Monday, October 1, 2007

The Latest From Kiev

We went to the circus on Saturday. It was very well done. The show was more than 2.5 hours and Michael Yan was fascinated with all of it. Saturday night we went out for pizza. Strike two on American food. Burgers and pizza out - vegetables and cereal in. We had a great day and Michael Yan crashed as soon as his head hit the pillow.

The coolest thing happened yesterday. We went to the food court in the mall on the square after church for our daily coffee and muffin. While sitting at the table, a family walked by and said "hello." After they passed, Karen and looked at each other and wondered how they knew we spoke English. Karen thought it was her "USA" socks she was wearing and I thought it might have something to do with the translation book I was reading. After we finished breakfast, we went over to their table to ask how they knew and they said that they recognized us from church. We started talking and learned that Jay, Lori and their three kids are from Conn. and were in Kiev for about two years for Jay's company. It seems that they go to mass, then McDonald's and then to the market every Sunday and end the day with a big barbacue at home. Long story short - they invited Karen, Michael Yan and I to dinner. It was incredible! They have a beautiful home just outside of Kiev complete with 3 car garage, 5 or 6 bedrooms, an indoor pool, etc. Jay, Lori and the kids were so gracious and we enjoyed the night so much. Michael Yan kicked the soccerball, the basketball and even the baseball. He also learned to play on a computer with some of the other kids. After steaks and desert, Jay even pulled out a bottle of single malt scotch. What a gift they gave us. Karen and I talked about it all night when we got home and still today at breakfast and Michael Yan had a blast. Thanks Mary Kate, Maggie, John, Jay and Lori!!!!

We are headed to the US Ebassy for our final interview and to get Michael's visa. Our flight leaves Kiev tomorrow at 11:00 am and gets into JFK around 3:00 if all goes well.

Michael with Jay, Lori and the kids.

Pictures From The Last Couple Days

Karen getting Michael Yan dressed the day we picked him up
from the Children's Home

Karen and Michael Yan waiting at the Inspector's office. Michael took a liking to my sunglasses.

Michael Yan coloring on the airplane from Luhans'k to Kiev

Michael, Michael Yan and St. Michael. One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just isn't the same. Can you tell which thing is not like the other...

Dude eating breakfast

Karen, Michael Yan and Ailona our translator at the circus

Saturday, September 29, 2007

We Made It Back to Kiev!

Sorry it has taken so long to update the blog. It has been a hectic week to say the least.

Monday: after our last "visit" with Yan, our translator took us to a very nice Ukrainian restuarant for a traditional Ukrainian dinner. We had a 4 course dinner which included borsch, a salad with many unrecognizable ingredients, a main course and desert. I also agreed to sample the Ukrainian vodka. What I didn't know was I agreed to sample a whole bottle of vodka. Our translator (Andrew) is from Siberia and likes his vodka. We walked back to the hotel afterwards.

Tuesday: After a bit of a "foggy" start for me, we headed to Stakanoff (sp ?) - the village where Yan was born. We had to get Yan's birth certificate changed to indicate us as his parents. This was required for us to be able to pick up Yan even though the 10-day period was officially over. We got the birth certificate around 1:30 and headed to Lutugino to pick up Yan. When we got to the Children's Home, we met another couple from Buffalo, NY who were there to meet there new son for the first time. Seeing them with their son brought back a lot of memories from our first day. We really enjoyed meeting them and talked about finding a halfway point in the states to get the boys together in the next 6 months - year. After reviewing the paperwork, we were permitted to pick up Yan. He was really excited. He knew exactly what was going on. The translator for the couple from Buffalo said that Yan was asking him all day when Karen and I were coming to get him. We got him dressed in his new clothes (he thought he was cool) and he said goodbye to his groupa and "teachers." You see the women had mixed emotions. They were happy for him but they also were sad to see him go. We spent the next 2 - 3 hours in the inspectors office signing papers and getting the paperwork needed to process Yan's passport. We used the occasion of leaving the Children's Home as the opportunity to introduce him to the name Michael. Many people advise using their new name in combination with their old name so they get used to it and then eventually dropping the old name. So now he is Michael Yan and doing OK with it. If someone asks him his name, he will tell them Yan. If you call him Michael Yan or even just Michael, he will respond. After getting the paperwork completed, we headed to Lugans'k to get airline tickets to Kiev and then back to the hotel for a late dinner (around 7:30 - 8:00 pm). By the time we got Michael Yan showered and in bed, it was about 10:00 pm.

Wednesday: We were picked up by our driver to head to the airport at 5:00 am, so we had to get up around 4:00 am. Our flight was on time and Michael Yan was jumping out of his skin he was so excited to get on the plane - until it was time to actually get on the plane. Walking to the plane he was holding on to Karen's arm like he was dangling from the top of a cliff. Once on the plane, he was cool and took in the whole experience. It is hard to describe how frustrating it is sometimes when you can't understand him or explain things to him. The plane ride was one of those moments. We landed in Kiev around 9:00 am and had to run around doing paperwork until our apartment was ready. We got into our apartment around 1:00 pm and Michael Yan's meltdown started around 1:45 pm. We finally got him to sleep by 2:30 and he slept for > 2 hours. The day was capped off with a long walk to TGI Friday's for some much needed wings, salad, and a cold beer. Michael Yan was more interested in the fries and vegetables than he was his cheeseburger. I learned later that the kid's in the children's home get very little beef so it is not something he is used to. We ate ice cream on the way home and then crashed.

Thursday: was a rough day. We had to get Michael Yan's physical, pictures for his visa and all of his documents translated from Russian to English. If there were any mistakes in the translation, our application for a visa for Michael Yan would be thrown out so they had to be perfect. We worked on this until about 8:00 pm and decided to call it a day. Another late dinner for Michael.

Friday: yesterday was very productive. We got all of the translated documents by 9:30 am and headed to the hospital to get Michael Yan's completed medical paperwork. We took all of his documentation and passport to the US Embassy and got there 25 minutes before the office closed. We spent the next 1.5 hours submitting paperwork and filling out forms. We we were done we were told that everything was in order and that we had an appointment for an interview at 2:00 pm this Monday. Assuming there are no outstanding issues, we were told we will get Michael Yan's visa at the end of the day Monday. This means that we can fly home on Tuesday!!!! When we left the embassy, I took Michael for a hike down to the Dnipro river while Karen got some alone time. We had to kill a couple hours until the travel agency we are using was open so I could start working on ticket reservations to JFK. Karen took Michael Yan to the park while I worked on tickets and sat in on a conference call for work. We had are seats reserved for Tuesday by 5:00 pm and headed to dinner. Finally, a dinner by 6:00 pm.

Today we are going to the circus. Tomorrow (Sunday) is election day in Ukraine. Kiev his hopping! I am sure we will find many things to do.

We finally feel like parents and it is awesome. A feeling we didn't have when visiting Yan on a daily basis. We have experienced a lot of "firsts" with Michael Yan.

- First time on a plane
- First time to get sick on a plane
- First experience with a automatic hand dryer in a bathroom (scared to death when it first came on - now we can't get him away from them)
- First pony ride
- first escalator

It is so cool to see his reaction to these new experiences. So cool to have him wake up in the morning and hug Karen for 5 minutes as he is still tired. In many ways, he acts like a 3 - 4 year old with things like soap dispensers and light switches yet we also know that Michael Yan has expereinced more dissapointment, feelings of abandonment, loneliness and rejection in the first 6 years of his life than many of us may experience in a life time. Hard to imagine what is going on in his mind. Each day, we remind him that we will be together forever.

I have a lot of cool pictures of his last day at the Children's Home, on the plane, at the park in Kiev, etc., but am unable to post due to problems in the Internet Cafe. I will try later or tomorrow. Sorry for the long entry - just wanted to bring you up to speed on where we stand. Most importantly, we are well, doing well together and really really looking forward to getting back to the states and to see all of you. K&M

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Day 10!

Today marks the final day of our 10-day waiting period. We are so excited to pick up Yan tomorrow. Yesterday we went to the travel agency in Lunhans'k to reserve tickets for our flight to Kiev on Wednesday morning. Our flight takes off at 6:40 am. Yan's first 24 hours with Karen and I should prove to be pretty hectic beginning with a 4:45 am wake up call. We went to visit him after our stop at the travel agency for about an hour and then headed to the market to get him some clothes. The market was outdoors and was very crowded. Reminded of us a flea market on a Saturday morning at home and the prices were right. The sizes in Ukraine are completely different than in the US so it is hard to tell if what we got will fit but I am sure we will be close enough. So cool to see his clothes folded and lined up in the hotel room - a reminder of how close we are to getting him.

As we prepare to leave Luhans'k and Lutugino, we thought we might share a couple final pictures from our experience over the last 3 weeks:

This is a picture of Alexander our driver and the car that we travelled in for the last 3 weeks. It is a Russian built car called a Lada and is probably the most common car on the road. Alexander has proven to be a real gentleman and life saver when we were in a pinch. Never says "no" to anything. He is fluent in Russian and Spanish and understands enough English for the three of us to converse every day back and forth to the Children's home. He has been a real friend to us.

Here is one of several bus stops on the side of the highway
traveling from Luhans'k to Lutugino.

Typical home outside the city on the way to the Children's Home. Most of the homes that you see were built when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. They were all one-story dwellings limited to 40 square meters in size. Notice the brown pipe that runs in front of the house. This is an above ground natural gas line that feeds each home with gas for heating and cooking. Each house is tied into the main line like telephone poles and wires at home.

This is a train crossing guard station. These stations are manned 24/7 - primarily by women. When a train is coming, they come out, lower the manual gates and wave two flags to signal to cars that a train is about to pass.

Luhans'k, like most other parts of Ukraine has its fair share of statues and monuments - most from the Soviet Union days. Each week, from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, it is not uncommon for us to see 10 - 15 wedding parties taking pictures in the city in parks, at monuments and in front of our hotel. This is one in front of what appears to be the Blessed Mother on the main road that runs through the center of town.

This is a picture of the main building of the Children's Home. This is the building where the older children have classes, where the admin offices are located and where we saw the show the other day. Lately, when we leave, Yan waits at the gate in the lower left-hand corner of the picture and waves good bye. While it tears us up to drive away and leave him, he is smiling and yelling "ba ka" the whole time.

All of the kids take off their shoes before entering their "dormitory" area. This is a picture of the shoes lined up outside Yan's dorm.

Not sure when we will have the chance to write again. We are guessing our next update will come from Kiev. We hope so anyway. Please keep us in your prayers that all goes well the next 48 hours and that we will soon be home with our son. Thanks - K&M

Saturday, September 22, 2007

3 Days and a Wake Up...

... before Yan is officially ours - before we will leave the Children's Home for the last time with Yan. While we couldn't be more excited for that day to come, we are sure it will be filled with many mixed emotions for all three of us. Hard to say if he can understand the permanence of what it means to leave the Children's Home, his friends and those that have cared for him the last two years. Our focus will be on Yan and making his transition as easy as possible. A transition that only begins on Tuesday and will likely go on for months if not years.

In the meantime, we continue to prepare for the final "leg"of our journey. Today we will go to the travel agency to reserve our plane tickets to Kiev for Wednesday. Tomorrow (Sunday) our translator and driver are taking us to a local market to get a few changes of clothes for Yan to get us to Kiev. While Yan is not allowed to go with us on Sunday, one of his caretakers was kind enough to list out his sizes in advance to help us with our shopping spree. We were also able to reserve a suite with an additional bed in our hotel for Tuesday night as Yan will be with us the night before we fly out of Luhans'k. So it seems like things are coming together.

We were also finally able to get the mailing address to the Children's Home. It is as follows:

Special Regional Comprehensive Boarding School in Lutugino
126 Lenin Street
Lugans'k Region, Ukraine


For the last 4 weeks, we have enjoyed our (almost) daily e-mails from our niece Monica. She is 12 years old and makes a point of e-mailing us before she goes to school almost every day of the week (thanks to a bus driver that is usually late). In addition to her words of support and excitement to meet her new cousin, we also get important updates on what is happening at school with the "popular nice girls", what new fashions her teacher is sporting and what is "on tap" for the upcoming weekend. Our "flowergirl" e-mails have become part of our daily ritual - something we look forward to very much. We recently had the chance to talk to Maggie and learned that Monica is going to make organizing a clothes drive for Yan's Childrens Home a project for her Girl Scout troop. We couldn't be prouder and the kid's in Lutugino will benefit greatly.

We just had a huge thunderstorm pass through and the sun is coming back out. Hopefully, it will be another nice day. We are headed to the supermarket now to get our water for the weekend and later to the Travel Agency and finally the Children's Home to see Yan. We hope you all have a great weekend. K&M

(unable to post pictures today due to some technical difficulties in the internet cafe - should be back up tomorrow)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Short Break From Our Normal Routine

6 days down and 4 to go in our 10-day waiting period!

On Tuesday, went had to go to the Notary in Lutugino (the town where the Children's Home is located) to get some paperwork notarized for Yan's birth certificate or passport or both. Not sure exactly, but we got what the team said we needed. This made us late for our visit with Yan. When we finally got to the Children's Home, Yan and his "groupa"were offsite visiting one of the kids in his group who was admitted to the hospital (not sure why). While waiting in the play ground for Yan to return, we ran into the Director and had the opportunity to meet with her to discuss the completion of Yan's blood work and pictures for his passport. At the end of the meeting, The Director invited the three of us to attend a show put on by 16 of the 3rd graders. Two women from a local pharmacy that supports the Children's Home with medicine and supplies were visiting, and the Children's Home was putting on a small show for the women to thank them for their support. So there we were, the three of us, the Director and the two women from the pharmacy enjoying a 45 minute show by the kids that included songs, dance and a couple short skits. It was really well done. The kids wore traditional Ukrainian costumes and really got into it. We felt like we got the real VIP treatment and Yan really seemed to enjoy it. So Tuesday ended up being a very productive and enjoyable afternoon/evening.

On Wednesday, we went to the Children's Home early in the morning to sit in on a few of Yan's classess. It was a great opportunity to see how things work and see how/what Yan does in classes. Needless to say, we were a huge distraction for the 10 kids in the class. The teacher managed to keep them focused as best as possible. The kids have uniforms that they wear similar to Catholic or private schools. We included a picture of Yan in his uniform below. We brought treats for all of the kids and Yan gave them out during the break. He was "the man"as he handed out the party-size packages of gummie bears and the kids were thrilled. The Director (who also teaches lessons to the older kids) then gave us a tour of the facility. We learned that the Children's Home has been in operation at this location for 19 years. At the present time there are 235 kids living in the home ranging from 6 - 18 years old. They all follow a 7-day schedule that runs from 7:00 am - 9:00 pm at night. In addition to being responsible for the murals and artwork throughout the facility, the kids also handle 90% of the upkeep and maintainance. They clean, paint, garden and repair most everything on the grounds with the exception of major mechanical issues. It is not uncommon to see some kids in the play ground playing dodge ball while others are gardening or painting some of the equipment on the playground. You can see that everyone (Director, staff and kids) take a lot of pride in their home.

Last night we ventured out into Luhans'k for dinner (we usually stay in the hotel). We found a cool cafe with an outdoor 2nd story patio. The weather was great and we had a nice night. Afterwards, we walked to an ice cream stand. I ordered 2 chocolate cones and got 2 double espressos. I finally managed to get one vanilla milkshake for Karen and I drank an espresso. The weather is back up into the 70's and it is sunny. Today we go back to our late afternoon visits with Yan. We did get the address of the Children's Home from the Director, but it was in Russian. Our translater said she would give it to us in English this afternoon and we will pass it along in case you are interested in sending care packages. K&M

Here is the room where we watched the show. The pink curtain at the end of the room serves as the stage.

Yan in his school uniform

Some of the artwork done by the kids in the home

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

As Requested: More Pictures

From the first day we met Yan, he has been an affectionate child. When he is not running around chasing a ball, he is very comfortable holding our hands, being held, giving hugs or playing with the hair on my arms/wrist (yea yea - I know - there is a lot to play with!). But he hasn't volunteered a single kiss. Every time we come and go we give him a kiss, but haven't got one in return. We weren't sure why and haven't stressed over it - it is what it is and Yan will let us know when we are "kiss worthy."

Yesterday, we brought him another puzzle to play with. The average lifespan of most toys we give him before ending up in another child's locker is about 2 - 3 days (except the basketball which Yan closely monitors at all times). After completing the puzzle for a third time, Yan leaned over to Karen to give her a hug and out of no where planted a big kiss on her cheek! Just like that - it was on. Papa even got one by the end of the day. As are many things with this "adventure", it is hard to put into words how it felt. Let's just say we look forward to many many more.

The Director of the Children's Home was not available to meet with us yesterday so we do not have an address to pass along. Hopefully, we will be able to get it today and pass it along tomorrow or Thursday. Tomorrow Karen and I will be attending school with Yan. We have been invited to come in earliar in the day to observe Yan in class and his morning routine. We are looking forward to it but will miss the "free time" we usually get with him in the afternoon.

Here are a few more pictures ( I was afraid I was boring you guys with too many):

Karen and Yan working on yesterday's puzzle

Dude with Karen's shades on

Yan and Michael in the playground

What Karen does most when we are not with Yan: e-mailing on the blackberry

We will send another update soon. Birds: 0-2 - ouch!! The weather is warming up again. Should be in the upper 70's by the end of this week. Happy to see GAM on the blog scene. K&M