Announcing our next adventure: Mighty Ally

Our adoption in China sparked a three-year journey that led us to launch a new nonprofit. Introducing Mighty Ally, a social impact agency aimed at fighting the orphan crisis and other effects of absolute poverty. And we need your help. >> Check it out

Blog

3rd_birthday.jpg

We celebrated one year as a family, Julia turns three, and we set off on a new international adoption. What a year 2015 has been so far, but it will likely pale in comparison to 2016.

While it’s a bit sad to be making the final post on this blog (a special connection point for us the last two years during the greatest adventure of our lives), first thing’s first. We have a couple of milestones to commemorate.

On April 14, we celebrated one year as a family! Following our usual wedding anniversary tradition (which is April 17), we visited a national park… this time, three of them in South Florida and for the first time, with a little one in tow. Julia loved the alligators and a return trip to the ocean, and was a real champ as we traversed a lot of highways and byways for a full week straight. The night of our “family day” anniversary, we enjoyed a special dinner at one of Key West’s quirky favorites, we took a photo to replicate our first pic together, and when the sun set, we lit a candle below the moon and said a prayer of thanks across the night sky to China.

more
Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 11.59.41 AM.png

In the beginning she was terrified of the library puppets and we sat in the very back where she stuck to me like glue.

Then several weeks later she found the bravery to move a few feet closer to the show and she was safe enough just sitting in my lap.

Once I gave her an official library card lanyard, she was “just like JJ the Lamb and Cedric the Dragon!” so all fear was lost.

Now we arrive early to get front row seats and hold our library card up to JJ so she knows we’re legit.

Today, she proudly ran up to the stage for the finale song when all the kids are invited to do so. You can only see seven or eight kids in the shot, but there is actually around 20-30 total! The puppets and librarian do the sign for “wonderful world” each time it is repeated in the song – that’s what her arm rolling is (those other kids are just missing the cue!). Oh, and she was the unofficial leader of the percussion session. And happier than a pig in poo. :)

Without further adieu, What a Wonderful World...

more
IMG_4148-2.jpg

Over the past twelve months, our true love has given us countless gifts. Some felt wrapped in big beautiful packages, like her first word – Mama! Others were disguised as lumps of coal, only to be fully understood and appreciated in hindsight. The tough lessons pierced hard and the joys exceeded our wildest imaginations, but all were gifts indeed and we’re truly grateful for each one.

Exactly twelve months ago tonight, Kevin and I sat at our favorite East Nashville restaurant basking in the glow of our match to Julia (just hours before!), and in the iPhone screen that illuminated the picture of her we kept propped against the salt shaker the entire meal. Tonight we’re headed back to our spot to celebrate, this time as an *official* party of three. We will probably ask for a highchair though instead of making her lean on the shaker.

The year flew by in a blink, to think she’s been home nearly eight months. We wish one of her gifts to us had been the ability to slow time and stay awake to soak her up for all eight-thousand-some-odd hours of it. But as we step...

more
IMG_3856-2.jpg

I now understand why parents post ridiculously endearing photos of their tikes, captioned by only two words, “this kid”. It must be because they feel like us most days: there are no other words to describe the love and adoration. This Thanksgiving, we’re thankful for nothing else more than our little lotus hambone and the joy as we witness her hilarious little personality come to life.

more
IMG_2484.jpg

A week after Julia joined our family back in April, we hopped on a plane to traverse the daunting 8,113 miles from Guangzhou, China to Nashville, U.S.of.A. We largely laid low throughout the summer months, letting our little lady adjust to her new surroundings. But as she got more and more comfortable – and the demand grew for her to meet many of the folks who helped bring her home in the first place – we circled September and October on the calendar, knowing the time would be right to hit the road and embark on leg two of the Weasel World Tour.

Seeing the mighty traveler she already was, we didn’t hesitate scheduling visits and trips with friends and family throughout the south. So over the course of six weeks, this little Bee hit five states, two beaches, covered a little over 2,000 miles (mostly in the car), and soaked up hugs and kisses from a few dozen loved ones in the process. In short, this new family of three mastered the road trip together, so it felt apropos for this blog post photo to be one of the many rest-stop picnic experiences along the way (thank you...

more
IMG_4085-2.jpg

A growth spurt, boat rides and river fun, touching butterflies, her first National Park, lots of bug bites, a visit from the cousins, checking off the milestones, a tough but rewarding phase, more doctor’s appointments, her newest nickname, and a two-month stretch that flew by faster than any before… what a summer it has been so far. As it came to be known: the Summer of the Weasel.

First things first, the latest nickname. How does one two-year-old kid end up with so many monikers? Sure, we’re nickname people at heart, but the journey itself has dictated each alias. In the early days, it was “Little Lotus” as she delicately bloomed into life. The playful “Jujube” tag became “The Bee” given her sweet, gentle disposition upon meeting in China. But then a funny thing happened over these Nashville dog days: our timid, weak, and joyful little soul morphed into a tenacious, mischievous, and spirited "weasel" that we would have never seen coming. Make no mistake – precious, tiny Julia has become bold, vocal, physical, sneaky, demanding-in-a-good-way, playful as can be, and...

more
IMG_9435-2.jpg

Here, now. There’s no place on Earth I would rather be. I can’t possibly think of another “job” that could bring me such immense joy as motherhood already has. It is fulfilling even beyond my dreams. The mornings are early, but that just means I get to spend more time loving on this sweet child of ours. The dishes are never ending, but it’s because our girl is still eating like a (gourmet!) champ. The evenings come so fast, which is tolerable only because it allows me to witness the bond grow stronger and stronger between Daddy and daughter. I’m happy to report that not only does Julia look at us each time we enter a room now, she even giggles and shakes when Kevin walks through the door after work. As excruciating as it is for him to part with her in the mornings, the act of leaving and always returning has certainly bolstered her trust.

I have never felt so present in my life. Yet I have never felt time go by so quickly either. Something tells me this is the crux of parenthood. With each milestone passed, we are conflicted by great pride and heartache....

more
BrownFamily-3711.jpg

Some days, we feel like Julia has been in our family for a blink. Others, it seems she’s been with us her entire 730 days. But always, we are over the moon that she is now in our lives for good. And today we’re especially excited because she turns two!

Our beyond generous and talented photographer friend Neely Catignani (neelycatignani.com) graciously offered us another session once Julia was all settled in on Ordway. If you remember, she first captured our homecoming at the airport, and quite beautifully if I might add.

So we decided we would like her to shoot at the house for a bit, but then follow us along on our weekend tradition of walking our beloved neighborhood in East Nashville. Every Saturday for quite some time, Kevin and I have taken a leisurely stroll to visit our favorite spots in the area. It has always been our chance to slow down, unplug, and connect with each other and the place we call home. We kept the ritual firmly in place once we became a party of three of course… only now it’s just...

more
IMG_9221-2.jpg

Geez, where does the time go? April somehow turned into May (like it does every year), and our first week at home somehow turned into a full month since we became a family of three. And somehow… Nanjing, China seems like a distant memory after successfully transitioning this wonderful child into her new life as a Brown (including a whole lot of appointments, random milestones, and Sarah’s first Mother’s Day along the way).

Sorry not to have blogged as frequently, but we’ve been trying to soak up every minute of this dream before the REAL real world begins again, with going back to work, daily routines, and all. And funny enough, for once there doesn’t seem to be a “theme” to our last two weeks and update here. So no cutesy lyrics this time – just a progress report on our Jujube, plus lots and lots of pictures (and video), as always, for those who have already skipped to the bottom anyway. :)

Our biggest happenings so far this month include two significant check-ups: the first post-placement visit by our social worker, and Julia’s all-important medical evaluation...

more
IMG_8256.jpg

Throughout this first week at home spent laying low and bonding as a new family – commonly referred to in the adoption community as “cocooning” – I’ve had a song stuck in my head: the 2009 quirky hit single appropriately called “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. After it serendipitously came on the internet radio today during our afternoon dance party (and I heard Sarah sing it to the Bee while swinging her through the living room dancing) it felt destined to serve as the inspiration for this blog post.

For two new parents like us, madly in love with their remarkable new daughter, the most poignant (and yes, cute!) lyric goes something like this…

more
KevinSarahJulia-0051.jpg

15 months after starting this fantastic adoption journey, we finally arrived home Thursday night (with the little lotus in our arms, forever) via a 25-hour, hop-skip-and-jump, triple-country connection of Guangzhou, China > Tokyo, Japan > Chicago, U.S.and.A. > Nashville, Tennessee. I tell ya, being home in Music City never felt so good.

Our little world traveler – who has now visited three countries before taking her first steps – outperformed herself on this long and busy travel day. It was either a blessing or a curse that four other adoptive families shared the same first two flights as us out of China. But we kept Julia easily entertained in her seat on the plane, with only a few required distractions (and no electronics!) to prevent her percussionist tendencies from bugging the person in the seat in front of us. We got her to nap in the classic airport benches during our long layover in Japan, while Mom and Dad dined on (darn good) take-away sushi. Then she slept 6.5 hours of the longest leg from Tokyo to Chicago, although some of the positions she found...

more
IMG_8049.jpg

Man, these emotions are strange. Sarah and I have been dying to get home, but for some reason today seems hard to leave. Really hard. As the two loves of my life rest peacefully tonight, I’m up late personally struggling with a strong pull in two directions.

On one hand, we absolutely can’t wait to get this little peanut home to Nashville to begin our lives together. We’re thrilled to show her the room we’ve prepared, introduce her to family and friends (and her new friend Duke) who already love her dearly, and fall into a routine that will hopefully generate more and more attachment in the coming weeks and months. Not to mention, these two gluten free, diary free, semi vegetarian health nuts are about to crawl out of our skin in craving some normal food, after 14 days of creatively piecing together healthy meals that are about to break the wallet.

All we’ve wanted to do for 15 months is “bring home the little lotus”. So why are we sad to leave now that the time has come?

Partially, it’s because this is HER first home. Call us crazy, but we know we’re...

more
IMG_7895.jpg

Our second to last day in this adoption adventure was quite a strange paradox. Our morning was spent standing in the secure confines of a brand-new U.S. Consulate building giving a stale, procedural oath. In the afternoon, we found ourselves kneeling at a 1,400-year-old temple on the receiving end of a baby blessing. How’s that for a single day in China?

For our Consulate appointment and oath taking ceremony, no cameras or phones were allowed in the airport-tight government building (even our Chinese adoption agency staff joked that “it’s your country” when it came to the regulations that prohibited even wrist watches). So unfortunately, we don’t have a photo record of the occasion other than a picture outside and a happy family of three on the bus ride home. But quite honestly, it was a bit anti-climatic in the first place, even though it served as a/the major final hurdle in a 15-month-long process. About half of our travel group’s families went in one session (we got the early one… boo for a 7:40am start time!), and the other half showed up as we were leaving. All...

more
IMG_7771.jpg

The required Guangzhou portion of a China adoption trip can be summarized in two steps: get the medical exam (wait for results), then file for a U.S. visa (and wait for said visa). It’s kind of that simple. Before and after those steps, plenty of free time exists while paperwork is pushed behind the scenes, so most families set out to explore the sights and sounds of the city. With Julia being relatively so young and so-far immobile, options like the zoo safari didn’t make a lot of sense… so we spent Sunday and Monday in quieter settings, killing time on a secluded sandbar and having the most epic snack (I mean, mess!) yet.

Shamian Island is a tiny enclave south of Guangzhou’s downtown (quite literally a sandbar island) not only known for its French and British history, but also the history of American families having previously adopted from China over the years. This beautiful historical area (once divided in two concessions given to France and the United Kingdom) has only three east/west streets crisscrossed by five north/south roads, and is dotted with hotels,...

more
Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 11.33.25 PM.png

Alrighty folks. Here she is. Julia Brown, in lights, camera, action! We can’t believe that we’ve already spent seven days with this bundle of joy, but we have, and we’ve been snapping pictures and video like crazy. We finally sat down today to review our favorite clips from the last week, and include them in a video gallery below.

So grab some popcorn and watch the little lotus giggle, nap, grin, bounce, swoop, and step her way right into our hearts for good.

more
IMG_3378.jpg

When the little lotus boarded her first-ever flight Friday afternoon, she might have been daydreaming that we were headed for some R&R on the beaches of Hong Kong. Even though our flight path sent us in the right direction, as (crummy) luck would have it, we stopped just short of that popular coastal city in favor of a much larger, and much busier southern metropolis, Guangzhou. And rather than relaxation, we had some serious business in store, including a gut-wrenching medical examination the very next morning.

We’re running out of ways to call her a “champ”, but we can just say Julia handled her first flight with impressive ease. Ahead of the flight, she happily allowed a standing diaper change while climbing on a magazine rack. We’re kind of sorry, Nanjing airport travelers, but then again… who can resist such a squeezable bare butt and some public toddler nudity? Once we took off, short of a five minute full-on cry, the worst of the two hour flight was merely some restlessness. And that restlessness isn’t just due to being constricted in midair; the last two...

more
IMG_7128.jpg

Hallmark tells us that the appropriate 10th anniversary present is made of aluminum. Nonsense. I’ve got one better. Sarah and I celebrated Thursday with 19.8 pounds of pure Chinese delight – who goes by the name “little lotus” – and there’s no doubt that this year we gave and got the ultimate gift. Even gold at our 50th stands no chance.

Seeing that our biggest wedding anniversary yet fell just three days after we became first-time parents, we (happily) paused our tradition of visiting a new National Park each year. Instead of hiking a river gorge wearing CamelBaks and eating Clif Bars, we chose to walk the beautiful city of Nanjing, China wearing a toddler and mixing formula along the way. Oh how life has changed, but dang we wouldn’t change a thing.

Knowing we’d be out for a lengthy stroll, we tried out the ole’ Beco baby carrier on Dad here. As with most things, it seems, Julia took to being fastened into this new gizmo with a smile… sucking her thumb, quickly adjusting to her new position, and beginning to observe her changing surroundings.

Nanjing is...

more
IMG_6669.jpg

After two full days with our little love, shuffling around the city and hotel floor alike, only a beaming new Mom like Sarah could best summarize how we feel about spending every waking second with this child. “I mean, she’s intoxicating” she said just minutes after we had put Julia to bed and were already wishing it were morning so we could see her again.

A dear friend told us before we left for China that seeing her every time will feel like Christmas morning. We couldn’t agree more, as we find ourselves smitten even studying her tiny body for every little detail while she sleeps (she has nine adorable wrinkles on her upper lip, in case you were curious). I personally can’t get enough of her hot breath while she naps (and I use every chance I can get to inhale a good whiff), even though we’re pretty sure she has a cold and her poor teeth are pretty rotten. It’s worth the risk.

If the highs are the elation felt on Christmas morning (which we’ve had a LOT of), we’ve had our first couple of Halloween night lows too. Waking up from naps has been a trigger for fear,...

more
IMG_6243.jpg

Her smile says it all. And the pure joy (and relief) on our faces is the exclamation point. If a picture says a thousand words, then the photo gallery below perfectly and accurately tells the story about the biggest and best day of our lives, and how that magical script exceeded even our wildest expectations.

Monday began with a whole lot of nerves, and a 10:00am group meeting with our adoption agency’s China staff and the five other families adopting in Nanjing this week. They gave us the order of business for the day, and with each word spoken our hearts began to beat faster and faster. After a short break for lunch, Sarah profoundly reminded me in the hotel room at 1:28pm that these were our final minutes ever as just two. We shared a long embrace, 10 kisses to commemorate our 10th anniversary this upcoming Thursday, and then a prayer to Julia (who at that point, we envisioned was being pulled from her orphanage crib for the very last time, on the way to the Civil Affairs office herself).

With our driver somehow cutting through frantic local traffic in record...

more
IMG_6261v2.jpg

Friends, family, world... meet Julia Lián Brown!

Today, at 2:45pm in Nanjing, China, this precious soul (finally and officially) became our daughter, and us her Mom and Dad... forever and ever, amen.

We're looking forward to writing more later to tell you all about our day. But it's time to be with this beautiful child, so we'll post a full update once she's asleep tonight.

Before we go... we've been dying to scream her name from the mountain tops for months. Julia is my Gramma Callaway's name. And her middle name Lián (pronounced like "lee-yen") is the Chinese word for lotus flower. For this, and other significant reasons about what a lotus flower represents, the meaning behind our nickname all this time. :) In choosing this name many months ago, we wanted to embrace the family she has joined, while honoring her heritage in China.

And until the process was officially completed, we weren't able to share with you the full-size, incredible pictures we received in December, January, and February. So until we can post again, enjoy these photos that we've...

more

"I am a lotus flower – delicate, fragile, yet strong... floating, unfolding, and blossoming into the life where I belong.”