Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Walk on, Snuggles."

Well, we had 2 very crazy and hectic days, but we're in good shape now. We filled out our visa application forms and overnighted them with our passports and bought our plane tickets on Thursday. Then on Friday, we booked our apartment in Moscow so we can kind of relax a little bit now. That being said, Derek was in a horse show yesterday. Derek takes therapeutic horseback riding every week to improve core strength (trunk, torso, etc.), coordination, speech, sensory input, and other areas as well. He started in hippotherapy, but now that he is older, he has moved to therapeutic riding. The difference is that in hippotherapy, he is one-on-one with a therapist (OT, PT, or SLP) and they place him in different positions on the horse (forwards, backwards, side ways, draped over, etc.) to work different muscle groups. In therapeutic riding, he is one of 4-5 kids in a class and they learn about how to ride, groom, and care for a horse in addition to the different parts of the equipment that is used in riding, and he is always facing forward. He still gets the benefit of the movement of the horse, but he is also learning about it as well. His usual horse that he rides is Snuggles, pictured here.

In the horse show, he rode Snuggles, Boo, and Penny. He had never ridden Boo before, and apparantly Boo is a pretty bouncy horse. Well he rode Boo when he did the barrels, and as you can see in this picture, Derek is not quite vertical as they are trotting to the finish. Derek looked a little like one of those bobble heads, but he was loving every minute of it. Trotting is his favorite part. I think the sidewalkers and the leader get more of a workout than anyone else as they run alongside the horse!
They had closing ceremonies at the end, and here is Derek with his trophy. All in all, he had a great day!

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Our court date is Wednesday, July 9 at 10:00 AM. We will be leaving here on Saturday, July 5 and returning on Thursday, July 10 -- without Katie. We will have to return at the end of July or first of August to bring her home. We have to arrange for airfare, lodging, and send off for our visas so we have much to do. We are now in the "hurry up" stage of the "hurry up and wait" process. Off we go!!!

Remembering Moscow - Day 8

This is it -- our final day in Moscow for a long time. While we were dreading leaving Katie, we were also excited to go home to see our boys. We went to the orphanage for one more quick visit with Katie before heading to the airport. She came to us carrying the Teddy Bear that we had given her yesterday and she never let go of it. It was so precious. The way she looks at me shows such love, adoration, and trust, and my heart melts every time I look at her. We didn't have long to play, but we had a great time with her, and we took a picture of Katie with one of her caregivers. I don't know her name, but it's obvious how much she loves Katie and that warms our hearts knowing that she's not just fed and clothed, but she is LOVED.

As we were leaving, Katie was being led to her room at the same time. The Russian word for goodbye is do svidanya, but the word for bye is poka (pah-kah). Everyday when we left we would say, "poka," and she would blow us a kiss. Today, Katie and I were saying, "poka," back and forth to each other as she was walking down her hallway and I was walking down mine. We couldn't see each other, but we were still saying (yelling, by the end), "poka," to each other over and over again. We knew when she entered her stairwell, because her voice started to echo! It was perhaps the cutest thing I've ever been a part of. We probably said "poka" 15-20 times each. It made me want to run back and hold her again, but I knew if I did that I'd never leave.

Andrei seemed in a hurry to get us to the airport, but we seemed to be early. The traffic was lighter than usual and we got to the airport 4 hours before our flight left. We weren't even allowed to check in until 3 hours before the flight, so we just sat. Andrei had picked up his wife, cat, and luggage while we were visiting with Katie, and after he dropped us off at the airport, he went on to his "country home" for the weekend. Hmmm, I wonder why we got to the airport so early? At least I got lots of cross stitching done on Katie's Christmas stocking.

Our flight to Washington, D.C. was long (10 1/2 hours) but uneventful. I can't sleep going west due to the constant daylight, so I worked on my cross stitch the whole time. Did you know that you can get sore muscles from cross stitching? After landing in Washington, we went through passport control, got our bags, went through customs, rechecked the bags, and checked in with United. After getting everything taken care of, we ate dinner -- American food! On the plane over the Atlantic we ate absolutely everything they gave us, and it tasted so good. Then we ate a full dinner at the restaurant in the airport. Any weight that we may have lost while we were in Moscow was gained back on Saturday! I was (and still am) so tired of dry, crunchy, salty foods. We basically lived on the snacks that we had packed.

We boarded our flight back to Kansas City at 9:40, which was 5:40 AM to our bodies, and we were getting pretty tired. We boarded the plane, and we were sitting waiting for the ground crew to finish everything, when the captain offered a trivia question. Whoever got it right first by pushing the call button could move up to first class for the flight. Well, Steve is proudly the king of trivia, so he had his finger about 1/2 inch below the call button when the flight attendant started asking the question. She hadn't even finished it when Steve pushed the button. She worked her way back to find out his answer, and sure enough, John Adams was in fact the 2nd president of the United States. They let us both move up instead of just Steve. In first class they had those head rests that angle forward on either side of your head so you can rest your head on it kind of like a child in a car seat. Well, I wish I could tell you about that flight home, but I don't remember the take off, flight, or landing! Thank you, Steve!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Remembering Moscow - Day 7

Friday morning we woke up with some excitement and dread. This was our last full day in Moscow. Tomorrow we would be leaving our daughter for several weeks, but on Sunday we'll be able to see our precious boys. What a dichotomy of emotions!

Andrei once again picked us up mid-morning and we repeated Thursday morning's activities. When Andrei and Sergei went to the court on Thursday, the judge was gracious enough to look through all the documents and told Andrei and Sergei that she needed one more document from us and 3 more from the orphanage before she would accept our case. So, we picked up Olga, went to the notary public's office, and signed this final document. This document was our petition to adopt Irina and it needed to include what her new name would be. Steve and I didn't have to think long about it. Kathryn (Katie) Irina. We had picked Kathryn out years ago, and since her given name is so beautiful, we wanted to keep it as her middle name. By doing this document in Moscow, we saved 2-3 weeks time than if we waited until we got home to do it. After that, we went to the orphanage to get their 3 documents. We got there right as one of the workers was walking out the door (I'm guessing for lunch). She was so gracious and generous that she went back inside and worked with Andrei and Sergei to get the final 3 documents they needed for the court filing. Per Andrei, we sat on the couch again. By this time we felt a little like dogs being ordered around. "Sit here." "Let's go." "Wait here." "Come." There was rarely any explanation of what was being done or why we were waiting, and if we asked for something (lunch, for instance) it was made very clear to us that we were here to adopt a child and nothing was more important than that. He was right, of course, but since we were kept in the dark for most of the trip, we didn't always know why we were doing something. Thankfully, we are both pretty laid back people and we've been through this before. However, if this had been our first international adoption, I would have been freaking out!

After they got the documents and the wonderful worker went on her way, we went to McDonald's. I have never had a hamburger that tasted so good! I felt like a contestant on Survivor as I savored every bite. Keep in mind that I hadn't had lunch since Monday due to 2 days of nausea and one day when we didn't get any. With food so plentiful in America, we often forget that we don't just eat food because it tastes good but because our bodies need it. I felt so much better after that meal.

After lunch, which was at 3:00 again, we went to the orphanage to visit Katie. We will still call her Irina to avoid confusion until we bring her home, but she is already our little Katie. When they brought her in, she was acting so tired -- we think the 3 hours the day before was a little too much! On Thursday, we had given her a small photo album with all our pictures in it -- parents, brothers, pets, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. and she loved looking at all the pictures and trying her best to repeat the names. She loved Alex's picture and would say, "Alec" each time we got to it (except the time we were videotaping, of course). Today, we gave her a Teddy Bear that will be her personal toy at the orphanage. We didn't know it when we bought it, but Teddy Bears are her favorite toy, and her new bedroom is also decorated with Teddy Bears. How cool is that?! We had difficulty engaging her in play until we discovered the seesaw rocker in the other room. She loved that and really got into it. I would sing, "Row, row, row your boat" while rocking her up and down, and when we stopped I taught her to sign "more." BINGO! She caught on quickly to the sign language and loved the fact that we could understand her. By the end of our time she knew "more" and "all done," and she was so excited. We're going to have to brush up on our sign language. You see, she would chatter on and on with her caregivers. Then she would come into the play room with us and say a few words. When it became clear to her that we didn't know what she was saying, she would give us a look that said, "This is pointless," and then she would remain quiet the rest of the time. Once the caregiver would return to take her back, she would chatter on and on and on and on... But with the sign language, she could communicate and we could understand. As her English improves, we'll drop the signing, but until then we're going to have some busy hands!

Our work was now done for the trip. We had one more visit Saturday morning before the airport, but we had no more work to do. We asked Andrei to drop us off at the nearest Metro station because we were going out for dinner, and we were ready to get out of the car and the Moscovian driving! For all the times that he neglected to explain what was going on the past 4 days, we sat in his car while he pulled out a Metro map and explained in detail what line we should get on and which stop we should take. The Metro is the one thing in Moscow we've mastered!

We went to Kievskaya and walked through a GORGEOUS shopping mall that had been under construction 3 years ago. It was amazing! We ate dinner at Pinnochio's, a quaint little pizzeria we discovered with Alex, then we walked by Hotel Ukraina, where we stayed 3 years ago. We loved the hotel, the architecture is breath-taking, and it was so reasonably priced with an excellent breakfast. However, it is under renovation and will reopen as a high-end hotel. We reminisced as we walked along the Moscow River before heading back to our apartment.

Here is the Hotel Ukraina with lovely tulips in front. Turning around, is the Moscow River, below, with the Russian White House in the background on the left.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Remembering Moscow - Day 6

Thursday was a tough day for us. Andrei picked us up mid-morning and took us to a building where he had to renew his license for adoptions. Then we went to pick up Olga, a translator, before going to the notary public. Andrei is bilingual and has translated for us, but he does not have a degree in English and Russian translation so the notary public will not allow him to translate the document for us. At the notary public we waited for a long time, then went in. Olga translated the document for us, we signed it, she signed a document stating that she had translated it accurately, the notary signed it, and we signed a book in which they had basically hand-written the entire document. That explained why the wait seemed so long. It's not the most efficient system. We found out later that some people will go and wait an entire day to see the notary public, but they know Olga so she's able to get in more quickly. After paying the exorbitant fee, we went to the orphanage to see Irina again.

Once again, we sat on a couch while Andrei and Sergei worked with the staff of the orphanage to get all sorts of documents needed to file our case with the court. Since it takes an hour to get anywhere in Moscow, it was now about 3:00, and it didn't look like we were going to get any lunch. After my struggle with carsickness on Wednesday, I took Dramamine that morning so I felt much better and was starving!! We ate all the snacks we had stuffed in my purse and even eyed the goldfish crackers we had brought for Irina, but we showed restraint and saved those for her!

Here are the two play rooms where we spent all our time with Irina. We were very impressed with this orphanage.
When Andrei and Sergei came out of the office, they left for the court because they wanted to try and file our case that day. They can only file documents with the court on Thursdays. We continued to wait until they brought out Irina. We heard her chatting with her caregiver before we saw her, and when we did see her, she saw us and said, "Mama!" and started running toward us. This was the turning point day for all of us. She knew we were her parents, and we felt like a family. We played in the play room with her doing every game and activity we could think of until Andrei returned to pick us up. She was really warming up to us and showing us more and more of her personality, which is so sweet! She would run into my arms with this look of sheer joy and adoration. After 3 hours of play with her, Andrei returned from the court to pick us up and take us back to our apartment. The orphanage is really only about 10-15 miles from the apartment, but it typically takes about an hour to get there. Coming home on Thursday, it took 2 hours because the traffic was deadlocked in many places so Andrei kept driving all around to try and find a way to get us back. We finally had to walk the last 2 blocks because he couldn't get any farther.

For dinner, we made a big ol' plate of spaghetti and ate like we hadn't seen food in three days. I think I had eaten an oatmeal bar, a peach, a granola bar, and 2 peanut butter crackers all day, and it was now after 8:00. We were tired, and it had been a long day, but we were becoming a family with Irina, and we were so excited about that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Remembering Moscow - Day 5

When Andrei called Wednesday morning for our decision, we were thrilled to tell him yes. We were going to visit Irina again that day, but first we had to go get our medical exams done in Moscow. They are required before we can file our case with the judge. We saw 8 different doctors who asked us questions, drew blood, and did a basic physical exam. There were some funny moments, and this provided some much-needed comic relief.

The funniest one was toward the end. One doctor drew some blood, and another brought in two cups with screw-on caps. They looked just like those cups used for a urine analysis, and I was about to ask where the bathroom was when Andrei told us we need to spit in the cups. I've never heard of such a thing, but apparantly they can do a TB test from that. Andrei went on to say to get one "way down deep." He pointed to Steve and said, "He'll show you," and then he left. I busted up laughing. I think part of my laughter was a release of some pent-up emotion, but another part was because I can't do that. Steve proceeded to make that "lovely" noise that all of us women despise and made a deposit into his cup. I finally got up from the floor where I had been laughing uncontrollably and got a lesson in spitting. It felt like that scene in the movie Titanic. With some coaching from Steve, and between outbursts of laughter, I made that "lovely" noise. Steve said, "GREAT! Now just spit it in the cup." The problem was that even though I did exactly what I was supposed to do, there was nothing in my mouth to spit in the cup! I truly just can't do it. I finally just did a regular spit of saliva. It wasn't exactly "way down deep," but it was the best I could do.

After the medicals were complete, we went to the orphanage, where Andrei did some more work, and then McDonald's again for another 3:00 lunch. I still wasn't hungry, though. Tuesday, I figured it was due to nerves, but on Wednesday, that wasn't the case. I figured it out though. I was constantly carsick everytime we got in the car, which was alot, and I got better after we had stopped for awhile. The constant starting, stopping, and swerving were just too much for me. I moved to the front seat, but that only helped a little bit.

When we played with Irina, she was more at ease with us, and we had a really good time. The language barrier is still an issue, but pointing and demonstration work pretty well. We played "Pease Porridge Hot," and she picked up on the words really fast! We did lots of high and low 5s and 10s. And we laughed alot. She is such a joy and is the SWEETEST little girl we have ever met. She has just captured our hearts.

When we got back to the apartment, Steve was antsy to go see more of Moscow, but I needed to lie down, so Steve went on his own. The Metro is really good and easy to use once you get the hang of it, so Steve went to Red Square and took pictures of the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral.

Remembering Moscow - Day 4

We woke up Tuesday morning a little (OK-alot) anxious about the day. This is the day that we are going to meet Irina, and what if there is a problem? Andrei picked us up about 10:00 for our 11:00 appointment with the Ministry of Education. The MOE is not that far from the apartment, but the traffic in Moscow is unlike anything we have ever seen. Imagine NYC, multiply by 3, and then increase the square mileage of the intense traffic by about 12 times. Sorry for the math lingo, but that was my degree. Anyway, all the drivers drive everywhere - even backwards on major thoroughfares - and they park everywhere, especially on sidewalks. The amazing thing is there are no wrecks. Everyone cuts off everyone else, but everyone allows themselves to be cutoff. It's really bizarre. There is no road rage; that's just the way they drive over there. I have driven in many cities in the U.S. where I have truly wondered if there are any traffic laws. I don't want to mention them because some of you are from these cities. So if you think that you have some understanding of what I'm talking about, let me reassure that you have NO IDEA! Nothing compares to Moscow. Steve and I just kept our eyes forward or looked at each other. I think there may be a contest to see just how close you can get to another car without hitting it. I have never been so happy to arrive at our destination.

We waited to go into the MOE office for awhile, and shortly after we arrived we met Sergei, another coordinator who was helping with our case. We went into the MOE office, where we saw the original referral and picture that had been emailed to us earlier, but now we could see it clearly. She looked pretty grumpy in the picture, which we found out later is a good thing because it shows that she feels something. So many of these kids lose their capacity for emotion because their experiences have taught them that there's no reason to express emotion. They are unable to focus on the camera, but Irina was looking right at it, and she was mad. Ironically, these are all good things. The ladies in the office asked why we wanted to adopt, so we took out pictures of the boys and told them we wanted a little girl. They asked if we wanted to move forward with Irina, and we cautiously told them yes. They gave us the document that would allow us to enter the orphanage to meet Irina, and we left.

When we arrived at the orphanage (Once again, we were glad we arrived safely!), Andrei and Sergei did some work while we were told to sit on the couch. Then, when they were finished, Andrei took us to McDonald's for lunch while we waited for the orphanage director / head doctor to be available. McDonald's was actually pretty reasonably priced, but the French Fries weren't very good. Everything else tastes the same as in the U.S. We went back to the orphanage and met with the orphanage director, who is also the head doctor. We asked all our questions, which had been approved by Sergei so that we wouldn't offend anyone, and she answered each one honestly (as far as we know). For instance, she said that Irina knew the 6 basic colors, but there's no way we can check that because we don't speak Russian! After a little bit, they brought Irina in, and she just clung to her caregiver. She looked so scared and shaken, but they also woke her up from her nap early. We were pretty encouraged by all the doctor / director had told us, but we still needed to play with her to see how she was doing. All this sounds so impersonal, but we have one special needs child, we can't do 2, and this is a life-long decision. Also, we have been crushed so many times in our efforts to build our family, that we have mastered the "guardedly excited" emotion. We basically are in "work mode" until we have all our information. We don't allow ourselves to attach until we know all that we can. This may not work for everyone, but it works for us.

Andrei and Sergei stayed for a little bit to help Irina feel comfortable with us. They played with her, speaking her language, to gain her trust. Then they stayed while we played with her so that she felt safe. After awhile, they left so that Irina could get used to us. As long as Russians are around, she will go to them because of the language. As we played developmental games with her, took pictures, and little video clips, we were getting more and more hopeful. Honestly, she doesn't have much of a philtrum, which concerned us, but she can do so much. She's 5 months older than Alex was on our first visit and she's a girl, but she could do so much more than Alex could - even 6 months later. This isn't a knock against Alex, but on the contrary, since he is doing so well, we thought this little girl is close to being right on track and she's going to be just fine! Since birth, she's been in the hospital and the orphanage. The rule of thumb for an institutionalized child is that for every 3-4 months they are in the orphanage, they will have a one-month delay. She did not seem to have nearly that big of a delay, and in fact seemed almost right on track for a 3-year-old based on our developmental checklists. Many times during that first visit, Steve and I looked at each other hopefully. This just might be our daughter.

After we got back to the apartment, we sent the information, pictures, and video to the doctor with whom we were working. We called her right after and she was amazed. She was the doctor who had originally given Irina a high risk, but she was changing her to average risk. She had never in her career changed her assessment, but she did with Irina. She was impressed with all she could do, she thought Irina's facial features looked good, and she said the behavioral signs of FAS would show up by 3 years old, and Irina didn't have any aggression or anger. Instead, she was so sweet and kind. Steve and I just hugged each other. We both wanted her, but we had been concerned about what the doctor would say, and we wanted to be smart. Since the doctor gave us a green light, all our concerns were alleviated. Irina was going to be our daughter!

Now I ate. My breakfast had been an oatmeal bar, and lunch had been a Sprite since my stomach was tied up in knots. With our decision made, I ate, and it felt good! I also started cross stitching Irina's Christmas stocking that night. I didn't want to start it until we knew who our daughter would be so I could make it with her in mind. It may not be done by this Christmas, but it'll be close.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Remembering Moscow - Day 3

On Monday, we discovered that not only does the sun set late, it rises at 5:15! We knew the days would be longer than we were used to, but we were still a little surprised by it all. This was a free day for us because we flew out a day early to get a much cheaper airfare. I slept in a little bit, but Steve slept until about 11:00! Once we got up and going and ate lunch, we took the Metro to Old Arbat Street to do some shopping and browsing. While we got off at the correct Metro station, we went out the worst possible exit. We know which word is exit, but we can't read the road names to make sure we are going out the best exit for where we want to go once we get outside. Therefore, it's like "Where's Waldo?" each time we come out of the station to figure out where we are and where we want to go. I felt like a pioneer a few times when we were like, "OK. The sun's over here, so that means north is here, so we need to walk there." This didn't always work, though. On Monday, we would have had a 5 minute walk to Old Arbat Street if we had gone out the best exit. It took us over an hour to get there because 1) we had to walk farther; and 2) we got turned around and walked in the wrong direction for about 20 minutes (which meant walking 20 minutes back). We got there eventually. Chalk it up to a cultural experience! It was a gorgeous day -- the warmest we had the whole time -- and I was really wishing I'd brought a pair of shorts. Old Arbat Street is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops and there are vendors set up in the middle selling all sorts of Russian souvenirs. The owners were all so nice, helpful, and curious about where we are from. However, none of them know about Missouri. They all know New York, Washington, and L.A. We just tell them to look at a U.S. map and point to the middle.

We started walking on the east end of the street and ended on the west end where Hard Rock Cafe is located. Our dinner there consisted of 2 sandwiches and 2 sodas, and came to $45!! Right now Moscow is the most expensive city in the world due to high inflation and a weak dollar.
After returning to our apartment, we got ready for our first visit with Irina. We were very nervous because her referral picture was a little blurry, so we had a hard time looking for signs of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which is very prevalent in Russia. One doctor we asked said she looked good, and another one said that she saw some classic signs of FAS and would already place her as a high risk adoption. We had already committed to the trip when we received this news, so we just put our trust in God that all would work out according to His plan. The problem was, for instance, you couldn't see a philtrum (the vertical crease between the nose and upper lip) at all in the picture. This is a classic sign of FAS, but was it really not there or could we just not see it because the picture was blurry? We made our list of questions for the doctor and the orphanage director, said some prayers, and went to bed (complete with eye masks and ear plugs).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Remembering Moscow - Days 1 and 2

I've decided that while we wait for our court date, I'm going to write posts for our first trip on May 10-17. This way, you can read about our trip (even though it happened last month) and more importantly, we won't forget some of the details as time passes.

Our flight left about noon on Saturday and Dick and Ginny (Steve's parents) had the first leg of watching the boys. Our flight itinerary was pretty great because we only had to change planes one time in Washington, D.C., but since we were changing airlines, we had to completely leave security, check in, and re-enter security. Thankfully, the two airlines have a baggage agreement, so our bags were checked all the way through. Also, we had a 4 hour layover so we had plenty of time to do everything. We flew on Aeroflot (Russian airline) to Moscow, which was a new experience for us. With Alex, we flew on Delta, which is the same as flying in the U.S. except it's longer and all the announcements were repeated in Russian. We didn't feel as though we were in Russia until we landed in Moscow. However, this time we felt like we were in Russia as soon as we stepped on the plane. The majority of the passengers were Russian, and when the announcements were repeated in English, the accent was so thick that we understood about every third word. There's something disconcerting about not knowing what the flight crew has said when there is turbulance and the seatbelt sign comes on. The seats were clearly not made for anyone over 5'2" so we had a hard time getting comfortable. I would have read my book, but my light didn't work, so since it was already dark after we finished our meal, my choices were to watch the Russian movie with English subtitles or sleep. Sleep wasn't possible with the small seats, and I could tell the man behind me was just as uncomfortable because I felt his knee in my back every time he moved. We did have two American movies -- Just Like Heaven and Spiderman 3 -- in addition to the two Russian ones, so we passed the time by watching movies and occasionally dozing.

We landed in Moscow around 1:40 on Sunday, and after going through Passport Control and getting our luggage, we met up with Andrei and he took us to our apartment. It was a small apartment, but it had everything we needed including high speed internet, international phone calls, and a DVD player. Here is our living room and kitchen.

We soon discovered that since we bought our DVDs in America, they were Region 1 and this DVD player only played Region 2 DVDs. Therefore, we were glad we had packed some books! After getting settled in our apartment, we walked around and found a supermarket to buy some groceries. We were on our own so after alot of grunting, pointing, and sympathetic smiles, we bought things that looked like cheese, turkey, and salami. I don't think the turkey was really turkey, but it tasted good nonetheless. It's hard feeling illiterate, but that's exactly how we feel over here.

We were getting ready for bed, but the sun just was not going down. It finally set around 9:45, but then the street lights were just about as bright as the sun had been. We ended up sleeping with our eye masks on that we got on the airplane and with earplugs in to cover up the traffic noise -- and all our windows were closed. This is the view from our living room window that first night.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day to all you wonderful fathers out there. We had an uneventful day today, but we enjoyed it together as a family. Steve is an amazing father to our boys, and he will be just as wonderful to our daughter. He has his doubts at dealing with ponytails and tights, but I know that he will figure it all out or put her in pants with her hair down! He got some quality boy time today as I have been getting ready for our Vacation Bible School, which starts tomorrow. I usually don't wait until the last minute, but VBS kind of snuck up on me this year.

We continue to wait for our court date, and per an email a few days ago, we found out that the judge has not requested any last minute documents from us, and everything looks good. On June 24, Andrei will receive the final document from the Ministry of Education and he will file it with the court on Thursday, June 26. In Moscow, you can only file documents on Thursdays. It's possible that we will find out our court date on June 26, or a few days later, or a few weeks later. Obviously, we are hoping for the first option, but the second one would be fine, too. However, if it's the third option, there's nothing we can do about it; we'll just wait some more. Everyone's goal is for our court date to be before August 14, because that is when our medicals expire. We had to see 8 doctors in Moscow for a complete medical evaluation, and it's only current for 3 months. After that, we'll have to do it again. It was extremely expensive, but that is the way Russia is doing them now, so we don't have a choice. With Alex, we just went to our doctor here, did the blood work, and sent the results to Russia. We are finding that even though we have been through this process before, so much has changed that we really don't know what to expect any more than we did last time. We just do what our agency tells us to do!

I hope all of you dads have had a wonderful Father's Day, and we wish you much love and happiness!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Life Continues

Well, we are continuing to wait for our court date. Today is the first day of Alex's Kindergarten summer school. Even though he turned 6 on June 1, we chose to give him an extra year before Kindergarten, and we are so glad that we did. He is doing so well, and he is so ready. He walked on the bus this morning as though it was no big deal. He also told me that I could leave as soon as we got to the bus stop, but the school district requires that Kindergarten parents be there. He is becoming more and more independent, and he is going to make such a wonderful big brother to Katie. He already does a great job looking after his big brother.

Last night we had an new experience. Steve's company provided T-Bones tickets to the entire Human Resources Department, so we went to the game. The T-Bones are a minor league baseball team that we have in addition to the Royals. We love to go because since the stadium is smaller, every seat is a great one, the tickets are much cheaper, and there's an awesome play area for the kids just beyond right field for when they start getting antsy (which for Alex is right after the singing of the national anthem). Anyway, they were forcasting a pretty bad rain storm, so we planned on leaving at around 7:00. We were about 5 minutes too late. It began sprinkling lightly so we made our way to the exit, but before we got there, the heavens opened and the rain poured down. It went from a light sprinkle to a huge storm complete with horizontal rain in about 15 seconds! It didn't show any signs of letting up, so after a few minutes, we made a run for it. Since we have a handicap placard, we didn't have to run very far, but we got completely soaked anyway! Steve was carrying Derek, and Derek just laughed and giggled the whole way. Alex loved running in the rain and wants to do it again. Isn't it great to be young?!

We appreciate all the prayers and support that you all have given us, and we would love to read any comments that you may post here. It's always nice to get feedback from these blogs because it continues to remind us that you are out there praying for us and for Katie. We have 2 more weeks before the earliest possibility of receiving our court date, and as I said in the title, life continues. We have Katie's room almost finished. She has the same teddy bear border that Derek and Alex each had when they were in that room, and she has Winnie the Pooh bedding on her toddler bed. We bought a bookcase for all her books, and friends have graciously handed down some little girl clothes, which are now all folded in drawers or hanging in her closet. She's going to be a pretty well-dressed little girl!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

When will we get a court date?

While the majority of our documents were in Moscow before we left for our first trip on May 10, there were 7 more that were needed after we returned. We sent those with another family who gave them to Andrei (our coordinator in Moscow) on Saturday. However, there are some additional documents needed from the Ministry of Education as well, and they are not hurrying as much as we are (shocking, I know). Their last document will be submitted on June 24th. We will find out when our court date is sometime after June 24th. I'm guessing that our court date will be sometime in July. If our court date is on a Tuesday, for example, we will leave on Saturday, arrive on Sunday, visit Irina/Katie on Monday for our 6th visit, go to court on Tuesday, and fly home (without Irina/Katie) on Wednesday. Then, about 3 weeks later we'll fly back, get Irina/Katie on one day, go through the embassy and register her with the Russian Consulate the next day, and fly home the following day. It's either 2 more trips or we have to stay in Moscow for a month. It's cheaper and easier on everyone involved to do 2 more trips, although it'll be so hard to leave her once she's officially ours.

So, as we continue in this "hurry up and wait" process, we're waiting for now. Once we get the court date, we'll hurry up again to get the plane tickets, lodging, visas, etc. for the trip.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Joy and Completion

I chose the name joy and completion for a variety of reasons. Joy refers to all the joy that Katie will bring our lives and the joy that we hope to bring to her life. Completion sounds kind of stilted, but it has a very powerful meaning for us.

We began trying to have a baby more than 11 years ago. The journey through trying, waiting, testing, surgery, waiting, adopting, etc. has been the most incredibly exhausting (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) roller coaster ride I have ever experienced! 3 years and 9 months into it, we adopted Derek, a 24 1/2 week micro preemie who was doing so well that we were very optimistic about his future. After being a mother without a baby for so long, Derek made me a mother. However, as we dealt with issues that arose (blindness, feeding tube, behaviors), my expectation of what motherhood would be like died and a new form of motherhood was created. It was less like being a mother and more like being a nurse, doctor, therapist, and advocate. While I wouldn't trade Derek for the world, I had to grieve the loss of a dream in order to completely appreciate and embrace what I have.

When Derek was almost 5, we brought Alex home from Russia. He was almost 3 and fit beautifully into our family. While Derek made me a mother, Alex made me content. Depression can be very powerful and debilitating, and little Alex was my therapy. All the typical mother things I'd been wanting to do, I could finally do with him. Simple things like staying at the front door watching while he walked to the bus by himself brought tears to my eyes.

Even though I was content with Alex, I still felt incomplete. I don't know why; I just did. Maybe I just always wanted 3 children. Katie is completing this journey that was started so long ago. She is allowing us to close this chapter of building our family and moving us into the chapter of simply living and enjoying life.

God Moments

These pop up in our lives so often, but we don't always know they're God moments until later. We are always amazed when we recognize them, and I thought I would share some that we have recognized so far in this process.

When we visited Irina in May, we gave her a Teddy Bear to keep. I wanted to find something more original than a bear -- like an elephant, or a dog, or a monkey or something -- however, there wasn't 2 of any of the original ones. I wanted 2 so that if the orphanage doesn't allow her to take the bear with her, we can give her an identical one. I was short on time and didn't want to spend alot of money, so it was a standard bear. As it turns out, Irina's favorite toy is a Teddy Bear! She taught us that the Russian word for Teddy Bear is "Mishka," although she says "Meeka." In addition, when we bought this house 6 years ago, we decorated what is now her room with Teddy Bears and other stuffed animals. As we were showing her pictures of her new room she pointed to the picture and said, "MEEKA!" with so much excitement. It was meant to be.

I was gathering some residual documents together after we returned from Russia, and one of them was the property tax bill. I didn't think too much about that because we always keep those in our file. We were in a time crunch where I had to mail these documents that day so they could go to Russia with another family who was traveling a few days later. I had all the documents notarized, apostilled, copied, and ready to go when I remembered that bill. I went to the file, and for 2007 I saw 3 bills instead of 2 for every other year (one for each car). I looked more closely and saw that the third was our real estate tax for our house. We never get that bill because our mortgage company pays it out of our escrow. However, I remembered that last fall there was a mix-up and the mortgage company didn't pay it so we got the bill. It all got resolved as it should have, and we just put that paper in our file. As I sat there, I wondered, "Why would Russia care about our cars? I wonder if this real estate one is what they need?" I emailed Olga with our agency, and she said that we needed to send the real estate tax bill. The bill that we've never received in 12 years of owning a home except for last fall. Now, even if we didn't have the bill we could have gotten a copy or a statment from somewhere, but I would not have been able to mail it that day. As I read Olga's email and the realization sank in, the hair stood on the back of my neck, and I said a prayer of thanks.

We were showing Irina her new photo album, which has pictures of her new parents, brothers, pets, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, the house, her room, etc. We went through each picture naming each person. As we went through it again, she stopped on Alex's page and said, "Alec." She didn't do that with anyone else. Each time we went through it, she would stop and say, "Alec." Since Alex is also from Russia, and since he will be her main playmate, it was pretty eerie. Derek often wants to be left alone, so Alex is very excited to have a little sister.

Monday, June 2, 2008

What an adventure!

At the advice of a friend, I decided to start a blog to record and remember all our experiences with adopting Katie. We decided to adopt again last August and began the official process in September. We went with the agency we had used with Alex, since we had such a positive experience with them. They weren't accredited yet (all agencies had to get reaccredited), but they were in the process and were told that they were close. Only a handful actually had their reaccreditation at this time, and all the others were still in the process like this one. We finished our homestudy at the end of September and sent it along with dozens of other documents to our agency in November. This dossier was received in Moscow in mid-November and we began just waiting for them to be translated and to receive our referral for a little girl.

After enjoying our holidays, we began inquiring about the state of our adoption in mid-January. We became very frustrated with our agency because we would send an email or leave a voicemail, and it would take days or weeks to get a response. Finally, we were told that our documents had been translated and were ready and waiting for a referral.

Then on February 26, our agency called and told us that they still didn't have their accreditation, it would be at least another 3-6 months, and it was in our best interest to change agencies. The next 8 days were an emotional and frantic roller coaster as we made dozens of phone calls and emails to find an agency that could take our documents that were already in Moscow and translated instead of having to start over. Also, the documents are only good for 12 months so we wanted an agency that could give us a quick referral so we wouldn't have to redo all the documents. We chose Alaska International Agency (AIA), and they have been wonderful!

The documents were passed to Andrei in Moscow and we found out that they had never been translated! That means the documents sat in Moscow for 4 months and nothing was done to them, even though we had been told otherwise. Needless to say, we were pretty upset about that. However, Andrei got the documents on March 5, we added a few extra the agency needed, they were translated, and Andrei filed them with the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Moscow on March 25! Out of all the regions AIA works in, Moscow City was handing out the quickest referrals so that's where our dossier was filed. However, the MOE was closed due to an inspection for about a week, but they reopened without too much of a delay.

On April 29, we received our referral for a little girl named Irina! She turned 3 two days later on May 1. We scrambled around getting plane tickets, lodging, visas, and our doctor set up for consultation, and left for Moscow on Saturday, May 10. We arrived on Sunday and got settled in our apartment. Monday was a free day (it was much cheaper to leave on Sat. than on Sun.), so we went shopping on Old Arbat Street and walked around Moscow.

On Tuesday, we went to the MOE for an interview and then went to the orphanage to meet Irina. We saw the head doctor first and got all her medical information and we were able to ask questions. Then they brought Irina in. She was so scared and reserved, and that is what you want to see. It shows she has a good attachment to her current caregivers. We were there about an hour playing with her and taking pictures and short video clips to send to our doctor. She was doing so much! We were both guardedly excited that the doctor would have a good analysis of her and that she could be ours. That night, we sent all the information we had gathered to the doctor and called her for her analysis and she was amazed at all Irina could do and said she looked great! She's tiny, but her head circumference is perfect and that's what they really look at. We were so excited that she was going to be our daughter!

Mosocw requires 6 visits before court and we saw Irina a total of 5 times on this first trip. Once we get our court date, we'll just arrive a day early to get that last visit in. By the last visit, she was saying 6-8 English words and was signing "more" and "all done." She is so bright and is picking up on things so quickly. We have had to rely on our faith in God so many times during this process, and we continue to be amazed as we watch God work in our lives.

I'll talk more about that in my next post. Until then,...