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Oh, 2016

So, it’s time to say goodbye to 2016. This year brought a tremendous amount of change to our family, our day to day lives and me personally. My day to day life looks quite a bit different than it did at the beginning of the year, for better or worse.

We got our travel date for Lyuda’s adoption on the last day of 2015. She was visiting our family for her last hosting at that time and we got to celebrate that news.

We made our first trip to Ukraine at the end of January, had our court trip in March and then my mom and I travelled to pick her up in April.

In May, Gus finished preschool, Lena 2nd grade, and Reed 3rd.

Over the summer, we moved from the city where we’d lived for 8 years to a small town an hour away.

In August, all 4 kids started at their new schools– one at her first American school. Another starting full day school where he has a set curriculum, as opposed to more relaxed preschool.

In early October, I left my job of 3 years for two part time jobs. One for a tech company where I work in an office and a second for a creative firm that offers me a flexible schedule.

November and December have been spent trying to recover. The kids have had their moments, but they’re all doing well. I’m very proud of how Lyuda’s doing in all areas of life. Aaron is as laid back as ever. I’m the one who has had the hardest time lately, as I juggle new schedules, learn all kinds of new things at both of my jobs and adjust to the changes of my daily life.

My photography hasn’t been a priority in 2016. I miss it tremendously. I still tried to throw together a collection of my favorite photographs from 2016, with one per month.

January
This photo is a window into the past. The life she left behind.

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February
I couldn’t resist doing all Ukraine pictures for the months I visited in Ukraine. This is one of my favorite churches. Ukraine has beautiful architecture.

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March
Sick of Ukraine yet? I’m not! This picture just screamed “Ukraine” to me. Taken from our car window

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April
This trip to Ukraine was definitely the highlight of my year for many reasons. We got to pick up Lyuda. We got to meet many people who are important to her in Ukraine. We experienced it as three generations– my mom, myself and Lyuda. And, we had a lot of time to explore Ukraine.

This was one of Lyuda’s goodbyes. We visited her old school/orphanage, where she had a very warm welcome and some bittersweet goodbyes.
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May
We only camped twice in 2016. Whaaaat? Between the other travel and moving, it was not a priority. This was our first camping trip as an official family of 6 (although we did take Lyuda camping on her first hosting).

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June
In June, we started out moving preparations. The kids and I typically spend July on the East Coast with my family, so we need to help Aaron get the house ready in June.

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July
Time with my family is always a highlight of our year. There were so many pictures i could have picked for July, but I love this one of all the kids lined up.

Even though they spend 11 months of the year half a country apart, these kids are very close when they’re together.

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August
August was also a hard month to pick. A photo from our new house? Or our trip to Utah and Colorado? I had to go with this one.

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September
September was the month where reality seemed to set in. We were done with our vacations and it’s also the month when I decided to find new employment. Consequently, I didn’t take a single picture in September with my DSLR. Oops.

Here’s a favorite from my phone, from one of Lyuda’s volleyball games.
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October
Every year in October, we go to the International Forest of Friendship in Atchison, KS to see the trees changing colors. This was Lyuda’s first October with our family, experiencing fall in the United States. We need a family picture.

Well, we tried.
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November
November felt a bit crazy, as we adjusted to new schedules. But, Lena ran her first 5K!

 

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December
Opening Christmas presents is always fun, and these two are the most excited and expressive about it.

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Here are flashbacks to annual photo review posts

So Beautiful I Could Cry

Aaron and I met when we were in AmeriCorps*NCCC together. Once we started dating, we were pretty much inseparable and when we had a vacation for Labor Day, Aaron decided to plan a trip.

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He planned it all, and I had to solve little riddles to figure out where we were going next. The entire trip was incredible. We were still in that new love stage, where even challenges that come up are just laughable and seem like adventures. Perhaps the only thing I don’t remember fondly is when he dragged me out of bed to see the sunrise over Bryce Canyon. But was it worth it? Yes, yes, it was.

The sunrise at Arches. I don't even remember him dragging me out of bed for this, but apparently he did.
The sunrise at Arches. I don’t even remember him dragging me out of bed for this, but apparently he did.

Anyways, the very first park we went to was Arches National Park. We hiked, we camped, we sat out under the stars, we watched the sunrise and the sunset. The second we left, I knew I needed to go back. But, in 9 years, we didn’t.

This spring, Aaron and I started planning the details of our trip to Colorado for Bekah’s run. We both had some vacation days miraculously not used up in the travel for our adoption, so we decided to add a few days on to our Colorado trip. Aaron suggested a Colorado state park, but I requested Arches. The few extra hours of driving? Absolutely worth it.

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The kids enjoyed Rocky Mountain National Park last year and we had to get Arches junior ranger books so that they could get their Arches badges as well.
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Aaron and I tried to decide the order of the hikes we wanted to do. We had a good idea of the length and difficulty of the hikes from our last trip, but we also wanted to make sure we hit them all at the best time of day.

We started off with a ranger-led hike around the Windows– a set of three large rock formations.
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Rangers tend to be excellent at teaching and interacting with kids. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the park from someone who lives there.

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As we did the short hike around the Windows, Lena said “it’s so beautiful I could cry”.

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After the Windows, we decided to do a harder hike, Delicate Arch. We were all pretty tired from the drive, and the hike involves some elevation gain, including some pretty steep sections. I wasn’t really enjoying it myself, but I had to tell the kids that this was going to be one to remember. Delicate Arch is the poster child for Arches and on every Utah license plate.

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The hike is hard overall, but the worst part for me is the last bit where you walk along a ledge, with a rock on one side and a drop off on the other. Note the tiny person in the picture below.

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But the view is worth it. There were a ton of people out at Delicate Arch that evening, including two couples from Kiev. Lyuda enjoyed talking to them about her family.

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We lingered a bit of sunset, but we didn’t want to hike back in total darkness. We gave ourselves the remainder of daylight for the worst part of the hike and had to pull out flashlights for the rest of it.

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It was completely dark and the stars were out by the time we got back to the parking lot. This is Wolfe Ranch, near the trailhead.

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We had a campsite with an amazing view, but before I headed to sleep, I had to stay out and capture the stars. I saw a bat and a ringtail while I was out.

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There was a thunderstorm in the distance.

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I entered this picture in the National Parks photo contest. You can vote for it here.

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Aaron got up early for a hike, so I stayed at the campsite while the kids slept. Like I said, the view was awesome. One guy even stopped to tell me that we had the very best campsite (true).

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Once Aaron returned, we had to pack up and move our campsite. Aaron spent all summer regularly checking the Arches website to see if we could get campsites within the park, which aren’t easy to come by. He was able to get us campsites for both nights, although not the same one.

We started our day off with some easy hikes and some chose to practice their rock climbing.
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The kids loved playing in the sand at Sand Dune Arch.

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We decided to head into Moab, the nearby town, to pick up some items and grab lunch. We went to the cutest little restaurant for lunch, Milt’s Stop and Eat. It was an inexpensive burger and fries kind of place, but I loved it because they had a ton of vegetarian options.

As we headed back to the park, it started to rain.

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We decided to go back to the campsite for a bit. While everyone else laid down in the tent, Lena and I worked on her junior ranger booklet. She wanted to do it, but needed a bit of extra handholding to get it done.

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After the rain let up, we decided to do one of the hardest, longest hikes, the Devil’s Garden loop. Aaron and I had done this hike and all of its little extra loops back in 2007. We were aware of the challenging parts, but also how worthwhile it is.

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We brought hiking poles. Why, I don’t understand. They ended up being more of a burden.

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That’s always a positive sign when hiking with 4 kids.

We hiked past Landscape Arch, the widest arch in the park. Then we got to this section where you scramble up a steep section of slickrock. I had done this before, remember? But, I was pretty confident I could not do it in that moment. Out of shape, heavy backpack  not designed for hiking, four kids… plus my fear of heights.  However, I knew what was at the top, so I somehow convinced myself to keep going.

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the center of this image is the trail

This was at the top– an arch with an incredible view.

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We contemplated our options at that point and ultimately decided to go back. It was starting to get late, and our pace with four kids was slow. I take that back– our pace with Gus was slow. The other 3 are excellent hikers, Reed especially.

We had a wonderful time in front of our campfire that night. We roasted hotdogs and make s’mores. We talked about real vs. perceived fear and how to stay safe (one child was afraid of walking to the bathroom). We talked about friendships and how not all are worthwhile. It was a wonderful conversation.

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not our camper, just our view

That night was pretty cloudy, so no star photos for me. Aaron was planning to complete the Devil’s Garden loop in the morning, and when he woke up very early to go, I saw that the sky had cleared. I offered a trade– I go out and take some photos and when I got back, he could have all the time he needed for his hike. He agreed.

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I went back to the Windows, and while I missed most of the stars, I was able to enjoy the sunrise.

Even though I got back to camp early, all 4 of the kids were up. In our talk the night before, I sensed that Reed had been feeling slightly misplaced since Lyuda came home. Many things that used to be his and Aaron’s, were now his, Lyuda’s and Aaron’s. When Aaron said he was going to ask if any of the kids wanted to go, I suggested that he just invite Reed directly. Reed happily agreed.

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I had other plans for my remaining 3 kids. It’s a very different pace without Reed. He keeps us all charging forward, and without him, we’re a little bit slower paced. We found a picnic area. Gus practiced writing his name, and the girls worked on postcards (which I have yet to mail– 6 weeks later).

Then we drove around and saw other sites. We saw Balanced Rock and Panorama Point. We spotted tons of lizards.

trying to make sure he sees a lizard
trying to make sure he sees a lizard

We enjoyed our slower paced morning, and then we picked Aaron and Reed up around lunch time. Sadly, this was the end of our Arches adventure. We headed away from the beautiful rocks, back to Colorado for part 2 of our trip.

Stay tuned to read about our time in Colorado!

New House

We moved just about six weeks ago, although it feels longer ago than that. We only moved about an hour’s drive, so we can easily go back to visit. But, it has been a big adjustment.

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arriving home to our new house after being on the East Coast for July

The first two weeks were the hardest. Day one, we had a leak in the basement. A few days later, the alarm on our septic system went off. Getting everyone enrolled for school also proved to be a big challenge. A lot, a lot of stress was wrapped up in those first weeks of getting everyone settled.

frog who likes to visit our back door
frog who likes to visit our back door
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Gus’s favorite part of the new house is our big jetted bathtub

Now, things are much better. The kids have been in school for about a month. Lyuda is loving it and the other three are enjoying it for the most part. They have good days and bad, but no major complaints. Gus is going to start getting speech and occupational therapy at school. Gus struggles with sensory processing (very common in kids adopted internationally) and I think this will be beneficial for him.

ready for his first day of kindergarten
ready for his first day of kindergarten
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On the first day of school for elementary. Lyuda had to wait a few extra days while we waited on getting her set up with ESL services

The older 3 kids are started to get involved. Lyuda is playing volleyball and has already had two games. Reed is joining Boy Scouts. Lena starts Girls on the Run this week and would like to do Girl Scouts, but there isn’t a lot of interest for her grade. There don’t seem to be a lot of opportunities for Kindergarteners, but that’s okay because adjusting to Kindergarten has been enough.

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a cell phone picture from Lyuda’s first volleyball game– she is the one in the front about to hit the ball

As for the new house, it’s great. It feels much more spacious and functional for our family. Everyone likes to comment on the fact that we now have an acre. Perhaps because we still have neighbors fairly close to us on either side, it doesn’t feel like too much of a change. However, I love that our property backs up to a farm. There are cows behind our property who love to walk along their fence and moo at us. We can also see many stars and night and hear lots of different insects and birds.

the cows are just on the other side of the trees
the cows are just on the other side of the trees
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Watching one of the many thunderstorms from our bedroom windows

Community is the biggest challenge right now. After living in the same town for 8 years, we knew people. At local events, or just running errands around town, we would run into people who we knew. Not so here, and at times, that feels isolating. We are adjusting.

A fun afternoon when an old friend visited us
A fun afternoon when an old friend visited us

There definitely is community here, though.  The elementary school had a great back to school night. Complete with water slides and a visit from the fire department.
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Oh, and how could I forget the snowcones.
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The Funeral

Before I even start, everyone is alive and well. Kids, husband, extended family, pets, even a few too many flies that have invaded our house… everyone is fine.

So, why the somber title for this post? Well, ask Reed. A few days before the event I am writing about in this post, he started asking family members, “Are you going to the funeral?” The typical response: “What funeral!? Who died?” Reed: “Oh, oh, I mean, reunion.” He did this three or four times and I’m not sure he won’t make that mistake again. Previously, this reunion has also been called the dance farm, which seems like a more accurate term.

If you want to read about previous trips to the funeral/dance farm…

When we got to the hotel, it was raining. I was really wondering why we had decided to come, instead of going straight home. The reunion is mostly outdoors, except for a bit of cover from a barn and tents. Being there in the rain is no fun.
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Fortunately, the rain cleared up during our time at the hotel.
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We had to get a shot of all of the kids in their shirts before we left the hotel. We always make matching shirts for them to make it easier to keep track of all 12 of them.
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Then, the drive to the reunion. It’s through the country where we pass lots of Amish buggies, including this one with a boat on top.
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We got to see the horses again, including this very friendly one who we met in 2013. Almost the same kids in the picture, too. In 2013, We have VV, Lena, Leif and Gus and in 2015, we have Gus, Lena, Leif and Reed.

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While we waited in the massive line for food, my aunt insisted on taking a picture of the 12 kids in their matching shirts.

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Lena enjoyed playing on some wrapped hay bales.
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She was also reunited with a friend who she has played with for the past few years. They always have a great time together.
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The clouds coming over the mountains were very dramatic and at least 3 different people commented on them to me!

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The evening is wrapped up with some square dancing. Lyuda gave it a try and LOVED it. When it was time to leave, I unfortunately had to pull her away from her square dancing fun or I think she would have kept dancing until it was over.

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On day two of the reunion, we go out for breakfast. The restaurant we go to is very Americana.

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Taking 16 kids to a restaurant is a bit overwhelming, but we survived.
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Day 2 of the reunion is a smaller crowd and bit more low-key. The cows were wondering what was going on at their place, with all of these cars and people.

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Lena “borrowed” her toddler cousin’s hat. And rocked it.

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We didn’t stay too long at the reunion. We drove home from there, which meant we had about 20 hours of driving ahead of us… to our new home!
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Fireworks

Over the past couple of months, Gus got obsessed with fireworks. Two years ago, he was terrified, desperately clinging to me while I got him away from them as quickly as possible. Last year, he seemed to enjoy them. This year, he anxiously anticipated and counted down.

We enjoyed a 4th of July dinner with my family. My 16yo nephew made a festive dessert.
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“You should take my picture.”
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All four of them had matching shirts.
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These two wanted a picture, with Reed batting his eye lashes.
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We also had to light some fireworks off ourselves. Because we’re proud Americans. Only the little stuff, though. My favorite part about this picture is Reed and his cousin on the left side of the frame.
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Gus finally got what he had waited so (im)patiently for. He jumped and danced around, delighting in each explosion.
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It was a rainy day, and most of us huddled under a tarp, while Gus jumped around, loving the rain and the fireworks.
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My mom and several of her grandkids. That’s my nephew with Lyuda in the back– she loves to be cuddling with anyone.
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Gus loved them so, so much.
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So much that when we were done with the city fireworks, we drove around to find a spot to see the fireworks of the amusement park nearby that sets them off. We ended up at the end of someone’s driveway.
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Another night we did sparklers. It was my nephew’s birthday.
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Lyuda was an awesome helper, who made sure the little ones could hold their own sparklers safely.
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Not quite as great as fireworks, but still pretty awesome.
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