Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Hello Everyone! (Happy Birthday 65th Dad!)

Great News ... Everything is finished and we are heading home tomorrow! The boys and I went to the embassy today and were given their visas!

It has been a long week! On Sunday, I returned to Ukraine from London. I spent most of the day flying and then all night on the train from Kiev back to Kharkiv. I arrived in Kharkiv a few hours later than expected and so Monday was very rushed.

I first had to go to the court to pick up the final document allowing me to take custody of the boys. The court is located nearest to Jack so I went to get him first. He was anxiously waiting for me. He changed his clothes while I signed papers. The whole orphanage seem to be a buzz with what was happening. Several older boys were coming by to shake Jack's hand and wish him luck. Once the papers were signed we headed downstairs to give our regards to the director and say goodbye. As we were doing so, Jack's entire class came out to see him off. I took a picture of Jen with his class and their teacher. As I snapped the photo, I was struck by each little face that was smiling with joy for Jen; but I also saw a little other something in each face that made me acutely aware that each of them need a family to love them as well. A bittersweet moment if I ever had one. We hopped right in the car because we had to hurry to get Slava and make it back to the train. A few of the boys ran after the car, dragging their sleds, and yelling, "Paka! Paka Jenya!" Translation: "Goodbye! Goodbye Jenya!" It was a very emotional picture out the back window. Once we drove out of the gate, Jack leaned back against the seat, tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and let out a huge sigh.

When then drove the 90+ minutes or so to Slava's orphanage. There was a lot of traffic and it took us longer than we'd hoped. This was disappointing because the director of Slava's orphanage is probably the warmest and most loving person I've ever. I had hoped to spend time with her that wasn't rushed and all about business. Her story is truly inspirational and I wanted to learn more about her.

When we did finally arrive, Slava was waiting. He also changed clothes. I signed papers. The representative at the orphanage gave Slava some instructions about behaving himself and then said a blessing over him. We then went down to the director's office. She had 2 books about Ukraine and the specific region they lived in for Slava to keep as a reminder of his heritage. We hopped in the car and raced for the train. We made it with a few minutes to spare.

Since arriving back in Kiev, the boys have had physicals, gotten vaccinations, and we've had three trips to the embassy. Now everything is done! Tomorrow we are heading HOME! And not a day to soon.

Thank you for all your prayers. God's sovereignty, faithfulness, and grace have seen us through these past several weeks! Please pray for our safe travel home. We are looking forward to seeing you all SOON!

Sorry there are no photos. Technical difficulties! The boys chose the top three songs for the playlist.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We Are A Family Of Six!

We are now a family of six! We are so joyful and so thankful! We are also so exhausted!

Thank you all for all your prayers! It was a very long day! We left the apartment just before 11 a.m. and we returned just before 11 p.m.

The court itself was quite a distance from the apartment and there were stops to make on the way. It took some planning to get all of us there. Most of the cars here are the size of a Civic or smaller. There were the four of us to be driven, our facilitator, each of the boys, and each of the boys' inspectors. All of those coming were doing so from five separate locations, the farthest being about and hour and forty-five minutes from the court house.

On the way to court we stopped for lunch and had a very pleasant surprise! As we were eating, Slava's driver called to say Slava was hungry, he had been taken out of school before lunch. So, the driver dropped him off with us to eat! He was dressed in a suit with a button up shirt. He looked absolutely adorable! He couldn't understand why we were all so taken by him in his suit. It turns out he wears this suit to school everyday! We had a good time at lunch and he rode to court with us.

Once we arrived we waited in the halls for a bit. Jen arrived with his inspector and the director of his orphanage. Jen had a huge smile on his face when he came through the door and he was so happy to see Slava. This was the first time they had seen or talked with each other since the hosting trip last summer.

The court proceeding was set to begin at 3:00 but didn't actually get going until 3:40. There were three parts to the proceeding: a pre-court hearing in which our petition was read aloud and all the parties present were identified; next was the court session itself in which the jury joined, everyone was re-identified, we were told our rights, our petitions were re-read, all the articles of law pertaining to our petitions were read, we were asked a few simple questions like what we were asking the court to do, why we wanted to adopt these children, how many times they had been in our home, why we were asking for the waiting period to be waived, etc. Then the boys, individually, were invited into the courtroom and asked to state his name, birth date, was asked if they knew us, and they asked who we were. Jen's reply to "Do you know those people?" was, "Yes." His reply to, "Who are they?" was a nervous but hopeful "They are my mom and dad, I think." It was very sweet. Then Slava hurried in and just about knocked the podium over because he tried to step up on the layered, pedestal base. Everyone laughed. He spoke loudly with a huge smile and stated that he knew us "Very well" and that were "Tony ... and Susan ..., my parents." The judge then asked if anyone was against our petition to adoption or had anything they wanted to say. Then the judge, her secretary, and the jury left to make their decision. The wait was at least an hour.

When the judge returned she re-read everything, then stated that our petition to adopt was approved and that our petition to waive the waiting period as it pertained to paperwork was also approved, then she read the decree stating such. Everyone then left the court room and the boys and the others left the courthouse. We waited down stairs as our facilitator and the judge finalized the decree. We didn't leave the courthouse just before 8:00 p.m. The drive back was very slow because we were on a rural road with no street lights, it was wet and foggy, and visibility was probably less than a quarter mile at best.

So, all that and you never got the answers you wanted, right? Like are the boys with you now? When are you coming home? How come there is not a picture of the six of you posted? Here are your answers ... We will be allowed to take custody of the boys on the 24th after we stop by the court house and pick up a document that says the 10 waiting period has been satisfied. We don't know yet when we are coming home. We are still doing documents, making decisions, and then we will make our travel arrangements. We did take a picture of the six of us after court, but Tony left with the facilitator at 6:30 this morning to begin collecting all the necessary documents to proceed (the official court decree, birth certificates, social security papers, passports, etc.) and he took the camera.

We will keep you posted!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Less Than 24 Hours Til Court!

Can you believe this?! We were sitting at a stop light and there it was! We knew this would be the picture for today's post.

For those of you who took a stab at guessing where the picture was taken from the last post ... McDonalds!

So, court is less than 18 hours away now. We are so thankful for all that has transpired so quickly. Well, so quickly if you only look as far back as the last week! We have no idea what to expect. Our facilitator will arrive back from Kiev tomorrow morning and she will walk us through how things proceed. One thing we do know already, God is in control. Another thing we are fairly certain of is that Tony and the girls will not make it back in time for school and work as originally scheduled. Apparently, we are in a region that requires both parents sign for passports, and passports cannot be requested until after birth certificates have been received, and ..., and ..., and ..., etc. But, God is in control! And, by the end of the day tomorrow, we will know a whole bunch more than we do today. Thanks for hanging in there with us this far. It is getting exciting!

Several of you have asked us how the boys are doing, do they know, what they're thinking, and so on. Yes, they know! They will be with us in court tomorrow. (That would be something you could pray over. I am sure there will be a lot said about them, their birth family, etc. that they will have never heard before and could be painful for a child to hear. We will probably know very little of what is said given the language it will be said in. Also, there will be questions asked of us as well, questions parents usually don't answer with their children present. So, pray the Holy Spirit be in control of all that transpires; what is asked, what is answered, who hears what is asked and answered, ....)

Back to your questions about the boys. The boys are doing very well. Slava seems very cool and collected about the whole thing. He is very smiley, clumsy, and loving as always. Jen is anxious and excited out of his mind! He is constantly counting days on the calendar. At our last visit he had a lot to ask, some to say, and he was a little giddy. He asked for more batteries for his camera and he asked for our address to give to his friends. He also said when we get to California he wants to play soccer. He is clearly making plans to leave and arrive!

We are also making plans to leave and arrive! It seems our favorite past time has become conversation about what we will eat when we get home. McDonalds and Italian will not be on the list (nothing personal Altamuras)! Mexican with plenty of chips and salsa will be first! Fried chicken and mash potatoes will follow! Erin insists Top Ramen will remain, she is alone one this one. Panda, Taco Bell, and Quiznos have all been mentioned. Someone mentioned a full Thanksgiving dinner although the conversation quickly became more about the pie that follows the traditional dinner (yes, that is a hint Mom!).

Love to all of you! Please keep sending us emails. We love hearing about what is going on with you guys!

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Scoop

Hey Everyone!

Sorry it has taken us so long to post something new. The past week has been full of uncertainty. We just didn't really know where to begin or what to say. But now .... things seems to be getting very exciting!

Here's a recap.

Last weekend we went to visit the boys and to the circus, as planned. We enjoyed both!

Monday, it was back to work. We began driving from government office to government office to collect documents. We had expected that by the end of the day we would have everything we needed to move on to the next step in the process. The day ended quite differently though. At about 5:30 p.m. we sat in an inspector's office waiting for our driver, facilitator and the inspector to return from the prosecutor's office. A short time later our driver and the inspector returned, but no facilitator. We drove the inspector home and then the driver gave us a note from our facilitator. It said she had left urgently to Kiev. We had no idea if this was a personal emergency or something related to our case. At about 11:15 that night, the phone rang and we found out that she had left because she had a serious health issue which she didn't yet feel ready to disclose. There were going to be some tests done and she would know more later, probably on Wednesday after noon.

Tuesday, we stayed at the apartment and did laundry, schoolwork, and read. We were of course also wondering how things were going to unfold the next day.

Wednesday, we did most of what we had done Tuesday, except Tony and Natalie decided to take a walk. Late that afternoon we received a couple phone calls. We were heartbroken to find out that our facilitator most likely has cancer. We were shocked. She is a wonderful, young, married gal without children. We think the cancer isn't life threatening but does certainly bring with it a possibility that she will not be able to conceive children. She will be beginning treatments Monday. Please keep her in your prayers.

Thursday, our new facilitator arrived. She also is a wonderful, young, married gal. She got right to business Thursday putting in an 16 hour day even on the heals of the 10 hour train ride. We stayed at the apartment as she raced all over the region gathering documents. We met up with her for a late dinner (at a new to us restaraunt, thank goodness!) and she gave us the scoop. We felt immediately that we were going to really like working with her.

Friday, she went one direction and we went another. By the end of the day we finally had all of the documents we needed to move on to the next step of the process. There are just a few loose ends that must be taken care of over the weekend and then sent on. Our facilitator returned to Kiev Friday night to spend the weekend with her husband and son, and to create the necessary petitions for us to move forward.

One person we haven't told you about is our driver! He is FANTASTIC! He is a very kind, gentle, and considerate person. Each day he takes us anywhere and everywhere. Often while we are waiting in some office he will go buy treats for the girls. Anything we mention we want or need he gets for us, maps for Tony or a protractor for Natalie, he is on it. Also, he stays with us when we go into stores or to the bank. He is always looking out for us! He has gone far beyond what you would expect from "a driver." While we spend today and tomorrow doing whatever we want, he will be driving to all the same offices picking up the outstanding documents and then getting them to Kiev. We are talking 100s of miles of driving each day. Our only complaint is that he will never eat with us! We invite him every meal, he always says no!

This morning, we have heard from our facilitator. Our papers have been submitted in Kiev! What needs to happen next is that the boys' official health reports and vaccination records must be added to our file first thing Monday morning. Then, we need approval from the office in Kiev no later than Wednesday morning so that we may proceed to court Wednesday afternoon. Otherwise, we will have to wait another week to go to court.

So, that's the scoop on us. Keep those emails coming giving us the scoop on you!

The posted picture was taken during Tony and Natalie's walk on Wednesday. We think you might be surprised to hear where they were when they took it. Before we tell you, any guesses?

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Top 10 Things We Like About Ukraine

Sorry guys ... no pictures today! We slept in this morning and then played board games and cards with Slava. It was actually a very stress free day. We enjoyed it!

Tonight we were brainstorming all the things we like about Ukraine.
Here is our top ten:

10) Dessert at Kofines (the most beautiful and tasty crepes you've ever seen)
9) Bakeries one after the next (fresh breads, pastries, cookies, and fancy desserts)
8) Snowy, Birch tree forests
7) Statues, monuments, & parks a plenty
6) Beautiful churches (huge steeples)
5) Wearing your favorite sweater 3+ days in a row is expected!
4) English menus
3) Nice people
2) Emails from home!
And The #1 thing we like about about Ukraine:
1) We are safe, warm, fed, and exactly where God wants us! (We hope you are too!)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

So Far, So Good

This picture comes from our long drive to Wednesday's appointment. Along the way we did get to see a few things we had never seen before, like frozen lakes with people ice fishing on them. The black dots on the posted picture are people fishing on a frozen lake. We apologize that many of our pictures are so-so. Almost all of them are taken through a car window.

Turns out, our destination was the village where the boys were born and had entered the system. This was kind of an unexpected detail. We were very excited to see that many people in the village were riding bikes! That, combined with the fact that most of those employed in this village work for farms or dairies, seemed providential. Go Aggies! Perhaps we will be sending a son or two (or daughter or two) to UCD as a 4th generation Aggie!

The appointment itself went well. Thank you for your prayers! We received a favorable recommendation and the necessary documents. While these are influential, the final decision will not be made until we go to court. There are still some outstanding documents to be obtained before we can submit an application requesting a court date. The process is sure slower than we'd like; however, we don't have any reason to believe that the eventual outcome will be anything less than what we have our hearts set on. The next big, important appointment will be on Monday.

We are finished with paperwork appointments for the next few days. Tomorrow we will visit one of our guys and Saturday we will visit the other. Then, on Sunday we think we will be going to the circus! We'll keep you posted. We'd love to hear what all of you are up to as well!

We are so thankful for the all the great friends taking this journey with us. We are indeed blessed!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Some Funny Things & One VERY Important Thing

Okay ......

We will let you guess who took this picture.

Hint: Do women look at Google maps and then take pictures of what they see on the screen? (He wants to be able to remember where we were!)

Just some funny things about this place.

There are no shower curtains; big, nice tubs with hand held shower massagers, but no shower curtains.

Some parents push their children in strollers. Many more pull them on little sleds. Its pretty cute.

The women here love boots! Boots that go up to their knees and have a 4 inch heel. They wear them with absolutely everything, mini skirts, jeans, whatever. It is now a game for us to watch for a woman not wearing boots. Natalie wants some, of course, for her 6th grade graduation. (Not gonna happen.)

Bedazzle Mania! Everyone wears jeans here! And not just jeans but glittery, rhinestoned, multi-zippered, very tight jeans.

Many middle aged men carry purses/man bags. We have noticed the bigger the man, the smaller the purse; the smaller the man, the bigger the purse. Dan, Brian, Mark: not to worry we have room in our suitcases to bring each of you one! Would you like a pair of jeans as well? Sam, what about you?

Out the window of our apartment is a gym. In the evening, the girls watch the women do aerobics and mimic them.

There are stray dogs everywhere! The girls have a count for each day.

Only flat sheets, no fitted sheets.

There is a show on t.v. that we think must be Ukrainian Idol.

There is no maple syrup here.

They sell beer in vending machines on the street (less than $2 a piece).

To lock a door the key must be turned three times. You should leave the key in the door horizontally so that no one can push the key out from the other side.

Today was a better day than some of the others. We did some paperwork at the "Inspector's Office." Then, we got to visit and play games with Jen.

Tomorrow will be an important day. We will be going to an office about two hours away to speak with the person who will grant or deny the disconnection/separation between the two younger boys and the older brother. This is the deal maker or breaker.

Thanks for your prayers and emails! We love hearing from you!

Monday, January 26, 2009

From the Girls

Hello Family and Friends,

We miss you all! We're thankful for your prayers. Our new apartment is on the 4th floor in the corner of the building. There's no elevator so when we got here, we had to pull all of our luggage up the stairs. It was hard and tiring. Our driver was even more exhausted than us and he is a muscle man!

We can't wait to get the boys and come home! Today we get to go see Jen.

To all of Erin's friends, I miss you soooo much. Kate from Portland, I remember you. When I look at the pictures I cry. Marina, I hope you and Paige are having fun at school. Mrs. Salomonson, I hope you aren't having a hard time with the class. The first thing I want to eat when I get home is a chocolate chip cookie and a German chocolate cake. (Mom says, "You like German Choolate cake? Erin says, "Well, I don't know ... I've never had it but everyone tells me how good it is!") My favorite treats here in Ukraine, so far, was the pastries and sweet bread from the tunnel under the intersection. The first thing I want to do when I get home is run up to Marina and Graham and give them a HUGE hug!

To all of Natalie's friends, keep emailing me! We want to know how life is in America? How is everyone in Tara Jo's class? What are you learning? Friends at school, I hope you have fun in Sonora! Life here in Ukraine is a lot like it was in Mexico. Mrs. Rhodus, I picked out a gift for you. Mr. Binford, I have already read 3 books! When I get back to America the weather will seem warm because it is freezing here. The first thing I want to do when I get home is see all of my friends. The first thing I want to eat is a big,fat Reese's Peanutbutter Cup. My favorite food so far here in Ukraine was pizza at Pizza Bella. My favorite treats, so far, was the ice cream at Pizza Bella and some chocolate covered crunchy things they gave us at one of the Inspector's Offices. All each of our apr apartments there has been a really good view.

We love you all! Bye, for now.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Sun Came Out!

Today the sun came out and lifted everyone's mood!

We had some down time today, so we went to the square in the center of town. We'd driven by it many times and had been told it was the largest square in Europe. There happen to be a festival going on this afternoon. It included several ice sculptures and ice structures, some you could even climb up and slide down on. There were also pony rides, a snowboarding ramp, quads, a wind/sail skateboard thingy to ride, and music of course. Ukrainians seem to really love American music. We hear it everywhere we go including in our Opel. Our driver always has American music playing, everything from Bruce Springsteen to Celine Dion.

After walking through the ice exhibit, we decided to take a walk through town. There are many old and beautiful orthodox churches in the area. As we walked from place to place we saw nine weddings parties! I guess it is custom to take pictures at all the various landmarks. We came across a small craft fair as well. Erin bought herself a nesting doll. The only down side of our tour is that we really didn't know what we were looking at! None-the-less, we took a lot of pictures!

After all the walking we went to lunch at Bella Pizza. This was kind of a big deal because it was the first meal we had to order without our facilitator to translate for us. Luckily, we had been there with her before and the waitress remembered us! She brought over an English menu. Whew! We weren't going to starve!

Some other big events in the last couple of days include a trip to Target (can you believe that?), cooking our first meal in the apartment, doing laundry, and figuring out where to take the trash. Big stuff!

Tomorrow we are moving to a bigger apartment. This will allow our facilitator to stay with us. She is currently at home for the weekend to celebrate her grandmother's 85th birthday. She will return Monday morning and we will get back to business!


Yeah! We are back online!

We made it to Kharkiv, no problems. I guess we got lucky because our train experience was quite nice. I think we were on a newer train. It was clean, comfy, and the bathroom was like a big airplane bathroom. Nothin' on the tracks from us! We were on the train for 10 hours, 10:20 p.m. to 6:21 a.m. We should have slept! We tried, but the scenery was enchanting and we were all excited!

We went straight to our new apartment and then starting visiting government offices. It was probably one of the longest days of our lives. It was all worth it though, because we got to see both boys!

We spent a lot of time in the car, all four of us packed in the back of an Opel. Although our apartment is within the city of Kharkiv, each of the orphanages is in an outlying area, opposite directions from the city, of course. The posted picture is of our view out the car window most of the time.

Kharkiv is very different from Kiev. Think Fulton Mall meets frozen tundra. So far, this place seems very drab to us. To be fair though, it could be because we haven't seen the sun for days! It looks like we might see it today. It's Saturday and all the offices and orphanages are closed so we are going to the town square. We are told it is the largest square in Europe. We are heading out the door now and we will let you know what we experienced when we get back.

We love and miss all of you! Thank you for your prayers and emails. They are keeping us going!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On To The Next Step

This morning we had our appointment at the SDA. It was a short 10 minute walk to get there and the sights along the way were amazing! The appointment was brief and went exactly as expected. We will pick up three referrals at 5:00 this evening. After that we will return to our apartment, pack up, and then hop on the train to Kharkiv at 10:30 p.m.

We have just a few hours left to see more of Kiev. Believe it or not, we are headed to the mall to buy t-shirts and flip flops! We've been told the train is uncomfortably hot. Pray we are able to sleep.

We are hoping Kharkiv is as wonderful as Kiev. We aren't sure what our access to the internet will be. Hopefully, we will be able to continue blogging. We love sharing this experience with all of you! If you do not hear from us for a couple of days, please feel free to email us. We can receive and send email for free on Susan's phone. No texts though, please, those are expensive!

Thank you! to all of you who are praying for us, sending us comments, and encouraging verses. We totally love it! You are all in our prayers as well!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Daily Life

It was sunny and cold today. It will be cold everyday, but today it was sunny and crisp as well. There was still quite a bit of snow on the ground, in the trees, and on the roof tops, and since the sun was out the city looked bright and beautiful. Our apartment is located right in the center of the city. The look and feel of things is very much like staying near Union Square in San Francisco. Just like SF, the buildings are large and imposing, very old architecture mixed with new, scaffolding over the sidewalks, and signage everywhere.

We did some daily life things today; like go to the grocery store, the bank, the mall, and to McDonalds for lunch. Be thankful for SaveMart and Vons! The grocery store is pretty much like ducking into a doorway in an alley. The entire store is about as big as a master bedroom. The mall, on the other hand, looked just like an American mall; it has many of the same stores, a food court, but it is underground. One nice thing about this city it that you cross major intersections by going under them, through a large tunnel. The stairs down look exactly like an entrance onto BART. Within the tunnels there are vendors selling everything you can imagine, including fresh, beautiful flowers, any kind you could want. If you have ever been to the Pike's Market in Seattle it looks just like that.

Tomorrow, we have our appointment at the SDA, 9:30 a.m., our time. We are 10 hours ahead of California. Following this appointment we will receive referrals to permit us to go to the orphanages. Please pray we receive we 2 referrals, no more no less, and for the right children.

After we receive the referrals, perhaps tomorrow afternoon or the next day, we will travel to the region where they are located. We will take the train and it will be about a 10 hour trip. We will travel at night in a sleeper car. Our facilitator will be traveling and staying with us in the region. I think she will speak English and Ukrainian/Russia. What a blessing! Hopefully, we will be the same to her.

Thanks for checking in on us! Keep the comments coming! We love hearing from you! Add your picture too! Seeing your faces makes us smile!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

We Are In Kiev!

Hi Everyone!

This will be a short post. As you can imagine, we are very sleepy! We wanted to let you know that we arrived in Kiev safely!

It was snowing quite heavily when we got off the plane. All the Christmas lights are still up and so the city looked like a winter wonderland. We are staying the next four nights here in Kiev. On the way to our apartment the driver pointed out many of the historical buildings and landmarks. The Opera House and government buildings are beautifully lit at night.

Our apartment is very suitable; spacious, warm and clean. The neighbor next door has some Nora Jones style music softly playing and we can hear it through the walls. Feels pretty cozy.

I will try my hand tomorrow at posting several pics, tonight just one. Our driver told about the different occupations Ukraine has endured. This is a photo of the building that the KGB and Gustopo were headquartered in.

We are excited to go to sleep and then see the city in the daylight tomorrow. We can't believe we are actually here!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Preparing to Get Our Boys!

After several days of borrowing and buying the items on our packing lists, tonight we plan to start packing! We still have many things on our "To Do" list, but create blog can now be crossed off! (Thank you, Jennifer!) This will be our family's first experience blogging; so, please be patient with us as we learn.

We'd like to begin by telling everyone how thankful we are for friendship. So many of have patiently walked this journey with us. We are so blessed to have such faithful friends! We would not have made it to this point without you!

We hope this blog will allow us to take all of you to Ukraine with us! We hope to have access to the internet daily. When we do, we will blog and post pictures as often as we can, so that you can experience everything with us. Please post comments! Ukraine is really far away and we are going to miss all of you very much and probably be very homesick. Your comments will encourage us and we will treasure them!