Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Things are starting to look up around here. The ringer on the phone was initially chosen because it souned like a melodramatic, kinda funny, Ukranian Polka. With all the bad news we have gotten lately, it was starting to sound like the Ukranian version theme song to The Godfather.

Right now, Ruslan is staying with us again. He has no school and everything is closed for the holiday. We are not sure what we will do for the next 10 days with him. There is nothing to do here. We have asked a lot of people and everyone says there is nothing for kids to do. Ruslan doesn't care, he really likes to stay at home and watch tv and play with the Ipod. I think he is just a little scared of the outside world. We need to be patient.

We went bowling today. We got a few strikes. Ruslan refused to play. I won, Voss came in second and Zenon lost. They give you socks here to wear with your bowling shoes. Voss kept his. They have everyone throw them out when they are done. I don't know why I think that is strange. I felt like taking the whole garbage can filled with socks to the orphanage. You can also have a full meal in the bowling alley complete with a white tablecloth. Humm? It's like a dinner club.

Tomorrow, who knows what we will do. Who knows what Ruslan is thinking. In typical guy fashion, he does not talk about his feelings. He seems to be happy at our Ukranian house. He has eaten about 30 tangerines today. Good thing I misunderstood what the woman at the market asked me yesterday and said "yes" to 2 kilos of tangerines. Zenon was wondering what we were going to do with them.

I have some great video of us doing the shot of cognac with the director.




Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I for one woke with that knot in my stomach again. I managed to get internet poker to work so I have at least some entertainment. I don't feel as bad wasting my time here doing nothing.

Cindy and Voss did some school work.

It was 10 am and no word from Vitali. We actually heard yesterday that an option was for Andrei to write the consent and fax it here. The local authorities are feeling for us and laxing the requirements to see if it wont help. ...but of course we need to find what motivates Andrei. Vitali said he would call with any news. No news to this point was bad news.

We decided to go for a walk and left by 11. We walked a few miles to a greek cafe called Foros for a cappucino and something to do. Great cappucinos. Cindy has been super positive about everything and she has helped to keep my spirits up. It helped because I got my mind off of things.

We were just leaving the cafe and alas, a phone call from Vitali.

"Where are you?"
"at Foros Cafe"
"don't move and I will be there in 5 minutes"

What? He didn't have the end of the world sound in his voice.

5 minutes later he rounded the corner and had a smile on his face. I have never seen him smile.

The brother was in town, not 3 hours away like he said, and he came in and signed the consent.

We are back in business!

After the Weekend

The weekend was great. Voss had been complaining for a playmate for quite some time and having it be his future brother was almost too good to be true. All the boys wanted to do all weekend was watch tv, play with the remote control car, play video games, andthen back again. It was more like Ruslan would do something, Voss would se him doing it, Voss would want to do it, then Ruslan would give it up and move onto the next thing.

Ruslan was impatient at first. Voss was constantly in his face. ....but towards the end of day 2 they were playing hide and seek together. Comical to watch because they traded btween 2 hiding spots for 2 hours yet still had trouble finding each other. Must get that from Cindy ;-)

On Monday morning it was time to take Ruslan back and meet the brothers to sign the consent letters. We arrived at the orphanage and guess what. No brothers. Not good.

No one was doing or saying anything about it. We called Vitali. He said lets meet. We met for a coffee and hashed out the options and discussed where everything stood.

The problem is that the clock is ticking. Obviously we cannot stay here indefinitely. Monday is 3 days before offices start closing and each step cannot be done in tandem but in series wating for the previous step to finish. Apparently Andrei, the brother, left for Mariupol which is a 3 hour drive to get back to school. We said that he would not be back in town until January 5th to sign the consent. End of story. We offerred to pay his transportation and pay for his troubles but he wanted no part of that. Dead end.

We went home after this set back and started to discuss our options which include coming back home and waiting for progress over here. We still are optimistic that this will all get done.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day - Friday

It felt like waking up with a hangover. Maybe it was a hangover.

Normal morning routine. Coffee.

As depressing at it was we really kept a positive outlook. Our support network, Vitali (the pessimist who I could tell was worried), and Henry (the Russian/Ukrainian sunflower farmer by summer and cab driver by winter is the optimist) had some upbeat advice on the ride home yesterday. Today I held off on talking to Vitali as long as possible. He has a habit of making the best news in the world sound like a death sentence so I didn't want to hear bad news. I finally caved at 11 (he said he'd call by 10) and he said nothing yet. He concluded that he expected the worst. I didn't share this with Cindy. She said she felt good about our prospects. Vitali expected to call us back around 2 when the brothers would call.

We walked all afternoon and needed to be back at the apartment at 1 p.m. for a visit by Svateh Nikoli (Ukrainian Santa). We made it back by 12:55. There was a 60 year old lady shovelling our walkway. She looked tired. I told her to sit while I finished. She was surprised but very thankful. Santa arrived at 1:00.

Voss knew who it was. He came with a snow angel and a photographer. They gave Voss a gift and tried to join hands with him and dance in circles singing christmas carrolls. I thought it was strange. Voss wanted no part of it and hid behind his hands the whole time. The more he hid the more they sang christmas carols and danced in circles!

They were getting ready to leave. The phone rang. It was Vitali. He said "Zenon"
I said "yes"
He said is his most depressed voice "I have news"
I said "ok"
"Are you ready to go to the orphanage" it sounded like he had given up all hope.
"um, ok Vitali. Is this bad news?"
"Are you ready to pick Ruslan up and take him home for the weekend?"
"Vitali, this sounds like good news. Is it?"
"Yes, the brothers called and will come in on Monday to sign their consent"

WHAT? seriously. The guy could make a miracle sound like a tragedy. ....he actually just did.

That was the best christmas present ever.


Every day, we wake up to put on our layers: First the baby oil, then the lotion, our underwear, long underwear, our thin layers and then the wool layers, our socks, boots, coats, scarves, hats, Vaseline (on the face for wind protection), chapstick, gloves and finally we are ready to face the outside world. Some days, these layers are not enough protection. Some days, parts of us needed protection and we forgot to put on that layer. Today is Christmas. We are worn out in every way. We are trying celebrate the holiday and make it fun for Voss, but it is difficult. Celebrating is something we don't feel like doing right now. Please pray, meditate, visualize good things for us. We really need it.

Meeting on Thursday December 24th

Have you ever watched someone's heart get ripped out of their body and then be the one left holding it? Let me tell you what it feels like... Your own feelings completely evaporate and you can only feel that person's pain. It shoots straight into your own heart and you are completely connected to their sadness and fear at that moment. It is the most intense feeling of empathy that you will ever experience.

This is what happened to us two days ago. We had to meet with Ruslan's brother and ask for permission to adopt Ruslan. He would not give his consent nor would he give us a reason for not giving it.

Our hearts were broken.

The meeting with Ruslan's brother was scheduled for 10 a.m.. We did the typical routine and all made it to the orphanage for 10. Brother was late.

We sat in the library with Ruslan and his best friends Sasha, Kiril, and Vadim for what seemed like a very long time. They did well with just an ipod and nothing else for over an hour.

Finally the people started filing into the library. Vitali the translator, Elana the Orphanage Attorney, Svetlana the children's services rep, and finally Ruslan's brother. Immediately He said that he wanted to talk with Ruslan alone. So they left and we waited. The mood was good.

They returned and- for some reason -it just didn't feel right. We made sure that everyone was on the same page and put things in writing before we planned the trip out...but imagine you are a 17 year old who has lived in an orphanage who just recently had been released to live on your own. When I was 17, the only decisions I ever made were relatively meaningless. I was never asked if I would agree to have my brother move away and live with other people whom I had never met and maybe never see him again (of course we expect Ruslan to stay in touch with his brothers). How would I know what to think?

I could see things slipping away. We were trying to make small talk and explain a plan to keep in contact. We wanted his information. He said he had none. There was something not right. All the officials started talking more seriously with the brother. I could make out a few words here and there. No one was talking to me and Cindy. Ruslan and his brother were not making eye contact.

I interrupted. "What's the problem?"

Vitali "His brother says he will not give his consent. He won't say why. He says his decision is final"

It's hard to explain how we felt in that moment.
Disbelief? Cheated? Mad? Sad?
It was one of the biggest moments I have ever been apart of.

What could we say? How could we turn things around? This was not what everyone was expecting.

We composed ourselves and pleaded to Andrei. He would not be losing a brother, but gaining a family. Andrei made eye contact and listened, but he was not changing his decision.

So what did this mean? The courts take all things into consideration. They would like everyone to be happy with any arrangement. Ultimately, it is Ruslan's decision to make. Ruslan's loyalties were with his brother and not with the new family he had known for a short time. Ruslan said he would not give his consent to be adopted. His decision, like his brother's, was final.

Andrei was going to their other brother's house to discuss the situation. He said that he would call Friday morning and give his final answer. It didn't sound promising.

End of meeting. Andrei left. Ruslan left. We went straight to the cab. The situation seemed hopeless and although we didn't talk about it I am sure Cindy was thinking about the same contingency plans that I was thinking about.

We went back to the apartment. We bought some Ukranian food and beer. There wasn't much that was said on Christmas Eve.

Voss's Birthday!

Voss's 6th birthday

Top Ten List

of things brought from home that we never could have lived without in Ukraine

10. moisturizing things: body lotion, baby oil, hair conditioner, chapstick

9. Spices (Italian seasoning, green Zatar mix, basil)

8. English magazines brought from home

7. An IPOD with music and downloaded movies

6. Warm flannel pajamas for hanging out at the apartment (no one expects a woman giving birth to look sexy)

5. Ziplock bags

4. Boogey Wipes (moist towels you can get in the baby section of Walgreens)

3. LIQUID HAND SANITIZER!!!!! We brought the mini ones you can get at Bath and Body Works. You CAN NOT buy these here. Not even on the black market.

2. Love and support from our friends and family near and far.

1. Patience (or sanity)

Here are some honorable mentions. These are pretty much for someone who is high maintainence in these areas (which we can be).

-Starbuck's Via instant coffee packets

- deck of cards (Someone with a full deck is hard to find here. No pun intended)

- Thank you cards

- A Blackberry...this would have been near the top of our list, but we HAD to live without ours since it froze on us. Don't get the Blackberry Tour. There is no hard re-set!! Try to find a cell store anywhere in Ukraine who can fix that problem!

-peanut butter

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday December 23rd

We had plans for the driver to pick us up at 10. We made it to the orphanage at 11. Ruslan and his friends were outside waiting for us. All the boys immediately ran off with the sled. His close friends are Kirin 14, Sasha 13, and Vadine 13. They would not let Voss fall behind for the 4 hours we were with them. In fact all of the kids treated Voss really well the entire time and included him in everything. He loved every second.

The kids from the windows yesterday all came out for lunch at noon today. The sled was the hit of the party and all 20 of them were standing around watching, some taking turns. We were celebrities as well and all were trying their few words of english on us.

Ruslan was told a few times that he needed to go inside for some chores or something. He kept saying neh hachu (I don't want to). Well, he sure changed his mind when an orphanage lady came outside screaming for him to get in there. He dissappeared for 15 minutes.

Closer to us leaving, I made the mistake of throwing a snowball at one of the boys. Before I knew it there were 10 boys throwing snowballs at me. I was holding my own but one flanked my position- unbeknownced to me. I turned around and got hit square in the face. I had to call mercy and they all laughed.

Just before leaving, Ruslan came back out and joined the group of boys surrounding us. Up to this point, he seemed a little intimidated by the older boys- or maybe any attention -but he made an effort to be by us in front of everyone. Every boy had to shake mine and Cindy's hands as we left and help Voss into the car. They we all proudly saying good-bye in English. Ruslan hugged Cindy in front of everyone and we left.

Tomorrow was supposed to be a drive to Berdansk to talk with one of Ruslan's brothers, but instead it is back to the orphanage to talk with Ruslan's other brother and obtain his signed permission. We also have a plan to have internet installed tomorrow. If we do then you will know because you will finally be reading this.

Sledding at Orphanage


Ruslan Figuring out Video

Ruslan's Best Friends

Tuesday December 22nd

Internet is up and working so the next few posts are getting things back up to date!

Cindy and Voss woke at their usual time, 6:15. The cab driver was coming at the previously scheduled 8 a.m. so their was not enough time for Voss to do schoolwork this morning. After I showered with lukewarm water (not comfortable when the apartment only heats up to about 60) we received a call stating that the cab would arrive at 8:30. Voss helped me with the daily exercise program I have imposed on myself, 100 pushups, 50 situps, and 20 Voss curls. If I miss any then I make them up the next day. I am only behind 250 pushups right now ;-).

After the cab picked us up we went on to get Vitali. There was more paperwork to get at the orphanage and take to the local inspector. Vitali shared that the region were are in just happens to be the strictest region in Ukraine now, and toughest to adopt from. This is a recent development. A couple from Italy was adopting a child and after the courts waived the mandatory 10 day waiting period the child's bio grandmother protested after she was told the child's body parts would be sold. The Italian couple ran into snags as a result and wrote letters to anyone and everyone in Ukraine. Of course the result of letters isn't positive change in a country like this! So the point of this is that we cannot submit our paperwork to the court now until January 11th. From there we get an initial court date, wait the 10 working day wait period, andthen have the last court date. This all pushes our trip out a few weeks. This trip is different, we take it all in stride. Shoh toh boodeh, boodeh.

We arrived at the orphanage with a bottle of brandy and some cookies to give to the orphanage director. This was partly for entertainment and partly to grease the skids. We are asking to have Ruslan stay with us for the weekend. The director laughed and promised we would drink more but he was in a rush to leave. He also said there was another bottle to finish. He looked appreciative. The question was never asked about Ruslan so hopefully it is asked soon.

Word spread around the orphanage fast that we were there. Within about 5 minutes Ruslan popped his head around the corner. He was in school and I am sure didn't need much of an excuse to leave. We brought the sled, the one we got for Voss the previous day, so that Ruslan and Voss could play. One of Ruslan's friends joined them and they had a good time. There was a layer of ice on the snow so it made for good conditions. It was cute to see in the building across the field kid's faces pressed against the windows watching what was going on outside.

It's a mix of emotions visiting all these kids at the orphanage and you can't help them all. Most of them are beautiful kids and they seem to be so well behaved. I don't understand how these kids stay in the system for many years when they would be great candidates to get adopted. Something doesn't add up. ...but it seems like through experiences like the hosting program we were involved with (frontier horizons) these kids do get exposure and We heard the follow up adoption rate on these kids is something like 30-40 percent which is good to hear.

We couldn't stay long because the paperwork had to be back at the inspectors so we left after 15 minutes with Ruslan. Hurry up and wait is the name of the game. Ruslan gave us all a hug, he just loves hugging Cindy and saying bye to Voss. He does so well with Voss. We were talking afterwards about how he really helped Voss to "keep him in line" when Ruslan came to visit.

After we dropped off Vitali we took advantage of the taxi and went to the supermarket to stock up again. After shopping we asked the driver to take us to a place with something that resembled American food. We ended up at the same pizza chain that we frequented last trip. How can you beat a full pizza, a small coleslaw, 2 beers and a juice all for 50 grivna (6 bucks). Our experiences here in Melitopil are far different then what we saw on the last trip to Cherkassy. The people are friendly and helpful and they actually smile. For instance when I went to order the pizza I had no idea what to ask for since there were no pictures and I cannot read cyrillic. 3 girls behind the counter came to help and started laughing and poking fun at my mixture of English and Ruskrainian. The girl actually started talking to me in Ukrainian which seemed to be something out of the ordinary for her.

After lunch we walked through the outdoor market back towards where we are staying (about a 3 mile walk). We came across an old woman who commented that our girl's hair was nice. She was confused when we said his(her) name was Vosya. She said Vasylli? Who names a girl Vasylli? So she spoke to us in Russian for 15 minutes..... I returned in Ukrainian. It's amazing how you can have a conversation by just picking out every third word. She gave Voss Walnuts which he ate. So we bought a bag. Nearing the end there was a point where she started crossing herself like in church when she realized Voss was adopted from Ukrain but did not understand anything. We promised that Ruslan would reteach Voss to speak Ruslan and she seemed satisfied.

I was in bad need of a haircut so we stopped at a salon looking place. After waiting 10 minutes I received one of the best haircuts ever for $2.50. When I tipped her $1 she looked confused and probably though I was crazy.

After doubling back a mile to reach an internet cafe with dial up speed we made it home after dark.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Back to living in 2002

We have lost use of our Blackberry. It froze up yesterday and we are now out of touch with our life! We are forced to go to a very smelly internet cafe (lots of teenage boys) and write our blogs. Our landlord says that we will have internet hooked up at our house in 2 to 3 days. Let's see....translate that to Ukraaaniannn....aaand thaaat meeeans....a week to two weeks. We are done crying about it, so let's not talk about it anymore. Just don't text us. We will not get it. And our posts are going to be a bit out of order and a little sparse until we are connected to the world again.

We just wanted to write a quick blog to let you guys know that it will be a couple days before we can write something good. We are in the middle of some travel, some paperwork, and some technical challenges so we can't write our normal blogs.

A quick was our third visit with Ruslan. We were able to visit for a long time since Vitale was traveling to meet with one of Ruslan's brothers. We are going to meet another brother tomorrow at the orphanage. It is a bit scary. We will just hope for the best.

Tomorrow is Voss's birthday. We will celebrate with all of our new friends at the orphanage.

Monday, December 21, 2009

our first visit to the orphanage

Voss looks kinda happy.

Family photo at the Christmas tree lot with Voss's new sled.
I mean....really! Why do they have feet, pieces of fur, blood and an axe at the open market!? Seriously!
There is a cow tail in the photo. For real.

So, we have been here a few nights already (right? I have lost track of time) and have gone for long walks in the neighborhood. We found the local gym (see pictures later), an outdoor farmer's market, a really big supermarket, and a christmas tree lot. There really isn't much here and we have been getting stared at a lot. It may be because I stop to take photos of strange things like cow's tails and pig's feet, but I just can't believe what I see sometimes! I mean, what do they do with the cow tail (in meat photo on metal part next to meat)? Marty?

We were able to visit Ruslan at the orphanage today. He looks really cute and was all smiles when he saw us. We were a little nervous about our first meeting. Maybe he changed his mind? He signed the official paper that says he will change his name to Ruslan Moon Issel. What's up with the hippie middle name you say? Well my grandmother had a saying, if you can't beat em then join 'em. I have never been one to pass on sage advice, so Ruslan will now have an opportunity to fit in more in some California circles. Actually, that was his nickname when he came to visit. We used it as our "code word" when we didn't want him to know we were talking about him (his head looked like a giant moon). People seem to ask a couple of times to see if they heard the name right, "Moon?"
"Yes, Moon."
Even Ruslan asked twice. It is the same reaction we get when people look at Voss's long hair... A.k.a. The creepy Ukranian Santa said he was going to bring Voss a doll which led us to believe that he thought Voss was a girl.

The orphanage was out in the middle of farmland. The grounds were pretty barren- not a lot of trees or bushes, just a bunch of plain buildings. Several boys were just sort of standing around.

We entered one of the buildings to talk to the director. A rumor was going around that he always serves coffee and cognac to all the parents. We were hoping he was out of the cognac. He was very nice and everyone seemed to respond to him with laughter so I guess he is pretty funny. Two kids walked through the door. One was our Ruslan. He looked bigger already. His hair was the same strange mauve color that Voss's was when we got him. All the blonde was gone. Several comments were made about the length of Voss's hair (again) and Voss threw his arms around his head to protect his blonde locks. He knew well what was being said. I think they were discussing the buzz cut with long bangs style. Oy!

Both children began to write the paper to change their names. Our family was then sent out to wait in the other room. We tried out our new Russian words with Ruslan and he didn't laugh. I guess it was understandable then. Voss began to climb all over Ruslan and kiss him. Ruslan just smiled.

Some coffee and shotglasses showed up with some cookies. The director came in with the bottle of cognac and we all had to drink. Blah!

We are on our way back today for a longer visit. We need to find the internet to download some pictures.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Our Ukrainian Entourage

I woke this morning at 3 am with one question on my mind...which thought is scarier...the thought of staying in Melitopol, Ukraine for a month, or adopting a boy just before the onset of adolescence?

We have made it to what will be our residence for the next month in Melitopol. It is Russian speaking here, so Zenon needs to learn Russian quickly. He still tries to speak Ukranian, but only gets blank stares in response. We had an entourage meet us at 5:20 am at the train station and bring us to the apartment. It is a 4 room apartment with a long hallway. Basically, two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and a livingroom. Not bad for $13.25 a night!! We signed a month's lease and finally got to unpack our things. When we enterd the kitchen, a full breakfast was waiting for us with sandwiches, chocolate cookies, coffee, cognac, meats and cheeses, and a basket of special chocolates for Voss. He was a bit freaked out by all the people so early in the morning, so he hid in the hallway. It was kind of crazy. Extreemly nice, but not how we are used to being treated at 6am. We asked if they did this with everyone and they said no, we are just the most exciting guests they have ever had. So, on that note, we all drank a shot of the cognac.

The owner of the apartment came by later to drive us around the neighborhood. It is really nice and there seems to be a lot of shops around and we are close to the bus stop. It will be bearable enough. The people are really nice, so it will be fine.

Yesterday was Saint Nicholas day. It's for the kids where they get lots of chocolate. Ukrainian Christmas is January 7th which means we will have to celebrate two christmases for the rest of our lives. After the 7th, all government offices close for two weeks so we get to just hang out. I guess we will have time to go to a few shows and see the local sights- riiight.

Tomorrow we see Ruslan at the orphange. I guess he has the flu right now so hopefully we will get to visit him. Then we get our permission from the city to adopt and try to get our court date. Court won't happen until after the holiday which is around the 10th.

Happy birthday Dido and Special Ed! Voss misses both of you. And his grandmas too.

Friday, December 18, 2009

train to Melitopil

We woke this morning at 9 or so. Last night was another sleepless night. Voss slept fairly well and only woke for an hour between 8 and 9. Cindy fell asleep soon after our movie at midnight and I was up till 2:30 at which time a beer was my only entertainment.

Today Voss dragged me outside for an hour to build an "igloo" in the 6 inches of fresh snow. I couldn't last any longer. Cindy welcomed the break after an hour of homework with him.

Our check-out from the apt was at 1 so we went to the corner pizza bar and ate 3 little pizzas. The best was the last one with bacon and eggs on it. (Not really). Our appointment to collect the paperwork referral was at 3 so I scheduled a cab to pick us up from the pizza bar at 2:30. In classic Ukie fashion the cab driver went to the wrong end of the block. After 15 minutes of searching I found the cab and we made it right on time!

No hick-ups at the sda. Dima came with us in the cab to the train station to make sure we got off ok. Trains from western ukraine were 12 hours delayed because of the big snow storm but we departed on time.

We had another dinner with bread, cheese, and sausage. As much as I like it I am looking forward to some healthy food.

It is 1:30 am right now and cindy and voss are sleeping. The compartment is really comfortable but really warm and dry. Voss went to sleep at 7:30 but woke at 10. He was incoragably restless until he finally bored himself back to sleep at 12:30. Cindy seems to sleep well but I am starting to wonder if this jetlag is a permanent thing. Maybe I should start reading a book instead of wandering aimlessly on this blackberry. I'd probably fall asleep in 5 minutes.

We arrive in 4 hours at the train station. The plan is for someone to meet us, a translator named Vitali.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SDA Appointment

As tough as our first encounter with the Ukrainian Adoption Authority was, this time it was the complete opposite. We met our facilitator just before the appointment. He was smiling. Soon after, we were greeted with friendly faces by 3 girls working in the office. They asked us to tell them a little about ourselves but soon moved attention to Voss (who was flirting with all three women). They helped us get in touch with Voss's old orphanage so that we could plan a visit. Towards the end of the informal meeting, they instructed us to return tomorrow at 3 to pick up the referral. So far so good... it seems.

Dima explained that international adoptions are on the decline and national adoptions are on the rise. Maybe good for the kids, but bad for the business of adoptions?

After the appointment, Dima offerred to drive us home. The walk to the SDA was 15 freezing minutes, but the drive back was a warm slow hour. At one point, we were 1 block from home and Dima made a turn into traffic which was the longest drive around a block I have ever been a part of!

It is snowing and even colder than yesterday. You can't do anything but close your eyes walking into the wind. We went for a Ukrainian buffet and had perogies, chicken kiev, and borsch. I had to go back for seconds on the perogies when the first order turned out to be stuffed with sweet cheese and plums. The second plate was back to the basics potatoes and cheese. I wasn't complaining about the extra food ;-).

It was getting dark on the way home and we decided to hit the park up. This is the same park where Voss rode his first motorized Jeep. In the middle of the park there was a wooden house Svietah Nikolai set-up. We cautiously approached the spectacle of 2 christmas trees dancing with a snowman outside as not to get pulled into some forced picture production or having to dance. Sure enough the lead christmas tree approached and started yelling something in Russian to which I replied "Ne Panymayeh PaRuski". "Not a problem," she answered, "Come to house of Nikolai, same like your english claus."
Um, ok.
So we drag Voss into this wooden house where Nikolai is flanked by 2 angels all dressed in white and blue. Nikolai warmed Voss up with a box filled with a giant gingerbread cookie (ugh, more gingerbread!) and proceeded to talk to him non-stop in russian for 5 minutes. They snapped a picture, printed it out and gave it to Voss. I offered some $$ on the way out but they declined. What?? Weird. A house set-up in the park giving away free cookies and pictures? ...and we were almost the only people in the park!

The walk back home in the dark was rough. It was COLD. Voss started complaining so we ducked into the subway station for warmth. He was fine after that because he started throwing snowballs at Cindy again. For some reason he won't throw them at me. Maybe I got him a little too good the other day?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thursday Morning

It's 8:30 and I forced myself out of bed. It's for the better, I am thinking, because we have been sleeping in late. Last night we all went to bed at 8:00, but couldn't fall asleep until 2:00.

We got moving at about 11am yesterday morning and wanted to hit up the little cafe we found towards the end of our last trip. We bundled up to the point where it was unbearably hot underneath the layers before leaving. After 2 minutes outside in the Kiev cold (it says the low was -20 C), we were glad to have on all the layers. Voss handles it well, but Cindy said she doesn't want to get used to the cold. Most of the women in Kiev wear some type of fur coat. Most people wear fur hats. The younger women all seem to forgo ultimate warmth to show off their legs and wear high boots.

We made the 15 minute walk to the mall at the corner of Tarasa Shevchenka blvd and Khreschatyk st. From the outside looking in it is another facade of European 4 story architecture, but inside it opens up to a small stadium-looking area with an outdoor skating rink. Surrounding the outdoor area are the shops (Porsche, DG, etc - anywhere you can think to drop the extra 1,000's burning a hole in your pocket). Below is where we go to find the grocery store and cafe.

After sitting down for a few cappuccinos and buying $40 worth of groceries (definately high compared to what we ever paid before- but it was american type groceries) Voss and I went out for a skate (I lost the coin flip with Cindy) for about an hour. Voss went from not being able to stand on his own to making it across the rink without falling within the hour! I hope his skates weren't as bad as mine because it seemed like they hadn't been sharpened in about 5 years. We were the only ones on the rink and were entertainment for everyone walking by.

The mall was really amazing, all these high end stores in meticulous condition, yet there were barely any people in them shopping. I still don't understand where all the money comes from to support stores like these that seem to only belong in the wealthiest of places.

From there, we wanted to give Voss some more opportunity to get some energy out since the last few days he has been holed up. We walked down past the square to a toy store that used to have an indoor playground. They must have had too many visitors with the same idea because this playground was taken out in favor of more toy shelves. So, we sat down for a beer and warmed-up for the walk back to the apartment. By the time we left it was 4:30 and pitch dark outside.

Voss is doing well, but I can tell he is bored. He wanted to throw snowballs the other night so we went at it. He got upset and told Cindy that he wouldn't play with me anymore after I gave him a snow facial.

Our appointment with the SDA is at 12:30 this afternoon. We should know just a little more information after this appointment. We also meet Dima, our facilitator, for the first time. We should get our paperwork tomorrow afternoon and the plan from there is to catch our train at 8pm (I think).

Right now Cindy and Voss are in the kitchen doing homework. I just heard Voss saying his arm hurts from writing after 5 minutes. He has to work on the excuses! I am going to take a shower now, yesterday I spent 5 minutes rearranging the hanging clothes all over the bathroom before I could get in the tub. On the bright side, at least we have a washing machine!

Having had been in Kiev before, we knew our way around for the most part. It was nice to find an apartment right by the opera house which is almost central to everything. From here, we can walk to almost anywhere within 15 minute. I found this apartment on and booked through a contact named Sergey. Very good experience. The apartment is very clean and comfortable. The $70 per night is on par with what we paid the first trip, but much nicer. The first apartment we ever stayed at was a 1/2 bus ride just to get to where we are now!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

yeez va nee chay

We have finally made it to our apartment in Kiev. It is in the center of town near independence square. Very NICE and in the middle of everything. We found it on It really is the best apartment we have had so far. It is one of the fancier neighborhoods, so we feel safe walking around after dark...since it gets dark around 4:00!!

The 3 day immersion into the German language has effected Voss immensely. He has lost all his understanding of the English language. At least, that is what we would like to think. We have been calling him "Wild Monkey" between the two of us, but keep telling him he is doing well and there are lots of changes coming. Oyvay!

While we were on the plane over here, I just kept thinking to myself, "Why am I going there again? Why. Why!?!" Then, once again, we get to the city center with all the Christmas decorations and it begins to snow! "OK, this will be nice. We can do this!
Focus on Ruslan."

We already had guests to our new place by a couple locals who were picking up the ginormous goody bag from one of Zenon's Ukranian friend's back home. We are ready to go back to some of our favorite places in Kiev. We ODed on Glue Wine and gingerbread and already had pierogies for dinner. Thank God we brought our own spices from home! Ukranian food gets old super quick.

Monday, December 14, 2009

In Germany

We made it safely to Germany. The plane ride was ok. Voss slept about 6 hours, Zenon a couple hours, Cindy zero. We arrived in Munich around 11AM. After spending a couple hours underground in the subway like a family of moles trying to figure out the symbols on the signs, we finally made it outside to the freezing cold (note to self...the symbol with the box and two people in it is the "elevator" and the WC stands for "water closet" -bathroom). Just as we got outside, it started to snow.
We were looking forward to some good beer and some bratwurst.

We made it over to the center of town where the Christmas village is located. Christmas decorations are everywhere. Every store has an elaborate christmas display in the window. Hundreds of little booths are set up with giant cookies, chocolates, Christmas ornaments, sausages and Gluhwein (hot spiced wine we were calling glue wine) were for sale.
Stores seemed to only sell one type of item- i.e.wooden toys, fancy beer steins, knives, scarves, etc..

It just doesn't seem like Germany is feeling much of the recession because every adult was drinking the $10 glue wine and every child had a giant cookie tied around their neck. We made it over to the Haufbrau house for a giant pretzel and an even more giant beer and a plate of sausages. It is surprising to see how many Germans still wear Leiderhosen (sp?).

Back at the Hotel, we were all passed out at 5:30 PM only to wake-up at 11:30 PM. For some reason, Zenon thought it was 5AM and started to get ready. So, we put on some meditation music and tried to go back to sleep. By the way Voss was jumping on the bed, you would have thought I just put in a workout video. After a couple hours, we were all asleep again.

We finally woke up at 10AM and we are now on the "Polar Express" going to the North Pole(a.k.a. Nuremburg). It is supposed to be a very Christmasy town with a bif wall allthe way around it and decorations
Voss is hoping to see Santa and a few reindeer. He knows he won't see any elves since they are very busy this time of year.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Open your heart! We want to come in!!!

Today is the Friday and we leave tomorrow morning. Either it is the 3 cups of coffee I have drunk to stave off sleep this morning, or I am starting to feel nervous. There have been so many things to get done this week, but I think we have done a good job to cover all the bases. Regardless, I always have that feeling like I will forget my toothbrush or something like that.

My friend Dima at work has been a great help to put us in touch with some contacts in Kiev for help as well as find a place to stay in Melitopil. I am excited because the cost of the apartment is $400 for a month which will be the best price we have ever come across. That has helped to ease some of the "unknowns." A big thanks to Grandma who will take care of Bessel and our place while we are gone!

Voss is doing really well and he is looking forward to the trip. He keeps saying "My brother" this and "my Brother" that. He is also talking about a sister now....maybe he knows something we don't? His count down to take off is done by counting how many sleeps. Today he will say, " 1 more sleep 'till we leave." Having met Ruslan I am sure Voss understands a little better what is actually happening and what to expect. The only concern he has voiced so far is that he hopes Ruslan will share toys. I am sure there are plenty of other underlying emotions for Voss. I can imagine he is wondering what to expect from our family dynamic once this is all complete, what to expect in Ukraine, and also what to expect if we have a chance to visit his orphanage. He is resilient for sure and handles everything really well.

Grandma is scheduled to pick us up tomorrow morning at 5:00 for our 8:20 flight. Ever since we missed our flight back from Florida because I forgot to account the time change in my phone’s calendar, I am a little extra sensitive to being early for flights (not to mention the magnitude of this flight).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Get in touch with us in Ukraine

We have set-up some cheap international calling. Don't call without using these instructions or you will pay alot.