Friday, October 29, 2010

Hero of the Year!

Congratulations to Andrea Roberts of Reece's Rainbow for being People Magazine's Hero of the Year!!  In just 4 years, this amazing woman has found homes for hundreds of orphaned children with Down syndrome and other disabilities around the world.  Had it not been for Reece's Rainbow, Darya would not have been in our lives, and we cannot imagine life without our precious daughter.  We are so grateful to Andrea and are just so amazed at how God used her in this amazing way to serve all of these beautiful children.  These children, who are shunned by their societies and sent off to live and die in government run mental institutions, now live lives of hope and a future with loving families of their own.  What beautiful testimonies of redemption!  Congratulations Andrea!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Music, mirrors, and her heart

On our way to Darya's cardiologist appointment this morning, I played a little U2 to get the day started.  Apparently Darya is a fan!  Okay, she just likes any music. And mirrors. And when you give her both, here's what happens, but of course safety first - this was taken at a red light ;-)

Her cardiologist appointment went well. She will just go for follow-up appointment in 6 months, then again in a year after that.  Praise God all looks good! Also, despite our feeding battles and her eating like a bird, she has put on a bit of weight.  Last week she weighed a smidgen under 18 pounds at the pediatrician's office, and today she was 18lbs. 9.5oz.  Good girl!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Florida girl

I can't believe it's been almost a week since I updated.  The days are full and good in our house.  I've started up homeschooling again and trying to get into that routine after being off for the past 4 months.  It's going well, slowly but surely :-)  We are falling more and more in love with Darya each day. What's not to love?? She has got us wrapped around her pudgy little fingers :-)  As far as medical stuff, she's got her immunizations started, bloodwork going, and referral appointments underway. Tomorrow morning she will see a pediatric congenital heart defect cardiologist.  I hope that the surgery for her ASD last year doesn't need any follow-up surgery.  According to the orphanage doctor, she is fine and should be seen by a cardiologist twice a year for routine check-ups.
Anyway, as summer weather still holds on here in Florida, I decided to take the kids for a quick swim today.  We will probably have very few days left before we have to "close" our pool until next spring.  Darya and I sat by the edge where she happily splashed and splashed.  The boys even rescued a lizard from sure death by drowning in the pool, and it showed its gratitude by befriending Darya.  I got a couple of cute shots, the last for a while since I dropped the camera in the pool. Thankfully the SD card wasn't ruined, so enjoy these photos as any future ones will be from my phone until we can replace our beloved Canon Powershot. :-) Enjoy!

My four little minnows (and if you look really close you can see their new lizard friend)

Splish splash! While doing the splits :-)


 Can you spot her new friend the lizard on her?

Here he is up close

 "Mom, I want to go swimming like my brothers."

"Mom, I mean it!  I REALLY want to go in the pool!"


Wrinkled little piggies

Thursday, October 21, 2010

2 weeks home

Well, it's been almost 2 weeks since we flew home. Sorry for the lack of updates as we've just been busy and adjusting to life with the princess.  But considering she has been removed from the only home she has ever known, traveled across the world, and is now in a house with unfamiliar people who speak another language, she is doing really well!  Really, she is!  The first few days (week) were a bit difficult as we recovered from jet lag and colds, but as we figure things out each day is getting easier. She is such a sweet little girl and adjusting really well.

I took her to the pediatrician the other day.  She weighs just shy of 18 pounds so is a bit of a peanut, but not off the charts.  I brought a copy of Darya's immunization record from Ukraine, and she is actually pretty up to date on everything.  She just needs a couple, which we'll spread out over the next couple of months, and she is good to go for a while.  I do need to take her back so they can run some blood work on her.  The pediatrician called me yesterday and has already made all the necessary contacts as far as medical and therapeutic referrals.  I look forward to getting things moving on that front!

Feeding has been somewhat of a tough issue. Darya usually puts up a bit of a fight before each meal, but eventually realizes she's not going to win the battle and will oblige us and eat.  She does not like anything with much texture so she's pretty much eating baby food. She also does not do well with anything cold.  I think at the orphanage everything was warm and likely fed to her in a bottle with a large hole so everything sort of poured out.  She will not hold her sippy cup (more like a bottle) also likely because of this.  Her pediatrician said to keep feeding her baby food until we work on feeding issues with an occupational therapist.  She also has us give her liquid multi-vitamins with iron with a bit of juice for absorption.  I don't think she was fed a wide-variety of nutritious food at the orphanage.  She also said to add a dab of butter or olive oil in her meals to give her extra fat that she needs for brain development. those doctor's orders go for me, too? hehe

Darya is a great sleeper so I have no complaints in that department!  It only took her a couple of nights to adjust to the jet lag, and she sleeps for about 12 hours a night.  She was taking 2 naps when we first brought her home (though only one at the orphanage), but now I think she will just be a one-nap kid.  She sleeps for a couple of hours at a time. Yay!

She is warming up to her brothers now.  She "tolerates" them much better and doesn't smack them as much when they get too close to her any more.  In fact, she lets them get her out of her crib or her carseat, and loves it when they sing songs to her.  They are all such good big brothers and are very patient with her.  Ben really wants to help feed her, but until we overcome that issue it will just be Joel and me.  When I first got home with her, she didn't even want to go to Joel. It took her a couple of days, and though she still prefers Mom, she now does love her time with Dad (she has got him wrapped around her finger!).  We have had no bonding issues on our side and she seems to have really bonded with us. We are so thankful for that!

Darya loooves music!  We sing several of the same songs over and over to familiarize her with them, and she will sometimes try to join in the hand motions.  I bought her a toy piano that lights up and plays music at a yard sale last weekend.  The best dollar I've spent in a while! She loves that thing!  Oh, and often times when she's fussy, I'll sing my own off-key tone-deaf rendition of "Hush Little Baby" and it calms her right down :-)

Another good thing is that she doesn't seem to have any sensory issues with textures (aside from food).  She loves the feel of grass and we found out yesterday that she loves sand. I should probably get some big plastic containers filled with beans or rice for her to play with.  I bet she'd love that.

And now for some pictures!!

Playing in the sand

Daddy's sleepy girl

She loves the swing so much!  (Recognize this outfit?)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Darya and her new friend, Naomi, showed up in almost identical outfits at church this morning.  I just know they're gonna be good friends :-)

Friday, October 15, 2010

A place Darya will never have to see

Darya is amazing and adjusting wonderfully to life with a family. She has bonded well with Joel and me and is warming up to her big brothers (though she smacks them if they get too close to her face!).  She is a great sleeper, loves bath time, and enjoys being outside.  She is a snuggle-bug and loves lovin' on us.  She is thriving and learning so much potential in such a little peanut!  We are so blessed to be her family.

While I was in Ukraine, I had the opportunity to visit the older girls' mental institute in a village outside of Odessa.  It stands in stark contrast to the lifestyle and people of the city.  I haven't shared this publicly and will be careful of what I share, but I am just so thankful Darya will never have to set foot in those doors.  Ever.  Our translator in Odessa, Alyona, is such an amazing person and has such a heart for the orphans. She and her husband visit the institute regularly and do crafts/songs/puppet shows for the girls there as a ministry.  While in Odessa, I asked her if my sister and I could join along one Saturday morning.  We were able to visit and help out.  Several young college women came, too, to help out.  It was a fun time with songs, dancing, puppet show, clowns, crafts, and balloons.  The girls absolutely loved it!  I can't even describe the blessing it was to me to even share in that little bit of joy with those girls among the dreary routine they face day in and day out.  It was such an amazing and emotional opportunity for me.

There are 143 girls at the institute, from 4-18 (actually some were older than that but haven't been transferred to the adult facility yet). We only saw about 50 of them who were in their teens or early 20s.  About 3 or 4 of them had Down syndrome.  Our translator asked one of the girls how old she is and she didn't know (how would she?).  I know many others who are bedridden or more severely disabled were not in attendance.  After the time with the girls, we were able to see a bit more of the facilities (but were told not to take pictures, though I was allowed during the activities).  We were shown the mess hall, which was clean and I saw loaves of bread on a table.  There were several fly strips hanging as well (all full, mind you).  We saw a few play rooms which had a few toys, and some of them displayed some amazing art work by some of the girls.  Outside the back window there was a playground and some covered shelter areas for the girls to spend some time outside.  We were not allowed to see any more of the institute.  The smell and noises coming from down the hall told me why.  These girls are in such need.  Like the orphanages, the institutes rely heavily on donations.  Darya's orphanage seemed to have quite a bit, no doubt from donations of adopting families and local people and businesses.  But this institute which was tucked back in a village outside the city is poor.  No children are adopted from there, so there are no donations from adopting families.  It is not in city limits, so few or no local families or businesses donate there.  There have, however, been some donations like the renovation of the hall where we did the music and crafts.  There was a television donated to them.  Alyona and a team were able to take about 50 girls to a dolphin show and out for pizza a while back and the girls had the time of their lives and are begging to go again!  Mind you, the average household income for Ukraine is about $250 a month, so a trip like the dolphinarium and pizza which cost about $1000 is pretty much a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these girls.

I would eventually like to figure out a way to serve the girls in that institute.  The staff is in want of proper training on how to best serve the girls.  I would love to be able to send them on another trip to the dolphinarium.  I would love to eventually see this place empty and no young girl ever have to be transferred there.  My sister and I are trying to figure out how to do some sort of missions trip back there.  Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

This is home for some of these girls and the only life they will ever know.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  It is my heart's desire to never see any little ones (just babies at 4!) be transferred there. I can't even imagine what it must be like.  I am so thankful to God that Darya will never have to go there.  Here are a few pictures:

Monday, October 11, 2010

This evening

I took these photos of Darya on my phone this evening and just love them. They just seem to catch her sweetness so well! The weather was absolutely beautiful and Darya loved exploring on our front lawn and picking at the grass.  In the meantime Joel and the boys played some football on the road.  A family from church, the Germeroths, stopped by to bring us some dinner (Darya loved the mac-n-cheese!).  It was so nice to see them and to eat some delicious home cooked American food!  Look at our beautiful and happy American girl.  I can confidently say she does not miss the orphanage:

Quick update on being home

I've been awake for about an hour now while everyone else is blissfully asleep in this house.  Aaah, the nice quiet morning!  I should hopefully be adjusted to the jet lag in a day or two and will probably be woken up by 4 alarm clocks from here on out :-)  Darya seems to be doing very well as she's been asleep for over 9 hours already.

As I already mentioned the travel home was long and tiring. Darya did amazing though!  It was SO GOOD to see Joel and my boys when we arrived!!  I crawled into my own bed about 2:00am, only to be woken by Darya at 3:00am.  I got up with her, gave her something to eat and drink, thinking that she'd be up for the day.  But 45 minutes later she was tired and went back to sleep.  Yay!  Saturday my sister flew back to California.  Having her help me in Ukraine and traveling back was priceless.  I am so thankful for her!  Yesterday Darya and I stayed home while Joel and the boys went to church.  Darya now has the same cold I'm getting over and the goop is just oozing from her eyes.  She's been through so much this past week that to have a cold on top of it breaks my heart. But she's the ever-trooper!  She seems to really feel at home here and loves to play and explore.

Did I mention how great my husband is? He did an amazing job holding down the fort while I was gone.  He kept up on laundry, homeschooling the boys, cleaning, yard work, - all while working hard serving our church as their pastor!  Since I got home it's become more of a disaster zone with my unpacking and sorting through things. Even this morning when I woke up, I found the house clean again and coffee ready.  Aaaah, I love my husband :-)

One of my biggest fears from taking Darya out of the orphanage was getting her to eat, but it hasn't been as hard as I thought.  She likes things somewhat bland.  At the orphanage for breakfast she ate milk porridge; for lunch soup mushed up (with who-knows-what); afternoon snack was baked soft cheese with sugar and sour cream; dinner was the same as lunch.  We've been working on a variety of new foods, but not so different as to overwhelm her little tummy.  For her drink, I have been giving her apple juice until I can get her transitioned into something else. At the orphanage they gave her fruit drink and tea.  No milk.  No water.  We'll work on that :-)

The boys all absolutely adore their new little sister.  They love making her laugh and playing with her. They are all so patient and so helpful, too. Despite the picture below, I really do think she likes them!

Anyway, here area  few pictures over these past few days:

Together at last!

She really does like her brothers!

Sleeping like a baby

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Home Sweet Home

After about 27 hours of travel time we made it home at last!  We left our apartment in Kiev at 4:00am Friday morning (11:00pm Thursday Florida time) and pulled into our driveway in Gainesville, Florida at almost 2:00am Saturday morning. Darya was a trooper (did better than me!).  We are tired but doing very well.  It is so good to be home!!!  Countless hours of paperchasing and dreaming for this day, and we are HOME at last!  Darya seems to be adjusting well, though she has caught my cold, poor baby girl.  We plan to rest and lay low at home for a while.  Please see Joel's blog  for a few pictures!  Thank you all so much for your continued prayers for Darya and our family.  Now off to enjoy my family.....

Friday, October 8, 2010

Darya the American

We have been up for almost 24 hours and are now at the Charlotte, NC airport waiting for our final flight into Florida ("only" a 7 hour layover!). Once we exited the international terminal after passing through customs, Darya is officially an American citizen! As much as I loved Ukraine, it feels so good to be home on this side of the Atlantic. It will be so nice to be home tonight as a whole family! I have missed my boys so much and cannot wait to be with them again in a matter of hours. Darya has been amazing these past few brutal days and I just know she will be such an incredible addition to our family. I am exhausted but happy :-) my next blog post will be on Darya's homecoming. I hope to also post on other things that I have intended but haven't gotten to, including more pictures. Until then, I am enjoying a Diet Coke and trying to stay awake. Darya is snoozing soundly.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Going Home!!

Our flights were originally scheduled for Sunday but since I got Darya's visa today, Eldon at Golden Rule worked some of his magic and we are flying back home tomorrow!!!  We will have a hefty layover in Charlotte, NC (7 hours!) but that means we will be home 2 days sooner.  We were re-routed and arrive into Jacksonville, FL, where we will be greeted by Joel and the boys!  I cannot wait!!

I cannot believe our adoption journey is coming to an end. I cannot believe that sweet beautiful little Darya is now my daughter!! It has been amazing and we are so blown away by God's provision and sovereign hand throughout it all.  I wish you could all meet Darya in person one day.  She is an amazing little angel and I feel so honored and privileged that God is allowing Joel and me to parent her.  I pray that we will glorify God in doing so, and that He will give us wisdom and grace in raising our beloved daughter.

Now, I'm off to bed so we can wake up at 3:30am!  Thank you to everyone who has followed our journey and for all your prayers, support, encouragement, and love shown to us all.  It has truly been a blessing and each and every comment has been an encouragement to me throughout this journey. It is my prayer that our journey will be an encouragement to you all, too!  I will certainly be updating the blog of our life with Darya!  Blessings to you all!

From Odessa to Kiev

Okay, I have a few minutes before I leave to my second US Embassy appointment.  Let me give a quick synopsis of the happenings since Gotcha Day:

Tuesday: Went to the orphanage to bust Darya out.  I got to play with her as usual during visiting hours, then they took her away to feed her some lunch.  While they were feeding her, I went into the director's office to sign some final paperwork.  I was told her general feeding/sleeping schedule. Unfortunately they would not let me see her room :-(  About 1:00pm they changed her outfit into some adorable duds I brought her (thank you Franciscos!) and she was officially in my arms to keep!  We left there and had to do a little running around.  My sister, Darya, and I were dropped off at our apartment.  We went to McDonald's to have a quick bite to eat. Then while Janene stayed at the apartment with Darya, I ran around to finish up the final paperwork (birth certificate, passport, close her bank account).  When I got back, we went to Bob and Andrea's apartment (some of the American missionaries from the Odessa church) for our last dinner in Odessa.  We had a great time and hope that this isn't the last time we'll see them.  Here's Darya with their girls:

Then at 10:00pm it was time to head to the train station.  Our translator, Alyona, and her husband Slavik picked us up.  I will miss them a lot, too! Alyona went above and beyond as a translator and we are so thankful for her kindness.  She and her husband truly have hearts for the orphans.  Anyway, here is our train cabin.  Notice the bunk that Janene slept on!  We couldn't stop laughing!  It's amazing she got some sleep and didn't roll off.  I got to snuggle with my bug on the bottom "shelf".

"Cozy" Cabin

Sleep tight Janene!

At our apartment in Kiev

WEDNESDAY: Arrived in Kiev around 8:00am.  Niko, our driver, dropped us off at McDonald's because there was no apartment available yet for us.  Janene and I enjoyed two large coffees each!  We then went to the US Embassy for our first appointment to give them some paperwork and finish filling out some things.  We where then taken to an apartment, which happened to be the same one that Joel stayed in when he left through Kiev after court.  No, we didn't dare go on the "death closet"!  Since I started catching a cold and it's so cold outside, we quickly went to grab some dinner and groceries and hibernated in our apartment until Thursday.

THURSDAY: I woke up feeling really bad and not sleeping very well from this annoying cold.  We had our second US Embassy appointment where we ran into two other RR families!  Colleen Herrick and Max, and Jenny Brown and her three new additions.  But the officer there, I was asked if we went through Reece's Rainbow.  I guess RR is well-known for all the special children they are helping find families. What an awesome impact that the people in Ukraine are seeing.   We went for dinner at the cafeteria one more time and then have been hanging out in our apartment since.  Did I mention how cold it is here?  I'm sure I did :-)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In Kiev

I'm sorry for the short post again, but just wanted to let you all know that we are doing great.  We arrived in Kiev this morning on the overnight train from Odessa.  I got to snuggle with Darya on her first night away from the orphanage on a tiny train bed (bench, really) but we were both so happy to be together!  My sister has been a godsend and I am so thankful for her help here. I'll will post again with more tomorrow as I'm about to hit the hay. As I type this, Darya is sitting on top of me falling asleep.  Utter bliss!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gotcha Day!!

I'm about to leave to finish up some more paperwork, but I'll leave you with a few photos.  I'll update later when I can.  Darya and I are both walking on air!!
Saying Goodbye forever to the orphanage!
McDonald's - "I'm Lovin' It!"

Too cute!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The home stretch

The 10 day wait period is over.  In fact today (Sunday) marks 11 days from court when we could technically bust Darya out of the orphanage for good. But alas that's just not going to happen today.  In fact, it won't happen until Tuesday.  Here's the tentative plan for this week:

Monday: Get the court decree and close Darya's bank account (all orphans have a bank account with money deposited from the government, and the funds will just get donated back to the orphanage. The orphanages rely heavily on donations to provide for their needs).

Tuesday: Get Darya's birth certificate (the birth certificate office is closed Mondays) and apply for her passport. This should also be GOTCHA DAY!  We anticipate a quick turnaround for her passport.

Wednesday and Thursday, or Thursday and Friday: US Embassy for medical and visa.

We are scheduled to fly home next Sunday (1 week!!), but if things go quickly we can possibly be heading home on Friday. There are no seats available for Saturday for our flight route, so I am praying we can go home Friday.  I can't wait!!!

"I'm ready to bust out of this place and go home!"

Friday, October 1, 2010

Aunt Nene and the Dancing Queen

My sister Janene arrived safely in Odessa yesterday (Thursday).  It is so great to have her here!!  She arrived just in time to go to the afternoon orphanage visit.  Let's just say that Aunt Nene (pronounced knee-knee) loves her new little niece!  I am so thankful for Janene to be here to help me take Darya home.  

Oh, and boy does Darya like music, and she's got some good moves to go with it!  Be sure to watch her dancing to Abba's "Dancing Queen" below! 
Aunt Nene and Darya

I love Darya's "old man" face!

"Do I hear Abba?"

Dinner at Compote

Darya dancing to Abba's "Dancing Queen"