Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 1:17

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's been a while...so here is an update on Dema

 It's been a while since we have updated you on Dema's transition, so here is a snapshot view of our lives over the past month.

Dema had 7 teeth extracted, of which 2 are already being replaced with adult teeth!  And he now has glasses!!  When we looked through them we couldn't believe just how bad his eyes are!  A big thanks to Dr Beamer in Lewistown and Dr Kelly in State College!  Those 2 men have made a huge impact on Dema's quality of life. 

 It's been 2 weeks since Dema started school--and he loves it!  He is going to The Great Commission School in Altoona, a private Christian school with very small classes--there are only 4 kids in the 3rd grade  He spends the fist 1/2 of the day with his class, then eats lunch (his favorite part of the day!), then heads off for an afternoon of one on one tutoring--they are focusing on word recognition and he is starting to learn to read.  Math seems to be his best subject, and he has excellent hand writing...but he has lots to catch up on!  The bus picks him up and drops him off at the end of the lane, but that means a really long day for him--pick up at 7:00 and return home at 4:00! 

Last week we got Dema 30 laying hens...but they were only hours old.  It was going to take 21+ weeks for them to lay eggs and Dema really wants to sell eggs and make $$$$!  So today I spent the afternoon at the poultry auction getting him a ready made flock!
I came home with 12 hens, 2 roosters, and 3 guinea hens for mamas.  (Somehow I became papas and Cindy is mamas)

As of today his chores were limited to cleaning up after himself after a meal, making his bed, and putting his clean clothes away, but starting tomorrow, his daily chores will be increased!  Each day after school he will feed and water the chicks and chickens, gather eggs, clean and package the eggs, and help with the fire in the seed starting station. 

The question every family seems to be asked is, "How's it going?"  Well, after a couple of weeks of trying to get our feet under us while adjusting to our new addition, and getting him started in school...It's going pretty well--actually we have no complaints or regrets!

 For right now, Dema is one of the most compliant kids we know of.  If we correct a behavior, he just says, "Okay...sorry" and moves on the something else.  Sometimes he forgets what we have taught him, but he usually catches himself, stops and says, "Sorry!"
 There was a problem at school this week, but with an evening of no Sponge Bob or Mickey Mouse, and us explaining that the teachers are there to help him...everything seems to be squared away.

He told us that in Ukraine, he didn't listen to the teachers because they were mean, so he brought the behavior with him!  There are plenty of little issues that he brought with him, but with a little effort--we can help him to leave them behind!

When we were talking about why he needs to listen, we explained that he is a little boy, and the adults in his life are there to help him learn.  He said to me, "Me 9, when me 12, me big and no listen"  When I explained that in America he wouldn't be big until he is 18...well I wish you could have seen the expression as he said woohoo--too big!   

I don't know, but maybe 12 years old is some sort of right of passage in orphanage life.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Our new life!

Okay, after nearly a full month of being home and trying to settle in it's about time I give an update.

We have been awfully busy trying to keep up with  our business, changes in our lives, and of course,the addition of a 9 year old child!  Thankfully, this is our slowest time of the year so we have the extra time to give Dema the time and attention he deserves and needs.  

The first question most ask us is, "Is he still eating as much?"  The answer is no, but he still eats nearly twice what I do in a day!  We visited his new family physician--Dr Jason Henninger in Tyrone on Friday and he weighed in at 71 pounds, Monday, we went to his new pediatric dentist and he weighed in at 74.5 pounds!  We are looking forward to getting his Ukrainian medical report translated to see what his height and weight were the day before we left...we are fairly certain that he is a good bit taller since he arrived.  And, we KNOW he has added several pounds, but we still can't find any fat on him!  His energy level is...well, let's just say he never stops!  This morning he told me he watched his Sponge Bob DVD until 2:00, then he was up and ready to go at 7:00--all we need to do is figure out how to harvest all that energy!

Dema is working hard to learn English, he has his Skype lessons 4 or 5 days per week and we work with him daily to reinforce his lessons.  We bought him a Leapster game console with several reading, mathematics, and kindergarten level games--this has been extremely valuable!  While in Ukraine I found a computer game designed to teach young Ukrainian children the basics of English--the game uses characters such as Winnie the Poo, and many of the other characters the Disney movies to teach word recognition, numbers, and beginning phonetics. This week he has started to communicate with short sentences, and he told his tutor that he understands most of what we say (we had better watch it!). 

We have found that his plans for the future have been a valuable tool of encouragement in his learning English!  Many of you remember that he told us he wants to be a business man, so we told him that once he learns English and we can communicate better we would buy him a bunch of chicks and he could start his own egg business!  Most days he helps me feed the chicks in the brooder, so the plan is to order his chicks for a May arrival--22 weeks later he will be in business...assuming he can care for them and nurture them to laying age!  We have also used other "encouragements":  he will be able to help mama in the kitchen, or he will get his own 22 rifle and we will go squirrel hunting with his "brother" and nephew Bubba, or we will get him his own bow and we will be able to shoot at targets.  I think we will have a good little red neck on our hands--almost daily, he points at my buck mount in the living room and says Dema, papa  shoot deer! (No, I didn't "encourage" that comment--he came up with it on his own!!)  We have found that google translate is one of the most valuable tools we have...

Monday we began to "fix" the physical problems Dema has had to deal with.  The biggest problem he has is his oral health.  So, we made an appointment with a pediatric dentist in State College.  Dr Kelly truly is as good as our friends say he is!  When you enter the office, the waiting room always has a childrens movie playing on the TV, there are video consoles for the kids to play, a jungle gym to play on, and toys everywhere...definitely a place for kids!  When we were called back, there were kids in front of a large mirror learning to brush and floss properly, and there were more video game consoles for the kids to play while they waited for their cleaning.  I just can't speak highly enough of the facility, but the care that Dr Kelly showed Dema was beyond words! 

Beyond the kind child friendly environment was the reality of why Dema was there--he ended up with 4 extractions and there are 2 more to go!  Unfortunately, there were complications with the first round of extractions because  Dema had an "anatomical anomaly" and there was a vessel where it shouldn't be. We ended up spending 5 hours in the State College ER.  The Doc tried to chemically clot the vessel, then she moved to a clotting sponge, then sutures, then finally an electric cauterization tool...nothing worked!  She finally sent us home at 2:00 and said to go to the dentist Tuesday morning.  By the time we got to the office at 8:30, the bleeding had stopped and his mouth was feeling better than before we went to the dentist.  The biggest problem was the numbness--he told Liliyan that he had a tooth pulled in Ukraine and it relaay hurt but at least he could feel his mouth when they were done!  I'm guessing no Novocaine!!!  We'll go back in 10 days for the last 2 extractions--we were happy to hear that there were no adult teeth that needed to be extracted!!!

Next, we will address the lazy eye...the family physician told us that there are three steps normally taken to correct this problem.  The first and easiest is to patch the good eye and force the brain to use the other.  We really think that will work because in the short time he has been here, the left and right movement has increased and it doesn't seem to be drifting as much.  But if that doesn't work, other options include corrective lenses and finally, surgery.  We will visit a specialist next week to assess the problem.

And, all of this is leading up to SCHOOL!!!!  Today we visited Great Commission in Altoona and St. Matthews in Tyrone.  It looks like we will be sending him to Great Commission--they offer exactly what we are looking for--a faith based education that teaches the moral and social values that we share.  While talking to them today, we decided that they would allow him to join them for 3 or 4 days prior to him joining them on a more regular basis.  We plan to start with 5 days a week, for 1/2 days.  The first part of their day includes bible study, math, group play , phys ed, and reading...and of course lunch!  We will plan on this schedule until he either asks to be there full days or we see him becoming comfortable with the new environment.  He will finish the year with the third grade class, then we will talk with the teacher to decide whether or not to move him to 4th grade next year.

Yes, our lives have taken a drastic change, but neither of us would trade it for anything!  We are amazed daily...either by how quickly he is learning, or watching his expression as he experiences new things, or seeing how much he loves his entire extended family--he does belong here with us, and we with him!!! 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Home at last!!

It took nearly 26 hours of travel, but we are finally HOME!!!

When we boarded Ukraine International the question started, "Dema mama America?"  I was able to show him a wold map and explained that we would be stopping in Germany then we would go to America.  Just before we landed, I asked the stewardess to explain that we had to get on another plane, then it would be 10 hours until we got to America.

As we counted down the hours--Dema would wait 10 minutes or so for the countdown, so it took 5 or 6 "9's" to actually make it to the 9 hour mark...we was bursting with anticipation!

Word spread quickly among the flight attendants as to why we were there so they treated him like a king--plenty of juice, 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 2 ice cream sundays from the first class menu!

When we finally hit the 1 hour mark, for the entire hour, Dema sat in the seat pumping is arms up and down just repeating, " Dema America mama, home, Dottie, dadushka, buba, gracie, Dusty, Caleb!"  

The pilot had heard that he was on the plane and wanted to show him the cockpit, but when we stopped to meet him Dema wasn't interested, he saw the others leaving the plane and just waved his finger back and forth at the pilot and said Dema mama America!  So, we skipped the cockpit tour and headed for the customs and immigration desk!

We quickly passed through the USCIS and went to meet the family--the reunion was great, but we had another 7 hours to fight through a snow storm and get from JFK to Warriors Mark!

We're here, we're done, but it's just begun!!!

Thanks for joining us on our journey...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More than ready to get out of here!

We are here!  Now, instead of two questions every day.."papa--Kiev?, and papa--mama America?"  We are down to one!                          The train ride was interesting--I couldn't get Dema to go to sleep until nearly midnight, then at 3:00am, I woke to him sitting up in his bed weeping uncontrollably!  I thought, oh no, the reality of this has hit him and he is scared...but when I went over, he said papa Kiev and pointed to where the train came from.  He thought we had slept through our stop!  Well, it goes without saying that we were up for the rest of the day!

When we got here we headed off for the medical facility where Dema's immunization record was translated into English, and he had a cursory medical exam.  Today we will try to complete two days worth of work at the embassy so we can get on our flight tomorrow morning!

Remember the ticket problems we had?  We wanted and planned for his given name to be Dema, but that didn't happen.  And we had purchased our tickets very early so that we could get the bast airline rates--but since his name is officially Dmytro, the ticket didn't match the passport.  The folks at Aeroflot said that due to international regulations we could not change the ticket, and because Dema is a minor, they wouldn't cut a ticket for him only.  I needed to book 2 new tickets for us to get home--to fly into State College, that would have cost over $3000!  So, I came back to the apartment and booked us a flight into JFK.  Not only did that cost us nearly $1400, but Cindy will lose a valuable day of kitchen production and babushka and dadushka will be driving to New York to pick us up at the airport...   
Last night we had a good night sleep--lights out at 9:00 and he didn't stir until 5:00!  That was the first 8 hours I have had since we got here!  (pretty good considering we are sleeping on what feels like a sheet of plywood!)

This morning, we cooked eggs and Ukrainian bacon--I couldn't leave here without trying it!  Now, Dema is watching Dora and Diego cartoons--it so great--he is sitting here yelling at Dora and singing along with the songs.  It seems like he thinks she can actually hear him!  Today we will complete our work at the embassy and hopefully we will be allowed to hook up with Russie and Cheri for an evening out.
 It has been a long and difficult journey, but in less than 24 hours we will be able to put this all behind us and we will all start the newest phase of life!  

If you've really got a hankering for the adoption journey, please check out the blogs written by the families who are coming behind us--they are all listed on the right side of the page.  The McCracken's are in the middle of their process, the Walk's have just begun their in country work, and there are several families yet to come!


Monday, January 17, 2011

Comin' Home--well, almost...

Well, it's here--Dema's last day at the children's home and his first day as a member of our family!

When I arrived, the kids were all getting ready for their 5 minute trek to school--I got to say one more "good bye" to the gang!  

Dema was fresh out of bed ready to go!  I handed him his bag of new clothes, new boots and a new coat, he got dressed and wanted to leave immediately! 

 Dema was so excited to leave that he didn't even want to say good bye to the boys in his group...but finally after some coaxing he ran through the group waving and yelling ba-ka, ba-ka (bye-bye).  When he got to Dan, he stopped to give him a hug, shake his hand and said ba-ka Dan.

He left his group and headed for the girls room doing the same thing then grabbed my hand and said ok papa.  

We were out the door headed for the apartment!  

When we arrived, Dema said num-num (feed me).  Fortunately I had made a few trips to the grocery store to prepare.  Between 9:00 and 4:00 Dema ate 8 bananas, 2 packs of ramen noodles, a large jar of pickles, 1/2 pound of peanuts, 1 frozen pizza (cooked of course), and several sugar wafer cookies!   
At 4:00 we met Mick and Janel to go out for their celebration dinner--1 more child with a home, several thousand to go!  When we got back to the apartment, Dema took care of eating anything that might be left--the cupboards were bare!

We spent the day playing with is new Leap Frog, watching Star Wars with Russian voice overs, and learning English--we started pretty simple working on letters, body parts, stuff in your house, and reviewing the family album we had given him.

We are on our 8 hour train ride back to Kiev, and when we boarded, we found ourselves in a first class cabin--Svetta thought it best if we had some privacy.  

Dema is enjoying his complimentary cup of green tea, playing Star Wars beginner reading game and enjoying the ride!

When we pulled out of Krivoy Rog, Dema let out a huge laugh and said bye bye Krivoy Rog then stuck out his tongue...there was no bitter sweet departure here--he's ready to go!

We will spend the next two days in Kiev taking care of required embassy work, trying to fix the airplane ticket mistake, and doing some sight seeing.  Cindy and I feel that is important for him to have some memories and a history of where he came from, so the pictures of the Capital will be nice.  Right now he doesn't seem to share those feelings!  While at dinner,  I had Svetta ask him if he wanted to have his hotel in America, Ukraine, or both.  He glared at her and said AMERICA!  Yep, we're bringing our American boy home!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dema's last night in the children's home!!

I figured I would take this opportunity to share some of the pictures we have received of Dema from the summer of 2005--he would have been 4 years old!

The information we had been given originally said that Dema was placed in the childrens' home when he was 2 1/2, but we have found through official government documents that these pictures were taken shortly after he arrived. 

I don't know that anyone could imagine taking a 4 year old child and putting them in an institution...actually, the court documents say that his birth parents dropped him at a strangers home, and it was those strangers who dropped him at the orphanage.  The information we have says that Dema's birth father is alive and living locally, but he has no home and is an alcoholic.  His mother died when he was only 2.

Ok, enough about the sad past...let's talk about the happy present and his brighter future!!!

Today Mick, Janel, and I took our kids and headed off to the the cinema.  Our hope was to see Rapunzel,  but it didn't work out that way!  Ordering anything here is difficult and frustrating both for us and those we are trying to deal with, but we thought we were doing pretty good here.  When the movie started, it turned out to be a cartoon--something about Cossack super heroes--not Rapunzel!  The kids seemed to tolerate the movie and the adults did get a much needed nap!

We didn't find any of the now infamous caviar pop corn, what we did find was a rainbow colored sweetened pop corn--believe it or not it was too sweet for me!  So, what else could I do but go back and get a bag of the bacon flavored potato chips!  

After the movie we went to a little restaurant that reminded us of a waffle house down south--it was called the potato hut.  When we walked in there were dream catchers, a native American statue, and lots of native American art, and  I had heard that they had the best steaks in Krivoy Rog, but when I saw one, I decided against it--I'm pretty sure it was a center cut out of a round steak and very very well done.  I ended up getting a plate of potato wedges and a 1/4 rack of ribs--they actually were very good!  
And Dema who may eat more than we can grow and produce ate part of my ribs, a pretty big pork chop, a plate of his own potato wedges, some of my wedges, 1 1/2 rolls, and the rest of Andre's steak, and he was hungry within 10 minutes of leaving!

Not wanting to spoil him with my extraordinary cooking skills, I got him a frozen pizza, a couple packs of Ramen noodles, and a bunch of bananas to eat tomorrow--that should hold him over until we meet the rest of the gang for dinner!  
 (That last comment was a bit of sarcasm--I function best when not allowed in the kitchen!!)

Tomorrow Svetta will go with me to the orphanage to bring Dema back to the apartment for the day--8:30 tomorrow morning, the life of an orphan will be in the past!

I told him tomorrow he will be an American boy!

Just a word of advice to any family coming behind us...Cindy is home for this trip, we both thought it best if she stay and take care of the home, the dogs, and the business.  That was a decision that we both regret.

If there is anyway possible, make the time and spend the extra money so that both of you can be here when all of your time and efforts come to an awesome conclusion.  You'll be glad you did!!!

From the time we arrived on December 6th, I have looked forward to this day--the last visit to the children's home, BUT, it wasn't what I had envisioned!  As we headed out to get in the car, the kids were holding on to me, they would not let go.  As families plan to make their trips over, you can not begin to imagine just how excited the kids are for you to be here with them.  Those could have been the most difficult moments of the trip  although it was never said, as they were holding on I could tell the kids were just hoping and praying that I could take them with me...thankfully we will see the majority of these kids again!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

A day for play!

Today (actually it was yesterday)  Mick, Janel, and I took the kids out for a day of fun...

Andre (our driver) came to pick us up right on schedule and we were off the the children's home for the kids!  When we got there, the boys were working on their weekly showers--a shower base with a hose coming out of the wall that has a hand shower nozzle attached to the end.  They washed themselves, then while still in the shower area, grabbed their socks and underwear from the week and began to wash them, then the boys ran out for their fresh socks and undies!

(No, I'm not some kind of wierdo--the teacher was standing there watching the boys go in one by one, and she motioned me over)  While standing there, I had a disturbing high school flash back--Mr Gallager screaming BEAR and WET to the entire gym class, and all the guys lining up for inspection!!!


Vika and the gang were in the small room with Luba having their English lessons, she was just getting the class started and had their books along with some snacks on each of the desks ready for the kids. Luba holds two classes per week, one for the older kids and one for the younger group.  It was good to get to meet Luba because she and the team of missionaries she works with have been so important and instrumental to all of the the kids...when we first started this process, they emailed us several pictures and video clips of Dema when he was younger.

Andre took us to a huge building that looked relatively new compared to most in the city--we learned that Krivoy Rog was a huge WWII battle site because of the large concentration of iron ore deposits and the smelting facilities that are spread all over the city.  The German's wanted it and Russia had it!  We were told that 99% of the city was destroyed in the battle, so most everything was built or rebuilt since 1945.  Through WWII, there was not a single family in Ukraine that did not loose either a father or brother to the war.  Every town and city in Ukraine has an eternal flame to remember the fallen and commemorate their loss.
 The building we were entering was huge, it housed a bowling alley, a fitness center, a 6 theater movie cinema, a kind of food court, mini bars, and an ice skating rink, and the place was packed!  When we arrived, the bowling alley was full, and there wasn't a very good selection of ice skates.  Dema's skates were probably 3 sizes too big, and I think Micks were 2 sizes too small!   Ice skating didn't last too long though--Dema wasn't as good as he had hoped, and when I went to help, we both ended up on the ice--he'll learn quickly that papa isn't the most graceful guy around!!

We left the rink and headed for the bowling alley where we found an older gentleman working the desk--probably the owner, but thankfully he spoke English!  He helped us with the shoe size conversion from American to European, and we were off to our lanes.  None of us were going to make the PBA tour, but we had a good time until the 6 pound ball got to be too much for the kids.  We definitely got our 126 grivna's ($15) worth for the hour.

Our next stop was a mall complex where Vika got to do what little girls like to do best--shop!! Yesterday, Svetta took us there and showed us a play area where Dema might want to go...He seemed to have more fum here than with the bowling and skating combined!

When we went in, I recognized a little vioce, but thought--no way, it couldn't be!  Sure enough, Nastya was there with her new Italian mama.  It was good for me to see their interaction, Nastya is happy and her mama is a very nice lady!  After the two kids had played hard for a little while and were sweated up, her mama spoke to me in Italian, motioned to the kids and walked out the door, I figured she was headed out to pay 2 grivna to use the public toilet in the mall, but she returned with 2 drink boxes for the kids! 

My Italian is pretty much non existent, but I was able to say "gratsi" to which she responded "your welcome"!  I thought "great!" she speaks a little English, so I tried to convey just how I knew Nastya, but it didn't work.  Maybe someday, Nastya will tell her mama how she knew the American in the mall.  I had hoped for a picture of Nastya, Dema and her new mama, but Nastya would have no part of it.  But, I was glad to be able to see that Nastya was happy, and her mama is a very nice woman!

The day ended with a very short trip to the children's home where the kids had a chance to Skype with their friend Liliya in America.  On Monday, when Dema leaves the orphanage to come to the apartment, he will be Skyping with Liliya so that she can begin to prepare for his English lessons that will start Saturday after he returns!   He and I will spend the day playing on his new Leapfrog with a game designed for 4 year olds teaching them the basics of reading...we're not wasting any time breaking down the communication barrier!