Sunday, August 31, 2014

Kiev Ukraine Round Two Day Three: Still Waiting

Mary is posting today.

There is not a lot to post about today. We are still waiting for our paperwork to be turned in tomorrow. We were able to go to church here in Kiev. As always it was nice to meet with other church members. It is so awesome that our church is the same everywhere in the world, except of course for the language! Today the speakers spoke in Russian and Ukrainian. I am getting better at reading in Russian and was able to read the words enough to sing a few words in the hymns. I have spent some of the vast amount of free time we have had lately to practice learning Russian. I feel like a preschooler sounding everything out, but I am getting there. I still have no idea what most of the words I am reading mean though. The rest of the day we spent hanging out in our hotel room playing games, reading, and checking social media. We also had a great Skype session with our boys back home. I was able to Skype with one of my best friends and my sister too! I miss all of my family and friends! I have to say I miss America and I am looking forward to all of the modern conveniences and a routine again. I know it will take awhile to get a new routine down with adopted kiddos, but I am looking forward to it. Hopefully tomorrow we will have good news about a second SDA appointment.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kiev Ukraine Round Two Day Two: Waiting

James is at the keyboard for today's post.

One of the challenging aspects of this whole process has been timing. Although we tried to return to Kiev as fast as possible, we will still have to wait several days for another appointment. The fact that we were only able to complete our request for another appointment on Friday means that we will have to wait through the weekend before there is any further movement in the process. It is well known what happens to the passage of time when one is forced to wait... Hopefully we can get another appointment by the middle of next week.

After the roller coaster and emotion of the past couple of weeks, today just felt odd. For one, I was able to finally shrug off all of the concern that has kept me awake through the night and get some solid sleep. It felt good. This morning we realized that we had no children to visit, documents to process, or places to go. So the day was filled with reading, writing, and walking. We took a long walk through central Kiev and enjoyed watching families at a park and students gathering at Shevchenko University for the start of class on Monday.

We also enjoyed a nice dinner at the restaurant "Prego" on Shevchenko Boulevard. Mary enjoyed Hawaiian pizza while listening to Mexican and Christmas music in an Italian restaurant in downtown Kiev, Ukraine. I just got strange looks from the waitress for ordering mashed potatoes with my lasagna. I guess some strange mixtures are just more acceptable than others. Or maybe I am still just too tall...

In all, today was a nice day to recharge. Hopefully, we will not have too many recharge days before we can get the process moving again.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Kiev Ukraine Round Two: Day One

Mary is posting today.

We arrived in Kiev today early this morning. The train ride wasn't too bad for me. I slept most of the way, but James has not had more than two hours of sleep at a time since Saturday night. Hopefully he will get some much needed rest tonight. I've tried to keep him up all day so that he will sleep all night tonight. We took a taxi to our hotel and got settled and then met up with our facilitator here in Kiev. She took us to a notary where we signed an official document that terminated our adoption plan of K and B and allows us to request another appointment with the SDA to look at new files of children. Unfortunately we finished this on a Friday so we will have to wait until Monday to turn it in. Our facilitator told us she will hand deliver it to try to get an appointment sooner. We will not know when the next appointment will be until next week. We didn't have anything else scheduled to do so the rest of the afternoon and evening James and I spent doing some research for our adoption. We used some of our contacts to try to get a head start of possible children's files to look through at our next SDA appointment. Hopefully the second time around will go a lot better. We ended the day with Skyping our family back home in Virginia. Being able to Skype with our kids has been amazing! We really miss our boys and we are so thankful for the awesome help we are receiving at home!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Sixteen: Saying Goodbye to K and B

James is at the keyboard for today's post. We had some time on the train to write out more details of our experience on 28 August 2014.
When we first met K and B, Mary and I asked if it was OK to post their names and pictures on our blog. We were told that it was fine. However, with the sensitivity of the process, we decided to use initials and not post pictures until things were finalized. Well, today things were finalized. Sadly, not in the way we had hoped. Today we said goodbye to Katarina (K) and Bogdan (B).
Katarina and Bogdan on the day that we met.
We have also not mentioned that the relative trying to undermine the adoption was their grandmother. Their grandmother signed away her rights to the children and placed them in the orphanage after their mother died so that she could live with a man that did not want them around. Five years later Katarina and Bogdan are still sitting in the orphanage although we know that the grandmother and at least three other blood relatives could easily afford to take them into their families. They simply choose not to and prefer to leave the children in the orphanage/boarding school and let the state pay for them. The stories of what this woman did and said to these children to convince them to reject the adoption that they had accepted is long and horrific. All I will say about their grandmother is that she is the most selfish person that I have ever met and that I am sorely tempted to use words that I should not to describe her. However, I will refrain.
This morning we received a call from our facilitator Natasha that we would have a meeting at the orphanage/boarding school at 1PM to hear the final decision of the children. So, we had several more hours to wait. We tried to occupy ourselves with games and reading but it is extremely hard to distract yourself from thoughts and feelings that won’t let you sleep at night. It was a long morning but we did receive some news that truly brightened our day. Some friends that we met out here had their court day yesterday and officially completed their adoption of two wonderful children. We are so happy for them as they have been here for so long working towards this day.
At last the time arrived for our meeting. We arrived at the boarding school about fifteen minutes early. Katarina and Bogdan had not yet arrived so we sat on some benches outside to wait. I decided to read. This year I have a goal to read the Old Testament so I pulled out the tablet and opened to where I had left off reading yesterday in Psalms. For the next ten minutes, I read Psalms 123-127. Several of the verses touched me deeply in that moment. Psalm 123:3, Psalm 124:8, Psalm 126:3, and Psalm 127:3-5. I just finished reading “children are an heritage of the Lord” when the District social workers arrived for the meeting. Many times in my life, the scriptures have brought peace in times of greatest need. The Lord was again mindful of my need.
Katarina and Bogdan arrived with their grandmother a few minutes after the social workers. We were allowed to visit with Katarina and Bogdan alone without their grandmother. It was the first time since Sunday that we had that opportunity. We shared with them some of the concerns that our sons had about their situation, explained to them our feelings, and said that we would respect whatever decision they made. We told them that we love them and that none of this was their fault. Then our time was up. We were asked to leave the room while the social workers met with the children alone to hear their final decision. A few minutes later, Katarina and Bogdan came out with their refusals. They gave Mary brief hugs and we parted. We are very sad that they will remain in the orphanage and that they were convinced by their grandmother that she would come for them. They have already waited five years. Sadly, it will probably be many more. However, we understand that every child has a strong desire to be loved by those that should love them, so it is easy to believe the lie over and over again. We love these children and pray for the best for them. Perhaps, they will have another chance with time and see a little more clearly after this process.

And so, with heavy hearts, we say farewell to Katarina and Bogdan and gather our faith to move forward and find children that would like to be a part of our family. We are on a train tonight to return to Kiev and request another appointment to view children available for international adoption.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day 15: Our Plan to Move Forward

Mary is posting today.

James and I were able to talk yesterday and today to try to decide what we should do from here. We made a decision to try to meet with K and B one more time today to say goodbye before they gave their formal decision in front of the orphanage/boarding school Director and the Regional Inspector (Child Services) tomorrow. This meeting will be held at their school without their relative present. There is a slim chance that they might change their mind, but I doubt it. If they continue to say no we will most likely take the formal rejection for adoption with us on a train back to Kiev tomorrow evening, where it will be notarized, and we will apply for our second appointment with the SDA. Hopefully that appointment will occur next week.

We notified our facilitator of our plan this morning and she tried to set up the meeting with the kids. Unfortunately, the children were out in the country with their relative and a visit did not happen today. James was able to contact K by phone, but K and B's relative was on the line with her and it didn't go too well. We'll just have to say our good byes tomorrow at the formal meeting. We still love these kids and wish them the very best in their situation. It is still really hard to think about what their future might hold. We do not blame the kids in anyway, and we hate that they were put in such a terrible position.

James and I decided to go out to our favorite restaurant,"Stargorod", here in Nikolaev tonight. It was great to get out of our apartment and spend some time together in a beautiful place. We had sat down for about 10 minutes or so when the hostess guided some of our friends we met here, who are also adopting, to our table. It was great to see them! Neither James nor I or our friends knew that the other couple would be at the restaurant that night! We asked them to join us and we had a nice time together. One of the best things about being in Nikolaev, besides meeting K and B, is the wonderful friends we have made! It was great to just relax and enjoy good company.

View about two steps away from our table.
The name on the sign is pronounced "Stargorod". Can you see why I am having trouble with Russian? (Actually I am getting pretty good at reading Russian, I just don't know what anything means...)
I'm thankful for all of the sweet comments and messages from friends and family. I am also thankful for all those who have fasted and prayed for us. I have felt peace this whole time even through the sadness. I know we are supposed to learn from this experience and I still feel that coming to Nikolaev was part of the plan. A few blessings that I have been able to come up with are: 1. that we got to meet K and B. 2. I am capable of loving someone else's child as my own. 3. the many friends and children we have met here. I know that I will recognize more blessings from this as time goes on, but I am thankful that I have something positive to take from this experience.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day 14: Broken Hearts

Today was a rough day. We were able to get the documents we needed from the orphanage/boarding school. We were elated! Just after we got the documents signed the relative brought K and B to the boarding school to see the Director. We were still there and had a chance to visit with K and B. Unfortunately their relative was able to convince them not to be adopted yesterday when we were prevented from visiting K and B or talking with them. K and B told us that they cannot come with us. The selfish motives of the relative are still clear - K and B will still be staying in the orphanage/ boarding school. This is the first time in all the times we have met with them that they have told us that they did not want to go with us. Every day for the last two weeks they have told us that they want to be part of our family. We are very saddened by what they told us today.

We have a lot to process. We are taking a day or two to do that so that we can decide where to go from here on our adoption journey. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Thirteen: Missing K and B

James is at the keyboard for today's update.

So, we had our first day not visiting with K and B since we first met them. Their relative picked them up last night and we were told that they will be with the relative for the next few days and unavailable for us to visit with them. Yesterday, we left a phone with K and B so that we could talk with them while they were visiting with the relative. It seems that did not work. We have tried to call and text them throughout the day but nothing gets through. We have also tried to call and text the relative but no response. So, we are a little concerned and disappointed but hoping that we can get through soon.

This afternoon, we had our daily opportunity to visit with our children back home over Skype. We try to stay upbeat but honest with them. At the end of the call, J2, our oldest son, said he had a question. He started asking about K and B visiting with the relative and quickly guessed our concerns. J2's perceptiveness came as a surprise but also a comfort that he is thinking about this as much as we are. We are truly blessed with great children both here and at home.

As we were unable to visit or talk with K and B, we spent the day reading, writing, and talking between attempts to make contact. It was hard not to dwell on our concerns for K and B. This evening some of our friends out here invited us to dinner and we enjoyed a great evening at a Chinese restaurant. They were so kind to reach out to us today! Chinese is comfort food for Mary, so it was a good experience all around. We are so very grateful for the support of many friends here and all of our family and friends back home.

Since we had been in the apartment all day before leaving for dinner, Mary and I decided to walk to the restaurant. We looked up directions on Google and then set off through Nikolaev. About 45 minutes later, after several wrong turns and requests for assistance from kind locals, we found the restaurant. It was quite the adventure through some of the back streets of Nikolaev. Walking the streets of Nikolaev brought back memories for me of my mission. It was a good experience and we are grateful for the patience of friends when we get the crazy idea to walk instead of paying $2 for a taxi.

Tomorrow we visit again with the Director of the boarding school/orphanage. We are praying that we can make arrangements to visit with K and B again. We also pray that we will receive the needed documents to move forward in this process.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Twelve: We were able to connect with ALL of our kids at the same time!

Mary is posting today.

Today we traveled to the Summer Camp to visit the kids. We brought jeans for B and nail polish for K. When we were shopping for the nail polish for K yesterday at the Central Market, we had an interesting experience. If I went up to the booth and started talking in English to James about the nail polish the price of the polish was very high, as high as 80 Hrivnya. If James talked to the sales person in Russian the price of the nail polish went down as low as 7 Hrivnya. So I learned to point to the polish I wanted to buy and James talked to them about price. We were able to get three bottles of nail polish for 20 Hrivnya! I will never shop here alone unless I absolutely have to!

B's jeans fit great! We were very grateful because we measured him at the camp and tried our best to find jeans based on that. The sizing here is very different than in the States. K loved her nail polish. We know the basic colors in Russian, but she wanted us to find her "salad green" nail polish. Uh, not sure what that meant when she first asked for it, but I did great in picking out the right color, which happens to be lime green in English. K painted my nails "salad green", haha, the only salad I've had out here! I got to paint her nails hot pink! So much fun for me! It was so great to do something girly with my soon-to-be daughter!

We hung out for a bit, playing UNO and telling stories about our family until it was 7AM Virginia time. Then we logged on to Skype and all of our kids got to meet each other! It was so awesome! I don't know how to explain my feelings about this other than I was one proud mama! All three boys in Virginia were ready to ask questions and interact, and our two kids in Ukraine were very responsive and had questions of their own. Thankfully James was there to translate! There were many sweet moments during the call. We had taught our Ukrainian kids the sign language of "I love you", and all five kids flashed it back and forth. J2 came prepared with American money to show K and B and Pokémon Cards. K and B had heard of Pokémon. B ran to get a walnut from the trees that grow at the camp and showed J2, A, and R. They made funny faces at each other which turned into different animal shapes with their hands, etc. These kids went none stop for over a half an hour! At the end our call the three boys in Virginia wanted to sing K and B a song. It was "I Am a Child of God", which is a children's song in our church. the words are:
I am a child of God and He has sent me here,
has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me
help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do to live with Him some day.
It was so sweet and I am so proud of my boys for singing it so well. I hope K and B realize that they are children of God and that God has sent them parents that will love them and guide them back to him. Skype ended with the kids back in Virginia saying good bye to K and B in Russian. K and B said good bye in English.
All too soon our time was up. The orphanage has given permission to K and B's relative to take them for a few days. We don't know if we will be able to see them during that time. We are saddened by this and we can really use your prayers for K and B and us as well.
After we got back to Nikolaev, we were blessed to have the Missionaries from our church, who are here in Nikolaev, come to our apartment to give us the Sacrament. We missed church this morning due to our visit with K and B before they had to go with their relative. We are grateful for the Missionaries' willingness to help us feel God's love at this time.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Eleven: Heart to Heart

James is at the keyboard today.

This morning we received a call from our facilitator that our regular driver, Viktor, was sick and running a temperature. Viktor has been great to us and we were sad to hear that he was not feeling well. Thankfully, another couple that is out here for adoption had shared the contact information for their driving service. Natasha was able to get us a driver and we were able to get out for a nice visit with K and B this morning.

Today, we showed K and B some pictures of what our home looks like from the inside. Yesterday, when we had a video chat with our sons back in the USA, we asked them to take some pictures around the house and e-mail them to us. They did a great job! K and B were able to take a virtual tour of our home and they really seemed to enjoy it. After I explained the pictures to them, K took some extra time to look through the pictures again while B enjoyed playing some games on the phone.

Mary took an opportunity today during our visit to take some photos of the summer camp where we have been visiting the children for the last couple of weeks.

This is the dormitory where K and B live at summer camp.
This is the yard where we play soccer.

Today, we also had a heart to heart with K and B. Their relative has really been leaning on B to convince him not to get adopted but remain in the orphanage/boarding school. So, we sat down with them to explain why we came over to adopt children and helped them understand what their decision means as far as their relationship with us is concerned. This is certainly not easy for them but we hope that they see how much we want them to be happy and that we would love to have them in our family. We pray that the Lord will guide these children during this time. Our conversation was tender and, in some very real ways, we saw the children opening up to us even more. It was good to have a heart to heart with them.

Too soon, the time had come for us to go. Before we left, K brought out a picture she had drawn for me and B sewed a heart into a piece on paper with thread that he gave to us. These children are so awesome! We love them!

"To Papa from K"

B's heart.
After driving back to Nikolaev, we did some shopping and then relaxed a little in the apartment. As we were walking back to the apartment, Mary noticed this garden that used painted tires as planters and borders. She wanted to capture the local creativity that we are enjoying during this experience. 

This evening, we enjoyed dinner with some other couples that are here in Nikolaev for adoption. We decided to eat at the "Stargorod" restaurant that we have enjoyed for the last few nights. Previously, the restaurant had provided an ideal spot to enjoy dinner overlooking the river in a peaceful atmosphere. Tonight, however, there was a wedding at the restaurant. The groom appeared to be a rock musician and the music was very loud. As we were deciding to leave, the restaurant staff invited us to enjoy a private dining room away from the noise and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner and shared experiences. It was very nice to learn and share the journeys that we are on.

To end on a light note, Mary certainly knows how to bring smiles to our faces as she courageously embraces learning as much Russian as she can. Before traveling to Ukraine, Mary learned to say "I love you" in Russian. Yesterday, as we were walking through the summer camp, she heard some of the older children yelling at each other. She turned to me and asked, "did they just say 'I love you?'" They had actually yelled "I will kill you" but to those familiar with Russian verb conjugation it is understandable how the sounds can be somewhat familiar. We had a good laugh together and enjoyed another fun moment on this incredible journey.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Ten

Mary is posting today.

We woke up this morning and packed up all of stuff and moved to a new apartment. It is near our old apartment building and we only have to climb five flights of stairs now! It is really nice. It kind of feels like I am staying at my Catholic Grandmother's house, if I had one. It has two separate bedrooms (with doors!), a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom, and most importantly a washing machine! We moved to this new apartment so our facilitator can move in with us. We were having to pay for her hotel room so hopefully this option will help us save money. With all of the delays, etc. every penny or kopyeka counts! The reason why it feels like I am living in a Catholic Grandmother's house is in our living room there is a giant tapestry of the Last Supper. All of the rooms have Cherub pictures and crosses and we have all sorts of religious and non religious knick knacks everywhere. All of the furniture is nice, but kind of "Grandma style", for the US anyways. Here are a few pictures for you!

Our Hallway to the Front Door

Our Lovely Kitchen!

Our Fabulous Living Room!
Another Angle of our Living Room that includes some of the many knick knacks!

The Last Supper Tapestry in the Living Room.

Our New Bedroom.

Natasha's Bedroom, yes that is a pull out couch bed.
We are very thankful for our new home and we will be comfortable here.
After the move, we drove out to the Summer Camp to visit the kids. B was waiting for us at the gate again. When we got out of the car he took us over to where he had been waiting and showed us this:

Yes! Those are snails! B collected them while he was waiting for us. Yes, he is all boy! He was very proud to show them to us. After that he walked us into camp and he sat us down to wait for K. While we were waiting for K, B found one of his friends, which is an older, pretty teenage girl. He asked us for our camera and took a picture of her. He then went inside and grabbed the teddy bear we gave him on the first day we met him and put it in his bag. He then said he would be back in a minute and he took her off a little ways and gave her the bear. It was kind of adorable! When K showed up she looked really sad and tired. I asked James to ask her if she was okay and she said that she was sick. She has a sore throat and a cough. She said she had been to the doctor at the camp and they had given her some medicine. We all went over to the benches we often sit at and started our visit. We talked to K a little bit more about how she was feeling and we decided to have James take her back to the doctor at the camp so that he could talk to him. I hung back and stayed with B while James and K left. James was able to purchase better medicine for K and on the way back they were able to chat and K felt comfortable enough to ask about getting some farewell gifts for her friends. B found his friend again and James was able to get a good picture of B and his friend. I think it is starting to hit the kids that they will be leaving. After that we were able to get in some football (soccer) and some more card games. As always our visit felt very short. After we got back into Nikolaev, we received a call that the medicine was helping K and she was starting to stabilize, which is good! It is hard to know what to do in a foreign country when your kiddo is sick. I don't recognize any of the products here.

Later this evening, James and I hunted down some the items the kids requested: lip gloss, chapstick, shampoo, soap, etc. It was an interesting process. It isn't like you can just go to Target or Walmart to find these things. Everything is in separate shops and in foreign packaging etc. so it is really hard to tell what the product is or does. For instance it took James and I over a week to find nail clippers! After that James and I had a nice dinner where we were able to chat about the crazy process we are going through then we walked home and Skyped with the kids. I was also able to Skype with my sister! It was awesome.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Nine: Waterpark Fun

So, taking turns every other day at writing the post seems to be working our pretty well for us. That means James is at the keyboard today.

Today was a lot of fun. We learned yesterday that all of the children out at summer camp from the orphanage/boarding school would be going to a waterpark today. So, not wanting to miss an opportunity to meet with K and B, we decided to go to the waterpark also. We bought some swimsuits yesterday and grabbed some sunscreen this morning before heading out to the waterpark.

We shared a ride to the waterpark with one of our new friends that we met here in Ukraine who is also out here with his wife for an adoption. They just had court on Tuesday and are waiting out their ten days before they return home with their new children. We are very excited for them. One of their new children is in the same orphanage/boarding school with K and B so he joined us in going to play with the kids at the waterpark.

We had about two hours total with the children and it went by in a blur. Many of the slides at the park required tubes and most of the tubes were two-person. So, Mary and I had a ton of fun going on slides with K and B! One of the slides was named "Glory to Ukraine" and was painted in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. The slide was similar to a very tall half pipe and K loved it. That girl has no fear! Mary went on it with her and I went with B. We all survived and had a lot of fun.

After the waterpark, K and B went with their group to see a dolphin show and we returned to Nikolaev. This afternoon we relaxed a little and then had some time to Skype with our children back home. It has been a real blessing to be able to talk with them each day. We really miss them and look forward to when we will all be together again.

This evening we tried a restaurant called "Stargorod" here in Nikolaev. It was recommended by our driver, Victor. The restaurant was right on the riverfront and we had a table with a great view. Mary enjoyed some honey chicken and I enjoyed chicken shashlik (kebab). It was fantastic. Our facilitator Natasha joined us so we could discuss how things are progressing. Natasha has been working very hard for us since our meeting with the Director of the orphanage/boarding school. We may be able to get things moving a little quicker but we will have to see. We really appreciate all the work that Natasha puts in for us!

The evening was beautiful and we enjoyed the walk between our apartment and the restaurant. We are looking forward to another visit with K and B tomorrow and we are continuing to enjoy this journey together.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Eight: Meeting with the Director of the Orphanage

Mary is posting today.

Our visit with the Director of the Orphanage did not go as smoothly as we would have liked. Our adoption process has been on hold for a bit because he has been on vacation and he needs to sign some documents that he will not let his deputies sign. We were grateful to get a meeting with him on his first day back. We talked with him for about 15 minutes or so. He was not supportive of the adoption and appears to be doing what he can to delay the process.  The meeting ended with him suggesting we come back in eight days when the kids return from Summer Camp so he can hear them say yes for himself. Then he will sign the documents for us. That was pretty disappointing. Our facilitator is trying to see what we can do to speed up the process.

We had a great visit with the kids today. B was waiting at the gate when we got there. He gave us a big hug (he likes to smell me every time I hug him, it is so cute!) We asked K and B more questions about themselves and had fun hearing their responses. It has been great getting to know them better. We played more games too. Tomorrow they are going to a water park and they want us to come along. Neither one of us brought swimming suits, so James and I went shopping after our visit. I was a little concerned trying to find a swimming suit in Ukraine, but it was a much easier process than I thought because they really don't have a big selection of one piece suits. I did find one that I am happy with. James found one in less than 3 minutes, so much easier for boys. We are looking forward to a fun day tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Seven

James is back at the keyboard this evening.

Before describing our day today, I wanted to address a couple of questions that were asked in comments on our blog posts. The first question is what do we have left to do? Well, this is a rather complicated process. As I understand it, we are now gathering documents. Tomorrow, we meet with the Director of the orphanage where K and B are during the school year. After that meeting, we should be able to gather the final documents to submit to the government agency in Kiev. That agency then processes the documents. We are told that can take up to ten days. After document processing, we can request a court date for the official decision by the judge. We have no idea how long that will take. After the court is completed, we have a mandatory ten day wait period before the decision is final. After the wait period ends, K and B are our children by Ukrainian law. We then have to get passports, visas, and medical paperwork done before we can return home. So, there is still a long road ahead.

The second question is how long do we have left to stay? After reading the previous answer, it should be understandable when the answer to this question is that we simply do not know and will not have any good idea until we have a court date. We are praying for the process to go as quickly as possible but will be patient with whatever happens.

So, on to today's events. We got started this morning a little later and did some shopping before heading out to see K and B. One of the items that K asked for was shoes. Mary just about went crazy in the shoe store. I can tell that she is super excited about having a daughter! Too much fun. We also bought a few other clothing items and some apples as a treat. Our facilitator, Natasha, returned from Kiev this morning so we stopped by to pick her up and then it was then off to the summer camp.

K was waiting for us by the gates when we arrived and came right up to give us big hugs! We walked with her back to their dormitory where we met B and got more big hugs. B's hands were very dirty because he had been picking and shelling walnuts. It was very interesting to see how that process puts some dark brown stains on your hands.

Something rather interesting about the apples. It turns out that today is one of the Orthodox holidays. The tradition that they have on this particular holiday is that the priest blesses apples that are then eaten. We did not know about the tradition but it was fun to learn about it. A priest came to the camp to preach a sermon about Christ and then bless the children and baskets of apples that they were holding with Holy Water. It was very interesting to see that part of the culture here and see some of the traditions. K and B shared their blessed apples with us after the ceremony and we settled in to chat and play some games. We played UNO and Speed with Mary usually winning and the rest of us winning by turn when Mary was not playing. It was just a really nice visit and we fell that our connection with K and B really grew today. It was sad to leave but we are looking forward to another visit tomorrow.

This evening we enjoyed two experiences in Nikolaev. First, we went to the church here in Nikolaev to help the missionaries with some English language lessons and Gospel discussions. We had a really nice group and Mary really enjoyed an experience where she understood what was being said instead of having to wait for translation. Mary's courage in this journey is simply amazing!

Our second experience was with a great couple from Florida that are adopting three children. We met them at the summer camp a couple of days ago and had an opportunity to go to dinner with them tonight. They had their court date yesterday and it went very well. They should be able to return home to Florida with their kids in a couple of weeks. We are very excited and happy for them. It was great to chat and share experiences.

So, that wraps up the events of today. We are very grateful for all of the prayers and support from friends and family. Thank you!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Six

Mary is posting today.

We had a great day today with the kids at the Summer Camp. It was chilly again today so I was glad that I remembered a sweater. When we got there the supervisor of the children sent K out with two blankets to lay on the metal benches so they wouldn't be so cold to sit on. We have not been invited to visit inside any of the buildings at the camp so we spend all of our time outdoors. K taught James and I a new card game called "Fool" in English. I played several games, but I still don't quite understand the rules. It was fun none the less and I was grateful for K trying to teach me. B was asked to go inside and do something for the supervisor so he was in and out for a bit. After the game "Fool" I taught K how to play speed. She picked up on it rather quickly and beat me a couple of times. James and I took turns playing K and she seemed to really like it. B came back and James started a game of UNO with him and a couple of the other boys that were hanging out with us. During the game B was asked to go inside again. We saw him at his window and a boy told James to go over to see B. B had climbed up on the window sill to ask James how to use a phone when the supervisor caught him hanging out the window (It was on the first floor...). I guess B was supposed to be doing something for the supervisor and James thought he might have got B in trouble by talking to him so he talked to the supervisor to explain what happened. While we were waiting for B, James started playing UNO with some of the other boys outside. B came out and looked upset. We thought he might have been mad that James was playing with the other boys so I came over and put my arm around him and tried to ask him what was wrong. He was crying a little bit and went over to K and we soon found out that his relative had called and talked to him while he was inside and it had upset him. We were able to calm him down, but it was sad to see that. After that we had a really great day. We found out that K wants to be a designer when she grows up. She showed us a notebook with her designs for clothes and also some interior design. It was really fun to see. B wants to be a professional football (soccer) player. He also went inside and brought out several drawings that he has made. They were really good! He is quite the artist. It has been fun learning more about them. We shared with them some of our family stories too. We brought some snacks with us and it was awesome to see how thoughtful the kids were to share with their friends nearby.

After our visit with the kids we went back to our apartment. We moved from a hotel into this apartment two days ago. It is a really nice place inside, but it was strange driving up to it on the first day. It looked pretty run down from the outside. There is a big metal door that locks automatically from the inside when it is closed. Just outside that door before you walk up some steps there was a dead bird to the side of the walkway. I meant to take a picture of it today, but someone or something cleaned it up before I could. I thought at the time I first saw the apartment that this can't be good. After going through the big metal door we climb about eight sets of stairways. Our apartment has a really nice heavy door with two locks. Once inside, the apartment is really nice. The bedding is a little different, but we have hot water and air conditioning! Even better we have a washing machine! No more washing our clothes in the tub! We still have to hang our clothes to dry, but I'll take it! Here are a few pictures of the inside:

Our bathroom. The tile has a really cool design with beading in between the blue and white tiles.

The second bedroom with an awesome stuffed animal dog.

Master Bed with tiger towels.

Our rockin' bottle opener in the kitchen.
It has been a great apartment! Before we got to the apartment the first day we went grocery shopping because we now have a kitchen. We hadn't seen the apartment yet so we assumed that it had a fridge and freezer. So we carried all of our luggage and our groceries up eight flights of stairs and I couldn't see a refrigerator. I thought all of the food we just bought was going to spoil! Looking around a bit more we found it on the balcony outside of the apartment. So to get our food we have to go out there and then bring it into the kitchen to use it. Kind of different, but we sure are grateful for the apartment!
Tonight we made plans to have dinner with a Canadian couple and an American woman we met at the camp that are also adopting. The Canadian couple has been here a very long time trying to complete an adoption! They finally found their kids and had to change a bunch of paperwork and overcome other obstacles to get to the point they are now and their court date is next week! The American woman is just finishing her 10 day wait period for her son and her husband went home to work after their court date, so she will be leaving for the final process of the adoption in Kiev. She should be complete by next week and going home! It was great to get together with these couples and hear their stories and the advice they had to offer. There are some really amazing people out here!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Five

James is back at the keyboard for today's post.

Today was a good day. It rained this morning which cooled everything down significantly. A huge difference from the last couple of days. It was especially nice since I burned the back of my neck to a crisp playing in the Black Sea yesterday.

This morning we slept in a little. After the stress of yesterday, it was a much needed opportunity to recharge our batteries. We went to church in the late morning and enjoyed hearing testimonies from two young ladies that are leaving on missions tomorrow. It was nice to feel at home among the saints here in Nikolaev. We look forward to spending more time with the branch here over the next couple of weeks.

After church, we changed clothes and then headed out to visit K and B. This was our first visit without our facilitator Natasha present. Natasha returned to Kiev last night to be with her family during her birthday today. So, when we arrived and met up with K and B, we called Natasha on the phone and sang "Happy Birthday" to her in Russian. We then enjoyed the rest of the afternoon together. We decided to tell K and B the story of how Mary and I met. They seemed to enjoy it and B even acted out parts of the story as I told it. K started to teach Mary the Russian alphabet and also took a turn with the camera. She really enjoyed taking pictures of the nature that was right around us.

K also enjoyed taking a picture of Mary.

B also took a turn at the camera and took this shot of us sitting on a bench in front of their cafeteria.
B and James also played soccer with some of the other boys. They are all really good (or, more likely, I am just really bad) and I think some of the older teen boys were having a lot of fun showing off their skills at my expense. Actually, these kids are really good. The team from their boarding school won a European youth championship last year. B kept me on his team even though we lost far more than the last time we played. Oh well, maybe I can get them on a basketball court during one of these visits...
We finished the visit by describing to K and B what Sundays are usually like at home for us. Hopefully, it will help them get an idea of what to expect with this big change in their lives. Today's visit was really nice and we enjoyed getting to know K and B a little more without awkward situations. Looking forward to another visit with them again tomorrow.

A couple of days ago, K made this purse ("soomka" in Russian) for Mary.
 K has some mad skills!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Four

Mary is back as the author today.

A relative that previously gave up custody of the children to the state, which made them orphans, has now come forward against our adopting K and B. This relative has no legal rights to the children and has left the children in the orphanage for 5 years. This relative is creating a difficult situation for K and B, but as long as K and B continue to agree to the adoption it will go forward.

We knew the relative was going to visit the kids sometime today so we showed up early to make sure we were able to see the kids today too. We visited K and B this morning for a couple of hours, James and B played football (soccer), and K and I made more jewelry with beads (I got a new necklace from K!) before the relative arrived. It was really hard to watch K and B leave with this relative knowing that the relative didn't want us to adopt K and B. We found out that they were only going to be gone a couple of hours so we decided to stay in the area so we could continue our visit afterwards. Let's just say it was a tense couple of hours.

When K and B returned, the relative suggested that we all go down to the Black Sea and swim. James and I (and the facilitator, Natasha) did not bring our suits, but we decided to go anyways. It was a very strange experience hanging out all together (especially for me because, as I've mentioned many times, I do not speak Russian!) Every time they spoke I wondered what they were saying. Thankfully James filled me in later. Even though we were in an awkward position we tried to make the best of it. James, being the awesome guy he is, emptied his pockets and swam in his clothes. I decided to go wading because I was in a dress. Our facilitator even went swimming in her clothes too!

The Black Sea!
B holding a crab he caught in the water.

"I love K and B!"
Both K and B are really good swimmers! B especially loves the water. James spent a lot of time under water with B standing on his shoulders and doing back flips off of them when James stood up. James and B also caught a lot of sea creatures and collected them in a plastic bottle full of sea water before releasing them when it was time to go. B loves the camera and made sure I filmed him doing cool tricks in the water. He would make sure I got it with a thumbs up. The relative spent a lot of time walking the beach with K so we didn't get as much time with her as we would have liked.
After a couple of hours in the sun, we headed back to the camp. The relative left and we were able to have a little bit of time with the kids before we had to go to. The kids still agree to the adoption, but it is a tense situation for them. Thoughts and prayers from friends and family are always appreciated.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Three

This evening Mary is finishing up a drawing of K and B so James is writing the post again so that the picture is ready for tomorrow.

Today we had another great visit with K and B. We arrived a little earlier this morning because we did not have any meetings. That gave us more time with K and B! As we were walking up to the building where the children are staying, B ran up to Mary and gave her a big hug but looked very sad. K was not around so we started to get worried. After we got B to calm down a little, he told us that some of the older boys at the camp had taken the soccer ball that we gave him yesterday. At about that time, K came out of their building and also gave us a big hug so our brief fears were calmed. So, now I had an opportunity to be a Dad for B. Mary and I got K and B settled down with some drawing pads, pencils, and markers that we had brought and then I went to get the ball. Enlisting the help of an instructor from K and B's boarding school/orphanage, we tracked down the soccer ball and got it back to B. So, hopefully, that scores a point for Dad.

The rest of the morning and into the afternoon. We drew pictures, did some crafts with beads, and played Uno. We also let B play Angry Birds for thirty minutes on the tablet. B also got his hands on the camera and took a few pictures.

B made Mary a bracelet and wanted a picture of it on her wrist.

B wanted a picture of us together with Mary sporting the necklace that B made for her.

This is B taking my picture.
All too soon, our time with them came to an end. We said goodbye until tomorrow and gave big hugs and Mary got kisses. I guess I'm still a little too tall. Maybe a few more lost soccer balls will get me there.
After returning to Nikolaev, we had a wonderful dinner at the "Pirog" restaurant. The food here has been great! It was also a nice chance to sit back after a very hot day out at the camp. It has been very warm and humid the last couple of days so it felt good to enjoy some cold water and good food.
When we got back to the hotel we found that Mary's suitcase had been opened and someone went through all of her clothing. Nothing was taken, thankfully. We expected that something like this would happen sometime during our journey but it still was a little surprising that it actually happened.
So, we spent the afternoon doing laundry in the tub. I enjoyed a few seconds of nostalgia from my missionary experience in Rostov-na-Donu, Russia before the it got old again. However, Mary got to experience a little of what laundry was like for me for two years.
We finished up the laundry together and then called our sons back at home. We miss them terribly and will be glad when we can bring everyone together.  We are going to try and go to the camp earlier tomorrow so we did a little shopping this evening to get ready. Looking forward to more time with K and B!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day Two: Agreement for Adoption

Our adoption journey continues with James writing today's post.

This morning Mary and I sat down for a long talk after a great deal of discussion with our sons back home and thinking through this adoption. After a lot of prayer, we decided to go forward with trying to adopt the children that we met yesterday. A great feeling of peace has accompanied us ever since this decision and throughout the day.

After breakfast, we visited the regional child services office to learn more about the background of the children. They provided the best answers that they could with the information that they have available. The children have a rather sad story as most orphans do. It is not my place to share that story here but it was nice to learn more about their background. As we left the meeting, we told our facilitator Natasha that we would like to adopt these children. She advised that it may take a few days before an appropriate time arrived to ask the children to give their consent.

After the meeting, we stopped by the store to pick up some gifts and fruit for the children and their friends before driving out to the summer camp near the Black Sea to visit the children again. For now, we will refer to the children as K, a beautiful twelve-year old girl, and B, an eleven-year old boy that loves soccer (and plays rather well). They were waiting for us at the gate to the camp when we arrived and immediately gave us big hugs. That pretty much melts your heart. As we walked to the yard where we could have our visit, K asked Natasha when she and B could sign the agreement for adoption. That took us by surprise but, obviously, in a good way. Natasha got us settled with the kids and then left to get the District Inspector to sign the documents. We had brought a soccer ball with us and had a great time playing in the yard. After about 45 minutes, I was sweating like a pig in the heat. Thankfully there was some shade nearby and we enjoyed looking at more photos and getting to know each other better. K and B also started calling us Papa and Mama all of a sudden. Another moment that melts your heart. Before we knew it, it was time for their lunch which also means the end of our time to visit with them.

Before leaving on this trip, Mary had prepared some books on Shutterfly. Each page in the book is dedicated to a different part of our family and shows who we are. We brought two books and gave them to K and B today at the end of our visit. They were so excited as they ran off to lunch and we saw them showing all of their friends as they walked to the cafeteria.

Just after K and B left for lunch, Natasha returned with the District Inspector. As soon as the children finished lunch, they sat down with the inspector and wrote their agreement to be adopted. As you can imagine, Mary and I were thrilled! We still have a long road ahead with paperwork and legal documents but we are very excited that K and B want to be part of our family. After signing the papers, they gave us one last big hug before they had to go. Mary even got kisses from K and B. Maybe I'm just a little too tall...

After our visit, we got started on the paperwork right away. Natasha was on the phone during the entire drive back and got things going. We signed our legal agreements stating that we want to adopt K and B and got them notarized. So, the process is underway. For the next few weeks, we will continue to visit K and B and work to complete the legal process. There are still obstacles ahead but we know that with the Lord's guidance and blessing, we will arrive at where we need to be.

This evening we told our sons the news during our daily call and they are very excited also. We are looking forward to the time when we can get all the children connected to start getting to know each other. More exciting days ahead!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nikolaev Ukraine Day One: Met Awesome Kids!

Mary is writing our post today. I just want to give a shout out to my sister, Kate! Happy Birthday! Last night we boarded a train from Kiev to Nikolaev with Natasha, the facilitator that will help us in Nikolaev. Natasha usually works adoptions with Italian couples, and so she speaks little English. She is great with Russian though! James has had the opportunity to practice his translation skills. The three of us had a compartment to ourselves, but between hot weather, frequent train stops, and air conditioning that didn't work consistently no one received a good night's sleep, but it was a fun adventure none the less.

Train to Nikolaev

Mary and Natasha right before the train arrived in Nikolaev (looking oh, so alert!)

We arrived in Nikolaev around 5AM. We were met by our new driver, Victor, at the train station and he drove us to our hotel. We tried to sleep for about and hour and then cleaned up a bit and ate breakfast in the hotel lobby, crepes! Can you tell I love the food here? My idea that I would be on a "Ukraine Diet" has totally back fired, the food is awesome! We then went to the see the Regional Social Worker to show her our Referral and then we were on our way to see the kids. It was an interesting hour and a half ride south of the city, ending near the Black Sea to a summer camp the kids were staying at, rather than the orphanage, until school starts. We finally got to see some of the famous pot holes and roaming dogs that we had heard about from other blogs. I had to shut my eyes a few times while our driver passed cars at what seemed to me high speeds on a two lane highway, but road conditions made it seem faster than what he was actually driving. He was a great driver and got us there and back safely. Before we got to the summer camp we had to stop at a District Administration Building to pick up an official representative to monitor our visit with the children. With five of us in a small hatch back, it was a fun ride! I held on to James while sitting in the middle in the back so I didn't fall into the representative while going around turns and avoiding pot holes. We arrived at the summer camp and we had an amazing opportunity to meet with two awesome kids! We talked with them for two and a half hours, before we were told it was time for them to go to lunch. It was a really nice visit! We returned back to our hotel and talked with our kiddos back home on Sykpe. James and I have a lot to think, discuss and pray about.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kiev Ukraine Day Four

Today we had the morning free while we waited for our Referral (the document that gives us permission to visit the children in Nikolaev). So, Mary and I decided to take a walk through downtown Kiev. We walked along Shevchenko Boulevard and through Shevchenko Park. Taras Shevchenko is a famous author, artist, and poet from Ukrainian history that is highly revered. To my mind he appears to be for Ukrainians what Pushkin is for Russians. The walk was very pleasant and we were able to see several monuments and an Orthodox church.

James standing in front of the St. Volodymyr Orthodox Church. We went inside and enjoyed the beautiful interior of this centuries-old building.

 Mary in front of an entrance to the underground passages that are spread throughout downtown Kiev. These passages make crossing the street much safer and many of them have shops in them. Some of the them even have extensive malls. In the background you can see one of the monument statues that are placed along the Boulevard. The name "Shors" was written on this one.

We stopped to eat some Shaurma for lunch. Yummy!
A few days back, we walked through an area where they are repairing the sidewalk. When I stepped on the edge of the sidewalk that was still intact, I accidentally broke off this brick. It has been like this for three days so I figured I would record my clumsiness for posterity. The offending foot is also captured in the photo. If only I had some mortar and bricklayer skills...
After our morning about the city, we enjoyed talking with our family over Skype before leaving to pick up the Referral. Everything went smoothly with the paperwork and we now have the Referral in hand. We returned home to pack and prepare for the next leg of our adventure. Our train leaves in just over an hour and a half for an overnight trip to Nikolaev. We plan to post from there next if we can get an internet connection. Thanks to everyone sending prayers and thoughts our way. We feel truly blessed!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Kiev Ukraine Day Three: First SDA Appointment

James is continuing to take up the virtual pen for our blog updates.

This morning, after a great deal of anticipation, we had our first appointment with the SDA to review the files of children available for adoption. The appointment did not turn out as we had anticipated and went by rather quickly. Our facilitator helped in a review of many different files but none of them matched the age range that we were looking for. Unfortunately, I did not keep good track of the time and before we knew it, an hour had passed and the SDA social worker informed us that our time was up. We needed to make an immediate decision about visiting any of the children in the files that had been reviewed so far. That caught us a little of guard but our facilitator helped us to gain some extra time to make a decision. After some careful thought we decided to visit some children in Nikolaev. It is a sibling group that includes a girl, age twelve, and a boy, age eleven. We realize that these children are very close in age to two of our sons but feel at peace with our decision to visit them. We leave tomorrow on the train to go to Nikolaev and visit with these children in person. We pray that the Lord will continue to guide our footsteps and help us to know if these are the children for our family.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Kiev Ukraine Day Two

Today was another good day to experience Kiev. We took things slow this morning since church services did not start until 11 AM. We received directions from a helpful Temple worker yesterday to the building where church services are held. Turns out, it was only a short walk from our apartment. This apartment has simply been fantastic in Kiev!

Church services were in both Ukrainian and Russian. It was interesting to experience different languages throughout different parts of the service. The changes back and forth between Ukrainian and Russian did not seem to phase anyone present, especially Mary who says that she did not notice a difference at all:)! Regardless, the Spirit was the same and it felt like home to be at church here in Kiev. During Relief Society, they sang "Families Can Be Together Forever" in Russian. With all of our emotions and feelings during this time, it is understandable that Mary cried despite the language barrier.

Following church, we enjoyed a dinner of Pelmeni and decided to take a walk through downtown Kiev. It turns out that our apartment is also very close to Independence Square. Western media refers to Independence Square as Maidan (the Ukrainian word for "square"). It is the place where the protests happened earlier this year. It was a sobering experience to walk through a location of recent history where such great emotion and feeling found a form of expression.

The garden clock at Independence Square.


Standing in front of the Independence Column.

A sign near Independence Square that translates "Pray for Ukraine."

This is a very interesting time for Ukraine and it was fascinating to see and feel a small part of the history of this nation. We are very grateful for the opportunity to be here and are excited for our appointment tomorrow!