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
-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.


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!


Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Pumpkin Has Been Smashed. . .

But fortunately I am picking up the pieces and making pumpkin pie. Unfortunately, I was unable to have my exit interview with the consular officer at the Embassy today. Apparently there is a law that states that the Embassy must have at least 24 hours to review all cases before an interview can be given. If we had submitted all of our paperwork to the Embassy yesterday, I could’ve done the interview and applied for the visa today, but unfortunately that was not the case and, because interviews are only given on Tuesdays and Thursday, I must wait until next week. That being said, my interview is scheduled for Tuesday at 2pm and hopefully we will have the visa by Wednesday morning. If all goes smoothly (and it really should), I will be flying back to the US on Thursday morning. The plan at this point is to fly into Dulles late Thursday afternoon and stay with either my father-in-law or mother-in-law on Thursday night. From there I will either fly or drive home on Friday.

Sure I am disappointed. I was really looking forward to seeing my husband and my children and would be lying if I said I was not devastated that this will not be happening as soon as I had hoped. However, I know that all things happen for a reason and have prayed very hard over the past few days that the will of the Lord be done and I am at peace knowing that the Lord has a reason for me to stay. If nothing else I will be able to spend a few more precious days bonding with my son and I know that time will be priceless. There are also two more families from our agency flying into Tashkent on Monday night and I am happy that I will be among (English speaking) friends who understand what this roller coaster ride is all about.

Thank you all for your continued prayers. Your prayers and well wishes have kept me going through this difficult journey and they continue to bear me up!

SDA Appointment

And now for some GOOD news!!! Last week we learned that the SDA had issued our appointment date. The date they had given us was November 9th! Needless to say, it would’ve been impossible for us to make this appointment, so our wonderful facilitator managed to swap appointment dates with another family from our agency. Our new appointment date is November 21st! While the back to back trips are a bit overwhelming, I am SO very excited that both of our boys will be home by Christmas and that we will be able to welcome in the New Year as a whole and complete family!

I will be home from Uzbekistan for just over a week before we leave for Ukraine, so the extra few days I will have in Uzbekistan with Joshua really will be priceless. Because of the short time between trips, I will definitely be returning home during the 10-day wait so that I can be with my children. I will return by myself to bring Evan home, but am really looking forward to spending the first part of the journey with my husband who I have really missed on this adventure in Uzbekistan.

I can’t believe that we will have both of our boys home so soon! We are truly blessed!