Our adoption journey – picking up Jacob

On our Malaysian Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, our flight took a bit of a dive and turn.  Then the plane shook and dropped a few times.  Just enough turbulence that the woman seated in front of us shrieked every time the plane made a sudden movement.  It isn’t hard to imagine everyone on the plane was a little nervous about flying the same leg of the same airline that has a plane still missing weeks later.  Pepper, like everyone else that was sleeping, woke up.  “Not a nice way to wake” she bluntly pointed out.   We saw lightning out of the window and after a little while we passed through the storm.  But let me back up…

On Saturday, March 29th, Pepper and I left Chennai to head to China.  It is the start of our spring break for school and Jordan is spending the week with a friend and his parents.  We flew about 4 hours on Malaysian Airlines to Kuala Lumpur where we had a six hour layover.  We found a nice spot where I could get some work done for my graduate classes and Pepper did a little bit of poking around the airport.  We then flew another six hours on the flight to Beijing.  Despite the turbulence it was an otherwise uneventful flight.  Then we spent another six hours in the Beijing airport where I slept for a few hours and Pepper used her nervous energy to track down Starbucks coffee.  Finally we hopped on the final flight – to Hefei, China.  Hefei is the capital of Anhui province.   Our guide and driver picked us up and shuttled us about 45 minutes into Hefei to the Holiday Inn.  We went out for a walk after eating at the noodle shop on the second floor of the hotel.  We prepped the documents we needed for the morning and slept for a long time.

We were picked up at our hotel at 9 in the morning by our guide Tingting and driver Leo after we ate at the buffet breakfast.  The adoption center for the province is only 10 minutes from the hotel.  Jacob arrived about an hour later and while we waited we saw another family receive their child which helped put us a little at ease.


When Jacob came into the room he looked excited and then when we were pointed out he started crying.  He ended up sort of cornered with his orphanage director, our guide and us around him.  He eventually settled a little and he sat with Pepper while I went through signing documents.  Pepper went through the whole bag of things we brought for the day and he wasn’t interested in LEGO, a coloring book, a stuffed animal, or anything else.
They took us back to our hotel and I managed to get him to hold my hand a few times.  When we got to our hotel room he peeked around a little and then started absolutely sobbing.  After a bit, I resorted to showing him Angry Birds and he got into that, which we were able to turn into interest in other games on the tablet and then eventually the LEGO, looking out the window, eating room service, watching TV… then we went for a half hour walk before being picked back up to finish the adoption paperwork.  There, Jacob had to write that he agreed to be adopted and then sign his name.  We had a few minutes with a notary and a quick chat with the adoption official and then were given a paper indicating that our adoption is complete.
We went back to the hotel and played a bit, went to the noodle restaurant, got his feet wet in his first swimming pool, figured out that he’s probably never used a western toilet, played more and finally got him tired enough to sleep.
The next day we went to the orphanage which we expected to be a rough day.  It turns out that he had recently been moved to a section set aside for older boys and he had three roommates – one about thirty and two past their teens.  They had been taking care of him recently so we brought them some chips and soda.  We were able to see the school that he attended in the afternoons.  He only cried a little.  We were able to meet one of his roommates and see the room he had been living in.  After this quick stop, we went to his “finding place” this bit from a 2008 newspaper explains…
“An abandoned baby, male, name unknown.  According to medical examination, the doctor estimated that he was 3 years old.  Small eyes, dark skin, and congenital leg deformity.  He was picked up at the gate of Huai Nan Train Station on May 19, 2008.”
Abandonment of children is strictly prohibited.  But apparently train stations are fairly common, as people from other areas can arrive there and they are pretty crowded so the child is less likely to succumb to the elements than if they were left out someplace remote.
I have had to spend quite a bit of time just being still in bed hoping that he would fall asleep.  I have work and schoolwork that I should be doing but he’s actually taken to us much more than I expected.  We have bought some clothes and taken a few walks with him.  He’s settling in much better than I expected.
We’re about to board our flight to Guangzhou for the next step in the adoption – dealing with the US government… More on that in a few days!

We are off to pick up Jacob soon – the final days before our adoption is complete

I have been pretty terrible about posting updates for some time now.  We’ve been terribly busy.  I’m taking a couple of graduate classes, coached middle school volleyball, helped run two track meets and we’re in the final days before we depart to China to pick up the boy we’re adopting.

The adoption is a long and tiring process but we’re near the end of the pre-adoption stage and on Saturday morning we leave India to head to China.  On Monday we’ll be picking Jing Yun up.  Here is an email that my incredibly caring coworker sent out to our school staff…

Meet Jacob, a new member of the McFarland and AISC family.

As most of you know, I work alongside/co-teach one of the most hilarious, talented, and kind-hearted people I know, Ryan McFarland. Over the past eight months, I have also had the opportunity to observe, learn and chat with Ryan and Pepper about Jacob, an 8 year old Chinese boy with cerebral palsy who they hope to adopt from China. Jacob is an adorable young boy who currently attends a public Chinese school during the day and the orphanage school in the afternoons. 

Ryan and his lovely wife Pepper McFarland have been working on adopting Jacob since January 2013. That time is soon arriving when Ryan and Pepper’s dream will come true. They are picking up Jacob on March 31st!!!

As I have the pleasure of working two feet away from Ryan, I have laughed and cried at this incredible act of humility that he and Pepper are doing for a child. Their selflessness is incredible. In fact, everything they’ve done lately has been with Jacob in mind. Lately, I’ve been thinking, “What can I do to help?!?” Well, the first thing I thought of was a baby shower (Date TBD), but what will they need for their new child (who is not a baby, but an eight-year-old son)? I will let you decide but I wanted to INVITE EVERYONE to come to the “Welcome Home” party and help celebrate and meet their new son Jacob into the AISC family.

Ryan, Pepper and Jordan know I’m sharing this news with the community, but what they don’t know is what I have in mind for the “welcome home shower”…. I just wanted to let everyone know (who doesn’t know yet) about this incredible selfless act that Ryan and Pepper are doing and wanted to give you all an opportunity to show your gratitude. 

If you want to meet Jacob, scroll below to check out the awesomely adorable Jacob McFarland who will be joining us at AISC as one of the only Chinese students at this school and in the 2nd grade class.

Thank You! I’m hoping we can show Ryan, Pepper and Jordan that we all are here offering our support and commend them on this huge act of rare kindness.

See you at the BABY SHOWER on TBD :)




Here is the video where Jacob can be seen saying that Americans have white hair and blue eyes… and are very old.  http://www.lwbcommunity.org/what-is-adoption-a-childs-perspective Warning: it’s a real tear jerker.
Jacob attends public school and joins the students at LWB’s Anhui Believe in Me School during the mid day and evening when he returns to the orphanage.  

Jacob loves to assist his teachers by helping to set up the schoolwork for his classmates, and he always offers to stay after class to help his teachers. He gets along well with his classmates and is a very good leader and team player. In fact, he recently participated in a walking race where the teachers say that he “united his teammates, because he knows that this is the key to success.” What a bright little boy!

Ganesh Chaturthi in Chennai

A few months ago we went to the beach to experience the “washing” of Ganesh statues.  This is part of a festival celebrating the rebirth of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu God.  The idols are creates out of clay, paper-mache, or plaster of paris.  Police are ever present to keep citizens back from the waters – many people here can’t swim.  This was one of our best experiences in Chennai.  The parade of statues, the cheering, drumming, and milling crowds…



John Nicholls’ biography from “A Volume of Memoirs and Genealogy” 1901

A Volume of Memoirs and Genealogy of Representative Citizens of Northern California including biographies of many of those who have passed away.  Chicago – Standard Genealogical Publishing Company 1901.  Page 341 & 342.

John Nicholls

John Nicholls, the senior member of the banking firm of W. & P. Nicholls, at Dutch Flat, Placer County, California, was born in Cornwall, England, September 30, 1846, and is a representative of an old English family.  William Nicholls, the father of John, left England in 1852 and came to California, pioneering in its mining districts.  He was engaged in placer-mining at Placerville, Georgetown and Forest City, and met with gratifying success.  IN partnership with his brother Philip, he became the leading gold-buyer of Forest City, Sierra COunty, and for years the two were engaged in buying and packing gold across the mountains to San Francisco.  While thus occupied they subjected themselves to much fatigue and exposure incident to the unsettled condition of the country.  At times they carried as much as one hundred thousand dollars in gold dust on their pack mules, and more than once were attacked by robbers.  By prowess and bravery, however, they always managed to keep their treasure.  In 1860 they came to Dutch Flat and established a banking business, which they conducted successfully up to the time of their death, and which their sons are still conducting.  William Nicholls departed this life in 1877.   He was a man of the highest business integrity and great courage, and, in short, possessed those sterling characteristics which made him what he was, the highest type of California pioneer.  He had married, in 1845, Miss Jane Nicholls, a distant relative, who died in England in 1864.  Of their three children, two are living, — John and William.

John and William Nicholls were reared and educated in England, and in 1865, the year following their mother’s death, they came to this country to join their father in California, making a voyage via New York and the isthmus of Panama and landing in due time in San Francisco, whence they came directly to Dutch Flat.  Here John Nicholls and his cousin William succeeded to the banking business established by father and uncle, as above stated.  They are also interested in various mining operations and other business enterprises and have been uniformly successful in whatever they have undertaken.  Thus they have rightly gained a standing among the most prominent business men of the county.

In San Francisco, February 21, 1878, John Nicholls married Miss Olive Wilson and they are the parents of four children, namely: John Carrol, Robert Julian, Sydney Walton, Jennie Esbella.  The eldest son, John Carrol, has recently graduated at the University of California.  The Nicholls’ home is one of the most commodious and attractive residences in Dutch Flat and Mr. Nicholls and his family are held in high esteem by the citizens of the place.

For a number of years Mr. Nicholls has been an enthusiastic Mason, and both he and his wife are members of the Order of the Eastern Star.  In Masonry he has advanced through the degrees of the blue lodge, chapter and commandery, and at this writing he is filling the office of treasurer in the blue lodge.  Also he belongs to the Independent Order of Red Men.  Politically he is a Democrat, and on one occasion allowed his name to be used as the candidate of his party for the state assembly.  He is not, however, what may be termed a politician, and he has never sought official honors, preferring rather to give his undivided attention to his extensive business interests.

This book is available in print from Amazon (it looks like a really cool tome!) or a digital free version on the Internet Archive.

Obituary for John Nicholls 1846-1926

From the Grass Valley Morning Union May 6, 1926

John Nicholls, Old Time Dutch Flat Banker, Dies at Age of 80

Word was telephoned here yesterday of the death at Auburn of John Nicholls, pioneer resident, banker and fraternalist of Dutch Flat.  Mr. Nicholls had reached the age of 80 years and was spending the winter with his son, Dr. R. W. Nicholls, of Auburn.

Was Known Here

Mr. Nicholls often visited Grass Valley, especially during his active years and during the [palmy] days of [You] Bet and adjacent mining camps handled millions of dollars in gold from Nevada county fields.

The deceased was one of the historic characters of Dutch Flat and was closely identified with the community and its banking when Dutch Flat was a flourishing city during the placer mine days.  Nicholls was a member of the W. and P. Nicholls banking firm, the first in Placer County.

He started to work in the bank many years ago, his father being one of the founders of the bank, and later he became sole owner and remained such until the bank went out of existence about six years ago.

Learned Chinese

In the height of the mining era, when the bank handled thousands of dollars in gold nuggets and dust, Nicholls, to further the interests of the bank, learned to speak Chinese.  At that time, there were hundreds of Chinese employed in the placer diggings.  He gained the confidence of the Orientals and even became a member of the Chinese Masonic Lodge.

Opened Bank Daily

One of the customers of Nicholls in his later years, after the bank had ceased business, was to go to the old bank building promptly at 9 o’clock each morning and open the place.  He would spend a few minutes behind the counter as though waiting for customers, later sit in front of the office greeting old-time friends, and then go home.

Everything in the bank, including the scales which weighed millions of dollars in gold, were being kept intact, but there was no money in the vaults and no business to transact.

Mr. Nicholls was a native of England, coming to California during the early days and locating at Dutch Flat.  He is survived by a daughter, Mrs. G. Quinn of Dutch Flat, and by three sons, Dr. R. W. Nicholls and S. W. Nicholls of Auburn, and Carrol Nicholls who is superintendent of the Copper Cliff mine in Canada.

The deceased was a member of Clay Lodge, F. and A. M. of Dutch Flat, Nevada Commandery, No. 67 of Nevada City, and Islam Shrine of San Francisco.  The funeral is to be held on Friday from the Masonic Temple in Auburn at 2 o’clock.

I’m adding this obituary to the site because I can’t find records of it elsewhere online. He was Pepper’s great-great-grandfather on her mother’s side.

John Nicholls obituary

Vendanthangal bird sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, India

On Saturday morning, Pepper and I woke at 5 to get up and moving to join a small group of teachers and their kids for a trip to Vendanthangal bird sanctuary.  We brought some cheese and crackers, cut veggies, water bottles, sunscreen, hats, our bird guide and camera.  We met at the school at 6 in the morning but trickled in for a while after that.  It was about a 2 hour bus ride there and we arrived at quarter after 8.  We paid 5 rupees each to enter the sanctuary and an additional 25 rupees for having a camera (35 rupees for the two of us comes to about 57 cents).   Inside was an amazing collection of pelican, stork, cormorant, ibis and heron nests and roosts.  The locals have been protecting the area for centuries when they realized that the bird droppings in the water added nutrients that made the fields that were irrigated nearby more fruitful.

I added a number of species to my life list on the trip: Grey Pelican, Paddyfield Pipit (I think), Eurasian Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Black-headed Ibis and perhaps a few others that I have yet to identify.  I use the Helm Field Guide Birds of the Indian Subcontinent which Pepper gave to me a few months ago.

The New York Times list of 45 places to go in 2012

It is fun for me to look at these lists and see where I’ve been.  I have taken the NYT list for 2012 destinations and indicated with bold text the ones I have been to.  I have been to only 4 out of the 45 or about 9%.

  1. Panama
  2. Helsinki, Finland
  3. Myanmar (I can’t believe I still need to blog about this trip!)
  4. London, England
  5. Oakland, California
  6. Tokyo, Japan
  7. Tanzania
  8. Chilean Patagonia
  9. Lhasa, Tibet
  10. Havana, Cuba
  11. Moscow, Russia (We were a bit rushed but got to see a lot of the city.)
  12. Glasgow, Scotland
  13. Puebla, Mexico
  14. San Diego, California (Just spent a day there so it is hard to count this one.)
  15. Halong Bay, Vietnam
  16. Florence, Italy
  17. St. Vincent
  18. Moganshan, China
  19. Birmingham, England
  20. Space
  21. Kerala, India
  22. Paraty, Brazil
  23. Koh Rong, Cambodia
  24. Vienna, Austria
  25. Chattanooga, Tennessee
  26. Dakhla, Morocco
  27. Maldives
  28. Malacca, Malaysia
  29. The Algarve, Portugal
  30. Tahoe, California
  31. Wales
  32. Antarctica
  33. Uganda
  34. Ukraine
  35. Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic
  36. Dubrovnik, Croatia
  37. Chiloe Island, Chile
  38. Jordan
  39. Crans-Montana, Switzerland
  40. Montpellier, France
  41. Nosara, Costa Rica
  42. South Korea (In 1991 I spent a few weeks here.)
  43. Lodz, Poland
  44. Delarna, Sweden
  45. Portovenere, Italy

The New York Times list of 46 places to go in 2013

Interestingly, I wanted to look back at prior NYT lists of places to travel and it turns out that I’m living in one of the destinations for 2014 and was living in one of the destinations for 2013.  I have been to seven of the 46 locations or 15%.  So I’ll do the same as I did for their 2014 list.

  1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  2. Marseille, France
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Accra, Ghana
  5. Bhutan
  6. Amsterdam
  7. Houston, Texas
  8. Rossland, British Columbia
  9. New Delhi, India
  10. Istanbul, Turkey
  11. Singapore
  12. Montenegro
  13. White Salmon River, Washington
  14. Hvar, Croatia
  15. Mongolia (Living here for two years leaves lots of stories.)
  16. The Big Island, Hawaii
  17. Philippines
  18. Vernazza, Italy
  19. The Kimberly, Australia
  20. Ningxia, China
  21. The Adirondacks, NY (I made a number of trips there for camping, hiking, and canoeing.)
  22. Oslo, Norway (We were there for their major annual celebration.)
  23. Constantia, South Africa
  24. Lithuania
  25. Burgos, Spain
  26. Lens, France
  27. Changbaishan, China
  28. Porto, Portugal
  29. Puerto Rico
  30. Koh Phangan, Thailand
  31. Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka
  32. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  33. Bangkok, Thailand (A bit of a vacation hub for us, we’ve been there a number of times.)
  34. The Jeseniky, Czech Republic
  35. Waiheke, New Zealand
  36. Yucatan, Mexico (We’ve been to more than just Cancun and Chichen Itza.)
  37. Charlevoix, Quebec
  38. Pecs, Hungary
  39. Republic of Congo
  40. Ireland
  41. Getaria, Spain
  42. Mergui Islands, Myanmar
  43. The Falkland Islands
  44. Washington, D.C. (I made almost annual trips for years to D.C. and still have lots to see.)
  45. Casablanca, Morocco
  46. Paris

New York Times list of 52 places to go in 2014

This week the New York Times published a list of the 52 places to go in 2014.  Interestingly, Chennai is on the list.  Here are their choices in order with some related blog posts of mine linked and the places I’ve been in bold.  I have been to 8 of the 52 or about 15 %.

  1. Cape Town, South Africa (I wasn’t particularly fond of Johannesburg but Cape Town…)
  2. Christchurch, New Zealand
  3. North Coast, California
  4. Albanian Coast
  5. Downtown Los Angeles
  6. Namibia
  7. Ecuador (I had good times and bad times there in 2009.)
  8. Quang Binh, Vietnam
  9. Perth, Australia
  10. Rotterdam, Netherlands
  11. Taiwan
  12. Frankfurt, Germany (We will have layovers here – perhaps we should see the city.)
  13. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  14. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
  15. Nashville, Tennessee
  16. Scotland
  17. Calgary, Alberta
  18. Ishigaki, Japan
  19. Laikipia Plateau, Kenya
  20. Yogyakarta, Indonesia (this is really high on our list!)
  21. Tahoe, California
  22. Yorkshire, England
  23. Dubai
  24. The Vatican (We might be willing to spend another day there if we were in Rome.)
  25. Uruguayan Riviera
  26. Chennai, India (The area sure has quite a bit going on.)
  27. Seychelles
  28. Krabi, Thailand
  29. Aspen, Colorado
  30. Highlands, Ireland
  31. Umea, Sweden
  32. Xishuangbanna, China (We will have a China trip this year but not here…)
  33. Andermatt, Switzerland
  34. Indianapolis, Indiana
  35. Mekong River (I’d love to travel the Mekong River again.)
  36. Athens, Greece (Jordan would love to go here.)
  37. Barahona, Dominican Republic
  38. Arctic Circle (Kevin and I made it there in 2005 but I hope to drive there again soon.)
  39. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  40. Downtown Atlanta, Georgia
  41. Nozawa Onsen, Japan
  42. Subotica, Serbia
  43. Elsinore, Denmark (We didn’t get to see LEGOland while there.  We’ll be back!)
  44. Cartmel, England
  45. Nepal (Please!)
  46. Vienna
  47. Siem Reap, Cambodia (I loved it and really would like to make it back!)
  48. Varazdin, Croatia
  49. St. Petersburg, Florida
  50. Belize (We’ll not ever plan to go back – we had an alright time there.)
  51. New Caledonia
  52. Niagara Falls, NY (Really an odd choice for this list I think!)

Buddha’s birthday in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

On May 25th, a group of us gathered to participate in the official celebration of Buddha’s birthday in Ulaanbaatar.  We walked to the stadium and waited in line with our tickets.  Eventually they started admitting people from a few gates and we were ushered in and urged to get to close to the front and center.  We were a little skeptical because we were not sure what we were doing.  It appeared that everyone was sitting behind a single candle mounted on a post in the ground – presumably a thousand of them.



After well over an hour of prayers, chants, and speeches (no disrespect intended but nothing was in English so we were not too sure of what was going on), we were able to light the candles and then wait some more.  The temperature had been dropping and while it was late May that meant that it would be getting pretty cool.  Fortunately we all had little fires to use for some warmth now.



Finally the attendants started handing out the paper lanterns.  We each expected one since we each had a candle but it turns out that there was about one for every 4 people.  The lanterns were unfurled and stretched out over the flames to catch the fuel packet alight.

The rest of the evening was paper lanterns drifting off into the air.






(Well, a few moments of panic when people let go of the lanterns too soon and they drift horizontally toward people instead of the sky!)