Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Routine in a Foreign Place

Hi, all-
We are settling into a routine of sorts here. Our body clocks still haven't totally adjusted to the time change, so we end up staying up quite late and rising later in the morning. Staying up late allows us to Skype our family back home and that is worth it. Rising late, we often skip breakfast and take an early lunch before heading to the internot. We've become quite comfortable with the bus system here (thanks Michelle, Sean and Tracey). Using the bus system gives us a bit more wiggle room in coming and going and it feels good to be able to navigate through the city on our own.

We arrive at the internot midday and play games with the children, walk the premises, pose for silly photos with the camera, and do crafts when Michelle comes. After several hours, we make our way back "home" and try to decide on what we will do for supper. Jeri has been great to loan us movies to watch. Oddly, its comforting to be able to hear extended English conversation. After a week and a half, we feel at ease here. Our hearts are knit to these kids and this place. So much so, we are considering what lies ahead for us. Our first thought is always, "How can we possibly afford to adopt one or two more?" The response is always, "How did we afford the first one?" We are trusting God for great clarity. It looks like we will have court at the beginning of next week. Comparitively, our time here has flown by and things have fallen in place in a remarkable way. Robert and I will come home immediately following court. When the waiting period is up (roughly 2 weeks), I will come back to Ukraine alone and navigate the final leg of the adoption by myself. It will be more cost effective for our family to break the trip up like this.

We are so thrilled to hear from a number of other families by comments and emails. You're words have encouraged us. We're glad to be on this journey together! Pray for us as we complete the next portion of the adoption. Pray that the issue with Kristina's father will be resolved tomorrow. Pray for us as we seek to know God's will concerning other children for our family.

Monday, October 29, 2007

About More than One Child

Our apartment was filled with the citrus smell of home this morning. We deceided to take oranges to the children today. In order to have enough, we purchased three bags and then peeled and quarterd them for easy distribution. Michelle offered to go with us on the public transportation system again, so we headed out to the internot midmorning. The children are on autumn break this week and so there are no classes. Typically, they would be in school all day and we could only visit between 2-5, but they are free all day and we have the advantage of visiting at any time. Its always funny to see how our arrival will be announced. Inevitably, one of the children will spot us coming in the gate or up the main hall and they will race to wherever Kristina is shouting, "something, something, something, Mama and Papa!" In addition to the oranges, I picked up a Spiderman comic in Russian for the boys and a Barbie and Disney Princesses comic for the girls. They were so excited to have the reading material. The boys piled onto the rug in a semi-circle so they could all get a good view of the book. Leana, or as we have been calling her "Blue Eyes", squeezed onto the couch next to me and oohed and ahhed over Cinderella's dress. She punched out the paperdolls I brought and presented each doll in a new outfit for my inspection. Sasha challenged me to a rematch at Connect FOur and we played a few rounds again until Seroja offered to take me on. What a character he is! Missionary Lela Steele invited us to lunch, so we checked Kristina out and went to eat. What Kristina didn't finish, she brought back to share with her class.

We leave each day with the anticipation of going back the next day. Oddly, its not simply about seeing our daughter. We will be taking her home to America soon and will have all the time in the world with her. But our hearts have been captured by the children in her class. Exceptional children, beautiful children, children that no one knows about. But they are perfect and funny and deserving of their own family. No child deserves to be in an orphanage. And if you spent 10 minutes with any of these kids, you would fall head over heels in love too. Tonight, set aside your prayers for Roma, Sasha, Seroja, Aloyna, Karina, Leana, Adik, Kola, Sergi, and the others who need a bed of their own, a family of their own.

In the slideshow, I am including some pictures of the Odessa we walk through every day. This is a beautiful city filled with beautiful people. We have fallen in love with all of it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Got Milk?

I woke from a warm sleep to the sounds of drills and hammering this morning. There is a small cafe going in on the floor below us and the workers are there faithfully each morning. With nowhere to go and nothing to do this morning, I took Robert on a tour of the port area that lines the Black Sea. I followed the route Larisa had taken me on eighteen months ago trying to remember the history of passing building and romantic stories of the wishing well and the Mother in Law Bridge. When we made it to the newly refurbished Opera House, we found ourselves smack in the middle of an Odessa traditional. No fewer than twenty brides were gathered in the still blooming gardens surrounding the property. They posed for photos in the promenade of ancient buildings, or leaning across the branches of whimsical trees to share a kiss, or among towering columns overlooking the dark waters of the sea.

We decided to try the "cow resturant" that we have heard so much about and have seen countless pictures of its mascot gracing the sidewalk out front. Natalyia, they've recently painted the cow. I thought about Raisa as passerbys lifted their children atop the cow for a quick photo. You'll have to get a pic with her on the new one! The food was wonderful and we were once again shocked at how far the American dollar goes in this city. After lunch, we returned to the market to buy bananas for Kristina's class. Word to the wise, don't shop on Saturday! The place was packed, which made our exploration of the aisles for familiar items bothersome to our fellow shoppers.

Natasha called a taxi to take us out to the orphanage. We raced through the city as if we were late for an urgent appointment, our driver slipping in and out of traffic and using the train tracks at one point. We always have to discipline ourself from laughing at the absurdity of the driving style of the citizens. The car pulled down an alley and stopped outside a locked gray gate. The driver gestured towards the gate as if we should know what he meant. "Internot?" Robert asked. "Dah, Dah," he replied impatiently. We tumbled out of the car with the bananas for Kristina's class and stood dumbfounded in the muddy lane as the driver speed away. We were at a loss for any sense of direction and decided to just start walking. If we were in the wrong place, perhaps we could bride someone with our bananas to take us to the right place. We eventually came out along side the orphanage and found an open back gate. We made our way across the deserted playgrounds to the front of the orphanage. Two of the girls in Kristina's class saw us round the corner and began shouting something in Russian that ended with "Mama and Papa", which we assumed anounced our arrival. The children were sweeping the walkways around the orphanage with homemade brooms of twigs bound together. They worked to sweep golden leaves into little piles all along the lane so that it looked as if a leprechan had lost his treasure there in the yard. They greeted us with great joy and eyed the bag with the bananas. Kristina's caregiver came around to check that the children were completing their work. Robert complimented her on the children's work ethic and team work. "This is our home, so we keep it clean." she replied matter-of-factly. It was an obvious truth that we tend to forget. This has been home and family to Kristina for many years. She has a day to day life, schedule, and relationships here.

When the kids were finished cleaning, they follwed us like little ducks aound the property showing us where they played tag, the select roses in the little plot of earth that they had planted, and favorite stray dogs that called the internot home too. Kristina has been very generous to share our attention and affection with the other children. We are very proud of her humble gesture. Robert compared pocket flash lights with the boy and asked what they would like for him to bring next time for snack. It would have been easier to ask what they did not want! Juice! Apples! Cake! Oranges! Snickers bar! They have a very limited, bland diet and anything new is a treat. Remembering how much Kristina had enjoyed a glass of cold milk, Robert decided he wanted the children to have milk. He took off down the long muddly road to the closest market as darkness was falling around the orphanage. The children and I waited in their playroom for his return. Kristina and Leana became concerned when he didn't come back in the amount of time we had estimated it would take him to walk there and back. I got my coat and decided to walk down the path in the hopes of meeting up with him. As I exited the playroom, there was Robert, arms heavy with 11 quarts of ice cold milk. He said the market manager had stopped him when he had cleaned out just about all of the milk on the shelf. Obviously he wanted Robert to leave some for other patrons! The milk was more than Kristina's class could ever drink, so he walked the halls with the surplus putting a jug in a hand here and there. When he returned, Kristina had poured out glasses for everyone. She sat on the floor cradling the cup in the exact same way she had at our home, as if she was blocking everything else out to fully experience the ice cold treat. She was enjoying it so much, Robert asked her when was the last time she had had milk. "In America," she replied. "No, when did you drink milk last?" "At house in America," she emphasized again. It has been 13 months since she enjoyed the pleasure of a glass of cold milk. We were shocked to hear this and questioned the other children. One of the girls said she had milk two week ago. I was relieved to know milk was available, but couldn't understand why Kristina had gone without. When I questioned further, I found out that the milk they have is powdered milk and it must be mixed in hot water that has been boiled to kill the contamintes. Yuck! No wonder! We decided we will bring milk often. The children truely enjoyed it. At seven it was dinner time for the children and Kristina had kitchen duty pouring hot tea, so we kissed her goodnight and meet missionary Michelle on the front steps of the orphanage. She was kind enough to show us how to use the bus system to get from Internot 4 to our end of town. The experience was less frightening than the taxi, but it did take twice as long. What do you expect for 25 cents though!? We stopped off at Pan Pizza and had the pleasure of chatting and learning more about the orphanage system in Odessa and Michelle's incredible ministry to the children here. The evening was rounded out with laundry and a much needed call home to speak with the kids and mom. It truely sets our minds at ease to know that they are in her care. The children had questions about everything, but particularly wanted to know when we were coming home. That remains the million dollar question.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Owned by the Orphans

We were able to make it to the orphanage today and Kristina was happy to see us. Her class has changed so much since I was here 18 months ago. Several of the children have been adopted by families who hosted through Frontier Horizon. Some have transferred to other classes and there are some children who, sadly, are new to the orphan system. In an attempt to get to know the new kids and to create a level of comfort, I broke out the Uno cards. A handful of kids plopped down on the rug in a circle as I broke open the new pack and dealt out the first hand. I told Kristina I wanted to tell all of children something and I would like her to translate for me. She nodded her serious little head and waited for what I wanted to share with the other kids. "Please tell the children that your momma is going to beat them at this card game." She smiled her mischevious smile and translated to the attentive group what I had said. Immediately shy Alyona's cards went up to hide her smile. Adik emphtically declared "No, you not!" in his broken English. After four hands, I'm ashamed to admit that I was spanked at Uno by the Ukrainian orphans. Sean, you were right, they do play by different rules. I caught on quickly, but they still schooled me with great joy. When Uno got old, the boys showed me cards tricks that would rival some street magicians. They piled on the couch like puppies by Robert trying to get a good view of the video camera as he played back footage of our time in Kiev. Robert was instantly attached to all of them. I knew this would happen. These children are such beautiful gems. Anyone would be blessed to have them in their family.

Wanting some one-on-one time, Kristina took Robert on a tour of the orphanage. We were able to meet her music teachers who teared up during introductions. Its clear to see that many of these caregivers love the children they work with. It will be difficult to say goodbye when the time comes.

We felt a little embarassed about showing up empty handed to the orphanage, so we got permission to take Kristina and walk down the road to a market. The area where the orphanage is located is a dreary place. Mud platted with fallen leaves covers the roads, sidewalks, and driveways. We picked our way around mud holes and pools of rain water while trying to avoid the traffic that whizzed by at extreme speeds. At the market, Kristina lined the bottom of a wire basket with 14 juice boxes and a pack of cookies to share with her class. When we came to the check out she chatted with the checkout girl as if she had known her a lifetime. On the walk back she asked if we would come again tomorrow, and maybe the next day, and what about next week? Back at the internot she distributed the goodies to anxious hands that gobbled up the cookies. Ashley, Greshia found his way to the playroom when he heard there were treats to be had. We gave him the envelope and he tore it open instantly. He gets cuter every time I see him!

Quiet Sasha set up the Connect Four game opposite me on the floor and nobly gestured for me to go first. As I considered my next move, Kristina whispered in my ear, "Mama, you find family for Sasha? He is good boy." What do you say to that kind of request? We had time for several games of Connect Four (held my own there) and photos before it was time to head out. We hadn't eaten all day and were starving. Jeri and Natasha invited us to join them at a Japanese resturant down the street that turned out to be quite good. Nataha is leaving on the train back to Kiev tonight to spend the weekend at home with family, so we will be on our own until Monday night. Nebraska missionary Michelle has invited us to brave the bus system with her tomorrow and show us the ropes of public transit in Odessa. We'll meet up with her in the morning and make our way over to the orphanage. Thanks to everyone for the kind prayers on Robert's behalf. He is better today, but still needs a little rest to fully recooperate. Please pray that the paperwork we anticipate being done on Monday will in fact be finished and can be sent to Kiev for approval at the SDA. We want to keep the ball rolling on this adventure!

Lisa, thanks for the advice on which milk we should have bought. I'm heading back to the grocery store in the Greek Square tomorrow and will try again!

Jim-I met Tolik yeaterday and instantly name dropped. He immedaitely lit into your sauna experience and I was tickled to hear it all over again from his perspective. I'm hoping we can go and worship with them on Sunday. What a great guy! I also mentioned you when I met Scott here at the apartment. Everyone lights up when they hear your name. What an impression you left on this city!

Kim B., I owe you big time for the Survivor update. I can't believe I can watch it on the website. Pray that my connection is fast enough to download it!

Pam, which pizza place did you guys eat at? Pizza City? Pan Pizza?

Kristen, yeah I thought that name would be better than Kristina Panera Landrum. What was Whit thinking? My mom is at the house with the kids. You know you're always welcome there!

Lucia, thanks for the specifics for Aerosvit luggage requirements. Those of you flying Aerosvt should check Lucia's blog for the details. It will save you a major headache at the airport. The Wollschlagers had a problem with their luggage too and it would be a good idea to read their experience.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kristina Hope

Its after midnight here and the constant tapping of rainwater on the tin overhang outside our apartment window has played the same melody all day. I just finished a Skype phone call with my friend Cindy and it was good to hear her voice from the other side of the world. Its been a rather slow day. I slept until 8 this morning and felt better after a full night's sleep in a bed. Robert, however, came down with a stomach bug and has felt lousy all day. Our appointment at the notary wasn't until 2pm and visiting hours at the orphanage are from 2-5, so we had plenty of time to take things easy. We hung out at the apartment and I decided to have cereal for breakfast since Robert wasn't feeling well enough to venture out. We had picked up some basic food staples at the grocery store with Sean last night. I cracked open my HoneyNut Cheerios (thank goodnes for the little bee or I wouldn't have recognized the box) and proceeded to pour milk on them. The milk here is very different from the milk at home. I got the 2.5 % and when I poured it, it was as thick as cream. I've heard that the milk is much richer here, but didn't anticipate that. Too much of a wimp to try it, I poured it out. I curled up at the foot of the bed and ate dry cereal out of the box while I surfed the satellite tv selections. Now, those of you who've been here already, can just imagine my shock of being exposed to that with my Cheerios. There are only a handful of English speaking news channels available. Other than that, the choices fall between Russian gangster rap videos, A-Team reruns with French dubbing, Arab news stations, and "adult" entertainment. So I flipped off the tv and got online to surf the blogs I frequent and read my email.

Natasha showed up at one and flipped through our family album and chatted until it was time to go. We walked the 10 blocks to the notary and planted ourselves in the chairs outside of the office. One of the things we had to do was fill out paperwork that identified Kristina's new legal name. She did not have a middle name so we needed to decide on one. In the back of my mind, I always knew what it would be. We wrote out her new name "Kristina Hope Landrum" for the notary to put on all the paperwork. It just seemed fitting.

Our plan was to have the papers drawn up and notarized and then head over to the orphanage to spend some time with Kristina. Robert was still feeling awful, but was determined to go. He brought a bunch of bananas and a package of candy from the grocery store to share with the children. As many of you will learn, Ukrainian time lines and American time lines don't always , well, line up. What I thought would be a 30 minute pitstop turned out to be a two and a half hour version of musical chairs. I begrudgingly called missionary Lela Steele (originally from Ocala, Florida) at the orphanage and asked her to let Kristina know we weren't going to make it. We trudged back to the apartment in the steady drizzle and settled in. Kim B. in Kentucky emailed me this verse today:

These things won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day. - Habakkuk 2:3

How appropriate.

Robert spent the rest of the day resting in the apartment and I decided to venture out for dinner alone since I hadn't eaten since my psychologically scarring Cherrios fiasco. I took my bright red umbrella and wandered a few blocks down to a pizza place we had passed on the way to the notary. Women dressed in fur lined jackets hurried past me to escape the cold that is settling over Odessa. It seems like many of the women here wear the same hauntingly sweet purfume that lingers just to remind you that beauty has passed. The people here are exquisite. I had to wrestle with the practicality of watching where I stepped to avoid the pools of gathering rain water among the cobblestones, verses the visual feast of the residents of Odessa. To make a long story short, I ended up with wet feet.

Robert, who has never traveled out of the country, was immediately smitten with Ukraine. He claims he has never seen such beautiful people, stunning architecture, or eaten such amazing food in all his life. He tells me he will move here and experience this everyday. He practices the four Russian words (Da, nyet, spa-ce-ba [thank you], dask-ve-danya [goodbye]) he knows on every poor Ukrainian he meets until we have to teach him a new word so he won't be mistaken for a Ukrainian kid who rides the short bus.

I made it to the pizza resturant and was able to communicate with the waiter what I wanted to order and that it was to go. It was a combination of pointing and charades, but it did the job. He tied a neat little yellow ribbon around my small pizza box and I strolled the path home, not caring that the pizza grew colder as I lingered to look in a shop window or listen to music coming from a club. At one corner I paused to wait for the light to change when two Ukrainian women struck up a conversation with me. When I told them that I did not speak Russian, they looked surprised. Am I starting to blend in? Doubtful, but it sure would be an honor to be part of this beautiful city. At least I will be the mother of a Ukrainian girl.

My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. - Psalm 62:5

Pictures from Kiev

Just a word of advice to those bringing a camera on your adoption journey (and you should!). I brought my beloved SLR camera and it has been quite the burden. I brought a similar camera on my previous trip and it was okay because I was in the orphanages all day, out of the weather, and where I had time to consider the shots before I took them. Its a whole different thing when you're here to adopt. Bring a point and shoot camera that you can easily slip in your pocket or shoulderbag, not something you have to remove lens covers for and unlock equipment bags everytime you want to shoot something. There's simply not time on this type of whirlwind trip. Plus, if you have a newer point and shoot, chances are you can take short video clips and pack even lighter by leaving your camcorder at home. Just my two cents. Sorry for the dark photos; I don't have access to camera software on this computer. (:P U)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Closed Doors are Just Doors Waiting to be Opened

I have never been on a train before and was looking forward to the experience. We had a private sleeper compartment for Robert, Natasha (our facilitator) and myself. It was a crash course in learning to become comfortable with one another. The sleeper compartment consisted on two bunks, side by side, with a small aisle between them. We took the time to chat and get to know each other before turning in. The train left at 10pm and was scheduled to arrive in Odessa at 6am, so Natasha suggested we try to get some sleep because the next day would be a long one. Robert climbed into the top bunk (Natasha and I voted him there) and we set up camp in the bottom bunks. For those of you traveling by train to your region, the experience is "unique". Firstly, I have heard the horror stories about the bathroom, basically a filthy hole in the floor. I was determined NOT to need to use the facilities until we made it to our destination. But, sure enough, I couldn't wait. Thankfully, we were in one of the renovated cars. That basically meant a traditional western toliet on a filthy floor. It could have been worse. Using these facilities without falling over or giving yourself a concussion is an art in itself. I compared notes with Robert , and obviously its worse for you guys who have to attempt to balence in a rocking and pitching car. I know, too much information.

I thought sleeping on the train would be a dream. I anticipated being lulled to sleep by the gentle sway of the railcars. I laid there for quite some time trying to find some sort of rhyme or reason for the movement that jerked and dipped in irregular patterns. In the darkness my eyes followed the shadows cast across the car interior by passing lights on the track. The lingering cigarette smoke for previous tenants seemed to be part of every inch of the compartment. After laying there for what seemed an eternity, I felt myself slip away. I awoke when the train lurched to a hissing stop and Russian voices could be heard outside our window. I conceeded to myself that that wasn't too bad a journey. It was tolerable. I sat up to stretch and Natasha told me only one hour had passed. We were far from our destination. Eventually the train groaned forward, protesting its journey south. This happened four more times before we rolled into Odessa at 6:19 am. Robert and I probably slept a total of 15 minutes the whole night. Add that to the jet lag and we felt dead in the water before our day had even begun.

We stepped off the train into a drizzling rain. How appropriate that the weather I had left Odessa in a year and a half ago would greet me upon my return. We made our way in the shadow of the Odessa train station through babushkas offering available apartments and middle aged men proffering taxi rides as our luggage tapped mercilessly on the slick cobblestone pavement to our waiting ride. We arrived at our apartment before seven and were greeted by a bleary eyed desk attendant who was unsure about our reservation. We would need to wait until Masha the reservation agent came in at 8am. Not wanting to venture back out into the damp darkness of the early morning, we sunk down on the cold marble steps. Natasha text messaged another adopting family staying in the building and Jeri, the mom, invited us up. We found refuge in the warmth and fellowship found in the little apartment. She and her husband are here adopting a 16 year old boy from Kristina's orphanage. She proved to be a wealth of information and a much needed reminder of God's hand in all of these events. As we were chatting, a knock on the door announced Sean and Tracey's arrival. Its strange to express the kinship formed with people you have never met, but who have impacted your journey in such a profound way. We felt blessed that Sean could stay back and offer his hard won wisdom on what to expect in the adoption process as Tracey went to iron out last details for their evening departure to Kiev. We headed over to the Greek Square and had breakfast with Jeri and Sean helped us buy a phone that we will need over the coming weeks.

We retunred to the apartment a short time later hoping it would be ready and we would have a chance to shower and change out of our travel worn clothing, but we learned the apartment would not be ready until after 11. Before we could grieve that fact, Natasha called to inform us that we would be meeting with officials from the mayor's office in an hour. We left our bags with Jeri and headed out. We arrived at the building and made our way to a hallway lined with closed dooors. Everywhere we went, heavy oak doors gave an unwelcoming feeling to those waiting hopefully on the outside. We knocked on the one and waited. After a short while a pleasant looking older woman invited us in. The fact that she and Natasha laughed as they spoke put me at ease. She looked over our documents and confirmed that Kristina does not have any siblings. She then sent Natasha out with a paper that would need to be typed and signed by the "big official". Thirty seconds later we found ourselves standing back in the hallway staring at closed doors once again. We were told that we could wait for the document (which we would need before we could go to Kristina's orphanage). About an hour later we had the paper and were headed to internot 4.

We specifically asked our facilitator if we could record Kristina as she came in and were told that it wouldn't be a problem. We were invited into the social workers's office. I immediately recognized the woman from my trip a year and half ago. I was with Vinny of Frontier Horizon and he introduced us and invited us to sit and chat in that very same room. She offered me chocolates and before we left she said she knew I was a good woman and had insisted I take a bottle of Odessa Champagne as a gift. Robert and I introduced ourselves and then I asked Natasha to inquire if the woman remembered me from a previous visit. She looked into my face and her eyes grew big as she nodded that she did remember. She proceeded to go through Krstina's file and give us her social, health, psychlogical, and academic background. Much of it we knew, though there were a few gray areas. I think that's true of the background of many of these children. We then went to the director's office where she asked how we knew Kristina (from my mission trip last year), how many chilredn we had (again raised eyebrows), and their ages. We returned to the social workers office to sign some forms as she called down for Kristina to be sent up.

Now, I know many of you will be disappointed to hear this (U), but we did not get video of Kristina coming into the office. Apparently, she was standing by the phone in the playroom and heard that her family had come. She raced across the building and burst into the office where Robert and I were sitting on either side of the door. Standing between us at arms length, she tried to compose herself but was unable to stand still as the social worker address her. The social workerer asked if she knew who we were and she nodded with bouncing braids and whispered, "Mama and Papa". The social worker indicated to her that it was okay to speak to us. She flung her arms around my neck and kissed my cheeks. I hung on to her for a long time before releasing her to Robert who did the same. He choked out that he had missed her and she said she had missed him too. Everyone in the office was overcome with tears at the powerful emotions as we were reunited.

The social worker said she would do what she could within her power to help the adoption run smoothly and indicated that she would have our paperwork ready for Monday. Once the paperwork is done, it is sent to the SDA office in Kiev, approved, and then we can set a court date. That sounds simple, but there are many hands that these papers must pass through and it must all be coordinated in order for it to happen in a timely fashion. Additionally, there is an issue that must be resolved. In order to do so, Kristina's birth father must sign off on some paperwork. Our facilitator will visit him before the weekend to try and resolve this. Please pray that this will be uneventful and that no one will take advantage of the situation.

We were allowed to take Kristina out for an early dinner and spend about 2 hours with her. She is the same Kristina with springs for feet and a silly attitude. After returning Kristina to the orphanage, Sean gave us a walk though at the grocery store so we could stock our kitchen. We also had the pleasure of meeting Maria who is adopting a girl from #5. There is one other family that arrived today and is also staying in our building. While we grieve the fact that we couldn't have more time with Sean and Tracey, we are encouraged that we wll be surrounded by other American families on the same path. We are overjoyed to be back together, but already aching to head home. Thank you for all the encouragment and prayer. Please pray for the O'Hara's as they begin their journey home through Kiev tonight and back to their other children later this week. Good night for now. Its time for me to get out of these train clothes and head to bed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Odessa Bound

I actually have to start from last night so I can give you the whole story, so bear with me. We had dinner at TGI Fridays rather early and we only split an appetizer and a dessert, so Robert decided at about 10pm last night that it was time to try Ukrainian food. We went down to the restaurant in the hotel and had Borsch soup and Chicken Kiev. There are a lot of British guests in the hotel and we found out that a series of big Manchester soccer games going on. The arena is right behind the hotel. We can literally open our window and see the field. I'll post pics once I get to Odessa.

Thank you for the thoughtful comments. Its humbling to hear that so many of you prayed for us today. We slept late and went down for the hotel's breakfast buffet. After breakfast we milled about, not wanting to stray too far from the hotel. Our travel clock broke in the journey over, so I called down to the desk to set the clock in the room. Dima said he would meet us in the lobby at 1:30 since our appointment was at 2. At about 1:20, he called from the lobby wondering where we were. It seems the receptionist gave us the wrong time. We were only off by 10 minutes, but it was just enough to put me on edge. We threw on our shoes (well, I threw on my boots. Natalyia, Robert said I looked Ukrainian from the knees down. Ha!) and scrambled to gather our passports and photo album. We left the hotel about 8 miutes off schedule. I sat in the back seat calming myself with the knowledge that God is in control. I had to remind myself that the SDA doesn't give out appointments for families to travel here just to tell them in person, "Um, we don't want you to adopt one of our children." Dima said the entire meeting would take about 5 minutes. I didn't believe that it would go that quickly, but I nodded in agreement. I kept watching the minutes tick by on the dashboard clock as we speed through town. 1:46. 1:53. 1:58! We pulled up right at 1:59 and jumped from the car. I had to jog to keep up with Dima. Just a side note here, ladies. The office is at the top of a rather steep hill with a very uneven cobble stone pavement. And here I was in my new boots with heels. What a sight I was trying to navigate (while running) up the pavement to the gated entrance.

When we reached the gate there were about 5 facilitators and one adopting couple standing around waiting for the gate to open. The other facilitators immediately recognized Dima and greeted him warmly. It made me think of the Proverbs 31:23 passage. Dima is obviously a well respected man.

My first reaction to seeing the entrance locked was, "Why is the gate shut and locked? Oh my goodness, please tell me we didn't miss our appointment!" One of the facilitators looked stressed and kept asking something of the guard on the other side of the gate. Each time he would reply, 'nyet'. Dima got the same response when he asked something. Don't panic, don't panic.

Just then, the door swung open and out walked one of the workers to fetch us in for our meeting. She was the translator who would accompany us in our meeting; she indicated that we should follow her. She was very kind and soft spoken. We followed the stairs up to the second floor and were shown into an office. The two women (one SDA worker and the translator) invited us to sit on the couch. The SDA worker and the translator sat across from us in chairs and Dima sat to our left to observe the meeting. The SDA worker asked us to introduce ourselves (names) and then asked to see our passports. She asked if we were there to adopt Kristina to which we replied in the affirmative. I could see that she had a Kristina's paper in her hands and I caught a glimpse of her photo in the upper left hand corner. It was just a fleeting look, but I could see how small and young she was when she entered the system. And suddenly I was reminded why I was here. The worker asked how I knew Kristina. I told her that I had met Kristina on a mission trip over a year ago. She nodded as the translator relayed my answer. She asked if we had any children. We said yes, we have four. She asked what their ages were. When we told her she raised her eyebrows and said, "You are determined to have big family, yes?" We laughed and replied that we did. She then placed Kristina's file in our hands. It was just one page all in Russian with a tiny photo of her in the corner. She asked if this was the child we wanted to adopt. I felt myself tearing up at the magnitude of this moment and I nodded in response. She asked if we wanted to know Kristina's history. We told her we did and she told us that Kristina was born in Odessa and her mother is deceased. Her father was awarded custody and then had his rights repealed by the courts. That is when she entered the system. She has no brothers or sisters, is a beautiful and friendly child according to the orphanage. That was all the specific info that they could provide us with, the orphanage would give us details if we wanted them. Before we could show them the pictures we brought, she said, "We are happy to give you referral for this girl." Time from start to finish: 5 minutes. I had planned to have pictures of this monumental event, but to be honest it was a blur. I wanted to have a picture outside the SDA, a copy of the file picture of Kristina, a picture after our appointment, but we didn't take any! Oh well!

We thanked the workers and headed back to the car. That was it! Dima asked if we wanted to travel to Odessa on the 10 pm overnight train and we indicated that we did. He said he would have the paperwork by 5 and send it with us. Amazing! We know things will not work this smoothly at every turn, but we are thankful for these little steps. We went back to the hotel and changed clothes. We had several hours to kill so we decided to venture downtown and check out Independence Square. We wandered around the underground mall and up the hill to one of the beautiful cathedrals. We stopped at an authentic Ukrainian restaurant on the way back and had dinner. The prices are amazing. We each had more food than we could possibly eat in a really nice resturant for under $15.00. Our facilitator Natasha will be meeting us in the lobby at 9pm to take us to the train station. I just wanted to let you know where we were in the journey. Don't stop praying for us now, though. We have a long road still ahead of us.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I Don't Want No American Food!

It seems strange to be writing this from the business center of our hotel in Kiev (pardon the typos, strange keyboard here). You imagine many times how the adoption experience will play out in the many months leading up to this, but its another thing altogther to be living the reality of it. But let me back up a bit . . .

Our seven hour layover at JFK turned out to be uneventful and even comic as Robert and I expended nervous energy pacing the airport. Just a heads up for those of you who plan on flying Aerosvit, we had an issue with the weight of our carryon luggage. I can't remember what the weight limit is (check their site), but both our bags were grossly overweight. We tried to repack things into our check bags and still couldn't get the issue settled. I ended up having to check my carryon. Mark and Theresa also had this problem. So you might want to take that into consideration.

When we got to JFK, I looked everywhere for Mark and Theresa feeling certain that I could pick them out from the crowd of travelers we passed, but I wasn't able to locate them. When the boarding announcement was made, I scurried over to a shop to grab some last minute things. As I was making my way back to Robert seated just past our gates I heard my name whispered from the line of people waiting to board. There was Theresa with a cell phone perched on her shoulder and bags in hand. I was so happy to see her that I hugged her immediately. Mark introduced himself and I knew God had blessed us to have their company on the flight across. Our flight was packed and the Dramamine I had taken kicked in as soon as I got situated on board. I found myself dozing off within minutes of being seated. I fought to stay awake, but found myself slipping away everytime I was still. Theresa and Mark were seated directly behind us, so when I was able to regain consciousnous, we were able to compare notes and get to know each other. What an amazing couple! They have such a heart for their kids and have made great sacrifices to pursue their adoption.

Mark said there was some intense turbulence at one point of the flight, but thankfully we were asleep for it! Robert sat by the window and looked at the passing planes and changing landscape. He has decided that he wants to go to New Finland based on his areiel view of it. :P We arrived on time to Kiev. Now, let me explain the immigration situtaion as we experienced it. I was terribly worried about how it would work, but it turns out that it wasn't a problem at all. We filled out immigration cards on the plane (very simple form) and then filed into the immigration office. Theresa and I scanned the rows to see which official looked like he/she was having a good day so we could get in their line, but it didn't much matter. A serious looking man (aren't they all?) looked over the forms, stamped them a few times, and waved us through. We gathered our luggage (which all made it!) and then filled out the declaration forms in the next area. FYI: there are carts at the luggage carousels and they are free. So you'll have that to help you navigate through the rest of the airport if you bring a lot of stuff. All pretty standard except the part where you have to declare how much money you're bringing into the country. This was the part we had been dreading. We filled out the forms and approached a desk with a friendly looking woman. Was the money for business? We told her it was for an adoption. She wanted to know if the amount we wrote down was all we had brought. Yes. Were we sure? Yes. Was there money in our bags? No. She asked to see the money. Ugh. I placed the envelopes discreetly on the counter. She looked in one envelope and quickly indicated to me to put it all away. Phew! That was it! We walked out the doors immediataly behind the desk and there was smiling Dima and our driver Nikolai holding a sign with our name.

Nikolai loaded our bags in his minivan and off we went through Kiev. It was amazing to see new modern building sprouting along side of older building rich with architecture and history. We made it to our hotel, got checked in, and made our way to our room. It took a minute to figure out that you have to insert your room key in a slot by the door to make the electricity work in the room! The room key also operates the elevator. Good stuff to know. Wish we would have known it before exasperating a French couple who got in the elevator after us. We took a short nap and woke up famished. Unfortunately, we arent' staying in the same hotel as the Fischer's or Mark and Theresa, so we were on our own. The receptionist said it would be about a hour walk to get to the other families' hotels and we weren't up for that kind of hike. We found out the famous TGI Friday's was only about a ten minute walk from where we are staying so we ventured out into the city. We had a business card from the hotel in pocket in the event that we got lost and needed to hire a taxi to bring us back! Just as the receptionist had promised, we happened upon the resturant and sat down for a meal. Robert fought me on eating here initially. He wanted to eat local cuisine, but I reminded him that Ukrainian food was going to be our main diet for the next few weeks. I convinced him that we should have one more taste of American food before we left for our region. His response was the title for this evening's post, but we ate at TGI Friday's anyway. On the walk home, he kept stopping and perusing the menus of local eateried, grumbling under his breathe about real Ukrainian food. The city is gorgeous at night and we took a detour through a local market with meat, produce, flower, and caviar vendors. I got some great shots, but this computer isn't allowing me to upload any of them. When we get to Odessa, I will post pics.

Well, let me bring this post to an end. We have our appointment tomorrow at 2pm with the SDA. Please pray that things go smoothly. We will be taking the night train to our region after the appointment. Touch base with everyone again soon! Night!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Here we go . . .


Welcome to JFK, Please enjoy your 7 Hour Layover!

Woke up with a great sense of peace this morning. We got out the door
almost 40 minutes later than we had planned, but we made incredible time
to the airport. The good byes were low key, thankfully, and we were
through check in and security faster than I have ever been. JetBlue into
JFK was a breeze with the exception of some turbulence right before
landing. Robert is not a seasoned travelor, so he was a little shaken by
the experience (in a totally macho way).

So now we wait. I forgot to ask Theresa what time she and Mark would be
flying into JFK. I guess we'll know her by the "Ukraine or Bust!"
t-shirt she'll be sporting!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Late Night Prayer

Can't sleep. I know I should, but my mind's going a mile a minute. Its
self imposed anxiety. I hate saying goodbye to the kids. They don't seem
to comprehend just how long I'll be gone. Quite frankly, neither can I.

I'm sure once I'm on the plane and we're on our way, I'll be fine. But
the hours between then and now are stretching out before me. Do I have
everything? Doubtful, but we'll live. Two carry ons and two bags to
check. I like to travel light, so this is a lot of stuff for me.

I'm so glad Robert will be with me this time. He says I've been driving
him nuts the last few days. Don't know why or how, but I'm sure he's
probably right. Pray for peace for me. I want to learn the lessons God
has for me in this leg of the journey, but I'm afraid. There's a
grieving that takes place for leaving behind the life I've known with my
family of six. Adding one more will bring its own blessings and
challenges. Those of you who are so persuaded, pray for us.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Shrinking World

I can't believe how quickly time has passed since we learned of our SDA appointment date. We leave on Sunday and my head is spinning with the details of it all. There are three half packed suitcases in the floor of our bedroom. The entire process seems completely out of my grasp and I find myself talking to God a lot more in the countdown.

My best friends rescued me with that much needed Starbucks break. We sat around sipping our drinks, catching up on recent events, and discussing what's coming. I love these women. They're full of wisdom, advice, and encouragement. I will miss their presence while I'm in Ukraine.

The blog world seems to be shrinking some. Our friends the Wollschlagers actually managed to get on the same flight as us out of JFK, so Theresa and I can chat to our hearts content on the way to Eastern Europe. We're also staying in the same Kiev hotel. We have a dinner date in Kiev with the Fischers who are going to adopt their girls and have an appointment the same day as us. I am thankful to have the time of fellowship with both of these families before we go to our separate regions to bring our children home. In Odessa we'll be able to meet Natalyia and Oleg who will be coming a few days behind us. Hopefully we'll have the opportunity for dinner and boot comparisons. As much as I would love to meet up with Sean and Tracey, I pray they are out of Odessa long before we get there. Maybe our paths will cross in Kiev on their way out. As exciting as it will be to meet face to face with many of the people we've communicated with via the internet in the last year, I'm beginning to feel anxious about the journey. Jim emailed me tonight to remind me that Christ has gone before us. That helps tremendously. Thanks, Jim.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Little Stinker

I guess the old saying is true. Where there's a will, there's a way.

Robert and I have actually gone back and forth about telling her lately. I want to surprise her; he wants to let her know. I want to make sure we have the papers in hand. He's bothered by the sadness of her letters. At least she doesn't know when we're coming. :)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Do You Not Know? Have You Not Heard?

Things are in perspective again. Caught the same preacher on the radio again today and he was preaching from Isaiah 40:28-31. Its just what I needed to hear and when Robert switched the station, I quickly redirected it back to hear the conclusion. Good, good stuff.

I was able to get several more things checked off the list, but there is still lots to do. We got two letters from Kristina this week; one for Robert and one for me. This, too, helps put things in perspective. Its a good thing we're going soon. I don't know how much longer she could hold out!

Dear Mama,
How are you there? Nobody got sick. I think I will see you soon. I would love to see you. I continue my English classes. I have personal books even. Also, I have my own teacher, Olga, she is very nice and explains very good. She says that you are very sweet and you are the best for me and very good mama. She says that you kept calling her this summer and she was asking everyone "Where is Kristina?" but a boy said I was at home. So, why don't you call now? Maybe because you are up in the air and flying to Odessa to see me? If not yet, then, call Olga again when she comes to teach me English. I just want to hear your tender and sweet voice. You even cannot comprehend how I am sitting now and crying and just cannot wait when you come and I'll see you, and will hear your best voice. Please, call me and come to see me as soon as possible. I am sitting now in the classroom all by myself, without you and thinking how you were here in Odessa. I cannot wait to see you again. When you went to America I came back to internot and began to cry, so, I am still crying. I loved you, I love you and will love you forever as my very own. You are my sunshine.

your little drop in your last tear,

Dear Dad,
Today is such a beautiful day, but how to say, I cried a little bit for my family.
How are you? Is everybody alive? Is everybody healthy? I am a part of your family and I am alive and healthy too, so I can write you a letter. I would love to ask the interpreter to translate every word I write here. I am writing as an adult already because I am in the fifth grade already. Actually, I promised my mom to write many letters and long letters. I am writing you every day when Babushka Lela comes. I miss you very much and your kindness too, because you are the beeeest dad in the world! Not everyone has such a dad and a mom like you. You care for me: you bring food that I forgot to take to school, and the most important, you love God and believe in Him, and love your mum, dad and children. And you, papa, don't forget that I love you and miss you a lot. I am all by myself now in the classroom and I think you know, what it is....tears! They are in my eyes now! They want to see you and go with you!
I love you very very very much and will never forget you.
Don't forget, I love you!

Your daughter,

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tiny Meltdown

It was just a little one. Ironically, I was listening to a preacher on the radio this afternoon and he said, "God has never intended for us to survive by our own strength, wisdom, or provision". I thought that was a good reminder; I would need that once I was in the midst of things in Ukraine. It seems "things" caught up to me a little sooner than I expected. Trying to be in two places at one time, paying bills, just finding out a 5th grade project was due tomorrow, trying to motivate 12 year olds to study for a test, attempting to tidy up a house that refuses to stay straightened, a growing "to do" list, a dishwasher that has decided to yield up the ghost, and a flight that leaves the country in 10 days finally caught up with me. There's so much to do and the rest of my schedule doesn't seem to be lightening anytime soon. I need a Starbucks break with best friends that I haven't seen in weeks now (not their fault, totally mine). Breathe, breathe.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Countdown Begins

We're still here and making progress in tiny steps. I called our credit cards and informed them of when and where we will be traveling. I made reservations for our accommodations in Kiev and Odessa. I've started shopping for small necessities (converters, meds, etc). I'm going to start packing tomorrow. Yes, packing. Its still in the 90's here in Florida, so I think I'm safe packing our warm clothes. And speaking of warm attire, Natalyia, I got a pair of boots this weekend. I wouldn't want to embarrass you in Odessa!

We got this letter from Kristina today:
Dear Mama,
how are you? Today is October already, a second month of fall. I think I will soon see you. I miss you very much. Please, say hi to Hannah and my class and papa and Katleen, my best friend. I am saying hello to you too and sending you a kiss! My English is good. Today I am having a class. Even babushka Lela says I am her interpreter. When Alyona is not around I always translate to babushka Lela. I like to interpret both ways. I love you very much. I will pray so that we will see each other soon. Hannah, please don't cut your hair again, ok? Hannah, let's put on weigh with me and loose weigh with you! I love you very much.
Mama, I will read English fairy tales. I like them better than Russian, I give my word for that!
Have a very good day!

I laughed so hard! She kills me! How surprised she will be when we show up at the orphanage. I wrote her back and told her to start praying and we will see what God will do! Less than two weeks!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Tickets - Check

Oddly enough, the price of the ticket from JFK to Kiev went DOWN since yesterday. So we saved about $40/ per ticket there. But the tickets from Orlando to JFK went up $20/each, we still came out a little ahead. After listening to all the pros and cons (thank you blog buddies and travel experts K&C) we settled on purchasing the one way tickets. I know for a fact that Robert will come back immediately following court. I'm not sure what I will do. It would be cheaper for me to stay, but I don't know how things would play out on the home front with Robert trying to work and take care of our four. Don't get me wrong, he is totally capable. I just don't know if that would be the best thing for everyone.

My weekdays are packed between now and the time we leave, so I am hoping to make the most of the weekends to get everything accomplished in preparation for our journey. Little things, like not having a bed for Kristina yet, are grating at me. I know it will all get worked out. Its just I had planned on painting the girls room and getting new linens if the budget allowed. Our 11 year old Hannah took a sewing class last weekend and sewed an adorable pillowcase for her bed pillow. She wants to make a matching one for Kristina. Maybe she'll figure out how to sew a matching comforted and shams before we get back from Ukraine! Maybe not. Anyone want to do a last minute Trading Spaces episode?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

You can reach me on an airplane . . .

Okay, Anita Baker I am not. First off, let me say thank you for all the wonderful comments and emails I've received since yesterday. I had no idea that many people read our blog. Your comments have been a great source if encouragement for us.

So today I have been trying to settle on airfare options. Any of you out there who have your two cents to put in, let me hear you! I am leaning towards buying just one way tickets to Kiev and worrying about the return tickets when it looks like we might be coming back. I'll book those online from Ukraine. So here is what I'm looking at:

JetBlue from Orlando to JFK is $79 (if I purchase by Thursday at midnight). Aerosvit is $444 from JFK to Kiev. So our one way tickets will be $523 each.

Speak up guys, I need pros and cons.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Let Me Just Cut to the Chase

I've tried to imagine how this post would read many times. But to be honest, I was unprepared to receive the email confirming that


I read it, re-read it, wept, scared my husband to death (because he was watching this unfold with no explanation), immediately text messaged my best friends, and then called my mom. So here's the other shocker; our appointment date is October 23rd. Yes, that's right, three weeks from today. The realization that this was really happening was immediately followed by panic. I was away from home and just happened to check my mail on my cell phone. With no computer in sight and hours before I would be back home, I felt like I was losing precious planning time. I managed to put in for airfare quotes and check on accommodations from my cell before I got home. For those of you who will be traveling to Kristina's orphanage or who know workers who minister there, please don't share this information with our girl or any of the workers at the orphanage. We want our arrival to be a surprise!

You have been so faithful to pray for us in the past. We need your prayers now more than ever. Please pray for us to find affordable travel options and as we begin to make preparations for our four children who will be staying here. Pray that God will give me a sense of peace in the whirlwind that begins today and will end with Kristina in our arms.