Gracie’s Story….an Ongoing Chapter

My adventures living

It is hard to believe that it has now been 7 years since Gracie walked into our lives.  I cannot imagine life without her.  

Now for the most part, this is a blog about my adventures living and gardening in the desert southwest, but I occasionally share about my family.  I have been sharing Gracie’s story and have been so appreciative of your wonderful responses.  You can read the previous entries by following this link

Okay, back to the story where we left it.  We were waiting patiently (impatiently) to get through immigration at the airport.  I kept thinking of all the family that had gathered just outside waiting to meet Gracie for the first time.  I was also dying to see my two oldest daughters….I had missed them terribly.  Finally, the immigration officer stamped Gracie’s paperwork and she was now officially an American citizen.  And so, we started to make our way out to the arrivals corridor to meet our family.

*The following photos are not the best quality, but I think they capture the emotions we experienced that special day….

my adventures living

My adventures living

My family, who resided in the Los Angeles area were all there along with my in-laws who had made the trip to LA from Phoenix.  It was so wonderful to see everyone so excited to meet Gracie.

my adventures living

My adventures living

I couldn’t wait to hug my daughters and Gracie was definitely interested in her new sisters.

my adventures living

My adventures living

 It was so great to see my mom (now Pastor Farmer of Double S Farms) and introduce her to Gracie.

my adventures living

She brought red, white & blue balloons to welcome Gracie to the United States.

We spent some time with family at my parent’s house, but we were soon ready to go to a hotel and sleep.  Gracie spent some time at the hotel getting acquainted with her new sisters.

my adventures living

The next day we returned to my parent’s home to enjoy a baby shower for Gracie.  I come from a close knit extended family and so family from all over Southern California and Arizona made the drive to the party.  Great aunts & uncles, 1st & 2nd cousins, grandparents, her great-grandmother…it was a full house 🙂  Everyone was so eager to welcome Gracie into the family.

my adventures living

I could hardly wait for people to arrive to the shower and meet Gracie…

my adventures living

Gracie found the ribbon and Cheerios much more interesting then the gifts she received.

my adventures living

Picking up Cheerios continued to be challenging for her.

It was such a wonderful day and Gracie was embraced by the entire family.  Later, she took a walk outside with her dad in her new dress and hat.

my adventures living

My adventures living

After a few days in Los Angeles, we loaded up our minivan and left for home.  Once we returned home, and got Gracie settled in, we took her to the pediatrician who pronounced her healthy.  

Gracie made herself at home…..

my adventures living

Watching ‘Barney’ for the first time….

my adventures living

Learning how to feed herself.

Soon we met with her orthopedist who would correct her clubfoot.  

Normally, clubfeet are corrected right after birth, but since Gracie was almost 2 years old, her case was unusual.  For the next 10 weeks, Gracie had a new cast put on her foot/leg.  Each time the doctor would adjust the cast slightly in order to straighten her foot.  

my adventures living

Gracie adjusted to her cast very well and did not let it slow her down.  Meanwhile, she was experiencing the joys of belonging to a family.

my adventures living
my adventures living


Soon, it was time for the 10th cast to come off and although her foot was now straight, she needed surgery on her achilles tendon to fully repair her club foot.  Unfortunately, her surgery was scheduled on her birthday.  So, we had a fun-filled birthday celebration a few days ahead of time.

birthday celebration

My adventures living

 You can tell her hair is starting to grow out a little.

birthday celebration

Her first birthday present….ever.

All to soon, came her surgery day….

her surgery day

My adventures living

The surgery went very well and we were so thankful.  The nurse came into the surgery waiting room to get us and kept looking for an Asian couple.  She finally called out our names and we could see that she was a little surprised to see that we weren’t Asian at all 😉

surgery was a success

Even though the surgery was a success, Gracie still had to wear a cast for another month.  

Now it was time to work on celebrating her first Christmas.  It had been years since I had taken my older daughters to Santa, but we had to start up our Santa tradition with Gracie.   Now, Gracie’s hair was starting to grow longer, but despite how often I dressed her in pink, some people would compliment me on my cute son.  

I did my best to ignore this, thinking that eventually she would have enough hair that people wouldn’t mistake her for a boy.  Well, this Santa photo was the breaking point for me….


Once the photo had been taken, Santa’s elf handed me the photo and said, “Here is the photo of your son.”  That was it….I was tired of people mistaking her for a boy so we walked to the earring store a few feet away and got her ears pierced.

As well as Gracie was fitting into our family, there were still signs of her earlier life spent in an orphanage.  She did have some delayed development, which is not unusual in children raised in orphanages in China and we had been prepared for that.  She was catching up and had periods of accelerated learning as she was catching up to where she should be for her age.

One thing that she did and still does each night, is rock herself side to side in bed as she falls asleep.  She would do this in the orphanage to comfort herself because there was probably a number of times that there was not an available person to rock her or provide comfort.  As a result, she would have a large tangled mass of hair when she would wake up, so we started putting her hair in ponytails before bed, which solved the problem.

tangled hair.

First Easter and tangled hair.

Gracie’s foot was doing very well, but for the months that followed, she had to wear special shoes fastened onto a bar at night.  We called them “Night, Night Shoes”.  At first, she hated them….I would have too.


The shoes helped to keep her repaired clubfoot pointed outwards.  Gracie adapted pretty quickly and later did not complain when we had to put them on her.

During the day, she would have to wear a plastic brace on her lower leg.


Helping her dad in the garden.  You can see the brace on her right leg.

Thankfully, she no longer has to wear a brace or special shoes any longer.

When Gracie was three years old, another major change occurred in our family…..


We went back to China in order to adopt a little boy, Kai.  You can read about Kai’s story here if you like.  Gracie accepted her brother right away and since they were only 6 months apart, they played together all the time.

While we were in China during this time, we arranged a visit to Gracie’s orphanage.  We wanted to see where she had spent almost two years of her life.  The trip took 2 1/2 hours by car and when we arrived, we were warmly greeted by the orphanage director and staff.  


Here we are posing with some of the nannies, the director and the co-director.

One of the nannies is holding our new son, Kai.

At the orphanage, we were treated as honored guests and given a tour.  They were thrilled to see Gracie and see how her club foot had been repaired.  Gracie was happy to be there and let the orphanage director carry her all over…something she did not normally let strangers do.  So, maybe she still had some faint memories of where she came from.  One of the nannies picked up our newly adopted son, Kai and carried him around as well.

As nice as all the staff was, I cannot say the same of the orphanage itself.  The orphanage was a dark, rather dismal place.  We were not allowed to take pictures inside, but I do remember seeing the room she grew up in with its dark walls, lack of toys, and rows of cribs filled with babies.  Each crib contained two babies…probably so that they could warm each other during the cold winter.  Although it was obvious that the nannies cared for the kids, It was also painfully obvious that there were not near enough nannies to take care of all the emotional needs of the kids.  It broke my heart to think of Gracie growing up in this place for the first 20 months of her life.

The director wanted to take us out to lunch and asked us if we preferred Chinese food or KFC.  I am not an adventurous eater and I was not sure what kind of food an authentic Chinese restaurant in a rural area would offer, so we played it safe and went to KFC.


Gracie with her favorite nanny.

Gracie’s favorite nanny was not at the orphanage that day since it was her day off.  But, she did meet us at KFC and promptly took over taking care of Gracie.  It was so sweet to see….she took her on the little playground at the restaurant and helped her with her food.  She said a tearful goodbye to Gracie when we left.

That day was so special to all of us because we were able to meet the people who raised Gracie when she was a baby.  But, I was so thankful that she was ours now.


Gracie when she was 4 years old.

Many people tell us how lucky Gracie is because we adopted her and that we have made such a difference in her life.  But, I don’t see it that way.  Gracie has blessed us immeasurably and enriched our lives.   I am sometimes surprised when I see us together in a mirror because we look so different from each other.  The reason I feel surprise is that Gracie is my daughter and I am as much her mother as I am to my two biological daughters who do look like me.  There is no difference in the love I feel for her in my heart.

I can’t imagine life without her…. 

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
21 replies
  1. Edith Hope
    Edith Hope says:

    Dear Noelle, I am sure that what you say about Gracie enriching your own life as much as you have supported Gracie's well being is so very true. Indeed, there are parallels in so many areas of life where what you put in is exactly what you get out.

    Your story is, too, a lesson in determination since there always seems to be reasons for not doing things and only by focussing hard can one achieve one's goal. The purpose that you and your family have shown in overcoming so many obstacles can only have strengthened you all and brought you closer.

  2. FlowerLady
    FlowerLady says:

    Dear Noelle ~ I have so enjoyed this lovely story of Gracie coming into your life. Thank you for sharing.

    You all have grown in love through the years and it is obvious.


  3. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    Noelle, I've so enjoyed reading about your journey to find your daughter Gracie. I'm so glad that all worked out well with her surgery, and I agree, not sure I wouldn't have kicked up a fuss or two with those night-night shoes, but children are remarkably adaptable. Do you have any future plans to take Gracie and Kai back to visit China at all?

  4. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    I want to share another story of a little girl adopted from China who developed Lyme Disease and her parents terrible struggle to get her properly treated.

    Now thankfully Xian is recovering well but only because of the immense determination of her family to fight for her treatment.

    This was Linda's ( who I have been in touch with many time) first post about Xian
    and the latest post

    The Book Ending Denial was sent to me from a fellow Canadian Lymne sufferer, Alison another friend of Linda's. The chapter Linda wrote in that book is a chronical of ill treatment at the hands of the Canadian health authorities such that you would find hard to believe. The saddest part was that Xian followed in the footsteps of Ed Sperling and despite his mother Janet's efforts to inform all his doctors of the successful treatment on long term antibiotics lessons were not learnt and Xian was allowed to follow the same decline and the same denial until her mother Linda happened to pick up a magazine and reading Ed's story realised the symptoms were so like her daughters.

    This was a news paper article

    In the book Linda says that one doctor advised that Xian should be put into a home as her illness was incurable. Can you imagine that especially after she had been saved from an orphanage. All because of the controversy that means that most mainstream doctors the World over will not consider that some patients may need longer courses of antibiotics and that blood test can miss 50% of Lyme Disease cases anyway.

    Awareness of Lyme Disease is the best we have at combating this terrible disease at present, your local Lyme group is at

    should you ever meet anyone you suspect could have Lyme Disease.

    I hope you don't mind me sharing this with you Noelle and hope you understand that because I deal daily with patients with similar sad stories their own or their childrens I do tend to go on a little about this disease.

  5. Floridagirl
    Floridagirl says:

    What a beautiful, heartwarming story of your family, Noelle! I'm afraid you had me in tears by the end. These children are so very lucky to have you in their lives.

  6. One
    One says:

    Hi Noelle, I enjoyed the entire story. Thank you for sharing.There is a lot of LOVE in your family. Still remember the 17 peas in Gracie's mouth while she was asleep. 🙂

  7. Rose
    Rose says:

    I know the last picture must have been taken some time ago, but it shows what a beautiful little girl Gracie has become. This is such a heartwarming story, Noelle. At the same time it shows, I'm sure, an accurate picture of all the obstacles that you had to overcome to complete Gracie's adoption. I think you all have been blessed.

  8. Teresa O
    Teresa O says:

    Noelle, the stories of your children are both heart warming and eye-opening. I had no idea the challenges that faced adoptive parents, but I also read of great love and joy and that's what counts. Beautifully written and shared.

  9. noel
    noel says:

    aloha noelle,

    what a wonderful narrative, i've enjoyed reading about gracie and your wonderful family…thanks for sharing this.

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