Thursday, September 25, 2008

How Great is God?

Thank you to everyone for all your kindness and sharing our excitement in becoming a family! God is so amazing, it just takes our breath away. There are no words to express how thankful to Him we are for this amazing little girl who is now our daughter.

Everything is going great. Anya is sometimes still nervous about Travis, but each day I think she falls a little more in love with him! She is so smiley that we can hardly take our eyes off of her. She loves her hat and her sunglasses, and is in love with shoes. She is eating everything in sight, so her ribcage is filling in! She loves being outside and is fascinated by the mirror. We are seeing her mind grow by leaps and bounds already. Her only disappointment with us is when she has to take a nap or go to sleep at night. She has labeled the bedroom as "bad" and shuts the door anytime we go near it, which really cracks us up.

Parenting feels so natural that it kind of surprised me. I thought I would need to get used to the change, but it really fits like a glove.

Tomorrow we should have all the paperwork we need as well as Anya's passport, so will be on our way to Moscow on Saturday. Sunday we plan to take Anya to the zoo, and then Monday and Tuesday we will visit the U.S. Embassy and the doctor, as well as a few other sights to take pictures. We are excited to get home, but we will miss our CHI family in Tver! We will see you all soon!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gotcha Day!

Have you ever had such a wonderful day that you can’t really describe it because it feels so amazing? That is what we feel today. I want to stop writing at this point, but this is a journal.

We started the day by picking up Anya’s birth certificate and adoption certificate at Tver’s record keeping office. Alexei and Masha drove us to Konakova where we picked up some chocolate, cake and flowers for the orphanage staff. At around 1:30, we arrived at the baby house. This was a big day, as we were the 4th couple to arrive to take their child home. A caretaker we hadn’t seen before brought Anya in to us, so I picked her up and brought her over to the couch. The caretaker told us her schedule and described what she ate, which was “everything”. Lastly, she gave us a gold cross on a blue piece of ribbon – Anya had been baptized. We took off her shoes and clothes and re-dressed her with the clothes we had brought, although we kept her tights on, because the ones we brought stretched from her head to her toes. We took some quick video and pictures, and then it was time to leave. The caretakers and staff all said goodbye, and we thanked everyone as we left the orphanage.

We took some pictures outside, then got in the van and left. On the way back to the hotel, our little girl was taking it all in, babbling and eating her raisins. When we arrived back at the hotel, Dima and Olga had arrived from bringing back Jan and Katarina from seeing their 2 boys, so everyone was there to welcome us back from springing our girl out of the orphanage! We went upstairs and got situated, and called Trav’s parents on skype so that they could meet Anya for the first time. They were very excited to see her, and the feeling was mutual for her as well. She babbled a lot and enjoyed tapping on the computer, and then, I felt a warm sensation on my leg. So into the bathroom we went, to change all our clothes. We figured out the bathroom routine later today, after buying her a little person’s toilet, but then she preferred the big one instead. We gave her lots of praise! We took a stroll to the mall and back, and later had dinner with Jan and Katarina. She ate a whole banana, a half box of raisins, some vegetable soup, and chicken. The chicken made her eyes get big and we got a huge smile from her in approval. She didn’t make a peep in the restaurant, and Jan and Katarina were so impressed with her behavior. Heck, so were we!

When we got back to the room at about 8:15, we got her ready for bed. She was agitated, but not upset, so we sang her some songs and gave her “mishka”, her teddy bear, and then we prayed with her for about 5 minutes while laying our hands on her. When we opened our eyes, she was laying down comfortably. We talked with her quietly for about 15 minutes, and then she fell asleep with her thumb in her mouth. All in all, a perfect 10 day. She didn’t seem that keen on being with us in the orphanage, but today made all the difference in the world. A family makes all the difference in the world!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Countdown to Gotcha Day

Alexei told us today that next Tuesday, September 23rd, is The Big Day. This is one day later than what we thought. To be honest, we have no idea how the 10 day period is actually counted. It’s not consecutive days. It’s not business days. It must just be when it’s convenient for the Who’s down in Whoville. So, we are going to post our daughter’s picture that day, because that’s like our due date – our family will be born! We are looking forward to Gotcha Day, and are psychologically preparing ourselves for the transition.

We had another visit yesterday morning, and we are happy to report that she DID NOT cry upon our arrival, and furthermore, she allowed Travis to hold her. She was fussy through most of the hour and a half we had to visit with her, until the caretaker came in, and then she was extremely happy. She actually bounced her torso up and down and wiggled to get out of Trav’s arms, then walked quickly towards the caretaker with a huge smile on her face. We can now get a little bit of a chuckle at this obvious emotional display of joy for someone other than us. At first, we were insulted. But now, we’re just very aware of the immediate feelings of loss she will have, and so Trav and I are prepped for game day. We’ve got our plan, and we’re going to stick to it. Here it is: Pray.

Trav and I realize that there are going to be difficult times, but the fact is, this is going to be great. We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously, because there’s going to be a weird period where we’re figuring things out, and it’s going to be quite interesting, if not funny. So if you’re reading this, please say a simple prayer for the Lord’s guidance in all that we do. And that’s it! We’re ready!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


My experience of becoming a mother has so far been comprised of nerves. I hope I’ll be a good mother… I hope I’ll be the mother my mom was to me… I hope I don’t royally screw this child up…I want to be the mom that “has it all together”. Since my daughter is not officially mine until next Monday, I haven’t yet had thoughts of “Oh God, what did I get myself into”?

So, the last 6 months or so we’ve taken classes - mostly me, because I’ll be a stay-at-home mom. We took the obligatory adoption education class together, which overwhelms you with any and all challenges that may come with an adopted child; we’ve taken a course on how to talk to your child about adoption; I took a course on CPR; and, I attended a women’s bible study at my church called Wisdom for Mothers. This study includes a great workbook Denise Glenn put together as part of her Motherwise series, and I learned a lot from the other moms in the group. I admit that I was a bit scared of all that was shared among the moms, but it gave me a reality check. First of all, I was glad we were adopting only one child. I’ll be 36 next month, and I think I’d like to have 3 more children (to Trav’s one more), but I think it’s best not to rush into having too many children too soon. Also, I hear that my love for cooking anything that takes over 15 minutes is going to go by the wayside. I’m still in denial over my get-ready routine in the morning. I understand I won’t be going to the bathroom by myself for a long, long time. Well, like the billboards say, there are opportunities everywhere to connect with your child.

This trip I brought 3 books: The Bible, Freedom for Mothers, by Denisse Glenn (I’m missing the first several weeks of my newest bible study and the spill-your-guts portion shared by moms), and Baby Signs, by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwin. I received Baby Signs as a gift at my shower a couple weeks ago, and although I’ve always brushed off comments about using sign language for children, my inner-self told me I needed to consider it. Travis and I have learned some Russian, and we thought that it would be helpful to our daughter in communicating. In reality, it acts only as a small comfort for her to hear her native language. We learned from her caretaker that she is able to make the sounds that begin to make words. The other day, her sign for wanting to feed herself more food was to arch her back and throw her head back in indignation. At that moment, I thought, how are we going to COMMUNICATE? Words are not helpful to those who can’t speak, and our daughter could not speak Russian or English. Like comedian Bill Engvall says, ‘Here’s Your Sign’.

So, the authors, both PhD’s in the field of Child Development, speak about their two decades worth of studies in this field and the results. The science behind baby sign language makes sense: we come into this world with 100-200 billion brain cells (neurons), but baby’s neurons are unconnected. The connections enable us to organize thoughts, to see relationships among things, to remember past events and to master language. When a child has an experience that allows him to provoke thought and he is able to take an active role (through signing) to communicate, the child’s neurons strengthen much faster than if he had to wait to speak. The benefits studied of children who sign also include: reduced frustrations with communicating (i.e. less tantrums and crying), an increased child/parent bond, increased emotional and intellectual development as compared to the average child, and an increase in the child’s confidence. Sold!

Yesterday and today (Visits # 5 and 6) we got to see our daughter, and we practiced a few signs with the things she has been most interested in: eat, light, more and book. She is pointing a lot, and can already identify the giant teddy bear in the room when you ask her in Russian “Gdye Mishka”? Hopefully by the time we leave Russia, we will have a few signs down so that we can communicate the important things.

Yesterday was by far the best day yet. She was smiling and laughing a lot, and she is making a lot of eye contact. She still does not enjoy being left by the caretakers, and sometimes seems too happy when they come to get her, which admittedly is very hard for me. But Travis reminds me that this is very good for her to have such strong attachments to the people here, and that it will be like that for us one day too. And, he’s right. This morning she was a bit tired, so I held her for about 30 minutes after she ate and played with us. I had to stand and rock her back and forth like a baby, because that’s the way she wanted it. My arm muscles were tired, but when I started to sit down she let out a few peeps to let me now that I was not allowed to do so. If I’m spoiling her, I really don’t care. She deserves it right now.

We don’t know when we’ll be returning again, but there are 2 other families here with Children’s Hope and we understand that Alexei, Masha and Dima are very busy driving everyone around here and there to get things done. Luckily for us, one of the new couples here have a son at Konakova, so we’ve had more visits this week than we expected. We can’t begin to describe how amazing it has been for us to have close relationships with the adoptive couples we’ve met at the hotel, and it’s a blessing that we’ve become like an extended family. Every couple we’ve met are Christians with their own adoption story, and it’s evident that God’s hand has been a part of this whole experience for all of us. The one statement that blessed us most this morning, maybe this entire adoption process, was something that Jennifer said, and that was this: many people may feel that adoption is Plan B. But God intended it all along as Plan A.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Anna and Ivan's Wedding

We had a great time Saturday, completely filled with wedding activities surrounding Dima’s sister Anna and her husband-to-be, Ivan. Dima picked us up at noon to go to his parents’ apartment, where we were treated like family and invited to a big table of food as soon as we walked through the door. The mushrooms we had picked on Thursday had been made into potato pancakes, and they were very, very good. There were also meat patties, liver, beef and rice steamed in cabbage leaves and cold, shredded turkey covered in clear jello (which failed to make our top 10 list of favorite Russian foods).

After eating, we helped with the decorations while Dima’s cousin Sergei dressed himself in a white wedding dress hanging in the hallway. This, we were told, was good luck for the wedding, but not a traditional custom. The more beautiful of the two brides was waiting for the groom to come, and she looked stunning. When the groom arrived, the bridesmaid stopped him at the door and asked several questions regarding his bride, which if answered incorrectly, meant that his friends had to cough up money so that he could pass to the next question. After answering half a dozen questions, he went to the 5th floor, where he had to answer another series of questions, and correctly identify his wife’s lips on a sheet of paper that had been kissed by all the women present at the pre-wedding party. Once inside the apartment, Sergei appeared in his wedding dress, where the groom once again, had to answer a question by presenting Sergei with a gift, which finally allowed Ivan access to his bride.

Afterwards, we went to a 5 minute civil wedding ceremony, held in Tver. Once the bride and groom are officially wed, they visit several of the monuments in the town, eating chocolate and toasting with champagne. One of the monuments in Tver included the World War II memorial, which leads to a small chapel at the crossing of a bridge. Flowers were laid at the memorial, and then the bride and groom locked an engraved padlock around one of the bridge’s iron spindles, throwing the keys into the Volga river.

A two hour ride later to Kalin, the home of famous Russian composer Tchaikovsky, we settled into the evening’s dinner and celebration. The tables were full of fruits and typical Russian salads, caviar toasts and vodka, steamed fish and potatoes, red and white wine, and champagne. Many games were played through the night, with rounds of dancing and eating in between. There is a definite routine in Russian weddings: eat, toast the newlyweds (drink), play games, drink, dance, and drink again. Travis and I managed to maintain our sobriety by having only a sip after each toast. It is a traditional custom to follow a shot of vodka with a salted cucumber spear, which of course, we had to try once. Other than a few people, we realized that most everyone had managed to avoid drinking too much. We made several new friends Saturday night, and by the end, the groom’s best man was asking Travis and I to “come back to his village to drink vodka”. Um, nyet. Our trusty and sober friend Dima was the only one taking us anywhere. No one driving that night drank anything more than a sip of champagne after the first toast, as there is a severe 2 year loss of your license for doing so. The police randomly pull drivers over for any reason at any time, so your chances of getting caught are very high. So, at 2 am, we made it back to our hotel safe and sound and happy to experience yet another Russian tradition.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Abundant Blessings

Today was the icing on the cake. Dima took us to see our girl this morning, so we knew that we would be able to visit her by ourselves for the first time! I was extra happy about that. She cried when she saw us, but Dima was in the room videotaping us all together. I think 2 men in the room was overwhelming, because she certainly wasn’t crying at the sight of me ;-)

Trav sat her on his lap and opened this huge bucket of Cheerios and she just started powering through them. This bucket is over an ounce worth of cereal, so I thought “Great, Trav, we’re going to ruin her lunch!” but we couldn’t take them away because she got upset. She was hungry! And she wouldn’t let us feed her because she wanted to grab fistfuls of these Cheerios and stuff them in her mouth as fast as possible. Today was by far her best day with us because she was having so much fun, and we heard her laughing for the first time. Trav blew bubbles so she could catch them and she was having such a good time that when the caretaker came to get her, she didn’t get out of my lap until she was physically picked up. Yay!! We’re making progress!

After we left the orphanage, Dima was driving us back to Tver, and I was telling Travis that I wanted to see if our hotel would take us up on an unusual request for an excursion to the forest to pick mushrooms. Dima told us he had time the rest of the day, so whoopee, we were going mushroom hunting!!! First of all, it seems to me that every European knows how to forage for mushrooms, and they do this for fun while getting out in the fresh air. And secondly, the year I spent in France, no one was able to take me, so this had been a big disappointment. It doesn’t take a lot for me to be entertained. So, Dima takes us to his summer home about 6mi outside Tver, and he has everything we need – rubber boots for Trav and me, 2 buckets, hats, warm coats, the whole thing. It’s like a dream come true. These summer homes are rustic, but they each have about ¼ to ½ acre of land, and each of them has a garden. So in Dima’s garden he has cucumbers, plum trees (best plums I’ve ever had by the way, I’m bringing home the pits to see if I can root them), apple trees, red currants, dahlias, golden rod. The homes are on dirt roads, they have electricity and water, but cold water only (brr). This is typical.

So out we go schlepping through the mud to the forest, and at the end of the dirt road where the forest is, there is a small airport. Into the forest we go looking for mushrooms. The grass was knee-high, white birch trees were everywhere, their golden fall color reminding us of the Colorado aspen trees, and so we begin to find mushrooms. My first mushroom was the size of my pinky fingernail and white, so I show it to Dima and ask him if I’m on the right track. Nyet. Okay, but I treasured it, so I threw it into my bucket anyway. “Hey Dima, how about this mushroom growing out of the tree bark”? Nyet. Strike two. “Dima, I found one! It’s white with a flat top and it even smells edible”! Nyet. This wasn’t going well. Then I see another one with a white stem and a brown top like an umbrella. It’s slimy, but I grab it anyway, and I’m still excited about all these mushrooms, so my hopes were still high. “Dima, how about this one?” Dah, Good! Okay, now we’re in business. Trav, Dima and I were making our way through the forest, picking mushroom after mushroom, and then we hit a lull. I found some reddish mushrooms, and I thought ‘Nyet’, so a minute later we told Dima about them and he said “Oh, those are the best ones”. Great. Where did we find those? Trav found the lost souls, and we hit the jackpot with red mushrooms for the next 20 minutes. Oh, by the way, here’s my disclaimer: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

We were out there about an hour and a half and I was like a kid in a candy store. We had collected a bucket full of mushrooms for Dima’s mom and I wasn’t even sad not to try them. After the mushroom hunt, we went back to Dima’s to warm up and have some hot tea and some bread he had made, which was very good. It was surprisingly made with sour milk. And some other things, but the sour milk really caught my attention. Then, just when the day couldn’t have been better, he invited us to his sister’s wedding on Saturday. Did we just win the lottery? Could someone just pinch me? Well, we have the clothes, so now all we need is a gift. There’s no dismissing the abundance of blessings that have brightened our week and the unforgettable memories created as a result. It’s a feeling we just don’t want to ever go away, and it’s so evident to me because I’m ready to buy that cute little summer home I saw today…

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Decision

Break out the champagne! We are officially going to be parents on Monday, September 22nd (Gotcha Day)! I got up at 6 this morning to do some last minute studying on Russian history. I was a bit nervous. Trav was asleep until 7:30 without a care in the world. It was raining and cold this morning, which was good because our clothes for court included a suit and tie for Trav and a wool skirt and sweater for me. We were informed by Mike last night that as soon as he and his wife entered the court for their hearing a couple weeks ago, someone cut off the A/C. Court usually lasts for an hour and a half, so within minutes, Mike could feel the first drip, and then the next, and before he knew it, he was drenched in sweat with a huge ring the size of an inner tube around both arms. Someone opened the court door to pass through briefly, and he said he let out a huge gasp at the feeling of cool air. Thanks for that story Mike. Not only was I worried about the court proceeding, but now I worried my Clinical Strength Secret antiperspirant would fail me. To make matters worse, we were told that just last week, an American passed out from the heat in the room. I was sweating just thinking about it.

Our judge was described to us as a 70-something, moody man with unusual, antagonistic questions coupled with a knack for pushing buttons. Trav likened the court process to rushing a fraternity, hence the ability to bond with people we’ve only known for a day or two. With so many people praying for us, we didn’t experience the dark side of our judge, so thank you Jesus!!! Once the proceedings began, the judge asked us to let him know if we needed to take a break and sit down, so that was a very kind gesture. The prosecutor motioned that the secretary crack the window open for me. I was touched. The questions asked were very fair, so we had a very good court experience. Some of the questions contained concern for how well our daughter would be received in America, because of the political turmoil surrounding the Russia/Georgia conflict.

The people in attendance were a translator, a secretary, a prosecutor, two representatives from the orphanage, and a representative from the place our daughter’s mother resides. We received additional information about the mother, which in any case is always good. The representative for our daughter’s mother asked to see pictures, so after court, we spoke with her and gave her some pictures, and also jotted her address down so that we could send her some updates in the future. We know it means a lot to the representatives taking care of others to keep in touch, because they truly care for others – they’re angels with the gift of grace.

Well, now we begin our 10 day waiting period. So far it’s off to a good start! We get to visit our little girl tomorrow for a few hours, and every bit of time we get to spend together helps make the transition towards being a family a little easier. Thanks to all of you for your prayers. How humbling it has been to experience the love and support of such a huge community in so many ways.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Trip Two

What a difference a direct flight makes! We got here Sunday morning with all our bags in just over 9 hours. We packed for one additional person and managed to pack 2 bags lighter than the first trip, which was a great relief. I slept through most of the day and night, getting up to eat dinner and take a walk to town with Travis. Monday we went to see a round of doctors which took about 4 hours. Each of the 8 doctors were given gifts (chocolate and cognac mostly) so that we could take the VIP route and not wait in line like everyone else. The hospital here and the clinic are not quite* the standards Americans would expect, but all in all the doctors were very friendly and happy for us.

Today we went to see our little girl and it was a great visit. My worries about tomorrow’s court proceeding melted away when we saw her, knowing that God has our family in His very capable hands. She is 19 months and is already potty-trained. Her hair has gotten longer and she has cute blond curls, with a set of dimples when she smiles! She prefers raisins to crackers and still is hesitant being near Travis, although we’ve heard that it’s common for girls to warm up to their dads soon after they come out of the orphanage. We took a lot of photos and video today too which is priceless. We both felt more comfortable with this particular visit, singing and goofing around with our little girl like our translator wasn’t in the room.

Tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. we appear for court before the judge. The social worker at Konakova’s orphanage prepped us for several questions that may be asked of us, and we were told to remain calm and confident, with no crying or passing out (more on that later).