Tuesday, September 16, 2014

August: "Mommy's scarf has 32 Penguins on it." 
Mommy: "Sequins. They're called SEquins.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Introducing Maryna Michelle!

We got our court date for Monday, September 8 and flew to Ukraine over the weekend.  We arrived to her town late Monday morning and visited a bit before heading to the court house.

Everyone was nervous.  Everyone was antsy. The court started an hour late, adding to our nerves.  But in the end, it was smooth.  We professed our affections for her, explained how she was already a daughter in our hearts and a sister to our younger children, and we asked the court to help make it legally official.  It was a beautiful afternoon which I will (really, promise, gosh I hope) someday blog in more detail.

We spent the afternoon touring her dormitory and then the village.  Rob and I returned to Odessa for the evening, did some more paperwork on Tuesday, and flew home Wednesday.

Rob returns next week to pick up the official adoption decree and take custody of our new daughter.  Then comes a paperwork chase of getting her new birth certificate to reflect our last name and then using that to apply for a new Ukrainian passport to use at immigration.  Then a trip to the US Embassy to apply for immigration and, if all goes well, a flight home together about 10 days after he leaves.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Back to School!

Oh sweet day.  They're back at school for 7 blessed hours.  Seven hours away from each other and their parents gives them a chance to practice their cooperation skills and leadership skills with people that have not yet had it right up to here with their leadership attempts.

And seven hours with other adults that also expect them to follow a simple request, share their space, and follow a list of acceptable behaviors means that maybe, just maybe, it's not that their parents are tyrannical maniacs. It's possible that other adults agree with those parents that throwing your shoes at another person while singing the same line of a song over and over and over in your loudest voice is, truly and honestly, just not an acceptable indoor activity.  Our even an outdoor one.  But definitely not indoor.

Bless their sweet teachers.

We got out the door and into the car and to the school with three whole minutes remaining before they'd even allow us to drop them off.  Out, out, OUT of the car with you, children.  I will greet you at 3:35 PM with a ready ear, a smiling face, a meal plan, and a hug.

Meanwhile, Rob and I took the day off as Freedom Day and enjoyed a seventeen mile bike ride in which not one person whined about the pace or how closely someone else was riding to them or demanded to stop to use a restroom or pick up a leaf or rescue a caterpillar or ask about lunch.  I'm looking at you, August.

And now we're home and thinking thoughts and making phone calls and not one person has interrupted to tell me that another person has climbed to the top of a rickety pile of things to get a thing that was hidden up there for exactly the purpose of keeping it out of said person's hands and now that person has taken the thing and used it and broken it and also is hurt.  I'm looking at you, Katie and Jorge.  I'm looking at nearly every day of you.

And not one sweet voice has demanded that I stop everything to wipe a bottom, correct a sibling, describe our next meal in detail, provide just one more piece of scotch tape, or consider letting them do something partially impossible and entirely dangerous.

It's a little intoxicating, honestly.

And just when it starts to get a little dull, they'll tumble out of the doors and back into the car with voices shouting over each other to tell us about how it was just the best day ever and that their friends are all doing crazy exciting things and who had a hair cut and who is taller and which friends they spent their day near and how they didn't have time to eat lunch because they were just so busy talking.  And we'll rush and rumble through the afternoon and into the dinner and right up to bedtime with "and then..." and "but did I tell you.." and "tomorrow we'll..." until it's quiet again.  And again.  And again.

Bless their sweet teachers.  This is the pace at which we excel.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Preparing to Go

We're hoping to get word tomorrow (Monday) that the final signature is done.  Once that is done, our lawyers there will go to the courts to request a court date.  They can typically choose anything they want, from next day or a month later.  Usually they choose something a week or two into the future if the family is not hanging out in-country.  If the family is there, they choose the same week.  We're more interested in time than convenience and ticket prices seem pretty stable (not much difference in prices for a ticket purchased for next week versus tomorrow) so we told her to give us at least 2 days notice but otherwise book it.  We may be in Ukraine within a week.  Then home again still without her, then back again, them home together.

The process (reminder)
1. Approved as a good family in the US (done as of last May)
2. Approved as a good family by Ukraine (approved in July)
3. Fly to Ukraine and have a meeting where we review files and choose a kid to meet, go meet them, meet the social workers and directors, sign a bunch of papers saying we want to parent this kid; kid signs papers saying they want us (done in early August; "trip 1".  Sort of a formality since we knew her already but there's no waiving it for cases like ours.  It just went way faster: 2 days where "blind" might take weeks.)
4. Those papers get signed by the social worker and orphanage director and submitted to the department of children's affairs for final review and approvals of us as a matched set.  (done done and done in early August, as we were flying home). 
5.  Final review signed off by official department of children's services person.  (Waiting. This has been held up for 3 weeks for no given reason.  Typically takes 2 weeks, but we hit 3 tomorrow.)
6. Signed approvals allow for a court date.  This is basically like a court-house wedding -- we show up in court with M and all swear we want this and will honor our commitments.  There may be some questions, but I've never heard of anyone being denied at this point.  We both have to be there in person. We'll fly in, do court, and fly home without her.  Because...
7. 10 day waiting period.  We'll return home without her because life does not allow for us to hang out for 10 days.
8. Rob flies back and on day 11 gets the adoption certificate and takes custody.  Go get a new birth certificate showing her new last name.  Go file for a new passport with her new last name.
9. Travel to Kiev to go to the US embassy to file for immigration paperwork under her new last name.
10. Several days in Kiev doing immigration paperwork, waiting for the new passport to be issued and delivered, etc.
11. Fly home together.

If we are lucky and get that signature tomorrow, we could feasibly fly to Ukraine Weds (arrive Thursday), have court Friday.  That would put the day 11 pick up on Tuesday Sept 16 and everyone might be home and together by the 23rd (perfect timing for the family wedding on the 27th).  If we delay until Monday the 8th, the eleventh day pick up is a Friday (the 19th) and we'd be lucky to have them home by Friday the 26th (could fly directly to the wedding location and still attend).  Any later than that, though, and Rob and M will miss the wedding for sure.  So..we watch and wait.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Random bits

It is late August and we are finally having Katie's birthday slumber party tomorrow night with a few girl friends.  Invites were issued this morning.  Thank goodness her friends have families that don't mind last minute plans.

Rob's mom's garden is producing zucchini at alarming rates.  Today's haul was about 10 shoe-sized and 2 that were as big as Rob's entire lower leg.  I've turned one of the giants into a "Zuc-a-mole" which should freeze well and will then work as a mayo/pesto option; and the other joined a load of bell peppers and onions (also from her garden) to turn into sweet pickle relish.  It's 11PM and it's ready to be jarred and sealed and I'm craving a big hotdog covered in this stuff.

I'm not pregnant.  Totally not.  But based on today's high-waisted dress and my exhausted default state, and the fact that I had ginger ale instead of wine at tonight's "welcome back to a new school year" dinner, I'm pretty sure my whole department thinks I'm secretly expecting.  Shhh...

A former student of mine babysat the kids this afternoon so I could work and Rob could accomplish things without 3 kids in tow.  She made little gifts for each of them.  They love her already.  Yay!

Shoes!  I bought a pair of pointy-toe shiny black flats in 2010 for about $15.  Target brand from Target.  I know this because I was pregnant with August and heels were ruled out and I fond a cute pair of clearly dress-y shoes that were completely flat.  I wore them nearly every day and continued to do so for 4 years.  About 6 months after buying them, I began to regret that I hadn't gotten several pair. They were the best dress shoes ever, and they wouldn't last forever.  Four years later, the toe tips are nearly rounded and ripped off, the heel cups were split open along the seam, and there was no traction left.  I wore them every single day in Ukraine for miles of walking.  I have about 5 pair of black flats purchased over the years as replacements that have all failed to be as comfortable.  Friends: Target has them again this summer.  I bought a pair last week and wore them all day yesterday and today and it is love.  Now that I'm sure and know this size works, I'm going back for 3 pair to stash in my closet and I'm officially set for a decade.  I recommend a 1/2 size bigger than your usual shoe size.  They're $19.99.

30-ish years ago, on my mom's birthday, she was doing her annual garden -> pasta sauce routine.  Tomatoes were washed, blanched, peeled, and simmered.  Onions, peppers, and garlic were added.  Herbs and spices...  Hours in a steamy kitchen in mid-August, resulting in a huge black kettle of spicy tomato sauce simmering in the oven.  As mom went to remove it for jarring, it tipped and spilled scalding hot pasta sauce all over her kitchen and legs.  On her birthday.   This week, a few days after mom's birthday and on a far smaller scale, I sauteed some onion and garlic in a little oil, then piled the biggest soup-pot I own full of the tomatoes that have overflown our garden and sprouted up in the yard.  They simmered and stirred for hours until they were a chunky stew.  I let them cool, then ladled them into quart sized zipper bags to freeze down for winter soups and stews.  One tipped.  Another sprung a leak.  Tomato sauce filled the grout lines in my counters and dribbled down the cabinets and puddled on the floor.  And then August announced he'd had yet another potty accident and I laughed (between curses and mutterings).  Just like mom. (This photo was taken after the first one tipped over and I'd cleaned up most of the solid mess.  I wiped this up and then the other bag burst open and made a way way bigger mess and Auggie announced he'd had an accident and I was not in the mindset to find it photoworthy.)

Friday, August 15, 2014


In short:

We left our house at 8AM Sunday and ran into a series of airline delays and cancellations that eventually landed us in Ukraine around midnight late Monday night.  We got checked into the rental apartment and crashed into sleep.

Tuesday: up at 7, picked up at 8:30 for a meeting at 9.  On the way home from the meeting we stopped to exchange some American dollars for Ukrainian hryvnia and picked up some groceries.  We were dropped off at our apartment by 11 and spent the rest of the day walking around.  We were only one block off of the Maidan where the protests and violence took place last fall and through the winter.  The mood was respectful but relaxed.

We circled around several times, came back for a shower and nap, went to dinner at a touristy place on the Maidan square (delicious food, excellent service: Shato), and then back to sleep.  Sleep was the number one most wonderful treat of the trip, followed by time to actually talk to each other.  Sights and food were amazing, but nothing beats rest and together-time.

Wednesday we slept late into the morning and then met with a tour guide to see more of the city.  The whole trip required flexibility as any and all plans were subject to the issuance of papers, availability of transportation, agreements of social workers and directors and agents...so we had to roll with whatever came up.  Wednesday turned out to be pretty relaxed--we toured a campus of churches and a monastery on the south eastern side of the city, doubled back to the social offices to pick up the completed paperwork from Tuesday morning's meeting, and then had dinner with friends that were in town for their adoption of another girl from the same school as M.  As we chatted with them after dinner, around 10PM, we got a call saying we were booked for a 7AM bus ride the next morning and had to be packed up and moved out of the apartment by 6AM; so we cut the night off at that point and headed to the apartment to shower, pack, and try to rest.
Monastery and Dnipro river
Monastery and the statue of "MotherLand"

Thursday morning we boarded a large tour-type bus and traveled 4 hours south.  We got off at a gas stop and were greeted by our in-country social worker, her translator, another couple also adopting from the same school, their two potential kids from that school, and M.  M was being shy and hanging out by the van, but we gathered her up with hugs and greeted everyone else.  We all climbed into the van and took about 45 minutes of rough hilly roads to the school's village.  Once there we left the kids by the van and went in to an upper floor for a short meeting with some social workers and case directors.  Lots of speaking in a language we didn't understand, some looking at photos, and pleasant smiling and nodding.  Then we headed down and out to the van, drove about two blocks up a hill, and hopped out to go meet with the director of the school.  The kids joined us and signed their letters of consent.  This was a big emotional moment for them--agreeing to put everything they knew and loved up against the promise of our families.  Some anxiety and cold feet and heartache was expected and understood.  Indeed, anything less would have been strange and alarming.  In the end, everyone signed.  Rob and I met with the director privately (as did the other family) to get more information about school history and then we all headed back out to the van.  We drove back to the bus stop, where the other couple said their goodbyes and caught a north-bound bus back to Kiev as they prepared to fly home the next morning.  Meanwhile, Rob and I traveled with the three kids another two hours south to Odessa where we met with a lawyer to sign and notarize more documents.  We said our goodbyes to the kids at the lawyer's curb; the van driver was to return them to camp and we'd find another way home.  We were put on a "mini-bus" (15 passenger van) at 7:30 and set off into the night for a terrifying ride (I think we spent more time in the on-coming traffic's lane than our own; also an angry possibly intoxicated man started yelling at us in Ukrainian at a rest stop) and we arrived in Kiev around 1 AM.  Our translator/agent/friend picked us up and took us to a new apartment where we showered and collapsed back into bed by 2:30.  There had been no food or drink all day (fear of bathrooms and also being stuck in cars and buses) but we were too tired to care about anything except pillows.

Also: at this point we were done with all of the paperwork and free to leave or stay for a vacation.  We'd originally booked our tickets to return Wednesday the 13th in case paperwork was delayed at some point, but we asked our travel agent to move it up to the weekend if he could.  He got us out on a Saturday morning flight, allowing us to save 4 nights of stay and also get home to our work and family responsibilities faster.

Friday: We slept until almost noon.  We'd hoped to get breakfast at our favorite place, but instead had lunch at another "traditional Ukrainian" place (probably as close to "traditional" as Texas Road House or Denny's is to true American food, but delicious).  We did some sight-seeing on our own, including a walk through the Maidan which had a noticeably more tense feel.  The mayor had initiated clean-up measure the day before which had led to protests and burning tires, so the mood was definitely shifted.

We headed toward a different part of the city for some sightseeing of old cathedrals and souvenirs.  We stopped by the apartment to freshen up and had dinner at an outdoor cafe near our first apartment.  Then home and packing (our suitcase broke at this point, but we managed to MacGyver it back together) and attempts to be tired considering we had a 3AM pick-up for our drive to the airport.  No luck.  The stress of the Maidan only a block away and anxiety about oversleeping combined with being fairly rested from our late morning meant we didn't sleep at all.

Saturday: Picked up at 3AM, airport by 3:30, through security and departure customs and at our gate by 4, plane at 5:45 to Frankfurt.  On our ride we were seated next to a young woman who seemed scared or at least new to flying.  I attempted to help her figure out the vent and flagged down a blanket for her.  As we approached Frankfurt we got to chatting and, long story short, she was a former host kid from a similar program and was graduated out and heading back to the US on the oh-so-rarely-given short-term visa.  She was going to stay with her former host family in Pennsylvania.  She was very sweet and anxious about her connection process.  We were flying out of the same terminal, so we walked with her through the customs and security processes and got her most of the way to her gate.  What a blessing to have the chance to help her!  We then caught the long flight to DC and--after a moderate connection that turned into a long delayed connection--we got home around 9PM (almost 24 hours after we'd left our apartment).  We slept.

Sunday we hoped to make a small date-day out of it but were so exhausted we slept most of the day and then ran some short errands.  Monday we were back to reality and then my parents arrived with the 3 little kids around dinner time.  They left Tuesday and we're back at full-speed chaos.

Dearest August, on turning four.

My precious peach, my Boo.

You are pure sunshine.  Peach juice and teddy bears and all things sweet and cuddly.

You are endlessly happy, greeting each morning with a stretch and a grin where you bite your lower lip and only expose your top two teeth.

You are Olaf.  Happy and optimistic and always rolling with the punches.  You find simple things amusing and amazing and are always delighted in life.  You ask the questions that grownups forget to ask, like "do chickens smile?"

Your arms are built for hugging.  You give and take kisses as a currency and always have a fair supply to share but also just enough room to accept a few more.  Tight squeezes, 10-hugs, kisses on the bridge of the nose...these are yours.

You are funny.  You amuse no one as much as yourself, but your observations and attempts at jokes are hilarious in their sweetness.

You are brave.  You are actually terrified of so many things -- loud noises, sharks, most dinosaurs, dozens of fictional characters, splashing water, and an endless supply of anxiety inducing scenarios -- but your brave little heart won't shy away.  It tackles these things over and over and over as you tell and re-tell yourself stories about how much you actually like these things.  How they are funny or interesting or secretly actually quite nice.  How you think they're cool.  But at night, you'll quietly tuck them away and out of sight so that they won't show up in your dreams.  You still have nightmares almost every night.  My sweet puppy.

You love to sing and quote things and say "Who said that?".  You love to dance and count.  Last night you were counting, just for fun.  Just because you like to make noise and counting is a steady drumbeat of noises.  You counted to 96 and then got distracted by something--true Olaf fashion--and started asking about the weather.  My brain couldn't take it.  "say 97.  97.  Buddy.  Focus.  97."

You never. ever.  ever. stop talking.  You talked 9 hours straight on our way to Ohio.  You talked 12 hours on the way back.  You have a million thoughts and ideas.  Most of them gallop out at a frantic start but then stop for a nibble and meander off into the middle of nowhere.  "I think that we should go to the...to the.... to... I think that...I think that we should... I think that we should go to the...the...the... I think that we should go to the park what we went to one time what had the....the....  I think that we should go to the park what had the slides.  Remember?  Wasn't that nice?  We should go to there."

Yes, my peach.

You love Frozen.  Elsa is your favorite, but you also love Kristoff and Sven.  You love Olaf.  You think Anna is wonderful.  Even Hans makes your list of nice guys--betrayal and sword play are apparently not villainous offenses to you yet-- and you sing every song despite only having seen the movie twice.  Naturally it was your first choice as a birthday cake.  You spent the day wishing for snow.

You lost me on that one, I have to say.

But who are we kidding?  You, my Auggie-doggie, my Snuggle-up-a-Gus, my AugusTony... you can have all the snow you want.   I'll be right inside singing "Summer" and preparing your cocoa.

Love always,