Sunday, February 26, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

February 14, 2012

There are many reasons why I like living in Texas.  But I think I love it most for the mild winters and the sunshine. After spending 2 months away from home, and one of those months was continual sub-freezing temperatures, I was elated to go outside and not have to wear thermals under my pants, and a heavy coat, and a hat, and a scarf, and gloves.

Today was a GORGEOUS day!  It was sunny and warm with a gentle breeze.  I could treat Hannah and Naomi to a beautiful February day outside!   A day to enjoy the sunshine for all it's worth.
Joseph, Sarah, Hannah and Naomi

Sarah came up with the terrific idea of giving them a ride in the wagon.  I have to wonder, but I really don't think they've ever ridden in a wagon before.

 They really seemed to enjoy being outdoors again since out short little outing back in December.  We're looking forward to many more sunny days and basking in the warm days.

Meet The Doctor

February 13, 2012

I took the girls to see our pediatrician this afternoon for their first measurements and check-ups.  Our doctor and her staff have been so supportive since I told them we were adopting.  And they have been even more excited to meet and get to know them.  The girls did really well, but didn't take too kindly to the tongue depressor.  I hope we can teach them to just say "ah" and she won't have to use it anymore. :)

Just to log where they are starting:

Hannah (Lindsay) weighs in at 24 pounds at 7yrs and 8 months old.  She is 37.5 inches tall.  She wears a 3T or 4T shirt, but 3T/4T pants have to be taken in about 2-3 inches in the waist.

Naomi (Shawna) weighs in at 25 pounds at 7yrs and 11 months old.  She is 37 inches tall. She wears a 3T or 4T shirt, and can easily wear 3T/4T pants without them falling down.

They both wear size 4 diapers.

They both fall well-below the 5th percentile on the Down syndrome growth charts.  It's unfortunate, but not at all surprising considering where they've been.

So they'll be using the 5-point harness carseats for quite a long while.  I have a dream that we can get them to that new magical number of 4ft-9in to be able to ditch the booster seats some day before they turn 18.

We braved the lab and we were able to take a boat load of blood for a plethora of standard tests and to determine the effectiveness of their vaccines.  The ladies at the CPL clinic did a fantastic job. My hat's off to them!  Hannah cried like a wet cat and probably had pity from everyone in the waiting room.  Naomi surprised us all when she didn't make a single sound the entire time. I actually found that a little odd.

We plan to visit a number of different specialists over the next few months so that we can get a good assessment of  their overall health.  Cardiology, orthopedics, and a dentist are all high on the list. Then we can set a game plan on beginning therapies and get these two up and walking, running, and talking up a storm.

Our first focus will be on nutrition and building their health.  They both eat really well and have liked almost anything that's offered.  But oddly enough, they are quite particular about drinking.  Styrofoam and paper cups are completely out of the question.  A few plastic cups might be tolerated.  Go figure!  They only drank from one particular mug at the orphanage.  So I finally was able to find a couple of Corell white coffee cups from my grandmother's cupboard that they WILL drink from.  So they now have their own special cups.   I hope to teach them to be able to drink from a straw, which will make outings much easier.  I really don't want to drag around these special cups everywhere.

They drink milk.  They LOVE Pediasure.  And we are still experimenting with fruit juices to find one they will drink.  I have to warm the drinks just a tad because they don't seem to like it very cold.

I'm looking forward to see how they much will grow and improve over the several months and on through this next year.

Day 63 - Departures/Arrivals

Thursday, February 9, 2012

We caught only a few hours of sleep as we readied for our departure this morning. Suitcases were packed and everything readied.

Niko arrived promptly at 4:00am to gather our luggage and all of us.  It was still bitter cold (-20C/-4F) outside but the skies were dark and clear.  With the girls and us all bundled up, we headed out for the airport to catch the 6:30am flight to Munich, Germany.
Check In line

Just in from the cold, bundled to our noses!

As we were about to check in, Lee realized his wedding band was missing.  Talk about your stomach suddenly feeling sick.  He had gotten a rash under his ring, so he wasn't wearing it.  We thought it was probably on the bathroom shelf back in the apartment.  At this point, we had already returned our in-country phone so we couldn't call.  I didn't have phone numbers to even use our costly US phones. It was FB and email... that's it.

I posted a note that we had lost the ring, and a couple of folks jumped in to help and pray. Phone calls were made to Niko and we had people looking for it in a matter of an hour.  In the meantime, we were boarding our plane and hoping to hear something when we got to Munich.

By this time, the girls were getting hungry, so we broke out the bananas to feed them. Poor Lindsay (now Hannah) has a big challenge with food.  She must eat and she must eat NOW.  We had to interrupt her breakfast so we could board the bus to take us to the plane. Poor thing began a loud meltdown right in the middle of the line and all the way to our seats.  I felt sorry for all the other passengers as I could read their faces.... many wondering if they were going to have to ride next to that screaming child the entire time.

I was glad that I didn't ditch the coats and pack them at the check-in counter.  We had to go outside, catch a bus, and ride out to our airplane. Then we had to stand out in the cold while we waited our turn to go up the steps. Once we finally made it to our seats, we were able to finish feeding the girls and Lindsay finally settled down with a full tummy - two bananas and one cinnamon danish later.  She was quiet and calm for the rest of the trip.

Once everyone was situated and ready to leave, the pilot announced that it was too cold outside for the effective rating of the de-icer liquid.  We would have to wait until sunrise and see if the temperature rose at least 2 degrees so we could take off.  We had to wait about 45 minutes to an hour before we could leave.

Finally, about an hour after we had boarded, we were cleared for takeoff.  And away we went. We had a three-hour layover in Munich, so our late departure wasn't too big a deal. We still had wiggle room in the schedule. The first flight went remarkably well, considering our rambunctious beginning.

Just before we were about to descend into Munich, Lee suddenly realized that he DID have his wedding ring.  He had put his ring into his money pouch for safe keeping, but with the stress and being tired, he didn't remember it.  What a huge relief!  (Once we got to Dulles, we were able to get online and let the folks back in Kiev know that we found the ring.)

We had time to grab some lunch at the airport and some coffee for me.  While we were finishing up, we heard our names called to report to our gate.  That threw us off since we still had at least an hour before departure and we were fairly close to our gate.  We hustled over to the gate and had to go through a passport and security check.  That took quite a bit longer than everyone else did since we had two little ones who were traveling with us and they had Ukrainian passports with a entry visas.  By the time that was all done, we still had to get seat assignments at another counter.  The lady at the counter was super-helpful and got our seat assignments.  We has requested bulkhead seating since we had little ones, but there weren't seats available.  She said the flight wasn't booked so she gave us seats in two rows with a seat between.  What we didn't know was that we had been bumped up to the better version of Economy class!  We had bigger seats, more leg room, and a seat to share!  It was so nice!  Hannah was a happy camper since there was more than enough food to go around.

The girls did fantastic on the long transatlantic flight. They were so quiet.  Other kids in behind us made more noise than they did.  They slept a little, but not very much.  The crew was fantastic and kept checking on us.  They even gave the girls their first little airline wings pins!
Hannah - One tired girl.  (See my Wings pin?)

Naomi - Always smiling!  (I got Wings, too!)

We arrived on-time into the US at Washington DC.  It really seemed rather poetic that the girls would be receiving their official entry stamp for American citizenship right in our nation's capital city. We navigated the airport to our next gate and found that our flight would be delayed about an hour.  No big deal.  We were Stateside and it didn't really matter anymore at that point.  We could finally use our cell phones again and call whomever we wanted.

We finally boarded our last flight and buckled in. Only 3 hours and 20 minutes to our final destination! We were all exhausted and running on fumes.  The plane took off and I don't think we cleared the ground anymore than about 5 minutes before all 4 of us fell fast asleep.  We awoke when the pilot announced that we would begin our initial descent into Austin.  Holy cow! We all slept for 3 solid hours!

Since we were sitting in the last row of seats, we were the last ones off the plane.  We ventured our way down to baggage claim to meet our family and friends that were waiting for us.  I was tearing up at the thought of having all our kids together again.  We passed the escalator and we could see everyone waiting for us downstairs.  We could hear our kids screaming with glee when they saw us!   The gentleman at the kiosk there commented, "Sounds like someone down there's excited to see you!"  If he only knew half the story, he'd know there were no truer words spoken!  

We came down the elevator and when the doors finally opened we were rushed by our little ones!  My goodness they'd grown while we were gone!  And, oh! The hugs were amazing and the kisses were even sweeter!  Sarah kept saying, " I misted you so much!"  And yes... she said "misted".  Nathan was really happy to see Daddy and I thought Joseph was going to tackle us to the ground with his huge hugs!

Elevator opens and the hugs and tears commence!

A dear lady named Whitney who has a heart for orphans and adopting families had volunteered to take the homecoming pictures for us.  And she did an absolutely fantastic job!  If you are on Facebook, you can see her pictures of our family at The Archibald Project - Eubanks Homecoming . You can read more about their mission and at The Archibald Project

We hugged and cried and hugged some more.  Afterward, we loaded everything up and everyone into our van and headed home.  It was so nice to fall fast asleep in our own beds, with all our little ones under one roof.... It was pure, heavenly bliss.... and sheer exhaustion....

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Day 62 - Visas In Hand!

So today we had our second appointment to return to the Embassy and sign and complete the applications.  Our appointment was for early afternoon, so we were taking it easy this morning and hanging out.  Lee happened to check our email and saw that we had an email asking us to come a little earlier.  Well, OK!

We got ready quickly and grabbed a few snacks for the kids since we knew it would take a little while.  Poor Hannah.  It was too close to lunch time and she was getting hungry.  We had to break out the food a little earlier than expected, but it worked out.

We arrived and turned in the paperwork from the medical exam yesterday.  The consular representative told us it would be about an hour before the visas would be printed and ready.  Then he extended a special invitation to us and the three other adopting families that had appointments today.  The US Ambassador was wanting to have a small reception to meet and greet us!  What a treat! So while we waited we had a nice time visiting with the other families and sharing stories.

We have experienced quite a few firsts while we've been here.  Now I can add going into an American Embassy overseas and meeting a US Ambassador to the list!

Now we're back at the apartment and getting ready for our trip in the morning. 

We had a bit of dinner...
And then baths and hanging out in our PJs (that fit...).
Who needs toys? Empty bottles make great musical instruments!
Yoga, anyone? Doing a few exercises before I go to sleep.

Please pray that our trip will be swift, easy, boring and uneventful.  I like boring!

Dasvidanya! (Good bye for now!)

Niko is coming to get us at 4am to take us to the airport.   Off to finish packing!   Our next report will be from the other side of the globe!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Day 61 - The Embassy

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

So today we got up nice and early and got ready to meet our driver to take us to the US Embassy to process our immigration paperwork.  We gave the girls a bath this morning and we all got a little bit of breakfast before we headed out.

If you are familiar with the US Embassies abroad, you are not allowed to take cameras, telephones or electronic devices into the Embassy facility. So we could not take any pictures outside or inside the building.

We arrived for our appointment with our stacks of paperwork. We had a stack of documents that had been translated and prepared to accompany our applications. We had forms that we had to fill out.  It was a big pile of paper!

Right now, the girls still hold their national citizenship.  And the passports that we received are from their birth country.  When we get their immigration visas, we travel to the continental US and pass through the immigration office at the airport where we enter.  At that point, their passports and visas will be stamped and will give them US citizenship, too.
Naomi (Shawna) - Waiting for our medical appointment.

Afterward, we went to the medical facility that does the physical exams for the immigrant visas.  Eugene got us registered and signed us up to see the doctor.   Before we saw the doctor, we stopped by the nurses' office where they took their weights and heights.  Oddly enough, we didn't have to undress them to get the weight.  They had their clothing on, their snow pants, and snow boots.

No big deal, right? Well, that was all fine until I saw what they weighed on the scale with all those clothes on....  Hannah (Lindsay) weighed just a little over 10 kilograms with all of that on.... that's about 22 pounds....  with clothes and boots!  She is tiny, and skinny, skinny, skinny!  Size 4T pants are falling off her non-existent hips.   Naomi (Shawna) weighed 11.1 kilograms on the scale... roughly 24 pounds... with clothes and boots!  I was having a hard time believing these number.  I knew they were tiny, but I didn't think they weighed so little.

We met the doctor afterward and she did a quick basic exam for each of them.  She commented at how "severely underweight" they were and how this was "highly abnormal" for a child with Down syndrome.  She wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know.  A child being this tiny and skinny is highly abnormal for any child. 

We shared with her that we were already aware of the many health conditions that are commonly associated with Down syndrome and that we already have a son at home with it.  She actually seemed a bit relieved.  She said, "Oh, so you are experienced? Very good then."  She asked how old our son was, and I told her he is 7 and very healthy.  She really seemed to lighten up at that point. I kicked myself at this point because I left my photo book back at the apartment.  I really wanted to show off some pictures of  our son.

She quickly checked each of them over from top to toes, and listened to their chests.  She commented that she didn't find any clinical reason that they should be so underweight.  She assumed that it was due only to neglect and poor nutrition.  She completed the forms that we needed and made some copies for us.

After the exam, we had a bit of lunch in the little cafe in the building.  They had some really good borshcht soup.  Both girls each had a full bowl of soup and a side of cooked buckwheat. I couldn't believe how much they ate!
Hannah (Lindsay) - We're done for the day!

We made it back to the apartment and had a little nap to recover from the late night.

Tomorrow we have our appointment to pick up the visas!  I can see Texas on the horizon!

Day 60 - Gotcha Day!

Monday, February 6, 2012

GOTCHA DAY!  (Aka: Tales of the Fast and Furious - Gotcha Day!)

We stayed up way too late trying to get things packed, finishing up paperwork for the US Embassy. We finished thing up and were waiting for our facilitator and driver to get us at 2:30pm. 

We're supposed to drop off our suitcases to the train station and then head to the orphanage to sign paperwork and pick up the girls. Then we had to drive back to town and catch the train at 4:30pm.  That was the plan.....

But, sometimes plans don't work so well, so you have to adjust a little. We told the driver that we had the 3 large suitcases and a large box, and two strollers that we bought here.  I think it may have missed in translation, because he showed up in the regular car, and about had a heart failure when he saw our huge pile of stuff.  And a sense of hurried craziness began.   We couldn't get it all in the car, and all of us. So Lee and Valen took the car and stuff, and T and I went to flag down a taxi to take us over and meet them at the train station.  T had him drop us at a bus stop and we waited on a street corner and waited for the guys to drive by and get us.  Now we are off to the orphanage at a hot and heavy pace!

Just before we pulled away from the corner, T turns around and hands me a package of paperwork that we will need at the Embassy.  And lo and behold..... THERE ARE THE PASSPORTS!  Right on top... a full day earlier than expected!  PRAYERS ANSWERED!!! I almost started crying.

As we zoom out to the orphanage we're watching the clock.  Lee calls Nate to see if we can get some help schlepping the bags to the train carriage. Time is going to be short.  Nate is taking another friend (Steve) to the train station to ride the same train. They will already be there so it should work.

We get to the orphanage about 3:15pm and run the clothes into the little pink house and ask the nannies to get the girls dressed.  I brought them two matching pink outfits. We head over to the administration office to sign several documents acknowledging that we are taking full custody of the children. Wow!  This is it!  It's finally and completely official!  Our new daughters are fully in our care now! 

We walk quickly back to the pink house and the girls are dressed and waiting.  Now it's time to start stuffing them into their snowsuits and boots.  Many of the staff was busy with other things, so it seemed rather unceremonious.  No big fuss. Not much of anything, really.  Two ladies helped me get the girls into the winter duds.  About that time, T comes in and indicates that we need to get going.  We wave our goodbyes and say "paka, paka!" to everyone.  Only one of the nannies looked like she was about to get teary about them leaving.

I was busy getting the girls dressed and didn't realize that I put the camera in my pocket. I thought Lee had it again.  Well,  I didn't get any ceremonial pictures at the orphanage - dang it!

We got back in the car by 3:40pm and begin flying back to town to catch our train. Watching the clock... feeling a little nervous...  we're thinking there might be a possibility we could end up taking the overnight train instead. We'll see.  Wouldn't be the first road bump we've hit.

We make it to the train station parking lot at 4:10pm.  T and I take the girls to the carriage.  Lee and Valen go to get the bags. It's a mad rush.  Our friends are waiting at another place and I have the phone so Lee can't call them.  Nate calls me, but I tell them to go ahead and get Steve on board.  We'll make it.  Valen finds a porter and gets help for us.   We meet up at the carriage and there is only 12 minutes until the train leaves.  We have so much stuff we can't get it on fast enough and trying to get around other passengers who are also boarding.  What a frenzy!  We finally get it all in our compartment, including all of us.  We now have 2 minutes to spare!   And our train begins to move....  BIG SIGH!  We made it!

We could finally rest for a bit.  We took off all the coats and gear and tried to settle in.

So here are our first pictures for Gotch Day once we got onto the train.
Daddy and Lindsay (now Hannah)  
Shawna (now Naomi)

About 2 hours later, we make it to the first stop.  Our friend Steve, who was in another carriage, came by to visit for a little bit and make sure that we were OK.  Since he can speak and understand some Russian, he helped Lee get some food for us from the dining car. Thanks, Steve!

We arrived safely in the capital city around 10:20pm and Niko, our driver, met us on the platform.  We were surprised when a small mob of people started to board our carriage as we are trying to get off.  We weren't sure what was going on.  Come to find out, this particular car is the one that carries the special delivery packages and envelopes each trip.  All these folks were here to collect their important packages and envelopes.

Steve showed up and checked on us and made sure that we were OK again.  With Niko here, we knew that we were.  We said goodbye to him as he was connecting to another train, headed home to his family.  We filled Niko's van to the brim! He got us situated in the apartment,  and got our internet up and running so we could reach the folks we needed back home.  Plane tickets are very, very important business!
Hannah and Naomi - In our first apartment!

The girls did wonderfully well on the train.  Of course, we had the benefit of a compartment to ourselves so we didn't disturb any other passengers.  We settled in and got them dressed into their new pajamas that fit!  They are both wearing 4T footed pj's comfortably!  The girls slept well and through the night.  So did we!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Days 57 & 58 - The Final Weekend

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Today we spent the morning searching for some final souvenirs and gifts to take home with us.  Had a good cup of coffee at our favorite little Coffee Life shop.  Then we joined our friends at church for a family seminar in the afternoon. 

We came home and started trying to get things together and started packing a few things and planning out our next few days.

Sunday, February 5, 2012  - A Final Game of Monopoly - Russian Version!

As we usually do on Sunday mornings, we went to church at Calvary Chapel.  The worship was sweet and the fellowship after service was even sweeter!  We will miss the many friends we've made while we've been here.  We have a little joke going... "You know you've been in-country a long time when... the 'regulars' at church don't see you as 'visitors' anymore!"  And the feeling is definitely mutual!  We really feel like we have an extended church family here, as well.

Pastor Victor invited us over for dinner and a final round of Monopoly this evening.  We had the opportunity to stay longer and catch the Superbowl game, which starts at 1:30am our time here.  Way too late for us, seeing as we have a very busy and BIG, BIG day tomorrow.

So the plan is that we will have Gotcha Day on Monday afternoon. Gotcha Day is the day we get the girls out of the orphanage!  We'll dress them up in their new clothes, say goodbye to the nannies and the other little ones who have touched our hearts.  We will head straight to the train station to head out on a 6-hour ride to the capital city.  We won't arrive there until very late, so we probably won't be able to post pictures and stuff until sometime Tuesday afternoon (our time).

Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, we will finalize paperwork with the Embassy before we can finally get on a plane to come home.

The days and hours are ticking by faster and faster.

Off to fill some more stuff in the suitcases!

Dobre noche! (Good night!)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Days 55 & 56 -

Here's one picture we did catch in the car on the way to the passport office...
Car ride to the passport office.
Poor Shawna could barely move being stuffed into the snowsuit like a Kielbasa sausage. And just to note... that is thick frost on the INSIDE of the car windows!  The rear-window defroster could only thaw the ice where the heating elements are.

Thursday, February 2nd - Happy Groundhog Day!

We two little groundhogs can finally see our shadow that's cast from the light at the end of the tunnel!  But we will NOT have 6 more weeks until Spring - more like 7-8 days!  When we land in Texas we'll be welcomed home by warm weather!  Today the temperature here, this morning, was -23C/-9F while back home in Texas it was at least 23C/74F!  Oh, that warm weather will feel heavenly.

Today we picked up the visa photos for the girls and I have to say the photographer did a great job. As wiggly as Lindsay was, he managed to get a good photo that meets all the picky qualifications for the US Embassy.

Day 56 - Our Last Official Visit!

We went to the orphanage this morning for our last, and final limited visit.  The girls were happy to see us, and were full of smiles and giggles.  Both girls seemed very peaceful this morning, too.  Sorry, but we only got a few videos today.

We're looking forward to Monday afternoon when we will go and pick them up and begin our trip back home.  We have to stop in the capital city to complete the immigration paperwork before be board a flight to come HOME!  We can hardly wait!  The excitement and anticipation is building!

This weekend we plan to catch up our laundry and start packing our things. We'll catch church again on Sunday, and then hit the ground running on Monday!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Day 54 - Chipping Away, Little By Little

So today was going to be another busy day... On the agenda.... Passports!

We headed out at 8:15 this morning so we could go pick up the girls and make a trip to the International Passport Office. This will be one of the very few times, if ever, that the girls have actually left the premises of the orphanage.  We arrived around 9am and they were bundled from top to bottom with nothing showing except their eyes, cheeks and chins. And off we went!

Both of them did exceptionally well in the car.  Lindsay sat so still and was taking it in.  Shawna sat in my lap while quietly observing. When we were at the office Lindsay was still her wiggly self, but she was quite intrigued looking out the big window and watching the cars and people go by. Getting her to sit still for a picture was a trick, but the lady managed to get a photo that would be acceptable.

Our facilitator has been so efficient in getting all the paperwork ready so that we have very little to do when we get to all these different offices.  It took probably about 45 minutes and we had taken photos, signed applications and headed out the door.  After that, we headed to a photo shop to take the photos we will need for their travel visas at the US Embassy.  So two more things, marked off the To Do list.

We didn't get any pictures on this outing today since both of had our arms full with our little girls.  There were not extra hands for the camera!

We got the girls back to the orphanage in time for lunch and we had our hugs and kisses and headed off for more stuff.  Our facilitator was able to complete all of the forms, except for the signatures, that will be needed to sign them out of there forever.  Oh, that day is coming so very soon!

We were able to meet with the Head Doctor for a few minutes before we left today. He's a nice man and he told us that he was very happy that we had adopted these girls and that they would have a future full of opportunity with us.  We had thanked them for caring for the girls, and for keeping them until we could get there.  We also shared that we could tell that many of the staff do care about these children.  We shared pictures of our children at home, especially those of our son with Down syndrome.  He said that their future here was one of very little hope, since the next step for them was to be moved to an adult mental institution.  (This would be a facility that would house girls from the ages of 7-45 years of age.)  There would be nothing there for them.  He asked if we would please share pictures of the girls after they are home. We promised that we would.

While an orphanage is not an ideal place for a child, they have done what they can with the facilities and limited funds that they have.  They work with some medical teams from the US to learn about some therapies and approaches they can use with their children here. And as they are able, they try to implement some of these approaches.  It will still take a while, but they are trying to make it better. But it takes time and education and advocacy to make it happen. There are still walls in hearts and minds that need to be chipped away so that they can see the possibilities in these children. But little by little, it can happen.

I have to confess that the hardest part of this journey is seeing the precious faces of the children that will remain at this baby house, or will be moved to an institution in a matter of time.  My heart breaks when I think of this. There are several in this little pink house that have captured our hearts.  Oh, how I wish we could just plop down in the middle of the room and visit with all of them, every day!  Some children are available for adoption, but most are not.  I'm praying that doors of opportunity will open up for these kids.

We plan to visit the girls again on Friday.  We are pretty much done with paperwork now and we're just waiting for the passports to be ready. We're told that they should be here on Tuesday. When they are ready, we'll head to the Embassy to begin the next step to come home.

Prayer Request:  Would you pray that if it's possible, the passports would be ready on Monday? If they were ready Friday, that would be an amazing miracle!

Off to bed now!
Paka, paka!