Monday, December 31, 2007

Best buds. . .

I have to admit, when we decided to adopt, I was a bit worried about how well Maren, Lukas and Jacob would adjust to having two new siblings. I shouldn't have worried. I have actually been amazed at how quickly they have all taken to each other. It is as if Josh and Evan have always been a part of the family.

I have really enjoyed being a spectator and watching them all interact with each other. I always assumed that Maren would be the most likely to "take the boys under her wing," but I have been pleasantly surprised to see Jacob taking on that role. All three of the kids love their new brothers, but Jacob has really attached to his new siblings, especially Evan. Jacob and Evan are sharing a room during nap times (I have to separate Jacob and Lukas or it is just one big party. . .and unfortunately they are generally not slumber parties) and I have walked past their room many times to hear them laughing and singing together.

Jacob, Lukas and Evan love playing "games" with each other. Head bonking and disgusting mouth noises are among their favorites. I just love seeing them laughing and playing together.

The following are some of the pictures I have snapped over the past week that capture some of their sweet moments together (ps- don't forget to click on the pictures to see larger versions). . .

Evan and Jacob having a brotherly chat

Going for a walk in the "choo choo." I did get a shot of this with everyone looking at the camera but I loved Jacob and Evan in this picture!

Maren and Josh enjoying Maren's new doll house! This picture cracks me up!

Jacob and Evan watching Sesame Street together. Jacob is my snuggle bug and he is very happy to have another brother to snuggle with.

Jacob, Lukas and Evan having some male bonding time!

I have a thousand more pictures just like these (my kids are probably sick of having the camera in their faces), but unfortunately I have reached my picture limit for the day!!!

I have done a series of posts this evening, so be sure to keep scrolling so you don't miss any of the action! I apologize for not updating sooner. After the abuse that my poor body has taken over the past few months, it finally decided to retaliate and I was hit with a nasty stomach virus the day after Christmas. Fortunately I was the only one to get sick, but it stuck around for quite awhile! Thankfully I am well again and finally starting to recover from all of the traveling and the stress of the past few months. I think knowing that I won't be flying half-way across the world again any time soon has definitely helped with the recovery process!

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year!!!


I could not ask for more . . .

There have been many times over the past few weeks and months when I have stood in awe of the two newest members of our family. While going through the adoption process I dreamed of my boys, I looked at their pictures on the refrigerator many, many times each day and I longed to hold them, kiss them and love them, but it almost seemed like a dream. Now that dream is a reality. They are no longer just pictures on my refrigerator. . . .they are living, breathing, beautiful children sitting in my living room, eating at my table, sleeping in their beds and I am in awe of them. They are growing, they are thriving, they are simply amazing little people and I am truly humbled to be their mother and to be able to watch them learn, grow and achieve. I honestly could not ask for more. . . .

Joshua on Christmas morning

Santa's Little Helper

Happy to be home!

Mmmmm. . .Pizza!

Evan's first trip to the park! He loved it!

2007. . .An incredible year for the Rieben Family!

As 2007 draws to a close I can't help but think about what an incredible year it has been for our family. It is hard to believe that, this time last year, we had not even started our international adoption journey. That adventure began in February when our hearts were turned from the domestic adoption of an infant to international adoption. We signed with our agency, About A Child, in early March and found our sweet Joshua a few weeks later. We spent the next few months in a flurry of paperwork and finally submitted our dossier for Uzbekistan at the beginning of June. Just a few short weeks later, we found Evan at Reece's Rainbow and knew that he was meant to be a Rieben too! We completed our dossier for Ukraine at the end of August and it was submitted to the SDA in mid September. At the beginning of October, we received word that we would be traveling to Uzbekistan to finalize Josh's adoption and on October 23, 2007, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Joshua Steve Ortyk Rieben became the newest member of our family.

While in Uzbekistan, I received word that we had gotten an appointment date for Ukraine. . .November 9th. Thankfully we were able to swap dates with another family and that appointment date was changed to November 21st. I spent 2 weeks at home before Richard and I left for Ukraine. On December 6, 2007, Evan Valera Rieben joined our family. After spending a week at home, I headed back to Ukraine to finalize Evan's adoption and we arrived back home just 2 days before Christmas!

Although we have only been home for a week, it has been amazing to have everyone together! Obviously I have oversimplified the events of the past year in the above summary. . .in between the lines have been many ups and downs, many joys, many heartaches and many, many, miracles. I have learned a lot of things this year and I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for allowing me these experiences. When it comes right down to it, there just are not words to express my gratitude for all of the blessings that we have experienced and received. My cup runneth over! My joy is full!

I can only imagine what the Lord has in store for us in 2008. . . .

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Need I Say More. . .

After about 57 shots, I finally got everyone to at least look at the camera! Success! It is so good to have all of my children together (From left to right: Jacob, Lukas, Joshua, Maren and Evan)!

And here are the outtakes of our Christmas Eve photo shoot. . . . .




Obviously there is much more to say, but my head is dangerously close to the keyboard and I am afraid that I may start drooling any minute, so I will save all of the juicy details of our homecoming for a time when my brain can muster coherent thought. We had an amazing Christmas as a family of seven and I can't wait to tell you all about it!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ohio Is For Those Not Stuck In Virginia

OK, false start. Aeroflot sucks. They missed their flight to Dayton because Aeroflot was 30 minutes late and forgot to call for a shuttle to pick up the passengers from their holding area. If it wasn't for those two glaring failures on Aeroflot's part, they would be home right now. Stupid Aeroflot.

Good news is that they're staying at my dad's home near the airport in Virginia and they have confirmed seats on an 830 flight tomorrow. They are also fortunate to at least have their luggage, so a shower and fresh clothing is available to them.

So.... again, Aeroflot sucks.

In other news, the kids are worn out and everyone had a rough day. I'm tired and sick, but I cannot complain because I'm sleeping in my own bed tonight.

Perhaps tomorrow this will be over.

Oh, I finally sold the range that has been sitting in my garage since we moved into our new house. Victory.

Here's some Christmas cheer for everyone...

Christmas time
On a cold December morning
All is calm
And the world is still asleep

Christmas lights
That have been caught without warning
Gently glitter on
Stars to wish upon
All the world is at peace

Christmas time and the year will soon be leaving
Cloaked in time till it's just a memory
Christmas stays if we don't forget its meaning
Days go quickly by
Years they multiply
And we go searching for thee

And the dream is still alive
From that first December morning
And it always will survive
As long as we can see
That the dreams we find in life
Are the dreams we tend to seek
And Christmas has its promises to keep

Christmas time
And the moments just beginning
From last night
When we'd wished upon a star

If our kindness
This day is just pretending
If we pretend long enough
Never giving up
It just might be who we are

And so it's good that we remember
Just as soon as we've discovered
That the things we do in life
Will always end up touching others

So from a fading neon star
Somewhere shining in the night
We find a father far away
Now reflecting in its light

Good night, and God bless.

Standing By...

No news is good news at this point. Joshua and I are hanging out in the office working stations on my amateur radio. Val is due in at 6:30 PM, so let's hope for the best in terms of flights and baggage!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

No Cash? Use Your VISA!!!

Evan's got his VISA, we couldn't change their flight to come home earlier, they'll be leaving Saturday morning and getting to Dayton late Saturday (Hopefully.)

The rest of the kids are alive and there are no less than 15 boxes of presents that came from the UPS fairy stacked up in the garage. Speaking of which, I need to clean the garage.

Oh, Rob and I are still alive too. Barely. I'm tired.

R-

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ho Ho Hope They Come Home Soon!

*Richard Here*

I talked to Val again this morning and everything is on-time and going well. They finally have their baggage, and they have their interview at the US Embassy tomorrow at 2pm. That being said, they're going to try to change their flight to arrive home late Friday instead of Saturday, hoping to beat the weekend flight traffic.

Val said Evan's doing well and he's happy, but she's having a tough time feeding him because he won't eat anything but cookies and bread. He's scared of utensils, which Val thinks is because they never used them at the orphanage. Who knows - but I'm sure I'll having him scarfing down IBC Root Beer and Krispey Kreme Doughnuts in no time.

Josh and I went Christmas shopping yesterday. He helped me pick out some cute gifts by grunting in approval. The kids are still alive, and Rob and I are tired - Rob's tired because he's been on the road for three weeks, and me because I'm still not sleeping well.

R-

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Back to Kiev!

*Yet again, another post by Richard*

I talked with Val's mom this morning at 5:30 AM our time since I couldn't sleep... here's the latest! They picked up Evan yesterday afternoon, after getting his passport, court decree and birth certificate completed in Donetsk. Since their baggage (which I'll discuss later) was not in Artemovsk, they had to buy Evan's outfit off of the orphanage, and they ended up getting a pink snow suit and pink hat.... poor little guy. They also had to buy diapers and miecellaneous other items that Val had packed for Evan but obviously did not have. They went and got some food and then rushed over to the train station where they literally ran to the train, and ran to their car (since the train stops for only two minutes.) I don't think they slept much on the train ride, but apparently it went OK, because they are now happily in a large apartment in Kiev, with hot water, showers, and all the other conveniences of a home away from home. They have already done the medical review and when I talked to Liz they were in the process of translating the paperwork for submission to the embassy. This being said, if all goes well they will be done with the embassy tomorrow morning... and that means that if everything goes well they *may* be able to change their flights and come home earlier, or they'll be able to enjoy two days of downtime resting up for the flight back Saturday morning. If the flight plans *can* be changed I'll let everyone know.

So about the baggage... Of the three checked bags, only two have made it to Kiev, and the other one should arrive late today. I don't know how the bags got so "lost" - maybe "the others" took them... har har... Lost joke.

Back home on the farm things are going well. The kids are handling things OK, but I can tell they're yearning for a return to normalcy in their lives. Sometimes I just have to chuckle at how they'll have these outbursts of irrational thought... I'm sure some of it is from being a toddler, but some is probably from the stress of things being so crazy around here. But the laundry is done, the dishes are clean, and the kids are well fed, so I would say we're doing just fine.

Christmas preparations are wrapping up (har, har... it's a pun, get it?) and my "family gifts" have been purchased. I also got some stuff for Val, and she's all mad because she says I'm too hard to buy things for. I told her to just get me a roll of toilet paper. The kids gifts continue to pour in, which I find funny considering the fact that Val said she wasn't going to get many gifts for the kids this year. I think the UPS guy is getting sick of hauling boxes to our house everyday. There are gifts for the kids in our bedroom, the garage and in various closets throughout the house - I think I have some wrapping to do.

Well, time for me to go make some money. Work is going well, by the way.

If you have specific questions or anything, give me a call or an email. Thanks for the thoughts and prayers, and keep the comments pouring in.

Желаю тебе счастливого Рождества!

Richard-

Monday, December 17, 2007

Alive & Well in Donetsk!!! (Post By Richard)

*Richard Here*

Sorry to disappoint everyone, no post from Val today, so you're stuck reading my continual blubbering.

I talked to Val early this morning (our time.) The "Luxury Bus" ride went ok, despite a relative lack of luxury. The ended up in Donetsk at 6am, and waited at a McDonalds while their translator did paperwork in Artemovsk and then drove to Donetsk to do the passport. So far they're tired and I'm sure sick of traveling, but all has gone well. Apparently their baggage has been located and should be secured for them by this evening.

If all goes according to plan, they're going to pick up Evan this afternoon and then head back to Kiev by plane, train, automobile, camel, moped, scooter, or whatever method of transportation seems to be in style at this time.

Regarding Evan - when they went to take his passport picture he started crying and asked for his "Papa," so I can rest assured that A) he still remembers me and B) I'd better have some cookies ready for him when he gets home.

In other news, Captain Awesome and I are holding down the fort pretty well. I spent the day yesterday catching up on laundry and cleaning the house. The kids miss mommy and keep asking when she's going to get home. Josh as usual is a great baby and rarely fusses. He watched the entire Browns/Bills game with me yesterday, so he's on his way to becoming a manly-man.

The kids are getting trunky from being in the house, so we'll have to get them out soon to do something fun.

Val does not have reliable access to the internet at this time, so if you want updates, email me or call me on my cell. I'll post here as I learn more as well.

Ho ho ho.

R-

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Alive and well in Kiev!

Well, I've got to say, I still cannot believe that we made it. Our flight out of Dayton took off a few minutes late because the plane needed to be de-iced, but it did take off and almost on time. We got to Dulles about 30 minutes before our flight to Moscow was scheduled to take off. We were unable to get our boarding passes for our flight to Moscow in Dayton, so we had absolutely no idea where we needed to go. Luckily we found the gate quickly and were able to get there just in time for boarding. The flight ended up taking off an hour late which put us in Moscow an hour late. By the time we got off the plane we had 10 minutes before our flight to Kiev was scheduled to take off. Talk about a rush! Unfortunately, when we arrived in Kiev, we learned that our checked luggage had not followed us there, so we are without most of our belongings. Thankfully, both my mom and I packed enough stuff to get by for a few days in our carryon bags, so we should be okay until we get back to Kiev to claim our bags on Tuesday or Wednesday. I am a bit bummed that the bag full of orphanage donations, gifts to the orphanage workers and various things I was carrying for people will not be going with me to Artemovsk, but (for those of your who I am carrying things for) I have been promised that it will make it to Masha so that she can distribute the various items. I am sad that I will not be there to give things out myself, but as long as everything makes it to where it needs to go, I will be happy.

We will be traveling by "luxury bus" (aka a tour bus) to Donetsk this evening and are scheduled to arrive early tomorrow morning. The bus was definitely not my first choice, but all of the train and plane tickets were booked and it came down to a bus or a car and the bus won out! I have been reassured by my facilitator that it will be a "comfortable ride" and that "we should be able to sleep," and I am really hoping that is the case because I am exhausted. Masha will pick us up at the bus station in the morning and then we will get to work on the decree, birth certificate and passport and hopefully pick Evan up tomorrow afternoon.

Thank you all for your prayers and support. It was definitely on the wings of prayer that we made it here as scheduled today, of that there is no doubt!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Oh, the weather outside is frightful!

Four hours until our flight takes off and it is snowing like crazy outside! I think the chance of our flight leaving on schedule is probably slim, but I am trying my best to make snow cones out of this snow storm. My first snow cone. . .at least I am still at home and not sitting in the airport. Second snow cone. . .If our flight is delayed/canceled and we miss our connection in Dulles (there is only 1.5 hours between our flights), maybe we will get lucky and won't have to fly through Moscow. Not that I have anything against Moscow, but if we get delayed there. . say, overnight maybe, we cannot leave the airport because we do not have transit visas! So, flying through another country that does not require a visa would definitely make me feel a bit better about any delays. Why did I choose a flight that flies through Moscow in the first place? Well, the price difference was significant and, after spending a lot of money on flights between Uzbekistan and Ukraine, I needed to economize as much as possible, so Moscow it is!

Everything has worked according to the Lord's plan up to this point so I have no reason to doubt that it will change. If we get delayed because of the storm then there is a reason for it and we will simply roll with the punches. It is actually much less stressful knowing that someone else is pulling the strings and that I just need to trust (not to say that trusting is easy, but the Lord always provides). So, if any of you could spare a few prayers, please pray that the Lord's will be done and that, eventually, we will make it back to Ukraine so that I can cover my sweet boy in hugs and kisses and bring him home to his family forever!

Stay tuned. . .the best is yet to come!

Friday, December 14, 2007

One more time. . . .

I am leaving again for Ukraine tomorrow afternoon. While I am very, very excited to be bringing Evan home, I have to admit, the thought of traveling half-way across the world again makes me a bit nauseous! It has been a great week, but a long one.

After we arrived home, we enjoyed a very laid back day with the kids, but since then, we have been running at full speed ahead! Jacob came down with a nasty little stomach virus on Monday night. Thankfully it was just a 24-hour bug and everyone else in the house was spared! We put up our Christmas tree and had cookies and hot cocoa on Monday night and went to see the lights at a local park on Wednesday evening. Every other night this week I have spent my evenings running all over town trying to get my Christmas shopping done and get ready for Evan to come home. It has been quite a whirlwind, but I am so glad that I have had this week to prepare as there just was not much time to do everything between Uzbekistan and Ukraine. My body hates me for all that I have put it through and I have spent most of the week sick, but knowing that there is an end in sight has definitely kept me going.

We are right in the path of a nasty winter storm that is supposed to hit us tomorrow morning/afternoon, so I am a bit nervous that our flight out of Dayton may be delayed or canceled (causing us to miss our connecting flight at Dulles. . . hmmm, that sounds eerily familiar). Even if we get set back a bit, the way things are looking, we will likely still be able to make it home by next weekend, but any extra prayers for an uneventful flight over would be greatly appreciated!

If all goes smoothly with our flights, we are scheduled to arrive in Kiev on Sunday afternoon. From Kiev, we will take the overnight train to Kramators'k. Masha will pick us up at the train station early Monday morning and we will go to Artemovsk and Donetsk to pick up the decree, birth certificate and passport and, if all goes as Masha expects, we will pick Evan up late Monday afternoon and either take the overnight train back to Kiev on Monday or take an early morning flight on Tuesday. If we get back to Kiev early enough, we may be able to take Evan to his medical exam and submit all of our paperwork to the Embassy by Tuesday afternoon which could mean that we will be able to head home as early as Thursday evening or Friday morning. Our flights are booked for next Saturday morning, so even if we aren't able to leave until then, we should still make it home in time for Christmas!

I am hoping to update the blog as we go, so stay tuned!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Touchdown.

The Eagle Has Landed. After three weeks of travel we are back home, anticipating the end of the 10-day waiting period. Val leaves next Saturday to bring Evan home, and if all goes well she'll be able to be home on December 22nd. Stay tuned for more, just wanted to let everyone know we made it home safe.

R-

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Rieben's are now a family of 7!

We had our court appointment this morning and, as you can see by the title of this post, things went well! Richard and I were up and ready by 8 am this morning and Masha came by the hotel to pick us up around 8:30. Masha's car had been having some problems so it was at the mechanic's and she had asked a friend to drive her to Artemovsk. Unfortunately her friend's car was not big enough to transport all of us to the courthouse (Richard and I, Masha, the social worker and the orphanage lawyer) so we had to do shifts. Eventually we all made it. . . . just in time to spend the next 45 minutes waiting for the prosecutor to show up. After calling the prosecutor for the third time, he finally decided to send his assistant.

The assistant prosecutor arrived around 10 am (an hour after our court appointment) and spent a few minutes running around talking to various people and gathering paperwork. As we stood and watched the prosecutor running to and fro, Masha said what we were all thinking. . . ."That woman has a mustache!" I'm not sure if it was the timing of the comment or nerves, but at that moment maturity slipped away from me and I could not suppress my laughter!

Eventually we made it into the courtroom. A "jury" (two random women who had been sitting in the hall) was invited to join us in the courtroom and the judge read through our application (which was basically a condensed version of our homestudy). She then directed questions at Richard. She asked him if we understood Evan's medical condition and if we were prepared to support him. She asked him if our children understood what was going on and how we thought they would react to having a new brother with special needs. She then turned the floor over to the jury for questioning and they asked Richard why we had decided to adopt. Next up for questioning was the prosecutor who asked Richard if we had researched Evan's medical condition to which he responded that we had. She then asked Richard if he had ever been in drug rehad or been under psychological care (I guess that she thought he must be insane or on drugs to be adopting a child with special needs with young triplets at home)???? Masha told us after court that when the prosecutor asked this question that it had taken everything in her to suppress her laughter and that she was afraid she was going to "ruin everything" by laughing. Richard responded to this question with a simple, "Who? Me!? No!"

Once Richard had been grilled, it was my turn. The judge asked me if I felt I would be able to give all of my children the time and attention that they need once Evan is home, since he will need a lot of time and attention. She then asked me if I was prepared to handle his medical needs to which I responded in the affirmative. She asked the jury and the prosecutor if they had any questions for me. They did not. She then asked the social worker, orphanage lawyer and the prosecutor if they were in support of our adoption. . .they were. She then granted our petition! She told us that the adoption would become final after 10 days and that we could take legal custody of Evan at that time! So. . .on December 17th I will return to Artemovsk and take legal custody of our son! I cannot wait!

After court we checked out of our hotel and went to the orphanage to share the news with Evan and say good bye. It was a bittersweet moment! We were elated that our adoption had been granted, but sad to say good bye to our sweet little man. It has only been a few hours since we left Artemovsk and I already miss him so much!

We left Artemovsk and drove to Kramatorsk where we had the request for Evan's passport signed and notarized. Our plan was to take the overnight train from Kramatorsk to Kiev, but unforunately, we were not able to get tickets (very long story, don't want to bore you with all of the details). So, we are currently in a hotel in Kramatorsk. We will be taking a cab to Donetsk at 3 am and flying from Dontesk to Kiev at 5 am tomorrow morning! Once in Kiev, Richard will go to the Embassy to sign some paperwork and then we will spend our last night together in Ukraine before heading home on Saturday morning.

It has been a wonderful journey and once again, we have seen the hand of the Lord at every turn! Another testament to me that, if you allow the Lord to lead you, He will take you amazing places!

So my friends, I am happy to report that the Rieben Family of 6 is now officially, the Rieben Family of 7. . .and boy does it feel good!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita

Several people have inquired about Evan's condition recently and I realized how long it had been since I had mentioned anything about it specifically. For those of you who don't know, Evan was born with a rare birth defect known as Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita. This condition occurs in approximately 1 in 3,000 births and effects the joints, muscles and connective tissues in the body, the most significant impact being in the joints. Arthrogryposis can effect a single joint, all of the joints or somewhere in between. All of Evan's joints, with the exception of his jaw and possibly his spine, are effected. His feet, knees, hips, wrists, hands, elbows and shoulder joints are all "contracted" leaving him with limited mobility. At this time he is unable to sit unsupported and has no use of his arms or legs. He can move his arms and legs, ran rotate, can sit with support and we have seen him roll while in his bed. He will likely require surgery for his feet, knees, hips, elbows and possibly his shoulders. He will need intense physical and occupational therapies as well as possible bracing and casting for his legs. In just the short time that we have been with him, we have already seen a huge improvement in his strength (for example, he tired very quickly when we would sit him up during our first few visits. . now he can sit with support for a while without tiring). Obviously we will not know the full extent of his condition until we are back in the US and he has had a chance to be evaluated by specialists, but we do have a good idea of what is involved and what the coming months and years may bring. The biggest question mark lies with his hands and whether or not he will ever be able to use them. He has already found ways around not having use of his hands. . .for example, if you lay a cookie next to him, he will scoot himself over to it and use his mouth and his tongue to pick it up and eat it (anything for the cookie!). He also uses his mouth in place of his hands to "touch" things. For example, he likes to "feel" the zipper and string on my sweater by putting them in his mouth. He also likes to "touch" my hair by doing the same thing!

Like Josh, I feel like there really will be no limits to what Evan can do if he puts his mind to something. When I look at both of my boys, I do not see disability. I do not see children who "can't." I see children who just have to do things differently. Different is good. Different inspires. Different teaches. I see two beautiful little boys who have the potential to do anything and everything they want in this world and I feel so lucky to be a part of their lives, so privileged to be able to watch in amazement all of the wonderful things that they do!

Here are a few pictures from our visit this morning:

I just can't get enough of this little boy! I am going to miss him so much when we leave to go home later this week! Speaking of cute little boys, I also found a few pictures of Josh that we had left on our camera and thought I would share them.


And while I am at it, I can't forget the three little hooligans who gave us the desire to add more children to our family in the first place:

Having these five little people in my life is evidence of the Lord's love for me! What a privilege it is to have each one of them in my life! I can't wait until I am able to post pictures of all 5 of them together. . . .

Monday, December 3, 2007

Lenin (for Shelley)

In the center of Artemovsk there is a statue of Lenin. We walk past this statue every time we go to the grocery store or the market, and for some reason, every time we walk past the statue we feel the burning need to take a picture! We have joked that we have more pictures of Lenin than we do of Evan (not true of course, but funny nonetheless). So, it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Lenin, our ever reliable friend, always showing us the way we should go. . .



Evan continues to amaze us with his progress. . .particularly with his English! He has learned a handful of new words and we are very impressed with how quickly he is learning. His favorite word, of course, is "cookie" and he uses it quite often. We have come to feel as if he is using us for our cookies (and we are okay with that)!! We have taught him to say "please" (although he still prefers to say it in Russian) and "more" (which is a very important word where cookies are concerned) and he has quickly caught on to the fact that he must "perform" for his cookies (and he does so willingly and eagerly). Richard managed to snap the following picture during one of our visits today and I just had to laugh when I saw it. In a "cookie stupor" with remnants of the yummy morsel still on his face, I think we will be seeing a lot of this Evan in the coming days and weeks:

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Baby, it's cold outside!

We woke up this morning to a fresh blanket of snow and absolutely frigid air! It is KHOLODNA (cold)! I didn't think I could adequately describe the picturesque appearance of Artemovsk in the winter, so I decided to let it speak for itself. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

I always notice these pine trees when we walk by. . probably because they are in a group of 3 and I always take note of things in 3's



Rich enjoying the snow


This is one of my favorite market scenes. . . fresh flowers surrounded by snow and people bundled in their winter wear! It remind me that there is always a bright spot. . even on a seemingly dreary day!


The produce section of the open-air market


The entrance of the open-air market

Did I mention that it is cold!?!

The sign outside the baby house


Snow often gives a haunting effect to some of the old buildings and scenery


The "bones" of the market at the end of the day (taken yesterday, hence the absence of snow)

We had another wonderful day that included two more wonderful visits with Evan! He continues to make amazing progress with each and every visit. It really is incredible to witness the radical transformation that has occurred over the past two days. He is interacting with us so much more and we spend our entire visit laughing, smiling, singing, playing and giving lots of hugs and kisses. He has even learned a handful of English words! Before we left this evening he had learned the English word for his favorite thing in the world. . . .cookie! I cannot wait to get him home and watch him bloom!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Retail Therapy. . .Ukrainian style!

I have been missing my children fiercely for the past two weeks (really since before I left for Uzbekistan as I didn't have much time to spend with them before leaving for Ukraine) and so Richard and I decided to head over to the market today for a little "retail therapy," an art that I have perfected during the past few stressful months! No matter what country you are in, a little retail therapy can go a long way, especially in Ukraine, where you can get quite a bit more for your money.

Between the "mall" (a three-story building with a grocery store in the middle of the first floor and small shops selling all kinds of goodies from clothes, perfume and jewelry to school supplies, toys and electronics, on each level) and the outdoor market, we managed to buy very nice "winter gear" (snow suits and nice winter boots, hats and scarves) for all of our children, as well as Christmas gifts for many of our family members. In the end, imagining my children bundled up and waddling through the snow in their Ukrainian winter wear brought a smile to my face and made me feel a little bit closer to home!

We did not get a chance to visit with Evan this morning as we needed to make arrangements to extend our hotel stay and book our flights home, but we had an absolutely FANTASTIC visit with him this afternoon. He has definitely become more comfortable with his new mama and papa and I would even go as far as saying he looks forward to our visits. Instead of greeting us with tears or trepidation, he greeted us with a big smile. . a smile that lasted our entire visit. He smiled, he laughed, he played with Richard (a nice father-son game of head-butting which they played for so long they no doubt both left with headaches, but Evan LOVED it) and he talked up a storm.

The best part of the visit came towards the end when he started talking TO us and mimicking the things we were saying! Since the first day that we met him we have played a little game we like to call "Hugs and Kisses" or in transliterated Russian, "Ob'yat'ya and Potsalouey." Today as I was holding him on my lap he looked up at me and said, "Ob'yat'ya!" He repeated it over and over as I gave him big hugs and then he proceeded to do the same thing with kisses or "potsalouey." He mimicked the silly sounds we would make while we played games with him and even tried to mimic some of our English words, laughing and smiling the entire time. I was just in awe of the change I saw in him!

Unfortunately, we were so busy laughing and playing that we didn't stop to take many pictures, but I can still hear his sweet little voice echoing "hugs" and "kisses" in my mind! It is a beautiful sound!! There is no doubt in my mind that he will soar once he is home and settled and that makes my heart sing!

Needless to say, it has been a wonderful day! We were able to book our flights home this morning and, if all goes well at court and at the Embassy (Richard needs to go sign some paperwork since he will not be returning after the 10-day wait), we should be on our way back to the great state of Ohio next Saturday afternoon!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

These are a few of our favorite things. . . .

For fun this evening, Richard and I sat down and made lists of the things we love about Ukraine, the things are glad we brought with us, things we wish we had brought with us and things we missed about home. We thought we would share them with all of you (I am a bit more long winded than Richard, so I apologize in advance for the novel).

Richard's Lists

Things I wish i would have brought
-Fewer pairs of Khakis and more jeans - only brought 2 pairs of jeans, should have brought 4 pairs of jeans and no khakis
-More movies & books - I will have exhausted our movie collection and the three books I brought from home - should have brought more of both because hours in the hotel room are horribly boring.

Things I'm glad I brought
-nice socks - I brought about 7 pairs of smartwool socks, more expensive, but can go a few days before needing a wash. Cotton socks would be horrible. Happy feet make for a happy Richard.
-My Columbia parka - hands down the best thing I have here. Waterproof, warm, windproof, and lots of secure pockets.
-A good quality, large backpack - since I'm the packhorse on this trip, it's nice to have a good backpack. Especially valuable when going to market, since bags cost extra.
-Nice shoes - I brought a pair of nice Salomon leather slip-on type clogs. Warm/dry in the cold, easy to take on/off while traveling, and very comfortable.
-My iPod with in-ear earbuds. in-ear earbuds are the key here... they block out noise on the plane.

Things I love about Ukraine
-The weather - I love the cold, crisp weather.
-The cars - as a big car guy, it's neat to see all the various types of cars, especially those which are not in the states, or are known because of Rally Racing.
-Speaking of Rally Racing, they drive.... differently. Be ready for it.
-The food. While it's not all that different, it's certainly fun to enjoy local dishes. Remember, here a steak is actually pork. Their salads are very good as well.

Things I wish I'd known before coming
-No one wears khakis... in the winter everyone wears black.
-People here aren't jerks, it's just the culture. (no one holds doors, says hello to strangers, etc.)
-People just walk across crosswalks as they wish and expect cars to stop for them, this takes some getting used to.

Things I miss about home
-my washer and dryer
-water I can drink from the tap
-My car - I wish I could drive here... their cars are so small and utilitarian in nature - exactly what I like

Val's Lists

Things I Love About Ukraine
- CHOCOLATE- If you are a chocolate lover, Ukraine is for you! I lost 10 lbs. while I was in Uzbekistan, I will probably gain 10 lbs. here! Such good chocolate
-People- while the big city people aren't as likely to say hello in passing, the people in Artemovsk are wonderful. Everyone is very friendly and always happy to help us.
-Food- most of the food in Ukraine is fresh, hardly anything is processed, and everything we have had is fantastic!
-Driving- although the driving is a bit scary, it is fascinating at the same time
-History- while there are the obvious historical buildings (churches, monasteries, etc.), there is also so much history in the ordinary buildings as well (houses, apartments, etc.). Everything seems to tell a story of the past. To some it may just look like an old building in shambles. To me, it tells as story. . .I wish we had more of that in the US.
-Walking- Everyone walks everywhere and everything is within walking distance. In the US, we couldn't survive without cars because the way our cities and towns are built. Here, the houses and apartments are intermingled with the markets, grocery stores and office buildings, in the US we live in the suburbs and have to drive into the cities to shop, work, go to school, etc.
-Language- I have always loved the Russian language (Ukrainian is not much different). I love to hear it spoken and I have really enjoyed learning what I have. I hope to become more fluent some day.
-Children- I love to see the children, especially when they are all bundled up in the winter gear! The children here are beautiful (of course, I may be a bit partitial since I am adopting a Ukrainian child!)
-Outdoor Markets- As nice as the "one-stop shopping" and "mass production" in the US is, I have really enjoyed shopping at the outdoor markets that seem to go on for miles! You don't feel as much like a "consumer" when you shop the outdoor markets.
-Sleeping in- Stacey, don't hate me for this (because I know you are not getting a lot of sleep with my kids), but I have LOVED the opportunity to sleep in (or at least lay in bed until I feel like getting up). It has been so long since I have been able to do this and I am sure it will be an eternity before I get to enjoy it again!
-Evan- And obviously my favorite thing about Ukraine is my beautiful boy, Evan!

Things I wish I had brought
-Slipper socks- most of the floors are hardwoord or linoleum and in the winter it gets cold walking around without socks. Also, when you enter someones house (or even the orphanage) it is polite to take your shoes off and having slipper socks would be nice to slip onto your feet.
-Long johns- I wish I had a nice pair of long johns to wear beneath my clothes. . .it sure does get cold walking around town!
-Hot chocolate- Richard and I don't drink coffee or tea of which there is an abundance of here and the hot chocolate selection is slim. It would be nice to have a warm drink to enjoy after walking around town!

Things I am glad I brought
-Clothes that I can layer
-Winter coat/hat/gloves
-Boots
-Laptop (for movies, music, e-mail, journaling, pictures, etc.)
-Pictures/videos from home (what can I say, I miss my babies!)
-Books and movies- even though we stay pretty busy visiting with Evan and experiencing Ukraine, there is still a good amount of down time. Books and movies have definitely helped to pass the time.
-Back packs- these were nice to use as carry-on's during travel (since they allow you to have your hands free) and continue to be a nice commodity for shopping, taking things to and from the orphanage, etc.

Things I miss about home
-My children- I know, this is a given, but I miss my children so much! They can certainly be a handful at times, but they are my best friends and greatest joy! I miss waking up to their sweet faces every day, cuddling with them and smothering them in kisses (although the tantrums, attitudes and poopy diapers I can live without!!).
-Water that I can drink from the tap
-Being able to brush my teeth without a cup of bottled water
-My blankie- no, I am not ashamed to admit that I STILL have a blankie. Richard does too. . .that's how I knew we were meant to be. . .and while I know he may not admit that he misses his as well, I know he does! Really, there are worse comfort items we could have!
-Washer and dryer- no, I don't miss the massive quantity of laundry that my family accumulates, but I do miss the ease of being able to throw the dirty laundry into the washer and dryer. Not having these luxury items has definitely given me a new appreciation of them.
-English- While I do love the Russian/Ukrainian language, I do miss being able to understand those around me and I especially miss being able to read the signs, menus, etc.
-Christmas Festivities- I love the holidays and I love watching my children experiencing the holidays. I miss not being there to experience all of the festivities with them.

You are the sunshine of my life. . . .

We had another WONDERFUL day with Evan today. He cried a little this morning when we took him from his groupa, but only because one of his caretakers told him not to cry on the way out the door (and being true to 3 year-old nature, he did exactly that). That only lasted about 30 seconds or so and then he was right as rain. We managed many, many smiles today and Richard even had him laughing this afternoon! He is definitely feeling more comfortable with Mama and Papa.

Evan has one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen and the image of his smile stays frozen in my mind all day long. When he smiles his entire face lights up and it absolutely makes me melt. He is such an amazing little boy. There is no doubt in my mind that he will touch many lives throughout the course of his. . .he has certainly touched mine. I feel so privileged to be his mommy. . .well, almost! He is also the best snuggler around! He LOVES to snuggle and cuddle and of course, I do too, so we are a good pair! I would snuggle him all day long if I could and, in the not too distant future, I plan to do just that!

Here are a few pictures from today. We focused more on videos than pictures during our visits today, so the pickings were slim (you will have to excuse my messy, unwashed hair), but here they are for your viewing pleasure:


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Leaps and bounds (oh yeah. . .and we have a court date!)

Today we made HUGE progress with Evan! It started this morning when the caretaker immediately handed Evan to Richard upon our arrival (usually we ease into having Richard hold him since Evan is still a bit wary of him). Richard continued to hold him for our entire morning visit and Evan did not cry once! This is HUGE and WONDERFUL! We also got a record number of smiles out of him and he even began to whimper when his caretaker came to get him for lunch. Very, very good visit!

This afternoon's visit did not go quite as smoothly as this morning's visit had, but we are attributing most of that to the fact that he was sound asleep when we got to the orphanage. He was woken from his nap and given to us half asleep, so, needless to say, he was a bit disoriented. He recovered quickly however and we had another wonderful visit with him.

One thing that we have discovered is that he loves when we sing to him (especially when Richard sings). It definitely has a calming effect on him and, even though we don't have the best voices, it seems as though he could listen to us sing to him all day. He does the cutest thing while we are singing. . . . He starts swaying his head back and forth to the music. It is so cute and it just melts my heart!

We also received our court date!!! Thursday, December 6th at 10:00 am we will go to court and hopefully walk out as the parents of five beautiful children! If all goes well, we will be flying back to Kiev on Thursday afternoon, Richard will sign the necessary papers at the US Embassy and we will head home sometime next weekend. My mom will be traveling back to Ukraine with me once the 10-day wait is up to help me bring Evan home and if all goes well with the birth certificate, passport and Embassy, we should be getting home around Christmas Eve!

We are halfway there!!!

Here are a few pictures of Richard and Evan from our visit this morning. Their faces say it all!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Interesting Experience. . .(Pictures at the bottom. . ps-this doesn't mean scroll to the end of the post without reading the blog!!!)

Today it was much warmer than it has been for the past few days and apparently there is an "infection" running rampant through the orphanage (according to our translator it is the chicken pox although I have yet to see any evidence of it), so we spent our visiting hours outside with Evan today. For the first visit we went outside to the "courtyard" behind the orphanage where the play area and the laundry house are located. Evan seemed to enjoy being outside, even though it was a bit cold and windy and we broke major ground today when he let Richard hold him. We could hardly get him to crack a smile today, but he at least seemed to feel more comfortable with us and was even starting to talk a bit more (given, he is 3 years-old and speaking Russian so we can't understand much, but at least he is opening up).

This evening we were directed to a door at the front of the orphanage that is right off the street. This was the third visit we have had with Evan at this location and these visits are always short (usually 5-10 minutes since it is so cold). It starts getting dark here around 3:45-4:00 pm and the sun has completely set by about 4:30, so our visit with him was in the dark, in the cold and wind. His caretaker brought him to us, nice and bundled and signaled to us that she would be back for him in 5-10 minutes. He isn't really a fan of standing out on the street in the cold, in the wind, at night, so he isn't really a happy camper during these particular visits. He likes to watch the cars drive by and the people pass on the streets, but when the wind starts to blow (and there is no hiding from it), he always starts to cry (I don't blame him. . .sometimes it makes me want to cry too!).

Tonight was especially interesting because, as we were standing outside visiting with Evan, an old man passed on the sidewalk in front of us. Evan was crying and the old man looked up at us and started to slow. Once he had passed by us he stopped completely and continued to stare our direction. Evan was very wary of this old man. After a few minutes the man started walking towards us. Great! He slowly made his way over to where I was standing, holding Evan and started to speak to us in Russian or Ukrainian. I told him in Russian that I could not understand him, that I spoke English. I'm not sure what he thought we were doing there out in the cold night in front of the orphanage, but after a few minutes I understood that he wanted Richard and I to follow him back to his house. He actually grabbed my arm and started trying to lead me away, pointing in the opposite direction. Richard and I tried to tell him that Evan lived at the orphanage and that we could not leave, but obviously he did not understand. All the while, Evan is completely freaked out by this new stranger and the chain of events taking place (after all, he could understand what the man was saying and knew that this stranger was trying to lead him away from "home"). After a few minutes he walked around to the back of the orphanage where apparently he told one of the caretakers that we were standing out in the cold in front of the orphanage. One of the caretakers came around front and explained in Russian what was going on (I understood grandfather, cold and evening and assumed that she was telling us that the old man was concerned that we were standing out in the cold at night). She asked us if we were okay and I told her that we were and she started walking back towards the rear entrance. The old man rounded the corner and she explained to him what we were doing. He started to walk back down the street towards us and again, stopped in front of us and subtly motioned for us to follow him and the caretaker, who was still standing there watching, yelled to him to move on. Eventually he did.

At this point we had been outside for at least 20 minutes and had already knocked on the doors after the man had tried to lead us away, in hopes that a caretaker would come and take Evan so that he would not be so scared. No one had come and we weren't sure how much longer they would be, so I decided that I would take him back inside using the rear entrance and that Richard would continue to stand at the door just in case a care taker came before I got back to his groupa (we didn't want them to think we had run off with him). I took him back inside and said good bye and Richard met me at the corner. The caretaker who had brought him outside came out the back door and from what I could tell she was angry that we had taken him back upstairs. We didn't want her to feel like we had disrespected her directions, so we called Masha and asked her to explain to the caretakers that Evan had been cold and afraid and that we had tried to knock on the door to get their attention, but when no one came we felt it would be best to take him inside.

Needless to say, it was a very interesting visit! Definitely one for the books!

The process continues to go well, the orphanage director and lawyer prepared paperwork today and we will be meeting with the social worker and the judge tomorrow afternoon. If all goes well, we hope to send all of our paperwork to Kiev by tomorrow evening or Wednesday morning at the latest. We are still praying for a court date next week!

Many of you have asked for pictures so without further ado, I give you pictures (please excuse Evan's girlie outfit in the second picture. . .he really is a little boy)! Also, if you click on the pictures you can see a larger version.

Mommy and Evan playing our "Hugs and Kisses" game

Mommy and Evan outside the orphanage
Mommy and Evan snuggling on the playground
Daddy holding Evan for the first time (don't mind the cookie hanging out of his mouth)




Sunday, November 25, 2007

We're on the internet!!!

Today marks day 3 in Artemovsk! We finally found a place to stay on Friday. . .in a furnished apartment without a bed. The apartment building looked like many post-soviet buildings on the outside. . .old, worn and looking like it could fall in on itself at any moment. On the inside the apartment had been nicely refurbished. It was a decent place other than the fact that it had no bed (it had a couch that was much like a futon the way it folded down and was only big enough for Richard to sleep on). We found a small cot in the closet which is where I slept (on the cot, not in the closet). Despite the sleeping arrangements, I think we both slept like rocks that night!

We moved to the hotel yesterday. We are now staying in a small dorm-style room with two twin beds. The hotel is two blocks away from the orphanage which is less than a five minute walk. It has been especially nice being so close to our boy.

We have had the chance to visit with Evan twice a day each day since we have been here. He is still very hesistant around us and cries often, but he is starting to warm up to us and is more accepting of his new mama and papa at each visit. It has taken him longer to warm up to Richard, but that is understandable. The children in the orphanage rarely see men, so I can imagine that Richard is a bit intimidating. Evan is starting to open up to him however. We learned on Friday that Evan LOVES cookies, so we make sure to bring some cookies with us at each visit and Richard gives them to him. I think he has learned that Richard is where the cookies come from!

The bear that I made for him has turned out to be the best money I have ever spent! He LOVES it and it has been the source of most of the smiles he has bestowed opon us! He loves it when we press the botton and play our "Hugs and Kisses" game! Our last visit with him was a bit rough. This morning's visit went wonderfully. We got to spend some time with him in a small room right outside of the rooms where his groupa eats, sleeps and plays. Unfortunately the light bulb in that room was out and, since it gets dark around 4 pm here, we couldn't sit in that room for our evening visit. Instead we were taken to a large "playroom" (Kelly, you probably know what this room is called) that looked similar to a physical therapy room or a gym with lots of mats, a ball pit, etc. After we have been there for about five minutes he started to cry and continued to cry on and off for our entire visit. At first I thought he was still feeling wary of Richard and I, but I soon realized that he was most likely feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated by everything in the room. He would look around and then his chin would start to quiver and the crying would begin. He would bury his head in my sweater and the crying would subside, but as soon as he started looking around again, he would start to cry. I could tell he was feeling scared and overwhelmed so we decided to cut our visit short this evening and take him back to his groupa and familiar surroundings. It just broke my heart to see him so upset.

Overall, things are going very well. Our translator, Masha (Leanna, this IS your Mash and we LOVE her (and she loves you), brought her husband with her today so that he could help Richard establish internet connection through our cell phone. I think we both could've kissed him for helping us with this! We have yet to find an internet cafe in Artemovsk, so connecting through the cell phone was our only option and one that we could not have figured out ourselves (since everything is in Russian). We got several of our documents notarized yesterday and should be meeting with the social worker/inspector tomorrow and getting the orphanage documents signed and notarzied. Our goal is to have all documents signed, notarized and off to Kiev by Tuesday. We are hoping for a Tuesday/Wednesday court date for the following week (we may be pushing it a bit, but Masha and I are both hopeful).

Richard and I are really enjoying our time in Artemovsk! The people here are very friendly and we have enjoyed exploring the town together. We haven't ventured far yet, but we have been to the grocery store on several occassions, a very nice resturant named after moi (okay, so I doubt it was named after me, but the resturant and I DO share a name!), the market and an electronics store (where Richard managed to buy an electric kettle without speaking a lick of Russian). We are looking forward to spending more time in this little town!

Richard here...

Yes, we're having a great time, and although the start of our stay here in Artemovsk was a bit rough (not having a place to stay, not being able to communicate with the orphanage workers, not having a clue what was goign on, etc) we have settled into our new digs here in the hotel and are getting into a routine with the orphanage. Visiting Evan has been very fun, albeit a bit stressful. It's hard to deal with the fact that although we've "known" him for months, and we already have a degree of love for him, that he does not know us and has a hard time dealing with the situation. It is true, he does not like me the way he likes Val (which is hard to swallow) but I have a master plan that involves bribery and lots of cookies. Speaking of cookies - the cookies and other baked goods here in Ukraine are DELICIOUS. I just finished eating some chocolate covered cake balls with cherry jelly in the middle *drool*.

Today we went to the outdoor market and looked for a blanket for me to use on my bed. We found a nice blanket and in broken russian and lots of pointing we determined how much it cost and managed to pay for it. The gentleman and ladies managing the booth asked us where we were from and we said America... they in turn said aaaah... Canada! - We managed to correct them and we tried to explain that were from Ohio... yeah, imagine that! They asked us what we were doing here and it was all downhill from there. We managed to get across that we were here for a baby, but we were not able to communicate to them that we were here for an orphan. The older women kept making motions with their hands like a pregnant belly, we kept saying no, and they we all gave up, smiled and said goodbye.

Val's nagging me to finish up so she can get on the internet, so I'll wrap it up. We're having fun getting to know our boy. The rest of it is interesting.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I just saw an angel. . . .

Greetings from Artemovsk! We arrived early this morning via a 12 hour train ride from Kiev. It was the first time that Richard or I had ever been on a train so it was quite an experience. We actually really enjoyed it, although I wish it would've been lighter outside so that we could've seen the sights a bit better.

Our translator, Masha, met us at the train station and we quickly learned that none of the hotels in town had any vacancies. So, rather than checking into a hotel, Masha brought us to the orphanage and then had to leave for Donetsk so that she could take care of a passport for another family. The ladies at the orphanage set to work trying to find a furnished apartment for us to rent and it seems like we may have our accommodations sorted out! The orphanage director stopped in momentarily this morning and we had a short conversation using my Russian-English dictionary and hand gestures as well as the few Russian and English words we both knew.

At 10:30 we were finally able to go meet Evan. He immediately began crying when we walked into the room, which, believe it or not, is actually a good sign. He continued to cry and we let the care takers comfort him while we kept our distance a bit. I can only imagine how scary it must have been for him. After he had calmed down a bit we went into the room where the children sleep so that there was less commotion (we had been in the playroom with his whole groupa when we first met him) and we showed him pictures from the small picture album we brought which helped him to feel more at ease (boy I am thankful for the basic Russian that I know as I could tell it helped). Prior to leaving for Ukraine I had gone to Build-A-Bear and made him a teddy bear that says "I love you" in Russian and in English. I wasn't planning on giving it to him today, but Richard brought it up to us and it ended up being the perfect thing. He loved it when we pushed the button and after I pushed the button I would take the bear and say hugs and kisses in Russian and have the bear give him hugs and kisses. We had him smiling and asking for more in no time. He actually seemed a little sad when it was time to go.

He is a beautiful little boy and so sweet. He is talking (in Russian of course) and he just has the sweetest little voice. Every time he would say something to us we would just melt! I really felt like we were in the presence of an angel!

The ladies at the orphanage are wonderful. You can tell they love these children so much! The children in this baby house are most certainly well cared for and the caretakers do the best they can with what they have available. I am glad to see that Evan has been so well loved over the past three years!

We will get to see him again this afternoon! I'm not sure we will have much access to the internet while we are here (we are using the orphanage director's computer right now), but I will try to check in whenever I get a chance and maybe even post a few pictures.

We have had a wonderful day thus far and we are looking forward to many more of them!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

And we're off. . . . again

WAHOO! The necessary paperwork is complete and we are headed to Donetsk by train this evening! We should be meeting Evan tomorrow! I cannot wait!

We spent most of the morning wandering around the center of Kiev and enjoying the sights, sounds, culture and people! Outside of the SDA there are dozens of kiosks where you can buy gifts and souvenirs so we spent a decent amount of time there buying Christmas presents and gifts for friends and family as well as momentos for Evan.

Last night, a couple from Ireland, also with our agency, came back from a different region with their son and moved into the apartment across the hall from us. We spent some time getting acquainted with them and listening to their experiences last night and planned to spend some more time with them today. When we got back from our excursion in Kiev this afternoon we arrived at our apartment to find that the Irish couple and their son were moving into our apartment and that another couple was moving into theirs. Unfortunately we still do not have a cell phone so our facilitator wasn't able to contact us about the "move" so it was quite a surprise to come back and find we had house guests!! We are leaving tonight, so obviously this isn't a problem for us, but we all got a good laugh out of the chaos that had ensued! Honestly, it is nice to have fellow adoptive parents who speak English close by (really close by right now) as it can be a bit isolating when you do not speak the local language.

We ate our Thanksgiving dinner at McDonalds! Never thought I would be dining on such fine cuisine for the holidays, but it was the closest thing we could find to home. We have so very much to be thankful for this year. There just are not words to express my gratitude for all of the blessings that we have received.

Unfortunately, I will have to cut this short as we need to get back to our apartment and get to the train station, but hopefully we will be able to find a place to post from once after we have met Evan tomorrow.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We Made It!

Four flights and almost 27 hours later we finally made it to Kiev last night around 11:30 pm. Talk about exhaustion! The best part is that our luggage made it as well!

We are staying in a very nice furnished apartment in the center of Kiev next to Independence Square and the underground mall. There is also a McDonalds and a TGI Fridays right down the street! We haven't had the chance to get out and explore as much as we would like as we had to wait around the apartment this morning to find out what time our appointment would be (our facilitator had forgotten to bring our cell phone to the airport last night, so we had to wait for the call on our apartment phone). We got the call around 1 pm that our appointment was scheduled for 3:00. We met our facilitator at 2:30 and drove to the SDA. Our appointment took less than 10 minutes since we are adopting a known child. They showed us Evan's file (which included a very cute picture of him at 6 months old) and told us a little about his birth mother (father unknown) and his medical condition. We should have all of the necessary paperwork by 5 pm tomorrow and it looks like we will be taking the train to Donetsk tomorrow night. If all goes as planned (I hope I didn't just jinx myself by using that term) we should be meeting Evan on Friday! I cannot wait!

We are planning to spend tomorrow exploring Kiev! It is a fascinating place and we are excited to really experience it! The internet is much more accessible in Ukraine than it was in Uzbekistan, so I hope to update frequently. Again, we appreciate all of the thoughts and prayers coming our way. Keep 'em coming!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hello. . . . from Dayton, Ohio!

That's right folks! We've been "traveling" for 6 hours now and we are still only about 20 miles from home! We arrived at the airport around noon and our flight was scheduled to take off at 2:30. Unfortunately, due to mechanical problems, our flight was canceled which means we missed our connecting flight to Austria/Kiev as well. There were definitely some tense moments as we tried to find another flight into Kiev with the thought of missing our appointment looming over our heads, but thanks to Laura at United, we were able to get another flight to Dulles with connecting flights to London/Munich/Kiev! We should arrive in Kiev at 10:35 pm tomorrow evening as long as we do not run into any other problems! We hope that our bags will make it as well!

In other news, I received word today that our facilitator was able to confirm that the SDA has Evan's file for us. This was definitely something I had been worrying about. Thankfully I can cross that off the list. . . .at least for the time being!

I told you this would be an exciting journey! Never a dull moment for the Rieben's! Stay tuned. . .hopefully I will be updating from Kiev next time!

I'm Feelin' it. . .

We are leaving for Ukraine this afternoon! I cannot believe how quickly the past two weeks have gone by. I should probably be packing right now (no, I am still not completely packed), but wanted to pop in and give a quick update before we take off.

Things continue to go smoothly on the home front. I am still amazed how well and how quickly Joshua has adjusted. His body clock has made the transition to US Eastern Standard Time and I am VERY happy to report that he is almost sleeping through the night (by almost I mean that he wakes up around 6 am for a bottle, but goes right back to sleep for another hour or so once he has received sustenance). He has also started to eat baby food AND some table foods. . .something that we were very far from achieving while in Uzbekistan!

We also received good news from his doctors this week (after a barrage of appointments and tests) concerning the possibility of a tethered cord. After an MRI and a consult with the neurosurgeon, it was determined that we would not be adding this condition (and subsequent complicated surgery) to our list! Such a relief!

Josh also had his physical therapy evaluation this week and we have already started working on strengthening his trunk muscles and left arm (he favors his right due to a misplaced scapula and there is an obvious difference in muscle mass on the left side, although he does use his left arm quite a bit). We are also working on crawling, which he has developed his own form of, and helping him to sit unsupported (well, unsupported by another person. . .because his legs are so short, it is hard for him to balance, so he has to sit with his arms out in front, which helps him to balance). Honestly, I am amazed at Joshua's physical abilities. He is doing more, or at least trying to do more, physically than my other children were at his age. He definitely has to work harder to achieve many of these things and does so in a different way than most, but he does them! He definitely has the potential to achieve whatever he wants to in life. With his personality and his drive, I don't think his disabilities will ever get in the way of accomplishing the things he sets his mind to!

The other kids continue to adjust well to their new baby brother and I think Josh is finally starting to get used to the noise level and rowdy little people constantly in his face. He is definitely entertained by their antics and the kids love performing for him and speaking his baby language! It does occasionally get difficult to balance the time between all of the kids, but it is certainly doable and I love the special mommy and me moments that I am able to spend with each of them throughout the day.

Amidst all of the doctors appointments and preparations for Ukraine, Richard and I also had the chance to go to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert (a gift from my mom for my birthday)! It was FANTASTIC!!! I could rock out to Mozart and Beethoven any day (not to mention the fact that I LOVE their Christmas music)!

All in all, it has been a wonderful week and I am excited and ready (are you ever really "ready" to travel half-way around the world) for our next adventure! While the Ukrainian adoption process is complicated, I feel much more relaxed and at ease than I did while preparing for our adoption from Uzbekistan (so relaxed that I still have not finished packing!). I am excited to experience Ukraine and am very excited to hopefully be meeting our Evan so soon!

Just as before, I hope to update our blog frequently, so stayed tuned for the latest Rieben Family adventures! As always, it is sure to be a wild ride!!!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The poking and prodding begins. . .

I apologize that I have not gotten a chance to update until now. It has been a long week. . .a good one, but a long one!

Joshua is adjusting wonderfully. We have struggled a bit with the time change, but that was definitely to be expected. The first few days he was home all he wanted to do was sleep all day and play all night, but I am happy to report that is almost a thing of the past. He is napping well during the day and sleeping well at night, usually waking once or twice for a bottle or diaper change. He continues to be the happiest little guy I have ever known, smiling, laughing and babbling whenever he is awake.

Maren, Lukas and Jacob LOVE their little brother. We are still working on understanding personal space as they like to get right in Josh's face, which he is not a fan of, but otherwise they have been very good with him and they love to help. I think Josh was a little thrown by the noise level in our house, but he has adjusted and doesn't seemed phased by the three other little people constantly running and screaming through the house. He actually seems to be quite amused by it (wish I could share those sentiments!).

The countless doctors appointments and consultations have already begun. After meeting with his pediatrician on Monday we began to receive calls from the Children's Hospital to schedule appointments with various specialists. Josh was supposed to have an MRI on Friday, but unfortunately we discovered that he still had a slight wheeze in his lungs upon arrival at the hospital and had to reschedule for Wednesday. Next week he is scheduled to see a neurosurgeon (possible tethered cord. . we should know for sure after the MRI), urologist and his pediatrician in addition to his MRI. He is taking it all in stride. Everyone who meets him loves him, especially the nurses (he is such a flirt) and he doesn't seem to mind all of the poking and prodding. I count my blessings that all of these appointments and procedures don't seem to phase him since this will be a big part of his life. Once we get back from Ukraine with Evan he has even more appointments scheduled and, of course, we will be adding Evan's appointments to those as well. Needless to say, we will be very familiar with Children's when all is said and done!

Our preparations for Ukraine are coming along as well. We will be leaving a week from Monday (November 19th) and will arrive in Kiev on Tuesday, November 20th. Our SDA appointment is the 21st. This coming week is sure to be a whirlwind, but I am so excited that we will be meeting Evan so soon and even more excited to think that our family may be complete by Christmas!

I hope to update a few more times before we leave for Ukraine so stay tuned!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Home at last !

Let me apologize in advance for the short and sweet entry that this is going to be. I am exhausted and sick, but wanted to let everyone know that, after 27 hours of traveling, we made it home, safe and sound, late last night. Joshua did wonderfully on the trip home and everything went very smoothly. It is still so surreal to be home. Every now and then I just stop and look around and realize that I am actually home and recognize what a miracle that is.

We had the first of many, many doctors appointments this afternoon and his doctor and I sat down and made a list a mile long of all of the tests he would need and specialists he needs to see. He had ultrasounds, xrays and lab work done as well as his first round of vaccinations. We have uncovered a few additional problems, but are taking them all in stride. Joshua is slowly adjusting to the time change and I am hoping to have him on some kind of a schedule before we leave for Ukraine.

There is obviously much more to this "update" but I am about to pass out on my keyboard so I will leave it at this for now and hopefully be back in a day or two to give you all of the juicy details of the trip home and how we are all fairing!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Pumpkin Pie Never Tasted So Good!

Have miracles ceased? Absolutely not! I am living proof that the Lord still performs many miracles in the lives of His children. I am still reeling from the events of the day, but am very, very happy to report that the Embassy allowed me to come in for my interview today and I now have in my possession Joshua’s passport complete with visa! We will be coming home as planned on Sunday!!!

After speaking with Richard and Victoria yesterday and informing them that I was unable to meet with the consular officer for the exit interview, they got to work contacting congressmen and senators in hopes that we could convince the Embassy to allow me to come in today for the interview. The Embassy received several e-mails this morning, including one from me, asking them to please reconsider allowing me to come in today. At 11:45 this morning I got the call from our coordinator telling me that the Embassy was requesting that I come in at 2:00. I was so excited and overwhelmed by this change of fortune that I was literally shaking from head to toe!

Heavenly Father has truly watched over us and guided this process from start to finish. There have been some incredibly intense moments throughout this journey, but each time things have turned in our favor. I do not believe that is coincidence. I cannot even begin to express in words how grateful I am for my Heavenly Father’s watchful care and for the bountiful blessings He has bestowed upon us. This is just a testament to me that, if you allow Heavenly Father to lead you, He will truly take you amazing places!

I AM COMING HOME!!!!!