Monday, July 28, 2008

Bowling camp?

Yes, bowling camp! The baseball baron was signed up for a baseball camp that fell through, and the girls were already signed up for bowling, so he joined in the fun. The Bookworm (do you call it hurled? threw? rolled? ) bowled a high score of 107 for the week (no bumpers of course). All the kids enjoyed it, especially wearing the fancy footwear!

Cool time in Boone, NC

We went camping this past weekend to Boone, NC. Why? Well, the day-time temperatures ranged in the low 70's and the night-time temps hovered around 60. Need I say more? The KOA was very clean and had a lot of activites: swimming pool, mini-golf (Scooter creamed everyone), ping pong table (the Baseball baron has decided he likes it), a well-equipped playground, lots of places to ride bikes, chickens and even a few very well-fed goats. Throw in a lot of kids to play with and what a great weekend!

We spent some time in Blowing Rock as well. We ate lunch at Sonny's Grill, which was apparently the inspiration for the Main Street Grille in the Mitford Series books by Jan Karon. I haven't read the books, but they really know how to make a great burger! Small hole in the wall joint - eight counter stools and three small tables. Needless to say, when our crowd squeezed in, they didn't have a lot of room left for other customers. Quaint little town - reminded us of Cashiers, NC.

Part of the reason for the trip was to scope out the ski slopes in western North Carolina. We went by Sugar, Beech, Appalachian and drove by Hawksnest. I think we're going to give them a try this winter. Some of the places were over-built (think Maggie Valley), but the views and breezes were awesome. The elevation was surprising to us - at times we were actually higher than when at Snowshoe, WV.

Of course, no visit to Boone is complete without paying homage to the local place of worship, ahem, I mean the football field. We went by Appalachian State University and strolled onto the football field. They were holding a cheerleading camp, which in a couple of years will pique the Baron's interest much more than it did last week! He was more fascinated by how "springy" the field felt, and we were interested in the huge expansion project ongoing. They are going to nearly double the size of their stadium, and tickets are at a premium because of their Cinderella win over Michigan in Ann Arbor last year.

I enjoyed the rows and rows of black-eyed Susans on campus. Their school colors are yellow and black, so the flowers were perfect! The kids all got App State gear to wear as well.

While in downtown Boone, we visited the stores on the main drag, which is King Street. A typical college town, the stores are a mixture of antiques, junk, hippie, upscale and artistic. We decided to eat at a hole in the wall place called Black Cat. The bookworm dug in her heels and refused to enter the place - she said she was scared!! Well, it turned out to be very clean (although the decor was decidely funky) and the food was .... WOW! We could have easily split two or three meals, and the food was so good that we felt obligated to stuff ourselves.

The day we set aside to visit the Grandfather mountain and Linville Falls area was the day it rained and was foggy. We still enjoyed traveling the winding roads, marveling at the need to connect one very small dot with another by building a road which hugs the mountain, switching back and forth as you gain altitude. We saw several large boulders, one of which is pictured above. My dear husband decided it looked just like a grouper. Whatever.

Back home again, but definitely a place we'll want to visit again. Penny didn't like the goats, or they didn't like her, depending upon your point of view. The nights were enjoyable, gathered around the fire with popcorn and hot chocolate. Just don't forget your blanket, because you'll need it!!

Monday, July 14, 2008

We got him, finally!

In re-reading all of these emails, I am amazed at how this whole adventure (Hannah, too) was bathed in prayer. We depended on so many people to be our prayer warriors and so many, many things happened and "miraculously" worked out that it could only be attributed to prayer!

Dear friends and family: It is 2:11 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 18th, a very cold afternoon in Murmansk, Russia. As you may have heard, we left suddenly for Russia on Saturday morning after only 2 days notice of the court hearing. Our flight to Murmansk was delayed by several hours, and we got in too late Sunday night to email a message home. Except for the delay, the flights were uneventful. During the rush to purchase tickets and change airports & planes in Moscow, I fell down the "up" escalator at the airport. I have several bruises on my left arm, right temple and bad scratches on my right hand. Larry said that he would be sure to tell the judge that he beat me up because I got out of line.

We got up early this morning and went to the orphanage to visit the baby. His hair is a little longer than in August, and he has a bad chest cold. He is not walking yet. Larry couldn't believe how much Stephen looks like Perry as a small boy. Other than the cold, he looks to be in fine shape. I can't wait for Dr. Hosford to take a look at him and get this cold straightened out.

Now for the exciting news -- as of 11 a.m. this morning, the judge in the Murmansk Regional Court awarded us the permanent and immediate custody of Stephen Alexander Sartain. The ten day waiting period was waived by the judge. Larry made an impassioned plea that we needed to be home for the grand celebration of his parents' 50th wedding anniversary! Even the prosecutor told the judge that the baby needed to spend his first birthday with his family! Of course, "immediate custody" in the Russian time frame probably means Wednesday!

However, we have a lot of running around to do that would be hard on Stephen - getting in and out of cars in the cold, etc. We are working on paperwork this afternoon - for some reason, some careless interpreter somewhere spelled "Larry" as "Larri" and some of the paperwork must be corrected. Believe it or not, we got here faster than the emergency paperwork of last week! Remember the papers that had to be submitted before court - they aren't even here yet!

It is cold here & the snow was piled up on the edges of the runway at the airport. I hope I brought the right sizes of clothing for the baby. The grass and flowers of this summer are long gone, and Larry remarked over lunch that Hannah and Stephen will have no idea of what their world was like. The entire city is rather bleak and looks like the worse housing project in Atlanta (or worse). We hope to get the baby's passport photo taken this afternoon, and continue to work on the Larry/Larri problem.

Tomorrow will be spent at the passport office, as we cannot travel out of the city without a passport for the baby. We hope to return to Moscow on Wednesday night, and are scheduled to be back in Atlanta on Friday. We were not able to secure reservations at the Marriott Grand Hotel, but will be staying at another Marriott Hotel in Moscow. Larry slept like a log last night, but I was pretty restless. I remember dreaming that the escalator ate my hand! I'm hoping to sleep better tonight, now that the court proceedings are over.

Catherine, Sam & Hannah - you have a new baby brother! Cat, he has blond hair like you! Sam, he won't be able to play ball yet, but he will think you are wonderful! Hannah, let's just hope you don't love him to death! Be good, and Mommy & Daddy will be home soon. We love you!

To all our friends & family - thank you for your prayers as we continue on this journey. Please continue to pray that the paperwork will be completed smoothly and that we will be on our way home soon! Please pray that Stephen's congestion clears up and that he won't get sick on the plane. Thank you all for your encouragement and friendship!

Me in Moscow with a Gold Am Ex card....Dangerous!

Here's my 1st post from Moscow. I'll never forget the panic!!!! Read on....

Dear friends & family - Well, the day started out bad and went downhill from there! First, at the Murmansk airport, I missed the bus to the plane. You don't just walk onto the plane there, you have to go way out onto the tarmac to board the plane. The bus was jam-packed full and it looked like some people got off, so I figured there would be anothe plane. Well, it got closer and closer to take-off and no more buses. So I went up and asked a wizened old fellow with some of his teeth if there would be anymore buses. He immediately started shouting to the crowd "pon glisky" which basically means "does anybody here speak English". Everyone stared blankly at me. Finally a woman approached and could at least understand that I was supposed to be on the plane WAY, way out on the tarmac. The old man looked startled and pushed me along & we walked, ran, walked, ran all the way to the plane. I made it on time and thought, well, that's that. Boy, was I wrong!

Got to Moscow o.k., praise God, even though I'm sure the plane was older than me. Handed in my passport at the hotel, emailed Larry and thought I would settle in for lunch. Then I got a call and had to go to the front desk. Apparently I didn't have a certain form which proved that I had checked into a hotel in Murmansk on the 16th. So, they decided that I was in the country illegally and would need to go to the police station. Well, I balked at that and was insistent that I had entered legally and had indeed stayed at a hotel - I showed them the bill and everything! I told them "what do you think, I've been wandering the streets for 4 days?"? But I didn't have the special form. They repeated again it was "a rule", but couldn't tell me what the form looked like, and suggested the police again! I wasn't looking forward to spending the afternoon (or worse) in a holding cell in a Moscow jail while they figured everything out. At this point, I called Larry in a panic and got HIS blood pressure up (might as well share the stress, right?). I think he was ready to call the Embassy or just come get me; but both of us were determined that I was not leaving the hotel with anyone! So, I prayed, "Lord, I don't know what this form looks like, but You do. Help me find it, please." I then took my purse, my backpack, my suitcases and dumped them out in the middle of the floor in my room and went through every scrap of paper I had with me. I finally found the form - it had slipped out of my passport and stuck to the back of a photograph of the family at Jessica's graduation that I had been showing everyone. Triumphantly, I presented the form to the desk clerk and suggested politely (sort of) that the next time they wanted someone to give them some paperwork, they should at least have an example of the stupid form (since it's in Russian) so I would know what in the world I was looking for! They love forms and stamps over here, and make a big deal even out of a cash register receipt.So, that was my big adventure for the day.

I tried to find stamps for Letsa, but believe it or not, the main post office was out of stamps! Unbelievable! (I shouldn't be surprised - the hotel in Murmansk didn't have any water one day!) The day was rescued when I went to TGI Friday's and had fried shrimp and french fries! Also, I did a little shopping -- well, a lot of shopping -- well, really a tremendous amount of shopping. Perked me up pretty good, I must say. Sightseeing on the agenda for tomorrow, then an early start home on Sunday. I'll be leaving Moscow at 1:00 a.m. on Sunday morning Atlanta time, and set to arrive Sunday afternoon in Atlanta. Somehow I think Larry will be glad to see me. Thanks to all who have been praying for me - almost there, so keep it up a little while longer.

Last Post from Moscow:

Dear friends and family: I've had the most amazing day. After yesterday, I just wanted to pack up and come on home early, but for some reason I knew I shouldn't try.The main worker here for the adoption coordinators, Amrex, is Tatyana. She and her husband, Nic, have a 25 year old daughter, Maria, who also does some guide work and translation work. Maria and I did some sightseeing today. One of the first places we went to was the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. She didn't go in, because she said she's seen every church in Moscow 100 times! Anyway, I went in and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the cathedral.

I looked around for a place to pray, but it was mainly filled with tourists, looking around. Finally, I went to a corner and began to pray. Suddenly I realized that my prayers had been full of "me, me, me" all week long. I asked the Lord to forgive me and to allow me to somehow share His glory in Moscow. When I went outside, Maria mentioned something about religion, asking if I was religious, and said it in a way that swung wide the door to explain my beliefs. When I told her that I wasn't religous, because "doing things" to try to work your way to heaven was useless, she was dumbfounded and curious. I referred to Isaiah and said that we were filthy before a holy God, no matter what we did on our own. I told her that I much preferred having a real relationship with God through Jesus, His Son. She said she had never heard of such a thing and asked many questions. For well over an hour today, I was able to answer her blunt questions, including the typical "why does God let bad things happen?" and I was grateful that the answers were not my own, but given to me. With her every question, I was able to refer directly to scripture, and let her know that the Bible was written to guide her to heaven, and that was God's plan for her! She said she had never read the Bible, and didn't think she could understand it.At the end of our day, I had to go up to the hotel room to get cash to pay her and the driver. (I had spent too much of my money - sorry, Larry) I invited her to go up with me. I had with me our Sunday school literature and a copy of the new HCSB New Testament, both of which have written the plan of salvation much like I had explained to her. I knew she liked magazines, so I compared the Sunday school literature with a magazine, showing her the articles in it. I don't know if she'll read any of it, but she seemed insatiably curious about it all.

When she wanted my email address, I wrote in on the back of an index card where I had written verses from Jeremiah - because I had told her earlier that God has a special plan for her life, and that He will be found if she truly seeks Him. She was curious about why I had Bible verses written on index cards, and I explained that doing so helped me to learn them and meditate on them. Please pray for the seed that was planted today.

How gracious is God that when we ask of Him, like I did in the Cathedral, He will open the doors for us to share His glory!

You won't be getting any more emails from me -- and you may be glad of it! Thank you for sharing my journey with me. Thank you all for your friendship and for the many prayers which were lifted up for me. My flight for home leaves at 1:00 a.m. "Bulldawg" time, and I shall see my precious husband and family soon.~ Dos vadonyas ~ "Good bye" JUDY

Blessings to all -- JUDY

Even More reflections....

Yet another email I found from Russia, when I was there by myself:

Dear family & friends: Tomorrow morning I go to the notary's office (much like an attorney) and fill out paperwork to prepare the petition for adoption. Then I will go back to the orphanage at 11 a.m. for another visit with the child.

I saw another group of children this afternoon - children about 3 years of age coming in from being outside. There is no playground here - only dirt and weeds. They have a few tires stuck in the ground, but the swings are gone and there is no equipment to play on. I had to stop walking and pray for those children. I cried a little, but then had to go on. My heart just goes out to them. The weather here is much like our spring, complete with pollen. So my allergies are acting up! I'm glad I brought some Claritin.

I will be glad to get to Moscow - the food here is horrible; very greasy with sauces & boiled meat. I guess I'd make a lousy missionary! I leave for Moscow early Friday morning, and will be in Moscow until Sunday morning. I will then catch a plane from Moscow to Paris, then Paris to Atlanta and should be home around 3:30 p.m. or so on Sunday. With clearing customs, etc., I should be home around 6 p.m. or so.

Stephen and I practiced saying "Goooo Dawgs!!!" I think he will get the hang of it. He's built like a linebacker!

The final day in Murmansk went something like this:

Subject: Murmansk, Day Three

Dear friends & family: I have had a full time here. On Wednesday, I visited the Ministry of Education, then went to the orphanage for a 2 hour visit. Then again yesterday afternoon, I went back to the orphanage again for a 1-1/2 hour visit. I was unable to sleep at all last night. It is still very light here until about 1 a.m., and begins to get light again at about 5 a.m. In the winter, the daylight hours here get as short as 1-1/2 hours of daylight per day! Today, we went to the notary's office to have some paperwork notarized (yes, Donna, there has been MORE paperwork). The notary didn't like the way it was worded, so she demanded changes to be made. So, we went back to my guide's apartment and he made the changes. Then back to the notary to wait in line to get the documents notarized.

It was funny, some people came in while I was sitting by myself and started talking to me. I was able to tell them IN RUSSIAN, that I was an American and didn't understand Russian! At least I can tell people I can't understand them! Then they look at me funny (which is not unusual either here or at home!).

Anyway, after the paperwork adventure, back to the orphanage for a 1-1/2 hour visit. The little boy has a bad cold with chest congestion, so he was a little droopy this morning. I came back to the hotel for a delightful lunch of boiled potatoes, boiled vegetables, and rice. I would like to go back into the kitchen with a little bit a cornmeal and teach them how to make cornbread and salmon patties! (with turnip greens, of course) Then, I decided to blow a bunch of money and call home. I was able to talk with Larry and the kids briefly while he was trying to get the kids ready for school. Somehow, I've got the feeling that he will be VERY glad to see me!

Then, back to the orphanage for the final visit. He recognized me the moment I came into the room and had a big, toothy grin on his face. We played for a little over an hour, then it was time for his supper. When the worker offered to take him from me, he didn't want to go to her - he wanted to stay with me.

My guide is a professor at a University here that trains interpreters. He had previously asked me if I would consent to be interviewed on tape so that he could use it as a training exercise. It was an interesting experience, especially knowing that my Southern-fried, Kentucky-twanged voice will be heard and scrutinized by many Russian students in the future. He asked me lots of questions, mainly dealing with the perceptions of Russia in America, the differences between the peoples, etc. He opened the door, and I was able to talk freely about my faith and beliefs. Who knows but that it may make a difference! He asked me if I was used to public speaking, because he said that I seemed comfortable expressing myself and my opinions. He also wants to interview Larry on the next trip, and I told him that he would get a good interview, because Larry is so much smarter than me. He seemed genuinely surprised that I would say such a thing in all sincerity. But, it's true!!!

Well, now I will get up tomorrow (Friday) morning at 4:30 to leave the hotel by 5:30 to get to the airport by 6:30 to check in for an 8 am flight to Moscow. I will be met at the airport by an interpreter, and I will have a free afternoon, evening and all day Saturday in Moscow.

I look forward to an American breakfast with real bacon and eggs and also to a meal at TGIF in Moscow! Bring on the french fries - I'm tired of boiled potatoes! I'll have time to shop in Moscow, and I need to bring our adoption worker some Russian items as well as a friend some Russian stamps. Oh well, what I won't sacrifice (shopping) for friendship!! C

ontinue to pray for me and for my safety. I've got a lot of photos and video from which the doctors will examine and assist Larry and I in making a final decision on the child. We desire your prayers for wisdom and discernment as we make this very important decision. I can already see God's hand all over this trip - in a city of 350,000 people, He arranged for me to meet a Christian to guide me and interpret for me! There are not many Protestant churches here - his church has a membership of about 700, and there are three small Baptist churches here that total about 300 in membership, plus a Lutheran church. And he only began as an interpreter for the adoption agency in June! Right before we realized we would not be traveling to St. Petersburg, God prepared a man, just at the right time, for such a time as this. God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!

You'll hear from me next in Moscow! Love and Blessings -- JUDY


Where in the world is Murmansk?? Russia??

I've started a process I can't stop! When we adopted our second child from Russia, the decision was made that I would go by myself to "pick out" the child.....Larry thought it would be best that one of us stay behind for the other three. So......I did a lot of prayer, soul-searching, emailing and shopping for 8 days by myself! Here's the first installment of my solo-journey around the world to meet our precious Scooter:

Dear Friends: Well, I am here safely and having a good time. The breakfast was interesting, shall we say, and I am very glad I brought slim-fast bars with me! This afternoon I will go to the airport again to pick up the proxy paperwork (power of attorney) from Larry that somehow disappeared until yesterday. I have spent the morning touring around the city with my interpreter/guide. I think he has been amazed at how I can shop - and I've been taking it easy on purpose! Saving Larry lots of money.......There WAS that grey mink hat I saw today (and resisted!)

But the really good news is that my guide is a Christian! We went to a Christian book store this morning and they were playing a Rebecca St. James CD! I bought a Russian children's bible for the kids. So even though the IMB has no missionaries here, God is looking out for my safety! There are lots of interesting monuments and things around the city. It is, as all Russian cities are, very bleak looking. It is summer here, and last night I could see my breath. My sweater today was almost not warm enough, and my hands got cold walking around the city.

I may get to go to Wednesday night church services, which are held in a member's home. They start churches here by establishing a "cell" group, which you may be familiar with. I gave my guide several packs of Russian children's tracts, which he said they can use with Sunday School and outreach. We may want to collect some children and adult Sunday school materials and other religious books to bring back next trip.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) will be very busy. I will first go to the Ministry of Education and officially receive the referral of the child. Then, we will go to the orphanage, which is in the city. Around lunch time, we will go to see several more sights, then back to the orphanage. I will go to the notary's office (attorney's office) either tomorrow afternoon or on Thursday to prepare and sign the petition for adoption. Then I will get to go to the orphanage again on Thursday and see the child again. This will be so very different than with Hannah. The first time we saw Hannah, we got to see her for an hour, and that was it! Hopefully, I will be able to spend a lot of time with this little guy!

I will be leaving Murmansk very early Friday morning, and will arrive in Moscow at about 10:30 a.m. on Friday. I've set aside Friday afternoon to rest, and all day Saturday to shop! Then the journey home begins on Sunday morning, which is Saturday night at home. As I am writing this, it is 3:10 pm on Tuesday, which is about 7:10 a.m. at home. My knee is better (for those of you who knew I twisted it on Sunday), and I have spent the day with a evangelical Christian. What a wonderful time I am having! Please keep praying for me. I was looking at wisdom verses last night, reading in Proverbs and Phillipians about wisdom. Please pray for me tomorrow and Thursday, that I might have wisdom and God's discernment about this child. Continue to pray for my safety. I thank God for all of you!

I distinctly remember being picked up at the airport and having my initial conversation with my driver/interpreter. I kept thinking "this guy is a Christian" from his conversation.....and finally he apologetically asked if I was a Christian! What an answer to prayer to be safe in the care of a Christian brother, even if it was half-way around the world!!

This is from the second day in Murmansk:

Dear friends & family: It is 3:15 p.m. here local time. I have had so much going on and got back to the hotel too late last night to email. My guide asked if I would like to have dinner with him and his family last night. Of course, I said yes. So we went to his apartment and I met his family. His wife is beautiful and charming, and his two little boys (aged 4 and 6) made me miss Sam very much! They were laughing and climbing all over their daddy just like our kids do. Their entire apartment is a little bit bigger than my kitchen. They have three rooms, a main room where the husband and wife sleep, which is also their living area and his office; the boys share a small bedroom, and there is a kitchen about the size of my laundry room. Plus a private bath. They asked me to pray for the meal in English, and I was so honored. They are starting a marriage ministry at their church (about 700 members).

The city has about 390,000 citizens, and they are optimistic about their church growth. They presently meet in a movie theater at 8:30 a.m. on Sundays. That's the only time they use that facility - the other meetings are in member's homes. I went this morning to the Ministry of Education and formally received the referral of our boy. I took her a huge bouquet of flowers and she was appreciative. Russians love gifts, as we learned our last trip. Then we went to the orphanage, and I got to spend about 1-1/2 hours with the child. He is very fair complected, with blond hair and blue/grey eyes. He looks, as my brother in law Phillip would say, like a little "rooskie". He is very fat and solemn, not unlike how Hannah was when we first got her. I took lots of video of him. He has 5, almost 6 teeth, and is sitting up very well and also beginning to pull up.

The orphanage was very clean and bright, also very cheerful. I was told that the contributions made by American adoption agencies are begining to trickle down to the actual orphanage and improvements made there. The difficult thing today was that I was taken to watch Stephen eat, and unexpectedly was in the room with 10 other children. All looking at me, watching me closely. One little girl obviously had Down's syndrome. How heartbreaking to know that each of these children need a momma and daddy to love them. I must close quickly now, as it is time to go back to the orphanage for an afternoon visit. Please continue to pray for me - for safety, wisdom and the discernment of the Holy Spirit. I am enjoying talking theology with my guide - he said I was a great Bible teacher and orator! Who knew??

More reflections on Russian adoption.....

More descriptions of our adoption experience with Hannah. I sent this to a prospective adoptive family who was thinking of going to Russia to adopt a child, so the following is written with that receiver in mind:

We went to St. Petersburg. Our first trip over, we went straight there. We arrived on a Sunday night, and spent the day Monday waiting to hear about our appointment with the Minster of Education to meet the kids.

We spent the day with Oskana, our interpreter. She took us around the city, which is beautiful. We were there first before spring, and the city was rather bleak. It is much more pretty in summer. We stayed at the hotel there. "4 star" in Russia does not equate to "4 star" in the US. They had no washclothes in the bathrooms, and the toliet paper was like cardboard. Be sure and take plenty of kleenex, because the public restrooms have NO toliet paper. The room smelled like stale cigarette smoke. I took a solid air freshener with me to help the room air. The breakfast there left a lot to be desired, too. We were told to avoid beef while traveling overseas, so we did. We also made sure to only drink bottled water and brush our teeth with the bottled water. Fortunately, they sell "Pepsi Light" (diet) everywhere! Both the hotel in St. Petersburg and Moscow had internet access in their business center, so we were able to keep in touch. We made several long distance calls the second trip, and our telephone bill was over $250! So I really recommend the internet if possible.

Back to the first trip - we went to the Minister of Education's office (after buying her a dozen roses), and met with her. She "told" us about the children (you are not supposed to know in advance who you are looking at) and we signed a book saying we wanted to look at them. The next day (Tuesday), we drove to the orphanage in Luga (a two hour drive) with a fast, scary driver and Natasha, the main lady in charge. She is young, but knows what she is doing, and who to deal with. We got to see the kids for almost two hours, and took a lot of video and photos. When we got home, we sent the video to the University of Minnesota for review by Dr. Dana Johnson, and also had our pediatrician look at it. We had them review for fetal alcohol syndrome, attachment disorder, developmental delays, etc. We also sent them a copy of the medical report that we had received.

After visiting at the orphanage, we went to the notary's office to sign some paperwork. Everything has to be notarized over there, and there was a crowd! Oskana helped us with everything. They never leave your side while you are away from the hotel. Early the next morning, Oskana picked us up at the hotel and took us to the airport. We got home that evening (Wednesday). We made a final decision on the adoption on Friday, and an adoption petition was filed for our daughter on Monday. We then had to get the rest of our paperwork in, since we went over with only a mini-dossier completed. Unfortunately, the next several weeks included the May day holidays, so our court date was scheduled two months after our first visit. That was the hardest part, waiting to go back after seeing her, holding her, smelling her and loving her. We got word finally on a Monday that we were scheduled for the following Monday, so we left that Friday. We used (again) the travel agency in Texas (Emaly is GREAT!), and got our visas back o.k. Be sure and read your travel packet several times to make sure you take all the necessary paperwork with you. I even took extra copies of stuff, just in case.

We left then on the second trip on Friday, arrived there on the next day, and went to the orphanage on Sunday to see the baby again. Earlier that morning (Sunday), we met with Natasha and Oskana to go over the baby's medical history and social background. You will be expected to know all of this, and may be asked about it in court by the judge. We were questioned thoroughly about the baby's medical history and social background (parents, grandparents). Monday morning was our court date, and I had prepared a letter (notarized of course) stating our reasons why we wanted the judge to waive the ten day waiting period. Be sure and sent a copy early so that it can be translated. We cited the medical reasons for the child, wanting her to be seen by specialists, etc., as our need to come on home, and already had appointments with doctors lined up.

On Monday we went to court. It is in an old building (aren't they all), and we climbed the stairs to the third floor. We waited a while, and then they called us in. Be sure and listen to your translator, not the judge or people talking. However, you will need to look at the judge or whoever is talking, so as to appear respectful. When you speak, talk in short sentances or phrases, so that the interpreter can keep up. If you panic, just tell the translator that you're not sure you understand the question. That will give you more time to think of a good response. You will do fine - don't panic. They won't deny the adoption - they just are good government workers who need to justify their jobs! We went for a light lunch after the court hearing (the judge waived our waiting period), and then went and had some paperwork done.

The next day, we drove out to Luga again, went to a government building and signed new birth certificates. We then waited a while and picked up some cakes, champagne, etc. for the going away party (which didn't happen; at least in our presence). We met again with the director of the orphanage, and finally got our baby! Both Oskana and Natasha was with us that day, and since their were two families, we took a small bus (a large mini-van) out there. The kids did great on the ride back, and it was strange not using car seats! The next day was a wasted day, it being the Independence Day holiday. So I called Oskana, and she took us shopping for a couple of hours. The other family stayed at the hotel, but I wanted to get out.

The baby did great. Oskana took us to buy baby food. I highly recommend taking disposible bottles and enough clean nipples to get you through until you get home. It is next to impossible to get anything boiled there, and our baby got diareaah. I think it may have been stress-related, but who knows. We bought bottled water to mix the formula. We got our documents on Thursday, and we went to the airport that night to travel to Moscow. Oskana settled up our bill before we left, and she was very precise and very fair about costs.

When we got to Moscow, Max was there to meet us. He's great! We went the next morning to get visa photos taken of the kids. Then we went to the doctor, and Hannah got a checkup. The doctor was very fluent in English and seemed to be good. We then went by the Embassy and got an appointment. We went back to the hotel to wait for the appointment for a couple of hours. The Embassy interview was a breeze! We went into the Embassy, went through security, and talked with a lady at the window for a minute or two. Then we signed a big book, and that was it! We had to go one more place and sign ONE MORE FORM (you'll get used to that), and we were finished. We went out to eat that night at TGI Fridays, and had a great meal.

We left the next day for the airport. I had asked Max to pick us up early so that we could go through Red Square and see the Kremlin, etc., so he picked us up about 2 hours early. Then we left for the airport and came home! YEA! God Bless America! There were about 8 other adoptive families on our plane, and I ran out of diapers and had to borrow some! The baby was great on the plane, and we were glad to be home.

The mix of emotions as I read this......the waiting, the paperwork, the money, the anxiety of being in a foreign country with our baby AND the children we had waiting for us here at home. We had wonderful prayer warriors, that's all I can say.

There's a lot more I can tell, PLUS another trip to Russia for another child (the last one....that's it....nada, no more.....I really, really mean it!!). So stay tuned!

International Adoption??

No, not again.....but the initial thoughts for this blog were that I would share some of our thoughts & experiences of our two international adoptions. To refresh my memory, I looked back at some of my emails of when we went to get the diva, six years ago. It's been six years!!! I just had to send her to her room because she hit the neighbor kid. Six long, lovely years!!

Here's an email that I sent out after our court hearing in June, 2002:

First of all, Jessica, you are a big sister (again)! Catherine, you are a big sister (again)! and Sam, you are now the BIG brother!

Dearest friends and family: Things went very well at court this morning.The judge and the prosecutor were very stern looking, and we were asked to answer a lot of questions, which is hard with an interpreter. When I said that I was an only child and wanted lots of children, the judge smiled. To make a long story short, Larry & I are the proud parents of Hannah GraceAlexandra Sartain, born August 18, 2001 in Luga, Lenigrad Region, Russia. The judge made an immediate decision - no waiting period whatsoever. The court was held in a very old building (all the buildings are old), with 14 foot ceilings, plaster walls, etc. It looked like it had formerly been a palace of some sort, and probably was. Everything is retrofitted for electricity, telephone and plumbing; wires run along the ceiling and pipes along the walls. I have no clue how it is heated in the winter time. We took the interpreters, the orphanage director, the orphanage inspector, and the other American couple to lunch after the court hearings. After lunch, we went shopping for a little bit, then we were dropped back off at the hotel. The interpreters went back to the courthouse to wait on the court papers. We will get the Russian passport here for Hannah, then travel to Luga tomorrow to change her birth certificate, present gifts to the orphanage, and get Hannah.

It's really hard to describe our emotions right now. We are excited, but it still seems somewhat surreal. We think that when she is finally with us, in our room, dressed in American clothes, screaming and pooping, that she willreally seem to be ours! The orphanage inspector made a very sweet speech at lunch; about how it breaks her heart to see the children of Russia leave the country, but that in the current economic times, no one here can afford to adopt. She said she traveled to the US last year and met some adoptive couples and waspleased to see how much the children she had once cared for were loved by their new parents.

I'm sorry that this is so long, but my heart is very full now, and I wanted to share my first impressions and reactions with you, our friends andfamily. Thank you so much for your prayers and support - we felt a calm presence today. I'll keep you posted ....... Judy & Larry

That was sent out June 10, 2002. We had first visited with the Diva in mid-April. In April, Larry mainly held her while I took video. I distinctly remember holding her close, nuzzling her neck and singing "Jesus Loves Me" in her ear. She was so solemn and gazed deeply in my eyes. I know that she was wondering "who is this strange lady and what gibberish is she singing?"

Her temper is legendary; her vocabulary amazing; her self-assuredness is remarkable; and her imagination truly out of this world. She is my daughter, and I (we) traveled across the world for her. Worth every mile, and more!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

She's still my baby!

We enjoyed a great visit with Ca-Ca in mid-June. We didn't do a whole lot - hung out at the pool, ate out a few times....but it was wonderful just spending time with her. I'm hoping to go visit her later this summer in Philly BY MYSELF!! It may not work out with her schedule or her husband's schedule, but it's nice to dream **sigh**.

She's doing a great job and is very busy at the college where she's on staff as the campus activities director. I just wish that she was a little closer; I guess my mother thought the very same thing when I left Kentucky for good and moved to Georgia. At least I was just a 7 hour drive, not 14 hours!

I offered to take her camping, but she declined. In retrospect, it does seem like a stretch for her to be spending her time in a lounge chair in the middle of nowhere. She's turned into a city girl, but I remember when she used to go with me to the farm in Kentucky as a little bitty girl. She enjoyed feeding the chickens and riding on the tractor with my dad.
She'll turn 26 in August, but for me, she'll always be my baby. I'm proud of you, sweetheart!

Camping in Paradise (well, sort of)

We just returned from camping at Moccasin Creek State Park near Clayton, Ga. Called the park where "spring spends the summer", we awoke to temperatures in the low 50's over the past couple of mornings. Real blanket-sleepin' weather! The kids fished, caught turtles, rode bikes, played on the playground and just generally ran amuck. There were a couple of hectic days for me, including three loads of laundry one morning (actually kind of a slow laundry day for me), and the days I fed 8 kids for lunch. Needless to say, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were the haute-cusine in our motor home! One night, we were blessed to receive supper from friends. They had made a low-country boil and shared their excess with us. We ate until we were miserable! Good eatin'!

We rented a pontoon boat one day and I must say that my dear husband had the biggest grin on his face while cutting doughnuts in the lake, pulling the kids on a tube. For most of the trip, we not only had our four kids, but two of them had that was 6 kids. Although not huge, we did have plenty of room for everyone to sleep. The hardest thing was getting all of them to settle down for the night. There's too much to do - lightnin' bugs to catch, baseballs to hit, kids to chase, bikes to ride. The kids enjoyed just messing around each and every day.

We did manage to spend an hour or two at the "sliding rocks" near the campground. The water was ice-cold, but the Diva (our daredevil) went down at least 20 times! Always eager for more, that's her in a nutshell. The bookworm didn't even go down once, and the baseball baron managed one trip. Scooter declined as well, but our friends enjoyed themselves immensely.

One of the neat things about the campground is that it is adjacent to the Lake Burton fish hatchery. Baby fish are then released into the creek, where only children 11 years and under, or senior citizens are allowed to fish. The baseball baron and the bookworm caught several; it being the bookworm's first fish, it had to be immortalized in print.

We somehow manage to meet the nicest people while camping. Our across the street neighbors were ex-patriate bulldawgs from Florida. Great couple & we hope to camp near them again. We also ran into some folks from our church....what a small world! Their kids provided more entertainment, which allowed me some grown-up talking time (which is always sorely needed).
We're busy planning our next camping trip. Until then........ta ta for now!