Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hello from Kiev!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010 - Sara, Summer and I are in Kiev and are getting ready to spend day two here which will be our last full day in Kiev and in Ukraine. It is truly bittersweet and I am sure that right now I am feeling more of the "sweet" as I am now so close to returning home as Sara experiences more of the "bitter" as she leaves her country and her family of friends, teachers, her grandmother, etc. I know that she wants to be in America and to be there with our family but it doesn't make this any easier. She is only 15 years old and this VERY grown-up decision she made is a final reality as that plane takes off from Kiev tomorrow.

Backtrack to Sunday, October 31 - the day we departed Severodonetsk. (Sorry, due to limited time, I have to skip Saturday which was the day we picked Sara up to stay with us at the hotel on Saturday night. Just suffice it to say, she held up really well considering she was sleeping somewhere besides her orphanage for the first time since she was in our home last December.) Sunday was as tough as I thought it would be. With the Amazing Sergei as chauffeur and translator, our first stop on the "day of tears" was the orphanage - for me, the toughest of the stops, or so I thought, because of the bond I have developed with Sara's friends after 3 weeks of seeing them every day. We went to Sara's room and ended up sitting in the hallway with her dear friends Olga and Ola as Sara walked through the hall saying goodbye to others in her class. (All the 9th graders sleep on the same hall - boys and girls.) While sitting in the hall, I snapped a picture created by Olga, Ola and Summer as they shaped hearts with their legs and their hands. It was a perfect creation for the moment as Sara passed us several times in the arms of different friends with tears streaming down her face. (See photo of their heart-shaped legs and hands - their idea, not mine.) A few minutes later, I snapped a photo of Sara with her closest friends (including Summer :-). (See photo of, left to right, Alaina, Christina, Sara, Olga, Summer and Ola.) These are the girls that I love - and I will cherish my memories of getting a hug from them EVERY time I saw them, laughing with them, playing cards with them and marveling in their strength in having risen above their circumstances. All of them, except Alaina :-(, will be coming to America as they are also being adopted by their host families so at least I have the opportunity to see them again. But, for this day of goodbyes, it still wasn't any easier to actually say goodbye. It was time to leave and all of these girls including a few others walked us to the car. The goodbyes came in multiples as Sara hugged each girl repeatedly and the tears flowed from her and from them. (See photo of best friends, Christina and Sara, in a lifting bear hug.) I felt like Summer and I got almost as many hugs as Sara, and like Sara, multiple ones from her closest friends. (See photos of Ola and Olga both signing the "I Love You" sign that I taught them.) FINALLY, we were able to get Sara in the car and it seemed as though she may have finally cried all that she could because she held up better than expected as we took off with girls waving behind us.

Well, actually, we quickly found out that Sara could cry a LOT more tears because we were now off to Larisa's house for a final goodbye with this amazing "teacher turned Momma." As I have said before, Larisa has been in Sara's life since she entered the orphanage at seven years old and she has a VERY special relationship with her, truly that of a mother. They both wanted to say goodbye one more time. We had the pleasure of enjoying her wonderful borscht soup again along with some cookies and hot tea, definitely the drink of choice in Kiev. Afterwards, the tears began to flow from both Sara and Larisa as we walked to the car and they both hugged and hugged and cried and then hugged and cried some more. It was a hard yet beautiful thing to behold. (See photo of the two in their last embrace.)

And, sadly, we had the hardest goodbye last. Sara wanted to say goodbye to her grandmother one last time. Her grandmother's town (and Sara's birthplace) was on the way to the airport so we went by there on the way. Despite my deep love for Sara's friends, my compassion and utter admiration go to this woman who was the only constant familial presence in Sara's life. The hardest tears to watch were those I observed at this most emotion-filled goodbye of all. This grandmother is making such a selfless sacrifice from her unconditional love for Sara!!!!! Can you imagine letting your only grandchild with whom you have a sustaining relationship go to another country with a family you have only met three times?????? This woman of God is giving Sara to us because she sees Sara's family IN US!!!! She wants Sara to have the life she deserves and that she was never able to have. My admiration of her selfless love is what made me feel SO overwhelmed with emotion as I watched them say goodbye. (See photo of Sara and Grandmother so fondly, and sadly, looking at each other followed by photo of the the two of them holding a framed photo that Sara gave her grandmother to remember her each day.) Then, hard it as it was, we drove away as Sara looked back several times. She continued to cry in the back seat for several miles while I held her hand from the front seat.

We then took the LONG 2 1/2 hour drive to Donetsk Airport. It was a fairly quiet ride as we listened to music in Russian, Sergei and I had a some conversations and Summer and Sara both fell asleep in the back seat - Sara's head was leaning forward and Summer's was leaning backward - too cute!! I wanted to take a picture so bad but I just didn't have the heart to wake them up with a flash! Again, we were on these long straight roads in the countryside but the only difference was that Sergei actually hit over 160 kilometers this time. Yikes! My hands were actually sweating! At the airport, we had some extra time so we enjoyed a light dinner - a final one with the delicious vareniks (like stuffed dumplings) that are a staple here and that I have grown to love in Ukraine! We also had an ice cream, always a favorite of both Sara and Summer. (See photo of them licking away.) And, worst of all, we had to say goodbye to Sergei, this man-of-many-talents who has been an invaluable aid for us in this process and who was my hero in getting this adoption not only completed but in an expeditious manner as well. I will truly miss him!!! (See photo of Sergei and me - note my coat and gloves INSIDE the airport because it was freezing in there!)

Yesterday (Monday) we had two adoption appointments in Kiev and, as I said above, we have our last one today. Then, sadly, we will have to go to sleep around 8:00 to 8:30 pm because I must get up at 2:45 am so we can get ready, get our 5 huge suitcases to the hotel lobby and then catch a cab for the 30 minute ride to the airport for our 6:45 am international flight. We should touch down in Columbia around 6:40 pm on Wednesday (we GAIN 7 hours on the way). I am SO excited to come home and am most especially excited about seeing Steve after 2 weeks of being apart!! I am coming home, honey - and so are your TWO daughters!!! I cannot WAIT to see your face at that airport on Wednesday evening! I will do another blog entry when we return to Columbia because I still have some final things to enter as a close-out of this amazing "Journey to Tatyana" that unexpectedly turned into our "Journey to Sara." Be sure to check back over the weekend for that final blog entry and some final photos as we return to Columbia and bring Sara home!!!!!

Know that God is good and that I have seen Him in EVERY step of this journey that He planned for us a very long time ago!


Saturday, October 30, 2010

FAST FORWARD...Sara Is A Jewell and We're Coming Home!

What a difference a day makes!!! As I write, I am hurried to get all of our family and friends this unexpected update and then hit the ground running with to-do's and errands. Yesterday, Friday, October 29, Summer and I joined Sergei on a day-long whirlwind trip that started at 8:30 am and ended at 7:45 pm. From the start, Sergei told me it would be a long-shot with trips through three different cities in this part of Ukraine to get all the needed documents to finalize our adoption of Sara including her new birth certificate (big smile) along with her passport. I will briefly take you through our trek that was the pivotal and final step in completing the official adoption portion of our "Journey to Tatyana." (I titled the blog before we were completely sure she wanted to be called Sara in America.) And I do have a few photos to document THE day we have been living for since January of this year because the spoiler is that we did actually accomplish this and will be leaving Severodonetsk earlier than planned. Read on for our new return schedule!!!

Our first stop was right here in Severodonetsk at the local Courthouse. Truly, this first stop was THE most exciting one because we would be picking up the final court decree declaring Sara as the daughter of Steve and Sunny Jewell. Sergei said congratulations as he handed me the decree and I had two overwhelming feelings - one of joy and one of relief that finally this drawn-out process was coming to an end. (See photo of Summer and I outside the courthouse holding the official court decree saying that Sara is a Jewell! Sorry, about the dark photo but it was the only one I had.) Once in the car, I was mesmerized by this document covered with Ukrainian words that said I was a new Mom - of a teenager!!!! (See photo of the top page of the court decree. The words at the top say "Decree - In the Name of Ukraine." It was a surreal moment just remembering when I first saw her picture on the hosting website last October and feeling this instant connection with her - from a photograph! And now, here I am one year later in Ukraine holding the document that says she is my daughter! I felt humbled, overwhelmed with emotion and oh so thankful to my God for revealing his plan for our lives and, more importantly, for Sara's life through a photograph of a then 14-year-old redhead who was to be ours a mere one year later. WOW!

We then drove about 30 minutes to Sara's birthplace of Lisichansk to the Vital Records office. As a follow-up to the court decree, they would be issuing a new birth certificate listing Steve and I as the parents and doing so under Sara's new name, Tatyana Sara Jewell. "Sergei the Great" (my fond term for him) did ALL the work as Summer and I sat in an incredibly cold lobby (everyone - all Ukrainian besides us - still had on their coats, hats and even gloves following a VERY cold night). Ms. Palen and Mr. Acquisto, you will be glad to know that we brought schoolwork along so Summer could work on it while we waited which ended up being well over an hour. I then went in to sign my name on the new birth certificate and, when the woman handed the certificate to Sergei, she looked at me and said, "Congratulations," in Russian and even smiled, a rarity in Ukraine. We then drove back to Severodonetsk and went to a tax inspector's office to get a new Tax ID number for Sara as is required. Next, it was on to a local office to begin the first step of acquiring Sara's passport to go home to America (I like the sound of that). After a good bit of waiting, we had a document we needed to now take to the orphanage for the director's signature which releases her from the orphanage. We drove to the orphanage and waited again since the director was at lunch. (See photo of Sergei filling out documents while we waited followed by a photo of me holding up the passport paperwork with Sara's photo on it.) The director returned from lunch and we got the signature along with some sage advice, well wishes, positive comments about Sara's good heart and talents in dancing and then we even got a hug from her.

Then we returned to the local passport office to pick up a woman from there who would accompany us to Lugansk where Sara's actual passport would have to be approved and created. It was a long 1 hour 15 minute drive because we were already tired (especially me because I did not sleep well the night before). Summer was a trooper reading a book and not complaining even once. I was VERY proud of how she handled this day filled with travel and errands. This woman, Olga, would be helping us try to expedite the creation of the passport since it was Friday and she had appointments on Monday that would make travel to Lugansk more challenging thereby possibly delaying our trip to Kiev. She joined us on the nail-biting trip to Lugansk over bumpy roads in need of repair on which cars, including ours, can go VERY fast because these are fairly straight roads through countryside and police are a rarity. I don't know how kilometers convert to miles but Sergei's speedometer said we were going just over 120 kilometers an hour! All I know is that it felt VERY fast but he assured me that it was normal for this strip of road. I was just happy to arrive in Lugansk! We arrived there at 3:45 pm so time was getting tight but Olga became my hero! She got it done and then we were on our way back to Severodonetsk at 5:15 pm. More nail-biting ensued as we sped our way back to Severodonetsk because 30 minutes into the trip, we were speeding back through the same roads but in the dark. I just said a few prayers and remembered that Sergei has been my personal angel throughout this process and that he would get us back safely. And he did!

We now needed to head to the orphanage to share the good news with Sara that our adoption and passport processes are now complete and we can arrange a flight out this weekend. At the orphanage, we found out that all of her class had gone with Larisa and another teacher to a big show in the town square with a huge stage, mammoth & LOUD speakers, dancers, singers and even a hot air balloon (found out it was a "political celebration" all funded by one candidate for some office - interesting!). We headed there and found Larisa and the kids minus Sara and two of her friends. I then found out that Sara was actually dancing in the show and would soon be on stage. It had to have been below 30 degrees and we were freezing as we waited patiently through a number of other dances and two singers to finally see Sara. (See photo of two of the dances which were traditional types of local dances in beautiful Ukrainian costumes.) And just when I thought we couldn't take the cold anymore, out came my Sara with her almost waist-long standard pony tail and, as usual, it was hard to watch anyone but her. I tried to take photos but, sadly, my camera battery decided it would run low and not allow me take lots of photos!!! I was able to get one barely-decent photo. (See photo of Sara's dance. She is the far-right dancer in the blurriness - sorry!) She astounded me with her usual gift of dance but then my astonishment went a few steps further when she did a gymnastics move tumbling across the stage - what?!? I didn't know she could do that! She continues to surprise and delight!

We took her and her two friends back to the orphanage but, on the walk to the car and throughout the car ride, there was almost non-stop crying and sniffles because Sara had said goodbye to some of her dance class friends after the show. Her other two friends tried to comfort her but, in the process, started crying themselves. They were in the back seat while I was in the front and all I wanted to do was get to the school so I could hug her - which is exactly what I did. Then, when we entered the orphanage, I had to break the news to her that we would likely be taking a plane to Kiev on Sunday rather than Tuesday as we had originally thought. I had given her a heads up the day before that, according to Sergei, this would be a slight possibility but, with our unexpectedly successful day, the "slight" had turned into "definite." As her friends stood nearby, she cried some more (as did they) at the realization that the final goodbye was only 24 hours away since we would be returning tomorrow (Saturday) to pick her up for some errands and then she would be going to the hotel with us to spend the night. Goodbye would now be tomorrow, not Tuesday. Whew!

As I write, it is 12:30 pm on Saturday and we will be picking Sara up at 1:30 pm at the orphanage. I have been dreading this since we arrived in Ukraine and it will be even harder than I anticipated because Sara will be leaving the only family she has known she was seven years old. These girls have all shared their unfortunate pasts, their childhoods and now their early teen years. They are truly like sisters and Larisa has been like Sara's Mom and now she must leave them and set out on a new family journey in another country. The strength this takes for a 15 year old to do this is incredible but, today, this strength will turn to utter sadness and streams and streams of tears from her and these incredible girls whom I have grown to love.

Our flight out of Donetsk (airport about 2 hours away from Severodonetsk) is at 7:30 pm on Sunday arriving in Kiev at 8:45 pm. We have appointments in Kiev at the Ukrainian Consulate and at the U.S. Embassy on Monday and Tuesday at an almost non-stop pace. I have rescheduled our flights to leave from Kiev and head back to The States beginning at 6:45 am (yikes!!) on Wednesday, November 3 because this was the ONLY flight that got us out on Wednesday - and I am SOOOO ready to be home. We will arrive at the Columbia Airport on Wednesday at 6:42 pm - exhausted and emotional with a mixture of sad (goodbye friends in Ukraine) and happy (hello, America and the future Sara has dreamed of). I hope to do another post or two from Kiev with more photos that I didn't get a chance to post. This has been an amazing experience for which I truly thank God and it is hard to believe it is almost over. When I think of getting on that plane in Columbia on September 30, it seems SO long ago! When I think of coming home, it can't get here soon enough!

No time for a teaser because I have to get to the orphanage for the tears and hugs - and our new beginning as a family as Steve, Sunny, Summer - and Sara!!! The Four S's! Keep checking the blog for any update from Kiev and even a follow-up or two once we have returned home.

Sunny (Officially "Sara's Mom!")

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Last Supper

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - Sadly, Summer and I shared our first breakfast alone since our arrival in Severodonetsk since Moises and Julia will be with Sergei all day today running various adoption errands on their last full day here :-( ! After breakfast, we once again returned to the classroom in Room 209 for hotel-schooling. Around 1:00 pm, we left to run an errand for Sara. She requested that I have some photos printed that we both had taken during our time here so far that she could give her friends. I was more than happy to do this so Summer and I left the hotel and, on our way, we passed the orphanage so I snapped a photo of Summer in front of a statue that sits right outside the gate. (See photo of Summer at statue with orphanage in the background.) And, at this point, I can go ahead and answer yesterday's teaser. And what do flowers, popcorn, liver and Snickers bars have in common? You should know the answer if you have been keeping up with my blogs because, if you have, you should recognize this question as similar to one from a previous teaser in a previous entry. The answer is...drum roll..."The Market." You know, remember "The Market" where I snapped the photo of the woman holding up a cow's head for sale amongst a variety of other raw meats piled upon table after table after table. The FDA would have a field day at this place! It is nothing like you have EVER seen in America. It is kind of like The Farmer's Market, a humongous butcher shop, Big Lots, Walmart and the Barnyard Flea Market all rolled into one but with everything on indoor tables or crammed in outdoor booths that are jammed up against each other with just enough room between them for a dirt aisle for people to walk. It is oddly fascinating and I highly recommend it the next time you are in Severodonetsk :-).

After a 25-minute walk, Summer and I finally made it to "The Market" where we went to the photo shop and encountered a nice young lady who actually could speak enough English to help us - what a relief! Unfortunately, the photo list that Sara gave me had photo numbers on it that did not match the numbers actually on the photo card. I had them print the photos I could remember her singling out but that left plenty more that I couldn't. We would need to return with Sara in tow to complete this assignment. After a 30-minute wait spent perusing the bizarre bazaar, we picked up the prints and headed back for the orphanage for our visiting time with Sara. We spent our time there hanging out in Sara's room talking with Sara, Christina and sweet Ola. (See photo of me and Ola hugging, as Ola loves to do.) Ola and Summer have become big buddies. Ola just seems to get Summer and loves to have her around. (See photo of Summer and Ola hamming it up followed by photo of Summer scaring Ola after she left the room and returned.) We then decided to play spoons in Olga's room next door. (See photo of Christina, Olga, Sara & Summer on the floor while playing spoons followed by a photo of Sara laying on a bed watching the game once she was out.)

Summer and I left and then met up with Sergei, Moises and Julia for our Last Supper together (boo-hoo!). We went to Brava which is the pizza place that we took 35+ of the orphanage kids to for a pizza party earlier in our stay. We chose this place again because there is nothing like the combination of pizza and cigarette smoke! Ahhhh...I can still smell it - all over me that is! There are no enforced restrictions in Ukraine for smoking in restaurants and this place is the "poster child" for why there should be restrictions. We made it through and even got a couple of good photos that came out despite the cloud of smoke - ha! (See photo of Moises, Julia, me and Summer.)

When Summer and I returned to the hotel room, we did our nightly routine of playing cards for an hour or so before her bedtime. As usual, we first played a single player game that Steve taught us a while back by playing a couple of rounds with her playing, then me, etc. to see who ends up with the least amount of cards, which is the object of the game. The ultimate object of the game is run out of ALL of your cards which is VERY rare. I have been playing this game for years and Summer just learned this game since coming to Severodonetsk. I have never run out of cards and, on this night, Summer RAN OUT OF CARDS! I wish you could have seen her face!! Because I didn't have the camera on to capture the exact face at the exact moment, Summer did a reenactment for you all within minutes of her big win. (See joyous Summer as she relives the moment just for you!) We then played two rounds of "Go Fish" and then had some fun taking photos of ourselves. (See photo of Mommy and daughter - just try to ignore the close-up of my wrinkles - where is a filter when you need one?)

Teaser For Today - Why should you sell your car?? I will tell you tomorrow when I share my sage advice and...the rest of the story...!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Heart to Heart, A Grandmother & A Photo Session

Saturday, October 23 - Monday, October 25 - Since we are in the middle of our 10-day waiting period since our court case was heard and our adoption of Sara was approved, I am trying to put 2 or 3 days of entries in one post so here is a synopsis of these 3 days. On Saturday, after breakfast and hotel-schooling, we had our daily visit with Sara at the orphanage. I had taken my laptop because Summer and I had scheduled a Skype call with Steve while still at the hotel; however, the day before we had arranged with Sara to arrive early for our visit time so we could surprise Steve and have her in on the call. And boy did we surprise him. I slowly moved the laptop camera over to her and he was so elated and Sara was obviously happy to see him. (See photo of Steve's Skype smile on my laptop.) Sweet Ola was in the room with us and I encouraged her to come to the laptop so Steve could see her. At first, she was shy and reluctant but then she did move the laptop and say hello. (See photo of the shy sweet Ola before she leaned into the laptop.) We had a great call with Steve and I think he enjoyed it even more than we did because he is missing not only Summer and I but Sara and her friends as well.

On the large majority of days, like today, we go to Sara's room for our visiting time. One, two or even three of her friends are typically in her room with us which is crowded since her room is maybe 10 feet X 12 feet and has 3 beds in it with each against 1 of the 4 walls. After the Skype call, Summer and sweet Ola had gone to the nearby recreation room to dance to some music and Sara's other friends were not around. I had Sara all to myself and I had her for a good 35 to 45 minutes with no interruption which is rare because there are scores of roaming kids (boys and girls) on her hall. Our time together was wonderful! We had our first really great heart-to-heart talk with her understanding enough of my English that she could answer questions, etc. She really opened up and asked lots of questions about going to school in America and expressed her anxiety about it, etc. She did confirm that she understands that these concerns will get more and more relieved with each passing day once she returns there. She has a really good command of basic English but still continues to struggle with sentences longer than 7 or 8 words but she continues to improve with each day that she spends with us. At one point when I was encouraging her about her good English, she asked for my Russian to English/English to Russian dictionary and pointed to the word "shy" saying that she is shy to speak too much English around others because she isn't sure she is saying the right thing. I told her how well I was understanding her and encouraged her to speak around others because she is doing better than she realizes. She seems comfortable talking around me, particularly this day when we were alone, but I do think she will hesitate to use her English around others when we return. So...if you are one of those who will be seeing Sara once we are back in Lexington, keep in mind that she may be very quiet and shy but that she is listening and understanding a decent amount of what you say but she will be shy to respond because she is still uncomfortable with her English.

On Sunday, Summer and I got up earlier than usual, had breakfast with Moises (I call him my surrogate husband now that Steve is gone and we share all meals together) and then Summer and I headed for a short visit to Sara's orphanage. Her grandmother has been wanting to visit her one last time before Sara leaves for America. We arrived and Grandmother seemed truly happy to see us. She is such a humble and loving woman and she welcomed us with a warm and lingering hug as she mumbled Russian words of affection. (See photo of Sara and Grandmother followed by a photo of all four of us.) We had Sara translate several reinforcing messages to her about how much we love Sara and will take good care of her. We left a gift with her and told Sara we would return for the afternoon visiting hours. As we walked out, we were greeted by Cujo the Dog and "The Cat," both of whom just hang out at the door to the orphanage. Summer just loves these two and always has soft words and a petting for each of them. (See the two photos of Summer petting each of them.) When we arrived back at the orphanage, Sara wasn't there but we found Olga and Ola, two of Sara's closest friends, watching a Taylor Swift video. (See photo of Olga with Taylor Swift video behind her.) As I said before, the kids at this orphanage love anything American. We see them wearing clothing from American stores, wearing American brand shoes, loving American music and more. The girls love not only Taylor Swift but also also Hannah Montana, Rhianna, Avril Lavigne, Justin Beiber and they even still love High School Musical and all of its stars. Sara returned from an errand with friends and then I got her to try on some clothes and shoes I had bought her in America. Believe it or not, I don't believe this child has grown one iota since we hosted her in December 2009! I bought everything one size bigger and virtually everything was too big. The shoes actually fit but I will be returning much of what I bought for sizes 3 or 5 and most likely in petites since the pants were 5 to 6 INCHES too long! And she's 15...and her 10-year-old sister is now 2 inches taller than her!

On Monday, we had a great day - and, sadly, I don't have even one photo to back-up my claim!! My camera card was full and I did not have time to purchase a new one before the Monday fun. So you will just have to use your imagination. Monday was a GORGEOUS Fall day here in Severodonetsk, Ukraine! The sun was out and it was in the upper 50's and the yellow and orange leaves were falling out of the trees in beautiful streams with the help of the light breeze. Summer and I walked to the orphanage to attend a party organized by Moises for the three kids on our girls' hall who were celebrating their birthdays in October. Moises brought the cake and teachers/caregivers Larisa and Irina provided "blue fruit hot tea" for us all. (The kids here ALL drink hot tea - it is a popular drink in Ukraine.) There were 5 adults and probably 15 kids as we sang "Happy Birthday" in English and then chowed down on some cake and sipped some tea.

After that, Larisa's daughter took Sara, Summer and I along with six of Sara's friends outside to take professional-type photos of the girls out in the Fall-colored surroundings. We must have walked for at least two miles total as we scouted for picturesque locations for the pictures - and boy did we find them amongst the old buildings and tree-lined streets! The girls posed leaning on trees, up in trees, on walls, on houses, behind rusting fences, on steps, on the leaf-covered ground and in one-girl photos, pairs, trios and groups. They were too cute but, let me tell you, they take their photos seriously. A couple of the girls had changed into dresses for the photos and sweet Ola even had a pair of high heels in her bag that she slipped on for a few photos. And my Sara had her gorgeous l-o-n-g red hair flowing throughout - but, as soon as the photo session was over, her hair was up in its trademark ponytail! Then we had to take the long walk back to the orphanage and the group split into two groups. My group was Sara, Christina and Galla. We chatted and laughed as we walked and before long I felt Sara's hand slip into mine and we walked hand-in-hand! All together now...awwwwww! I soon brought up something about not having any ice cream yet since we arrived in Ukraine. Sara marched our group to the nearest store and bought me an ice cream - which was delish! As we walked more, we began talking about that there is no "th" sound in Russian. I began an English lesson on how to pronounce "th" and began to give example words for them to practice such as "Thursday" and "three." It was too adorable! These girls kept saying "Sursday" and "sree." After many, many practices, I finally had to settle for a couple of mildly successful "Tursdays" and "trees." It was indeed a fun day with a great group of girls with whom I have grown attached and hope that I will be blessed enough to see again when our adventure here is over!! Monday ended with another delicious dinner at Istanbulista with the Amazing Chef Sirhan and the wonderful return company of Sergei (yea!) and not only Moises but his new DAUGHTER Julia! YEA! And all is well in Ukraine!!

So what do fragrant flowers, smelly fish, popcorn, Snickers bars and liver have in common? I guess you will find out when you read the next blog entry and then you will have...the rest of the story.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sara Smiles ...and Cries: A Fond Farewell

Thursday, October 21 and Friday, October 22 - Thankfully, Thursday was a fairly quiet day because I have SO many photos and comments to share about our exciting and emotional Friday. Here's Thursday in a nutshell - breakfast with Moises, hotel-schooling for hours, a walk to the orphanage, helped Ola talk to her "host mother"/soon-to-be mother on Skype, visited with Sara, returned to hotel to have our first Skype with Steve since his return which lasted well over one hour and then met Moises in the hotel restaurant for dinner. I will also answer the last teaser before moving on to Friday's festivities. When your spouse has traveled over 5,000 miles to return home after you have spent 3 weeks together without interruption in a foreign country, what do you talk about for over one hour on Skype? Bills! That's right - life went on and there are actually companies who think we should still pay them even though we weren't there to use their services - the nerve!! HA!

On Friday morning, we were very excited about the day ahead! Sara had told us about a week after we arrived in Ukraine that her school was planning a big show and celebration on October 22 and that part of the show would be saying goodbye to her and to Julia (the Antenucci's child-to-be). The show would involve a puppet show, comedic monologues and skits, singing, and lots of dancing which would mean Sara would be on the stage a lot - yea! The show involved the entire 9th grade class which, at the Ukrainian orphanages, is the last year of school. (After 9th grade, these 15-year-old children must leave the orphanage and most attend trade school.) Moises, Summer and I arrived early to get upfront seats. The rest of the audience would be staff, teachers and the other children of the orphanage. The first photo I took was of these adorable little girls sitting behind me who seemed intrigued with Summer and me. They stared a lot and one even tried to talk to us until she learned we couldn't speak Russian. (See photo of 3 little girls.) I just couldn't help but wonder about how these cute and oh-so-little girls ended up here and what their futures will or won't be. My heart just went out to them!!

And then the show began (and continued throughout) with lots of Russian that Summer and I couldn't understand but we didn't care either because all we wanted was to see was Sara! After some comedic routines and a puppet show, out came Sara in that beautiful white dress that I first saw her in on Tuesday in her room. She was absolutely glowing and I captured the most beautiful photo of her as she danced a formal ballroom dance. (See my sunlit Sara looking like an angel as she gazes out the window during her first dance.) Just a minute later, I snapped another photo that ended up becoming Sara's favorite. (See photo of Sara still in the white dress in a graceful dance pose with her lovely locks of hair showing.) After this first dance, Sara danced again and again, played guitar as a trio sang and then sang in the finale during which everyone in the show stood on stage and sang an emotional song (alma mater?) about their school/orphanage that had many on stage crying - especially Sara, her friends and her teachers. (See video clip of this emotional finale at the bottom of this blog entry IF I got it to post - by my blog "preview,", it wouldn't post.)

Here are the captions of the remaining photos from the show:
a) Dance in striped shirts - Sara's closest friends (left to right) are Alainia, Olga, Christina and Ola; b) Sara in the same striped-shirt dance as she danced past me with a big smile; c) Sara wearing an elegant black dress while dancing with Nikita (being adopted by a family in Oregon) whom she has danced with for years; d) Sara speaking about her time at the school/orphanage; e) Sara playing guitar opposite one of her teachers as her friends Alainia, Christina and Nastya sing; f) Sara looking beautiful on her toes in another dance; g) Sara still looked beautiful in green as she belly danced; and, h) Sara receiving recognition and balloons from her crying dance teacher.

After the finale song, everyone began to hug and cry and cry and hug. Even Summer was crying because there were so many tears flowing around us that she came over for a hug and cried on my shoulder. It was especially hard for me to watch Sara cry because I knew it represented all the emotions attached with leaving the only family she has known since she entered this place at seven years old. All the friends and the special teachers in her life were on this stage hugging her and knowing that she will soon be leaving. Our weeks here have attached me to these special friends, teachers and mentors who have shaped Sara into who she is. I will deeply miss each and every one of them and I am not looking forward to the day that I must say goodbye to them.

As things wrapped up and crying subsided into sniffles, a huge group photo was taken on stage of all those in and involved in the show. Summer and I were greatly honored when we were asked to join the photo. We felt like part of this special family in Severodonetsk, Ukraine! Following the photo, Moises & Julia and Summer, Sara and I were asked to go to the orphanage director's office. As you will recall, when we first arrived and saw Tatyana the first time, we met with the deputy director. Now the actual director was back and wanted a final meeting with us. Poor Moises was the only man in the room as the director, deputy director, another school official and two teachers (all female) began to speak Russian to each other, to our two girls and occasionally towards us. We had no idea what was being said in our 10-minute meeting but we know the director was smiling so we assumed we should just smile back. We shared our thanks and departed. So ten Sara-dances later and after a meeting in which we have no idea what was said, we left the orphanage filled with love for our girls and feeling like we are now really getting closer to completing these adoptions!

And, because I am typing this at 11:45 pm, I have no brain cells left to come up with a teaser. I am SO sorry to disappoint you - ha! Don't forget to check out the video of the show's finale song below (again, IF it posted, if not, sorry) and witness the emotion I described above with the camera focused on Sara who also shed her share of tears.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Goodbye, Steve :-( ...And Now We Wait!

Tuesday, October 19 and Wednesday, October 20 - On Tuesday, we lost the wonderful company of both Steve (boo-hoo!) and Sergei because Sergei drove Steve 2 1/2 hours to the airport and then drove several more hours to his home to spend almost a week with his wife and child. It is going to be tough for Summer and me without Steve because he has been like our rock of normalcy and support and, sadly, our family will now be apart for two weeks (double boo-hoo)!! Steve and I have never been apart for more than a week so this will be an exercise in strength and pure will. So our original breakfast-and-dinner group of 6 is now down to 3 - Moises, Summer and me.

Tuesday also starts our required 10-day waiting period for the adoption to be complete. This period allows anyone who may have reason to object to our adoption of Sara to do so, but we certainly do not anticipate this. According to Sergei, our tentative schedule for our remaining time here is as follows. Our 10-day waiting period is complete at midnight on Thursday, October 28. We complete final paperwork on Friday the 29th and MAY even be allowed to "withdraw" Sara from the orphanage and then have her with us at the hotel for the remainder of our time here - and I really hope this happens so she can have some time away from the orphanage (i.e., her friends and Larisa) but still be able to visit before she boards the plane to America. Sergei tells us that no government work happens on Saturday and Sunday in Ukraine so those are basically lost days other than buying Sara some clothes, shoes and personal items because she will likely leave the orphanage with only the clothes on her back and some photos, personal mementos, etc. (Side note: Clothing, shoes and accessories are community property at the orphanage. We bought Sara a good bit of clothing, etc. when we hosted her and I have seen these clothes, etc. on many other girls during my visits.) On Monday, November 1, we should get the final court decree and, on Tuesday the 2nd, we will get her passport done. Our tentative departure date will be Wednesday, November 3 when we will fly to Kiev, Ukraine and stay for 2 more days to complete a required physical exam, go to the U.S. Embassy to submit paperwork and to get her visa to travel to the U.S. My hope is that we will fly out of Kiev and head for America on Friday, November 5 - but, again, all this is tentative.

So, this morning, Summer and I had our first breakfast for three with Moises. Our conversation began with Moises and I commiserating about both of us now being without our spouses. Inspired by our commiseration, Summer had a great photo idea. (See photo depicting the commiseration.) Conversation flowed during breakfast and then it was off to school for Summer. That's right! Now that our waiting period has begun, Steve is gone and we have no adoption errands to run, Summer will be home schooled (or should I say hotel-schooled - ha!). Her two teachers gave me all the materials needed to try to keep her up with her 5th grade classwork. So we got out the books, notebooks, paper and pencil and got started.

Later that afternoon, we walked to the orphanage in a cold rain, received our usual enveloping but tender hug from Sara and then went to her room with sweet Ola. After a few minutes, Sara said she would be right back and left with no explanation. I thought this odd but we started playing Uno with Ola. After about 20 minutes, the room door opened and what I saw took my breath away. Sara left the room looking like a teen in jeans and a ponytail and now entered with her long flowing hair and a gorgeous all-white satin floor-length dress with swirls of frills looking like a young woman or, better yet, a princess or...gulp...a bride! (See photo of Princess Ariel, Sara's favorite princess, wink, looking like she's about to marry Prince Eric followed by a photo Sara & me as I beam like a proud Mom.) She was so stunning, even without a stitch of make-up on (must be nice, huh, ladies?). Sara changed and joined in on the Uno game. Every time she fed me a card that meant I had to draw more cards she would say, "Sorry, Mom." I was filled to the brim with love and pride!! After our visit, we had dinner with Moises at the hotel restaurant (which is really good, by the way) because it was still cold and rainy! Being the snow lover that I am, I keep hoping for a few snowflakes before I leave but that is not likely since I have been told that the first snow is usually in November.

On Wednesday, we woke up to...that's right...more cold and more rain! We had our usual breakfast with Moises then hotel-schooling for 3 1/2 hours. At 2:30 pm, Summer had an appointment with her teacher to Skype with her class. She was SOOOO excited! The call connected and on the screen appeared her entire class seated on the floor of their classroom and all waving at her as they watched her on their Smartboard screen. (See photo of Summer during the Skype call.) Her classmates asked questions including what her favorite Ukrainian food was so far (and like all 10-year-olds she said ice cream) and what her favorite thing she has done/seen (the monastery and catacombs in Kiev). Running late to make our visiting hours, we then rushed off to see Sara in what was now, thankfully, only a cold drizzle. Summer and I walked arm in arm under one umbrella for our eight-minute walk to the orphanage. About halfway, a stray dog (I told you strays are everywhere) trotted past us. We continued to walk and after a while, when I turned to look at something, I could see out the corner of my eye that this same stray dog was walking almost on her heels. At first, we were a little scared because Summer had a close encounter with a vicious stray dog in Kiev. However, after a few blocks, he was still behind us and we were still in one piece so we no longer felt afraid. As we approached the building we became concerned that this rather large dog was going to attract the attentions of Cujo (remember the fearless mutt of a dog that guards the orphanage entrance). Indeed he did and out came Cujo teeth fully bared and ready to attack this trespassing stray that was 3 times his size. Long story short, there was back-and-forth growling and baring of teeth, a few snaps and one of the stray's snaps must have braised or frightened Cujo because he retreated. I am not sure if Cujo just loves his home on the orphanage stoop or if he is protecting these children but I like to think he is protecting the children. And , in this case, I think he was protecting us.

As we walked into the orphanage, Sara was coming down the stairs so we hugged and walked to her room. (See photo of Sara's one and only counter space and the photos she keeps on it - awwww!) We spent time talking about America, what clothes (if any) and other things she will bring to America, etc. Sadly, since we had arrived late and she had a 4:00 pm rehearsal for a Friday program you will learn about in the next blog entry, we only had a short visit. We then met Moises at the orphanage entrance and walked probably a mile or more to the wonderful Istanbulista restaurant which we had eaten at before and loved. (See photo of Summer and Moises as we walked to the restaurant.) The owner/chef, Sirhan, and his wife, Olga (the only waitress) greeted us at the door. (See photo of Sirhan and Olga.) As I said before, Sirhan has taught himself a good bit of English and, each time we go, he recommends dishes he thinks we will like and he has been spot on every time. This place is a gem and we just LOVE the food here. Moises and I both had THE most delicious baklava we have EVER had anywhere. Sirhan said it takes him 11 hours to prepare it and it tasted like it. It was better than ANY baklava I have had anywhere!

Regarding the last teaser, what DO the words "spasibo" ("thank you" in Russian) and "procedure" have in common? The answer relates to a running joke that started between the Jewells and the Antenuccis (Moises and Jamie). Steve used his Russian one night in front of Jamie to say thank you to a waitress. The correct pronunciation is "spah-SEE-bah" but Jamie got tickled and repeated the word in Steve's southern accent saying "spah-see-BURR." A few days later he said "adoption procedure" and again got ribbed as saying "prah-SEE-jure." It has been an ongoing joke since then and Moises, Summer and I are honoring Steve's memory by continuing the joke. Speaking of Steve, he and I will be the subject of my teaser for today. When your spouse has traveled over 5,000 miles and gone home after you have spent 3 weeks together with no interruption in a foreign country as you work on expanding your family through adoption, what do you talk about for over one hour on Skype? Tune in next time...for the rest of the story!