Category: Travel

Stuck: How you can help

Just about 24 hours ago, the Cincinnati Enquirer published a story on our roller coaster:

At the time, I’d been told the system was again operational. We said goodbye to the families that had been stuck last week and celebrated that with all hoops already cleared, we should be home on time…home to celebrate the reunion we’ve been dreaming of for over a year.

I do still recognize that we are extremely fortunate. We are trying to make the most of a bad situation but I also think it’s important for others-especially government officials who may be able to make a CHANGE-know the impact this “glitch” and the inability to fix it is having on families like mine. A snapshot of my last 12 hours:
-Making the difficult decision of who returns home to our Hannah
-Seeing our family separated for a long, international travel as Adam and Bob took the van to Hong Kong and we stay behind with no future flight booked
-Eli crying as he waved goodbye. Our guide trying to explain….to a 7-year-old who has waited his entire life to have a family….and from the day he met us, has asked every day since when he can meet his sister.
-Spending more than 20 minutes (at international call rates) on the phone with United. Exceptionally grateful they waived our change fees but still facing more than $500 per seat for last-minute flights.
-Working with our hotel to go night-by-night with points. We have enough for tonight and one additional night. After that, it’s more than $200 per night (for one of very few accessible hotels in the area)
-Video calling my 4-year-old to tell her that the “sticker machine” is still broken and Eli and I can’t come home. Comforting her as she cries because she’s been counting down the days and tomorrow was THE day.
-Messaging friends and family that there won’t be the airport homecoming to celebrate we were home as a family.
-Comforting Eli as he went to sleep crying for Baba
-Attempting to sign consent waivers for my Senators and Congressmen and women working on our behalf to find out the problem and FIX it.

I know there are so many important issues in the world right now but I hope government officials know the hardships American families are facing-all for a sticker printed from a system with no manual override. I pray this is fixed tomorrow for us but this should NEVER happen again. It is inexcusable. Our family is full of joy with our new addition but we will never get back what we’ve lost due to what should have been a smooth last step of literally dozens we’ve sailed by to get here.

As of midnight tonight, we have no updates in more than 12 hours. We have cancelled our flights for Donna, me, and Eli. We have no options to rebook because there’s no timeline of when we might get Eli’s visa. When we receive it, we’ll then compete with more than 30 families for very few, extremely expensive last-minute seats home.

I am mad and I am sad but I also feel lifted up by our friends and family. Your prayers and positive vibes cross the ocean and we are so thankful. Your comments, shares, and encouragement have been so helpful to pull us through the last few darker hours. Thank-you!

A few people have asked how they can help. Here are some ideas:

-Contact your Senators and Representatives to express your frustration that the US Visa system remains down. Explain that adoptive families with children with disabilities are stranded and this should be an extremely urgent matter. Our Senators (Portman and Brown) and Representative Wenstrup have been exceptionally helpful and responsive but others need to join their call for this matter to be resolved.

-Continue to help us share our story. Join us for a united social media campaign in an attempt to get other major media outlets to care about this ongoing problem. We’ve used hashtags #StuckinChinaNeedVisa and #fullheartsneedvisa (because who can resist a Friday Night Lights Reference). Tweet major media outlets like @CNN and @NPR to ask them to cover this crisis. If you have any creative ideas to get media attention, we’re up for those too.

-If you would like contribute financially to these immense, unexpected expenses, the most efficient method at this time would be PayPal writekara at Please “gift” the amount so that PayPal doesn’t deduct their fees. Our AdoptTogether nonprofit account is still open but it does take a bit longer to reach us.

-If you or someone you know has extra Marriott Rewards points, donations of 15,000 points per night would help us offset the cost of our room. You would actually have to call Marriott Rewards directly to book it for us so please contact me via email writekara at gmail dot com for details.

-Know that the adoption process can be scary, unpredictable, and frustrating but it has also been one of the most joyful, heart-bursting, rewarding experiences of my life. This has never happened before (last week) and HOPEfully, will attract the attention that is apparently needed to get it remedied for GOOD.

And finally….

-Keep us in your prayers, thoughts, and wishes. We can’t stress enough that THS is the kind of support we most cherish. Thank-you:)

I will post updates as we have them.




Days 7 & 8: To Guangzhou we go and medically cleared

We headed out of Zhengzhou yesterday with high spirits to make it to our last spot before HOME. I’d talked to a new friend with OI who lived in China for several years and expected that in-country flights were going to be challenging for us. We had relatively good luck coming from Beijing though so we weren’t overly concerned. Our guide managed to get our chairs past the ticket counter (they insisted that they be checked as baggage) but security had a MAJOR problem-thus causing a GIGANTIC kerfuffle-with our attempt to bring the chairs through security. Our guide argued for nearly an hour while we huddled against a wall as people continued to stream by. We inched closer and closer to missing our boarding time. It came and went. Our event (and apparently the possibility that we *could* have a knife in our chairs!) eventually shut down the security…which resulted in all the people who had been standing in that line shouting angrily. It’s a bit hard to explain what was happening because I really have NO idea. There was a great deal of yelling, gesturing, eye rolling, stomping, seeking supervisors of supervisors, and waiting…….I eventually got out of my chair to demonstrate that you could look in every part of our chair…NO KNIVES! We disassembled our chairs and they tried to fit them through the carry-on scanners. In case you’ve ever wondered, they don’t fit!

Eventually, they decided to scan them with the baggage. Our flight should have already boarded so we were terrified that this “scanning” would result in our chairs being held but the flight taking off. We had no choice to trust that they would be at our destination. We got in terrible airport chairs with terrible drivers that took 10 times longer to get us less safely to the plane. It was a bad scene.

I boarded the plane so sad wondering if our chairs would be in Guangzhou and if so, in what shape. When Eli took his seat, so much of my burden was lifted. He was SO incredibly joyful. He made the sign for airplane and proudly touched his chest. He read the safety brochure and pointed out every detail. He practiced with his seatbelt, pointed out the clouds, clapped as he beamed, INHALED unidentifiable Chinese airplane food, and was so, so happy. We were meant to be HERE….with the tough comes the out of this world good.

Our difficult journey also made this fantastic hotel that much sweeter. There are more food and shopping options. Our room has much more room for Eli to play and burn off some of his energy! There are many more families here and several have adopted children around Eli’s age. It’s been fun to meet them and see these amazing kids blossoming around us.

After our travel day on Friday, Saturday was filled with firsts. Before the fun ones, Eli had to clear his medical appointments. He bragged to our guide that he would never cry for his shot this morning. And he didn’t! He did, however, inform every doctor that he was 4 (not 7). When our guide tried to find out why (because it’s possible he’s been told this by a nanny) he changed the subject and asked our guide to tell us that he prefers sweet foods. He is too much! Overall, his medical exams went well. We know we have lots of medical/dental assessment in our future but we’re glad to sail through one of the last hoops here in China to get H*O*M*E. Now, we wait for his TB test results to come back on Monday.

After medicals, our guide took us to a shopping mall to find some better fitting shoes for Eli. We brought three pairs but his measurements given to us by the orphanage were a little off. Eli was so excited to go shoe shopping. He was jumping up and down in the elevator jabbering away. When we got to the shoe section, Adam offered him choices and Eli told our guide, “I will love anything you pick for me.” Which did hold true UNTIL……….he spotted Boonie Bear light-up sandals. Boonie Bear is a Chinese cartoon and it’s Eli’s favorite. These sandals are a sight for sore eyes (not to mention Adam’s household ban on character shoes) but Eli is now the VERY proud owner. So proud in fact, that we just had to convince him via the translator that he really did need to take them off to get into bed. He’d put them right back on after his bath with his pajamas.

And one more important first that I must share-Eli’s first SWIM! I will have to ask our guide tomorrow but I am fairly certain swim in Mandarin is something like “yolo”….if so, it’s very fitting! Eli definitely looked the part of swimmer and within 2 seconds of hitting the water, he went ALL out! Thankfully his NeiNei (Mamaw) was holding him in his inner tube when he dunked his head under and sucked in half the pool. He coughed, sputtered, and flapped his hands…We thought we’d just enjoyed the shortest swim EVER but he recovered within a minute or so and eventually became quite the little inner tube swimmer. He’ll put his face under, holding his breath for several seconds at a time. He kicked well and eventually balanced in the tube all on his own. He definitely needs some (MAJOR) swim instruction but if enthusiasm is any measure, count him in for the 2022 Games:)

Tomorrow we do a bit of sight seeing and I hope to pick up Eli some affordable but meaningful momentos from his country of birth. We will also find out about the status of visas. More to come. We are (hopefully) in the HOMEstretch now.









Holding onto hope-Visa crisis stranding American adoptive families around the world

Sharing a quick update on the visa situation before our daily recap.

We are in Guangzhou as scheduled and trying to focus on enjoying this last leg of our trip and our last anticipated experience in Eli’s home country. Looming in the background is a visa crisis that has never occurred before. An IT glitch has brought the US Visa system down and dozens of families have been stranded in our hotel and another in the city for almost an entire week. We are scheduled for our consulate appointment Tuesday and then SHOULD get Eli’s visa to leave for Hong Kong late Wednesday and then home early Thursday. For each hour that passes, that possibility is becoming less and less likely. The backlog of visas is piling up. There are children here (including Eli) that need medical attention and parents, like us, whose other children are waiting at home. The US Consulate is coming into work on Sunday here in Guangzhou. We’ll find out at 10am if the systems are back up and operational. I’m still holding out hope that the system will somehow be fixed, they’ll get caught up, and we won’t be impacted. If this isn’t resolved in the morning though, it’s something that our government needs to fix *now*. Families are stranded around the world trying to bring home their children. These are US citizens-stranded. Many of these newly adopted children have disabilities. Families, like ours, have worked hard to save, fundraise, and budget down to the dollar for our spending here. When these backlogged families DO get their visas, they will all compete for buying last-minute flights to China. I cannot imagine the cost and hope we don’t have to! Remembering to BE HERE NOW has been a little tricky but it helps that this hotel, city, our guide, and this process has been incredible. I’m not allowing myself to think about more days away from our Hannah, the homecoming moment I’ve been dreaming of for a year dashed, and the hard decisions, long-term consequences for our family if we, too, are stuck. Please join me in hoping and praying that these families who ARE impacted now, get their visas tomorrow and get home.

I’ll post an update to our page tomorrow as soon as we hear. I will also post the stories of some of the incredible families we’ve met here who are stuck…Now, on to the fun stuff!


Day 4: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Blood: With Eli’s red handprint and our red thumb prints over our signatures, Elijah Qian Ayers is officially ours in the eyes of the government here! We returned to the same government building where we met Eli to conclude what is called the “acceptance” period of 24 hours. This time with a much cleaner boy who was WIRED from the start this morning. He opened his eyes, popped out of bed, and opened every curtain and turned on every light…ready to GO! When we got to the office building, he spotted a ride-on toy. This room holds these adoption ceremonies every week. He was a wild man and yelled to our guide in Mandarin, “This is my motorbike!” A few seconds later though (and right as the government officials tried to start the ceremony), he tipped the toy and smacked his chin on the granite floor. I popped to the floor and cupped his chin, which was bleeding pretty bad. He cried but only for a few seconds. If we were in the States, some adhesive would probably help close it but overall, we are thankful it wasn’t worse. I have a feeling it won’t be his first bump or bruise but this one was hard to see.

Sweat: Our boy is a SWEATER! Even though today was the coolest day so far, it was still HOT. We went to a beautiful park after our adoption business was finished. There’s a lake filled with giant lily pads and a few small rides. Eli rode a train (for almost 10 minutes!) as ping pong balls shot in the air and he caught them with a net. He loved it. Our walk back brought on more sweat. Scooters FLY back driving both ways on the sidewalks. Cars don’t stop and go with any shared rules so you cross by weaving through moving cars and scooters. Our morning started off with some adrenaline as we sat in the hotel lobby eating breakfast and what sounded like a machine gun firing filled the area. I was a half second from hitting the deck when another adoption guide came down and said it a wedding. Between the heat and fearing for one’s life, I’d be worried if one of us wasn’t a hot, sweaty mess!

Tears: Overall, our day was again amazing. Eli proudly announces we are his parents everywhere we go. Even people who look pretty grumpy seem to soften when he points to us and says, “These are my mama and baba!” It’s pretty tear inducing how he says it with such pride. Those tears are easier than others… When we got back from the park, everyone was tired. Eli’s legs are pretty bowed and he has some significant bowing. His legs tire before he does and I know that’s frustrating. As we laid down, he asked me what I thought was could he watch TV. I used our phone translator app to say it was time to rest. He obediently laid down (hands folded again on his chest) but silent tears streamed from his eyes. It appeared he was in thought. We used the app to ask if we could help and let him know it was ok to be sad and we knew this was hard. I was prepared for him to grieve and know it’s actually a good sign for attachment…but it was still heartbreaking.

Tomorrow-we head to Eli’s hometown-where he was left as an infant and where he’s spent his entire life. It is a 3-4 van ride in the country each way. Please keep us in your thoughts as we anticipate it will be our most difficult part of the trip.

Hoping for some sleep tonight

Day 2: Henan and a lot of elephants

Another travel day and this one a little more challenging but well worth the endpoint.
Our taxi driver (who we met at the airport) walked us in and tried VERY vigorously to advocate for us to be moved through what seem like somewhat random lines. The “accessible passage” lines never had anyone else with visible disabilities. Our driver was more passionate than effective though so he eventually wished us luck and we waited…with our boarding passes in hand, we headed to domestic security. Their rules are different so some of our portable chargers had to be cleared. I was thankful they didn’t take our electronics!
We boarded without too much trouble. There seems to be no such knowledge of an aisle chair here so I climb/crawl and Adam knee walks. We also repeat what a new friend with OI who lived in China advised, “Mei wen to”. It means “I’m ok. No problem.” We repeat this because people are trying to be helpful but could cause more harm than good.
When we arrived in Zhengzhou, we climbed to the bottom of the stairs on the jetway and managed to advocate for our need for chairs THEN and not at the baggage claim. Once we had our own wheels, the flight crew found us new “VIP” van to the terminal. even through their learning curve of what we needed, everyone was really nice.
Once we got our baggage, we met our guide Rosary. She is amazing. So knowledgable and kind. I couldn’t be more grateful we have her by our side for this adventure.
She brought us to our hotel where we met 3 other families who are adopting! I’d known 2 of these from the Facebook groups that have taught me so much about his process. Eventually, we walked to another nearby hotel for what turned out to be a very confusing but hilarious meal . Adam thought he was ordering egg drop soup for all of us and instead, it was congee (a watery oatmeal-type dish). I was so hungry but my lack of chop stick skills were frustrating!
After lunch, we walked to this beautiful park. We do see a major difference In stares here but we’ve been so distracted by the life-threatening scooters on the sidewalk that we’ve got more important things to pay attention to….like surviving!
After all this-we couldn’t help but crash for a few hours. We missed out on easy/safe dinner options so a granola bar will do until morning.

One last little tidbit before signing off…
Ladybugs are a popular sign for Chinese adoption. Maybe because I can’t dress my lil guy in ladybugs, I haven’t collected much ladybug paraphernalia. Instead, I have a couple of adoption t-shirts with elephant designs from friends’ fundraisers who are adopting from Africa.
In painting my nails for the trip, I picked out ELEPHANTastic pink AND in response to my pants problem, I bought a pair of black leggings with elephants on them the night before we left. I don’t typically wear animals on my pants but I thought Eli might like them. and the final elephant connection….Our guide said that the character that represents Eli’s province translates to mean “a lot elephants” because this area used to have a high population of these animals. They might seem silly connections but it’s just one of so many signs that we were meant to climb this mountain. I’m so glad I have the partner I do to climb it with me and grateful we didn’t change course in moments of doubt, fear, and uncertainty.

Tomorrow is THE day. Eli is in his bed spending his last night as an orphan.

See you in the morning sweet boy. We love you!




3, 2, 1…..TODAY we go to China!

*TODAY* we leave for China!

Despite the months, weeks, and days of prepping, pre-packing, and list-making, somehow I once again managed my all-night pack-a-thon. It seems to never fail with me! On a bright note, it usually helps me sleep on the plane.

I think we are finally completely packed. It was not without one minor hiccup. To make a long and rather sad story short, I forgot to pick up my alterations before they closed….which included e.v.e.r.y pair of pants I’d planned to wear on the trip. Perhaps this was some suggestion or reminder that now that there will be THREE little people in our house, I really should probably learn to hem. I am, however, thankful that none of the Menchie’s yogurt patrons next to the alterations shop called the police as I banged on the door….17 minutes after they were closed:( I’m sure the yogurt-eaters were wondering why in the world someone could need their alterations so urgently! Well…..when kids, juniors, petites, or women’s don’t fit exactly right….it’s urgent! I recognized it was definitely a first-world problem, sucked it up, and went to Khol’s for some pants that fit and I can chop them off or fold them up if they are too long. If my coping skills weren’t already challenged, the cashier (who informed me 5 times it was her first day) who checked me out folded said pants and put them in their own bag….but not the one she gave me with my other items. Fearing I may commit a crime before our departure, Adam retrieved them for me. Let’s hope that is our first, last, and only hurdle of the trip!

For our flights, we’re headed to Chicago and then Beijing. We’ll spend one night there and then head to Zhengzhou on Sunday in preparation of meeting our Eli Monday!

Thanks to all who have sent messages of good luck, positive thoughts, and prayers. We can feel them and truly appreciate the support. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am a tad terrified but this will be an adventure of a lifetime and more than worth it to roll our boy home.

In closing, I’ll share the very first picture we saw of Eli. I can’t wait to share his “after” picture once he’s experienced love, family, home, a ninja sister, and a grumpy bulldog in just a few weeks.

We’re almost there…


Hannah’s Handbook

10513441_10203398065223998_2494523346143035883_nBesides making sure we remember our toothbrushes and wheelchairs (or more accurately the flight crew remembers to load/unload those!), our most important preparations center on making sure that we’ve planned all that we can for Hannah while we are away.

In my anxious state, I’ve created a “Hannah Handbook” and shared it with the crew of family that will care for Hannah while we’re in China. I thought I’d share the headings for other adoptive families who might be preparing their little ones for an adventure of their own while their parents are in China.

Here’s what we’ve covered:

General Rules: For us, this includes the basics. Be Kind. Climbing and jumping off high objects if for gymnastics. Be a good listener and follow directions. Hannah recently informed my mom that I allow her to look under bathroom stalls “to see who’s under there” so I thought it would be helpful to clarify that we do, in fact, have a few basic rules!

Consequences: This covers how our family handles discipline. We primarily use 1, 2, 3 Magic with an emphasis on Hannah learning self-control. She’s encouraged to go to her room to calm down if needed and we don’t negotiate with whining terrorists.

Routines: This section covers our approach to morning and bedtime routines. I’m hoping little details (like the fact we read 3 books before bed) will help bring some stability and normality to Hannah’s little world while we are gone. There’s also the necessity to use her “magic” hair brush for tangles (or apparently it’s equivalent to cruel and unusual punishment).

Weekly Schedule: The bulk of the document involves a detailed planned schedule for the event. I included addresses, directions, phone numbers, and a couple of pictures for landmarks.

Favorite Outings: I’ve listed our top 3 playgrounds with addresses and their differences along with our library.

In case of illness/emergency: Here I’ve listed our pediatrician’s information along with where our medication/thermometer is located in the house. I’ve also listed vet information for our dog and our neighbor’s contact should their be a local crisis  event.

And last but not least, we’ve created and hung our Summer Fun list. I intentionally added a few activities that I know Hannah can check off during our time in China. She’ll have sleepovers with cousins, a trip to the dentist (she’s unaware this isn’t on everyone else’s summer fun list!), and she’ll make art with her Birdie (aka her grandma). And there’s the MOST exciting event-WELCOME ELI HOME!

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Now that this item (Hannah’s Handbook) is checked off my gigantic to do list, we’re on to packing this weekend!






Just got the call and we have TRAVEL APPROVAL (TA)! The letter from China saying we can come pick up Eli arrived to our agency this afternoon! They’re confirming our Consulate Appointment (CA) now and we should have that by tomorrow! The CA just tells us our last appointment in China so that determines when we can come home. We’ll need that information to book our flights but we’re fairly certain that we’ll meet Eli on July 21.<——It doesn’t yet feel real to type that sentence!

There are round abouts 1.7 million details to work out now that we finally KNOW the dates-there are flights, hotels, and care for Hannah while we are gone. I’ll also be making calls (again) to all the grants we are still awaiting word from to see if we can get their final decision asap. We need to be fully funded well before we depart because our fees have to be wired there in advance. We’re hoping that our BW3 fundraiser nights are successful and now they’ll be even more fun as a send-off of sorts for China!

More updates coming this week but for now-time to celebrate! we’re coming soon Eli!

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