Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Celebration

A big thank you to our friend Nataliya who reminded us of the significance of the New Year's celebration in Ukraine!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Home for the Holidays

The sounds were so faint that I might have dismissed them altogether and drifted back to sleep, but lying in the darkness I knew that I had heard something. I rolled up onto my elbow and strained my ears against the quiet of the house. Robert, sensing my movement, murmured in question to me. "Shhhh . . ." I breathed out as softly as I could.

There it was again.

The clock read 6 am. I rose quietly from the bed and padded across the carpeting to the door. Standing in the doorway of the bedroom peering down the darkened hallway, I listened again.


I turned seeking the warmth of the bed once more when something made me stop. It was just a touch, a small stirring, but I had heard it. One step backwards placed me in the doorway again and I peered around the doorjamb to look into the darkened hall once more. "What is it?" Robert whispered. I waved at him to stay quiet and waited. Slowly another door opened off the hallway and two shadows melted into the empty corridor. Their exaggerated tiptoeing made me purse my lips together to keep from laughing. The one in front reached back to make sure her accomplice was treading closely behind. The one bringing up the rear whispered anxiously to the one in front.

"Do you know what time it is?" I spoke into the darkness just feet behind them. They squealed and jumped as if they had been burned. Immediately the betrayals started. "I told her it was too early to be up!" "No, Mama, we just want to see if presents are under tree. We not going to open anything!" "What time is it? She said we could get up!"

I shooed them back into their beds with a stern warning not to get up again until it was daylight. Fearing the worst, they obediently slipped back into the darkness of their room. Their arguing whispers could be heard from the hall. "I told you so!" "No, you say we can see!" "No, I said it was too early!" I stepped back into my room and covered my mouth so that they would not hear me laughing at them. I was amused and awake by this time, so I made my way to the kitchen where mom was already starting to cook Christmas dinner. I relayed Hannah and Kristina's attempt to sneak a peek under the tree and we had a good laugh. Robert passed through the kitchen and leaned up the stairs to where the boys were sleeping. "Anyone up there want to open presents?" "Robert!" I scolded. "Every one's already up anyway," he shrugged. Everyone made their way to the living room and I went back to the girls' room to summon them in. "What are you guys doing in here? Every one's in the living room to open presents." "Mama!" they protested at my teasing.

They could barely sit still to let me take a few pictures before they opened their gifts. As usual, they all came away with much more than they actually needed. Kristina got a camera and a Gameboy. She alternated between the two throughout the day, never getting bored. The girls built a gingerbread house with grandma later that afternoon. It was a nice low key day with lots to be thankful for.

We pray that all of you had a blessed day and could rejoice with family and friends over the birth of our Saviour. We are thankful for the tremendous blessings He has bestowed upon us and the mercy and grace He has allowed us to walk in as we are blending our family together. Thank you to all of you who have continued to write and leave comments of encouragement for us. It is a blessing to see how God has spoken to many of you through our experience. To God be the glory, great things he hath done!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My New Life

It was just a matter of time, right? I have a few blogs, Robert has 2 blogs, Hannah has a blog, our family has a blog. Even Jim's newly adopted daughter Anastasia has her own blog. So when Kristina came to understand the term "blog", she immediately wanted in. I debated over setting up her own blog and have decided to hold off for a little while. The computer is in enough demand nowadays. :) So here's her first draft from earlier this week on what she wanted to share.

Sunday I came from Odessa to America. I like my new home. America is not dirty and has good people. I like my family. My favorite thing is to have a family. And I have a family right now. In our family there are five children. When I lived with my mother in Ukraine I did not have brothers or sisters. Since Sunday I have brothers and a sister.

Tomorrow I am going to school. I had friends in the orphanage. My best friend in the orphanage is Karina I will miss her and my other friends. Some children in the orphanage are funny. But my papa is very funny. He yelled out Russian words all day. I am teaching him Russian. I love to teach my father Russian. I really like my new mama. She is so beautiful and papa is cute. We will have Christmas with my new grand parents in MS. My grandmother is very sweet. They gave me money for an allowance which I will save for a camera. I like my sister very much. Yesterday my brothers had their birthday.

I like High School Musical. Today mama bought me school supplies that say High School Musical. Yesterday we went to the pet store. I like a dog there. I cried for him because he does not have a home. But he can get adopted like me. Today I am going back to the pet store to pet a dog.

My papa asked me what I want for Christmas and I said I want High School Musical movie and my ears pierced. Papa said if I give him my ten dollars he will do it for me with his toothpick from lunch. (Robert offered to pierce her ears for her if she would give him her money!) I like to ride my new bicycle. We have a Christmas tree in our home. I have two pets. Jack and Jetta are cats. Jack is cute. He is fat. He catches snakes, mice, birds, and lizards. Jetta is slim and does not like to be picked up. She likes to be outside.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

First Day of School

Today started with much primping as Kristina tried to use the straightener on her naturally wavy hair. By the time we arrived to school, it was already turning under on the ends. She was a bundle of nervous energy as the secretary called back to the classroom. Her teacher walked up to the office to walk her to class personally. A quick kiss from her lip glossed mouth and off she went. I said a silent prayer and headed home to try and make some order of the chaos of the house.

I could hear her and Hannah before they even got to the door this afternoon. She skimmed past me, dropping her book bag on the chair, and headed to her room to look for something. "Wait! Come here! How was school?" I shouted after her. "She did good, Mom," Hannah offered. Eventually she reemerged and said, "First I don't like, but then I like. There are many good girls. They are very good to me." Hannah confirmed that the other girls had been kind and inclusive with Kristina. "Can I ride bike, Mama?" she asked, hand perched on her hip. "Is that it? What else happened today?" I probed. She shrugged and waited for me to dismiss her. I raised my eyebrows and said, "Anything else you want to tell me?" Looking up to the ceiling, she twisted her face up thinking back over the events of the day. "Boy talked to me, but I didn't talk to him," she added. I shook my head and waved her towards the door.

Well, she survived. I'm sure we'll have our bumps along the way, but she made it through today.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Home Sweet Home

My husband, the original blog bully, has been hounding me for the last few days to update the blog. I apologize. It has always driven me nuts to follow other families' blogs and then watch them fall off the face of the earth upon returning home. Now, I'm aware that re-entry is a huge adjustment for the adoptive child and parent, but there's an intense need to follow a story to its conclusion. For those of you who have tuned in for that purpose, let me assure you that this story, Kristina's story, is far from over.

Let me back up to Saturday morning. I got up early enough to check the flights on the computers in the business center to make sure there were no delays. Everything was in order and we headed to the Kiev airport to check in at the NWA/KLM counter. I gave the woman behind the counter our paperwork and she began typing away. Its when she got that "look" that I started to feel uneasy. The typing slowed and she looked at the computer monitor like what she was seeing wasn't what she expected. She called a supervisor over and they began pointing at the monitor and arguing (although, doesn't everyone sound like they're arguing in Ukraine?). I whispered to Kristina, "What are they saying?" She shrugged and I mustered up the courage to say, "Is there a problem?" One of the women explained that our the second leg of our flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis had been canceled. Okay, was there an alternate route available? Yes, in fact, Kristina was already rescheduled on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. However, I wasn't. "Mama? We not going to America today?" she asked panicked. I repeated to the woman behind the counter what I told my Uncle Keith who made the reservations for us earlier that week, "Put me with the luggage or with livestock, but I have to be on a plane headed to America NOW." She resumed her typing and scrunching up her face at the screen until the printer began to whirl and she placed tickets on the counter.

On the first plane, we were seated next to an elderly woman. Kristina took ownership of the old woman, searching out the stewardess to order hot water when the woman needed tea and chatting about where she was going. The flight from Amsterdam to America included seats with personal videos players for on-demand movies and music. Contented with the personal entertainment system, she watched the first 15 minutes of just about every movie and bopped up and down to the music selections. By the time we arrived in Detroit 16 hours later, we were spent. Kristina dozed in the chairs outside the gate to our last flight. The 9pm flight to Orlando was virtually empty. With empty rows of seats available to stretch out in, we opted to stay put and lean on each other as we drifted in and out of sleep.

A few minutes after midnight, we made our way onto the trams at the Orlando International Airport knowing Robert and the children would be waiting at the other end. Seeing them waiting in the empty concourse with Hannah's homemade "Welcome Home, Kristina" sign made the emotions of the last few weeks wash over. I wept ungracefully as we walked towards them. Kristina watched me out of the corner of her eye and said sympathetically, "Don't, mama." It wasn't until I could hug my kids and husband that I felt I could say, "Its done. We're home." Hannah and Kristina immediately linked hands and we made our way to the parking garage.

Exhausted in every aspect, I longed to crawl into my own bed. At the house, Kristina scooped up the cats and picked up where she had left off. She ooh'ed at her and Hannah's made over room as I urged everyone into their beds. We slept long into the morning, missing church but recharging from the previous day's fatigue. Sunday was spent unpacking suitcases, grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, and playing with summer friends. As soon as lunch was done, the kids headed out into the warm December day on their bikes. Kristina hoped on, pushed off, and went soaring down the drive. She never missed a beat! She was so proud that she remembered how to ride. "Hurry! Where's the camera? You should be photographing this!" Robert urged as he watched her. I knew I should, but I just wanted to be. The remainder of Sunday was spent with endless doorbell ringing from neighborhood kids who heard Kristina was home. Perhaps most significant, was Katerina's visit. This precious little girl from around the corner was adopted from Russia when she was just a toddler. She had been over the previous day to help Hannah with the welcome home sign and had anxiously waited for the chance to come by. The sounds of continual girl giggling floated down the hall for the rest of the day.

We set out for the Health Department on Monday morning to get Kristina's school physical and immunization record verified. Hours passed as we lingered in the crowded waiting room to be seen. She has born this type of waiting for weeks, and was anxious to be done with it. When we were finally called back, the attending nurse and doctor looked at the translated shot record and asked where she was from. I told them we had just returned from Ukraine on Saturday. "She's adopted?" the doctor asked. I nodded and the nurse shouted, "Praise the Lord! You know, Jesus is pleased with that!" I laughed out loud at her unabashed display of praise. Another nurse came in and began asking questions for her brother and his wife who are considering international adoption. I scrawled a few websites and my email on a pad and encouraged her to have them contact me if I could help in any way.

Today we spent several hours at the Social Security office applying for a number. Once a child reaches the age of 12, they must apply in person. I didn't want to take her out of school and have to take a day off of work to accomplish this, so we decided to take care of it today. Afterwards we took her to school and got her registered. Nervous excitement kept her at Robert's side as I completed yet more forms. Tomorrow will be a whole new adventure for her. Mrs "Cupcake" (as the children call her) had already arranged for Kristina to have a place reserved in Hannah's class. I'll let you know how things go.

I sent the kids to bed an hour ago, but I noticed a dim glow coming from under the doors in the girls' room a few moments ago. I investigated to find them painting each other's nails by nightlight. I gave my sternest warning and they guiltily crawled back into their beds, flapping their hands to make the polish dry. It looks like tomorrow will be a busy day. I'll post photos and video of our journey home in the next few days. Thanks for hanging in there with us!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Last Day in Ukraine

I can't believe I'm able to write that as our post title for today. Kristina sits to my left at a computer in the business center of our hotel, happily typing away and Google searching High School Musical. It has been a productive day and I am ready for tomorrow.

We wandered around Independence Square a little after our time on the computer yesterday and eventually made it back to our hotel to clean up for the night. Kristina flipped channels on the television and laughed at what appeared to be the Russian version of Married with Children. I was just glad to have a bed that didn't move. Exhausted from all the walking, I managed to get Kristina asleep by 10pm. Our routine over the last few weeks can hardly be called routine. Its been very difficult to establish a schedule and I know I'm going to have to be firm about bedtimes, snacks, school, and privileges when we get home. But for now, we are just existing trying to get though each day and pushing on to the close of this process. I've been very firm with her during my time here. I didn't want there to be Ukrainian Mama and American Mama. She hasn't always liked it, but overall she's been compliant.

This morning we awoke and went down to the continental breakfast in the hotel. With a 2pm Embassy appointment, I doubted we would have time for lunch, so I encouraged her to eat up. Aleksi met us with our bags to check out of Hotel Rus and we headed for the Embassy. In the Adoption room, we ran into the woman from yesterday with her 10 year daughter Larisa. She too was there to pick up her daughter's visa. I gave the medical forms and our passports to the woman behind the glass and sat down to wait. A few minutes later, the consulate (Michael) called us down to a glass window partitioned for privacy and went over a few things. He just reminded us about post-placement reports and explained about the papers he would be handing over to us. He let me ask him a few questions that were going through my mind and set me at ease about what to expect leaving Ukraine and entering the US. When we go through passport control at the Kiev airport, I will just need to show the official the court degree about the adoption and our passports. When we land in the US, Kristina will be a US citizen, so I can take her through the US Citizens line at immigration in the Minneapolis airport. That's where I will hand over the sealed manilla envelope (that I was warned NOT to open!) with all of the adoption and immigration information for Homeland Security. Also, he said that even though there's a box on the forms from yesterday that I checked indicating I wanted to apply for Kristina's social security number, chances are the Social Security office would never receive that request from Homeland Security. So I needed to go ahead and apply once I got back to the States. Sorry, I know that's a bunch of technical garble, but its the kind of stuff I wanted to know as an adoptive parent. The people at the US Embassy are genuinely kind and understand that you've been through a lot to get to that point. Michael indicated that Kristina's visa needed to be typed up and we could go. We returned to the small waiting room where Kristina and Larisa chatted and whispered in Russian, giggling at the fact that none of us knew what they were saying. A new couple had come in and began their paperwork. They looked completely spent and a little confused by the forms. We answered their questions and they shared their struggle over the last few weeks. They had come for a small child, under two, and had been shown a handful of files of children who had serious medical problems. Many who, even with proper medical intervention, would be invalids their whole lives. They took a gamble and decided to visit a little boy with the least severe prognosis. They were blessed to find a beautiful three year old boy who had been misdiagnosed at birth. Other than being small for his age, he was perfectly fine. They had called in a genetic doctor and another specialist to confirm this. But after three weeks of dealing with sliding envelopes, they were ready to head home during the waiting period. Every story I hear confirms what I already know; adoption is a difficult and costly journey.

The visa was ready in 20 minutes and we walked out with Larisa and her mom, confirming that we would see each other at the airport in the morning. Our flight leaves at 11:55, theirs at 12:30. (Melissa & Steve, it looks like we'll be passing in the air!) Aleksi took us to our new hotel and we dropped our bags and went out to find dinner. We're on the opposite side of the city and totally disoriented. We walked up the main drag for about 3 miles and weren't able to find anything to eat. Defeated, we headed back to the hotel. Down one of the side streets a red, white, and green sign caught my eye. "Pizza!" I exclained a little too loudly. We huffed our way in the opposite direction and found a quaint little Italian cafe where we scarfed down a pizza, desserts, and drinks for $9. We're back at the hotel now and I think we've gone over the one hour limit I told the girl at the desk. So I better wrap this up.

Please remember to pray for those on their way this week or who are here in Ukraine right now trying to make their way home with their children: Nataliya, Tami, Steve and Melissa, Mark and Courtney, the Stone Family, and the Rae Family. Those are by no means the only ones here, but they're a few of the ones I think of and pray for on this journey.

So . . .tomorrow . . .home . . .Orlando . . .11:18pm . . .thank God.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

In Kiev

Where to even begin? We're in Kiev and are breathing a sigh of relief at that. The journey here came at a great price, but we are trusting God to work all of that out. I found an internet cafe just off of Independence Square and paid for time on two computers, one for me and one for Kristina. :)

I don't know that I can backtrack to cover the last few days with great comprehension right now, so perhaps I'll save that for later after I've digested everything. Let's start from the train. Yes, that magical form of transportation that brought me to Odessa to start with. Kristina was excited (a little too excited) about traveling to Kiev on the overnight train. We boarded at 10:45pm for the 11:08 departure. She explored our little compartment thouroughly, climbing into the top bunks, making up the beds, checking out the bathroom (which was worse that the last one! Oh, I have pictures, people!). As the train crept from the station, she threw kisses out the window.
"Odessa is very good, Mama."
"Yes, it is a good city," I agreed.
"This is my city and it is good," she declared staring at the passing landscape as we slid away from the place that has been the only home she's ever known.

It was late and I was exhausted from the pressure of the preceeding days. I laid down on my bunk and read a few chapters in my book to try and wind down. Eventually (at 1:30am) I persuaded Kristina to turn off the lights and get some sleep. My first experience with sleeping on the train left a lot to be desired, but I didn't care this time. I knew every incomprehensible jerk, dip, and sway were inching me towards home, towards my family. In the inky darkness my eyes felt heavy and I drifted to sleep.

"Mama? Do you know DaVinci Code movie?"
"Uh, huh," I murmurred.
"Mama? You see this movie?"
"No, but I've heard of it."
"You know this actress Audrey Tatou? She is good woman."
"Mmm, huh."
"Mama? She is good woman. She is not like Brittney Spears."
I opened my eyes to the velvet black that covered the compartment, "Kristina?"
"Go to sleep, sweetheart."

"Mama! Look! Snow!" I sat up, bleary eyed in the dawning light and tried to make out the passing shapes outside our window. "What time is it?" I asked. "Seven o'clock! Time to get up!" "Kristina, the train doesn't get to the station until 8:30!" Awake and irritated, I stared out the window with her. A tire swing hung over a river covered in thin ice. A man crunched his way through a frozen field towards the tracks. The countryside outside of Kiev was very much awake. Our train arrived promptly at 8:30 and Aleksi had bounded up the steps of the car before we could pile our luggage into the hall. "Landrum family?" he asked. Kristina confirmed and we hauled luggage down onto the platform and heading for his car. We went straight to the US Embassy and I felt a great sense of relief at seeing our country's crest and seal resting on the glass door. Facilitators aren't allowed to accompany families into the Embassy, so Kristina and I went though a very thourough security point and then on to window 14: Adoptions. The room held about 12 chairs, 8 of which were filled. The woman behind the glass took our documents, confirmed that my husband had been to Ukraine and met Kristina at some point, checked his notarized paperwork consenting to the adoption in his absence, and handed me two more forms to fill out.

Now, the forms aren't difficult, but if you fill them out incorrectly you have to redo them. You guessed it. I was working on my second set of forms (ones that didn't indicate Kristina had four children, their birthdates, and place of birth) when a woman sitting to my left whispered, "What do we put on line 34?" "You did it wrong too?" I asked. "Yup, second go around. If they knew how brain dead Americans are by the time they get to this point, they wouldn't ask us to do this, " she smiled back. She introduced us to the 10 year old girl she had adopted and we walked throuh the rest of the forms together. She too was solo on her second trip to Ukraine. The woman sitting to her left had just had court and was returning to the States for the waiting period. She and her husband had just adopted a 6 year old boy, even though their two children at home are 18 and 21!

A trip to window 4 to pay the $380 Embassy fees and we were sent off for medicals and told to return tommorow afternoon to meet with the consulate and get the visa. The medical facility is some miles away. It seems adoptions are given preference and we were escorted from one room to another. Kristina ended up needing one more MMR vaccine, which she took without complaint. An hour later ($75 for exam and 152 grivna for vaccination) and we were done. The doctor provided me with an English form with her vaccination record and the papers to bring to the Embassy tomorrow.

We headed to our hotel and checked in. Unfortunetely, they messed up our reservation and could only accomodate us for tonight. Our facilitator was livid at the inconvience, but I really didn't care. I can see Saturday. I can almost reach out and touch the day and time that will find us boarding a plane and heading home. We deposited our things in the room and headed downtown in search of lunch and internet. We found both and I have paid $2 for Kristina to be temporarily distracted enough to let me think though today's events. Well, somewhat distracted. I just got an email from her. "Mama? What are you doing? I am on the computer writing to you. I love you!" I guess I could have saved my two dollars.

Thank you for your prayers in the last few weeks (and for some of you many months!). Your prayers have been flickering light along a dark path that God has called us to tread. Thank you for your faithfulness and love towards people you don't know. Continue to pray for my little family back home, without which none of this would have been possible; and remember us in our last days here in Ukraine.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Update From Robert

This will be a bit dry compared to what you have been reading.
Leslie is still stuck in Odessa (her word). They are still waiting on the passport. They have been without internet for two days now. She asks for continued prayer for a speedy process.
I hope there is no serious problem with the passport. But there may be. The facilitator left to go to Kiev understanding all was taken care of. She is now on the overnight train heading back to Odessa.
Leslie is the strongest, most loving, and good woman that I know. To say she is a living saint would do no injustice to the concept! I miss her. The kids miss her.
She has been relentless in accomplishing this mission. I don't want her to loose heart. So continue to pray for her and support her with your blog comments which are a great encouragement.
Robert N. Landrum

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Orphans of God

Loved this reminder Tami posted today. Orphan ministry is no more optional than feeding the hungry, caring for the widow, or sheltering the homeless. It is what we have all been called to as the redeemed adopted children of God. How will you serve?


Sorry for the brief disappearing act. Well, we're still in Odessa. The passport wasn't ready on Friday, so we will hope and pray for Monday. We moved from our apartment in with Lisa and Michelle, missionaries here in Odessa. To say that the change has been beneficial would be an understatment. While we had everything we needed in our little apartment, we were sorely missing fellowship. Staring at the walls was making me more homesick; so I jumped at Michelle's generous offer.

We brought our things over in the morning and then headed to the orphanage. Kristina wanted to spend a little more time with her groupa and I wanted to see the children as well. We spent the bulk of the day doing craft with Michelle in class 6 and playing games with the children from Kristina's class. Back at the apartment, we made homemade pizza and Apple Crisp for dinner. It was good to just sit and visit.

We don't have much planned today, just a quick trip to the market and maybe one of Michelle's movies (in English!). If we get word tomorrow that the passport is ready, we'll take the night train into Kiev and then should fly home on Thursday or Friday. Please continue to pray for us as we are terribly homesick and trying to patiently wait on God's timing.