A Journey to Remember

Today I am bound and determined to write a post with pictures of our trip to Ukraine.  I want to introduce you to our new children as well.  It is relatively quiet at this moment in the Herr household.  Maybe that is because seven of the members are away at work and the seven youngest are outside shooting a movie.  That leaves three of us here in the house.  Blessed quietness!  Please, rain, stay away for the next hour!

Leaving New York for Ukraine.  First time flying since 1988.

Leaving New York for Ukraine. First time flying since 1988.

View from our apartment in Kiev.

View from our apartment in Kiev.

A better view!  Jim in the kitchen of the apartment.

A better view! Jim in the kitchen of the apartment.

After receiving the referral for our sibling group, we traveled via car to Belgorod-Dnevstrovsky, which is located in Odessa region.  Traveling the roads in Ukraine was quite the experience.  We were amazed at the skill of the drivers in dodging potholes in the dark at high rates of speed.  Incredibly, we only experienced 2 flat tires in our travels by car. The first 9 days we stayed in an apartment close to the orphanage, after which we moved to the Christian medical clinic where we remained for the duration of our time in B-D.

Front door of our apartment in Belgorod-Dnevstrovsky.  Note the decorative use of old tires.

Front door of our apartment in Belgorod-Dnevstrovsky. Note the decorative use of old tires.

Back of the apartment.  The shed was an addition to the apartment.

Back of the apartment. The shed was an addition to the apartment.

The road in front of the apartment which we walked to get to the orphanage.

The road in front of the apartment which we walked to get to the orphanage.

Another view of the road we walked to the orphanage.

Another view of the road we walked to the orphanage.

The orphanage where our children lived for three years.

The orphanage where our children lived for three years.

The road leading to the Christian Medical Clinic.  Typical of many roads in the area.

The road leading to the Christian Medical Clinic. Typical of many roads in the area.

The Christian Medical Clinic.

The Christian Medical Clinic.

We spent quite a bit of time every day walking to and from the orphanage or the supermarket.  Visits with the children were from 4-6 p.m. on weekdays and from 10-12 a.m. and from 4-6 p.m. on the weekends.  Some of the first words the children spoke to us in English were, “Tomorrow, four?”  Initially, we had our visits in a small room which contained a bed and a small desk and a couple of chairs.  I believe it was part of the infirmary.  We were happy when we graduated to a larger room and then to the playground.

Our first day outside, the children ran and climbed onto an old piece of machinery that was sitting in the yard.  I wondered if this was allowed, but they seemed so confident that we just followed along taking pictures as they played.  We soon learned that it was forbidden, as one of the orphanage workers came and told them to get down.  We couldn’t understand most of what she said, but the tone of her voice spoke volumes.  We did understand one word she spoke to us, “CRAZY!”  Boy, did we feel like terrible parents!  But, how were we supposed to know?  It’s something our biological kids would have attempted, too.  After that experience, we limited their play to climbing a tree in the yard.  I don’t know if that was allowed or not, but no one was around to say anything.  Most of the time the children entertained themselves and us on the playground equipment.

Posing for a picture on the infamous wagon!  From top to bottom:  Bella, Jessica, and Dima.

Posing for a picture on the infamous wagon! From top to bottom: Bella, Jessica, and Dima.

Dima and Jim climbing the tree.

Dima and Jim climbing the tree.

Jessica

Jessica

Bella

Bella

Luda

Luda

Dima

Dima

One of the favorite pasttimes of the children in the orphanage was fishing for “tarantulas”.  (That is their word for spider.  No, they were not actually tarantulas as we know them.)  They would run around the yard looking for little round holes in the ground.  Then they would put a small piece of clay onto the end of a string and would lower the string into the hole.  When they felt a little tug, they would quickly pull the string out of the hole.  If they didn’t get a spider the first time, they would check the clay for little bite marks, which assured them that a spider was really down the hole.  One afternoon the children collected over 25 spiders.  Now I am not very excited about spiders, but the process of capturing them was pretty ingenious.  Dima was especially excited about teaching me how to catch them.  Sad to say, I never got one.  I guess I just didn’t have the right technique.  I was actually kind of glad because no one ever knew where they would land when pulled out of the hole.  I liked them better hidden underground.  What did they do with all the spiders?  They attempted to force a few of them back down the holes.  Others were stepped on, while the majority were dropped down the manhole in the driveway.

Dima, Bella, and Luda are searching for spiders.

Dima, Bella, and Luda are searching for spiders.

Jessica, Bella, and Luda checking out the spider holes.

Jessica, Bella, and Luda checking out the spider holes.

 

Dima is absorbed in fishing for spiders.

Dima is absorbed in fishing for spiders.

Dima breaks his concentration to smile at me.

Dima breaks his concentration to smile at me.

Trying my hand at catching spiders.  Dima looks happy, doesn't he?

Trying my hand at catching spiders. Dima looks happy, doesn’t he?

One-third of the day's catch.  Aren't they lovely?!

One-third of the day’s catch. Aren’t they lovely?!

Since it was spring, the children in the orphanage were put to work cleaning up the flower beds.  Luda seemed to enjoy working.  There were few garden tools, so many of the leaves were gathered by hand or swept up with little brooms the children made out of sticks.

Luda pauses her work for me to snap a picture.

Luda pauses her work for me to snap a picture

After six weeks of visiting the children, we were finally free to leave the orphanage and head to Odessa where we applied for passports.  It felt strange realizing that these children were actually ours and we were responsible for them, even though we couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand us.  We were left on our own with them in the center of the city while our facilitator ran around gathering paperwork.  They were wide-eyed with wonder at all the new sights.  They chased pigeons and climbed on a statue in a park.  I don’t know if that was allowed, but we were thankful that it kept them from running into the streets after the birds.

Experiencing their newly found freedom.

Experiencing their newly found freedom.

In Odessa, Jim and Dima boarded a bus for the journey to Kiev.  The girls and I traveled by car with our facilitator.  We arrived in Kiev after 10:00 p..m. and were taken to the apartment where we would stay for the remainder of our time in Ukraine.  It was the same apartment we had stayed in at the beginning of our trip.  We were thankful that we were somewhat familiar with the area.  It made finding food and exchanging money much less stressful.  We spent most of our time inside the apartment because they didn’t listen and obey very well when out.  It didn’t take long to feel cooped up with four energetic and loud children.  Jim tried taking them to the playground one afternoon, but the adventure was cut short because they were constantly arguing with each other.  We considered it a major accomplishment to get them all settled into bed each night.

Jessica

Jessica

Bella

Bella

Luda and Dima

Luda and Dima

Our final week in Kiev included trips to the medical clinic and the U.S. embassy.  Once we received passports and visas, we were free to head home.  We were ready.  We had been away from home for seven and a half weeks.  We missed our children at home and were ready to get back to familiar territory.  Our time in Ukraine was over, but the real work had begun.

Alive and Well

It’s been so long since I sat down to post anything on this blog.  I’m sure some people have wondered if we fell off the face of the earth.  We’re still here, but life has become much busier.  There isn’t much uninterrupted time.  Even now I am sitting here and getting questioned about twice per sentence.  My thoughts for writing don’t flow very well when I can’t complete a sentence.  I didn’t want to start writing about our time since coming home until I wrote about our time in Ukraine, but that seemed like a formidable task.  It meant going through my journal entries and my letters to the family.  Now I’ve reached the conclusion that I’ll just have to give a quick summary of our trip and leave it at that if I hope to ever write about our new children and the adjustment period.  So here goes.

We traveled to Ukraine by way of New York City with another couple who was also adopting from Ukraine.  They had lived in Russia for 6 years and knew some of the language, which was a huge help to us.  We shared an apartment with them for the first few days we were in Ukraine, enjoying their fellowship.  We anticipated traveling with them to Donetsk region via train, but all that changed when we found out we would not be adopting the girls we had originally intended.  We ended up adopting a sibling group of 4 from Odessa region.

We met our children on Friday morning, February 28.  We were completely astounded by their positive and loving reaction toward us.  It was almost as though they had expected us.  Our facilitator was in the middle of translating something for us when they came into the room.  Later I remembered that he had said something about a dream.  When we called him about it, he said that the night before we arrived, Jessica had a dream that her parents were coming.  We are still waiting for the time when we can understand each other well enough to ask her about that dream.

Each day we visited the children for 2 hours in the afternoon.  On weekends we had visits twice a day.  It was an interesting experience trying to communicate with the children when we didn’t know each other’s language.  We did a lot of pantomiming and played innumerable games of UNO.  Two hours seemed like a long time every day.  We usually went home feeling pretty drained.  Once we were able to play outside, the time seemed to go more quickly, and we went home feeling tired from running around like crazy.

The first week in Belgorod-Dnevstrosky, we stayed in an apartment close to the orphanage.  We thought we were paying $20/night for our stay there, but after 9 days we learned that it was $20/night/person.  We asked to be moved to the Christian medical clinic where the cost was much less.  We had further to walk each day, but that was actually a blessing because of the exercise.  Because of that move, we met a pastor’s family and were able to visit in their home.  They were a big encouragement to us during our stay in Ukraine.

We waited for 3-1/2 weeks before getting our court date.  That waiting time was so long!  It felt like we were going to be in Ukraine forever.  When we did arrive at court on Friday, March 21, the electricity in the building went off, so we had to postpone court until Monday, March 24.  We were so grateful to pass court without a lot of questions.  There is a 10-day wait period after court before the adoption is final.  We had originally planned on returning home for those 10 days, but instead decided to wait it out in Ukraine.  We didn’t know if the unrest in Ukraine would escalate to the point that we wouldn’t be able to get back into the country.  Also, our children at home were in a routine, and we thought it would be much harder for them if we returned and then left again.

After the 10-day wait, we left the orphanage,  traveled to Odessa where we applied for passports for the children, and then continued on to Kiev where we remained for another 8 days.  We had the best facilitators through our whole adoption.  They made the process as smooth as possible.  We couldn’t have done it without them.

Our week in Kiev was challenging, to say the least.  We stayed in the same apartment we had stayed in at the beginning of the trip.  The children were pretty wild, loud, and uncontrollable at times.  They got upset with each other pretty often, and since we couldn’t understand Russian, we had a hard time figuring out the problems.  We stuck pretty much to home unless we needed to go out for medicals or the embassy appointments.  We worked a lot on table manners which were basically non-existant.  We began with holding hands and praying before meals.  The hand-holding was more to keep them from grabbing food than anything else.  It only took a couple of days before they were reminding each other not to eat until we prayed.  They generally liked very short prayers like, “Thank you, Father, for the food.  Amen.”  They usually said, “Amen,” before Jim had finished praying, so to stop it, we kept adding on phrases for as long as it took for them to be quiet.  The first time was really quite funny.  Jim:  Thank you, Father, for the food.  One child:  Amen.  Jim:  And thank you for bringing us to Ukraine.  Child:  Amen.  Jim:  And thank you for each of these children.  Child:  Amen.  Jim:  Help us today to please you.  Child:  Amen.  Jim:  Thank you for being a great God.  Child:  Amen.  Jim:  Please help us to love each other.  Child:  Amen.   Jim:  And please help the children to be quiet so we can eat before the food gets cold.  Amen.  You get the idea.  By the end, they were telling each other to hush.  I am happy to say that they are doing very well with being quiet during prayer time now.

We left Ukraine on Tuesday, April 15, and arrived home early Wednesday morning, April 16.  On our way to Ukraine, we flew with a Russian airlines and didn’t understand anything the whole way there.  We decided that we needed the language advantage on the way home, so we flew British Airways.  A friend from church had booked a rental car for us, so we drove home from New York City, arriving around 3:15 a.m.  It was a wonderful reunion with our children at home.  We were so happy to see them all and introduce them in person to their new siblings.  We had been away for 7-1/2 weeks, a couple of weeks longer than we had anticipated.

This is a brief summary of our trip.  In my next post I will introduce you to our children and post some pictures of our time in Ukraine.

Unexpected Changes

From the time we began this adoption journey, we were warned to remain flexible and expect the unexpected.  We did not realize at the time exactly what this would mean.  It has been our desire and goal to follow wherever The Lord leads.  A month or so ago, I was given a picture in my mind of Jesus walking a short distance ahead of me, stretching His right arm back, reaching for my hand.  I took my left hand and placed it in His.  We were connected and I knew that as long as I didn’t let go, I would go wherever He would lead me and I would be safe.  He is my guide and my protector.

Our plan and desire has been to adopt Soliel, Anastasia, Delta, and Brandi.  We even considered adding a fifth girl to the plan, a young lady who recently turned 16 and could only be adopted by someone whose paperwork had already been submitted in country.  However, we recently learned that adopting these 5 would mean three different appointments, each a week apart, three different trips to the same orphanage (a 10-hour train ride each way), and three different court dates.  The additional time and expense necessary to do this made the adoption of these particular girls an impossibility for us.  We had expected some measure of difficulty with this adoption, but not this.  We had been warned that sometimes people end up with different children than they intended, but we didn’t really think this would be our case.  What should we do now?  We had to remind ourselves that the goal was to adopt children.  We learned that sibling groups are very difficult to place because most people do not get USCIS approval for 4-5 children.  In the end, we chose to pursue the adoption of a sibling group of 3 girls and 1 boy.  We are sad that the girls we originally intended to adopt are again waiting for families, but we are praying that God will soon rectify that situation.  He has not forgotten them, and we are not likely to forget them either.  Although we were totally surprised by this turn of events, we have to believe that God is leading.  We only want what He wants.  We must go where He leads.

All of you that helped and prayed so desperately for Soliel, Anastasia, Delta, and Brandi, please continue to pray.  Please, also give thanks that these four siblings will have a family and will not need to be separated from each other.  At some point I will have the freedom to share with you who they are.  Thank you for praying for us, too.  It has been an emotional time.

Travel Prep

The weeks sure are flying by!   We’ve had some sickness here this past week.  Eight out of 13 have been affected thus far.  Five of us are still holding out hope that we will escape.  Thankfully the sickness isn’t of long duration, but when it attacks one person at a time, it can take awhile to get through 13 people.  The sick ones have slept a good portion of the time and haven’t wanted to eat, so it would have been more convenient if we all got it at the same time preferably during the snowstorms.  That way we didn’t have to go anywhere and didn’t have to cook!  We could all hibernate for a day or two.  Of course, that is not real life.

I’ve started several lists to help me get organized and stay organized, but I still don’t feel on top of things.  There are so many other responsibilities to deal with.  Today it was taxes.  It’s a relief having them done and out of the way.  Getting that refund will also be a blessing!  I’ve gathered most of the paperwork we need to take with us and have started packing up the gifts for the girls.  Besides a special gift for each one, we are taking several crafts and games to do with them during our visiting time.  It will be quite interesting communicating with them since they don’t know English and we don’t know Russian.  I worked on learning Russian for several weeks, but the past two weeks it has had to take a back seat to other priorities.  I hope I don’t forget everything I learned.

I still need to learn how to use that I-pad.  Hopefully by the time we’re home I’ll have figured it out.  The kids are hoping I figure it out before then so they can communicate with us while we are away.  It’s going to be difficult leaving them all behind for a couple of weeks.  We’ve never been away from them longer than a few days at a time.  Thankfully there are plenty of older ones to take charge and make sure things continue to run smoothly.  I’m sure they will all work together well.

I’ve been looking at this computer a little too long today.  My head is starting to ache.  I’d better move on to something else before I can’t see straight.  Now where are those lists?

Traveling Soon!

This is the third time I have started to write a post and there just wasn’t time to do it justice.  I’ll give it another try.  Our biggest news is that we have received our travel dates! God has also blessed us with traveling companions who live less than an hour from us and are adopting from the same country.  We are excited about that!

There is much to do to get ready.  I’m already experiencing information overload.  I am a list person and my lists are not written as yet, so the preparation seems formidable.  Tomorrow my goal is to sit down and organize all the information, forming check-off lists so I have less chance of forgetting something important.  I still have some shopping to do which should probably be done before the big snow comes that is predicted for Thursday.

Today I finally finished the quilt and made up the fourth bed.  It feels good to have that project completed.  Now if the other projects were only so stress-free.  I still have to learn how to use an I-pad so that we can keep in contact with the family while we are away.  Learning to use today’s technology is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining!  Why just last week, my upper back and shoulders were so tight after sitting at the computer booking our train and flight tickets, that I could barely move without pain.  I determined that it was due to stress for now I am feeling fine.  This adoption has really stretched me technologically.  I’ve experienced a lot of firsts:  scanning and attaching documents to emails, booking travel tickets online, using Facebook (still don’t know what I’m doing with that), and setting up the I-pad (I actually just watched.)

Tonight I decided to learn something less technical, so I sat down with a rainbow loom to practice making rubber band bracelets.  I’m taking a couple looms with me to give to the girls and to have something to do while we are visiting them.  Less technical?!  What a joke!  The printed directions are microscopic making them difficult to read.  “Find the other Band that connects Posts 35 & 38.  Pick the end of that Band that is around Post 38 and loop it over Post 34.”  What?  Which one is 34?  I have to consult the chart.  It would have been nice if the loom itself was numbered.  I managed to get to the “finishing off” section, but when the bracelet fell apart as soon as I removed it from the loom, I decided I did something wrong.  Maybe I was rushing a little too much.  My dad always said, “If at first you don’t succeed, read the directions!”  Thanks, Daddy.  Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.  Or maybe I’ll just give them to the girls and get them to teach me!

Waiting Again!

Has it really been almost 2 weeks since I last posted?  And I thought time didn’t fly when you were waiting for something!  We expected to have travel dates by this time, but that infamous phone call hasn’t yet come.  For a week or so, I jumped every time the phone rang.  I imagine I will be surprised when it finally does come.

Jim has finished building the beds and they are now in place.  Mattresses and bedding have been purchased and 3 of the beds are made up.  The fourth will be made up as soon as I finish the quilt.  I actually haven’t even started it, but it shouldn’t take too long as it is not a pieced quilt.  I’m taking the easy route by placing batting in between 2 bed sheets and machine quilting the layers together.  Fifteen years or so ago, when we lived in Nebraska, I bought plaid sheets with coordinating colors to make bedspreads for the children for Christmas.   At that time we had 4 boys and 4 girls and were expecting another baby.  I bought pastel plaids for the girls and dark plaids for the boys and added an extra of each since I didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl.  We had a boy, so the extra dark plaid was eventually utilized.  That son was followed by 3 more sons, so the pastel plaid never did get used.  It has been sitting in the closet all this time.  Today I bought a scrumptious-looking, bubble-gum-pink sheet that perfectly matches the plaid.  Putting this quilt together will be my project for next week.  As soon as everything is done, I will post some new pictures of the rooms.

We are trying to get travel items together, so we will be ready when the call comes.  Although I grew up in family that did a lot of flying, it has been 25 years since I have been in an airplane!  Yikes!  I hear things have changed quite a bit since that time, especially regarding security.  We shall soon see how different it is from what I remember.

Daily I am reminded that God is in control of this adoption.  Everything is moving according to His timing and that is good.  I am resting in the assurance that He knows what is best and will do what is right.  I don’t have to be anxious or fearful.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t get anxious at times.  It means I don’t need to be.  As long as I cling to my Father and keep my eyes on Him, my heart is at peace.

Christmas Reflections

The majority of this post was written several days ago, but because I am not too adept with the computer, I had to wait for Alyssa to remind me again how to get pictures from my camera to this blog.  She walked me through it for the last post during which time I took copious notes so as to be able to do it on my own.  Alas, I can’t find the notes!  Someone (possibly me), in an effort to clean up the table, must have thought the scribbled words were only worthy to be in the trash and that’s why they can not be found.  If Josiah knew how important that paper was to me, I might think that he took it and hid it for a joke.  He’s getting pretty good at hiding things these days.  Why just this week we were scouring the house in order to find my purse that I was pretty sure I brought downstairs, but couldn’t find anywhere.  We were ready to leave for Awana, and I needed my purse.  I was beginning to think my memory was getting bad.  (It is, but not that bad!)  Josiah finally told me he could find it.  Where was it?  Hanging on the shoe rack on the inside of the basement door.  Doesn’t he know that shoes hang on shoe racks, not purses?  Of course he does, but he is a little imp!  Anyway, I can’t blame him for the loss of my precious computer notes.  Poor Alyssa, now she’ll have to walk me through the whole process again.

This was our first week back at school after Christmas and New Year’s.  We usually only take one week off, but this year I was feeling generous (or maybe a little lazy) and we took two weeks.  I don’t think anyone was really excited about getting back to the books, including the teacher.  We just had too much fun relaxing, eating all sorts of sweet treats, and giving gifts to one another.  We managed to keep to our morning schedule of eating breakfast together at 8:00 a.m. for, let’s see, one day?!  Ah, well, there’s always tomorrow!

I thought now would be an appropriate time to think back about what made this Christmas unique.  One special blessing was that we were able to attend the Christmas Eve service at our church this year because Jim was able to be home from work early.  It was a beautiful service and we were glad to concentrate on Jesus, the reason we celebrate Christmas.

The day after Christmas we hosted the Herr family’s Christmas dinner which was a first for us.  We had about 35 people here including Jim’s parents, all but one of his siblings, his nieces and nephews, and our own family.  We had a relaxing evening eating together and getting caught up with everyone’s activities.

Christmas Day was also unique this year because it was our first without our beloved Andrew.  His role of leader for the 5:00 a.m. children’s parade down the stairs to open stockings was transferred to Heidi this year.  I had wondered if his absence would put an end to this event, but no!  TRADITION!!  TRADITION!!  For many years the children have gathered in one of the bedrooms and then “quietly” lined up oldest to youngest before marching down the stairs to find their stockings.  Their goal has been to begin the Christmas festivities while letting their beloved parents sleep in.  Of course, since the stairs are right outside their parents’ bedroom door, and since the whisperings are not really all that quiet, their parents are almost always awake, listening to and enjoying the excitement of the children.  I am so thankful that we still have little ones in the house.  That has been the main reason this tradition has been preserved.  Even the older ones, who would prefer a little extra sleep, are willing to rise early in order for the little ones to experience this momentous occasion.  Next Christmas promises to be even more exciting with 4 new sisters in the line-up.

One of the most heart-warming things about Christmas this year was seeing the gifts that were made by the children and given to their siblings.  There is no obligation for each child to make or purchase something for the others.  Instead, if someone gets an idea for one sibling, he/she is free to give that sibling a gift.  I have never heard any comments of a sibling feeling left out or deprived because he/she did not receive a gift that year.  Instead, there is joy just seeing the response of the person receiving the gift.  That warms my heart.

This year Simeon spent many hours in the woodshop or holed up in his room designing and creating gifts for some of his siblings.  He is very creative and loves detail.  His gifts this year for Elisha, Samuel, and Josiah were pre-made boxes redesigned into little houses for miniature bears.  He fashioned furniture for the rooms, papered the walls, and carpeted the floors.  Each box was painted a different color on the outside and labeled with the owner’s name.

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January 9, 2014

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Simeon also made a bookmark for Hannah and Christmas ornaments for Alyssa, Nathanael, and Isaiah.  For Naomi he made a hobbit key-chain, Lord of the Rings stationery, and a miniature Lord of the Rings board game.  He even made the boxes for the stationery and the board game.

January 6, 2014

December 27, 2013 (5)Alyssa’s ornament.

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Nathanael and Isaiah’s ornaments (# 1 and 2).  The other three were made last year for the three youngest boys.

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Heidi finished writing her story, Sir Sam Bam and the Dragon.  She then hand-copied the story onto small sheets of paper, added illustrations, bound the pages into a little book, and presented it to Samuel for Christmas.

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All the gifts created this year were reminders of God’s creativity and purpose in designing each one of us.  We are each uniquely handcrafted by God to bring glory to Him and joy to those around us.  As we look forward to the coming year, let’s make it our desire to be all that God has created us to be.