the Western New Year (January 1st), the biggest celebration is on the eve of the holiday. At the turn of the new year, firework displays are put on throughout the city.  The week following, most people have off work and many families vacation.
Traditions are different throughout China, but some are similar and include:

New Year's Eve Dinner

The New Year's Eve dinner is the most important dinner for Chinese people. Normally this is the family reunion dinner, especially for those with family member away from home. In the New Year's Eve dinner,  fish will typically be served. Dumplings are the most important dish in northern China. These two dishes mean prosperity.  The majority of Chinese will have New Year's Eve dinner at home instead of restaurant.


Fireworks are used to drive away the evil in China. Right after the 12:00PM of the New Year's Eve, fireworks will be launched to celebrate the coming of the New Year as well as to drive away the evil. It is believed that the person who launches the first fireworks in the New Year will get good luck.

Shou Sui

After the New Year's Eve dinner, family member will try to stay awake during the night.  According to tales and legends, there was a mythical beast called the "Nian". At the night of New Year's Eve, the "Nian" will come out to harm people, animals, and proprieties. Later people found that the "Year" is afraid of the color red, fire, and loud sound. People will launch fireworks, make fires, and stay awake the whole night to fend of the "Nian."

Red Envelopes

Red envelopes with money, ranging from one to a thousand Chinese Yuan, are given by adults, especially married couples and the elderly, to young children in the New Year days. It was believed that the money in the red packet will suppress the evil from the children, keep the children healthy, and give them a long life.

New Year Markets

During the New Year days, a temporarily market will be set up, mainly selling New Year goods, such as clothing, fireworks, decoration, foods, small arts, etc. The market is usually decorated with a large amount of lanterns.


A few days before the Chinese New Year, people will do a complete cleaning of their home and housewares, getting rid of the old and welcoming the new.


After the cleaning, families decorate the house to welcome the New Year. Most of the decorations are red, which means good luck. 

For our Chinese New Year, we ordered take-out from our local Chinese restaurant.  We gave the kids red envelopes and Lena wore one of her Chinese dresses to church on Sunday, which would have been New Year's Day.  Last night we were invited by a friend to a Chinese New Year celebration, where we got to meet many families who have adopted from China.  Evan, Lena, and I went because Rick was out of town.  My mom and step-dad stayed and watched the other kids at our house.   We had a great Chinese meal, got to meet a lot of new people, and the kids got to see some fireworks and run around with some sparklers.   Looks like we may have a fun Chinese New Year tradition for years to come!

Lena was a little nervous at first, but made friends quickly after dinner.


 Meeting new people and visiting with some who we have known through friends.  I got to meet a girl who was adopted right before aging out.  She was advocated for on a group I co-moderate, so that was special!  

The beautiful kids!  There were seven adopted from China, 6 girls and 1 boy, as well as a little girl adopted from Korea.  Evan said to me "Mom are the plain kids going to get their picture taken too?"   LOL!  He was referencing himself and the other biological children.  So we then took a few pictures with all the kids who were still in the house and not outside.  Lena had a couple new friends by the end of the night! :)


 Time to go!  Lena in her fancy coat from her nana. :)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tears of Happiness and Tears of Sorrow

The other day I had an IEP meeting for Lena at the school for the deaf.   Her teacher and speech therapist raved about how wonderful she is and how great she is doing.  She is at a level two and they said that many children who start at 3, even those in deaf families, are not at the level she is at.   They are amazed by her.  I couldn't help but tear up in that meeting for a few reasons.   I had tears of happiness because I was so proud of her.  She is a smart little girl who, despite her early childhood circumstances, has come so far.  She has such a desire to know and to learn new things.  She loves that she now has a language and can communicate with others.   The second reason I got tears in my eyes was because that meeting was yet one more reassurance to me that we are doing the right thing, we have her in the right school, and though we sometimes feel like we are failures, we are doing the best we can and we have taught her a lot of signs.

And then I cried tears of sadness and worry for the children who are deaf who are still waiting in China and countries all around the world for their families to find them.  Some will age out of the system.  What will their life be like with no language or way to communicate with anyone, no formal education, possibly no chance to get married and have a family of their own?   Will they remain in the orphanages and become nannies?  Will they be tossed out onto the street at 18?  Will they be taken advantage of by someone because of their impairment? Your guess is as good as mine.  No one really can say what will happen to them or how their life will turn out.   I was thinking about my little girl and all that she has learned and how far she has come in 6.5 months with only one month of schooling under her belt and wondered....what if more people opened their hearts and their home to a deaf child?   To any child with special needs for that matter.   The resources we have in our community and in our country are amazing.  We are so fortunate.  I was thinking about all the kids who remain in an orphanage and wondered how many of them would be able to have the chance to communicate with people through a common language and to dream about their future and to see some of their dreams come true.  One of the biggest dreams of a waiting child is to have a family of their own.   Every child deserves to have one- to know what that kind of love looks and feels like.  

So as I sat in that meeting with tears of happiness seeping out the corners of my eyes for my daughter, I couldn't help but to think of some of these kids who are not so lucky and who don't have a family of their own to advocate for them and to help them accomplish their dreams.   Do you have the room in your heart...in your home...in your family?   I am not going to lie and say the process is easy or that it is inexpensive.  It's a lot of work and it's very expensive...but when you fully trust in the Lord and follow His calling and His heart, He will provide.

This was Lena at her orphanage....she spent most of her time in the crib and had no language to communicate with the staff and her friends.  She just pointed at everything.

This was Lena about 5 months after coming home.  She smiles about 90% of the time.  She is so happy to go places, see new things, and meet new people. She makes other people happy just by being around her.  She has a mom, a dad, grandmas and grandpas, and a lot of brothers who adore her and protect her.  She has a school, a teacher, friends, a language to communicate with others, and she is learning about Jesus and is the first one say 'Let's pray' when food is set on the table at meal time.   I don't want to think about what her life would have been like if she had to wait longer or worse yet, if she would have had to grown up in the orphanage or aged out of the system.

 These children below are deaf like Lena, but their life is nothing like Lena's.  
They need me, they need you, they need us.  Don't let them be forgotten.

This is Kara.  Kara will age out in March....she needs prayers for protection and for her future.

This is Gary.  He will age out in July if a family doesn't come forward for him.

 This sweet girl is Kaiya.  Her pictures are very old. She will age out in October of this year if she doesn't find her family.  

This is Samantha.  She has until July of next year to find her family before it is too late for her.

Look at his smile!
Jonas is in an orphanage a friend of mine volunteered at-
she'd love to tell you more about him!

 Bethie is a sweet girl!

                                                       Bo is hilarious!  He would bring so much laughter to a family!
Adrian's orphanage has waived his orphanage donation fee completely!

Quincy is a very bright boy who is well-liked by the orphanage staff!

Rachel needs a mom and a dad's love!


Syler is as cute as can be...I'd bring him home if we could go for two!  He currently has a $4,200 promise child grant with the agency he is listed with.

 Cade is a sweet heart....can you imagine a hug from this precious boy?

 Stewart is adorable!

 Mark is precious and still so young.

 These are just a handful of the many children who are deaf and waiting for a family in China.  All of their names are names chosen as advocacy names to protect their privacy.  Please email me at el_lauren@yahoo.com if you are interested in learning more about adoption in general, about adopting from China, or about any of these precious children specifically.  Adoption is my passion and advocacy is my mission.  I would love to talk to you!