Monday, December 18, 2023

State of the Family 2024

2023 has been a difficult year on several fronts; we'll be glad to see the backside of it.


China has resumed its adoption operations for matched families with travel approval. Unfortunately, we no longer fall into that group since Jesslyn was returned to her birth mother. China has not resumed its full program, and no new matches have been made. We're therefore still in a holding pattern until they do so, at which point we restart the entire process. There are rumors that the adoption program won't ever fully resume, but we're hopeful that's not the case. We remain committed to adopting from mainland China as we wait for God's timing.


Both Jaedyn and Kaleb are happy and healthy, and we enjoy watching them grow in mind, body, and spirit. Jaedyn has been playing with the same group of girls on her soccer team for several years. Kaleb has taken up martial arts and has stuck with it better than any other extra-curricular activity we've ever put him in. He never complains about it like he did with soccer and drumming. Both kids continue to be involved with Awana and Sunday school programs.

We have discussed putting Jaedyn in a private Christian middle school for years — mainly due to the poor disciplinary and moral standards of the local middle school. We've also become acutely aware of our school district's lackluster academic standards, exacerbated by the well-documented education gap brought on by the pandemic. Unfortunately, we've had to keep both kids in tutoring on the side just to keep them from lagging further behind. We can clearly see that their public school education is heading in the wrong direction.

For these reasons, we're strongly considering putting both of them in private school. This will be a huge financial burden, but it seems inevitable given that the school system is failing us on all fronts. Kaleb is already on the waitlist, and Jaedyn is finishing up her final interview in early January.

Employment & Projects

There were major changes to Jake's company's leadership in early 2023 that prompted him to seek other employment opportunities. While it was incredibly stressful to be a job-seeker during one of the worst environments for tech workers in history where we saw the industry shed hundreds of thousands of jobs, we were fortunate that our savings saw us through to him landing a new role in October. He was fortunate to field 2 simultaneous offers, and ended up accepting a product leadership role with a white-labeled social media management platform: Cloud Campaign.

In the intervening months between April and October while looking for a job, Jake finally made good on his long-term goal of starting a Christian apologetics ministry. The Apologist Project is a nonprofit on a mission to break down barriers to belief through a conversational AI trained on a range of topics in Christian apologetics and intellectually stimulating, community-led discourse. The conversational AI is currently in beta, and he's actively reaching out to content partners and looking to make the project publicly available in early 2024. Jake has also enrolled in the Colson Fellows program and will be graduating in May of next year.

Kyla remains employed as a pediatric nurse practitioner at a clinic here in Austin. Following the departure of a pediatrician in our community, she had the opportunity to work at her clinic's branch right here in our neighborhood for 4/5 days of the week. She was able to set her own hours, which allowed her to align with the kids' school day. She also bumped up her hours overall to help us through the period when Jake was unemployed. This has been a major blessing overall that aligned perfectly with our financial needs, though Kyla is busier than ever. The work itself has been challenging as her clinic is consistently losing personnel to higher-paying competitors.


We've understandably been more limited in our travel this past year due to Jake being unemployed for around 6 months. We used the opportunity to do knock out some items on our domestic bucket list. We saw Monticello, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York over spring break. In late June, we went to Rocky Mountains National Park and drove up to Mount Rushmore and the Badlands National Park before spending a week at Jake's brother's cabin in northern Minnesota over the 4th of July holiday.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

State of the Family 2023

Things returned to some semblance of normal in 2022. Pandemic fatigue was in full-swing, and we threw caution (and our masks) to the wind as we socialized freely, went to movie theaters, and traveled internationally.


Our appeal to continue to matched to Jesslyn went unanswered, and unfortunately we are now faced with the prospect of starting the entire adoption process over again. We are wary to do so for obvious reasons, until China re-opens fully and we have some confidence that the process won't get stalled again.


Jaedyn has been enjoying 4th grade and playing soccer on a team with her friends. Kaleb is growing up quickly as he navigates 1st grade. He was in soccer this past fall, but his interests lie elsewhere. We will likely put him in some kind of martial arts class in the spring. Both kids continue to attend Chinese class in-person and remote (when necessary).


We held off on travel for the first half of the year as Jake was ramping up at his new job, and we were still in limbo with our adoption. But it wasn't too long before the travel bug got the better of us.

The whole family visited Ontario and Quebec in Canada on the 4th of July weekend with a group of friends. We saw Niagara Falls, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Quebec City.

Jake and Kyla did a quick trip to Panama over the long Columbus Day weekend. We saw the Panama Canal and lots of ruins. We rented a car like we did in Costa Rica, but driving there was much more difficult than anywhere else Jake had driven. But we drove all over the country unscathed!

Finally, the whole family took a 2-week trip to the Hawaiian islands over the Thanksgiving break. We visited the Big Island and saw Kilauea volcano near the end of its eruption. We were at the summit of Mauna Loa 6 days before it started erupting. Next we went to Maui, where we drove the Road to Hana and saw lots of waterfalls. Oahu was next, where we snorkeled and saw Pearl Harbor and the Polynesian Cultural Center. We ended our trip on Kauai, where we did a helicopter ride around the island and into the crater of the dormant volcano that created the island. Overall, it was an absolutely incredible trip!


Lila (cat), Dahlia (dog), and Frosty (cat) are happy and healthy. 

We had been looking to get a 2nd black lab in mid-December right when we returned from Hawaii to maximize our time with the puppy w/o travel. We picked our favorite breeders and contacted them in October, but it seemed that none of them were keen on being of much help until there were confirmed litters. We were about to give up when out of the blue, one of our backup breeders told us that a colleague of hers had a black lab unexpectedly become available.

It turned out that the unexpectedly available puppy was from our top pick breeder that had originally not been great at getting back to us. So we all piled into the car to go get her the following weekend after we returned from Hawaii. The timing could not have been more perfect. The kids were ecstatic. "Jasmine" or "Jas" (pronounced "Jazz") is a gorgeous and fun puppy. She plays well with Dahlia and enjoys chasing Frosty around the house.


Jake is doing very well as Head of Product as the startup he works for in Austin. He has a hybrid arrangement where he goes into the office about twice a week. Kyla still works part-time for a pediatric clinic, where she also gets to utilize her lactation consultant certification.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

State of the Family 2022

 If 2020 was the year that time forgot, 2021 is the year we made up for it. We have personal and professional updates galore! We said goodbye to a long-serving family pet and Jake's COVID beard (RIP). We said hello to new family pets and professional opportunities. Just like last year, even the pandemic can't keep us from traveling.


We spent most of 2021 still in a waiting pattern for China to open back up for travel so that we could bring Jesslyn home. However, in November we received word that the little girl we’ve been waiting in limbo for 2 years to adopt is no longer eligible for adoption. We were told that the birth mother was found. At first we consoled ourselves with the thought that being with her birth mother is what’s really best for her.

But we subsequently found out more details that have led us to believe the mother may not in fact actually want her back. It’s against the law to abandon a child in China. Apparently, recent legislation has been passed that has resulted in more stringent enforcement of that law. We’ve been told that the police matched the birth mother through DNA sampling with the express purpose of forcing her to reclaim the child or face punishment.

The letter announcing that she is now ineligible to be adopted was dated July 29, yet we have seen photos of her still at the orphanage as recently as October 1st, over 2 months later. We've written a letter of appeal and sent it both to the China Center of Children's Welfare and Adoption, as well as the group in the US State Department that handles international adoptions. We just want what’s best for our little girl, and it doesn’t seem like forcing her mother to take her back against her will is what’s best for anyone.


Jaedyn has been thriving in-person in her 3rd grade class. She's enjoyed playing soccer on a team with her friends and performed at her first piano recital. She continues to attend Mandarin classes.

Kaleb started Kindergarten this year and lost his first tooth. We're glad that he was put in a class with Jaedyn's former Kindergarten teacher. He also attends Mandarin classes, piano lessons, and has been playing on a soccer team.

With both kids now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, we're looking forward to their lives going back to some semblance of normalcy, with regular play dates and easier travel.


In May we lost Daphne, our beloved black lab. She lived to a ripe old age of 14. We filled the void in July with the arrival of a new black lab puppy, Dahlia. We also adopted Frosty, a Siamese ragdoll kitten and littermate of our niece Bryn's new kitten.

(Mostly Domestic) Travel

In March we went to Utah with the kids and a group of friends to do a tour of national parks, including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches. Near the end of the school year, we took the kids to Disney World. In June, we headed to Minnesota for a gathering of Jake's family to celebrate his parents' 50th wedding anniversary. The itch to travel to more exotic lands caught up with us in the fall as we traveled to Puerto Rico and Cost Rica in October and November.


Kyla continues to work part-time as a pediatric nurse practitioner at a pediatric clinic. She's had increasing opportunities to put her lactation consultant certification to good use.

Jake is starting a new position in just before the end of the year as Head of Product at membersy, a digital health company that provides Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) with dental membership plans for their patients. He's looking forward to the increased challenge!

Monday, December 7, 2020

State of the Family 2021

2020 has been a weird year. We feel like we're frozen in time. We'd just as soon forget it ever happened. We're in roughly the same place as we anxiously await permission to travel to China to pick up Jesslyn and bring her home. It's maddening to think about how we've missed out on a year of her life due to the global pandemic.

But in a way, an otherwise uneventful year is a blessing in itself. We know that so many have been impacted by the pandemic and ensuing economic downturn. We've had to endure only a modest loss in income, which has been largely offset by decreased vacation travel costs. Nonetheless, we've been able to travel domestically with minimal risk. We stayed in a mountain house in Aspen, a beach house at the Gulf Coast, flew over to Everglades National Park, and drove to Big Bend National Park.

Jaedyn is attending 2nd grade in person. The schools is taking reasonable precautions, and while there have been several positive COVID cases this year, they've been able to contain them and carry on. Many of her friends have opted for virtual instruction, and we know that it's hard on her to not be able to do many of the fun things she's used to, including dance and soccer. She attends Chinese class virtually.

Kaleb is getting bigger so fast. He's starting to learn the alphabet and knows how to spell his name. He still goes to daycare on days that both Kyla and I are working. Sometimes we wonder whether it's worth it to have him struggle through virtual Chinese classes, but then he'll unexpectedly know some random Chinese word and what it means — like 海豚 (dolphin) — and we're reminded that he must be absorbing some of it.

Kyla volunteered to work at her company's COVID clinic where she's a pediatric nurse practitioner on the frontlines of testing and diagnosing potential COVID patients. She was just recently able to get the vaccine well ahead of the rest of us, which we're hoping may enable her to travel to China to get Jesslyn sooner than she otherwise would be allowed.

Jake is still working as a product manager for Administrate, a training management platform. In all the additional spare time that the pandemic has afforded him, he's finally made good on a side project that's been on his list for over a decade: an online event sequencing game called Chrologony. It's also available as an app for iOS and Android.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Adoption Update

The timing of the COVID-19 outbreak couldn't have come at a worse time for our family.

After being disappointed not to be able to bring Jesslyn home before Christmas, and then just barely missing our window in January prior to Chinese New Year, we were all set to travel to China on February 14th. Even in early February when we were counting down the days, we were hopeful that the virus would not spread much beyond Wuhan. Our destinations include northeast and southeast China, a fair distance from the more centrally located ground zero for the new disease. We had planned on doing some sightseeing while there, but quickly realized that wouldn't be in the cards for us given the new travel restrictions. Still, we thought we could successfully get in and get out without too much fuss.

And then the world went mad with panic. The day before we were going to purchase our tickets, U.S. airlines started canceling flights to China altogether. We found some alternate foreign airlines that could still get us there if we were willing to endure an overnight stay in Japan. Both the local Tianjin authorities and the U.S. Consulate were still willing to honor our appointments. We were ready to pull the trigger on that when we received word that the orphanage hosting Jesslyn itself was shutting its doors until the outbreak subsided. We were gutted.

It's difficult not to be angry when we hear of people in our own community rushing out to stock up on hand sanitizer and toilet paper as if the zombie apocalypse is upon us – in spite of there being zero cases in our metropolitan area, and only 8 in all of Texas. While it does appear that the death rate of those infected with the disease is higher than the annual flu, all its other stats pale in comparison. It's frightening to think that the general populace needs basic hygiene reminders at all, let alone why stores are selling out of products that facilitate it now as opposed to any other time. People have just flat out lost their minds over it, and as a result we must remain in a holding pattern while our little girl is growing older without us.

There is now the added complication of mandatory quarantine both upon arrival in China as well as upon return to the United States. We are hoping one or both will be lifted by the time we travel. Otherwise our original plan of traveling as a whole family will have be reconsidered. Jaedyn can't just miss 4-6 weeks of school, and we're not willing to be apart from our children for that length of time even if we could finagle childcare. So we may have to resort to one of us traveling to get Jesslyn while the other stays home.

Kyla has been keeping tabs on the daily statistics of the virus' spread, and new cases in China are on a decidedly downward trend. We're hopeful that it won't be too long before regular air service is resumed, and all applicable agencies in China are able to see us. We have informed our adoption agency that we're prepared to travel at a moment's notice. We have been fortunate to receive more recent videos and photos of Jesslyn, and have even sent her a video of our family introducing ourselves and letting her know we hope we'll get to meet her soon.

We appreciate your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. We'll post an update when COVID-19 blows over and we have the green light to bring Jesslyn home.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

State of the Family 2020

The biggest news we have this year is the imminent arrival of our 3rd child via adoption from China, Jesslyn Zora. We were hoping to be able to bring her home before Christmas, but unfortunately the authorities that be have conspired to keep that from happening. We are still holding out hope that we can get it done prior to Chinese New Year at the end of January, when the whole of China will shut down for weeks. Everyone is anxiously awaiting her arrival!

Jaedyn has taken to 1st grade well. In particular, her reading skills have improved drastically, and we're continually amazed at the way she can sound out multisyllabic words. But then she gets tripped up by some simple word that we take for granted is, by all accounts, just weird – and we remember that she is still just in 1st grade. She continues to attend Chinese classes and is improving on that front, perhaps in part due to our disingenuous insistence that otherwise she won't be able to communicate with her new baby sister at all. She's also started a more serious (read: expensive) soccer program, and seems to like it fairly well.

Kaleb is doing well. He loves Paw Patrol and PJ Masks. He's learned to spell his name. He's still in soccer, and we've started him in a Chinese program as well. He got a new bike with training wheels, and we're trying to get him transitioned from his balance bike to that.

Kyla has recently become certified as a lactation consultant after after 3 years of hard work. She continues to work part-time at a pediatric clinic, and her new credential has opened up opportunities to work with breast-feeding mothers.

Jake has switched jobs as his entire division was let go from Oracle due to dwindling revenue. He's now working as a product manager for Administrate, a training management platform. He's enjoying making a big impact in a smaller company again and has quickly taken a leadership role.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Dawn of Hope: Our Adoption Story

Help Bring Jesslyn Home

Kyla Carlson
3209 Burks Ln
Austin, TX 78732
Kyla and I started dating in high school while living abroad in Tianjin, China. At the time, the expat community there was heavily involved in caring for children in the local orphanage, and many even ended up making the life-long decision to adopt one themselves. As things got more serious between us, we agreed that we would one day adopt a little Chinese girl too.

Flash forward nearly 19 years. We had two beautiful children of our own, but that nagging feeling just wouldn't go away. It kept coming up again and again. We almost decided not to have Kaleb in favor of adoption, but we all know there can only be one winner when a mother sees her first child growing up. After Kaleb was born, we resolved to make good on the promise we made to each other so long ago as high school sweethearts. We started the process to adopt a little girl from China about a year ago.

As China's middle class has grown, so has demand for domestic adoptions. As a result, China no longer allows foreigners to adopt young infants under two years old with a clean bill of health as those are reserved for its citizens. Filling out an application specifying which ages and ailments one is willing to consider in an adoptee is an emotional but necessary process. After all, we had our existing children and our own life goals to consider. That being said, we knew that there were plenty of adoptable children that had relatively minor and/or correctable issues -- so we dove in head first and hoped for the best.

Adopting internationally is a complicated, expensive, emotional, and lengthy process. I would never have guessed it would be so hard to give a child in need a home. We took the required adoption training early this year. Our home study was completed this past spring. We've filled out reams of forms and have submitted fingerprints to various agencies like a million times (ok, four times, but still). We finally got officially approved to match with a child at the end of this past summer after a few false starts. After that, it wasn't very long before we found the one.

Jia Chen was abandoned at birth at a hospital in Tianjin, China in early 2018. Yes, that's the same city in which Kyla and I met and decided to one day adopt a little girl. And no, we did not / could not request where the child was to have been born. We aren't allowed to get too specific about her medical conditions or show pictures until she's officially ours, so I'm going to have to be a bit vague. She had some infections that were subsequently treated. She also has a mild heart condition which typically goes untreated without incident according to multiple friends and family in the medical profession. Even the adoption agency was surprised that such a young and healthy child was being offered for adoption by foreigners. While we're hopeful that the health documentation is accurate and comprehensive, we know that there may be things that assessments missed or conditions that can worsen.

There have been lots of hurdles to clear, but we're almost there. We have received an official invitation from the orphanage in Tianjin to adopt. We're now waiting on the U.S. government to approve our immigration application for Jia Chen. Once that's done, we'll only have a bit more paperwork to do before we can plan our travel to China to go get our baby girl. We were hopeful that it could happen before Christmas for a variety of reasons, but that's almost certainly not in the cards for us at the current pace the U.S. government is taking to approve us. But we're still clinging to hope that we can get it done in early January in time for her to be home with us before her second birthday. Our kids can't wait to get their new baby sister and speak of it almost daily.

Our immigration application for Jia Chen required that we provide a given name under which she will become a U.S. citizen. Those of you that know us or have been following along know that we can get a bit intense with how we name our children. We wanted to keep the tradition going while simultaneously incorporating elements of her Chinese name. We wanted her new name to sound similar to her Chinese name and somehow incorporate some of the meaning of it too. Jia Chen (佳晨) can be roughly translated as "beautiful dawn."

If all goes well, we will be bringing Jesslyn Zora back with us to her forever home in January 2020. Jesslyn is another form of Jessica, which means "God sees" or "God beholds" in Hebrew. Zora is a name used in Greece (though not of Greek origin) that means "dawn." Taken together the name means "God sees the dawn." If "dawn" is used as shorthand for Jia Chen, the implication is that she, though abandoned by her biological parents, has not been forgotten. "Seeing the dawn" is also a metaphor for hoping for a new beginning, which is what adoption is all about.

We've already invested the bulk of the money needed to complete our adoption. But as we get closer to actually traveling to China and making the mandatory $5k donation to the orphanage now hosting Jesslyn, we're reaching out to friends and family to help get us over the line. No pressure, but we would very much appreciate any and all contributions you feel compelled to add to our adoption cause via PayPal or Venmo. We look forward to sharing Jesslyn's new beginning with you all in the coming months!

Friday, November 23, 2018

State of the Family 2019

Everyone is happy and healthy. Jaedyn started Kindergarten and enjoys it immensely. (We don't enjoy waking up 2 hours earlier than we had to previously, though.) Kaleb is a chatterbox and a menace, and he gets away with murder because he's so darn cute. Kyla is still a part-time Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and is working toward getting certified as a lactation consultant. Jake still works at Oracle but has switched to a product management role.

In February, we welcomed a new pet into our home: a black cat named Lila. She and Daphne get along well, and all accounts she's well-adjusted and happy.

As for travel, we spent 2 weeks in the Yucatan as we attended a destination wedding of some of our best friends, then toured 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites before spending a week in Belize with Kyla's family. The kids took their first trip to Disney Land, and we spent a weekend in the Colorado Rockies.

We would also like to announce that we are pursuing international adoption of a little girl from China. We've just started the application process with a reputable agency. Kaleb must be 3 years old before we can start getting matched, which will be this coming June — so we don't anticipate it happening until late 2019 or 2020. We'd appreciate your thoughts and prayers as we navigate the process.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

State of the Family 2018

We're sad to report that we've lost our dog, Lily. She had a serious liver condition and survived years longer than was predicted. She was a scrapper, but it was time. She lost 10 pounds in 3 weeks from not eating and had become incontinent. Nonetheless we celebrate the joy she brought.

The rest of the family is happy and healthy. Jaedyn and Kaleb still get along well and are learning new things every day. Jaedyn is looking forward to resuming her dance and gymnastics lessons next year. Kaleb is astoundingly coordinated for his age; we think he is destined to be quite the athlete. He got tubes put in his ear due to frequent ear infections.

There are no changes in employment for Kyla and I to report. Kyla still works part-time at a pediatric clinic, and I still work on social media products at Oracle. I got certified as a project manager (PMP), and Oracle paid for most of it. Kyla got certified as a breastfeeding / lactation specialist, most of which was also paid by her employer. We both continue to play on our coed soccer team.

2017 was the year of travel. We'll have to cut back in 2018 with Kaleb getting old enough to have to cost money for airfare.


Missouri - St. Louis, Cahokia Mounds
Louisiana - New Orleans (Family Gras), Poverty Point


Georgia - Atlanta, Great Smoky Mountains
Kentucky - Mammoth Cave
Tennessee - Nashville, Chattanooga


Idaho - Boise
Oregon - Bend, Crater Lake


California - San Francisco, San Jose, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Mount Shasta, Redwood Forests
Nevada - Reno


Louisiana - New Orleans
Minnesota - Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester

In January of 2018, we'll also be in the Yucatan for a couple weeks. We'll start out in Cancun as we are in the wedding party of our good friends' destination wedding, then we'll tour UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the area before heading down to Guatemala to see Tikal National Park. From there we'll move on to Belize to meet up with Kyla's mom to celebrate her birthday. Kyla's mom will be taking care of the kids while we tour the Yucatan and bring them with her to Belize. Suffice it to say, we're a little anxious with all the coordination that will involve.

We wish you happiness and health in 2018!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

State of the Family 2017

It's that time of year again ... the time of year I remember that I'm terrible at blogging. ;) But seriously, it's been a crazy year.

Kaleb is now 6 months old, happy and healthy. He does baby stuff.

Jaedyn is enjoying being a big sister. We love watching her learn and grow every day. She is involved in gymnastics, dance, soccer, and Mandarin classes. She attends a curriculum-based daycare on weekday afternoons.

Kyla still enjoys working weekday afternoons at a pediatric clinic and being home with the kids in the morning. She is on her way to becoming certified as a lactation consultant, which has been a goal of hers for a long time. I left my job a startup to be a software development manager for a social media web application at Oracle, a well-known software giant. I'm gaining valuable management experience while helping to solve new and challenging problems. This past year I also got more serious about my health and lost over 100 pounds. Let's hope I can keep the weight off this coming year!