Tomatoes in Late November

Aaron’s family has a “hoophouse”, a type of greenhouse where they can grow some produce year round. The tomatoes are really thriving in there. We went out today to take a look and the kids helped their uncle pick some.

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In case you wondered what it looks like at night…
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And, if you look really closely in this one, you’ll notice a ghost dog.
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P.S. I didn’t entirely forget about Imperfect Fridays, today. But, I did forget to take a picture for it! I will share that I got one of my nicer pairs of shoes completely muddy and gross today. Mud on the outside AND inside. I wore them to walk the dogs in a field, because they were all I had, and the last part of my walk was incredibly muddy.
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This was before they got muddy today, but you can see where this is going. And, just so you know how weird I am, I often take photos of my shoes while I’m out on walks.

Thanksgiving 2013

The internet is a bit slow, so please forgive me if I am unable to post tomorrow or Saturday. But, I’ll do my best!

We spent Thanksgiving with Aaron’s family. They have a family reunion with his extended family on Thanksgiving.

To quote another one of my children, “That’s all?!?” Don’t worry, there was plenty to eat. Gus just wasn’t impressed with what was on his plate at that moment.
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I love this photo of him. He looks at me like this often, usually when he is puzzled by something I just said.
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Aaron, his grandmother and Lena.
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After lunch was over, Gus and I snuck off to a little playground. This is a very small town, and as it turns out, they have an old fashioned merry-go-round. I saw a really awesome photo recently, taken on a merry-go-round and I thought it would be fun to try. We weren’t going quite fast enough, but you can get some idea of how it would look.
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Gus needed a nap after lunch, so…

Aaron and his brother played cards. These two are ridiculous together. If you’ve never heard Aaron get loud, put him in a room with his brother and a deck of cards.
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Lena played blocks with her great-grandmother.
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And Reed and I played Legos together.
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Because Aaron’s parents live in the middle of nowhere, I snuck out with my camera for a bit tonight after the kids went to bed.

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Have I ever told you guys how much I love night photography?

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Preparing for Advent

Last week, I saw this neat Advent calendar idea. In short, you can purchase a digital download of a “random acts of kindness” cards, which benefits the Cystinosis Research Foundation. It’s a cool idea, so I purchase the download. But, I realized I can’t do a random act of kindness with the kids each day. There are days where we only have an hour and a half to eat dinner, do bedtime and spend a bit of time together.

But, I loved the idea of random acts of kindness in the Advent season. I decided to use the ideas from the RAK cards for some days, and fill in the rest with Bible verses.

The cards for Monday-Thursdays are Bible verses related to Christ’s birth and why we need Him in our lives. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are a random act of kindness that we will do.

I had to gather some supplies.

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I wanted to stamp the envelope with the date, but apparently stamps are crazy expensive at Hobby Lobby. Not happening. I should have printed the date on them, but I ended up hand writing the date on each.
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In Photoshop, I made the actual template for the cards. I was inspired by the RAK cards one, but that ones says “Random Acts of Kindness”, so I wanted to make one that was accurate to what we are doing.
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I know the little symbol in the middle looks like a sun, but I’m calling it a Moravian Star.

When I went to print them out, I realized that I had no colored ink cartridges. Only black. Oh well.
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I could only find 2 finish nails, so I had to hang the two strings from the same nails. It would look a bit better and the cards would overlap less if I had 4 nails.
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Can’t wait to start! Anyone have any fun Advent traditions of your own?

November 24, 2010: Part 2

Hannah found missing second part! Yay, Hannah, thank you. Apparently, I added it as a page, not a post, but I also did schedule it to add, which added my confusion. Guys, you need to realize, I work on my computer and websites all day, so I’m generally pretty computer saavy. But, 4 letter words that start with the same letter stump me every time. Anyways, here you go…


So, back to a knock on the door. The door opened and Lena walked in. Tiny and real. There she was. She knew that we were there for her, and after orienting herself and being handed a doll, she stood at my knees. I gently picked her up. She was light, soft and real. She seemed comfortable, almost right away.
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If you’ve never experienced this, you might not know the strangeness of it, having a child you only know in pictures now on your lap. You know a child by their photos or maybe by a brief description. And suddenly, they are 3 dimensional. You can smell their scent, feel their skin, and hear their little giggles. So strange.

This little person finally in front of me was, formally, Olena. As they called her at the orphanage, Lenushka. Or, as we came to know her, Lena.

Before we could get too caught up in that moment, the door opened again and there he was. He looked like a startled deer. Staring, eyes scanning the room, then running to the social worker. Everyone gestured for Aaron to take him, and with some encouragement, Ilya let him. We knew him as Ilya, but they called him Ilyusha.

He was warm, sweaty and obviously tired. I have a feeling that they had just woken him up from his nap to come meet us. He was understandably stiff, and while we talked sweetly to him, he kept his head tucked down in great apprehension.
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While these few moments were exciting, the nerves rose again. What if we didn’t seem comfortable enough? Were the doctor and social worker judging these first moments to see how we behaved as instant parents? Ilya’s head stayed down, but Lena was relaxed and quiet. Our facilitator snapped a few pictures of us, which truly excited Lena, to see herself on the tiny screen and she gestured around the room.

More of this is recounted in my original blog post.

It was only a few minutes, of this nervous playing, before they told us the children needed to go. Back to the their groupas. We could come again tomorrow. Although the excitement was over, I released tension walking out of that room. No longer did we have the social worker and Ludmila observing our amateur parenting.

Down the hallway, then the stairs, and back to squishing in the car. Sasha began to tell us how happy the children seemed. “Ilya, I was so worried. He had a woman visit him before. She came many days, but he always cried. She wanted to adopt him, but he cried so much that she did not think he would be comfortable. He did not cry with you. That is very good.” Huh. So already things went much better than we thought.

“Do you want to adopt them? We can start the paperwork or if you want to spend a couple more days with them first, you can do that.” Aaron and I exchanged some edgy, excited glances and some short, awkward phrases like, “what do you think?” Yes, we are ready. We don’t see why not and we don’t want to wait.

Off we went. We dropped off the social worker, back at her university-like building. Sasha explained, “I need to prepare papers. Shall I take you where you can get some lunch?” To the mall, we went. Sasha dropped us on the curb. She explained that we could gesture in the food court to point out what food we wanted and she would call us when she was done. We choose pizza. Easy enough to know what we were getting. We sat down at a little table and breathed deep sighs of relief.

Again, we were alone. Alone together. In a mall, yes, but we knew the likelihood of someone around us fully understanding our conversation were slim. We could process all that had just happened. Beside us, was a children’s play area. It was strange. The contrast of the baby house and this wealthy mall play area was just bizarre. Adjacent cities, two different worlds.

Eventually, Sasha called. I’m not sure what else happened that day, but the next thing I remember was the notary. Eastern European notaries are independent little offices all over. You can just walk in and pay to have something notarized.  A quick flash of our passports, many signatures and we were out the door.

Then, Sasha offered to take us to the grocery store. I believe we needed to exchange some money first, so we did that. Then, to the store. We had been to little markets in Kiev, but this grocery store was large, bright. Shopping carts and a parking lot. It seemed so… normal. To the left and right, as you walked in, were little shops. almost like a mall. You could grab freshly pressed juice. Or get some home goods. Just a bit further and you entered the store through a turn-style. Check your bag if needed or just go past the security guard.
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(Again, not my photo– click for source. But this is the same chain that we sometimes shopped at in Ukraine.)

And, we shopped. Gallons of water. Juice and crackers for the kids. Boring, ordinary grocery shopping, while we still held the slight nervousness of such a monumental day.

Back to the car, and then back to our apartment. Sasha stayed with us that night and read through our children’s files again. She went over details again and expounded on certain things. Breaking down nuances which we might not have understood the first time around.

The day ended mildly, nerves slowly being taken over by exhaust. In retrospect, it’s one of the most life-changing days we’ve ever had. Meeting our children for the first time, the first steps to becoming parents, really saying yes to adopt. Wild and pretty much amazing.

Dog Shaming

Have you heard of it? Although only effective if your dog follows the website himself, but it is good for a laugh. This is my recent favorite.

Anyways, I have a dog in need of shaming.

We were already having a rough afternoon when we got home from picking Reed and Lena up from school. I  opened up the back door, only to find I couldn’t get it open more than a foot. While we were gone, a certain set of canines jumped on the bench by our backdoor and knocked the whole thing over, wedging it shut.

While I was able to squeeze through the door to pick the bench up, I had to set a shoeless Gus down. And, a certain dog, obviously quite guilty, quickly leapt through the small opening, knocking Gus over.

Gus was fine, although very, very unhappy.

Any guesses on who the dog was?
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I just wish I had remembered the sign.
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Disclaimer: No dogs were actually punished in the making of these photos. Photographed dog is currently laying next to me begging for a belly rub.

Also, about the second part of my story about Reed and Lena’s adoption, which was scheduled to be published today, it seems to have disappeared. I have NO CLUE where it went. If it can’t be found, I will re-write it this weekend. You will have to remain in suspense until then, sorry.

Opposite Sundays and Late Date Night

Do you remember my post about going to the beach last Sunday? Yesterday was like the opposite. I wanted to stay in, curled up in bed all day long.

But, I needed to go the store. The temperature read…
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But, I did see more of these guys. This picture reminds me of the picture I took a week earlier, but the setting was rather different. Sitting on a piece of drift wood in the middle of the river, on a 65 degree day. Or sitting in my car in Target’s parking lot on a 23 degree day. Hmm.
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Aaron and I decided to go on an improptu date night. Our amazing babysitter was happy to help us out, and we snuck out after the kids went to bed.

And then this happened. Pulled over. Ugh. We had a headlight out. The officer was super nice, and after checking our insurance and Aaron’s drivers license, he let us go with a warning and told us to enjoy the movie.
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After the movie, Aaron was insistent that he didn’t want to get pulled over again, so we made a late night Walmart stop and changed the bulb in the parking lot. Wow, what a date night, right?

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Since apparently this is a blog about my kids, I’ll share a few photos of them, too.

Just more after school photos.

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Girl has mastered the monkey bars officially. Sitting on top now.
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November 24, 2010: Part 1

I woke up entirely around 5am, wondering where on Earth, literally, we were. I listened at each of the stops, wanting some indication of our location. Time passed, 6 am, 7 am, 8 am, 9 am, 10 am, 11 am. We played cards and munched on snacks that we had packed, while I craned my neck to peer out the window at the foggy Ukrainian countryside.

The train stopped again, and this station was a bit busier. A woman smiled at me, then jolted, as gracefully as a person can, towards the train. We heard her talking to the conductor for a minute, before she came to our car, instructing us to gather our luggage in a hurry. She introduced herself as Sasha. “I knew it was you right away. They told me you looked very young. And, you look American… so, apartment or baby house first?”

Sasha is awesome. Warm, friendly. Ukrainians, along with Russians and other Eastern Europeans, are known for their stoicism. Their smiles are rare and only if truly earned. I think this is a wonderful idea, more honest than our American plastic smiles. But, Sasha has mastered the art of connecting with Americans with the warm smile and kind chatter that we need. We both instantly felt comfortable with her.

We picked apartment. Perhaps it sounds silly, to pick before the much-awaited baby house trip, but I was desperate to change out of my going on 26-hour outfit. Oh, and a bathroom. Maybe TMI, but if you’ve ever tried to pee in a Eastern European train bathroom, I know you understand.
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A quick trip to drop off our stuff and change, before we began our long, exciting day of many stops. By this point, nerves were boiling up. What if they said we were too young. What if the kids hated us. What if we didn’t react appropriately at our first meeting.

First, we had to meet a social worker. We went to a large building, almost resembling a university building, up a flight of stairs and were instructed to sit and wait. Waited a bit longer, while Sasha made small talk. I can’t imagine I was much for conversation, with all of the nerves. The social worker was out to lunch, so we’d have to wait a bit longer. Just a few minutes more and we were pulled into her office.

This is one of those moments were culture shock struck me hard. First, the social worker was beautiful. But, far more made up than what you would see in an American office. Her nails, her hair, her jewelry. Please understand, this is not a judgement, only an observation. But, I think her style would have given her some trouble in an American office.

The next culture shock, the escalating voices, eventually yelling. I knew this was how Ukrainians communicate, but it still left me wondering if something was wrong. Was the social worker saying we were not suitable and Sasha was arguing back? This went on for a couple of minutes, before Sasha began translating for us. The questions were mild, about us, where we lived, our age, too, but the social worker was pleased with us.

She gather some papers, and now, we all headed back out to the car, social worker included, where we piled in. Aaron, Sasha and I squished in the back, social worker up front with the driver. Ukrainians have no issues squishing in a car.

This was it, off to the baby house. Twists and turns and bumpy roads. We had seen a bit of Ukraine, but now for the real stuff. Babushkas, bundled up, slogging up the side of dirty roads. Laundry lines hung on balconies. Women in heels and mini-skirts traipsing up tree-lined streets to important looking buildings. Children bundled up in every possible layer of clothing. Wild dogs, looking more cold and hungry than dangerous. Each day of our trip to Ukraine, we saw all of these sights and more, but it was incredible to see it all for the first time.
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(This is not my photo– click for source. This is likely not even Ukraine, but is a similar sight to what we saw.)

The trip to the baby house took us out of the bigger city of Donetsk into the neighboring, industrial city of Makiivka. You could almost see the change as we slowed down a bit for the train tracks and passed by a blue and white sign, defining the border. Up a small hill, then down a street. The pavement breaking up down, our driver dodging pot holes, babushkas and wild dogs. Then, another turn, onto a dirt road. Slowing down to let the three men in leather jackets, with cigarettes in their hands, move off to the side. Passing by two dogs, one black and white with longing eyes. And slowing down for the finally turn.

Past the bare trees and the colorful playground equipment to our right, there stood the baby house.
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Except that you approach it from the other side, but I do not have a photo of that.

It’s amazing that I could climb out of the car, my nerves as wild as they were. Out of the car, through the two heavy sets of doors. Then, upstairs. Two flights, I think. Then down a hall to the director’s office. But, the director was on holiday, a vacation. So, to meet the head doctor and deputy director instead. Another thing that may be botched in my memory now, but I think her name is Ludmila.

It’s funny I don’t remember her name, because I am fond of that woman. The first thing you notice is her presence. Strong, firm and intimidating. But, the second thing that you notice is her smile. Another rare, warm smile. So genuinely happy to see someone here for her children.

She sat us down and read us their files. Before they brought the children in, so that we could focus. This was a bit of a game, her reading, Sasha translating. And Sasha saying “do you understand? do you know this word?” Often, it was a bit of charades before we’d realize it was only her accent, not the medical terminology that was confusing us. We had a bit of apprehension when we had been read Lena’s file in Kiev, based on some of the language that was in it, but hearing these records put us at ease. Nothing too scary.

We finished up the records and waited, awkward small talk filling the silence. Then, a knock on the door.

To be continued. Like that suspense there?