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I am a Christ loving, homeschooling mom who has a wonderful crazy life. I have a husband I passionately love and 11 incredible kids. Trying to live a healthy lifestyle and help others do the same.

Friday, August 17, 2012

In Region Day 16

16 August, 2012

We arrived in Kiev this morning around 06:00.  Our friend Niko met us at the train station and whisked us off to our new apartment for the day.  This one was located near the center of the city, which put us within walking distance of nearly everything of interest.  After confirming the pick-up time for our embassy appointment it was nap time.  I didn’t get much sleep on the train because I couldn’t shut off my brain.  It was like a pinball game going on in my head … “Caleb is so much farther behind than we thought” … “Clare and Malachi were really behind and look where they are now” … “is the rest of the family going to accept him as their brother or as that ‘special-needs’ boy that lives with us’” … “I’m so glad that our kids don’t see anything as a disability and just assume that people are exactly as God intended them to be’ … “are we going to have the ability to work with him ourselves or will we need to get full-time professional help” … “why didn’t I think of these things before we committed” … “Jessa is so far along, if someone would have cared enough to adopt her 15 years ago she would be nearly ‘typical’” … “why didn’t anyone adopt her?  Where were all those self-professed compassionate Christians 15 years ago?”    The worst of all is the inescapable fact that they were not born like this.  They were born with Down Syndrome; someone decided, either through commission or inaction, to make them the way they are today. In the words of Forest Gump “And that’s all I have to say about that”.  We had a quick lunch and then off to the U.S. Embassy to get the immigration paperwork started.  Another family was going to their final visa appointment to bring their new son home so we shared a ride with them.  Roland is a seriously cute little dude and will fit in with the California image just fine.  Dads (or Moms) if you are not going to be coming back on the pick-up trip be sure that you make an appointment with the embassy to do your part of the visa paperwork before you leave to go home.  On our last adoption we didn’t do this because we were told that I could do it from home.  The cost, volume of paperwork, and stress of worrying if I did it correctly far outweighed any benefit derived from leaving one day earlier.  I have to mention the restrooms at the embassy … it was like returning to America!  After the embassy visit we had about 12 hours to kill before our pick-up for the airport so we decided to go walking.  We ended up at TGI Fridays for dinner, mostly because you can get fairley descent sweet iced tea there.  Erika had a chicken quesadilla with bacon (not exactly TexMex, more like UkraMex) and I had a steak.  After dinner we went in search of one last person’s thank you gift.  As we walked down the street we heard some hip-hop music and saw a small crowd.  Of course, being the cautious Americans that we are, we immediately went to investigate.  It was a group of young boys dancing “break”, as they say here.  One of them was pretty good and it was apparent he spent a lot of time studying Michael Jackson.  It was really funny when they started doing “Thriller”.  After watching them for a while and giving them 5 uah (I told you Erika was a sucker!) we went back to the apartment, got things packed up for our 03:00 departure to the airport and tried to get some sleep.   I forgot how early 03:00 arrives!  On the way to the airport we were stopped by the Ukrainian highway patrol.  Apparently I am the only one old enough to have “cold-war flashbacks”.  I suddenly found the plot from every bad spy novel running through my head.  60 seconds after being stopped we were on our way again with an advisory to get our headlight fixed.  When we arrived at the airport we discovered that everyone else who lived in Kiev had decided to fly that morning.  We made it through security, customs, and boarding with about 5 minutes to spare!  Note to self:  next time allow three hours prior not two.  After an uneventful flight, including an in-flight breakfast of potato slices, hotdogs, broccoli, and something that resembled scrambled eggs, we arrived at Frankfurt airport.  My advice to anyone who has a layover here is to bring movies to watch on your laptop if you can.  This place is only slightly more interesting than watching paint dry!! 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

In Region Day 15

15 August, 2012

We were informed last night that a new family was coming into region on the morning train and that, if it was ok with us, they would be brought to our apartment around 07:15 so they could freshen up before they went to meet their potential new family member for the first time.  Of course we agreed and so we were up bright and early this morning.  The family arrived as scheduled and we did our best to stay out of the way while they took care of business since they were going to be picked up an hour before we were in order to get to the CSO for a morning appointment.  Earlier in the week, Erika had mentioned to one of our friends that there was a need for toys in Caleb’s groupa.  The result was a “chip-in” that many of you contributed to, raising a little over $150 in toy funds.  Last night we, along with another family currently in region went to one of the toy stores and bought over1000GRN worth of toys.  Most were stuffed toys that would sing when squeezed, but we also managed to find some crib toys, a few electronic toys (toy phones, matching games, etc.) for the older kids, some balls, a bright pink bouncy ball, and (my personal favorite) a bright orange cow!  You cannot imagine the looks I got last night at the mall, where the toy store was located, and on the walk home as I casually strolled along with an orange cow under my arm.  We loaded up all the toys in the driver’s car this morning and headed off to the market for our fruit.  After getting our peaches and bananas we arrived at the orphanage.  Things seemed a little disorganized this morning and we all seemed to have a little trouble getting our kids.  After letting the senior caregiver, a very pleasant and cooperative lady, know that our kids had not yet been brought down; we asked if we could bring the toys to the groupa while we waited.  She had no objections so off we went.  One of the things to remember while you are here, or in any of the regions for that matter, is to wait until you are invited before you do something.  As exciting as it may be for you to play “super spy” and sneak into an area, or to “covertly” take pictures or video, don’t do it;  It puts all the hard work that others have done to build trust with the orphanage staff at risk.  What we have found in this region, as well as our last, is that the best way to be allowed access to the kids is simply to ask.  By taking this course of action we have gone from being denied access to the groupas, to being invited in and encouraged to interact and play with all the kids there.  We have developed very friendly and trusting relationships with many of the caregivers and staff because they know that we will not do anything that we have not been given permission to do. Ok, back to the toys.  As soon as the caregivers saw us at the door, they waved us into the groupa.  We came into the room and held up the bags of toys.  I’m really not sure who was more excited, the kids or the caregivers!  The caregivers started smiling and talking excitedly as they took off sales tags or took the toys out of their packages and passed them out to the kids.  One of the things that I noticed was that every single toy that we had brought since our first visit was either in the playpen or in one of the cribs; none had been set aside as “display” toys.  After the toys had been passed out the caregivers began to play with the kids and invited us to do the same, one even indicated to me that it was ok for me to enter the playpen with her.  When I noticed a concerned look on a more senior caregivers face I declined, which got me a smile and a “spasiba” nod from her.  We played up in the groupa for 10 or 15 minutes and had a great time!  Since Caleb was still asleep, we went down and got Jessica from her groupa and spent some time with her.   She is making small but steady progress.  She got most of her “Man” and “Lady” pictures right, signed “more” when I was feeding her the banana too slowly, and repeated the words “buffalo” and “elephant” with surprising clarity.  By that time Caleb was awake and had been brought down so we went outside.  Since it was such a beautiful day we went outside, along with the rest of the orphanage it seemed.  We had a great time showing some of the older kids the videos of Clare and Malachi at the Danville Science Museum.  Erika also passed out gum which didn’t hurt either.  A little later we were surrounded by a group of the younger wheelchair boys.  They had a good time looking at our family photo book, and also got gum (Erika’s such a sucker!).  The boy’s caregiver, who spoke fairly good English, also thought the photo book was pretty special.  It turned out that two of the boys were from the last region from which we adopted so she was explaining to them about Malachi and Clare.  One of them actually climbed into Erika’s lap and wanted to go through the “magic bag” that all the neat things were coming from.  After leaving the orphanage we had a late lunch with the family that had arrived this morning and filled them in on all the important things, such as were the best restaurants and the supermarket are  located, and how the public transportation system works here.  After that, Erika and I grabbed our bags and headed off to the train station … 60 Kilometers away.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In Region Day 14

14 August, 2012

We left our adapter at our friends’ house so I was unable to post anything yesterday.  One of our drivers met us at the train station when we arrived on Monday morning and took us back to the apartment for a quick clean-up and then on to the orphanage.  Once again it had been several days since we had seen the kids so we were curious as to how they would react.  As soon as Jessa saw Erika she started running down the hall to meet her and gave her a big hug.  Erika says it’s because she is so irresistible, I say it’s because she’s the “Banana Lady”!  Either way it was really great that Jessa was that excited to see us.  Caleb was his usual self; he noticed that we were there and wanted to be picked up but remained very sedate.  We went outside since there was another family who was meeting their new member for the first time.  Jessa happily played with us on the playground equipment while Caleb just sat contentedly with one of us on the bench.  When we returned to the psychologist’s office we found the other family, who happen to be friends of ours from Virginia, had made “the successful first meeting” as they say here.  As we were all interacting with our kids, a few members of the “Wheelchair Posse” rolled in.  It seems that they like bubbles and playing patty-cake (of course I know how to play, I have daughters after all) as much as they like laughing at the old American guy.  After spending some time playing with them, Jessa and Caleb were taken back to their groupas and we left for the day.  We confirmed our schedule with Luda since we were due in court the next day.  Bright and early this morning (Tuesday) we got ready for court.  I must say the cleaners here did a great job on my suit.  We were picked up from the apartment at 08:30 and taken to our orphanage to pick-up Luda.  We arrived at the court building at 09:15 for our 09:30 court appearance.  Court was running a little behind which was good since the representative from the Child Services Office was a little late.  When all was ready we were called into the court room.  The Ukrainian court consisted of the judge, the court recorder, two “people’s assessors” one male and one female, the prosecutor, the lawyer from the orphanage, and the representative from the CSO.  The session started with us identifying ourselves to the court and acknowledging our petition to adopt Jessica and Caleb.  After that the questions started.  I got to speak first and gave an overview of our current family, resources, and housing.  I was then asked to explain why, with such a large family already, we wanted to adopt more children; it seems that the size of our family and the size of our house, they thought that 3,300 square feet of living area was too small, was of concern to the court.  I told the court that we felt that God had called us to add these children to our family and that the reason he had blessed our family with the resources that he had was to enable us to bring these children into our family.  Erika was then asked if she agreed with what I had said and then was asked if there was anything she would like to add.  As usual she spoke very eloquently and I could tell that the members of the court could sense the sincerity in what she said.  There was only one question asked to her by the male assessor.  He asked what we would do if the court denied our petition for adoption; would we accept the decision and go home, or would we stay and appeal?  Erika told him most emphatically that we believed that Jessica and Caleb were already members of our family and that we would do whatever was necessary to bring them home.  He seemed satisfied with that answer and that was the end of the questions for us.  The judge then asked the prosecutor is she had any objections.  She answered “no” so he moved on to the orphanage lawyer who was asked if he had personally witnessed us “bonding” with the children and whether or not he felt it was successful.  He replied that he had seen us and felt that the bonding was successful. The judge then asked the representative from the CSO if she had any objections to which she also replied “no”.  The judge then read the entire petition into the court record and dismissed us while the members of the court came to a determination.  Less than ten minutes later we were called back in and the judge informed us that our petition for adoption would be granted.  After the official proceedings were complete the judge thanked us for adopting these children and said that he wished that there were more families like us who would care for these children.  He also apologized that he was not able to waive the ten day waiting period.  He said that while he was in favor of it, he did not want there to be an appeal by the prosecutor’s office which could delay our bringing the children home by months.  After court we went to visit Jessica and Caleb (those really are their names now!!).  Since it was so late in the day we only had about an hour’s visit before they returned to their groupa.  After lunch we went to the notary to get all the information for their new birth certificates recorded and bought our train tickets to return to Kiev.  We leave for Kiev tomorrow night, have an appointment with the U.S. Embassy on Thursday, and we fly home on Friday.  We can’t wait to see the kids!!

A Quick Break

10 August, 2012

We arrived in our old region after a 12 hour train ride.  The ride was uneventful except for one section of track that had the car rocking so severely we thought that we would derail.  Of course we hit this part of the track around 02:00 so it startled us out of what had been a very sound sleep.  Oleg, a family friend, met us at the station and we went to his home for a quick lunch.  It was quick only due to the fact that we had an appointment with the director of our old orphanage, not due to any lack of food.  Elena knows how to put out a spread!!  There was quite the feeling of nostalgia as we made our way to the appointment.  Only nine months ago we traveled that route twice a day, every day for nearly three weeks.  The changes to the orphanage, all good, were apparent immediately upon our arrival.  Several of the projects that the Director had told us were in her plans had been completed and a few new ones had been started.  The Director was waiting for us outside so she could show us what she had been able to get done as we walked to her office.  Once there, with Oleg acting as interpreter, we were brought up to speed on what had happened at the orphanage since we were there last, and we filled the director in on what had been happening with us, it was all polite and professional.  Once we brought out the photo book however, things changed quickly.  The Director alternated from amazement, to disbelief, to gratitude and back again.  She couldn’t believe that these were the same children that we had taken from the orphanage only nine months earlier.  One of the orphanage staff came in to look at the pictures as well.  I’m not sure what was said, but there were more “thank yous” given to us then was comfortable. We also dropped off a photo album for Malachi’s Babushka, which the Director thought was really great and told the staff member to call her and let her know it was there.  The Director called in the doctor and had her take us to “our” old groupa.  Unfortunately it was nap time so we didn’t get a chance to see anyone except for baby Niko.  Was he cute?  Let’s just say I felt it necessary to frisk Erika before we left.  We spent the rest of the weekend visiting with our friends.  There was lots of food, Erika managed a fair amount of shopping, learned to make borsht, and taught Elena how to make banana bread; I managed to get in a fishing trip.   Sunday evening we jumped on the train to return to our current region to pick up our adoption adventure where we had left off.        

Friday, August 10, 2012

In Region Day 9

09 August, 2012

I learned something today regarding the can opener that we had at our last apartment that redeemed my honor as a manipulator of all things mechanical …but I digress.  We started the morning off as usual with a trip to the market to get some fruit.  We decided to be a bit creative today and bought plums instead of peaches.  We also picked up some soft toys in hope that we could give them to Caleb’s groupa.  We arrived at the orphanage and went through the usual food check.  The nurse was quite approving of the fact that we had found such large, good quality plums (I think she likes plums herself).  Jessa was brought in first so we spent a little time just sitting with her and talking to her.  Caleb came in a few minutes later and … he was dressed in Boy Clothes!!  He did still have his blue socks, and shoes with dragons on the toes, but we are making progress.  Well today was picture day.  Once Luda had the permission slip we walked the kids out of the orphanage and over to the car.  Jessa was a little nervous but trusts Erika enough to get in.  As soon as Caleb saw the car he was trying to get away from me so he could climb inside.  The ride to the photo shop was rather short but the whole way Caleb was trying to position himself so that he could see well.  When we arrived Jessa was quite happy to get out but I had to hand Caleb over to Erika because he wanted to stay in the car.  There were several steps leading up to the photo shop which was a challenge for Jessa.  She doesn’t seem to have any mobility challenges, but steps seem to spook her.  I had one hand and Luda took the other and we “stomped” our way up one step at a time.  The photo shop was empty except for us, which I think was coordinated, so Caleb and I had a seat while Jessa had her picture taken.  We suspected she was a bit of a camera hog since every picture we have seen of her has a big smile, but this confirmed it.  The girl likes to have her picture taken, except for the flash which seemed to disorient her and caused her to recoil physically.  Then it was Caleb’s turn.  It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I imagined it would be, the biggest challenge being in getting him to look at the camera.  After a quick drive back to the orphanage it was time to play outside.  We had picked up some bubbles at the market this morning and it was rather breezy so things worked out well.  The kids thought that it was great!  It was also another new sensation for Caleb to have bubbles pop on his skin.  We played on the playground equipment for a bit longer, Jessa deciding on her own that she wanted to go down the slide today, and Caleb taking a short ride with Mom on the merry-go-round.  11:30 rolled around and Caleb started to exhibit his normal “I’m done” behavior so we went inside for Banana Time.  While I broke pieces off for Jessa, Erika worked with Caleb.  Today she was not only putting pieces deep in his cheeks, but also pressing pieces gently against his palate so that he had to use his tongue to move the food in two directions before he could swallow.  After eating his banana, he settled down in Erika’s arms almost as if he was planning on taking a nap.  Jessa and I looked at a magazine and she was back to “brat” and “sistra” for the pictures of men and women, however, she did resume “man” and “lady” after only one reminder from me.  It was time for the kids to go back so we brought Jessa back to her room and then went upstairs with Caleb and the soft toys we had brought.  Luda let the caregivers know that we would like to give the toys to the groupa and we were invited into the common area.  Now we had seen the common area before from the door, but this was the first really good look that we had.  In the middle of the room is a large (12ft X 12ft?) play pen which, in typical Ukrainian practicality, is made from welded steel and painted a bright white.  There was a large rug on the floor inside of it and several children were playing with each other.  The room itself is bright, clean, and well ordered.  The caregivers took one look at the soft blocks that Erika was holding and very enthusiastically told her it was ok to give them to the children.  One of the caregivers even asked if it would be ok for her to take some to the back so the children could have some toys in their cribs.  All of the caregivers that we have interacted with since we started visiting the orphanage have seemed to genuinely care for the children in their charge.  We have heard that there are a few who, because so many families are coming so quickly, are afraid all the children will be adopted and that they will be out of a job, but those appear to be the minority.  Unfortunately, it seems that due to a lack of knowledge, training, or because of social norms, there is no expectation that these children can develop any further.  However they show up is believed to be the status they will have for the rest of their lives.  If they make gains on their own, this new level of ability is accepted as their new “normal”, but no effort is made to help them achieve.  There isn’t anything intentionally sinister or malicious going on, it is just the way their culture has taught them to view these children.  I think once we can begin to send pictures and reports of how well these children are doing and the advances that they are making once they are given expectations to meet, that we may see a change in attitude among many of the caregivers.  There is a need for developmental toys here.  It would make a huge difference if we could get at least a crib toy for each crib.  After leaving for the day, we began getting ready for the trip to our old orphanage.  We have a day-long train ride ahead of us so I’m not sure when I’ll be posting this update.  Oh, and the opener … was for bottles, not cans.  Reputation intact!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In Region Day 8

08 August, 2012

We changed apartments today.  The one we are in now is much closer to the river (yeah!) and our favorite restaurants (YEAH!!).  We were picked up a little earlier this morning so that we could bring everything to the new apartment before we left for the orphanage.   After dropping off all of our worldly possessions, we went to a different market for our daily fruit pick-up.  We grabbed our required number of peaches and off we went.  After going through the normal food inspection routine, I think the nurse likes us, we waited for the kids to come in.  Since it was a cool morning we decided to play outside for a change.  A group of volunteers had recently finished adding some ramps to a giant playground set so that all the children could have access.  Jessa had so much fun stomping up and down the ramp.  We finally got her to slide down the slide … she didn’t seem overly impressed.  Caleb was content to just wander around with me for a little while, then have a seat on one of the benches and look around.  We think he may have some trouble seeing right now and probably needs glasses.  When we went back inside it was banana time!  As usual, Jessa finished her banana in just a couple of bites.  Erika was feeding Caleb his in some fairly large pieces in order to try and stimulate the chewing reflex.  While he didn’t actually chew, he did pause before swallowing which is definitely a step in the right direction.  Erika started placing the pieces deep in his cheeks to make him use his tongue to manipulate the bites so that he could swallow them, also good practice for chewing.  After the bananas, we broke out the balloons.  Jessa does not like balloons!  She wouldn’t come anywhere near them and it didn’t matter if they were inflated or not.  Caleb thought they were pretty cool.  I think he could see them because of the bright colors.  One of the things he really seemed to like was when I put a balloon against his ear and tapped my fingers on the outside of it.  I got several smiles that way.  He also had fun when I would bounce the balloons against him; unfortunately, like so many other things, he lost interest after only a short time.  After the balloons, Jessa and I were looking at a book while Erika and Caleb went for a walk in the hall.  I was able to get Jessa to start identifying the pictures of men as “Man” and the pictures of women as “Lady”; we’ll see tomorrow if she remembers.  Erika and Caleb finished their hallway walk, or so Erika thought.  That little guy decided that he did not want to come back in the room so every time that Erika got close to it, he would reach out and close the door!  She made several attempts to get him back in, but he was as determined as she was.  That was the most definite and determined action that we have seen him perform thus far.  Erika and I swapped out and I took over Caleb and the hall which is when I met … the Wheelchair Posse!  This is a bunch of 8-12 year old girls, all in wheelchairs for various reasons, who patrol the hallway like a biker gang.  They rolled up to me and their leader said “priviyet” which is like “hi” in Ukrainian.  I answered “priviyet” and smiled.  She then hit me with a flurry of questions, in Ukrainian of course, so fast that to me it sounded like all one word.  I shrugged my shoulders and held my free hand out palm up in the intergalactic sign for “What?!?” and said “priviyet?”  I thought that they were going to hurt themselves they laughed so hard!  Then there “leader” said to her gang “Amerikanski” which started the laughter all over again.  And that became the game.  She would question me in an ever more mirthful manner, I would shrug and look confused, and she would state “Amerikanski” and the Posse would break out in laughter.  We must have done this a half dozen times.  By then Caleb was getting to his usual “I’m done” behavior so I brought him back into the room so we could wait for the caregiver to come and get him.  When she showed up Erika, through Luda, explained his behavior to the caregiver.  Her response was along the lines of “Of course he wants to come back to the groupa, 11:30 is snack time”.  Mystery solved.  We had lunch today in a restaurant that recently opened.  I had rabbit, Erika had borsht, and we shared a Greek salad and a really delicious potato dish.  We seem to be falling into the Ukrainian eating pattern of moderate breakfast, large lunch, and light dinner.  I’ve heard so much from the other RR families about the “Ukraine Diet” and how effective it is at knocking off 5, 10, and even 15 pounds while you are in country.  All I can say is that it either doesn’t work for guys, or I’m doing it wrong ‘cause I’m heading in the other direction! After lunch I went back to the new apartment while Erika got a Ukrainian style pedicure.  Luda recommended that Erika go to the shop that she uses.  90 minutes and $10USD later Voila!! Purty Toes!  This is one of the reasons that I recommend that you set up a separate account before you travel.  Erika’s toes, my suit, some chocolate for our driver’s wife (today’s her birthday; remember that gratitude thing …?), and our trip to our old orphanage all comes from our personal account (the trip comes from our family vacation fund).
Our new apartment has one thing that our old one did not … a Can Opener!!!!  Oh yes, pineapple slices, tomorrow at breakfast you are mine!!! MUWAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!  

In Region Day 7

07 August, 2012
We resumed our visits today, which meant no sleeping in.  I was a little hungry today since we had run out of milk so I couldn’t eat my bowl of “Start” as usual.  For those of you who haven’t been here yet, “Start” is a kid’s breakfast cereal, the one with the soccer playing lion on the box, that is what Cocoa Puffs used to be thirty years ago.  Put that in a bowl with some 3.2% milk (I was able to find 4.8% last trip) and you can’t help but “start” the day right!  We went to the market first thing in order to get some fruit for the kids and their groupas.  Peaches are in season right now so there’s plenty and they’re cheap.  Today’s visit was going to be a little different since the Director was going to be on vacation and we didn’t know who her replacement was going to be.  It had also been three days since we had seen the kids … would they remember us?  After what is becoming the normal first stop at the CSO, we arrived at the orphanage.  Question one was answered shortly after our arrival when the Deputy Director met us and let Luda know that he was in charge while the Director was on vacation.  I would have assumed he would have been the guy, but this isn’t the U.S.   Question two was answered a few minutes later when the kids were brought into the psychologist’s office.  Jessa just walked on in and sat down next to Erika; Caleb came into the room and held his arms out to me to pick him up.  We spent the morning playing and looking at books.  I discovered that since Caleb is sensory deprived he prefers rough contact to gentle touch (i.e. he is much more comfortable with my arms wrapped around him then if I place my hand on his back).  That is a good thing since I’m sure his brother’s will want to wrestle as soon as we get home.   We tried the clothes that we had bought on the kids and Jessa’s were pretty close, Erika had guessed a size small.  It was a bit sad with Caleb however when the 4T shirt was too big and the 24M shorts fit.  As usual, right around 11:30 Caleb began to get restless and acting as if he wanted to go back to his groupa.  It’s been the same each time we’ve visited; I guess his tolerance for activity is only about 90 minutes. After leaving the orphanage, we tried a new restaurant recommended by Luda’s brother.  It was billed as having “American size” portions.  The food was excellent, but if those were American sized, we eat waaaaaay too much.  Erika and I could have easily shared either of our orders … with a third person.  We took our usual evening walk to dinner a little bit earlier than usual out of deference to Luda.  I have to make a clarification of an earlier post.  Although Erika and I were walking home at 23:00, it was due to having missed the last bus for the night.  In general, it is not a good idea to be out that late and Luda prefers if all families in region are at their apartments by 22:00.  She says that she doesn’t sleep when we are out later.  Because of our backgrounds Erika and I are probably a bit more comfortable being out late than we should be.  We went to a different Celentano’s Pizza for dinner and had a great time with the English speaking members of the staff.  One of the waitresses had a sister who lived in Buffalo, NY so she thought it was pretty neat that we had lived in NY (upstate) as well.  I had the lasagna, which turned out to be a meaty marinara and pasta tort.  It was good, but I don’t think Don Corleone would have approved.  We got back to the apartment early (20:00) and watched the first Sherlock Holmes movie online, called the kids back home and hit the sack.  We move apartments tomorrow.   

Monday, August 6, 2012

In Region Day 6

DONSA number three, thankfully the last for now.  I must admit that having this much unscheduled time is a little hard to deal with, especially today since so many places are closed on Monday.  We started with a light morning snack in anticipation of a late lunch.  There’s nothing quite as eye-opening as having tiramisu and iced cappuccino for breakfast.  Not sure where on the food pyramid you find that but I’m sure it’s there somewhere.  After our morning snack we jumped on the bus to head down to the water.  The plan was to go to the market and see if we could find a can opener.  We have had this can of pineapple slices since our first day in region; unfortunately we have this manual can opener that for the life of me I cannot figure out how to use.  Now I’m no rookie when it comes to manual can openers.  I’ve used the ones on Swiss Army knives, the old Boy Scout knives, the Army issued pocket knife, the old cartoon tuna can opener, even the old Army P-38 opener, but this thing just baffles me.  I’m almost to the point of throwing it out in the crosswalk when the huffy red dude is showing and letting a speeding vehicle pop it open!  Even if that can of pineapple must return with us to the U.S., it will be opened!!!  Well, on our way down we got the call from Luda that the court proceeding for the day were successful and that we would be joining another family for a celebratory lunch.  She didn’t seem to find it the least bit extraordinary that we were on a bus heading downtown rather than at the apartment.  I think she has accepted the fact that after decades of international travel, on both official and unofficial business, Erika and I are quite comfortable out among the population and acting like the “natives”.  Lunch was in a restaurant (remember … “Pectopah”) that had won some high acclaim from a national Ukrainian “food network” type of show.  We get to the table, get handed some English menus (generally a good sign) and discover that it’s … a breakfast joint!?  Good thing Ukrainians eat big for breakfast; not many places in the U.S. do you find Greek Salad on the breakfast menu.  The food was excellent and everyone found something to satisfy their appetite.  After hearing about the court proceedings and celebrating the transition of another child’s status from orphan to family member, Luda let us know that she had contacted the director of the last orphanage from which we had adopted and that the Director was excited that we were here and would love to see us again (we had asked Luda earlier if she thought it would be possible for us to visit).  The amazing Luda had done all the research on the different ways to get there and had a plan for us to go and visit there this Friday.  I know several CEOs that would give their eye-teeth to have someone as competent and proactive as Luda!  Well, the other family had to run off to catch the train to begin their journey home so we walked down to the river again.  While there wasn’t a sequel to “Superman”, I did see a bunch of swallows that seemed to be tearing up a swarm of insects right above a park bench.  I dragged Erika over and we had a seat. It was AWESOME!!!  The closest thing I can compare it to would be floating in the sky in the middle of an airshow.  The swallows where zipping by at incredible speed, making these seemingly impossible changes in direction.  Some passed so close to us that you could hear the feathers vibrating in the wind and feel the air from their passage.  Watching them it was very easy to understand why man was inspired to master flight.   When the show was over we went back to the shop where we had bought clothes for the kids and got another shirt in a different size for Caleb.  We still have no idea of what size he may wear so we thought it best to bring a couple for him to try.  On the way back I came to a disturbing realization.  Since we have been here we have noticed that a lot of the guys seem to be very secure in their manhood since they were holding their wife/girlfriends purse as they walked around in public … or so we thought.  There is a thing here straight out of a Jerry Seinfeld routine that can only be described as a “Murse” (i.e. a Man Purse)!  Now we aren’t talking some big leather bag worthy of a National Geographic exploration team, oh no, we are talking about a  small, delicate, highly decorated shiny leather bag in a variety of colors … complete with a “spaghetti strap” handle to throw over your shoulder.  Just being next to one of those things makes you start thinking pink may be an ok color for your next pair of slacks!  It really looks odd when one is being carried by some guy who looks like he may have founded the Russian Mafia.   I now know why all the statues of Lenin here look so angry!

We get to resume visits tomorrow.  Can’t wait!!

In Region Day 5

 DONSA number two.  We actually got to sleep in this morning for a change which was really nice since we had taken an evening boat cruise on the Neipper River (costing us only $5 for over an hour of cruising!) with another family that is in region and then had a late dinner.  After getting back to the apartment around midnight local time, we called the kids at home via Skype and talked for nearly an hour.  After getting up, we had brunch at the Celentano Pizza Restaurant (“Pectopah” for those Americans who don’t read Cyrillic).  I had a wonderful ham, cheese, and mushroom “pancake”, Erika’s had Nutella and nuts..  Since it was such a nice day, we decided to walk to the market to look for some clothes for the kids.  The market here is roughly divided into three sections: food stuff, clothes stuff, and “stuff” stuff.  The food section is up front, the clothes section is in the back, and “stuff” is in the middle.  Occasionally you run into areas where they don’t seem to know the rules, but for the most part you have a fairly good idea of where to look for what you want.  Since prices are set by the individual vendors they can vary greatly so don’t grab the first item you find unless you are in a hurry.  The vendors at the market will negotiate for price, but only a little since they price pretty close to their bottom profit margin to begin with.  Since we are unsure of the kids’ actual sizes we didn’t buy anything for them at the market and went to one of the clothing stores in a nearby mall.  While the prices are more expensive then what you would find in the market, the advantage is that you can make an arrangement with the shopkeeper to exchange if it is the wrong size.  However, you must make this arrangement at the time of purchase, and you must do it on the day that the shopkeeper sets for the exchange.  When we were done we grabbed a bus back to the apartment.  You only have three options for getting around when you are in region; walk, use a driver, and take public transportation.  The easiest of course is simply to walk and this works fine if the weather cooperates and the distance is short, but for longer travel, or if the weather is bad you may need transportation.  You can use the driver that is provided for your “official” adoption travel, but that can cost you as much as 700 GVN ($87.50 U.S.) a day, and it not only ties up a driver that another family may need for official travel, but the drivers have lives and families too.  Public transportation here (and in the last region we were in as well as Kiev) is well developed, cheap (2 GVN will get you anywhere in the city), and reliable.  It is no more crowded, hazardous, or dirty then the Metrobus system in Washington, DC.  Each of the major bus stops has a route map that even Americans can figure out, and the busses are clearly marked.  All the numbers are the same as ours so if nothing else you can just see which bus services the stop nearest your apartment and that’s the one you take to get home.  Just like any major city there are “rush hours” where the buses get crowded by people going to and from work.  If the bus is too crowded for your liking, just wait.  There will be another bus in a few minutes.  The only tricky part is when you pay.  What we have learned is that on the yellow buses you pay when you exit, the white ones are pay when you board.  We also learned last night that the buses stop running at 22:00 (I love the fact that they use a 24 hour clock here, although it does drive Erika a little crazy).We are finding that this region is no more expensive than our last adoption and actually the apartments are a bit cheaper. The apartments are, however, very similar to living in an IKEA display.  We went for a walk down by the river in the early evening.  The river is definitely a gathering place for the people who live here as the heat of the day begins to fade.  They go there to fish, swim, walk, or just sit and enjoy watching everyone else.  One of the interesting things that we saw was this young man in his late teens/early twenties go running across the sidewalk, dive over the guard rail along the river edge and, as he was heading for the water, shout in heavily accented English “I am Superman!”  His buddy then ran across the sidewalk but, being either more cautious or saner, stopped at the guardrail, stepped over it and jumped feet first into the river.  After our walk, we went to what is becoming one of our favorite restaurants.  Something to note here is that you do tip here, and 10% seems to be the standard.  One thing you may want to bring with you is a small pocket calculator, not so much to figure tips and exchange rate but to make price offers or have the vendor type in the price for you.  It makes it much more convenient then trying to hold up fingers or read some bad Cyrillic script.

The evenings are cool and the streets are safe, even at 2300, which is when we were finally heading back to the apartment. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

In Region Day 4

04 August, 2012

Today is what we call a DONSA in the Army.  It means “Day Of No Scheduled Activity”.  To normal people, that would mean sleeping in/leisurely “start-the-day” kind of stuff … Nahw! It was “meet me downstairs at 07:30 so we can get to the market” (we had run out of “green groceries”).  A quick bus ride to the city center put us at a HUGE outdoor market.  One of the things you learn pretty quickly here is that if you want good, cheap produce go to the open markets.  This particular one is what all the Farmer’s Markets in the U.S. strive to be! Vegetables, tree fruits, vine fruits, berries, nuts, tubers, beans, grains, herbs, spices, baked goods … whatever you wanted or needed was there and in abundance.  As always the cost of the produce was well below that which I had expected to pay and the quality so much higher than I expected to find.  After taking our stash back to the apartment we were told that around lunch we would take my suit to the cleaners.  One of our drivers had done research on dry cleaners here in the city until he located one that used “American style” cleaning processes and guaranteed that they could have it back by Tuesday (just another example of how  most of the people here are anxious to help and will often go well beyond what you ask or expect).  The cost was about the same as you would pay back in the U.S..  While we are talking about funds let me make this recommendation: at the very beginning of your process set up a separate adoption funds account at your bank.  This is the account that all of your grants, FSP, direct donations from friends, etc. monies will go to.  That way you have clear separation of accounts for expenses that are directly related to the adoption (USCIS, fingerprints, facilitation fees, travel expenses, etc.) and other incidental expenses (toys for the kids, gifts for friends/relatives, a special meal or event, etc.).  This way you can clearly show to anyone who may challenge you that you did not “inappropriately” spend any of the donated funds.  As sad as it is that people would think this way, it does happen.  Using the ATMs here (known as the “bankomat”) is no more hazardous than using the ATMs at home.  They are very convenient since you automatically get the day’s exchange rate, they are never on an extended lunch, and you don’t have to turn over your passport for scrutiny each time you would like to get additional funds.  Do confine your ATM use to those that are either inside a place of business, or one of the major banks here and exercise the normal precautions that you would take in the U.S..  Something to remember while you are here is that a little gratitude goes a very long way.  Always be polite and thank people when they do anything for you, regardless of how small. When appropriate, a small gift (plants and flowers are good choices since they are relatively inexpensive and have no real monetary value of their own) that can be displayed and will act as a reminder to the person of your gratitude can smooth many “bumps” in the administrative road.    Since this seems to be taking on the flavor of an advice column, here’s a couple more:
Eat salads as often as you can.  Not only are they good and good for you, but they will help you remain hydrated and balance your electrolytes.  It is very easy to become unbalanced (in oh so many ways!) during international travel and water is not always conveniently at hand.
Drink the bottled water in moderation.  While it is perfectly safe, it is still different so you need to spread it out over the day so your GI system can adjust.  Be aware that it comes in “gas” and “no gas” so order appropriately.  Your water intake should be about two liters a day (about 64 ozs for us Americans) which very few of us get just from drinking.
Pancakes here = Crepes at home.  They come in sweet and salty/savory.  Do eat them when you are here! (Onion, mushroom and cheese is a personal favorite!)
Order your pizza with ham or salami.  Pepperoni does not seem to have any definitive definition here and you are pretty much rolling the dice on what you are going to get if you ask for it.
DO NOT JAYWALK!!!  Pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right of way; pedestrians outside the crosswalk are aiming points.  The penalty for jaywalking here is death and the sentence is usually carried out immediately!
Jaywalking - part deaux; If the crosswalk does not have electronic walk/don’t walk signs you can cross when you would like.  Even though it may not seem like it, the traffic WILL stop.  If the crosswalk does have electronic walk/don’t walk signs, OBEY THE SIGNS! (see above for penalty of violation)

 All for today, time for dinner … Yum!!

In Region Day 3

03 August, 2012

Well the power was back on today which meant that we could stop by the Children’s Services Office first thing to finalize some documents.  That was a good thing for us since we bought the Director a basket of flowers last night, but left them at the apartment in our haste to get out the door.  While Luda was in the CSO, Erika and I went on a short walk in search of replacement flowers. We found what amounts to a Ukrainian strip mall and, as we were walking up to the doors, saw a women coming out with a beautiful bunch of flowers.  Success! … Or so we thought … We went in and explored the whole area and while we did find some great shoes and fishing gear, no flowers.  We checked outside with the street vendors and still no luck.  In desperation we went inside and Erika began asking the shopkeepers “English…?”  After a couple unsuccessful attempts we found one shopkeeper who was willing to try her limited English.  Fortunately there were some fake flowers on the counter so Erika pointed to them, pantomimed growing with her hands and said “alive”.  She only had to do it three times before the lady had an “Aha!” moment and understood what the crazy Americans were after.  After conferring with another shopkeeper she left her shop, led us outside and across the square to a building that looked like anything but a florist, but it was.  We thanked her and she seemed tickled to death that she was able to help us.  This is the type of attitude we have come to expect here in Ukraine.  We were able to replace our humble (and forgotten) basket of flowers with a beautiful living orchid and went back to the car.  Luda joined us a short time later and it was off to the orphanage.  We started as usual with a visit to the Director’s office.  I don’t think the Director initially realized that the orchid was for her since it appeared that she was asking Luda who it was for.  When she was told that we had brought it for her as a symbol of our gratitude, she became uncomfortable and in a very humble manner explained that she was grateful but it was unnecessary.  We let her know that we were so impressed by the way in which she genuinely cared for the children in her orphanage (she knows every one of them by name and will not pass any of them by without greeting and conversing with them) that we wanted to give her something to show our appreciation.  Once again we went to the psychologist’s office for our meeting with the kids.  Jessa was in first and came over and gave Erika a hug and kiss, I got a smile and a wave.  The first thing she was interested in was the water that was left in a bottle that Erika had brought.  These kids seem to be chronically dehydrated and will suck down whatever liquids you are able to provide.  We spent a little time putting some puzzle pieces back into their box, Jessa showed great dexterity and care, and then we sat  on the floor and played with some Duplo blocks.  Jessa seems to have a great ability for initially mimicking an action, and then applying it appropriately later.  We had also bought a couple of sensory balls during our flower search so we broke those out as well.  About that time Caleb was brought in.  You could tell that he recognized us, but he waited for me to go over to him and take his hand before he moved.  Still no sounds other than growls and raspberries.  He seemed to like having one of the sensory balls rolled against him, especially his tummy which brought a small giggle and a big smile.  I started bouncing the balls to him as he sat on the couch next to Erika and he seemed to enjoy that quite a bit for a short time.  Unfortunately that inspired Jessa to try and toss the balls to me.  Let’s just say …Great enthusiasm, rotten aim!  I did manage to catch a couple of them which brought laughter from her, and she did manage to catch a couple that I had tossed.  Her depth perception and coordination seem to be pretty close to typical.  About then the caregivers came in and took them off to lunch.  Unfortunately we don’t get to visit again until Tuesday since we don’t get weekend visits and Luda will be working the court proceedings for another family on Monday.

In Region Day 2

02 August, 2012

Today’s visit started this morning at 10:00 with our arrival at a powerless orphanage.  It seems that the brief but severe storm that we had yesterday caused a break in a power line that had not yet been located.  The Director had taken it all in stride and had brought in a generator to power the critical systems (refrigerators, medical storage, etc.) and was preparing the staff to cook the mid-day meal over open fires outside if necessary.  That woman impresses me more each time I meet her!   We started in the psychologist’s office so that the food items that we brought for the kid’s groupas could be “inspected” for appropriateness (we passed).  By the way, don’t let the title “psychologist” intimidate you; over here it seems to be applied to anyone who asks you questions and doesn’t already have a title (the “psychologist” at the DAP(SDA) was just an administrative assistant who verified our passport information and pulled the referral files).  The kids were brought in and we gave them food for the first time.  Jessica has no problem eating or drinking … in fact we will have to exercise portion and item size controls with her (half a banana in one bite!!).  Caleb does not seem to have any chewing reflex at all.  Erika placed pieces of banana in his mouth and he swallowed them down without chewing regardless of the size of the bite.  He has never been fed anything that wasn’t pureed.  He had a little better success drinking from a juice box as long as the sips were small, if he got a big sip he would just expel l it.  We then took the kids outside.  Jessica had to stop just outside the door for a brief conversation with the orphanage dog that apparently was sleeping in the wrong place.  That little girl has a very determined and definite spirit; she’ll fit in our family just fine.  Caleb was also pretty excited to go outside and seemed to be attracted to the activity that was going on around him.  We took the kids over to a sandbox to play and discovered two things pretty quickly, 1) we need to teach Jessa how to sit down while wearing a skirt or dress – she just reached behind her, flipped everything up out of the way and plopped right down on the edge of the sandbox; 2) Caleb does not like the feeling of sand between his toes.  Of course being the overachieving parents that we are, we immediately began sensory integration for him.   He eventually walked a little in the sand, but I think he just resigned himself to the fact that we weren’t going to take him out, because when we brought him back to the sandbox a second time he “monkeyed” on me and would not put his feet down.  As we were heading back in, he saw the car that we were riding in and that became the object of his desire.  He walked around it with Erika, touching everything he could.  When they came to one of the doors that were open, he wanted to get in and go!  He was very frustrated when Erika brought him back to me so we could go inside.  We left a short time later since we are only officially allotted two hours per visit. 

Into Region

01 August, 2012

Last night we took the 21:00 train to region, arriving this morning at 07:00.  Just in case any of you decide to do the same in the future you should know that the AC does NOT work when the train is not moving!  Once the train did get going, the AC was kicki’n!  Not to worry though, there were hot tea and wafer cookies available on the train.  Immediately after arrival we met our facilitator Luda, a great personal friend of ours, at the station and were whisked off to drop our things at the apartment where we will be staying.  After getting our permission request notarized we finally went to the orphanage.  I must say that it is one of the better ones I have seen, but the DS kids are still confined in an area separate from the others.  After a brief interview with the director they brought in our kids.  Jessica (RR name Bernadette) is just an incredibly happy, bubbly 15 year old who unfortunately, due to nutrition challenges, is the size of a typical 9 YO. We brought her a singing Barbie doll that she was really happy with until, that is, we gave her the photo album of the rest of the kids. She spent most of the next hour flipping through the pages, pointing to each of the kids, and kissing the pictures. Caleb (RR name Mason) was initially very sedate and not very interactive. He is the size of a small 4 YO. After a few minutes of interaction he started to be more playful and actually played a bit with the toy truck we brought him. Both have the normal institutional delays complicated by the DS but as we have seen with Malachi and Clare, those can definitely be overcome. The Director and the staff members that we met all seem to be caring professionals, which is not what we were told to expect. Starting tomorrow we get to visit every day from 10:00 to 12:00.