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Happily Ever Laughter

Steve and Karen

Our lives first touched on February 27, 1992, when Karen “met” Steve on-line by responding to his personal ad on Prodigy. Karen was living in Florida; Steve was in Virginia.

The ad was entitled VA SWM TRVLR SEEKS SWF and read “I am 37, DWM, 5’9”, 160 pounds, brown hair, blue eyed, attractive. I travel throughout U.S., Europe and Far East on behalf of my own company. Travel is exciting, but lonely. If you’re a SWF or DWF 25-40, drop me a line and let’s talk.”

…if you like piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain…

Well, we wrote and phoned and e-mailed for a few months and we even exchanged photos, and THAT was the last Karen heard from Steve… well, OK, to be fair, that is more Karen’s version of the story than Steve’s. Steve says Karen just quit writing to him, then changed e-mail addresses (in an even more impressive attempt to ditch him) and only through single-minded perseverance, to the exclusion of all other duties was Steve finally able to track Karen down nearly a year later, at which time they resumed their long-distance courtship.

They finally met in person in December 1993 and saw each other at least every two weeks thereafter, jetting between Virginia and Florida or meeting in-between in romantic, historic Savannah, Georgia. Karen moved to Virginia Beach to be near Steve in March 1994 (while Steve was in China!). We eventually chose to move farther south to be closer to both of our families, buying a beautiful circa 1818 home in the heart of the historic district of Savannah, GA, on one of the twenty-one incredible town squares, Orleans Square. After a year of renovating, restoring, bringing up to code, decorating and furnishing, we opened as a B&B called the Perry-Winkle Inn (at 119 West Perry Street). The inn boasted an intimate hidden garden, gourmet breakfasts, evening wine and hors d’oeuvres, and endless Southern hospitality. We operated the inn in our “spare time”, just for kicks, while running Steve's company, The Wood Cellar, from the fourth floor of the house.

On a perfect Fall evening in 1998, we were married in Orleans Square by Father Steve Evans of Christ Episcopal Church, surrounded by our family and close friends…. the groom was oh so handsome in his black tux… and the bride… well, she wore black too.

Steve

Steve was born in Florence, AL, the fourth of six children, and grew up in Cullman and Birmingham. Widely recognized as a child genius (at the age of three he conducted a real world experiment, proving that berries rapidly expand in size and weight when placed into a moist chamber like his nose), Steve wanted to “fit in” with his peers and was bound and determined to “be one of the boys”. One teacher said he had the potential to be anything he wanted to be, but apparently only aspired to be a mule! Karen will attest to the fact that this is often still the case. After wasting a year and a half at Montevallo University where his chief motivation for attending class was the girl : boy ratio of 3 : 1, he dropped out for a year. He then transferred to Auburn University (WARRRRRRRRR EAGLE!), changing his major from “partying” to Forestry and "partying".

After graduating, he spent three years with the Alabama Forestry Commission. He was then accepted into the #1 ranked Masters in International Business program at University of South Carolina. While there he specialized in marketing and enjoyed an eight-month internship in Rio de Janeiro, becoming semi-fluent in Portuguese. After graduating in 1984, he spent four years working with various government agencies and universities as an export development consultant. Then, after working as a marketing director for two years, Steve started his own business in 1990, which is now known as The Wood Cellar, Ltd. Working for himself has given him (and Karen) a lot of white hairs. In fact, Steve's first name is really Richard and he likes to joke that his boss is a 'real Dick'. There are lots of occasions to complain about the time spent and the pressures of running a small business, but the truth is, he loves it, he's great at it and LORD knows he could never work "for" someone else again after being his own boss for so long. Visit The Wood Cellar, Ltd.

Karen

Karen was born at Patrick Air Force Base, FL and was raised in Melbourne. She is the eldest of three girls and loves living so close to her family again (thank you Steve!). She inherited her mother’s good teeth, her father’s hideous toes (well, to be fair, they're perfectly lovely toes... FOR A MAN) and the wild banshee hair of a sasquatch. Serious by nature, one can only imagine her horror at discovering that as a little girl (OK, OK, 16 years old!), sleepwalking, she mistook the wet/dry shop-vac for a potty! Clearly unable to show her face in public school again, she skipped her last year of high school in order to go Early Admissions to Florida Institute of Technology (now Florida Tech), majoring in psychology. She later attended an R. N. program on the American Heart Foundation Scholarship. After completing nursing school, she was hired on in the Progressive Care Unit at Holmes Regional Medical Center, working weekends for full-time pay. She also floated to ER and CVICU and was on the Code Team (you know, all the low-stress jobs). Weekdays she also worked private practice.

Some of Karen’s volunteer work has included: Brevard Regional Association of the Deaf, Association for Retarded Citizens, FIT Foster Care Instruction Program, Harbor City Volunteer Ambulance Squad, and Court Appointed Special Advocate (Guardian ad litem).

Her current and most treasured volunteer position is that of Researcher and CEO of a Human Growth and Development organization. As such, her roles include that of teacher, omniscient answerer of "why?", potty trainer, swim instructor, mess-cleaner-upper, official photographer, taxi service, health-care plan administrator, personal shopper, chef, giver of hugs and kisses, tickle monster, director of arts and crafts, disciplinarian, and singer/song-writer including those incredible hits "ZoZe, ZoZe, give me your answer, do" and "Baby CeCe, E F G, H I J" and "Nigh nigh nigh nigh, nigh nigh nigh nigh, Ty Ty Ty, good nigh" and "Lena Lena Bo Beena, Banana Fanna Fo Feena"... and who could forget "ZoZe Pop, ZoZe Pop, Oh ZoZeZoZePop" and "Ceeee...Ceeeee.... what can the matter be?" and "Lie, lie Mr. 'Merican Ty, drove my mommy nuts/salami..." and last but not least "It's Signing Time With Alex and Lena". As with any job with this caliber of responsibility, the pay could be a whole lot better... but the rewards are priceless! And without Steve's financial prowess, this position would likely be held by someone else (thank you Pooh Bear!).

Our Journey to Parenthood

While we both knew we wanted children, we weren’t sure exactly how to go about attaining that goal (now, now!!)… we only knew that with our increasing ages, time was of the essence. Because of a medical diagnosis 10 years earlier, Karen knew that she did not want to have children the "conventional way", so as to avoid any unnecessary risk to the baby. Steve never even blinked when Karen broached the subject of adoption... we both knew right away that it was a perfect choice for our family. Eventually the medical diagnosis was found to be untrue, but by that time our hearts were already committed to completing our family through adoption. After a few very uncomfortable domestic "close-calls", we eventually decided on international adoption. By this point we had met several families who had adopted from China and had great experiences, and thus our journey of a lifetime began...

ZoZeMANIA

...I knew I loved you before I met you, I think I dreamed you into life,

I knew I loved you before I met you, I have been waiting all my life,

A thousand angels dance around you ,

I am complete now that I've found you... - Savage Garden

Valentine's Day weekend 1999 we began what's fondly known in adoption circles as "the paperchase" for our daughter, Zoe. The name Zoe is Greek and means "life". We both fell in love with the name about five years earlier 1) because it is short, only 3 letters and 2) because of a funny little girl named Zoe in a comic strip called "Baby Blues".

Our completed and translated paperwork ("dossier") was logged in to the China Center of Adoption Affairs on July 12, 1999 and seven months later, on February 23, 2000, we received the long-awaited referral of a beautiful baby girl named Hui Wen (which translates to "gentle, cultivated orchid"). She was born on July 11, 1999 and was found at 282 Jing Wan Zi, Yu Hua District, Changsha City, Hunan Province on July 12, 1999.

Steve, Karen, and Karen's mom traveled to China with our agency's group numbers 189 and 190 on April 10, 2000 and our precious daughter was placed in our arms on April 14, 2000. Her adoption was completed the same day and we returned home with her on April 26. We chose to keep part of her Chinese name as a middle name, and also gave her Karen's maiden name for a middle name -- total of 4 names (hence the desire for such a short first name!).

Zoe was considered a "healthy child adoption". She has severe eczema and other skin sensitivities (bug bites, cat dander, etc.). She is allergies to penicillin and cephalosporins (hives, rashes, and swelling of hands and face) as well as dust mites and many molds (upper respiratory and skin reactions). She has severe astigmatisms and has been wearing glasses since age 4.

CeCePALOOZA

...Here I am, this is me, I come to this world so wild and free,

Here I am, so young and strong, Right here in the place where I belong

It's a new world, it's a new start, It's alive with the beating of a young heart

It's a new day, in a new land, And it's waiting for me, Here I am ... -Bryan Adams

About two months home from China we began paperchasing for a little sister, or "mei mei" for Zoe. We chose the name Celia, after Karen's maternal grandmother, "Mema". We call her CeCe for short.

Because our first experience went so smoothly we used the same adoption agency (CCAI) and the same social work agency (Children's Home Society). On November 6, 2000 our dossier was logged in to the China Center of Adoption Affairs. Nearly 13 months later, on November 29, 2001, we (finally!) received our referral for Chun Zhou (which translates to "spring state"). This beautiful baby girl was born on December 25, 2000 and was found at the gate of the Family Planning Center,Yangchun City, Guangdong Province on January 10, 2001.

Zoe, Steve and Karen traveled to China on January 4, 2002 with CCAI group 334, and our precious Celia was placed in our arms on January 7. Her adoption was finalized on January 8, 2002 and we were all home on January 19, 2002. Again, we chose to keep part of her Chinese name as a middle name, and also gave her Karen's maiden name for a middle name -- total of 4 names (she'll hate us once school starts!).

CeCe was considered a "healthy child adoption" also, but from the start that's not been the case. After numerous visits to specialists for issues too numerous to count, CeCe was finally diagnosed with symptomatic Arnold Chiari Malformation (ACM) with unstable odontoid process. ACM is a condition whereby the skull is flattened at the base, causing the lower part of the brain to be squashed, herniating downward. This, in turn, causes a disruption in the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) flow, thereby causing an increase in intracranial pressure (ICP). This increased ICP causes head pain which likely is the cause of all the inconsolable screaming/crying (CeCe's, not ours...haha) those first two years with us until we elevated the head of her bed. It's also the cause of her flattened pituitary, which resulted in low growth hormone production, which accounts for her very small size. It's also the cause of her periodic hand tremors and very frequent falls. It's likely the cause of her continued incontinence issues as well. So, in one fell swoop we had a lot of answers. On the other hand, ACM doesn't account for all of CeCe's issues. In the beginning, she had severe sensory integration issues (at age 13 months, nothing could touch her mouth except a bottle nipple without an immediate gag/vomit reaction; she was unable to literally and figuratively handle much of anything (sand, grass, wet things, scratchy things, squishy things, play doh, shaving cream, soap, etc.). Most of the sensory issues have resolved with lots of Occupational Therapy (OT), however the easy gag reflex is still somewhat of an issue. CeCe has had lots of motion issues for which she also received OT. For instance, she has always been one to run full-on, head-first, body-banging into everyone/everything (and never seems to get hurt), yet she couldn't swing or be spun around or anything without totally "losing it". (She's still very physical, but she's also spinning, dancing and twirling CONSTANTLY now with no problem.) At some point she'll need a surgery called a "decompression" where a small, quarter-sized piece of skull is removed to make room for the growing brain. As with all brain surgery, the risks must be weighed against the benefits. For now, the symptoms are manageable, so we'll hold off on the surgery. CeCe also has alpha thalassemia (a blood condition), and at age 7.5 she started wearing glasses to correct far-sightedness.

According to Steve, our family was then complete... and then along came Ty...

TySTRAVAGANZA

...Let the rain come down and wash away my tears, Let it fill my soul and drown my fears,

Let it shatter the walls for a new sun, A new day has come, A new day has come,

Where it was dark, now there is light, Where there was pain, now there's joy,

Where there was weakness, I found my strength, All in the eyes of a boy... - Celine Dion

In late Summer 2003 we heard from some friends who were in Taiwan adopting their 9th child (they now have TWENTY!) about this sweet little 9-year-old boy named Meng Wei who needed a forever family. Seems he had been adopted earlier that year by another American couple who changed their minds. We also found out that Meng Wei has a serious medical condition and might be in need of a bone marrow transplant. Well, after much prayer, many consults with medical professionals, and support from the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund (FARF), we decided our family would be perfect for this child. We began the paperchase immediately, and although it took much longer than anyone anticipated to make it through the various courts in Taiwan (seems they still had to un-do the previous adoption), Meng Wei joined our family (in Taiwan) on May 3, 2004. His official adoption date is December 31, 2003, and it was officially registered in Taiwan on April 23, 2004. A plug is in order for Brittany's Hope Foundation, whose wonderful staffers obtained grant money to help with Meng Wei's adoption expenses.

We now know that Ty was found at approximately 3 years of age in Chiayi County, Taiwan and was assigned the birthdate of October 1, 1993. He lived the next 7 years in (at least two, probably several) foster homes, although he officially belonged to Cathwel (Catholic Services) Orphanage in Taipei, Taiwan.

We gave Meng Wei the option of keeping his Chinese name or of choosing between several other names. Meng Wei means "old scholar with bright future" according to Ty, but he says it sounds funny in Chinese and in English. He said he definitely did not want to be called by his Chinese name, but other than that he did not care. We chose Ty because we liked it and it seemed to fit Meng Wei (AND because it is short!). Yep, you guessed it, he has four names too. We kept part of his Chinese name for a middle name, and also gave him Karen's maiden name for a middle name.

Ty has a genetic condition called Fanconi Anemia (FA). FA is a chromosome breakage disorder, and is so rare (probably in the neighborhood of about 300 currently living) it is considered to be one of the few "orphan diseases" on the planet. Ty has few of the obvious signs of FA, yet by age 6 he developed Aplastic Anemia (AA), or total bone marrow failure. He was on high doses of androgens and steroids for years. Eventually even these began to fail. Within 6 months of arriving in the U.S., Ty was completely transfusion-dependent for both red blood cells and platelets, and his body was now fighting the transfusions, causing serious problems with safely administering the blood products. A huge thank you to family and friends, especially Karen's sister, Donna, who spent countless hours donating so that Ty would have a smaller pool of antigen exposure, thereby causing less severe reactions and allowing shorter hospital stays. By this time Ty had also developed greater than 5% leukemic cells (myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS) in his bone marrow. We were told to head to transplant immediately, hopefully preventing progression to full-blown leukemia. Unfortunately, the one and only match (and she was a "perfect match 10/10"), found through the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), bailed on us at the last minute. All we can say is THANK GOD she bailed before Ty began Total Body Irradiation (TBI) and chemo, or he would have died right away. Ty was immediately run through the NMDP again and voila', a new donor had miraculously signed up, and while not a perfect match (he was an 8/10), it was a "go". The NMDP expedited everything for us, and Ty had a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant (PBSCT) June 22, 2005 at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in NYC. By late 2006 he was immunocompetent for the first time in over a decade. We're not out of the woods yet, though. PBSCT is a cure for the bone marrow failure itself, but it is not a cure for FA. Until a cure is found, kids like Ty will have to be hyper-vigilent about watching for certain cancers. Just one year after transplant, at the very young age of (nearly) twelve, Ty was found to have melanocytic neoplasia (typically found in much older folks). The risk of certain cancers (esp. head and neck cancers) in FA kids is hundreds- to thousands- times higher than in the general population. Scary, but our reality. So, when you see Ty outdoors with sunglasses, hat, and sublock (even in the shade and on cloudy days), you'll understand why. And when you hear he's vegan, hopefully you'll understand how imporant it is that he avoid cancer-causing hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, etc. found in foods most other people eat. Not fair for Ty, but again, our reality.

According to Steve, our family was again complete... *wink, wink*...

HULLABALeLe

...In my daughter's eyes,

I am a hero, I am strong and wise, and I know no fear , But the truth is plain to see, She was sent to rescue me, I see who I wanna be, In my daughter's eyes...And when she wraps her hand around my finger, Oh it puts a smile in my heart, Everything becomes a little clearer, I realize what life is all about, It's hangin' on when your heart has had enough , It's giving more when you feel like giving up, I've seen the light, It's in my daughter's eyes... -Martina McBride

Yep, you guessed it! We found beautiful Lu Yi on CCAI's Waiting Child List just three months after deciding to add one more to the mix before officially calling our family complete. Yes, OFFICIALLY! Lu Yi (which means road/journey, depend on) was born on October 25, 2004. She was found at the entrance to the Yifeng County Social Welfare Institute in Jiangxi Province on October 28, 2004. She was tiny, weighing only 1.5 kg, and wrapped in a green blanket when found. She has cleft palate (hard and soft) repaired October 2007; spine and bowel issues; left eye ptosis (droopy eyelid) partially repaired October 2007, strabismus, amblyopia, corneal ulcers, and she wears a contact lens in her left and is patched on her right 6+ hours per day; left ear external canal is missing (atresia); malformed left ear (she only has a "tag"...this is called microtia) and malformed left inner ear (**NOTE we were told she would not be able to hear from her left ear, but we found out September 2008 that with a bone conduction hearing aid she has near-normal hearing...that brings her from moderately deaf on the right and profoundly deaf on the left, to near normal both ears with the aid and a PE tube!). Specialists have confirmed that the assymetry of her face is called hemi-facial microsomia and is part of a genetic condition known as Oculo-Auriculo-Vertebral Spectrum (OAV), or Goldenhar Syndrome. She'll need numerous surgeries throughout her lifetime, but this spunky little girl will bounce right back, no doubt about it. **NOTE Lena received her hearing aid (donated by some very generous folks) in October 2008 and we are all amazed at how well she's hearing now. She walked around that first week asking, "What's that? What's that?" when she heard sounds new to her like the doorbell and telephone ringing. It's taken some getting used to for all of us, and we're all working together to bring the decibel level in our home down now that she's hearing better :)

Steve and Karen traveled to China on May 31, 2007 with CCAI group 1193. Lu Yi was placed in our arms on June 3rd, and OH MY was she ever NOT happy about that!! After many hours of crying (all three of us), the tears stopped and the giggles began.. Her adoption was finalized on June 4th, and we arrived back home June 15th to a big, sight-for-sore-eyes family renion at the airport.

We named her Lena, after Karen's maternal aunt, and we call her LeLe or Le, for short. Like her siblings, part of her Chinese name as well as Karen's maiden name are middle names for Lena.. She's the perfect and final piece of our family.