Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yeah Babies, We Got You

Masha was first. But even before we could go get her, we had to stop by the director’s office and sign some papers. The building was dark and quiet... no lights or computers running... no electricity at all. It will be off until winter to save money. Times are tough in Vorzel.

Masha was napping. I had asked if I could go into her living room to take pictures for her scrapbook and I was told that I could. So while I was snapping pics, they woke her up and brought her in and put her on the changing table. I took her outfit from my bag and began dressing her.

No no wait... it is cold outside... Masha will catch cold. You must keep her warm. And with that they brought me tights, an undershirt, a long sleeved shirt, and a white button up sweater... to go with the undies, socks, shoes, dress, and wrap I had for her. I politely declined the shirt but layered on everything else. It was so much stuff that I could not get her dress zipped up!

She looked beautiful and all her nannies were ooohing and ahhing and telling her she is a princess. Masha was very cooperative while I dressed her. She can practically dress herself. Once she was all ready, she charmed everyone by twirling around and showing off. Then we told her to go show papa and she zoomed out to the sitting area to find daddy.




Everyone came to say goodbye to her... all the caretakers and the doctor. Masha was very excited but when it came time for the actual goodbye, she got scared and clung to her doctor. I gently pried her away and began walking her down the sidewalk toward the car. She did not like the seatbelt and did not want to be closed in the car. I was sad for her that she was so terrified but she calmed down once she snuggled on mommy and we started driving.




Next stop, baby house #2 to pick up a nurse from the orphanage who would accompany us to the hospital to help secure Autumn’s release. The orphanage lawyer had already stopped at baby house #2, to make sure that there would not be an issue on the orphanage side seeing how Autumn’s usual doctor was on vacation, so I thought things would go smoothly... I was wrong.

At the hospital we went to a nurse’s office and asked to get Autumn. Suddenly the orphanage nurse was having a back and forth with two nurses from the hospital. Our facilitator tried to negotiate a solution and our translator ran back to the car to get our court decree. I asked her what the problem was and she explained that the orphanage nurse wanted the hospital to write up some paperwork saying that they were releasing Autumn directly to us. The hospital was insisting on releasing her to the orphanage nurse who could then transfer her to me. (Hubby and Masha were waiting in the car.) It took about 30 minutes to get the orphanage nurse to go along with the hospital’s wishes, and she insisted on seeing Autumn to determine if she thought she should be released at all.

You would all be very proud of me for sitting there patiently waiting without yelling at anyone to just give me my baby because, hello, SHE IS MINE. I did ask our translator if we could get her dressed in her gotcha outfit while they wrapped up the skirmish. Nadya asked permission and learned that the orphanage nurse, who was in “checking out Autumn” was actually dressing her to go. Two minutes later she came back with Autumn stuffed into a winter snowsuit complete with the hood pulled up over a hat that was tied down tight. I almost burst out laughing. My poor hot baby.


The orphanage nurse, holding Autumn, was waiting for us just outside the office door. As we walked out she made no move to hand her to me. I was done waiting and being patient. I asked Nadya to tell the nurse to give Autumn to me. The woman did not flinch or change her expression or anything, so I walked over to her and smiled at her as I reached for Autumn and then extracted my child out of her grip. She hovered as if she was waiting for me to give her back, but I didn’t because I am never giving Autumn “back” to anybody.



There is more, lots more to tell, but that was gotcha and the rest will have to wait for another post because you know, babies only sleep just so long...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Noodled Out

Yesterday morning I was sitting on the couch with my husband checking emails and whatnot when I was seized by a tremendous craving.

“I have a craving,” I announced to him.
“For what?” he dutifully inquired.
“For anything that tastes like it is supposed to.”

First I longed for a strawberry milkshake made from real hard strawberry ice cream, a double thick shake craving that immediately morphed into an urge for scrambled eggs and bacon, which then continued on to become an urge for good Mexican food washed down with a chocolate shake.

Don’t get me wrong, the food here is good... or rather the Ukrainian food here is good. We have found a cheap Ukrainian cafeteria where the two of us can fill up for under $15. The food is good quality but it is always a surprise. I go through the line and visually investigate pan after pan of casseroles, salads, fried meats... looking for ingredients that I love (or hate) and then point to the dishes I want. Once we get seated and start eating I find out what I really got... some days it’s good and some days it is... um, not what I expected.

Things that exist at home, like steak or caesar salads or pizza, just do not taste right here, so going out to restaurants is always (slight) hit or (big) miss. In the beginning it was kind of funny but now it is frustrating. Even chips (Pringles and Lays) and candy (Twix and Snickers) taste odd.

Quail eggs (and tomatoes) in my caesar salad...


Before we got here, I had a plan. I was going to grocery shop and cook for us. We would use the money we saved eating out to... well... eat out. But, all I have to cook on is a two-burner gas stove top and a microwave oven. The apartment came stocked with one large frying pan and one large pot. They can’t both fit on the stove top together. And anything recognizable in the grocery store is imported and costs ten times more than I want to spend, and of course it doesn’t taste like it is supposed to because it is imported from Europe not the US.

I have perused five or so grocery stores hoping to find something that will be easy to cook and that will taste ok. A few weeks ago we found the Ukrainian version of Ramen noodles, and they taste good, better than our Ramen noodles (though maybe not... it has been about twenty years since I ate Ramen noodles at home, so who knows.) And so now we eat Ramen noodles... a lot... practically every day (feels like college all over again... minus the Kraft macaroni and cheese).

Our Pantry...


I am noodled out. I know this because of the random cravings I am getting on and off all day everyday now. Then yesterday evening we Skyped with the kids at home. My sweet Gecko popped up in front of the computer holding a melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly browned slice of bacon. I was fixated. With a big grin, he took a bite, and I nearly passed out. I think I am past ready to come home. I am so ready that I might wander over to McDonald’s today and order a fish sandwich just on the off chance that it will taste like a real McD’s filet-o-fish.

In other news... there is no news on Autumn. We are not allowed to go visit her. Tomorrow we are supposed to go pick her up, either from the orphanage or from the hospital if she is still in there.

Modeling the hat we bought her in Romania...


Our visit with Masha yesterday was wonderful. She is such a delight, so playful and energetic. However, after about an hour of being there with her, she went into the room that leads to her living area and started closing the doors. We called out to her, “Paka, paka?” (bye bye?) and she poked her head out and waved goodbye to us. I walked her back to her rooms and she turned and waved at me again. I see this as a very good sign that she is becoming sure of us, knowing that we will be back for her. She has also started to become more affectionate with me, hugging me longer, running to me to avoid a caregiver...


One of my favorite families is arriving in Kyiv tonight. They are adopting Makayla. This means that there are about six families here in the city today. I am hoping we can all get together for dinner tonight or tomorrow... probably at TGIF’s, which doesn’t taste like TGIF’s but is very tolerant of big groups of Americans and has an English-speaking wait staff :-)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Almost "Gotcha"

If you were to do the math, you would realize that our ten day waiting period ended on Saturday, September 18. This means we could have picked the girls up from the orphanage on Monday the 20th, but we didn’t.

Most families are chomping at the bit to take their children out, and we too were looking forward to it. But the doctors, facilitator, and even our translator asked us to please wait for Autumn’s sake. Autumn is only two months out from her major heart reconstruction and although she is doing very well, she has never really been exposed to germs...

When I hold this tiny baby, I can see what my Kimani might have been like if not for the meningitis that robbed her of so much of her vision. Autumn stares right into my eyes with all her fragility and innocence.


There are many times when I second guess and play “what if” about the decisions we made with Kimani when she was in the hospital. In so many ways the situation was similar. It was like she was stuck in prison and we ached to bring her home. Maybe if we had not been so impatient to bring her home, we would not have agreed to a feeding tube... the tube that eventually led to her contracting bacterial meningitis.

Anyway, just so you know, I don’t stop the game there and wallow in sorrow and guilt... I always play it out to the end... when two years ago today she underwent the double heart surgery that saved her life. Without the weeks of being sick, she would not have had those two surgeries in the same day, and who knows what the outcome would have been for her if her aorta had been cut apart two months earlier, and her heart operated on four months later.

I tell you this just so that you can understand why I would let Masha and Autumn spend an extra week in an orphanage, rather than in my arms in the heart of Kyiv. I was afraid that Autumn would get sick, really sick, life-changing sick.

Yesterday was gotcha day. We were so excited. We brought their beautiful dresses with us to the orphanage. Five minutes from Vorzel, our facilitator got a phone call... Autumn is in the hospital. We continued to the orphanage and after many conversations with the staff and the hospital, we found out that she has cold-like symptoms and a fever. She will not be released before Monday.

Part of me thinks that maybe they are just being overly cautious, but the other part thinks they don’t take babies from the orphanage to the hospital for a just a cold. We are trying to get permission to visit her. I feel like if I can see her I will be able to tell how serious it is.

Please pray for Autumn that this is something that she will beat in a couple days.

Smooching with daddy (video)

Thursday, September 23, 2010


When we went to court on September 8 in support of our petition to adopt Masha and Autumn we knew that the decision had already been made and that this was more of a formality than anything else. But of course we were nervous that we might say something stupid and then the judge could slam down her gravel and throw us out with no babies.

On one side of the room sat the judge at her desk, along with the prosecutor and two jury members. On the other side we sat side-by-side in a row of chairs lined up against the wall, us, our translator, a social worker and the orphanage director. This judge was not the usual judge in this region and she rarely does international adoptions. She actually read our very long petition out loud in the courtroom.

And then came the questions... between my husband and I, we answered ten or so questions posed by the judge, prosecutor, and women of the jury. “How did you find these children?” “Why do you want more children when you already have so many children?” “Where do the children sleep and will your adopted children have the same privileges as your biological children?” “Why did you choose children with Down syndrome?”

Some questions are cut and dried, and easy to answer, like how our house is set up. Other questions are more complicated, like why do you want more children or why did you choose to adopt from Ukraine... And still other questions just can’t be answered fully and honestly if one wishes to remain tactful, like why Down syndrome...

But we got through it and the judge made a short speech, making things official. One of the things she said was that the names of Masha and Autumn’s biological parents would be erased from their birth certificates and that our names would replace them.

Erased. Their flesh and blood, deleted... wiped away forever in the records. From this day on I will be listed as the birth mother of Masha and Autumn. The only remnants of their past are their birth dates, places, and Masha’s first name. The rest has been erased. Their personal histories have been rewritten.

That struck me very hard. Their own mothers... not dead but erased, as if they never existed at all. And I, feeling somewhat like an imposter or perhaps even a thief, have stepped in and assumed them.

One day I will not feel like this. I will look at those certificates and know they are true. Because one day, Masha and Autumn will understand what a Mama is, and they will love me... their mama... with all their hearts, and this will prove to me that you cannot erase what never was.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Five Fast Days

Romania... a country I have always wanted to visit but never would have... because well... it just isn’t France or England or Italy. After all, what is there to see in Romania other than Count Dracula? Lots.

On Wednesday we landed in Bucharest and picked up a car at the airport. Then we bravely set out with a high-level road map provided by Avis. We missed our first turn and found ourselves well on our way to somewhere other than our destination of Targoviste. Lucky for us there are only a few roads in that area of Romania, so we could readjust a few towns up.

In Targoviste we visited a monastery, had a delicious pizza lunch, and then wandered around the original castle of the Vlads built in the late 1300’s. Vlad Dracul and his son Vlad Tepes (the impaler) used the castle during the mid 1400’s. The castle was abandoned in the late 1600’s and fell into ruin. The tower is still in tact but the rest of the castle is in the process of being restored.



From Targoviste we headed West to Cutea de Arges to visit the monastery it is known for... the drive should have taken about an hour... ha ha. I think we drove the worst roads in that country with not a town in sight, though there were plenty of sheep, cows, shrines, and potholes in the road. In some places the road was missing and we had to inch along wishing we had a big ole 4-wheel drive. One hour turned into about four and the sun started to set...


Finally we got to Cutea de Arges... in the dark... with no detailed map or translator... and no Romanian SIM card. Frustrated, we stopped at a grocery store hoping to find anyone who could speak some English. A very nice couple read the address of our bed and breakfast and told us to follow them, which we did, though not without wondering if we had entered into some bad horror movie... two naive Americans blindly following a couple of Romanians after dark...

We checked in at our b&b and went across the street for dinner, where we found fried brains and offal soup on the menu, and no I did not order them. I know you are thinking that after that hotdog in Vorzel, I would eat most anything but even I have limits. Dinner was ok and after a drink we were ready for bed.


The next morning our hostess, Ruxi, made us a delicious country breakfast of omelettes, bread with jam, fresh vegies, feta cheese, and tea. Um yum yum. We asked her for directions to our next stop and she advised us to take a less travelled road so that we would be able to visit the ruins of Vlad Tepes’ fortress, 1480 steps up the side of a mountain. From there she said we could continue up through the Carpathian mountains on “the most beautiful” road in Romania that is “only passable two or three months of the year.” I have to admit, after our drive to her place from Targoviste, we were very hesitant to take a mountain road that is only usable a couple months a year. But Ruxi’s father convinced us that it was safer than the road we had come in on, so we went for it.

Going up there...


1480 steps is a lot of steps just in case you were wondering about that. After about the first four hundred or so, I was thinking that the zoom lens on the video camera would have been sufficient for visiting this site... At about 950 steps up, I understood why it was called a fortress and was thinking that nobody in their right minds could ever storm it. At the top I was thankful to God that I was able to make it there and take in the spectacular views, and I was also thankful that I am not afraid of heights.

The view of where we parked our car


The fortress


My very own Vlad


Hubby and I sat up there for a while (catching our breath) and we noticed a bridge across the way, and far above that, a road that disappeared into the mountain. A truck drove out of it and I got that wriggly feeling in my stomach... and then it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe we would be driving up into that mountain.



Oh yeah, that bridge was nothing compared to the rest of the trip up into and over the mountains. Twisting, turning, climbing, twisting, climbing... higher and higher until we were in the clouds. That road is not for the faint of heart but it is one of the most amazing drives I have ever been on. When we finally landed back on Earth, we were still a ways from Bran and of course the sun was on its way down.

Halfway down the other side (the easy side)


With all this to go


Have you seen the movie Dracula? You know the scene where he is racing to get to the castle before the sun sets? That was us. Really, who wants to be stuck on some lonely road in Transylvania at dusk? We stayed at the Hotel Bran and had a direct view of the Bran castle off our balcony.


Just like the night before, we headed across the street for dinner. This time we found “Dracula’s Manhood” on the menu and I said to my husband, “No way are we eating here.” (Really I insisted we leave because the menu had nothing great on it and the salon was empty... a sure sign it is not the best restaurant in town.) A few places up the street we found a wonderful spot called Christi’s that served the most scrumptious peasant potatoes ever.

In the morning we visited the castle. It has a lot of history and it was old, not sumptuous and ornate like a modern palace, but very realistic of an ancient castle with a wolf-skin rug, a secret staircase, and turrets with cross walks in between. Out side the castle there are plenty of street vendors to keep the shop-happy tourists busy. One of the vendors was making and selling funnel cakes... a sort of rotisserie cake. The dough is wrapped around a metal tube and then spun over hot coals. It cooks very quickly and is then covered in melted sugar. I bought one... um yum yum some more.




From Bran we went to Brasov, a 775 year old city first founded by the Saxons. We stayed in the old city center where all the buildings are from the 15th century... though we did venture across to the modern part of the city for a wonderful Italian dinner at Trattoria Del Chianti. In Brasov we visited the Black church, a stunning structure that was built and rebuilt from the 14th century through the present. We also visited the Brasov museum of history... that took a while, lol.


From there we headed back to Bucharest via the town of Sinaia where the castle Peles is located. This is a modern castle, layered in richness and luxurious details. You could spend a whole afternoon wandering its halls in awe... though we stayed only about an hour because we wanted to get to Bucharest before dark.


By now we had purchased a more detailed map of Romania and were fairly confident we would be able to find our hotel that was somewhere in the middle of the capitol city. Nope... there are huge 6-lane traffic circles, streets change names across intersections, lots of one-way streets, and enough crazy drivers to make a New York cabbie nervous.

Finally we pulled over and I managed to get a person to tell me which of the numbers to dial on our cell phone (that by now had a Romanian SIM card in it) to actually get the hotel on the line rather than the annoying “you have dialed a wrong number” message that I kept getting no matter which combination of numbers I dialed. (Think country code, long distance code, area code, and phone number... where did one number set start and another end?)

My knight in shining armor (who drove 730K of crazy roads)


We were right around the block, so within minutes we were in the comfort of our lovely hotel that came equipped with Craftmatic beds, his and hers sundries, and an espresso maker. After dinner and drinks at Sangria’s (the best dinner I have had since leaving home in August) we crashed until it was time to eat brunch and drive back to the airport.

Before we went to Romania I wasn’t sure we should do it. After all, we are here in Kyiv on important business, but now I am so glad we did it. It made the waiting period fly by and being away from all of our children helped to ease the pain of missing my sweeties back home. Now we are knee deep in paperwork again and moving ahead to our next milestones.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


We were told by those who have been down this road that it will begin to seem like groundhog day. And they were right. Every day we get up, get ready, and head off for the metro/bus that will take us on the hour and twenty minute ride out to Vorzel. We get about an hour with each of our girls and then we head back to the bus/metro. Back in Kyiv we are starving and exhausted.

We have lunch at the Ukrainian cafeteria, cheap and yummy, or we go straight home and eat Ramen noodles. My gourmet chef talents are stifled by having only a microwave and a two-burner gas stove top for cooking.

We load the day’s pictures and videos, Skype with our family back home, and try desperately not to fall asleep on the couch while we wait for evening to come. By 6 p.m. we are wandering around looking for something to distract us from missing our loved ones. We are usually in bed by 10 p.m. in order to get up early and do it all over again.

This will go on for another couple weeks... we have had to reschedule our return to Oct. 2.

No, no, no... we just cannot do it. Too much time on our hands to miss our babies. And so we have planned a detour to Romania for a few days. That’s right, we made a date with Dracula. Years ago I started writing a novel set in the Wallacia region and now we are going there. We will drive from Bucharest to Brasov and back, stopping to visit the castles of Vlad and Dracula on the way.

When we return to Kyiv, the waiting period will be over and we will start the next round of paperwork that is needed to get our girls out of this country and into our own.

We will be staying in guest houses and small inns while in Romania, so we likely will not have internet access . So don’t worry if we aren’t blogging for a few days... (it is doubtful we will have been bitten by a vampire.)

I will leave you with some pictures to hold you over for a few days.

Kissing her babydoll


Wearing Daddy’s sunglasses


Playing her new harmonica


Pretty Autumn wants her binky back


For my friend, RissaRoo... is this it?


For Sandie who dared me to eat this hotdog


For Gecko and Jade (Don’t worry boys, we survived.)



Thursday, September 9, 2010




Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Not Doing It

I am a planner by nature... okay maybe not a planner, but more of a fantasizer. I daydream a good portion of my future actions, playing it out this way or that way, and our time at the orphanage was no exception.

I was dressing the girls in fancy outfits I brought from home. Changing their very wet diapers, feeding them yogurts and applesauce, fixing their hair, doing EI therapy with them... All the while my husband was dutifully photographing these adventures so that I could share it all with you on this blog.

But I’m not doing it. None of it. Partially because they come to us well- (and over-) dressed, with diapers that don’t stink, and hair that is impossibly soft and short... and it is always either lunchtime or dinner time right before or after we visit, and we dare not ruin a child’s well trained appetite. So it just doesn’t seem necessary.

But I know that it is more than that. These are last days, and for that reason they are special days. The women who watch over and care for our children know this. They present our girls to us with pride... in clean clothes and with clean faces. They tell our children encouraging words, though we can only pick out a cheerful “mama” and “papa”. Then they wait just that extra second to enjoy (and maybe evaluate) our reactions before shuffling off to do more work in another room.

I realized that out of respect and thankfulness I cannot redress these children, change their diapers or shoes, fix their hair a different way, or feed them anything other than a little drink of water or a bite of apple from a tree on the grounds. This “doing nothing” is one of the only ways I know of to show my appreciation for all that they have done for my children while they were motherless.

And besides, if I was changing things up, you would be missing out on some very hilarious fashion-statements... which will be fun for me to look back on when perusing the scrapbook pages I am dreaming up for them. Really, would you rather see Peach in some adorable little Carter’s outfit, or dressed up as...

Peach the Blue-Headed Polar Bear


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Just Pictures Today

I know I have been slacking on eye candy, so here you go...


A Masha smile...


A Peach smile (or rather toothless grin)






Loved this hat so much I bought one for each of my girls





Peach and Auntie Belinda



Soon Masha, soon...



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