Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Update on our return trip

We just got word from our facilitator that we will likely be returning to Ukraine a week later than we had originally hoped.  It looks like we won't be able to get into the SDA again for Nastia until the last week of May.

It is required that her paperwork remain on the regional registry for an entire month, then the SDA has to invite us over.  We'll keep you posted on things when we get a firm date.

I have to admit that I'm sad that it's later than we'd hoped for.  But, I just got off the phone with a friend.  Our conversation was about faith and letting the Lord guide.  I had just testified to her that I knew the Lord is in charge...and then the word about needing to wait came.  Oh, how the Lord knows I need practice in faith!

Anything that happens to us presents us with opportunities to practice all we are supposed to know and all we are supposed to be.  It helps to remember that when the disappointments occur.  Wish I were better at it, though!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Second Day at the Orphanage--Day 9

Yesterday was our meeting with the officials at the orphanage. We met with the orphanage director in her office with our facilitator/translator and the psychologist, doctor and social worker.

Our translator told me what each person was saying while Marsh was able to understand by himself. I took notes, which was easy because there is a pause between translations of what is being said so I could easily finish what needed to be written down. I have now typed up all that information, as well as some other things we talked with the kids about, and it fills four pages, single-spaced in size 10 font! LOTS of great information.

I won't share such personal things on a blog, but I will say that what we were told only confirmed what we already felt we knew about these children. The officials talked with such sweetness about these kids and spoke highly of them and only had positive things to say. They talked about their intense desire to stay together as a family. As children, they had to make the decision to stick together and had made known their desire to do that. After an intensely difficult decision about Nastia's biological father, they declared that they would only allow themselves to be adopted if they were adopted together, otherwise they would stay at the orphanage until they graduated and then live together and go to trade school to try to make a life.

When Ruslan goes anywhere, they told us, he leaves something for Nastia so she knows he is thinking of her while he's gone. When he is taken somewhere away from her, he brings her treats when he comes back. They said he has been like a father to her and that we are lucky to have them because they are so close.

They talked about how well-behaved and well-mannered they both are and that they are able to organize other children for games. They study well and are obedient.

The director said that sometimes bad things cause people to become evil (I'm using the translation to express this thought, so bear with me), but these children have good hearts and have not let the bad things they have been through turn them evil. She said, people with good hearts will not allow that to happen, no matter what life brings them.

After receiving all their health information and history of their parents, it was time to go. The meeting had been about 30 minutes. When we stood, the director (who is fully respected by the children, but is a very strong woman who rules the orphanage with an "iron fist") told us a story. See, during the meeting, she had excused herself a couple of times and left the office. Apparently, during one of the times she was in the hallway, Nastia (who had been taken out of school with Ruslan to visit with us) stopped her and said, "I love you." The director was surprised by this because Nastia had never said that to her before so she asked, "Why makes you say that?" Nastia responded, "Because you found parents for us."

We were then escorted out to the hallway where the kids were waiting for us. After lots of hugs and smiles, we went into the room where we were the day before. We sat down with them and there was a spirit of calm and thoughtfulness while we sat there. Marsh started a conversation with them and some wonderful things were talked about. We discussed their great relationship and Ruslan's example and strength. We talked about our desire to let them remember their mom and have her be a part of their lives and memories. We asked them if they knew why we had to leave and come back again to which they responded they did. Apparently they had been told everything and understood about Nastia's paperwork situation.

We talked about their favorite holidays and why they liked them. Nastia's favorite is her birthday, which is in just a few weeks. Her second favorite is the New Year. Ruslan commented that he liked New Year too because that is when they put up the tree. He likes the lights, he said. See, Christmas happens mid-January on their calendar, so the New Year would be not only an exciting celebration when they get to stay up all night (we heard that NOBODY goes to bed on New Year's Eve!), but also when they are ushering in the Christmas season. I wonder what it will be like for them to change all that by coming here.

Marsh told them that, at some point, they would need to consider what their American names would be. He explained that there is no reason to change their first names unles they want to and that we were allowing them to completely make their own choice about it. We told them about middle names in America and asked them if they wanted to keep their last (or "family") names as their middle name (they both have different last names). Both children were quite adamant that they didn't want their last names at all. They wanted them dropped completely. This surprised me because I would have thought they wanted to keep some connection with that part of their lives. I was wrong!

As the conversation continued, Ruslan suggested that he should talk to Chris about what name he should have. He seemed quite certain that Chris would know what was best for his American name. I thought that was so cute...he really does see Chris as his older brother who "knows the ropes".

Ultimately, Ruslan chose to let us decide what his middle name would be and both children kept their first names as they are. We told them we liked them and were happy to let them keep them as they are. We suggested Nastia take her mother's name as her middle name (Ruslan had suggested she take mine, which I thought was so sweet but I didn't want to push her into something she might not be ready for) and at first she refused, then accepted. We now have full names for these kids, ones they are happy with. They will receive new birth certificates before leaving Ukraine, so these are necessary.

We finished out our time together walking around the orphanage outside and hearing stories about what they do on the playground, where their bedrooms are in the building, how they play with the younger children. We took video to show our kids back home and then went back inside.

We talked about their closest friends, got the names and birthdates of those children and played games and made hairclips for the rest of the two hours (yay!) that we got to spend together. I made it clear that Nastia could make clips for her three special friends, if she wanted to. She started working like a crazy person getting them done! She chose the fabric and buttons to design each one and sewed the petals together while I finished them off by sewing the buttons on. These are usually made with hot glue so they are quick and easy, but that wasn't an option without an outlet so I was also sewing loops for the clips to slide into. They worked GREAT and she LOVED them! She was very specfic about who was getting which clip and designed them specifically for each girl. She is a very thoughtful planner who learns quickly and works hard!

Marsh and Ruslan played war and chatted while we worked. It was a wonderful, comfortable morning and we felt much more like family. When we said goodbye, we assured them we'd be back in a month. There were smiles and hugs all around. Nastia leaned up to kiss me on the cheek and gave Marsh "the look" that he had been hoping for! Sure didn't take long for her to warm up to us. I wondered how that would go but always felt deep down that she was happy and ready for this. As a matter of fact, now that I write that, I remember that I had two dreams about her. In both dreams, she was so happy and peaceful. She smiled at me in those dreams and I when I awoke from them, I felt that they were confirmations from the Lord that this was what she wanted and that she would be a happy person. I just realized that those dreams were to prepare me for who she would be, what she would be like. I am amazed at the Lord and His workings in our lives. I have no reason to ever doubt that He has our best interests in mind and is working for that continuously.

I am honored that He has chosen us to have these children. I am honored to have the children I've given birth to, too. They are completely open to loving and accepting these new siblings into their lives, their rooms, our home. I wouldn't have been that unselfish and loving in my childhood. We are surrounded by great and valiant spirits and are being blessed with two more. It leaves no dought in my mind that we are loved by a God who is fully invested in us and desires to bless us with all He possibly can.

As we drove away from that orphanage, with all those feelings swelling in my heart, I realized the necessity of faith. Without faith in Christ, we are unwilling to step into the darkness when the Spirit moves us to. I think all blessings are based on faith and He is waiting for us to trust Him so He can make Himself known to us and bless us beyond that which we ever thougth possible. It is in the act of letting Him lead us, as unreasonable and illogical as it may seem at the time to do as we are prompted to, that He can open the windows of Heaven and pour out more and greater blessings than we knew our lives could receive.

And with that great confirmation and peace, we head home. We are anxious to hold our other children and share with them what we have experienced on the other side of the world, aware that the Lord desires to bless them, too, with these new wonderful siblings to love.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Our First Orphanage Visit--Day 8

This was the day we have been waiting for for 9 months! It began by our facilitator going into the government building in this region to turn in our referral from the SDA and obtain our referral from the local authorities so we could be authorized to visit the orphanage.

Upon our arrival in this region, our facilitator helped us understand that there was no way around the fact that Nastia would have to remain on a certain registry for a month before her paperwork can be sent to the SDA so we can obtain a referral to begin the process of adoption for her as well as her brother. I'm glad we had the heads-up earlier that there was a problem because I'd cried all the tears I was going to cry and had to leave it up to the Lord.

Now that we have all the information, I believe the miracle we needed occurred several months ago. I don't feel comfortable sharing all that information in this public of a setting so it will have to be sufficient enough to say that I can see now the Lord's hand in this, even though it's hard to go home. I know He is orchestrating this down to the detail and it is for the best...both what happened in the past (which I can already see the benefit of) and what will yet happen (which I will understand at a future time).

So, we went today to visit the kids knowing we were going home tomorrow and wouldn't see them again for at least a month. That's the back to the day...

When we arrived at the orphanage (which was colorful, clean, organized and displayed children's artwork for Paska and other projects), we were asked to sit on a big, green couch in a front room area. In this room, there were birds in cages, a fountain, life-size tortoise was quite amazing and interesting!

We sat and waited for some time while one of the directors went to get the children from school. We were nervous and the anticipation was mounting! We were about to meet Nastia for the first time and we just had no idea what that would be like or how she would respond.

While we were waiting, the psychologist came over and had a conversation with our facilitator. I can't tell you how many times I have been SO grateful for the fact that Marsh knows Russian!! This was definitely one of them. She was discussing our children and saying the most positive things about how wonderful and sweet and good they are...even when she didn't know we could understand her. It was then that I felt sure of what I had been feeling impressed about for so long...that these children were to be a blessing to us and that the best ones are the hardest to get. Our challenge in having to come home is part of the opposition that is necessary because of the blessing they will be to our family. You get what you pay for.

Just a few minutes later, I heard a car door and saw through the curtain that people were coming up the walkway. I peeked through at an angle I could see from the couch and saw Nastia. She was so small, I had no idea it was her! We had only seen one picture of her and it looked like her hair was long but pulled back. This little sweetie had very short hair (which we learned later had been cut because of lice) and was so much smaller than we had been told she would be.

Then, there was Ruslan, towering behind her (he had grown a few inches from last summer) with a sweet little grin on his face. We hugged them both and were led into a room where we could visit and do things together. As were standing there before we sat down, one of the women said to Nastia and then to Ruslan in Russian, "So these are your parents now. Are you going to let them adopt you?" They both said yes and they told us to sit down. I was surprised at how soon they were asked something like that considering poor Nastia had just met us two minutes earlier.

We sat down and at first, Marsh just talked to them in Russian (I'm sure he told me what he said but I can't remember now because I was so focused on my thoughts about the kids). Marsh and I kept looking at this sweet little girl in front of us and giving each other the "can you believe her?" look while we all talked. He helped break the ice a bit and then had me bring out the picture album we'd made for Nastia since she had never seen our house. We showed Ruslan his new room, our new car (which in Russian sounds like "auto bus" which is exactly what it is!) and our new dining room table that will accomodate all of us. He was intensely interested and Nastia just kept smiling this peaceful little smile as she studied each picture up and down.

Then I took out my ipod and showed them the videos the kids had made for them. THAT was fun! They loved that and laughed at Lucy's antics!

We then played a couple of rounds of Uno which also was GREAT for laughs, language and smiling at each other. Nastia was still a bit reserved but would smile when I smiled at her. She seemed to be enjoying herself.

I then painted her nails...her first choice of activity! Pink is her favorite color so we did the pink and she chose a glitter to go on top. She obviously likes sparkly things! It seemed to make her very happy. I made sure to talk to her in simple english, repeating phrases so she could catch on. I certainly don't expect her to speak english right away, but I need as much practice teaching it as she needs learning it so I might as well start now! :)

At that point, the head mistress of the orphanage came in and started talking very strongly at the kids...all in Russian, of course. Our facilitator translated for me. She first asked Ruslan who we were. He introduced us by name and she corrected him and said, "Say Momma and Poppa". Then she told them that we are their parents now and they need to respect us and be on their best behavior. She told them it was very hard on us to take TWO of them (yeah, right!) and they needed to be good children. Then she turned to us and told us that Nastia's dad had come to the orphanage and wanted to take her. They had given her a choice between her dad and staying with Ruslan. She said, "I want to stay with my brother." This response speaks volumes into their lives up to the point of their mother's death.

No one forced her or even tried to convince her to change her mind. Then the woman went on to explain that for Nastia, Ruslan has been the man, like a father, to protect and take care of her. She explained that Nastia never wanted to be separated from Ruslan and that she loves her brother very much. (K, so I was tearing up at this point and staring at Marsh with a "I'm sorry, I'm going to lose it...don't be mad at me" look.) A few tears fell while she finished talking and then they all left us alone.

I had to get out a tissue so I felt like I needed to explain myself to the kids. I had Marsh tell them that I it makes me cry to know that Ruslan is such a good brother and that we want them to have a happy life with us. I also had Marsh tell them that Heavenly Father wants them to be happy, too. He was so sweet in his communcations with them.

Marsh then suggested we lighten the mood by doing another project.

Nastia chose to decorate foam book marks. I explained that there was plenty of material for her to make some for her friends. She watched me for how to do it and then started making one. Ruslan, even at 14, was happy to do it. I love teenagers that don't know they are teenagers!

Nastia decorated hers with a heart, as you can see in the picture. Then she started to put a name on it. I just assumed she'd put her own, but she didn't. She spelled "Ruslan". Of all the people in the world she could make something for, including herself, she made it for her brother.

I suddenly realized the necessity of the way this has all played out. The fact is, because of the way things have happened, Nastia was able to stay with Ruslan. If any of the other factors had changed, they would have been separated...especially with how cute, sweet and small she is. This was necessary, even vital, to keeping these two kids together. Having to come back is just part of what we need to do to carry it out. We needed to be here now to ensure Ruslan would be adopted and we needed to have his process started to find out that Nastia wasn't where she was supposed to be in that process. We have now secured both of them because of what we've done here. I also feel like the relationship we now have with her is an important foundation.

The next thing she chose to do was to make flower hair clips with needle and thread. She loved this so much, she asked if we could make more tomorrow. She, of course, chose the sparkliest button to go into the center of her flower. I think I know what I'm bringing back with me in May...!
Here is a picture that shows just how petite Nastia is. She is going to be ten in May and is quite small for her age. I will measure both kids tomorrow to make sure we have everything ready for them in a month.
When we took the picture of Marsh and the kids above, Nastia wouldn't put her arm around Marsh. It made him want to earn her trust and he is determined to do it. We know their father was an alcoholic and the fact that he didn't want Ruslan, but came for Nastia and she refused, proves that these children have not had the privelege of having a loving father. Marsh will fill that role happily!
We only had about an hour together. In the last ten minutes or so, I started to notice Nastia was initiating smiles to me, rather than just responding to mine. She was also looking at me longer and would communicate with her face and eyes. It was like she wanted to say something to me but knew I wouldn't be able to understand...which was sad.
When it was time to go, we all put things away and stood up. She came right over to me and leaned into me so I could put my arm around her. Then, she put both arms around me and looked up at me with these big, beautiful blue eyes and smiled a smile that is indescribable. There was love in that smile! And I stood all amazed that in such a short period of time, she and I could learn to love each other. It was almost incomprehensible the feelings that I felt at that time. I didn't think I could love another person's child like this. This whole journey has taken me places nothing else could have and I thank God for every step of it.
Marsh saw the look on her face at that moment she looked up at me and it amazed and touched him in just the same way. He told me later he was jealous! :)
I handed the kids their backpacks from school and realized that Ruslan's is the one we gave him last summer. I was so glad. Maybe when he looked at that backpack, he thought of us...just like we have thought of him and Nastia...every single day since the day he left.
We said goodbye and left the orphanage to take care of other business. We were in a bit of a stunned and joyous silence for a while and then Marsh asked me what that experience did to me. I stumbled over my words, looking for some way to describe what I felt about all that had just happened and just couldn't do it. We laughed at my complete speechlessness and he said, "I honestly don't think I have seen you this way before!" He's right...and I have the lengthy blogs to prove it. :)
We get another hour with them tomorrow and then we board a train for Kiev. I think I'll cry all the way home like I cried all the way here. It's really not good for a person like me to have my children half way across the world. And until this process is complete, whether I'm in the USA or in Ukraine, my children will be halfway across the world.

Helpful hints for Orphanage visit

  • If you struggle with the language, bring something to do with your child that is age-appropriate and can be done with your hands or by demonstration.
  • Bring card games or other activities that can be done together and can stimulate conversation in english.
  • Uno, for example, is a game that is loved by children here and they have different ways of playing it. But, it is also good for practicing english as you tell them the names of colors and numbers. They can teach you those words in their language, too.
  • Bring pictures of your family and home, including the living space the child will be in once they arrive.
  • Bring books to read together, pictures to color, anything that will stimulate conversation.
  • Buy a ball or other outdoor activities to do together, but plan to leave it/them at the orphanage.
  • Don't bring anything you want back. It is very possible the children will not be able to keep anything or it may be taken from them by another child.
  • Pay close attention to the body language of your child. You can tell if they are scared or uncomfortable or happy and peaceful. Respect their feelings and look for other ways to interact.
  • Watch their body language and facial expression to see if they like or dislike what your activity is. A child who seems to not be paying attention may be bored. Bringing a variety of age-appropriate activities will help you zero in on your child's interests and likes/dislikes.

Paska in Ukraine

On the Saturday before Easter (the 14th), we visited one of the Orthodox churches here in Kharkov (prounounced "HAR-kuv) and found people bringing their Easter baskets to the priests for the sprinkling of holy water and the blessing of their Easter breads as is the tradition. I use the term "sprinkling" loosely. The priest we saw here was dipping a long-handled brush with long bristles into a bucket of water that was carried by a helper. He gave everyone the full amount of water from the bristles and would also include the heads and faces of the babushkas there. I had never realized they would use so much water!
This is a shot of the crowds that were pushing to get through the gates to the church later in the afternoon. I'm sure Sunday was even more crowded! Notice that the baskets are lined with cloth and the goodies are inside, then covered with another cloth.
This sweet babushka let us take her picture. You can see that her head is covered, which all women do when entering the holy area of the church. But, babushkas keep their heads covered with scarves at all times, wherever they are.
Needlework is an important tradition here. Their napkins and table linens are usually decorated with cross-stitch. You can see her cloth that covered her Paska food is cross-stitched with a cross and decorated egg, also an important tradition here.
The woman on the right was very young, probably 19. She is wearing short skirt, as is the tradition here (only babushkas wear long skirts). If you could see her head, you would see that she also has it covered. Inside these baskets are various food items to be used for the meal later that day...vegetables, sausages and meats and then the tall, frosted Paska bread that has a candle in it. The candle is the same kind they use in the churches. They light them and pray to the saint of their choice.
This was a display Natasha and I found on our way to church. You can see the tall Paskas with the frosting (usually powdered sugar and sprinkles) and candles. Also here are decorated eggs and baskets. Notice at the base of the trees the red and white? Those are representing white linens that have been cross-stitched with red floss.
And here is our Easter breakfast with Paska, butter, Russian cheese and herbal tea. I have a much better understanding of what a REAL, traditional Paska looks like now!

Kharkov--Day 5--the people

Because our SDA appointment was on a Thursday (Mondays and Thursdays are the only possibilities), we had a full weekend to wait until we could submit our referral to the local authorities and visit the children in the orphanage. Not only that, but Sunday the 15th was Easter, or Paska, which gave everyone Monday off. Remember, this is THE biggest religious holiday of the year. I will create a separate post for Paska...the pictures are wonderful and really give an understanding of what things are like here during that holiday.
We decided to make this waiting time an opportunity and visited Kharkov (pronounced HAR-kuv) where Marsh spent 14 months of his 2 year mission over 18 years ago. This was a life-changing experience for both of us and we count it as one of the blessings the Lord has included in this process that we were able to go there. Had the timing been different, we wouldn't have felt we had the ability to take the time to go there and still accomplish what we needed to for the children.
We were hosted by precious people, the Sivacon family. They knew Marsh very well while he was a missionary and were thrilled we were coming to visit. Their sweet daughter Tanya, and her husband and toddler, live with them in their one bedroom apartment. They are the happiest, sweetest, more generous people in the world. Not only did they open their home to us, but they walked us EVERYWHERE, rode with us on the metros and buses to get Marsh to others' homes for visits, paid for transportation when we didn't have the right amount in Grivne (sp?) or hadn't changed money yet and planned and prepared our whole visit. They did more for us than would ever be expected and did it all with a smile. What incredible people! Olieg is a computer programmer and Natasha is a teacher. This is what their salaries allow them to afford for housing and they do not own a car.
Because our SDA appointment was on a Thursday (Mondays and Thursdays are the only possibilities), we had a weekend to wait until we could submit our referral to the local authorities and visit the orphanage. Not only that, but Easter (Paska) was Sunday the 15th in Ukraine which, because it is such a special holiday, gives everyone Monday off. We had from Friday afternoon until the next Tuesday as days we couldn’t to anything to progress in the process of adoption. We counted it a blessing and used the days to visit Kharkov (pronounced HAR-kuv) where Marsh spent 14 months of his 2-year mission.
Here is a snapshot of their neighborhood with the train (a bus-like local train) coming through.
A visit with (another) Tanya's family with visiting friends. Tanya's roof leaks and the cabinets had all come crashing down in the kitchen. She still made a wonderful meal for us and served it on disposable plates. She filled Marsh in on everything and they reminisced together. Her daughter and two grandsons live with them in a two bedroom apartment. We are sitting in one of those bedrooms in this picture. No car for them, either.
Igor was a youth in the branch during Marsh's mission. He is now married with two children and they live with his parents in a three bedroom apartment. Igor is the only one of this group of friends I am describing here that owns a car. He bought it a few months ago. Because of this, he was willing and able to drive us to and from the train station, to and from other places we needed to go and then took us, after all other visits on Saturday night, to his family's apartment for a visit. His sweet mother made us an entire meal at 10:30 at night! I started feeling like I was experiencing my first day on a mission...didn't understand a word that was being said and was fed dinner three times!
His mom reminded me of my grandma in the way she talked to us, got excited about our children and then fed us. She invited us into the kitchen and there, on the table, was a spread of food in beautiful dishes with equally well put-together place settings. On our plates was a serving each of hot mashed potatoes and freshly cooked chicken. There were bowls on the table filled with different salads and each had their own serving utensil. She then said, "I just threw this together. No big deal!" That was my grandma!
She and Igor had a wit and humor that kept Marsh rolling in laughter. I just sat and smiled until he tried to explain the joke...and then it didn't make sense in English. Figures! :)
Igor's beautiful wife realized I was trying to learn to cook Ukrainian food and gave me her beautiful cookbook as a gift. What amazing people!

Natasha Sivacon had us staying with her mother near the train station. There wasn't room in the Sivacon's apartment, but Natasha's mom has a "dormatory" and there was room there. The dormatory is one apartment, but has some different rooms. This allows families to live together in one room and everyone shares a bathroom and kitchen.
In Ukraine, the toilets are in a room completely separate from the sink, shower/tub and tiny washing machine. Her dormatory was no different, but it did have a toilet that was the old style. The seat hangs on the wall and you take it down to place it on the toilet. The toilet itself is made in such a way that toilet paper cannot go down it, so it goes in a trash can instead. The water tank is about six feet up the wall and a chain hangs down for flushing.
Her apartment was in a building that was about 150 years old. Her grandmother raised her children there. She is the equivalent of a university professor and this is all she can afford to live in. No car for her, either. She attributes her health and ability at almost 70 years old to the need to walk everywhere she goes.
Here, we are having Easter breakfast with her. This was a special treat! We had Paska bread, cheese, butter and herbal rose hip tea. She is a precious soul and we loved being with her.
After Paska breakfast, we headed to church. The whole stake was gathering to watch General Conference, now translated into Russian and received by their stake. On the way in, we met Harry who is from Tanzania but is finishing medical school in Ukraine. He speaks English and Russian
This is inside the chapel with sweet sisters Marsh knew on his mission. As a missionary, they rented out rooms in a school to hold church meetings and baptized in the pool at the recreation center in town. Visiting the church building and meeting in their chapel was such a wonderful thing to experience. Natasha took us on a tour throughout the building so Marsh could see everything the Saints there now have available to them.
The woman on the right, Lydia, told Marsh that she attended one of those baptism meetings in the recreation center when she was not a member of the Church. Marsh was leading the music for the baptism. Lydia said when she saw him and watched him lead the song, an overwhelming feeling of love for everyone in the room came over her. She had never experienced the Holy Ghost before and knew this was something she needed to pursue. It was such a joy to learn that Marsh had played a role in her conversion. It just goes to show that we don't know what kind of influence we have on people.
Here is Marsh with a man he baptized while serving as a missionary (far right) and a missionary from Russia. We explained to this elder that it was a thrill to have missionaries coming from these countries where, as youth, we knew the Church wasn't even able to reach. Now, about 20 years later, these young men are coming from the former Soviet Union to teach the Gospel throughout the region.
Marsh also learned from a woman, in passing, that if it hadn't been for Peter (a man Marsh taught and loved and baptized), she wouldn't have been in the Church. It was overwhelming to him to hear her say that. He recognized the far reaching effects of the mission he served. And to hear these things 18 years later was a gift. We stood there realizing that the Lord had orchestrated the timing of everything to give us the gift of this visit to Kharkov.
Above, the Sivacons are giving us dinner. It was Paska, of course, and because Marsh had mentioned the day before that he would like to learn out to make Olivye (Ukrainian potato salad), Natasha had Olieg go out and get the ingredients they would need to make it. They then brought the table into the living room (which is Natasha and Olieg's bedroom) and set it up so we could all work together to create this salad. We learned so much...perhaps I'll post the recipe and directions separately!
We then ate together and Marsh and they reminisced until it was time to go.
I titled the picture above "Guardians" in the file folder I put it into. These three precious people, Igor, Natasha and Olieg, were our guardians and facilitators during our two days in Kharkov. They were with us every second, helping us with anything we needed, tending to Marsh's every desire to meet with people or finish talking with old friends or visiting places that brought back memories or walking us to or from to make sure we were safe and could find our way. And then, they waited in the dark for our train to leave. They would not walk away until they could no longer see us. They were our guardians, our friends, our Ukrainian family.
It just proves to me, once again, that we are all children of our Heavenly Father, brothers and sisters, no matter where we are in the world or where we were born. We are all the same...needing love, caring for our families, worrying about those we care for. And happiness can be found anywhere and in any circumstance if we choose it and count our blessings.

Helpful Hints--Ukraine--Day 5

  • So now that we've been to Kharkov (pronounced "HAR-kuv"), I am recinding my comment about jeans. They do wear them...even in the smaller towns. So, feel free to wear jeans because you'll fit in just fine.

  • Older women wear longer skirts and the younger wear the shorter ones. Someone asked if we had grandchildren. Ouch. I'm hoping it was my long skirt that gave the impression I was older!

  • Coats are worn even in nicer weather. It is still colder at night and the wind does seem to blow pretty much everywhere, but even during the day they wear their coats because it is believed that when you get cold at all, you get sick.

  • I found Downy Wrinkle Releaser in the Walmart travel size isle before coming here. It's a small bottle and cost less than $2 but we have successfully used it to release wrinkles! :) I have found that rolling clothes seems to keep them less wrinkled and between these two techniques, I'd say an iron isn't necessary.

Friday, April 13, 2012

SDA referral pick up and Kiev--Day 4

Kiev opera house. We watched The Marriage of Figaro in Ukrainian until we couldn't stay awake anymore and went back to the apartment.

Parking in Kiev

The temples and monastaries here are surrounded by walls with a bell tower as the entrance. People cross themselves and bow before passing through the entrance of the bell tower as they are entering a sacred place.

I am having a lot of trouble with Blogger right now. I can't type above my pictures and I can't get some of my other pictures to orient correctly. So, this is what I have for today! We are leaving at 5am to catch a train to Kharkov so I have decided not to continue fighting with technology. :)
Today, we slept off and on and took care of some packing until being picked up at 1:30 for our second appointment at the SDA at 3pm. There were several families from different countries and parts of the US there all at the same time to pick up their paperwork. The SDA ladies were a little late opening the office, so quite a crowd had gathered by the time they arrived...then they were movie stars! All the families stopped talking and coordinators and translators were getting in line to help their families get their referrals. It's really great, not to mention a relief, to have someone advocating for you in so many forgein and challenging situations. Our driver has not just been our driver, but our friend, our tour guide (and not because we asked him to be, but because he wanted to share information!) and the one to get in line to get our referral today and then beckon us when it was our turn. Then, he insisted on picking us up from the opera instead of us riding the metro home and, upon getting in the car, handed us our water bottles, paperwork (which had to be left with him) and things we bought. I feel like a celebrity...well, as much as I can when I wear clothes no one in Ukraine has seen before and they all stare at my like I'm from Mars. I've decided to imagine myself a trendsetter rather than an outcast! :)
So, the picking up of the paperwork was effortless and only took moments. They checked our passports and handed us our dossier (it was cool to see all those papers we worked so long and hard on in the US over a period of several months sitting here in Ukraine) and referral letter for Ruslan.
We've met some other families at the SDA the last two days. One is from New York. They are adopting from a different region but also have six kids at home, 3 of each just like we do, have a big maroon van just like us and are looking to adopt a boy and a girl! This is their fourth international adoption, however, so they are seasoned. We had a great time with them today as we included them in our events.
We also met another couple who are adopting children they've never met before. They are adopting from the same city we are. They were approved for adoption and came looking for children. They fell in love with a sibling group that were split up and adopted out into different countries before they could get their paperwork ready. There are many stories of heartache and reward in adoption, we've found. But one thing is universal. We all love these children and feel drawn and impressed to adopt.
Aftere the SDA, we went with our New York friends to a traditional Ukrainian restaurant and tried out the different common foods. Marsh makes all of it better than they do, by the way!
We then went to the Kiev Opera House and for $20 got fabulous seats to Le Nozze di Ukrainian. I kept thinking, this is an Italian opera why don't I recognize these words?? The soprano was absolutely incredible but she was the only one who didn't put me to sleep. It was literally painful to sit there any longer when I needed a bed so badly. We all left at intermission and talked some more while we waited for our driver to pick us up.
Must close now so I can get some sleep tonight. I was so cocky and thought I wouldn't have jet lag. What are we in this...four days?...and I'm useless!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rough Places--Kiev Day 3

So today was officially my least favorite day so far. I'm sure my jet lag and horrible cold are not helping with my attitude about the situation, either. Let me preface by saying that I have had four hours of sleep the last three nights in a row which I'm sure has severely aggravated my cold. I need to get better so I can rest but I need to rest so I can get better. One thing I need to overcome is the inability to maintain my emotions when my physical well being is challenged.
That being said, here is the story:
Yesterday we were told by our coordinator that there might be a problem with Nastia's paperwork. We were pretty unhappy to find out that it appears someone dropped the ball when they were supposed to be getting her papers into the SDA along with Ruslan's. It is frustrating to be be halfway across the world and find out that things are not prepared the way it appears they had been. He told us that it might not be a problem and that her papers might be there today, but that we were still facing a possible bump in the road which may include another SDA appointment in Kiev for which we would have to travel back from Mariupol.
On the way over, our translator assured us that this was nothing to worry about. That if her papers were not there, it was just a matter of doing more paperwork. We were not looking at her being "unadoptable". She also was very specific with Marsh that he not indicate that he can speak Russian.
When we arrived in the office, they put us in a back room because "of our issue with little sister". Women scurried around the three of us, helping another family from New York, looking for papers in folders and on computers. My anxiety about the situation was mounting because of my observations of their concern and my cold was actually worsening while I sat there. I sneezed and blew my nose a million times, hardly able to keep my eyes open. I was reusing tissues because we were told to stay seated and "please, not go to bathroom now". I was exhausted, embarassed, sick and worried. I think the Lord is helping me see that I really need to focus on my faith when I am not physically well. This has happened several times in this process, which I have determined is not only for Ruslan and Nastia (and for everyone else involved) but for me to have a crash course in faith. His lessons are certainly multi-faceted and this adoption is no exception.
At one point, I asked our translator if there was a problem because there was a lot of Russian being spoken with heads shaking and looks of concern. She said, "No, no problem. Ruslan MUST be in the system somewhere." I was speechless. We knew there could be a possible problem with Nastia's paperwork, but RUSLAN??
I couldn't understand why we could be told to come all the way to another country by THIS office and have THIS office give us an appointment to come into THIS office and have THIS office not have the necessary paperwork they based THIS appointment on! The SDA lady kept sitting down with us between looking around on computers and in files, waiting for someone or something, I guess, and at one point asked us if we had a picture of Ruslan. I'm not sure why she asked but at the moment I thought she needed to know what he looked like so she could locate him! It was NUTS.
As my anxiety mounted and I was still dealing with sneezing and wet tissues, I watched as these ladies (our translator and the SDA lady) talked for several minutes at a time without me having any clue about what they are saying. I was reading facial expressions for clues about what was going on. Marsh, of course, could understand but he couldn't tell me. We even tried speaking Spanish to each other so I could have a clue!
Finally, it comes out that there is no paperwork for Nastia. Apparently, our appointment was given based on the acceptance of our adopting Ruslan. I guess our "known child" page that listed both kids was completely ignored??
As the two ladies speak Russian and shake heads, Marsh whispers, "You don't want to hear this." The lady at the SDA is saying that we are looking at two months at least before we can have Nastia. Marsh, cool as a cucumber, is listening and waiting for our translator to translate so we can respond. She doesn't translate the part about the 2 months. He whispers it to me anyway. As my mind is reeling out of control, I am desperately trying to keep my emotions under control and losing the battle pitifully.
At this point, she comes with the paperwork on Ruslan. There is a picture of him, younger than he is now, attached to the form. She reads the Ukrainian on the form written by someone who cares for Ruslan, which our translator translates for us. "He is easy and kind and happy." She smiles at us and I just start bawling. Between seeing that sweet boy's picture, hearing that those who take care of him see the same qualities in him that we did and thinking we could have a major problem with Nastia, I just couldn't handle it. The thought going through my mind was, "How can they put mothers through this kind of thing? It's torture."
We were then asked to sign a book indicating that we did want permission to go to the orphanage. We both asked why we would sign it if we were looking at months before we could have Nastia. I think we were both imagining that maybe it would be better to go home and come back when we can have both kids. We were wondering if Nastia would be kept from us at the orphanage because of this, making it so we would have to go through this process twice...once for each child. It made more sense in my mind to stop right then, go home and come back when things were in order. Our translator said, "We have no choice right now. We have to go to the city where the orphanage is. Trust me, you must sign the paper." She tilted her head down and said, "I cannot tell you everything right" So we signed.
We left the office with me in tears, sniffling my head off and Marsh holding my hand. Outside, our translator said, "Don't cry! It will be okay. We'll work this out." I explained to her that we have six children at home and cannot afford to come back here in two months and do this all over again. Sometimes I feel like they think we Americans are made of money or that we have endless resources of time and funds. I am aware that none of the people who are helping us created this situation, but the "don't cry, it'll be fine" attitude doesn't help when we are hearing what we heard.
Marsh was composed. First of all, he knows that bawling like a baby is not going to change anything. Secondly, he reminded me that we need to have faith that the Lord will take care of this. Thirdly, he knows that Ukrainians often give their opinion rather readily without having any factual basis for it...and that's how he felt about the comments the lady at the SDA was making. Svetlana was reminding us that we don't know where Nastia's papers are and that it is very possible they are already at the end of the "2 month" process, just not at the SDA office. She said, "There's no reason to cry because we don't know everything yet."
Apparently, the paperwork is handled on the local level. Our Ukrainian facilitator (who is really good at getting things done) just called and told me that Nastia's papers were sent from the orphanage to the regional office, but were never sent to the SDA from there. Someone in the regional office dropped the ball. Best case scenario is that this process will take a week. Worst case scenario, a month. A MONTH??
Either way, we will have to come back to Kiev for another SDA appointment for Nastia. Our facilitator said he would drive to the city where her papers are HIMSELF if he had to and get the process moving along. Unfortunately for him, it's Easter weekend. That would be like us dealing with this over December 24th to 26th. Bummer.
At this point, there is nothing to do but pray that the Lord intervenes and makes that best case scenario possible. Our facilitator said the SDA doesn't care about anything but the signatures and the paperwork, but the papers have to be in a certain place for a certain period of time. That's where the time is variable. We need the Lord to give us a miracle...again.
Our coordinator in California just skyped with me and reiterated what he also heard from our facilitator. He also explained the reasoning behind this problem not being known until now. There is a cultural barrier that we are dealing with here. The facilitator can't go looking around for information or asking people if they followed through because it is an affront to their position and could ruin his relationship with them. But, it is completely possible that he can get the timeframe to move along faster if those relationships are intact. Our coordinator also assured me that the lack of organization at the SDA was not common. He said most families can walk right in, their file is waiting on the table and they are out in 10 minutes.
We need prayers sent heavenward that will expedite this process. Both our facilitator and coordinator think that we will be able to be with Nastia in the orphanage anyway because everyone is trying to facilitate the adoption. Our coordinator also assured me that this is one of the best orphanages for getting adoptions through, even one of the best for it in the country. No one is trying to hinder us, but someone dropped the ball which does happen on occasion because people are imperfect, or they change positions and someone else takes over or whatever.
Our plan at this point is to pick up the referral tomorrow afternoon, head to Kharkov (Marsh's mission area) on Saturday morning for the Easter weekend, then take the overnight train Sunday night to the city where the orphanage is located. Monday is a holiday because of Easter so we will turn in our referral at the orphange Tuesday and hopefully be with both kids Tuesday afternoon when they get home from school. My heart starts to race at the thought! This weekend cannot go fast enough for me.
On Tuesday or Wednesday of next week (when paperwork can be done and people can be talked to) we will have more information about Nastia's situation and what we'll be required to do. We know for sure that we will have to leave the orphanage to return to Kiev sometime soon to be able to get her referral. This will require two very long train rides. So, that is where we are at this point. Feel free to send as many prayers heavenward as possible to help move this process along!
1 Nephi 17:46

Helpful Hints--SDA appointment--Kiev Day 3

This is an account of what takes place at the SDA for those who are also facing that experience. Our personal situation has become complicated so I will simply give you an idea of what families can expect there and leave the details of our unique situation for my "daily events" post.
Our SDA appointment was at 9am so we were picked up by our driver, Serge, and our coordinator for the day, Svetlana, at 8am. We departed early enough to deal with the morning rush hour.
The SDA office opens at 9 so we were just a few minutes early and waited outside. Another American couple were also waiting there. They are from New York and also have six other children! I hadn't expected to see anyone else there so that was a nice surprise.
The SDA appointment is a matter of gathering the paperwork of the child you wish to adopt (which has already been sent into the SDA) and then answering a few questions. The official's first question to us was, "Who are you here to adopt?" She also asked us how much Russian we knew. (Marsh had specifically been told not to disclose his ability to speak as well as he does.) Whether her question was official or out of curiosity, I don't know. There was a lot of talking between Svetlana and the woman at the office, but she only translated a little of what was said. We also signed a paper officially declaring that we want to visit Ruslan and Nastia in the orphanage.
I was surprised at the amount of running around and gathering of paperwork they were doing. I would figure they would have everything they need because our appointment was set for a specific time. As it was, they were having to look for the kids' paperwork as if they didn't know they were coming. Don't be alarmed if this happens to you.
Once the paperwork was located, we were given information that was on the record including health issues and personality observances by adults in the childrens' presence. Further information about the children and their history/parents/etc. will be given at the orphanage and are dealt with on the local level.
It was a fairly short visit. As is common, we are to return tomorrow afternoon to pick up our permission to visit the orphanage and then we are done with Kiev.
Lastly, I would like to include here some things we learned from Svetlana on the drive over to the SDA office. I thought it important that families who are adopting children from Ukraine (UA)understand these traditions. I want to honor the traditions my children are used to and look forward to and I'm sure you do, too. Here is in list form:
  • Just as Christmas is the most involved and anticipated holiday in the US, the celebration of the New Year and Easter are the most anticipated holidays in UA.
  • The New Year was the most anticipated community holiday during the time of the Soviet Union when religion was not allowed. Since there are now various religions in the the former USSR, Easter is the biggest religious holiday.
  • Christmas here is really more for giving a gift to, and visiting, god parents. Sounds like it's fairly low-key.

  • Easter traditions:
  • The week before Easter is a type of Lent. People eat only fruits and vegetables and abstain from other foods.
  • On Good Friday, there is a fast for the whole day.
  • The women try to make Paska (Easter bread) and something made by hand to give to others.
  • On Easter Sunday, the Easter basket (which includes bread and other homemade items) is taken to the church to be blessed by the priests which includes the sprinkling of holy water on the bread/basket.
  • People can stay for a sermon and music if they so choose.
  • After the blessing, people go home and gather with family and friends for a feast including the Paska. Here are some pictures of different Paskas so you can have an idea of what they can look like:

  • May 9th is Victory Day. This is in celebration of Ukraine's victory over the Nazis who had taken over all of Ukraine and came through Kiev killing 100,000 Jews. There is a forest where those 100,000 Jews were massacred and it remains as a memorial to them.
  • August 24th is Independence Day. It celebrates Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union which just occurred in 1991.
  • Each of these holidays are very important to the Ukrainian people. What a great opportunity to honor our childrens' history by including these traditions and celebrations in our families and using them as an opportunity to teach what these people have been through!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Experiencing Ukrainian Culture--Day 2

Here is an account of all the fun things we did today, April 11, 2012.
Marsh wanted me to get a feeling for the public transportation (our/his goal is for me to have a very clear picture of what life in Ukraine is like so I can understand the history of our two new kids) so we took the metro and the a bus to the Kiev Temple rather than hiring a driver to take us.

Here is Marsh in front of the Kiev (Kyiv) Temple! We got to do an endowment session with our family names. They had headsets for me to listen to the session in English but Marsh did the whole thing in Russian. This temple is the first to be built in Eastern Europe and it services 11 countries! I met a woman from Russia who was there for a few days to be able to do temple work. It is a 24 hour train ride for her to attend the temple. Another woman was from Odessa and it took her 8 hours to get there. We Utahns have nothing to complain about.
On the way into the temple, we met our friend, Zoya, who later took us for a tour of Kiev. She was born and raised there but her daughter lives in the US. She is a temple worker there. Then, who came down the stairs but Elder and Sister Hancock from Rexburg, Idaho! Marsh knew them from childhood. But, that's not all...Elder and Sister Westwood, also from Rexburg, were also serving there! It was a fun reunion for them all!
Here is one of the cards from our endowment session. How wonderful to have everything exactly the same on the other side of the world! We are all children of God no matter where we live or where we were born.
After the temple session, we hopped a bus to the metro and took it into the center of the city. There, Zoya took us to a Ukrainian buffet. I was so excited to try the foods we'd made at home in the country of their origin...and to try some new things, too. I have to admit, Marsh's borsch is WAAAYY better. It was great to try his favorite Ukrainian potato salad: olivye. From left to right, clockwise, here are the dishes: Syrnyky--cottage cheese and raisins baked, marinated mushrooms and pickle salad, garlic bread with dill, borsch (beet soup), Chicken Kiev (like chicken cordon bleu without the ham and bleu). All were tasty! Can't wait to make syrnyky myself. Zoya said the kids love it.
After lunch we took the sky tram up the mountain into a completely different area of Kiev. Below us you can see the Dnepr River and the historic area of Kiev.
Up on this hill, the princes always lived so it is very beautiful and stately. Here is St. Michael's Cathedral. It was rebuilt about 15 years ago. Zoya only remembers it as ruins during her childhood. It is very ornate inside with plenty of places to light candles and pray to your saint. Upon asking about the religious background of the area, Zoya told us that this orthodox church is broken into four sections, each feeling they are the true church. When I asked what Ruslan and Nastia might believe, she said the people there just don't know what they believe. It's more of a tradition than anything.
After visiting the cathedrals and seeing the monastary, we went to the touristy shop area. I loved seeing all the matroshka dolls set up and had to snap a picture.
On the way home, we met this sweet Babushka selling her wares. These babushkas are everywhere in the open market areas. Such a traditional look...and they all look like this!
The open markets are so fun to walk through. We know that Ruslan and Nastia's mom sold flowers in the market, so every time Marsh would see a woman selling flowers he'd say, "There she is!" Once again, we're trying to absorb these things to better know our new children.
This is in our apartment area. The building on the left is one of the apartment buildings. The building on the right is a medical clinic for families.
Here is Marsh getting ready to cross the street to go to our apartment building. It is the building that appears right by his head.
And just across the street from where he was standing, was this kindergarten school. You can see how the needs of the community are met right in their own neighborhood. Schools and apartments are right next to each other.
On the way into the building, we had to take a shot of the trash can for the building. It's a shute that everyone puts their trash down.

Here I am cooking in the little kitchen. We made noodles and sweet and sour chicken. I must say, with so few pans and such little space clean up is REALLY easy!
Tomorrow is our appointment at the State Department of Adoptions where we will receive our permission to visit the orphanage. It's first thing in the morning and we're really ready to get this show on the road!

Helpful Hints for Kiev--Day 2

Marsh had me bring clothes that would look the most Ukrainian because it's not a great idea to stand out as a tourist or American in these large cities. Boy am I glad I fit in a little! (He says my straight teeth make people think I am either a movie star or from another country. :) ) It's uncomfortable to be somewhere where you can't speak the language and have no idea how to ask for help or anything else. So I thought I would share some tips on what things are like here so you can know how best to fit in.
We were on public transportation almost all day (not something I would advise unless you have someone who knows their way around and can speak the language!). And while I was staring at the floor, trying not to make eye contact (see Behavior below), I was taking mental notes on the differences and similarities between their various life stages and the fashions to go along with them.
Women's fashions:
  • Here in Kiev, some people wear jeans. In the outer towns, that may not be so.
  • A lot of fur...fur lined coats with huge furry collars are the most common.
  • Dark colors. Occasionally I'd see a woman wearing pink or cream, but that was very rare. Most people wear black or gray. Same goes for both genders.
  • Shoes are usually black with a pointed toe (rounded point is most common)
  • High heeled boots are most common among younger women
  • Women always carry bags, not back packs. Their bags are usually dark and often made of faux alligator skin.
  • I did not observe one woman wearing earrings. In the US it is a fashion to wear big ones...I wouldn't do that here. It's too uncommon.
  • Ponytails are often worn low on the neck
  • Gloves and scarves are common in these colder temperatures.
  • Things seem to be either really plain or really gaudy. Women will wear Stilletto-type heels, mini skirts, black leather and jewels on their clothes and shoes...or their clothes will be rather plain and dark. I felt like I fit in alright with my black skirt and shoes and my brown faux fur lined skirt and black scarf and gloves.

Men's fashions:

  • Dark colors...blacks, greys, browns
  • Men rarely wear jeans.
  • Men do not carry backpacks...they use bags that are usually black, too. A computer bag would work fine.
  • Black coats are most common.
  • Everything is pretty non-descript on the men...not many name brands or designs on clothing.


  • Do not look anyone in the eye unless you have a reason to converse with them
  • Do not smile at anyone
  • Men give up their seat on the metro and the women just take it
  • Shove your way on the metro with no concern for anyone else...getting interesting, isn't it?
  • Dicker down on prices at the tourist shopping areas
  • Don't small talk with people
  • Walk fast and act like you know where you're going
  • Don't take pictures unless you want everyone to know you're a tourist.
  • Wear your passport in a pouch around your neck and under your clothes (these can be found at Walmart or anywhere)
  • Wear your cash in a money belt under your clothes
  • Don't use public transportation in Kiev unless you have a native or former missionary with you!
  • Don't expect people to smile at you or feel offended when they don't. That is just how they are here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Safe and Sound in Kiev--Day 1

About a week ago, I wrote a post about some of the things we were doing to prepare for departure. I'd like to add to those ideas here...and will probably repeat a few of them. These ideas are shared for the benefit of helping future adopting families prepare for this experience.

For those not planning to adopt, please go beyond the list for pictures and accounts of our experiences on Day 1.

For the flight:
  • CLOSE QUARTERS! Bring very few things to do so you don't have much to carry. The ipod/ipad/Nook/Kindle things are a REALLY good idea. You can take a bunch of books and movies and are carrying almost nothing.
  • Pack some snack bars/meal bars for when you need a little something extra to eat.
  • Overseas flights are now equipped with movie screens, blankets and pillows free of charge. We were really happy to have our neck pillows, though. Those little pillows they give you aren't quite enough padding for a 10 hour flight. :)
  • Check that your bags do not weigh more than the limit imposed by your airline. Luggage scales are available at Walmart and other stores for around $10. Take the scale with you so when you have purchased souvenirs, etc. you can still make sure your weight is correct.
  • Pack lightly. Unlike a couple of decades ago, the stores in Kiev are very well stocked. You can find anything you need here except your prescription medications. You will not want to be hauling a lot of stuff around because...

In Kiev:

  • Everything is small here! The cars are small, the elevators are TINY, the apartments are being in a large motor home. Be as simplistic as you can in your packing...bring matching clothes that can be interchanged rather than several different outfits.
  • Clothing can be washed, but will need to be hung to dry. Consider how often you will wash your clothes and plan accordingly for drying times and needs for clean clothes.
  • In your carry-on, bring pain killers or other OTC medicines you might need in flight. Long flights and lack of sleep can cause headaches, etc.
  • If you like your technological devices, here is a list for you! (Thanks, Dad! It has all been SO necessary!)
  1. Bring a convertor that has different converting capabilities. They are little attachments that go onto the outlet portion and can be used in different countries. Though the one we had was correct, we needed the matching attachment to extend the length of the converter so it could plug in.
  2. Bring an extension cord. If you only bring one convertor, you will only be able to plug in one thing at a time. An extension cord allows you to plug in three devices.
  3. Bring the grounding converter pieces. Your convertor will not allow you to plug in some my computer!..that have a grounder (the third prong). There are little attachments that will convert your three prong plug into a two prong plug. Check the plugs on your may need these!
  4. Hair dryers and curling irons have melted converters. Buy those things here if you end up needing them. They are available for about the same price you'd find in the States.
  5. If you are staying in someone's apartment, they probably have a hairdryer already.
  6. If you have an ipad/iphone/ipod, a remote keyboard is the best thing to use for typing. You can even avoid bringing a laptop if you have the keyboard and device to go with it.
  • If you are staying in someone's apartment, be ready with an idea of what you will cook. We were taken to a store today to purchase what we needed for meals for the next few days. We had to stand there and figure out what we were going to eat, then find the right ingredients (which can be challenging labels are in another language). Planning ahead of time will help you save time.


Luckily, I didn't wear makeup today...or was that yesterday? I knew I shouldn't because I had already been shedding tears off and on so it wasn't any use. Boy, am I glad I didn't bother.

Remember when I thought I had reached my Gethsemane? I was wrong. It was the first night away from the kids that was rock bottom for me. It was as if I needed to come to the realization that it was literally THE hardest thing I had ever been through (and I have been through some REALLY hard things) that made it possible to start working my way back up. The Lord was waiting there with outstretched arms, waiting for me to get to the point that I realized I couldn't be strong anymore and that I was at the mercy of His grace. Everything I thought I already knew in anticipation of the sacrifice, but didn't fully comprehend. And I realize now that I probably still don't comprehend it, but that's okay. It's all to be learned line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little until we are all we can become.

On the plane, taxiing down the runway, the tears started again. I went through a series of emotions that I only share because I think there may be others who will need to know that someone else has been through it. See, every time I started to think of Ruslan and Nastia, I felt better. I didn't cry anymore and I was not only at peace, but full of purpose and anticipation. That should have been a clue to me that that is what the Lord wanted me to be focused on. The fruits of the Spirit are peace, joy and love, all emotions I felt when I focused on Ruslan and Nastia. But, when I could start to feel that peace I suddenly felt guilty. I felt like I was betraying my other if I needed to be sad to honor their sacrifice for this process. As if, by missing them and feeling badly about leaving them, I was taking the pain of our absence away. And if I wasn't sad, then I wasn't feeling what I should feel and I wasn't doing my duty as their mother.

I know, it all sounds crazy. I still have some thinking to do on this, but I do know one thing: the Lord wants us to be happy. Anything that keeps us from true joy and happiness is not of Him. My sorrow in leaving my children doesn't help any of us. Marsh wisely told me as I was tearing up for the millionth time, "Isn't it great that love is spiritual and not physical? Your love doesn't go with you when you leave. It isn't confined to physical presence. It's a spiritual gift you leave behind to bless them while you're gone. And anyway, Heavenly Father is there taking care of them." What a man.

Okay, enough about my emotions. Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what we've experienced during the last...well...however many hours it's been since we left home. :)

Bye, bye, USA! We flew Delta, which has a special adoption perk...they waive the flight change fee that you would otherwise have to pay if you change the date of the return trip. They apparently understand that you may need to return on a different day than you had originally planned. So, enjoy buying the round trip tickets and know you can come back whenever you need to!

The airport in Paris is so big, you need a tram to get you to your next gate! I can now say that I set foot on French soil...well, concrete anyway.

I had to have Marsh take a picture of me in the chandeliered perfume counter. It was the most French thing I saw! Oh, besides the little chocolate pastries and the chocolate vending machines EVERY WHERE. I the chocolate everywhere because they actually take pride in their chocolate or because they think Americans expect it of them?

When we arrived in Ukraine, I made the mistake of trying to take a picture of the sign that read "Check In" in Russian. I know, how dare I! This angry female security guard, hit my camera and said, "Erase it!" in Russian. Marsh had to translate for me, of course. The people around me were was I. I remembered reading the blog of someone who did essentially the same thing. I should have had my wits about me, but NO. I did as she asked. I turned to Marsh and said, "We're not in Kansas anymore!" Just outside the passport check was our driver with a sign with our name in it. Marsh whispered that I should say something in Russian, which I obediently did and our driver smiled and shook our hands. Good thing I can trust my husband to make less of a fool of me than I make of myself!

By the way, it's true what they say...people don't smile here. They kind of scowl all the time and don't look at each other. What a relief! I don't have to act happy and bubbly when I'm completely exhausted from flying across the pond! :)

People live in apartments here. I wish I had the patience to upload all the pictures I took of these, but this will have to do. These are EVERYWHERE. As a matter of fact, this is all there is here...with a store or two sprinkled in between. They all look like this, too...ju st rows and rows and rows of these apartment buildings. The schools are non-descript brick buildings in between them. There are children and stray dogs about everywhere in some areas. Thickly forested areas (one with a pet cemetery in it) are broken up only by the vastness of these apartment building areas. It took me a while to realize that this is what the residential district of Kiev looks like. It looks so much like our downtown/ghetto areas that I had to make a shift in the way I think. We are staying in an apartment on the third floor of a building just like this one. You'd never know from the outside that it was so nice on the inside. Can't judge a book by its cover.

The front door to our building. Marsh said we are staying in one of the nicer ones because this door stays locked from the outside.

Kitchen is behind Marsh, the dining room in front. :)

This is one way down the one hall. The toilet is on the left, the shower/sink/washing machine on the right. To the right is the kitchen/dining and to the left is the refrigerator...which can't be open without the toilet door being shut. And vice versa. To my right is the bedroom and behind me is the living room. To my left is the front door. And that, my friends, is what people live in here. Which explains why so few children are adopted within the country of Ukraine. It is smaller than the dorms I stayed in at college.

More of Kiev tomorrow!