Friday, April 17, 2009

An American Girl

It has been so great to hear from all of you that followed along with the blog and our journey to Ukraine. We are happy that you enjoyed it, it was fun to write and will be something that we will love to look back on in the years to come. Many of you have asked for a follow up to our return, so here is a little bit of what we have been up to since we go back.

Well taxes are finally done. We have had two very busy weeks. Elona and Ben are doing great. You can tell that Ben is so happy to have us home and thrilled to have a little sister.
Elona is very happy all the time and is picking up English unbelievably fast. She is eating well and sleeping in her own room. She is already a typical American kid and loves hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken strips, but don’t worry, she also eats tons of fruit and plenty of vegetables. She is also beginning to let me know what things she does not like.

The Friday after getting home, Elona and I visited school. Ben was called from class and gave Elona the tour and introduction to her teachers, while I reviewed her class schedule. Elona will get one-on-one English as a Second Language four days a week. She will not be taking Science and Social Studies, instead doubling up on Language Arts, Math and taking Art, Choir and Gym.

Friday night Pam, Len and Angella came over to visit. The girls were so happy to see each other. After showing Pam and Angella her room, Elona, Ben and Angella were off together, playing, laughing and ‘screaming’ (it is going take awhile for Roger and me to get used to the additional noise). This gave us adults time to reminisce about the incredible experiences that we shared in Sevastopol and the real adventures we are only just beginning.

Saturday was a beautiful day so we took Elona to her first visit to the zoo. Robbin joined us there for our first family outing. She really was not as impressed as I expected and got bored quickly. I am used to Ben; he could spend the entire day and then some at the zoo. The one thing that did impress her were the manatees, here she pulled a small notebook out of her purse and asked how to spell ‘manatee’.

Sunday Aunt Robbin treated Elona, Ben and I to the ‘Cirque Dreams – Jungle Fantasy’ at the Aronoff. It was amazing and we all loved it.

Spring Break started April 6th and unfortunately we had cold drizzly weather. Roger and I also needed to finish our taxes, which for us is long difficult process. So Ben and Elona had plenty of time to just hang out and get used to each other. They are doing great together. Of course Elona has been introduced to the Wii. She is a already a good bowler and also loves Mario Cart, which is a car racing game. For days she was frustrated with last place, yelling “no…no…no” at the television screen and moving all over the place, Roger and I could not help laughing. She has improved greatly since then, now she sings while she drives, equally funny. We also played plenty of board games. Elona picks everything up very quickly and though she is very competitive, she is also a gracious loser (and winner).

We stayed busy all week; taxes, cooking, laundry and games. Wednesday, Roger took Elona and Ben downtown to have lunch with Robbin. That evening Roger and I needed a little adult time, so the Delatron’s came over for dinner and we played Yuker while Ben and Elona watched a movie. It was great to laugh and talk about normal life.

Thursday night we had Madeira friends over for a cook out. Nathan is a friend of Ben’s and his younger sister Maggie is in many Elona classes at school. We wanted Elona to know a familiar face when she arrived at school on Monday. Elona and Maggie hit it off right away; it is amazing how they can communicate so easily. They were typical girls, bugging their brothers and then running and screaming. Elona seems so normal, confident and happy, it is it hard to remember that she is still emotionally vulnerable and needs special attention and reassurance of our love and commitment continuously.

Easter was a big day for us. After family time in the morning with Easter baskets and breakfast, we headed to Milford to a friend’s family farm. This was the 50th annual Easter Egg Hunt held at the Carey farm. We have been taking Ben to this wonderful event since he was born, only missing a couple times and we have photos of Ben to prove it. This year Pam, Len and Angella joined us on a beautiful sunny day. The girls run off to hunt together, while Ben went off to hunt on his own and came back with one of the coveted silver eggs. The farm is beautiful, and a chance for us to see out of town friends.

After the hunt, the four of us head to Robbin’s to join her and Bill for a family dinner and our traditional egg hunt. This hunt is for eggs with letters inside that when put together and unscrambled reveals a prize. Robbin has been doing this for Ben for years. This year she wrote out Elona’s clues in Russian and with a little help; Elona figured out the clues and was thrilled with her prizes.

Monday morning – Elona’s first day of school. She was so excited and nervous at the same time, she could hardly wait. I drove Ben and Elona to school and went to Elona’s first class with her. We got her locker and practiced a little. I got her to her next class – Math and Maggie was there. I told Elona I was leaving, expecting her to protest, but no. All she wanted to know was what would happen when school was over. I meet her at her locker after school, she was all smiles. ‘How was school?” I asked. ‘Good, good’ she answered enthusiastically. And that has been her continuous response. She tells us her new friends’ names and she proudly shows us her math homework. She loves her teachers and loves school. Wednesday she took the bus for first time with Ben and she sat with a girl from her class.

So there you have it. Things are going better than we could have imagined. We know that we have great challenges ahead of us, but Elona is bright, friendly and outgoing, a real American Girl. She and Ben are getting along great, and we could not be happier.

Roger, Kelley, Ben and Elona

Friday, April 3, 2009

Home Sweet Home

We got home to Cincinnati safe and sound. It is so good to be home.

Ben, Aunt Cathy, Aunt Robbin and Bill were waiting for us at the airport with smiles, signs and balloons. It was perfect. Elona and Ben were all smiles. We all went straight home and Ben could not wait to give Elona the tour and show her her room.

We had a quick meal and wonderful conversation with family . It had been a really a long day so we headed for bed around 10:00, which would have been 5:00 AM in the Ukraine.

Thursday morning started with first Elona and then Ben crawling into bed with Roger and I. A big breakfast of pancakes and bacon got us off to a great start. What a great day, sunshine and 70 degrees. Roger and I started the task of unpacking and going through mail. Cathy was still with us and as usual helped with numerous chores around the house. Ben and Elona became fast friends and spent the whole day together, it was wonderful. First Ben showed Elona around the neighborhood, then it was a full day of playing hide and seek, balloon games, video games, card, and more. Roger and I knew they would get along great, they are both friendly and enjoy similar activities. The four of us had lunch was at Skyline of course. It was wonderful day and a great beginning to our new family.

Today is a big day. Elona is going to visit her new school. Ben is going to give Elona a tour of the building, while I fill out paper work. She will meet her teachers and we will review her schedule. Next week is Spring Break, which is perfect for relaxing and going to the zoo before she starts school on the 13th.

Thanks again to all of you that have followed along. We will periodically post updates, but taxes are due and we have a busy week of fun planned.

So good-bye for now, hope to see many of you soon.

Roger, Kelley, Ben and Elona

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bringing Elona Home

Okay, I have to tell you - right now Elona is pretending to have an office and is pretending to stamp documents with a deodorant container. She is listening to music on a disc player and organizing and re-organizing papers and objects on her ‘desk’. This is so funny to Roger and me. All three of us have seen a lot of documents stamped over the last two months. Elona was amazed that the Notary had five stamps, and each was bigger than the last.

Anyway. We have Elona’s Visa. George picked up us at the apartment and we hurried to the ‘Metro’. Kiev’s subway must be 10 stories underground, is very crowded and very noisy, which makes it seem like it is going really fast. A short Metro ride, a short bus ride, (practically running in between) we arrived at the U.S. Consulate 20 minutes early. I have to make a correction; our meeting yesterday was also at the Consulate, not the Embassy. We are the only people in the waiting room, which is very clean and new, not at all like any other waiting room we have been in since arriving in Ukraine.

Right at 2:00 we are called up to the window. The very nice American Consulate asked Elona a few questions; we raise our right hands and swore that all the document information is true. Sign the forms. We are finished. 20 minutes later the Visa is ready and we are out the door. I cannot describe how happy this makes us.

Now we are just killing time until the flight tomorrow morning.
For dinner we went to ‘Papa John’s’ (not the same, here Papa John is black). Elona ate 4 large pieces of pizza and a salad. Roger and I are thinking we will not be able to afford to feed her.

That is all from the Ukraine. Tomorrow we will return to our wonderful country and our friends and family. Thank you for joining us on our amazing journey. We will write again when we are home for few days to let you know how Elona’s first days in America go.

Roger, Kelley and Elona.
Photos are the view from our apartment.

Monday, March 30, 2009

We Are In Kiev

Galya picked us up in a cab and we went to the deski dome (orphanage) to say a quick good-bye to Mama Irena. You can tell she really cares about her girls and is so happy when they find loving homes. She gave Elona a box of chocolates and us a bottle of Champaign to share a toast with Pam and Len when we return home.

We got to the airport in Simferopol on Sunday, no problem and said our good-byes to Galya. We hope that she and her family will visit us in the US someday.

Elona was a little nervous about getting on the airplane as we walked towards it, but after we boarded she was fine. She had a little trouble with her ears and a lot of trouble with boredom. She is a typical 11 year old, complains when you are running all over that she is tired, and then complains that she is bored you have to sit and wait for more than 5 minutes. We explained later that the flight to US was a lot longer and that she was going to have to entertain herself better. Roger and I did our best imitations of Elona, sighing and flopping, she got the idea.

We arrived in Kiev about 2:00 and George was there to pick us up. Igor, Sveta’s husband, drove. He and George bicker like an old married couple, and then George turns and smiles at us. We are staying only a few blocks from where we were before. This is the center of the city, shopping, business, restaurants. The apartment is comfortable, but not quit as newly remodeled. We are having trouble getting the internet to work, but are picking up the coffee shop’s wireless from the first floor if we stand at the window. We had dinner at ‘Friday’s’. Roger had steak and was happy. The food was good, but a lot more expensive that eating out in Sevastopol, but about the same as home.

This morning we got up and out the door with George and Igor at 8:15AM. The first stop was the Medical Center where George went and registered and then we waited for about an hour for the doctor. The Doctor was very nice and the exam was over and all the papers signed and stamped by 10:30. We are out the door and on to the U.S. Embassy.

At the Embassy, we walked right past the line of 30 or so Ukrainians waiting outside, finally it pays to be an American. There is special office just for adoptions and we go right up to the window with our documents, most which George has organized, and more which I had spent about 2 hours the night before filling out. Everything is good, I signed a couple of papers and we are told to come back tomorrow to meet with the Consulate and we will receive our visa then. I cannot tell you how relieved were to hear those words. George is amazed; we were only there about 30 minutes.

We are so close now that we can taste it.
Kelley, Roger and Elona.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Leaving Sevastopol

We have the Passport. Yesterday at 4:00 Galya called and said we should meet at the passport office just in case it comes in. So the three of us walked over, it was about a 10 minute walk (we made a wrong turn, so it took us 20) and a beautiful day. There are about 15 other people waiting, all standing around the door. That is how they wait here. There are places to sit, but they all stand around the door. We were only there about 15 minutes when they start calling people in one at a time. Roger and I are not hopeful, we have had so many delays, no way will it be here. But, we are called in, Galya give me this look of ‘I can’t believe it’.

Ten minutes later we are out the door with Elona’s passport and running to the travel agency to buy our airline tickets to Kiev. I think Galya is more relieved than we are, she is all smiles. She called Sveta with the good news. We found out late last week that Sveta is very sick and will not be able to make the arrangements for us in Kiev. Instead George will be taking care of us. He is the guy that helped Pam and Len when they were here, so we are in good hands, but sorry we will not get to see Sveta. We will be leaving Sunday morning for Kiev, it doesn’t seem possible. Then we leave for Cincinnati on Wednesday morning. Can’t wait to be home.
Last night we got together with Jaimee and Andy, their friends Amanda and Jarred, and Galya. Elona was very existed to see Jamiee and Andy, and another friend Tanya that she knew from the orphan summer camp. We also ran into the Canadian, Jason, that we had meet weeks before. It was Friday night and every place was busy and smoky. We finally crowded into a corner at a small pizza place, Fiesta Pizza (wish we had tried it sooner, we liked the pizza better that Potato House, but let atmosphere).

Kevin joined us later with a friend, he was busy keeping track of the US sailors in port, but stopped in for a slice. It gave us a chance to thank him again. While we were there several more sailors stopped in for pizza. Jamiee and Andy had meet Joe the day before and he was making arrangement to donate clothes to their Operation Lazarus.
It was a nice time, and we happy to get to see everyone before we leave. As much as we miss Ben, home and family, we are going to miss Sevastopol and the wonderful people that we have met here.

Kelley and Roger

Friday, March 27, 2009

Oh What A Night

Three nights together and everything is going great. Elona has slept well on the living room sofa, and is waking up hungry and eats all day. The first night she took a long bubble bath and washed her hair. She is a little bored, but is otherwise fine. I would imagine she is used to having other children around all the time so this is a little strange. We gave her the first ‘Harry Potter’ book in Russian and she is enjoying that. Today she helped cook breakfast and now she is dusting the apartment, even though I told her she did not need to.

Our routine has been about the same. Late mornings, we eat breakfast, go to the market, and then Skype Ben before he goes to school. Then depending on the weather, we hang out and play on computer or go for a walk. Wednesday night we played some UNO and watched an American movie (in Russian) that Pam had lent us (thank you Pam, those movies have been a life saver). Today we are going to start packing – yeah.

Just a funny note. Roger had commented to me several times, that there is no place in the city where there has been concrete sidewalk or road repair that does not have a shoe or paw print in it. So last night coming up from meeting Kevin, he came across a patch of wet concrete in the sidewalk. Roger has made his mark in Sevastopol, leaving his hand print.

Yesterday we walked down to the public dock area where a US Navy ship is docked. The USS Klakring is on a diplomatic visit to the Ukraine. It is a ‘small’ ship. Last night we went to a reception there. Kevin invited us, this is a real privilege. The party was under a tent on the helicopter pad. The US Ambassador was there, and Ukrainian Admirals, what the military folks would call “big brass”, and of course the officers and some of crew of the ship. There were about 80 people all together. We really didn’t have the right clothes to wear. We had to go out and buy skirts for Elona and I, and shoes for Elona. Good thing we have our ‘court clothes’, or we would have had to decline. Kevin said it didn’t matter, it is our Navy. Kevin and his boss (an Army Coronel) were there of course. Kevin’s friend Kostya, whom we had meet before at Kevin’s, was working as the interpreter for the Ambassador. Roger had met several of the officers the night before, so they were all coming up and introducing themselves to Elona and me.

When we first arrived Elona was particularly interested in the swan ice sculpture and sterno cans heating the serving dishes. The cheese and veggie tray was also a hit. Later when they started serving food (all very American) she had her first chicken fingers and BBQ meatballs, and then ate two large dinner rolls. She decided the roast beef which Roger was thrilled with.

Many of the American officers spoke Russian and Elona got plenty of attention. In fact, the Army Coronal, who spoke Russian, was very nice spoke with Elona frequently. He arranged for Elona to have a private tour (Roger and I got to tag along) of the bridge and the deck with a Russian speaking US officer. One of Executive Officers had a traveling koala bear (like our Flat Stanley) from his 8 year old daughter’s school project and posed for photos with Elona. As it turns out Elona stepped on her first piece of US soil last night when she went aboard the ship. So as a special gesture, the commander of the ship ordered the Elona be entered into the ships log.

We left after about 2 hours with a cold and tired little girl. It was an exciting night, one I don’t think she will forget for a long time. Roger and I would like to express our appreciation to the US Military for a special night and for their great work around the world. Just another reason we are proud to be Americans.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

No More Orphanage

Boy, a lot has happened since Sunday. First, we did not get to take Elona home from the orphanage on Monday like we were supposed to. After going to several offices with Galya and Kostya, we went to the orphanage to pick up and Elona. The representative from the government was there also. They whisk Galya away and ask (tell) us to wait in the library. About 20 minutes later Galya comes in with a very sober look. “It is not happening today.” What??? She repeats the statement and we are shocked. The director will not release Elona without the birth certificate- that we cannot get until tomorrow. Even the government representative is surprised.

But that was yesterday. Today we have Elona with us. She is working on an art project and listening to music as I am writing this.

The day started at 8:30 this morning and we went none stop until 4:30 today when Galya and Kostya dropped us off at the apartment. I will not bore you with all the details, but we went to eleven locations during that time. It was after we got the birth certificate that we picked up the Director at her home (she wasn’t feeling well) and went to the Orphanage for the official transfer. Galya handed over documents and we signed some papers. They gave Elona a nice book of Ukrainian Folk Tales and the Director gave her phone number. Later our little angel says to Galya in Russian “Why the hell did she give me her number, I’m not going to call her”. One neat thing, they brought out a wooden US puzzle with pictures of adopted children glued to it and we placed a mark where Elona would be living in America. Elona’s mark is right next to Angella’s. The Neeley’s from California and the Webb’s from Tennessee were also represented.

The government representative was 40 minutes late… after he arrived and signed the papers, it was official; we got our papers, said good-bye. In the hall Galya says….lets run. Roger and I are a little surprised, but we don’t ask question. All four of us take off as fast as we can through the orphanage and out to Kostya waiting in the car. Roger and I are thinking….did we get away with something, are they going to come running after us and take Elona back????? Turns out we are just running behind and Galya is just trying to get us to our next stop before the lunch break at 1:00 starts. We get there in time to get things turned in, but still have to wait for the lunch break. So we had lunch and had a really nice talk with Elona.

Long story short, it took all day but we have applied for Elona’s passport, which should be here in time for us to leave for Kiev on Saturday evening (thanks you Galya and Kostya). We will apply for the U.S. visa on Monday, get it on Tuesday and leave for home on Wednesday. Hallelujah.

Tonight, finally, is our first night together. I have a feeling our adventure is just beginning.

Kelley, Roger and Elona
(The photos are of Elona with some dorm mates, and Kostya and Galya on the day of our outing.)