Friday, December 31, 2010

Fun at the Park!

It is GREAT to be home!
Alyona spent the day exploring our park and had a great time.

And what girl doesn't love taking her dog for a walk?

We are thrilled to be making new memories and are planning on a very Happy New Year! A special thank you to Kira for being our official photographer.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 35: Home Sweet Home

Swerdfeger - party of five!

One year ago today April asked me if I was interested in adoption. Not just any adoption, either. She had on her heart an orphan with special needs, who lived half-a-world away.

As I read the description of a little girl who loved to laugh and read, my heart jumped. For so long we had discussed our desire for a larger family. For so long we had tried. For so long we had prayed, and prayed. Could it be that God's answer was this little one with an extra chromosome who really was half-a-world away?


That was my answer to God, and to April.
Yes, we should adopt.
Yes, Alyona was the one.
Yes, I had no idea what we were in for.

It has been the hardest thing we have ever done, and yet the most rewarding. God has stretched us, and blessed us beyond measure. He has grown us, and shown us His grace and mercy.

A year ago we did not have any paperwork started, we did not have the money, we had no experience in adoption.

Today there is one less orphan in the world.
Today Alyona has a family.
Today she and momma arrived home.

If God is speaking to your heart about adoption, today is the day to say yes.
If God is calling you to help finance an adoption, today is the day to give.
If you have prayed for us and Aly, today is the day to praise God and give Him thanks.

What a year it has been!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 34: We're in London!

Alyona is a pretty good traveler. She fell asleep in the car on the way to the airport, so I knew that a mid-flight nap was not going to happen. Oh well. Other than not liking the airline food and having to keep her seatbelt on, she did really well. We started off by reading the book Airport by Byron Barton, which is a favorite in our family.

Aly worked on some coloring projects.

Towards the end of the flight, I noticed she was getting a rash on her face. Poor girl. So many new things, I have no idea what caused it.

We made it to London and she was a bit concerned when she saw our room. I on the other hand was ecstatic! I figured she had to be as hungry as I was, so we were off on a mission. With a little food in her tummy she perked right up.

I turned on the music for Aly and she fell asleep before her head hit the pillow.

I am looking forward to finally being home and with my family. I never could have imagined what the past 34 days being away from home would have been like, but when I look at Aly I know it is all worth it!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 33: We Have the Visa!!!

We are so excited that we finally have Alyona's visa. To celebrate we played a game of volleyball/soccer. Aly won!

While at the embassy, it was great to be able to meet several other families that were adopting. We ran into The Birschbach's (Jill and her friend Debbie). It was great to get to see Elijah! We also got to see The Hansen's (Mark and Melanie) and their beautiful daughter Maia! It would have been such a great photo op, but unfortunately you have to hand over your camera when you enter the embassy.

We are so excited about finally being able to come home. Kelsey was sweet enough to delay her Christmas baking, so we would have fresh Christmas cookies to come home to (such a sweetie!).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 32: It's the Final Countdown!!!

Can we PLEASE go home now? Soon, very soon!

The end is in sight and the final countdown has begun!!!

3 - (Monday) This morning we went to our appointment at the embassy for our document intake and then went to Alyona's medical appointment.

2 - (Tuesday) We have our final appointment at 11:00 at the embassy to pick up Alyona's visa.

1 - (Wednesday) We fly to London.

0 - (Thursday) We arrive home ! ! !

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 31: Just Hanging Out

Alyona had a rough night last night, so we decided that we would have a mellow day, just hanging out in the apartment. The fact that it was snowing outside solidified our decision.

We were able to skype with our family last night. It was great to see Brian at home with our girls and Aly was thrilled to see Papa again. My girls looked relieved to finally have him back home and immediately put him to work on flood duty. All of the rain in southern California can stop at anytime. Please!

Well today, Aly spent a good portion of the day listening to music while looking through our photo album, pointing to everyone. I think being able to skype has made these people in the photos finally seem to click with her.

We had a surprise visitor who came bearing gifts. Our facilitator dropped off Aly's passport and birth certificate for us to take to the embassy in the morning. Yay!!! It is such a great feeling to finally have these in my hand. It such an amazing feeling seeing our name on her birth certificate. She was abandoned in the hospital and never had visitors, but yet I wonder if her parents think about her. My heart breaks for her birth mom, who carried her, and loved her, but was probably unable to care for her. I am so thankful for the privilege to be her mom.

I am so excited that we are another day closer to bringing Alyona home!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 30: Merry Christmas

Sorry for the short post, but it is better than no post.

Good news, Alyona's passport is in.

Here is an update on where we stand: Monday 9:00am embassy appointment for document intake and her medical appointment. Tuesday we should receive her visa. Wednesday fly to London. Thurday fly home.

Alyona took me to Mandarin Plaza today so she could burn off some energy and so she would have a good nap.

I actually miss the snow. It's been warm and drizzling and this is all of the snow that is left.

We had the pleasure of having lunch today with Meredith and the newest members of her family, Aleksa and Wesley. She suggested having a Christmas lunch together at TGIFridays and I am so glad that she did. She wrote a post today titled, The 12 Things of Home That I Look Forward To... and it is so true. It is as if I wrote it myself.

This would be Aly's "I just dozed off, how dare you wake me up look." She dozed off for 2 minutes... kiss that nap goodbye! It never happened. Oh well, it's Christmas after all.

We take an elevator to the sixth floor and then have to climb a flight of stairs to our apartment. I am so thankful Aly will sit and wait for me while I carry up her stroller, groceries, etc.

Please pray for Aly. This afternoon I noticed that she is getting sick (coughing, sneezing, and sounding rattly). Poor girl, she sounds miserable.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 29

We have an emergency at home and Brian needs to get home ASAP! He called the US embassy first thing this morning, which we knew was closed for Christmas Eve. Thankfully, he was able to get a hold of someone and explain our situation. They were kind enough to call the person in charge of our visa and that person was thoughtful enough to come in so Brian could sign the documents needed for him to be able to leave. Thank you Lord! They were appreciative that we had our forms already printed out and completed. Brian was able to go straight to the airport and catch his flight to London. Whether he could get a flight home from there was yet to be determined.

Alyona and I decided to break out a new toy we had found for her. Her caretaker at the baby home had told us about it and we were happy we were able to find one. We were both learning our Ukrainian letters and words.

Another first for Aly. We watched Winnie the Pooh together before bedtime. I forgot how much I love that Bear of Very Little Brain.

Brian just called me from London to say he was finally able to get a flight home on Christmas Day!

Your prayers for Brian's back and my daughter, Kira would be greatly appreciated.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 28: First Day of Freedom (in Kyiv)

Today we decided to go for an adventure to find Mandarin Plaza and TGIF / Il Patio. We had a basic map, a stroller, and a brisk 30 degree (F) partly cloudy day, so we bundled up and off we went. The walk was fine, the traffic was nuts, and we found it without any drama or detours!

We scoured the market for something to light the gas stove back at the apartment, but after much charades and limited language skills, we are still without a way to light the burners. We'll deal with that later, because we had our hearts set on some yummy italian food at Il Patio for lunch.

Aly had a great time with her first restaurant experience. She loved looking at the menu, and ate well from every item we ordered. We even had enough left-overs to warm up in the microwave for dinner.

Our apartment in Kyiv is in a different area this stay, and it's located on the sixth floor above this crazy intersection:

Between Aly all over the bed, and the cars honking, April did not get any sleep last night. After we got home from our lunch adventure the girls crashed for a quick nap.

After nap Aly and I watched the Jana Alayra In Concert video, and Aly started to do the hand motions!

After the video it was bath time, then time for dinner. We skyped the girls back at home, and then it was time for all to sleep.

Tomorrow we should receive Aly's passport, and we're scheduled for our Embassy appointment (to apply for travel visa) first thing Monday morning. Please continue to pray for strength as we have been away from home for a month now, for my back (it's really sore and hard to walk), and give God the glory for all He has done to bring us this Christmas miracle!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 27: GOTCHA DAY!!!

Hi everyone,

I wanted to update you all and let you know that after a busy morning of running errands, my parents went to Aly's baby home for the last time! At approximately noon their time, they dressed Alyona in her very own new clothes, said goodbye to all of her caretakers, and left to begin the next part of their adventure. They stopped by the passport office, and were informed that Aly would be receiving the new, blue passport. The good news is that instead of waiting for 4-5 days, it will be ready on Friday. They are all now in the capital, and will be staying there through Christmas. They received appointments at the U.S. Embassy at the beginning of next week, and so should be home in a week.
Thank you so much for your prayers and words of encouragement throughout this journey. Pictures and more info will be posted once my parents get some much needed rest! By the way... I cannot tell you how excited Kelsey and I were when we got to Skype with them this morning (evening their time) and see Aly live for the first time!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 26: Big sigh – no passport, no gotcha

First of all, praise God for the prayers of the faithful - we got part of the way done today:

– we recieved the final court decree - Alyona is officially a Swerdfeger!
– we were able to get Alyona's new birth certificate with April and I listed as parents
– we were able to get her tax ID done
– we were able to close out her bank account and donate the funds to the orphanage
– we were able to visit her again this evening

But... no passport. We were told that the office where the passports are issued was without electricity today and had to close. No passport, no gotcha.

So our biggest prayer remains unanswered - and we humbly ask you to continue to pray for the same-day (Red) passport. We will be going to the office around 10am local time on Wednesday the 22nd, and Lord willing He will see fit to bless us with a quick resolution. Once we have it, we will go to the baby house, get Aly dressed in her new clothes, and "gotcha!"

What this means
We had to ask for our Embassy visa appointment to be rescheduled. The embassy will be closed on Friday for Christmas Eve, so we're praying we can get her visa processed before then and we can find room on a flight to London on Friday, and still get home on Christmas Day. Otherwise we will be here another week as the embassy will not be open again until Monday.

In other news...
Last Thursday, after the first Nickolai program, we were approached by a reporter from the local newspaper. She had heard we were adopting a special needs child and wanted to learn more of our story and family. She returned on Friday and we did a full interview. She remarked how surprised she was to watch us watching Aly in the program - she said we "beamed" just like parents. "Of course, she is our daughter!" we replied. She was amazed by our story, and happy that a "child like this" will have a better life. Tonight (Tuesday 12/21) she came back again to take photos of the three of us together for the article. Please pray God uses this story to touch hearts and bless others, especially the children waiting for forever families!

Prayer requests:
– same day passport
– embassy appointment and visa before they close for Christmas and the weekend
– pray for our 17 year old (Kelsey) who has a nasty cold (and momma who wishes she could be home to care for her!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 25: Prayer Requests

Dear friends, tomorrow (Dec 21st) is going to be a crazy day and we need your prayers today/tonight! For those in the adoption world, it is known as "the paperchase" and "Gotcha Day." So many things need to go right tomorrow for us to have a chance to fly home on Christmas Day, so please pray:

1. that all paper work is complete, accurate, and readily available.
2. for the RED (same day) Passport
3. for Alyona as we remove her from the only place she has ever known
4. for strength and travel mercies for April, Aly and myself
5. for God to be praised and glorified in this adventure!

The PASSPORT is the big deal - without the old-style same-day passport it will add another week or more to our journey, and we want to be home!

We have a scheduled appointment with the US Embassy on Wednesday and Thursday, but we need all of the paperwork to be done, and to have Alyona's passport in hand.

IF God through his grace and mercy see's fit to answer these prayers, we would fly to London on Friday, and to home on Christmas Day.

What a Christmas miracle that would be!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 24: Brrr!!!

We are so close, we are finally able to see the end in sight. Only one more day of visits! I can't believe that our paper chase begins on Tuesday (12/21)! We are praying that we will be able to get everything accomplished in one day (our facilitator thinks it's possible) and head back to the capital the same day.

Today, our taxi driver decided to drop us off (kick us out) across the street. Gee, thanks! I am really wishing I had bought boots before our trip. One step and my Dansko's were filled with snow.

When we arrived, all of the children were heading outside. They saw a worker shoveling snow and wanted to try it. Guess who thought it was the greatest fun. Any chance I could get her a shovel and pile of snow for Christmas?

All of the other children went for a walk. Alyona wanted to go four-wheeling. She would get just out of arms reach and crash. She loved it, as she kept doing it over, and over, and over again.

Somebody found a cute little Santa hat lying around. She is so cute, I can't stand it!

On our way to our taxi, I befriended this cute cat. I gave him some lovin' and we became best friends. He followed me like a little puppy. Poor cold kitty.

Alyona could own her own demolition team. She will personally make sure no block (hers or others) are left standing.

I was thrilled to be able to watch our church service online this evening. Kelsey, I saw you singing in the choir!!!

Several RR families are stuck in Germany, unable to make it here, due to the huge storm that rolled in. Two families are to have their paper chase on Tuesday as well (different regions). Please pray that they will be able find a way to get here, so that they two can finish up and not delay their adoption any longer than necessary.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 23: Meeting Two of Aly's Friends

One afternoon, while playing with Aly in the visiting room, she heard music coming from the play room. Immediately she jumped up and started to wave "paka" like she was telling us it was time to go. "But sweetie, it's not time yet" we tried to tell her. But she had other plans.

As it turned out, it was video time in the playroom, and you can see what happens next:

We were pleasantly surprised when we met her friends Masha...

..and the Bear!

Once back in the apartment we started searching for what we had just seen. Here's what we found: Masha and the Bear is a tradional Russian fairy tale that has been turned into modern animation. We've seen 4 or 5 episodes, and they are all simple and fun. Of course, they are in Russian, but easy enough to follow the story line, and Aly loves them! With a little more searching, Kira and Kelsey found the videos on iTunes, and they have English subtitles. Woo Hoo!

If you have a little one from this part of the world, you might like to show them this...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 22: Showtime!

Today we were blessed with a taste of Alyona's culture... pre-school style. No groundhog day today, no siree! Good thing we arrived right on time, as it was a full house - standing room only! We were quickly ushered into the second row. In front of us sat the governor, mayor, another dignitary in a suit, and the orphanage director. Behind us were 30+ benefactors, sponsors, media, and the entourage of government dignitaries - as well as doctors, nurses, and other orphanage staff.

As the music started the cast (groupas) started to arrive, followed by all sorts of staff members in costume. We were in for a treat! It's got to be very rare that adoptive parents ever get to see this once a year event, and we were happy to have such a wonderful diversion from our daily routine.

Alyona was as beautiful as ever in her fancy dress...

The program had singing, dancing, and speaking lines. Of course, we could not understand a single word! It started with the "Dance of the Stuffed Animals"...

Then an invitation for Nickolai to come, "Ni-co-lai, Ni-co-lai." But no, it is not yet time because first we must have the "Dance of the Tinsel Wand"

This was followed by a couple of the kids going up to recite a speaking line they had been given. You can imagine our surprise and joy as Alyona was the last speaker!

I don't care how cold it is outside, that is heartwarming through and through!

Finally, it was time for "Nickolai" to appear. And, just like America where one can see a variety of good and bad Santas, this "Nick" appeared to be more Nicole than yesterday's hero:

The kids danced and sang with Nic, and then it was time for gifts from the orphanage sponsors. All in all, a great way to spend two hours!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 21: ...and that's when the commotion started.

We arrived at the baby house today and found Alyona in a new dress... ooh, how fancy!

We settled into our morning routine of snacks (Cheerios, and some banana), getting ready to read some books...

...and that's when the commotion started.

Actually, it started when one of Aly's caretakers stepped into the closet adjacent to where we visit each day. Minutes later, she pops out dressed to the hilt as well. April and I looked at each other and said, "something's going on, and I bet we're about to find out."

Sure enough, a bunch of foreign language and charades later, we are following all of the kids from the groupa and the gussied-up nanny to the "hall" or performance area. Wait... we were told the winter performance was tomorrow, right? Something is definitely going on!

We arrived to a room full of media reporters, cameramen, and staff (all dressed up for a special event). There were also what seemed to be dignitaries and benefactors, and the orphanage director was getting everyone in place.

Minutes later kids from other groupa's started to arrive, and soon the room was as full as it could be. Then, a crew arrived and built some sort of "set"... oh boy, we are about to get some theater! Little did we know...

... this would be the day "Nickolai" would arrive! Woo Hoo! He rhymes, too. (although we cannot understand a word being said). After his speech, he introduced some friends of his that put on a little show. The program ended with Nickolai's helpers giving each child a new toy to take back to their groupa.

And we thought today was going to be "just another groundhog day" - ha!

Afternoon Update:
Praise item - we have an Embassy appointment next week!

Prayer Requests:
1. Please pray for the old red passport (get it same day vs. 4-5 for the new one)
2. Pray for God's grace and mercy on the 21st - this is scheduled to be our "paperchase" day and Lord willing "Gotcha Day" and return to the capital city!
3. If these two things happen, it is possible we could be home on Christmas Day! (Please Lord, please!)