Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ukraine Revisited- December 18, 2007

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!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ukraine Revisited- December 17, 2007

Today is Evan's "Gotcha Day." It was one year ago today that our adoption decree officially took effect and Evan left Orphanage 13 in Artemovsk, Donetsk, Ukraine forever! It has been an incredible year and we are grateful each and every day for the gift of Evan! Happy "Gotcha Day" sweet boy! We love you!

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.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ukraine Revisited- December 14-16, 2007

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!

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!

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 6, 2008

Ukraine Revisited- December 6, 2007

A year ago today, a judge granted our petition to adopt Evan and what an amazing year it has been with our incredible little boy!

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!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ukraine Revisited- December 4, 2007

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. . . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ukraine Revisited- December 3, 2007

Monday, December 3, 2007


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:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ukraine Revisited- December 2, 2007

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!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ukraine Revisited- December 1, 2007

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!