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Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Joy of Adoption (A Book Review)

 A few months ago, I received an email requesting that I complete a book review for Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Adoption.  Since we were in Poland at the time the book arrived at our home, I did not read it until recently and am just getting to write down my thoughts.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Adoption by Amy Newmark and LeAnn Thieman is a collection of short stories about various adoptive families and is an updated version of Chicken Soup for the Adoptive Soul. It has a little over one-hundred accounts of adoptees, moms, and dads whose lives were forever changed by adoption.  Some traveled across the ocean and others stayed close to home: the pieces that put together the puzzle of these families is different, but they each tell of story of hope after the hardship that brought them together.

Included in the stories that caught my attention are those babies who were rescued from Vietnam in 1975 in what is known as Operation Babylift.  In just a few short weeks, it is estimated that 3,000 children were flown to safety in various countries, including the United States. Though the time in history as well as the operation itself was full of controversy, this book allows you a glimpse into the lives of those who were involved.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in adoption and enjoys an easy-to-read book.  Five minutes will allow the average reader to complete a chapter and put it down until there is time to come back to it. This is not an instruction manual for dealing with the challenges of the adoption process or adoption itself.  Rather, its pages allow us a chance to peek into the stories that brought others together as a family and is encouragement for all those in the adoptive community.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Three Months Later

Three months ago today, a little girl said goodbye to the family who had cared for her for the previous twenty months and got into a van to start life with people she had met only two days earlier.  As much as is possible for a three year old, she had been prepared for being adopted, but there was still much about the changes that were taking place that she did not fully grasp.  There were no tears when she left: she was excited to be going on this new adventure, but that only lasted for a few hours when reality set in and grieving began.

All the struggles are not behind us yet, but they are markedly better than they were three months ago.  The adjustment of a new family member has been easy and natural for some of us but difficult and not at all natural for others. Still, every day we are becoming more of this unit we call "family".

Gotcha Day

playing in puddles after a recent rainstorm 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Back To Normal?

"Are you back to normal yet?"  This question or one like it has been asked several times since we arrived home a month ago.  If you are reading this and have been one who has asked the question, please do not feel badly.  It is normal to ask, and we understand what you are asking, but the truthful answer is no.  Though she did not join us as an infant, just as a family who welcomes a new baby is never the same, so it is with an adoptive family.  Our family and life will never look like it did before July 15th, but we are settling into our new normal.  There are four pairs of children's shoes littering the doorway to outside, four bikes under the carport, four voices arguing laughing, and eight pairs of eyes at the dinner table.  We started school six days after we arrived home and have been getting back into that routine while incorporating a new, not-yet-school-age child who is learning English into the mix.

There are a lot of things about this new life that are just....hard, difficult, and frustrating.  There are equally, and slowly more often than not, times that are fun, enjoyable, and amazing to observe.  The temptation is to focus on all the areas that we want to work on, instead of enjoying all the progress that has been made - and there has been a lot of it.  

"A" has begun using several English words and phrases, including "wow", "sit down", "come", "porch", "pizza", "hot dog", "This is A's (her name), "not A's", "paper", "color", and the list could keep on going and is growing quickly.  She can ride her bike (with training wheels), is potty training (woohoo!!!!!!), and has tried numerous American foods, all of which she eats without prejudice...except lettuce.  Of that, she is not a fan.  Among other things, "A" has learned to do a puzzle by herself, color for short periods of time, ask to be excused (or get down) from the table, build a tower with blocks,  and name some animals (in English).  She has come really far in the last two and a half months, and we look forward to seeing her continue to grow.

First Family Snapshot, taken at Lazienki Park, Warsaw, Poland

On his "Today's Dad Blog", Mark has been posting about some of the challenges of our process to international adoption.  If you are considering adoption, some of these posts may interest you.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Miracle At the Embassy

On Monday (8-24), we applied for the Polish passport we needed for DD to travel.  The clerk there was really nice, and we were done in about ten minutes.

On Wednesday (8-26), we went back to the passport office and picked up the passport.  Everything went smoothly, and we got it right away.  We went downstairs and finished the DS-260 form for the U.S. embassy, emailed a copy of it to ourselves and headed to the embassy for our Visa appointment. Things seemed ok to begin with, but when we got up to the window we were told that our DS-260 form was nowhere to be found in their computer system.  We were asked for a confirmation number which I did not have and were finally told that they did not have the form anywhere.  We went back to the passport office to confirm that we had sent the form to them, emailed a copy of it to the U.S. embassy, gave them the confirmation number and they still could not pull up the form.  The clerk could see our information in the email, but she could not find it in the system.  They have been dealing with a computer glitch for a few months, and that glitch was not allowing them to access DD's file.  We were told to call back in a little while, but at 12:30 there was still no sign of the problem being fixed.   We called multiple times, but it was still the same story, and we were finally told to come back at 2 p.m..  

We ate lunch and met Sasha back at the embassy at 2 where we were allowed back inside.  There was a small area with toys where the kiddos played while we were waiting for news.  DD was tired and needed a diaper change.  (Of course, the diapers were in the car.) A little before three, Mark checked again to see if anything had changed in our application process.  No, it had not. We were told that we were waiting on something (? still not sure exactly what) from Washington D.C., and we were advised to wait and come back in the morning because it would probably not be ready until then.  We really needed that Visa application to be done on Wednesday: it takes 24 hours to get the Visa, and we were scheduled to fly home on Friday.  The clerk promised to expedite out request, let us know if it came through that day,  and we headed out the door. 

There are at three sets of doors to get to the entrance/exit of the embassy.  We waved to the guard at the second set of doors, he greeted us, and we heard the phone ring.  Almost everyone was out the door when the guard called for us to come back inside.  The problem was solved, and we were ready to move forward with our application!  Within 15 minutes we were ready to go with the promise that we could pick up the Visa after 2 p.m. on Thursday.  Wow, what an answer to prayer! We were looking at having to stay for another seven days if we did not get that Visa application on Wednesday, and we got it!

We did pick up the Visa packet on Thursday, and Friday, we flew home! :D  DD did pretty well on the long plane rides, and though we were all exhausted we were excited to be home.  At about 4 p.m. on Friday, August 28th, DD got her Visa stamped,  and she became a U.S. citizen! :D

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Poland, Week 6

August 15 -21

I have been really slow to get posts up this week, so I will just sum the week up in one post.

Saturday and Monday were relatively quiet days and were spent mostly at home.

On Sunday we went to church and then in the afternoon headed to Łazienki Park for the free, live,  (classical music) concert at 4 p.m.  The Chopin piano concert was an hour long, and though I think the uniqueness of it was lost on them, it was a bit of culture for the kiddos. :D Perhaps someday they will look back on it in appreciation.  They all did well, even the youngest kiddo, at staying pretty quiet to listen.  The park was pretty full with probably a thousand people sitting on benches, blankets, and the grass around the statue of Chopin.

Tuesday, we went into Warsaw to get a few more souvenir items.  We started off at a Christmas ornament shop, Bombkarnia,  located across the street from the Palace of Culture and Science. Mark and I took turns going in with the older kids: many beautiful (read highly breakable), handmade ornaments available there.  We also headed to Old Town for the third time. :-)  We have really enjoyed looking around there, exploring more of what is there.

Wednesday was DD's doctor's appointment, required before travel home.  She was not happy to be there, but it is over and done now.  Lollipops make everything better. They also make a sticky child.

On Thursday we spent some time at home for the morning, then went back to Digiloo for the kids to play.  They were all excited to go again, and it was sooo much cooler in there than the last time.  (The temperatures have been in the 70's and low 80's for the last several days with nighttime temps in the 50's and 60's.)

Friday marked the end of our appeal period, meaning that the judge's decision to allow her to become a part of our family is finalized. Alex picked up our final court decree and the new birth certificate for DD.  This coming week we will get the Visa and passport for DD to travel home next Friday, August 28th! 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Warsaw Zoo - Day 35

Friday - August 14

We headed out the door by 8:30 this morning to meet another adoptive family at the Warsaw Zoo.  Though the three oldest kids went to the zoo in our state in early May, this was definitely different.  The same laws must not apply here as they do at home because we could get closer to the animals at many of the exhibits.  I am not sure if that is a good thing or not: the tiger was pacing and looked hungry. :D

Street parking is free and was available when we arrived a little after 9 a.m.. By the time we left at around 1:15, the zoo was becoming much more crowded, so if you want a parking space near the entrance, get there early.

Drinks and food can be brought into the park, so we brought water with us.  There are several little shops throughout the zoo where you can purchase drinks, snacks, ice cream (of course), and even some meal items.  I don't think they are all open until closer to lunchtime, but the prices seem to be reasonable.  We bought ice cream and dessert waffles (think sprinkled with powdered sugar or whipped topping and cherries), and it was much cheaper than the same thing would be at a zoo in the States.

To our knowledge, DD has never been to a zoo.  She loved the animals but was not happy that she was not allowed to play on the swing with baby gorilla. :D  There were donkeys and goats that the kiddos could pet, and they were eating leaves out of the kids' hands.

Leaves are already falling from some of the trees.
Autumn is not far away here.
Though we did not spend much time at it, there is also a good sized playground for the kiddos to play.   Overall, it was an activity worth doing and the highlight was hearing DD come running to Mark saying, very clearly, "Tata, Tata (Polish for dad), monkey, monkey!"

Friday, August 14, 2015

Łazienki Park, Days 32-34

Tuesday - Thursday, August 11-13

Tuesday was another shopping day.  We went to the Hipermarket in Auchan again.  It just has a much better selection than the smaller stores that are right down the street.  On top of that, it was another hot day and the air conditioning was nice.  I am looking forward to going home and shopping by myself again. :)

Wednesday marked four weeks since we got custody of DD.  We have seen progress in behavior, learning English, and blending together as a family of six. Progress has not come easily, but every step forward is a victory worth celebrating.  There have been difficult behaviors to deal with that come from having had little discipline, requirements to obey, or consequences for actions in her young life.  On top of that, her world over the last month has turned upside down, and DD is having to learn how to become part of a family that she will not have to leave versus the moving between foster homes that she has known.  Thank you for all your prayers, emails, and messages during this time.

 We did not really do anything of interest on Wednesday, so I will move on to Thursday. :) Mark took the kids to the playground for an hour in the morning, and we spent the rest of the morning at home. In the afternoon, we went to a beautiful park in Warsaw. Lazienki Park is a one-hundred eighty-four acre park with monuments of folks like Chopin, a Polish classical music composer, a palace, a river,
Former summer home of a Polish king (below)

 Monument of King Stanisław August Poniatowski
cafés, and  museums.  The park is free to walk around in and view the gardens and river area.

Some of the gardens

On Sundays at noon and 4 p.m., there are free live concerts of Chopin's music.  Maybe we will make it to one of them before we leave.  If you are ever in the area, it is a great place to get out of the house and walk around.  It is very shaded, so it is even a good place for a hot day.

One of the many water fountains

View from the bank of the river
The monument for the king (above) is in
the background behind the bridge.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Royal Castle - Days 30, 31

Sunday (Day 29) was pretty quiet.  We went to church and stopped at a huge mall nearby afterward, just to walk around in some air conditioning for a while.  There is a Burger King there,  so we stopped to eat too. :-)

Businesses and home in Old Town
 Monday, we went back to Old Town.  It took us      twice as long as it should have to get there because the GPS kept trying to take us to some unkknown location that was not where we were trying to go.  It was extremely frustrating - in fact, driving in Warsaw is an adventure.  Roads are often blocked or closed down for construction and the GPS tries to send us down streets that are clearly marked as one way. To get to many places you have to go in a very (seemingly - perhaps unfamiliarity with the area contributes to this?) roundabout way (ha pun intended, though they are everywhere here too) instead of just driving there directly.  There are limited bridges to cross the Wisła (pronounced Vees-lu in Poland) River, making where you want to go more challenging to get to.  Anyway, I digress.

Businesses and Homes in Old Town
We did get to Old Town and really enjoyed walking the area again.  It was cooler than last week and all the tall buildings in that area block the sun in the afternoon and evening hours.  We toured the Royal Castle which the three older kiddos thought was very cool. Everything is written in Polish and English, so though we opted to not have a guided tour, we could read about the room we were in and what was around us.  We could easily have taken a couple hours in there, but we squeezed it into one hour. :D  The youngest child had little patience for not being allowed to just run around and touch everything, and of course, this is very much a "look, don't touch" place.  I am pretty sure that damage to anything on that property would cost waaaaayyyyy more than I will see in this lifetime. It was definitely worth seeing and many of the rooms were amazing, boasting original artwork from a long gone era.  One can almost picture what it was like back then...except for the air conditioning, which was awesome! 

Using a flash was not allowed in the castle, but we took a 
few pictures in between keeping up with kiddos. :-)

The Castle Courtyard

The Castle Courtyard
Ceiling Art
Sitting in front of the throne

From inside the Castle
Can you imagine the cost if this was knocked over?
(insert shudder)
 I think this is a government building.
 I took the photo from the van and forgot the name of it. :(
The Palace of Culture and Science
A random photo outside a souvenir shop :)

Days 26-29

Wednesday, DD was up at about 5:45 a.m. again.   Remember when I said that we had graduated to 7 a.m. for sleeping?  Well that was obviously short lived.  Grrrr!  This time, I got up and sent her back to bed while I stayed in the hallway to make sure she stayed there and tried to keep her from waking up everyone in the house.

All the kiddos are playing together more as they learn how to include a younger sibling who speaks and understands limited English.  DD is understanding several commands and phrases such as "sit down", and she often repeats words that she hears.  We play the "To jest" (sounds a bit like "tuoy yest"  and means "This is") often and fill in the blank with the English word for the object or person.

Thursday, we took the kiddos to an indoor play place called Digiloo.  It has a lot of different activities for the kids to do, including slides - one is probably about three stories high, trampolines, basketball, an area for tricycles of various sizes, target practicing witih nerf balls, and lots of climbing, jumping, and general activitiest to wear them all out. :)  We spent two hours there, and the kiddos are already asking to go back.  My only wish for it is air conditioning.  It was not as hot as outside, but it was not air conditioned which made it quite warm.

On Friday, we stayed home.  Beginning at breakfast time, it was a "test the boundaries" day for DD, and we just did not feel that adding in a new place to the mix would be wise.  It was a long and frustrating day for all of us, and we were all exhausted by the end of it.

The good news is that Saturday was a big improvement.

It was HOT, so we went to the mall (air conditioning, woohooo!) in search of a kiddie pool, but August is a terrible time to have those available.  After all, nobody would use one when it is 95*+, would they? Anyway, rant, we did not find a pool, so it was back to the house to use the hose for some of the kiddos to cool off.

Here are some pictures of Digiloo, the indoor play area.

This gives you an idea how tall that slide is.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Old Town - Days 24 and 25

 Monday was again pretty routine except that it  included a shopping trip to Auchan, a mall about 30 minutes or so from our house.  There is a store in there called the Hipermarket that is much like a Super Target or Super Walmart.  Though we have heard that Tesco is like Walmart, the one near our house is very small and more like a small Food Lion.  It was great to shop in a larger store with more options.  That is where the candy aisle picture from the last post was taken.

Last week at the park we met a sweet Polish lady who speaks a good amount of English.  She lives in our neighborhood, but we did not see her again until Monday evening.  Our daily park visit was made after dinner, and this lady rode up on her bike to give us the ping pong paddles we'd left at the park the day we first met her.  She had been going to the park daily, sometimes multiple times per day, trying to catch us again, just to make sure she could return our paddles. Since we bought some replacement paddles on Sunday for the ones we'd left at the park, we now have four of them and can play doubles. :-)

Bread is delicious and inexpensive here, but it seems to go stale quickly.  To use up the bread, our oldest son has had some cooking lessons in making stuffed French toast. (Stuffed French Toast is easy to make.  Make a cream cheese and your favorite flavor jam sandwich.  Dip in a mixture of egg, milk, vanilla flavoring, and cinnamon and fry it on both sides in a dap of butter until browned.  Serve topped with powdered sugar, syrup, or whipped cream and fruit.)  He has made it for breakfast just about every day since then and this morning (Tuesday), he fixed breakfast for me.  MMM!

Today (8/4) we went to Old Town with the Sock family, missionaries here in Poland and the couple whose church we have been attending. They met us at our house at 10 a.m., and we followed them into the city.  We walked around and looked around the area, ate lunch outside at a Polish restaurant (Old Town Market Place is filled with outdoor seating for various eating establishments),

Cheese, cracker, and fruit appetizer
(For those wondering, that is a water bottle on the left. :) )
Chicken salad and Spinach and Feta Stuffed Pierogi
U Barssa - The outside of the restaurant where we ate lunch.

looked at some of the shops, viewed the outside of the castle at Castle Square,  old churches, and various landmarks, and ate some ice cream.  We were also reminded that it is unwise to take a three year old into the small shops filled with displays, especially when said child grabs for a display of shot glasses.  Ahhh!

A pretty good idea of our expression...

We caught all but one of them, and even though you could hear it hit the floor, it did not break. Phew!   All the rest of our shopping was done while one parent stayed outside with DD.  We will save teaching that lesson for another time.

We were also introduced today to paying for public bathrooms.  It costs 2 zloty or 1 euro. Sorry, no photos of that are available. :-) 

The architecture in Old Town is beautiful, and the history is really interesting.  It is so named because it is the oldest part of Warsaw and was originally built in the 13th century. For various reasons, including being bombed by the Germans during WW2, it has been reconstructed, often using as much salvaged material as possible.  Today the temperatures were in the 90's, and it was hot, but we are planning a trip back there on a cooler day to tour the castle and look around more.
The outside of the castle (middle building)

The Castle

Zamek Królewski w Warszawie
(translates The Royal Castle in Warsaw)
The rest of this week's weather is forecasted to be hot (between 95 and 100- eek!), so we will be missing our air conditioning.  Still the house here is cement and the inside has stayed bearable.  It has a tendency to become stuffy upstairs in the bedrooms, but the nighttime temperatures drop down in to the 60's.  Our activities this week will need to include staying cool.

Here are a bunch of pictures from our day:

The Old Town Market Place

A cool, old door

Castle Square

This is an actual Inn located in Castle Square.

Not everything in Old Town is unfamiliar....Subway and Pizza Hut! :D