Wednesday, December 31, 2008

a catch-all to end 2008

I actually started trying to write this while it was still 2008, but we are now about 20 minutes into 2009 here . . .

As promised, here are some updates:

Christmas Eve was spent at Stefan's parents' house. His youngest sister was also there for dinner (her husband, unfortunately, had to work). In keeping with Scandinavian tradition, Jultomten (Santa Claus) arrived after dinner and passed out the gifts. Stefan's brother and his family were also there. This year, Joel was Santa. He found out through his reading textbook at school that Santa wasn't real. At first, he was disappointed but then he pointed out that last year Santa was wearing Faffa's (Grandpa's) boots and he thought it would be fun to do it himself this year. I must say it was refreshing not to have to keep up the guise that it really was Santa who was visiting. Nobody had to worry about sneaking out and later making up a story for being absent.

{Mattias helping "Santa" pass out the gifts.}


Christmas morning we were woken up by Sofia letting us know that we had stockings filled by Santa downstairs. We were not allowed to stay in bed - we had to go check them out. (Our kids are allowed to open their stockings whenever they wake up - they don't have to wait for us, and they can eat anything that's in them - but it was so exciting for her.) Once everyone was fully awake, and the coffee was on, we called my dad and brother in Canada on Messenger so we could open our presents together. As a side note, it seems to work for everyone else on the planet, but we have nothing but problems whether we use Skype or Messenger to talk through the computer and use the webcam - either the camera freezes, the audio makes a horrible noise, or the whole program shuts down. Anyway, we had the usual problems, so we ended up using the webcam, but talking on the phone (of course, the phone is not in sight of the webcam . . .) In addition to some official clothing for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, my brother had left behind a suitcase when he was here of goodies for us all.


After the phone call, we opened the rest of the gifts that were under the tree - those from each other and some sent from Canada.Then it was time to get the 9.4kg turkey in the oven - Stefan's whole family came over, but his youngest sister was sick and her husband was still working. There were 10 at the kids' table and 10 at the adults' table.

This evening, for New Year's Eve, we went to Stefan's sister's place in Larsmo and had a nice time there. We didn't stay too late and were home by 11, but the evening routine was all out of whack and it took some time for them all to settle down.

Here is how things are going in specific areas with Sofia:

Bedtime:
The first 6 days she was with us went fine - pyjamas, teeth, bed, "goodnight", sleep. Then we had a bad night (that I messed up). After that, we were letting her fall asleep in our bed and then carrying her to her own when we went to bed. That worked for quite some time, but then she started wanting to play silly games and kept getting up. So, the past several nights she's been settled in her own bed, but it has to be Stefan who does it. However, the routine takes at least 90 minutes each night and now the last 2 nights, she's started playing silly games again. I understand that we're not supposed to let her cry in her bedroom, that she needs to know we're there for her, but does anyone have any suggestions how we get her to stop demanding we do these silly games (an example - look for a pair of pyjamas in every possible place in the room, and then do it again and again . . .)?

The Hair:
You can't imagine how excited I was at the prospect of having some long hair to style . . . When we were still in SPB, she let me do her hair no problem. Once we got home, she started putting limits on it - pigtails ok, but NO braids. Then, she refused to let me near her with the brush. Once, she went 3 days without her hair being brushed. Now, I've decided she must have it done every day, and I usually try to start with it when she's washing her hands. However, there's usually a lot of screaming involved, quite a bit of the "talk to the hand" gesture (she doesn't want to make eye contact), sometimes some scratching, and several "I don't love you. I love Papa." (In Russian, but I know that's what she's saying). Well, yesterday's styling session went a little better and she made eye contact with me before we were done. Today's went even better . . it started bad, but while I was brushing her hair, I found her Barbie's sunglasses in the hairstuff basket and she started laughing and the rest went fine. She even said "Tack, Mama" (thanks, Mom) when I was done. Then, I had to do it a second time before we went out and even though it started bad, she was fine by the end. So, some progress here.

Attachment:
By this point, you may be able to tell that she seems to have attached better to Stefan. Whenever she's mad, whether it's at me, Stefan, the dog, the door handle . . . I'm the one who gets the blame, which can mean "talk to the hand" gesture, "I don't love you", "Papa's good, Mama's not good", pinching, hitting, scratching, etc. Generally, it's been kinda hard on me. But, I've been assured by a couple of people that she's probably afraid of bonding with me and it's her way of protecting herself. So, with that reassurance in mind, I've approached her outbursts with a different attitude and try not to let it get me down. In the last 2 days, I've noticed that she makes eye contact with me sooner after a break, and she doesn't stay mad as long as before. I've been given some good ideas for attachment activities and I've already started using them.

Sibling Relationships:
I think the amount of our time she craves is becoming difficult on the boys. Also, she has some problems with what's hers and what's theirs . . . and they complain about that a lot. She seems quite fond of Sam. We watched 2 Brothers on TV today and she sat hugging him the whole time. Mattias likes to help her, but then he gets frustrated when she helps herself to the things in his room. Joel and Sofia get along well in the mornings, but usually start fighting over things by the afternoon (again, she goes in his room and plays with his stuff). However, everytime I hear "Sofia, come see . . " I smile and know that it will all just take time.

{Sam, Sofia and Mattias out snowmobiling.}
{Joel and Sofia - playing Indiana Jones?}



Monday, December 29, 2008

15 years

Today is our anniversary! We "celebrated" by registering our daughter at the local magistrate's office, dropping off her application for health coverage and taking in my application for parental pay, followed by lunch with all 4 children and then a little after-Christmas sale shopping.

I haven't been posting lately because it's been a bumpy road on the attachment-front, but having received some much-needed reassurance and suggestions from Ondrea, I am looking at behaviours from a different angle and approaching them with a different attitude as well.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

my baby is 14!

Monday was Sam's 14th birthday. Hard to believe how fast time flies! For his birthday, he wanted the 6 of us to go bowling, just like last year (only 5 then). The event went ok, but Joel and Mattias get frustrated with the repeated gutter-balls. 10-pin is hard! Sofia and Stefan bowled as one person and she thought it was fun, but she got VERY frustrated every time she had to wait for her turn.

In the evening, Stefan's family came over for coffee and cake. It was the first time Sofia had to deal with kids (her cousins) at our house, in her room. She handled it pretty well, but it was a late evening and probably stressful for her, so settling down for bed was difficult.

This year, Sam mostly got cash which made him pretty happy. I'm not sure if he plans to buy anything or put it in the bank. One of his aunts first presented him with a little plastic poinsettia, pretending it was his gift. It was funny watching him trying to be gracious about the present!

Some photos follow, but the quality is not so good. Something was "wrong" with the camera . . . Sofia had been taking pictures and we thought she changed some settings. I tried for a couple days to figure out the problem, checking through the manual, etc. Eventually, I discovered the sticky fingerprint on the lens . . . Now, the camera works fine!



Sam and Joel show their bowling style!


Sofia watches Sam.


That's a lot of candles!


Enjoying cake with the cousins.


Sofia and some of her cousins dancing to some Russian tunes.

I took this photo yesterday to show what a mild winter we're having, again. There's still open water in the bay.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

some of the week's great moments

I know I've said there have been some lousy moments this week, but there have been many, many awesome ones as well. Sofia loves dancing. Really loves it. So, combine that with the aforementioned Disney's Hero Songs cassette and we've got a dancing machine.

We have done avtivities that give us a glimpse into the musical program at the orphanage. Sofia is a total task master. We have had to go through her Dancing class/performance several times so far. There's always a new routine for us to learn and if we do it wrong, we have to start all over . . . I think it's so cute that she uses the piano book even if she can't play.

Wednesday night was the Christmas concert at the elementary school. We managed to convince her to shower (bribing her with Shrek on the computer). The concert went really well and the boys did a great job. Sofia was done about half way through and started asking to go home, but we did make it till the end. The concert was 3 1/2 hours long (there's 34 students in the school).

Thursday my brother went home - Stefan drove him to the aiport for his 6:30am flight. Then, later in the day, we finally sold our Montana! We had hoped to get a lot more for it, but when we did the currency exchange, it turns out we almost got what we paid for it in January 2004 in Canada.

Friday, Stefan, Sofia and I spent the day Christmas shopping and it was probably too much for her because bedtime was a nightmare. Everything was fine. I read a couple stories, said goodnight, sent Stefan in to say goodnight after he read to Joel and then awhile later she started crying for us. In the end, both Stefan and I had to sit on her bed holdng her hands until she fell asleep. (Thursday night had been no problem).

Today (Saturday) was a school day here . . . not really sure why, but they get 2 1/2 weeks vacation now. Anyways, I had to go in to the school to pick up my Christmas gift from the city. The students were just beginning to play hide and seek and Sofia willingly joined in (btw, the kids LOVE her and take her under their wing). Every once in a while she would look in the staff room to check on me. After that it was carol singing, and she joined in that too (she was singing along . .) Then they had ice cream in their classrooms and she joined her peers in the room for that and a story from the teacher. It went really well. After school, I took her and Joel to town again for a quick shop and again, all went well.

The rest of the day has been fine. We went to Stefan's parents' for dinner and Sofia and Joel had a disagreement over toys but things worked out. This evening Mattias, Joel, Sofia and I watched Polar Express (in pyjamas). It's the first non-Russian speaking movie that she has sat the whole way through. We let her go to sleep in our bed tonight, and she went down fine and fell asleep right away. We'll move her to her own bed later.

Ahhh, now it's quiet, and I think I have some time to watch a little TV . . .

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

i'm still here

Thanks for the words of encouragement!

Things went better today, but I don't have time right now to write about it. Hopefully, will get to that tomorrow . . . Just now, as her and Joel were settling themselves into our bed for the night, she was looking through an AVON magazine and had a bad allergic reaction to the perfume that was on the page. Put some calamine lotion on (she licked that . . .). Finally went for the Advil to get her to relax - she really over-dramatizes every emotion she has (plus she's really tired). I think she's sleeping now . . .

Monday, December 15, 2008

ugh

Today had some really great moments and some really crappy ones. 'Nuff said.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

time for more

Ahhh . . . where were we? Yes, Tuesday's been described, so I can start with Wednesday, our last day in SPB.

The morning went smoothly. Nastja was awake when I got up, but still in bed. I had to wake the boys, so we could get down for breakfast before it was over. Breakfast was still unimpressive, but by now everyone knew which foods they liked/didn't like. Nastja continued to be a helper as far as the busboys/ladies were concerned . . .

Packing was a bit of a challenge, because I wanted everything to fit in (one) fewer suitcases so we had fewer bags to count and worry about (I put one suitcase inside the other). We had less stuff because of the gifts for the children's home. Luckily everything worked out. The only thing left behind was Stefan's hat (in the closet).

After we checked out, our agency's director took us, and Family N's dad to the police station to pick up the Russian passports and then to the Finnish consulate, where we were dropped off and the driver went back to the hotel for the rest of Family N. There was a HUGE lineup outside the consulate of Russians wanting to get Finnish visas, but we went past all them into a separate area. We had to sign some papers and then the lady went to make the passport (it's only valid for 7 days, but cost 5020 roubles). We had some time to talk with the director about Nastja and the whole process, and she gave us some documents in Russian. Some will be translated into Swedish for us, but some others are more personal (like the letter from great grandma saying she could not adopt Nastja) and she told us we could have them translated ourselves, if we wished too. She also told us that the driver Sergey had said he had never seen such well-behaved boys as ours. He said they were so quiet. That made my day. We had the passport in about 40 minutes and then we were driven to the train station.

We had to wait at the station almost 3 hours, and it wasn't very much fun. Let's just say the lady at the kiosk should have looked happier that we were spending so much money there . . . Nastja and I had a bit of an incident - she had a coin and was trying to put it into the cash machines. I was worried it was gonna get stuck and when I said njet, she just laughed and did it more. So, I took it away from her. Then she went and stood by the pole where our stuff was and pouted for quite some time with her head down. After about 10 minutes, Stefan said it would be okay and go talk to her, she would smile. She did NOT. When I tried to pick her up and hug her, she went all limp onto the floor. It was a horrible feeling. (I can write about this now, because things are really good between us. At the time, I was devastated.) So, Stefan had to console her, and the boys had to console me (I have such clever boys who knew what to say to make me feel better). Some time later, I got back in her good graces by waving some cash and pointing to the kiosk. I know that's not really good parenting, but she took my hand and happily came along, as well as started talking to me again.

The train ride home was not very eventful. Sofia sat with Stefan most of the time, and we had lots of things to keep them all busy. We ate dinner after the conductor checked our tickets. Stefan sat at the table with the kids while I ordered the food. As I stood there, looking out the window, I got weepy thinking about how Sofia was leaving her homeland and this beautiful city. (Cut me some slack, it was an emotional day.) She hardly ate any of her meatballs and mashed potatoes, but she drank all her milk.

We changed trains in Helsinki, and about an hour into the trip, the kids all fell asleep. I think I slept between 2 and three, but I was so nervous we would sleep past our stop - it stops for 1 minute at 4:24am.

We made it home, thinking we were all going to bed, but my brother had other plans and was standing in the hall when we came in. I have no words to decribe how surprised we were. He had brought buttermilk pancake mix, syrup and Tim Horton's coffee, so you can guess what I made for breakfast.

Sofia loved her room and the house. It was awesome to see the joy on her face. I think I already said in a previous post that it was enchanting to decorate the house for Christmas through her eyes.

As for the last 2 days, things are going really well. I phoned my Russian-speaking friend today and she talked to Sofia - everything is good!

She is starting to repeat more things ("Mama scared" - I said I was scared when she turned all the lights out) as well as the phrases from before. She is repeating lyrics from that d@#% Disney cassette and singing with it too. I must mention though, that the boys have been trying to hide it from her because they are DONE with it. Joel cried last night because he couldn't find a quiet place (today he was fine with her, after a good night's rest. Mattias was angry though that she was taking things out of his room).

She gives Stefan and me spontaneous hugs. I love it! She is eating well. She loves crisp bread, rice crispies, juice, rice (Christmas) porridge, baking, salads, vegetables, bananas, etc.

Last night we were at her cousin's 10th birthday party, so she got to meet all her cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. It went well. She was much quieter than at home, but she interacted with the kids on a limited basis. There were a few toys that she particularly liked, and had them in her pocket as we were leaving . . . . We explained they were Emelie's, and left them behind.

Today, Mattias was involved in a performance at the Lutheran church's Christmas party so we all went. Thankfully, when she saw we were all dressed up, she allowed me to suggest one of the outfits that was a little fancier (she's strictly been choosing her own outfits every day). She let me do her hair too, the way I wanted - she has been refusing braids since we got home. Then, this evening, we went back to cousin Emelie's so my brother could visit with them. Sofia played with those same toys, but made no attempt to take them home. Yay!

At the church hall, we were sitting with a couple we know. Kent had commented that he couldn't believe how comfortable she seemed with us. Right now things are going really well. Even though she's a Daddy's girl, she is calling me several times a day to help her with something, or to show me something. This morning, she came into my room and told me it was time to get up (Stefan had already let her get up). She pulled my blankets off . . . she wanted to show me the puzzle she was working on.

So, a couple more pictures . . .

Getting her nails done

Milk-drinking proof!

Friday, December 12, 2008

our story continues

My gosh. There just seems to be so much to write about that I don't know where to start. I guess I will describe Tuesday, which was our first full day with our little girl in SPB.

The day started with the hotel's breakfast buffet, still unimpressive. (btw, Nastja didn't get out of bed when she awoke, she waited for the "ok"). The staff is very diligent though, and as soon as a dish is empty, someone comes and takes it away . . . Well, Nastja thought she would help by taking our dishes to the lady as she was cleaning other tables - the lady kept giving us strange looks . . .

Side note - Monday night and Tuesday morning she let me brush her teeth, but didn't like it very much. Her teeth are definately in need of a visit to the dentist. Bathroom routine? Some of you know that it is very common for Russian women to not use tp for #1, so that was something new for her (she thought I was crazy). But, up to Tuesday she let me wipe for her.

We got picked up at 10.30 to go to the Notary's to sign an adoption paper that had been missing on Monday (it was the permission to release her from the orphanage into our care - the SPB police write the document, but something about the wording was wrong so it had to be done again). Our boys were not allowed to come, so our agency reps suggested the other couple from here who adopted from the same home look after the boys. Family N graciously agreed to (and for that we are hugely indebted!). They went from having no children to 5 boys (they adopted a sibling pair). At the notary's, our translator G was talking away and I could hear disappointment in his voice. I asked if anything was wrong, and he said "Maybe not, but the dates on the document are wrong." Turns out we signed them anyway. We found out on Wed from our agency director that when the police filled out the document so early, they put Dec 5th, but our visa didn't begin until Dec 7th - kinda hard to take custody of a child if you're not even in country . . .

After 10 minutes of driving, Vlad got a call from G - he forgot to give us another document he thought we needed, so after waiting for confirmation that we , in fact, did need it, we turned around and went back. More time lost.

Then we went back to the orphanage and picked up T, the social worker. We had to drive to the district where Nastja's property is located to do some paperwork at a Notary office there. After waiting in the busy office for awhile, we go in and it is quite quickly clear that there is another problem. You won't believe this, but some documents were missing. {Starting to sound like an old story for us.} Above all, the court's decision (which was made in October) on the legacy ownership for her was not there, despite the fact that it was supposed to be ready 7 days prior. Wasted appointment - nothing could be done. There were some more phone calls . . . and it was decided that it couldn't all be pulled together in time, so we'll have to do some faxing and apostilles from here later. However, we decided to go visit the property again, this time in daylight. We went inside and took lots of photos. The house is definitely unsalvageable. It was very sad to think that these were the conditions she came from 4 years ago.

On the way back, we picked up the orphanage's music teacher because the 2 ladies were going somewhere. She tried to talk to Nastja, but she was too busy playing bowling on my cell phone, and I didn't have the language skills to tell her to be polite . . . By the time we got to the hotel, it was 5pm. Poor Family N. They had 5 boys in a hotel room for nearly 7 hours! We are truly thankful for them!

We had dinner at McDonald's again because there was no other place that was child friendly and reasonably-priced nearby.

Bathroom routine fell apart Tuesday night. She refused to let me brush her teeth or wipe or wash her hands. It was hard to let those go, but it was not a battle worth fighting this early in the game. She was probably tired and stressed from everything (including the visit to the house).

Bedtime was easy, but we noticed that each night she took books into the bed to look at. Wonder if they did that in the children's home?

I'll leave a description of our last day in SPB for another day. But I will give a few reflections about the last couple of days:
  • bathroom routine is going very well - no shunning of proper hygiene in any of the areas noted above. And, she always comes to me when she needs to go to the bathroom.
  • bedtime has been very easy and she continues to stay in bed until told she can get up.
  • she ADORES her Papa - he gets spontaneous hugs all the time.
  • she's been walking around with the fisher-price cassette player listening to Disney Hero Songs for 2 days - repeatedly - all the time. Did I mention all the time? Repeatedly?
  • she was a hit at the school today when we went to watch the St. Lucia concert, but a little overwhelmed herself.
  • it snowed today, so they were outside sledding, etc. She went in the playhouse for the first time and on our swing. She built a snow lantern with her Papa.
  • she has eaten pretty much everything we have given her (in small portions) except lasagna - she didn't like the pasta.
  • we can't get her to drink milk despite the fact that she drank a whole container on the train (I have to try to find similarily packaged milk in the store, maybe)
  • she has started saying more things in Swedish and English
  1. Papa sover (Papa's sleeping)
  2. I Love you (and then I think she says it in Russian), but I don't know if she's telling us, or just saying the phrase . . .
  3. Mama breally cold
  4. Boka (push - on the swing)
  • she referred to herself as Sofia today 2 times, once with me and once with Stefan (we called her Nastja while we were in SPB and began calling her Sofia on the train and she totally knows we are talking to her when we call "Sofia")
I guess that's enough for now. Before I forget, I wanted to add that we were told Nastja's great grandmother used to work at her children's home, and that is why she ended up there. Nanny V had great things to say about her.

I'm tired. This is long. More tomorrow, probably. Couple pictures? OK.

Decorating for Christmas

Thursday, December 11, 2008

quick catch-up

We are home now. We got in at 5:20am, and as we walked through the door, a surprise awaited us. My brother was standing there in the dark. He flew in from Vancouver 2 days ago to surprise us, and boy did he ever! Needless to say, we have not napped today. So, I have been up for about 40 hours now with about an hour's cat nap on the train.

Things are going well. I have LOTS of things to update on, but tonight I need to get to bed as soon as the boys are down (Joel and Sofia have already gone to bed).

Just a couple language highlights - the only thing she has said in English was when she was playing a Disney cassette and listening to "A Whole New World" over and over again, was {yada,yada, yada in Russian} "I Love You" - obviously she had heard this song before in the Children's home.
In Swedish she repeats "Trettio minutor" (30 minutes) over and over . . . while we were waiting in SPB for the train, at one point Stefan told her "trettio minuter till vi fara till Finlandia" (30 minutes till we go to Finland) [Sorry for my poor Swedish]. This evening she also said "Tack, spaseeba" (thank you in Swedish and Russian).

A few more photos:

Introducing herself to her brother.

Getting Buckle-help from Big Brother

Helping Mama pack

Waiting for a Russian passport.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

GOTCHA DAY

Gotcha Day was Monday, December 8th but I had neither time nor internet to post before now .

The day started with the hotel buffet, which failed to impress our kids . . . We kept telling them to eat up, because we didn’t know when we would get a chance to eat again. After breakfast, we went to the mall attached to the hotel to buy some boots for Joel (last night we noticed a bad STINK coming from his boots - I think they had gotten wet too many times in a ditch . . .). We found some really nice ones, and 2640 roubles later, we were out of there (it really hurt to spend that much on children’s shoes).

We met in the lobby at 11:30 with the 2 other families adopting from the same children’s home, as well as our agency’s in-country director, T. We had to wait about a half hour while she made passport copies and sent faxes. Then we set off to the passport office to apply for the children’s Russian international passports. Only one parent was needed from each family, so I stayed in the car with the boys and Vlad. He said it usually only takes about 5 or 10 minutes, but today we waited close to an hour. From there, our family was supposed to go to the municipal office. You might not believe this, but we were stuck in traffic for ages. Our driver got a call that the plans changed and we were to go directly to the orphanage and meet the social worker who would come to do some banking with us. Close by, we stopped at a grocery store because we were a little too early. Strangely, as soon as we got to the top of the escalator all the power in the building went out. Off to the orphanage. Hook up with T the social worker. Go to bank.etc. Then we waited around the corner from the children’s home for the other families to arrive. Finally, at 4pm we were able to go in.

For the first time, we all had to have little booties over our shoes. Then we went to the director’s office to let her know we were here. Our family did the greetings first, then gave her a thank you gift and went down to Nastja’s group. We were greeted very warmly by the 4 nannies who were there. Stefan was there before me and he said the one called him by name (apparently, they have been going through the photo album we left for Nastja, a lot). Nastja was dressed very beautifully and gave us all hugs. She introduced herself to her brothers and they to her. She went through the backpack and immediately changed her shoes into the new ones, and approved of all the clothes in there. The director came down to talk with her and us and then the official program started. First, the children danced in a ring around Nastja to the birthday song. We were told that they believe it’s like another birthday for the child when they are adopted. So sweet. Then they danced a couple others as well. After that, Nastja and another little boy danced a pair folk dance. It was adorable. There was a bit of down time, and Nastja showed us all her artwork and then we were called to the table for tea and cakes. One could choose between tea or instant coffee to drink . . . Nastja drank coffee . . . It was so nice to be able to sit and have that time together with Nastja and the children in her group and their nannies, the social worker and Vlad (who served as our translator today). Then we were told that Nastja could hand out presents from her that we brought . . . The social worker, the nannies, the doctor and each of the children. The children were SO excited! Our boys each had their own secret weapons to interact with the children - Sam had balloons, Mattias had candy and Joel had stickers. While that was going on, one of the nannies,V, took Nastja and I to the shower so she could teach me Cold Water Therapy. Apparently, as a result of this, our girl never gets sick. Now I know how to give her an ice cold shower, and ensure that the cold water hits the most important part - the back of the neck. Oh, I forgot to mention, that by this time, she had already stripped down in the party room and had put on her going-home clothes!

During this time we were there, so many things were happening, we were given so much information and it’s already getting all muddled up that I’m not sure I can write this coherently, but I really need to get it down before I forget. . .

We had to sign some orphanage books. Everybody had things to tell us about her. We were asked to send pictures of this day back to them. The other children were showing us their gifts . . .

Then Great-Grandma came. We knew she was going to try to come to say goodbye and it was so wonderful she did. We were able to go into the children’s bedroom with her to have a little quieter time with just the family. First she thanked us. She talked about her love for Nastja but that she was unable to care for her (over 80 years old). She was so happy that Nastja found a home and she asked if she could come visit us in Finland if she ever got the chance (btw, I’m crying once again as I type this). She also asked if she could give Nastja some gifts - she gave her 2 rings (one was Nastja’s mother’s and the other her own) and a gold chain that was her own. We had a chance to ask her questions about Nastja like if she has any fears, or what she liked to do at Grandma’s house, etc. It was an awesome opportunity we had and we know how blessed we are to have been given that! We then were told that we had to leave because everyone else was waiting outside for us.

We quickly put on our coats and went back to the group room to gather our things. Of course, the other children were thrilled to see us again. They gave us each one of their candies. One little girl was giving us hugs and kisses (even our boys - I had to tell Joel to hug her back . . .) Btw, the kids in her group are so stinkin’ cute! I wish I could post pictures of them, but since I can’t short descriptions’ll have to do . . . K is dancing all the time if there’s music on. And she can really shake her booty. A is the kisser and she just smiles all the time! D and her twin brother D are maybe 3 years old and just adorable. S is a little boy who just craves attention and loves it when you smile at him.

While we were on our way out, Stefan thanked the nannies for everything they’ve done and expressed how appreciative we are that they care for the children so much. The one who seemed to be the charge nanny,V, was nearly in tears. She told us that there had been other families who expressed interest in Nastja but that she wanted her to be with us, that she knew we were the right family (it’s unclear to us when these other families expressed this interest . . .) The director and doctor were there at the door as we left. The director told me I’m too thin to keep up with 4 children. I will need more energy reserves. Man, you can never hear too often that you’re too thin . . .

It took about an hour to get back to the hotel. Nastja and I had our first disagreement which made her pout for awhile . . . She was playing with the camera and wouldn’t put it away when I told her to. Then, she wouldn’t let go of it . . . I finally got her to let go and she moped until we got to the hotel.

First, our room keys didn’t work. I had to go to reception to fix the problem. Apparently, she was quite upset when I left, and then was a handful pushing the elevator buttons, etc. Because we had one more person, they had issued us new keys and room cards (but no extra bed which we had to solve later). After a bit of unpacking and unwinding, we all went to the desk. They wanted documentation for new person, but we had none. So, Stefan called T, who spoke to the desk clerk (man, I wish I understood Russian!). Then we had to wait for some faxes to come. All was fine and we went to MacDonald’s while they put the bed in our room.

She loved her cheeseburger and the Tamagochi-type toy it came with. She liked the fries, but didn’t eat too many (which we’re happy about - too many new, greasy foods will do a number on her digestion). She also liked the orange juice, but not the pulp. After eating we stopped in the electronics store for Sam’s benefit, but Nastja saw a movie she wanted so Stefan bought it for her. Then the grocery store for water, fruit, yogurt, etc and she saw some candy she wanted . . . You get the picture. Don’t worry - it won’t last for long.

The rest of the evening was spent settling down in the room. She played Joel’s DS, watched a bit of the movie, etc. Wanted to be everywhere Stefan was.

They all got ready for bed easily. She let me braid her hair for bed as well as brush her teeth. It took them all quite a while to fall asleep . . . Very hot in here. We learned a new rule, courtesy of the children’s home - only whispering in bed. LOVE IT! We also had some communication problems - she kept saying the same thing repeatedly. We determined she wasn’t hungry or thirsty, nor did she have to use the toilet. But, she wouldn’t get out of bed to show us. Finally, we think she was asking us to leave a light on. Tomorrow, we’ll ask Vlad to find out what she was asking . . .

Everyone is sleeping - it’s half past midnight and I’m still typing . . . I will try to add more details later if I remember them. . .

Oh . . . I suppose you want to see pictures now? OK!
Tea being served by one of the nannies, V, to Joel.

With great grandma Tonya.
Playing Tamagochi
First Happy Meal?

Holm Family Photo

family train trip

We got on the train at 9:24am in Bennäs. The trip was fairly uneventful except for the fact that Sam had ants in his pants and couldn’t sit still. He kept pacing through the cars and asking if we could go to the restaurant car. We held him off until 11 when we went for lunch. 38 euros for sandwiches and pop! In Helsinki we had 90 minutes to wait for the train to SPB, during which time we walked around the newsstands and bought some candy and magazines. The next leg of our journey seemed to be the longest train ride ever. It took 6 and a half hours on the Russian train. At one of the stops in Finland, a Russian girls’ figure skating team boarded. They were so cute. A couple of them were doing their English homework, and were reading extra loud . . . I think they had heard the boys speaking English and were trying to impress them. One girl turned to the boys in their seat and said, “boy”. Another little girl about 4 years old, kept stopping at Joel and staring at him. It looked like she was waiting for him to say something.

We arrived in St Pete at 22:52 local time. It was a short drive to the hotel, because there was no traffic. The city sure is pretty in the dark with all the festive lights! We’ve got a good room with lots of space for all of us and our stuff. We were all in bed by shortly after midnight, excited about the day ahead.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

reflections

As I look at the ticker, I can't believe how fast these 11 days have gone! Yesterday was my last day of work and today has been spent cleaning and packing.

This post has been swirling around in my head this past week and I need to get it down before my thoughts get muddled with our third and final visit to SPB on this journey.

I have thought a lot this week about the differences between our first and second trips to see Nastja. The very first time we met her, she called us Mama and Papa and gave us hugs right away. It was awesome, but it had a bit of a feel to it that she had been told what to say and do. She was oh so sweet and polite and I have no complaints, I just want to point out that it wasn't completely natural. When we saw her later in the afternoon and again the next day, she was friendly and sweet, but it became apparent that her attachment to Stefan was stronger than what she felt for me. She wanted to sit on his lap and hold his hand. I could even tell that Vlad was encouraging her to take Mama's hand too, but she wouldn't. And that was okay. I understood that. I knew it would take time. I knew that she had lots of women at the children's home, and Stefan was something new for her. On that trip, we got to see her personality too. We could see that she can be strong-willed and can express her displeasure as well.

Our recent trip to see her was very different. This time, it seemed that the hugs she gave us were heartfelt. And the kisses, too. She wanted to hold both our hands. She wanted to sit on both our laps. I loved that she took my notebook and drew pictures of us - first Mama and Nastja, then Papa and Nastja. This time I felt that the words she spoke were her own and not what she was told to say. She also seemed to take ownership of us. When we were spending our last few minutes with her, outside, at the end of our last visit, the nanny was telling us the names of her "friends" (the children in her playgroup). The children were so excited that I could remember their names! They loved that they could connect with someone outside the home, and they wanted to hold hands with us, hug us. Of course, Nastja came in close to make sure she wasn't left out - to make sure it wasn't forgotten that we were her Mama and Papa!

I guess what I'm trying to say, is that the second trip felt so good. It felt like more behaviour was coming from her own feelings and emotions than the first trip. I am so looking forward to seeing her again on Monday and I am so excited to have her and the boys finally meet!

Next post - Russia.

Friday, December 5, 2008

hop-along Sam

This boy is accident-prone! Here's how a phone call from him went yesterday afternoon:

Sam: Where are you?

Me: Driving Mattias to violin lessons.

Sam: Guess what I did after lunch today?

Me: I dunno. What?

Sam: I broke my foot.

Me: What????

Sam: Well, it's not actually broken - just cracked.

Me: Have you seen a doctor?

Sam: Yeah. One of the teachers took me to the hospital.

Me: Did you have an x-ray?

Sam: Yeah.

Me: Was it the same lady?

Sam: Yeah. She said she was glad she could x-ray another part of me.

To fill you in . . . the local hospital has one x-ray technician. In the 3 and half years we have lived here, she has x-rayed Sam's left elbow (when he cracked it playing Chicken at school), his left elbow again (when he did an awkward fall on the playground equipment), his lungs (when we all had to have medical clearance for the adoption) and now his left foot. Apparently, he tripped on a rumpled mat at school. He heard a crack as he went down, but wasn't sure if his foot hit the floor hard or if someone stepped on his foot (we all know how "patient" teenagers can be - someone on the floor doesn't slow 'em down).

Anyways . . . he has to go back on the 16th for new x-rays and see the doctor. Wanna hear something odd? The only information we have gotten is from Sam . . . no call or note from school. No call or note from the doctor. Strange.

Everybody's being nice to him. The lunch lady carried his tray to the table for him today and the taxi driver drove up to the door instead of dropping him off curbside (our driveway is on a hill - currently covered in snow).

Here's a photo of him with his crutches. It'll make for some interesting traveling this weekend. . . The train only stops for 1 minute at the station where we'll leave our car!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

our boys are amazing

I can't really imagine how this whole situation is for them . . . Stefan and I have spent time with Nastja (not lots, mind you) and have been able to develop a bond with her already. She knows who we are, she calls us Mama and Papa, she gives us hugs and lots of kisses, she wants to hold our hands whenever we walk somewhere (even down the hall) and she smiles when she talks to us. We love her so much already!

Now, how is it for our 3 guys? How do they feel about all this? They haven't actually said, so the best I can do is describe their reactions.

I'm not sure how to explain the feeling I get from watching them, other than to say that it fills my heart with warmth to see how they have reacted to her (the pictures, video and stories). Our oldest is turning 14 in a couple weeks and he talks about her like a proud big brother. He's very interested in seeing the pictures and hearing about everything that's happened on our trips. He keeps putting aside things he's going to give her when she gets here (one of his advent calendars, for example).

Mattias, almost 11, is super-interested in anything to do with the adoption. Yesterday his cousin was here, and, by himself, he got both the camera and video camera and hooked them up to the tv to show her the photos. At the same time, he was able to tell the same stories about each picture that Stefan and I told (he pays so much attention). When he tells it, it's almost like he had been there with us! Also, he has gathered all our wordbooks for both Swedish and English so he can help teach his little sister our languages.

Joel, soon to be 8, just lights up when we're showing someone the photos. He'll even stop playing with something to come over and look at pictures and listen to our stories. I think he is really looking forward to being a big brother. He, too, keeps saying things that start with "When Sofia gets here . . ."

There you have it. 3 proud boys who are so excited to hop on a train on Sunday, meet their little sister for the first time and bring her home!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

please rise

Okay . . . lame title for the post, but I couldn't think of anything catchy for this one, all about court . . .

We left the medical facility shortly after 11, and our court time was 12. We made it there exactly at 12, but were told not to worry because our judge is always late. We were really nervous because EVERYONE was telling us about how difficult the judge was. "Very precise", was the catch phrase. However, we were also warned not to worry because all our papers were in order and there was no legal reason for her not to grant the adoption petition. Stefan’s Swedish translator (S) said, “She just wants to mess with you.” I figured that it couldn’t be too bad because the other couple was scheduled for 1pm so she would only have us in there for one hour max (I was wrong about that . . .) My English translator (J) told me what to expect will happen, what questions might be asked and that she will let me know when I need to speak:).

The courtroom was in a run-down old building, on the second floor. There were 2 courtrooms there, and the narrow corridor was packed with people waiting.

We were finally called in about 12.45. In the courtroom was the court reporter, the prosecutor (wearing what looked like a marching band uniform with a very short skirt and tall black boots), a social worker from the city, the social worker from the children’s home, Stefan and I and our 2 translators. Once the judge was on the bench, we took turns to introduce ourselves and then Stefan began with his speech. He would read one or 2 sentences at a time and then S would translate. During this, the judge was flipping through our huge file, bookmarking pages and highlighting parts. Sometimes she would yawn , roll her eyes, or look around the room. She hardly ever made eye contact with us. At one point, she interrupted Stefan and asked J why she wasn’t translating the speech to me. It was explained to her that I understood Swedish and what Stefan was saying but that I had an English translator due to the legal nature of the proceedings and wanted to ensure that I understood everything. She seemed satisfied with that answer. When Stefan was finished the speech he had to remain standing and endure a barrage of questions. First, she started in on our financial situation. It was awful. She kept referring to an old financial document that had been sent to our agency in the summer. For some reason, a large portion of our income had been omitted. Two new updated budgets had been submitted since then with the correct numbers. She kept saying that according to her calculations, our expenses were more than our income, and she kept throwing numbers out which started to become really confusing because Stefan didn’t have any of these papers in front of him. Finally, after repeatedly being told she was referring to old documents and that the numbers in the speech were the correct ones, she dropped that bone. Next she had questions about the language . . . How would we manage with a Russian speaking child and what plans we had for helping her? These questions, Stefan was able to answer to her satisfaction. She had a few more basic questions, but nothing else surprising or difficult.

While the judge was questioning Stefan, J was translating the questions for me, but also Stefan’s answers when she heard them in Russian through S. Interestingly, sometimes what she translated to me was not what Stefan said . . . Don’t know if she said it wrong, or S changed things to what he knew the judge would want to hear . . .

Then it was my turn. She only asked me a few questions . . . Did I agree with the things my husband said, for example. I think I only had to answer “Dah” a few times. Then she asked about my residence permit - what kind it was. I explained that it was valid until October 2009 at which point I could apply for a permanent one. Then she asked if it was in my passport and I said it was. Well, she started rifling through our file and then exclaimed that she couldn’t find a copy of it. She sent J to fetch our representative (G) from the corridor and asked her where it was. G said it was there in the file. With a look of disgust, the judge told G to look for it herself. In the meantime, I was standing there whispering to J that I had it there in my hands in my passport. So I was told to show it to the judge who passed it to the court reporter. G couldn’t find it in the file, so she went out in the hall and called the office (they eventually found it there, and had it couriered to the courtroom). At some point, the judge had told G to sit down, but she refused (spitfire that she is - a woman in her early 60’s who pours herself into these adoptions).

Next the children’s home's social worker gave her speech. She also got chewed out by the judge for the way she had phrased something. J whispered, “She (the judge) just keeps saying the same thing over and over . .” And one more rebuke for having referred to us as visitors on the first trip . . .she went on about the psychology of it for the child. The city’s social worker said her bit. The judge treated both of them like they had never done this before. The prosecutor only had a question for the city social worker regarding why they were unable to find a Russian family for the child.

The judge left for a few moments and came back to read her speech, proclaiming the petition to adopt granted. Then there were just a couple questions about the spelling of her new name and we were able to leave that stifling room, an hour and a half after we went in!

In the hall, G gave us hugs, and S said, “It was a bit rough, but it went relatively well. It could’ve been even worse.” The other couple went in next and were done in 50 minutes - I think we tired out the judge!

It was rough, but in the end it was worth it because now Sofia Anastasia Violet is part of our family!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

doctor, doctor, gimme the news

We are home safe and sound . . . the house is freezing and the snow is deep. The boys were so excited to hear how things went and to see pictures and video.

This is a very detailed description of what happened Monday morning when we went for our required medical exam, which cost 500€ per person. I don't know if you can appreciate how ridiculous it was, but we can't help but laugh at the series of events (in fact, Stefan was laughing through his EKG). At the same time, I know I need to be respectful of the people who work at the facility, and I don't mean to show any disrespect to them as people, at all. Here it goes . . .

This morning the alarm went off at 05:45 . . . After a mostly cold shower, and the regular morning routine, we were ready for our 7:15 pick up (Vlad). We got to the medical centre just in time for our 8am appointments . . . Both couples were together. At reception, we checked our coats and, in return, we got paper booties to wear over our shoes. The foyer looked quite nice . . . New tiles on the floor, nice leather couches along the walls and the records room looked new and well-organized. Our representative led the four of us, along with our translator, through the foyer to the director of the facility’s office. All of a sudden, the surroundings were completely different. While her office was nice, the ward was old and run down - the linoleum in the corridors was bumpy, the lights were not all working, the wallpaper was peeling and pipes and wires were visible.

I was completely confused at first by the situation in the director’s office - there were 3 people sitting on the couch eating cake and drinking tea {we were fasting for our blood tests:)}, there was a man and a woman sitting on chairs in front of the desk and the director was sitting behind her desk (with a mink coat hanging on the back of her chair). While chairs were being organized for us, another man came in without booties and left again. After the director explained the purpose of the facility and the day’s visit, we quickly began our first medical examination, with the man in front of the desk - turns out he was the doctor for contagious diseases. He began with the other couple, asking them questions about childhood diseases, etc. We had the same battery of questions (childhood diseases, if we work with blood and if we’ve traveled to tropical destinations, or Africa) and then he deemed us healthy. Then we began our exam with the doctor for respiratory diseases - the woman in front of the desk. She asked questions of both couples about breathing issues, coughing, bronchitis, pneumonia, TB, if we’ve had TB tests, etc. During the exam, we found out that she had an aunt who lived in Jakobstad (moved there around the time of the Revolution) so she had many Swedish-speaking relatives, and understood our Swedish but couldn’t speak it. If you’ve been paying close attention, you will have noticed that the 3 strangers were sitting on the couch this whole time (I thought they were maybe other doctors but later on we realized they were an American couple with their translator. Btw, I later found this family's blog on the internet - they were from the DC/Virginia area), and both couples were examined together - so much for privacy!!

Next stop - blood work. The other couple had already been taken there by our representative, so we were following our translator, who got us lost. During our wandering around the facility, we quickly realized that they were in the process of renovating the building. Some parts were new and pristine, while others were falling apart. The lab took 6 vials of blood from each of us and most of them were the big ones (you’ll be happy to know it was announced publicly that we’re all HIV and Hepatitis free - again, so much for privacy). Then we were taken back to the director’s office to eat and drink a bit of tea. Next, we had our chest x-rays. Interesting situation. It is difficult enough to disrobe in an unfamiliar medical facility, but imagine that the people are not all medical professionals - one of them is your male translator! At least we got to go in one at a time, not the 4 of us together! The Russian equipment is a little different - the part you stand against is taller than a person, so once you are shoved up against it, your chin is forced up as well because there’s no place else for it to go. While we were waiting in the hall to get the all clear that the pictures were okay, a lady came walking down the hall in a bathrobe and slippers. Was there a spa here, too? At the EKG, we had to wait in the corridor for quite some time - not so sure if it was coffee time or . . .? Anyways, as a side note, we began to notice that the same old man kept showing up at the same location as us - bad luck for him he always had to wait for us. The EKG was exactly as had been described to us by another couple who had been here in July - first, 4 things that looked like jumper cables were attached to the ankles and wrists, then a set of 5 or 6 suction cups with blue “ping pong” balls on top were attached to the skin along the chest - of course, one is bare-chested for this, and the translator is there too, to help. “Breathe deep. Hold it. Breathe out. You’re done.” And that was it. 30 seconds.

Just when you think it can’t possibly get any better . . We go see the shrink. Thankfully, a little discretion was used, and we got to be one couple at a time. We were first. Stefan was his first victim. He asked lots of strange questions, but was mostly concerned about our siblings! Oh yeah, when he started grilling me, I nearly began to cry because he asked such a strange question that took me by surprise that I couldn’t answer in Swedish - my words were getting all mixed up. So, from then on, I spoke English, Stefan translated to Swedish for the translator who then relayed it to the shrink (who had no booties on). Of course, the near tears was just more material for him to work with . . . Our exam went on for quite some time, during which he also answered a call on his cell phone. In the end, he signed off that we were mentally healthy. The other couple’s exam lasted 5 minutes . . .

From there, we went down the hall to an office where there were 3 doctors - an oncologist, a dermatologist and an internist. The internist (who must’ve been 10 years past retirement) took our BP, listened to our chests, and had us lay on the couch while she probed and prodded our unclothed torsos. The dermatologist asked if we had skin problems or family history of skin problems and the oncologist asked if we had a family history of cancer or any history ourselves with it. Then she performed a breast exam. Afterwards, Stefan said that our translator must have the best job - he gets to see lots of boobies.

Our last exam was the neurologist who deemed us healthy after testing our reflexes, watching us move our eyebrows, smile big, touch our nose and stick out our tongue. She also asked about headaches, but I was too afraid to tell her that my head felt as if it was going to explode at that moment.

Back in the director’s office, we got more tea and cakes as well as chocolate bars. We signed papers that said we believed everything the doctor’s wrote about us and then it was time to go. Earlier, we had been given our chest x-rays to take home as souvenirs.

We left the medical facility shortly after 11. Court was scheduled for 12.

our princess

Today, we got to sleep in, and boy did it feel great. We set the alarm for 8:45 so we wouldn't miss the hotel's breakfast buffet (yesterday we did not get to partake . . .). After breakfast, we did a little souvenir shopping in the hotel and it the small mall that is part of the hotel. There was a toy store, a perfume shop, a few souvenir shops, a grocery store (Prisma), a cafe and about 7 shoe shops. Then we hung out in the lobby on our floor while we waited for our room to be cleaned (by the way, it's about 240 metres from the elevators to our room).

We were picked up along with the other couple at 2pm (we ate some chicken nuggets before we left). Traffic was so bad - it took 90 minutes to get to the children's home. This time, we were all ushered into the director's office. The other couple's 2 boys were fetched, and then they all headed off to make blinis, translator in tow. Stefan and I were left there not really understanding what was going on, except that the director wanted us to sit on the couch. Shortly after, Nastja came in and climbed onto our laps with kisses and hugs. I pointed to her backpack, so she went and got it and pulled out all her new surprises. While we were waiting for whatever was going to happen, she worked on the puzzle- and she is really good at puzzles! While the 3 of us are doing this, the teacher came in and sat at the computer, and our representative came in and was talking with the director. Every once in a while, someone would say something to us in Russian. Of course, only Nastja understood . . .

Eventually, we ended up in the hallway and someone brought Nastja's coat and hat. The Social Worker was ready to go, and the translator and rep as well. The 6 of us were going on a field trip. Remember that smile I wrote about? It turns out that while the adoption process was taking so long, the social worker was doing some work on Nastja's behalf. She is the sole heir to some property in a suburb outside SPB. If the adoption had been completed before some court hearings that took place in October, she would have had no right to it. Anyways, they took us out to see it this afternoon. Don't get too excited. Our princess's castle is a real fixer-upper. In fact, we couldn't even go inside . . . wasn't recommended. I did get a couple pictures (in the dark) and will post when I get home. Apparently, she remembers living there, but I'm not so sure . . . It will be several months before we can do anything with it - still lots of legal work to do . . .

Funny side story - on the way to the "castle" we were stopped for awhile in traffic - that's nothing new - but after awhile we noticed that cars were starting to honk - which is not so common here. Then we saw LOTS of police cars driving on the overpass in front of us . . . they were taking the exit and yielding onto the road in front of where we were stopped. Can you guess who it was? Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Were the drivers honking because they were happy to see him? Njet.

Back to the children's home, then immediately back out to get passport photos taken. When we got back to the home, again, we were told to take her to her group and then say our goodbyes. Her group was outside, so we dropped off her stuff in the playroom and then went out and met up with the group and nanny. I got pictures of the other children in her group and all their names. When we saw the others come out of the building, we said goodbye to Nastja. She asked if we were coming back tomorrow. Stefan showed 13 fingers and the nanny tried to explain what he meant by drawing figures in the snow. So cute. Many kisses and hugs later, we were gone.

The drive to the hotel took forever. We had dinner with the other couple again. Really nice people. It will be nice to be able to get together with them from time to time since we live fairly close to each other.


Well, I'm blogging and Stefan's sleeping. We have a 6:20 pickup tomorrow, so I should get to bed.


Monday, November 24, 2008

and then we were six

Yeah! We made it through this very stressful day. And yes, our request to adopt was granted! I am trying to put together a post describing the day's events, which will be very long and detailed. I will post it once I'm done. We'll be heading out for a celebratory dinner with the other couple that is adopting from the same children's home (we've pretty much done everything together today) in about an hour.

Tomorrow we are free all morning and then will go to the children's home in the afternoon.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

we're here

Ohhh, there's so much to say . . . but only so much time on the Wifi card I had to buy . . . .

We got on the train last night at 10 to one and then tried to sleep for 5 hours. That didn't work out so well, but at least we got to rest. In Helsinki, we met the other couple adopting from the same home and got on the next train together (same car, opposite ends). When we were heading to the dining car for breakfast, we had to show our tickets and passports to the conductors, and they gave us some piece of paper to fill out (I can't remember the name right now, and our passports are in reception right now waiting for registration). Back in our seats, we had to show our passports to Finnish customs officers - mine got stamped. At the last stop in Finland, Russian border patrol got on the train and collected our passports. Then more came through and asked if we had anything to declare. Between the last stop in Finland and the first in Russia (Vyborg) is the area called the Customs Surveillance Zone and the train moves rather slowly through there (about 45 minutes). Just before Vyborg, our passports were returned, and then we went to the dining car for lunch with the other couple. The couple at the table behind us was eavesdropping . . . turns out they are on their first trip here to meet their referral.

Did I mention the snowstorm? It was so windy and cold when we got off the train!!! Vlad was waiting for all 6 of us and took us to the cars. The newest couple got the minibus to go to their hotel, and Vlad was to take us other four directly to the orphanage. However, we had to detour by the hotel first because his car was not big enough for all our luggage - we had a full size suitcase across our laps since the trunk was full!

Did I say anything about driving in SPB in the snow? Vlad doesn't have snow tires, but they're new tires!!

Next stop - children's home. The social worker led us all upstairs to the area outside the director's office where we could leave our coats and gifts for the home. We decided to all be together in the big drama room so it was easier for Vlad to help translate with both couples. When the children came running in, it was a little funny at first because they were a little confused who was who - both dads are tall and blond. Guess who got the first hug? - Stefan.
She looked so cute! She had a pretty dress on, and we got to see how LONG her hair is! We had brought a backpack with small gifts for her - a puzzle, some candies, a keychain, balloons, girlie chapstick, and a shirt. She loved the chapstick and kept trying to get Stefan to try some. We did the puzzle a few times, played with the balloons, etc. We took LOTS of pictures this time because we did such a lousy job of that on trip 1. Nastja even got ahold of the camera and took lots herself. She whispered the names of her new brothers in my ear. She knew that Mama is Barb and Papa is Stefan.

When I had out my notebook (we were discussing things with the Social Worker), she used it to draw some pictures of us. First me, then Stefan, then her beside me, then another her beside Stefan! She also wrote her name (well, she said it was her name!).

Before we left, we took her down to her family room. There, her nanny told us that she has really missed us, she talks about us a lot, she's been waiting for a very long time, and that after we were there last she had missed us so much she wouldn't eat properly.

On the way back to the hotel, we found out that it will, in fact, cost for our medical exams tomorrow - something we had not been told and had not prepared for. Vlad made some calls and now everything is sorted out. At the hotel, we just went to McDonald's for dinner (trying to get the cholesterol up for the bloodwork tomorrow:)). I didn't iron my blouse for tomorrow because on the internet it said our room would have an iron. NOPE. And, it costs to have them take it to iron, but I'm more worried I wouldn't have it back in time for our 7:15 departure tomorrow morning. Stefan says I should just pretend it got wrinkled during the medical exam . . .

So, tomorrow is Medical exam at 8 and then court at 12. Wish us luck. We keep hearing that our judge is very strict. The social worker said there will be LOTS of questions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

leaving soon

In about 16 hours, we'll be getting on a train heading southeast! Before that, Stefan and I still have full days of work. Also, we're not packed yet . . . just a hockey bag full of donations for the children's home. Last night, we had a test session of our clothes for court and I have laid out what needs to be ironed (after I get home from my workshop). Hopefully, Sam will pack his bag today while we're out so that I can drive him to his uncle's house this evening (he's staying in Nykarleby with Daniel, Jenny and Kasper). I can help the other 2 pack later. They're staying with Fammo and Faffa, just 200 metres away.

We get on the train at 00.40 and have booked a sleeper. However, we know from our trip in May that we won't get much sleep. We get into Helsinki at 06.54 and the train to SPB leaves at 07.25. We'll arrive there at 14.15 and go directly to the children's home with another couple.

Time is ticking, so I better get ready for the day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

the joys of boys

Our boys have reached a new stage in their life - the one where we can go out without having to arrange babysitting. It's great, but at the same time . . . one must exercise a little caution. I've learned something important along the way:

Make sure the rules are clear.
  • Bedtime is the same whether we're home or not. I don't want to hear "Oh no! She's home already!" as soon as I come through the door and then hear scampering towards the bedrooms.
  • Don't phone me repeatedly, interrupting my class, to ask if you can bake when I'm not home. The answer will always be no. The phone is on for emergencies.
  • Put the seat down after you're done, Mattias.
  • The house should pretty much look the same as when we left - not as if a stampede came through.
  • No open flames . . . of any sort . . .No, you can't roast marshmallows while we're out. No candles. No firecrackers. No, you can't show your younger brothers how high the flame is on your nifty lighter (why he has a lighter is another post).
  • Sharpie pens are not intended to be used for face painting (if you must draw freckles and a mustache on yourself, use a Crayola Washable, please).
  • Don't lie about daring your brother to eat gross concoctions from the fridge. The little ones will rat you out every time:)
This gives you a little glimpse into our life. Never dull, anyways!

Friday, November 14, 2008

favourite photo friday

I like this picture I took of Joel the other day while he was doing his math homework.
I wondered why he looked so happy while he was doing homework . . .

Thursday, November 13, 2008

this just in

Our travel agent called today to let us know there had been some Visa problems (only mine)- but that everything was now sorted out. The consulate in Helsinki declined mine . . . turns out they're no longer processing Canadian ones there (they were in May!) with regular processing time - it would take 14 business days!. So mine has to be sent to another consular office in another city (I forget the name) for express processing at a hefty fee.

At least we'll have them back in time for travel.

BTW, I'm still grinning from ear to ear but I can't say anything now about why for legal reasons - so you'll just have to wait:)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

wow

It's been a good day on the adoption front. We got a couple of emails from T in SPB and with them came some really good news.

The first bit of good news was about "Gotcha Day" - the day we get to take Sofia from the orphanage. To give you a bit of background, we have heard from other families here in Finland who have adopted from Russia that Gotcha day can be a bit harried. One family said that it was a 3 hour drive to the home, they had to quickly dress the child and then leave just as quickly to get back to the city to do official paperwork business. Well, T told us that the home we are adopting from "is very special". They see Gotcha Day as very important, and therefore have a big party. We've been told to expect it to last at least 2 hours. There will be singing, dancing, etc.

Oh yeah - remember I said there was another family adopting from the same home? Actually, it's 3 Swedish-speaking families.

The other bit of good news . . . I can't actually say what it is. But, just know that it's really, REALLY good news, and explains for us why we have waited so long since trip 1 (although I'm sure this was not masterminded by people).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

were you wondering about travel plans?

If you remember, we found out last Wednesday that there were no trains running between SPB and Helsinki on the 23rd (as it turns out, there won't be any service on that route for all Tuesdays until the end of the year). On Thursday, I returned to the travel agency to bring in our proof of travel insurance and new visa applications (because we're staying one day longer, we need visas that reflect that). At that point she hadn't received confirmation from the hotel regarding an extra night, so we still had no visa support (in order to get a visa, you need support - usually a hotel stating they have reservations made for you).

On Friday . . . still no news.

Monday . . . still nothing, so I called the travel agent. She had heard from the hotel that they didn't have the same kind of room we had booked for the third night, so we could downgrade for all 3 nights or change rooms after 2 nights.

Today we got an email that the hotel has confirmed our 3 nights, in the class of our choice (yipee) so we have our visa support. Our applications (and passports) will go to the embassy tomorrow and will be ready for us to pick up next Thursday.

Now we have to make a decision about train travel. We can choose the cheaper option: board the train at 2am and change trains twice in Finland or the more expensive: board at midnight and change once (Helsinki). I suppose we could also consider another option - taking the train earlier on the 22nd and sleeping in Helsinki, but it's already the worst time of the year for Stefan to be away from work and he could probably use that extra 12 hours here. The thing is, we'll be going straight from the train station to the children's home on the 23rd, so we'll want to be rested, right? I'll keep you updated. (Footnote: we are to be on a specific train from Helsinki to SPB, it's the connections we can decide about ourselves).

In related news, we found out that a family that is travelling on the same train as us from Helsinki to SPB has the exact same schedule as us. They have their doctors' appointments at the same time, court the same afternoon. We are even adopting from the same home. How cool is that? They live about 50km from here, so I think that will be great for Sofia to have someone she knows relatively close (unless it's her worst enemy . . . )

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

ahhhh . . . the best laid plans

This just in - no trains are running on November 25th from SPB back to Helsinki. We can take the bus, fly or stay one more night. We are choosing the latter option. Made a just-before-closing call to the travel agent so that everything can be in order when I go back to town tomorrow. We'll have to do new visa applications to be there another day. Good thing the applications had not gone to the Russian embassy yet.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

so many things to do

Well, I meant to write an update yesterday, but I simply ran out of time . . . I was able to take the day off work Monday so we could go to town and arrange our trip to SPB. Before we left the house, however, we waited until 10am so we could phone S in Helsinki and ask a few questions. First, I wanted to ask if she thought it was possible for us to ask for the 10 day waiting period to be waived, but at the same time I was afraid she was going to think I was an idiot for asking (you know . . . "swimming against the stream", not doing things the usual way, etc.). This is how the conversation went:
Me: "Sooo . . . we were wondering . . . do you think . . . does it ever happen for Finnish families that the judge will waive (insert extremely mispronounced Finnish translation here) the 10 day waiting period?"
S: no direct quotes - only in medical cases where the child is gravely ill and needs immediate attention in a Finnish hospital, or if there is some sort of sickness in the orphanage and it is healthier for the child to leave

So, we have decided at this point not to pursue asking for the 10 days to be waived. We know it would be extremely difficult, anyways, as far as our visas are concerned.

About the visas. It was suggested by S that we try to get a 30-day double entry visa so that we can go back for the Gotcha trip on the same visa. The processing time for that kind of visa is 3-4 weeks. We don't have enough time for that before we leave. There is a possibility to get express processing of the double visa - but not for residents of Finland (as well as several other countries). I wonder if they're still upset about Finland's Independence? Anyways, the single entry visa takes about 10 days to process, so we'll have it in plenty of time. It just means that we'll have to apply for the next visa immediately when we get back from this upcoming trip.

We are in and out of SPB very quickly - arrive Sunday afternoon and leave Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, we can't be there any longer because there are 8 Finnish families at court during that last week in November and only 2 drivers for the organization, so they have all our schedules worked around each other.

Did I mention we have to go see 8 Russian doctors during the morning before court? Despite having had medical certificates issued here? Fun times.

A bit of news that brightened my day during yesterday morning's phone conversation - all 6 families who have the same judge as us, had to have a report written by the social worker about their religion and belief system. It wasn't just us. (huge sigh of relief) We thought we were being singled-out.

I think I said last week that we had a list of about 14 more things to get done by next week, as per the judge's request. I was wrong, but you have to forgive me because the original list was in Finnish (with some Russian letters) and I was just going by the number I saw. We now have the list translated to Swedish. It is in fact 8 things we have to do/get (some items are broken down into smaller bits - thus the 14). But, 2 of them will be looked after by the agency. Of the 6 things left, we already have 1) given an interview to the SW about our faith, 2) gathered more photos with detailed descriptions (ready to be mailed to SW tomorrow so she can write a cover letter and authenticate the photos) and 3) got a new photocopy of my passport (apparently the one sent earlier is too dark for the judge to see my face) - the magistrate was miffed that it was an issue because a) the judge will see me in person and b) the magistrate already declared that it was, in fact, a copy of my passport. Oh well, C'est la vie!

One last thing. Poor Joel . . . he has a floorball tournament the day Stefan and I are on the train to SPB. His very first official sport competition and his parents can't be there. Thankfully, he's more excited that his little sister will be here soon! His brothers are, too.

I'm gonna go watch some election coverage now, even though we'll be sleeping by the time it's known who the next American president will be (the first polls close about an hour from now).

Friday, October 31, 2008

COURT!!

We finally have a confirmed date . . . November 24th. We won't be able to start travel preparations until Monday because tomorrow is a holiday here, All Saints Day, and everything is closed. We have been told that we are to take the morning train from Helsinki on the 23rd and will visit Sofia in the afternoon. Then, Monday morning we go visit the Russian doctors and then court at noon. We are to head home on the morning train out of St. Petersburg on the 25th. At this point, I don't know if we are able to visit Sofia more than the one time, or if we can stay longer than we've been told - by the time we got the email confirmation, it was after working hours this evening. So, we won't know more until Monday.

As I mentioned in the last post, we have a long list of stuff to get together before then. In fact, it all has to be in SPB no later than November 12th. It includes . . . . a new photocopy of my passport (the darn colour picture copied too dark - the judge can't see me clearly!), pictures of us and the house (that match the first set we sent in before our referral) with detailed descriptions, salary documents from employers (again), mortage documents from the bank, another budget (just did that in August), and some other things . . .

So, all in all, a GOOD day. To start it off on the right foot, we had our first snow . . . just as the weatherman had promised. Fortunately, Stefan had time to put the snow tires on my car before I had to take Pepsi to the vet - turns out she has an ear infection. The vet had to sedate her so she could pluck out the hairs and then clean out all the gunk - oh my. When I got home, I had to put a chart on the fridge of what meds to give her when, because I know I've got so much going on right now I'll not be able to keep track and the poor girl will never heal!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

mixed news

After sending off yet another email to our coordinator yesterday, I finally heard back something this evening. While we were thrilled to get a hint of a court date (I won't say what it is yet until it's confirmed . . . possibly later this week), we were disappointed to find out that we have another round of documents (and nonsense) to pull together. Our coordinator attached a couple of documents to the email for us to read . . . one we couldn't open and the other (the list of 14 things we have to get) was in Finnish, with the odd Russian letter thrown in. She has promised to have the documents translated to Swedish or English for us and will send them as soon as possible, but at least it gives us an idea of what we have to do (in so far as Stefan can decipher what it says). Let me just point out, that several of these documents we have in fact already provided, but for some reason, we need to do it again. Others, we just look at each other and wonder why . . . . .

On another note, I just got back this evening from an event at our elementary school. It was Reflector Night . . . an evening to emphasize the importance to the children of wearing reflectors when they're waiting for the morning school bus, bike-riding etc., now that it's so dark. First we went on a walk through the forest with our flashlights, along the cross country ski track, and counted the number of reflectors we could see hanging from the trees. After that, we drove at intervals along a dirt road through the forest where some staff and students were walking, all with differing degrees of reflectors on . . . from nothing, to reflector vests. The point was for the kids to see what a difference the reflectors make for driver visiblity. Once back at the school, there was barbequed sausages, juice, coffee and cinnamon buns. Yum! It was a fun evening, and I'm always impressed at the participation and parent turnout at our small school . . . almost everyone was there.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

tick tock

Can you say that for days passing? or just for minutes and hours? Regardless, it's been almost 5 months since we left St. Petersburg and said goodbye to Sofia (technically, Nastja). The wait is so frustrating and is beginning to seem unbearable. I had a couple sleepless nights this past week, thinking about the reasons there could be for this delay. When I was sleeping, I had bad dreams related to the process (court, etc). Exactly 3 weeks ago I posted that we were told not to make a quick trip to visit the orphanage and one of the reasons was that they thought we would get a court date for the end of October/beginning of November. Well, still no court date. What really burns my grits (is that even an expression?) is that I sent an email on Wednesday asking direction about the boys' medical reports (which will have to be updated because they expired after 3 months) and I haven't even received a reply yet. A simple, "Let me get back to you about that." would have at least reassured me that we haven't been forgotten about . . .

Anyways, another busy week around here. Yesterday, Stefan took me for a field trip - shopping in Tampere. Yeah! A little shopping therapy never hurts. We were able to get a start on Christmas shopping as well as a new electric hot water heater (which was Stefan's reason for making the trip in the first place). Many of you probably don't realize, that it takes about 3 and a half hours to drive there, so we don't do it so often. AND, the mall was one I had never been to before. It was huge. I was impressed. Two hours was simply not enough time. I'll have to go back.

Joel and Mattias had gone to Stefan's parents' after school yesterday while we were gone (they had arrived home safely from their trip to Israel late Thursday). Sam also went there for dinner and then the three of them came back home and Sam was in charge for the rest of the night. I think it went reasonably well, aside from the flurry of calls back and forth around 9PM in connection with some spilled juice, crying and bedtime issues. When we finally got home, Sam was asleep on the couch in front of the TV, tuned to the Hallmark channel. I think he took his duties pretty seriously because one of the first things he said to me this morning was, "Sorry I fell asleep before you got home." - I had told him that the sitter stays up until the parents get home:)

Happy Saturday Everyone (although it's almost over for me already . . .)!

The Holms

Denmark Road Trip

The outskirts of St. Pete

St. Petersburg

Saint Petersburg: Sankt-Peterburg, Russian pronunciation: is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The city's other names were Petrograd (1914–1924) and Leningrad (1924–1991). Founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on 27 May, 1703, it was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1713–1728, 1732–1918). Saint Petersburg is home to more than two hundred museums, many of them hosted in historic buildings. The largest of the museums is the Hermitage Museum, featuring interiors of the former imperial residence and a vast collection of art. Celebrating the 300th anniversary of its foundation, Saint Petersburg was selected as the main motif in a recent Finnish commemorative coin, the €10 Mannerheim and Saint Petersburg commemorative coin, minted in 2003. The reverse of the coin features a view of Saint Petersburg, with the Peter and Paul Fortress and its three turrets. In the coin the words "St. Petersburg 1703-2003" can be seen.