Wednesday, July 30, 2008

we're back!

Sorry to have not written anything in so long . . . We have been away for a week - a road trip to Denmark to pick up the deGraaf's, visiting from Canada. The week before that, I simply didn't have enough time to sit down and write anything, nor did I have anything very exciting to write about . . .

Here's what's happened this past week - We left our home about 11pm ast Sunday and drove both cars down to Turku where we caught the morning ferry to Stockholm. We slept in Stockholm Monday night, then woke up very early on Tuesday to drive 600km and get to Copenhagen by the time the deGraaf's plane landed at 11:45am. We made it, but then it took them awhile to get their baggage, so we ended up having plenty of time - I even had time for a Grande Hazelnut Extra-Hot Latte - yes, there was a Starbucks right next to the Arrivals gate!

Our next destination was a campsite near Billund, where we slept for 2 nights - we spent all day Wednesday at Legoland.

On Thursday morning we drove back to Sweden, where we stayed at a campsite along the southern coast. Along the way we stopped at a moose farm and got to feed the 12 moose that lived there.

On Friday we drove to Stockholm, where we stayed for 2 nights with Stefan's uncle again. We were very grateful for his hospitality - it was pretty noisy to have 11 guests! The kids loved that they got to swim in the complex's pool each evening.

I should mention that we had awesome weather the whole trip - sunny and warm. Saturday we went sightseeing around Stockholm. We spent the morning at the Wasa Museum and the afternoon walking around Old Town. In the evening we saw several hot air balloons fly over the townhouse. Two were so close they could hear us saying Hello and we could hear them too! Very cool.

Sunday morning we caught the 11 hour ferry back to Finland and then drove the 5 hours back to our house. We arrived at 1:30am, got everyone settled into their beds and then crashed. Since then, we've just been hanging around, going to the beach, letting the kids swim, bikeride, etc. And, the weather has continued to be awesome.

On the adoption front, we came home to our find our medical reports in the mail (happy to report we are all healthy!) as well as some of the documents we had already sent that needed more information. We have also been requested to provide some more documents, which seems to be holding things up a bit and is a little distressing - but, I think it's better to have all our ducks in a row before we go to court so there are no surprises later.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

what's in a name?

By now you've probably noticed the discrepancy with our d2b's name. At first I was referring to her as Anastasia but now as Sofia. Let me explain . . .

We were told her name right away when we got the referral, and that's what we called her before we met her. Of course, we were pronouncing it the way Swedish-speaking people would say it, which is not the same way as North Americans would say it. About 5 days before we went to St. Pete, I met with a Russian-speaking friend (from Estonia) of mine so that she could help me with a photo album I had put together for our d2b. Tanja went through the album and wrote descriptions for each picture in Russian so the caregivers in the orphanage would be able to read it to Anastasia after we had left it there. I noticed that Tanja did not pronounce "Anastasia" like I did, but she didn't say anything to me about the way I was saying it. However, she said that all girls named Anastasia are actually called "Nastia" (imagine the first "a" is a "u" and it will sound more like it's supposed to . . .). Hmmm.

Fast forward to the orphanage - our meeting with a bunch of staff before we meet Anastasia for the first time. At one point during the meeting, our translator corrected me on the name . . . I was saying Ah-nah-STAH-seeya, but it's supposed to be Ah-na-stah-SEE-ya. Hmmm. Well, once we finally meet her, we realize that, in fact, everyone calls her Nastia. So, that's what we started calling her, too.

The day after we got home, our coordinator phoned Stefan and asked about the trip. She also informed us that if we planned to change our d2b's name, we needed to let her know soon, because the paperwork needed to be done before we went to court. We had actually thought about it before, but were hesitant because of her age. The phone call reassured us that it was normal to change her name, and we had the right to do so. Besides wanting her to start her new life with a new name, we were also concerned about all the different pronunciations of "Anastasia" and the fact that her nickname didn't sound too good in English. Well, then the thinking and long discussions started.

I had always thought it would be easier to name a girl than a boy. I always had a long list of girl names I liked when our sons were born . . . But this turned out to be more difficult than either of us thought. First, we had to find a name that both of us liked. I lean towards the modern, North American names and Stefan tends to like more traditional names better. We also had to consider how it would sound together with our last name - Heidi Holm didn't cut it . . . Then we had to think about the different ways the name would be pronounced depending on whether we were here with family or in Canada with family - in other words we didn't want to have the same scenario as when we named Mattias and had to teach everyone how to say his name. The biggest consideration, though, was personality. I think when you name a newborn, they get the chance to grow into their name. But, when naming a 5 year old, you have to think about her personality and if the name really fits (we really hope it does!) Finally, we agreed on Sofia, which sounds the same in both languages (and only a little different emphasis in Russian). In the end, she will be named Sofia Anastasia Violet.

We don't know if she has heard that we plan to change her name. A few weeks ago, we sent a package to her at the orphanage and we wrote both names on the outside of it, but we don't know if the ladies who brought it to her said anything about the name. I have noticed, though, that our coordinator refers to her as Sofia in all our correspondance with her.

So, apparently, there's a lot in a name.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

the days go by so fast

These are supposed to be the lazy days of summer, right? But lately we've been so busy that time has just flown by. Our summer vacation is more than half over - only 4 weeks left. Last night, Stefan and I planned to watch a new DVD that Sam had bought (the boys have already watched it twice) after we worked on the new shower stall for awhile. At 10.30 we finally decided to call it quits - maybe we'll get it finished tonight. Needless to say, the movie was left unwatched. We also had a leak in the new bathroom downstairs, so that has taken some time to fix. Then, don't get me started on "summer" - we've had horrible weather. The temperature averages around 13 degrees Celsius. They've promised it will be warmer next week . . . we'll see.

I took the boys to Vaasa today - still looking for a bed for Sofia and a cell phone for Sam. Well, no bed, but Sam found a phone. I also found a doll cradle for Sofia to have in her room. When we got home, Sam went to work and I took Joel and Mattias to "Fiskets Dag" in Vexala (the village across the water from us). It's a yearly event at the boat harbour there. They sell fresh fish, smoked fish, fish soup, fish sandwiches . . . I think you get the picture. Stefan had been there since 7am, smoking fish. There are also booths where people sell their handicrafts and some manufacturers have examples of their products (tractors, ATVs, farm equipment, etc.) I did manage to find a cup of coffee and donut to buy. Mattias wanted some soup, but they had run out. Stefan brought home some of the fish for the boys to eat this evening - I found something else to eat and Stefan was too full from everything they fed him today!

Tomorrow we're off to Stefan's brother-in-law's 40th birthday. I hope the rain holds off because I think there'll be lots of people there and it would be nice to be outside!

Nothing new to update on the adoption. Today we wrapped birthday presents to mail to Sofia because we know we won't be able to be there with her on her 6th birthday.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

second post for the day

I couldn't write everything earlier . . . I had some formatting problems once the pictures were in . . . Anyways, I took the boys to town today. Mattias had an appointment with the optician. He got his new prescription, so the glasses will be ready in about a week - they know we are leaving on holidays the 20th, so hopefully they'll be finished in time (where's a "glasses-in-an-hour" when you need one?). We also went to a few furniture stores, looking for a bed for Sofia. So far, I haven't found anything I like. Then we went to Prisma (sorta like a Superstore . .) because Sam was in need of a new cell phone. However, he didn't find anything today. On the other hand, I was able to find lots of cute clothes in the girls section. So, it wasn't a total bust. The boys found some Nerf blasters that they bought with their own money - they are outside playing with them now as I type.

Before we came home, we had to stop in Nykarleby for Mattias' soccer practice - Sam and I worked out at the gym and Joel played his DS for that 90 minutes. Mattias also had a game last night- just a practice game. They played 4 - 20 minute periods, and won 8-1. It was good for morale, because they had done rather poorly at the last tournament.

Stefan has been out on the sea most of the day with his dad putting out their 5th trap. He just came home a moment ago but headed straight to the farm to feed the animals. He's a busy guy.

No news right now on the adoption front - still waiting to hear our court date.

Well, time to call the boys in . . . .

out with the old

Well, Sam is officially in his new room, as of yesterday. He's quite the collector, so it took almost 3 days for him to move all his "stuff" to his new digs - and, you'll notice from the pictures he had to scale down from 5 cupboards to two. Before . . . .

After . . . .

Monday, July 7, 2008

just a regular day

Today I headed back to Jakobstad to the Magistrate's again to get a few more documents apostillized. We found out Friday night that we can send everything we've got so far, even if we don't have the doctor's letters yet. In fact, the judge is waiting to read our paperwork before setting a court date (would've been nice to know that - we were waiting to mail everything until we had the doctor's stuff). Hopefully, this hasn't set us back too far.

Also, I took Mattias to the eyeglass store - his glasses broke on the weekend when he was jumping on the trampoline. Turns out his prescription is too old to just get new frames, so we have to go back on Thursday when the optician has time to see him. He picked out new frames today, though.

Sam slept in his new room last night for the first time. Today he started moving his stuff down, but I think this part might take awhile - there's less cupboard space downstairs, so he has to go through everything, deciding what he wants to take, what he wants to give to his brothers, and what is simply garbage.

Joel has had a pretty low-key day. He was quite happy to get a bunch of books from Sam, including a stack of Donald Duck comic books.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

hard to say good-bye

This post is about 28.05.2008.

Vlad picked us up at 9:15 again this morning. We were supposed to be at the orphanage at 10 so we could be there for a couple hours and then leave to make our 1pm meeting at the notary's. Well, traffic was really bad, so we didn't get there until 10:25. Again, we were armed with more gifts all around. Both days we brought fresh fruit for Anastasia and her playgroup.

We met Anastasia in her playroom. I gave her the doll we had bought in Finland as well as the hairbands from Doris and the photo album I put together. The caregiver told Vlad that as she was falling asleep last night, she was saying, "Mama. Mama. Where are you?" One of her playmates, Vanja, had told the others, "Nastia's got good parents."

We took the gifts outside to the playground. Vlad gave us a few minutes alone with her and I started showing her the pictures in the photo album. She pointed out "Mama", "Papa" in all of them and I showed her Sam, Mattias and Joel, but she wouldn't say their names. After about 5 minutes, she was done and just wanted to run around and play. After awhile, the teacher came out and told Vlad that the director had given us permission to take Anastasia "off-grounds" if we wanted. So, we took her to a little cafe. It was fun in the car. She enjoyed it so much - she kept looking back and forth at us with a big smile on her face.

Vlad helped us order. She picked out something that looked chocolatey (but he said was potato-based) and apple juice. She didn't really like the potato-chocolate thing and ended up eating the rest of Stefan's pastry. She had brought her presents along in the car. She told us she will name the doll Masha.

Back at the orphanage, Anastasia joined her playgroup outside while Stefan and I spoke with the doctor and Tatiana again - we wanted to clarify some things that had been said yesterday. Then, we went down to Anastasia's play room and said goodbye to her there. There were lots of kisses and hugs. According to Vlad, she told us to finish what we have to do quickly and come back. A few tears later, we left.

From there we drove to the Notary Public's office to sign some papers. We were met by a fellow named Gregory who was able to be our translator for the meeting. Then we waited outside the office for Galina, who was running a little late from another appointment. When she arrived we drove to the Hotel Moskva, where Galina had to meet Tina, Save the Children's director in St. Pete. Tina came out to the car to meet us. She told us that she had already met Anastasia. Then we drove Galina to a municipal office where she had to drop off some papers. While we were driving, Galina said that Anastasia will probably be the most beautiful girl in our town. After the municipal office, they took us to the train station where we said goodbye to Vlad and Galina. We ate lunch at the station which was a very confusing experience - nobody spoke English and it was a very strange ordering system! Finally, we were on the train for our trip back home. The trip to Helsinki was uneventful, but our seats to Bennäs were in the worst car on the train - full of young partiers. So, we found a conductor and moved into a sleeping car. Not that it was a restful sleep - I was so worried we'd sleep past our stop and end up in northern Finland!

I forgot to mention that when we checked out of the hotel, we only had one suitcase and one carry-on. We were able to put one suitcase inside the other and then fill it. We didn't have nearly as much stuff coming home. We would have had even less, but we brought home a bunch of food we had taken along. Remember, our last visits to Russia were so long ago, and we had had bad experiences with the food. So this time, we packed fresh fruit, snacks and drinks we thought we would need. However, nothing extra was needed because the food was delicious. The only thing we really used was the bottled water for brushing our teeth . . .

Saturday, July 5, 2008

finally . . . we meet her

This post is about what happened on 27.05.2008.

Today Vlad picked us up at 9:15 and drove us to the adoption committee. It was only several blocks from our hotel, but took 30 minutes to get there. There, we met Galina, our rep in Russia, and Anja, our official translator. We had left the copies of our passports in the hotel safe (as it said to do in the letter we received about safety), sooo, Galina had to run and make copies of our passports because we needed them here (we should have had 2 copies of everything just to be safe and prepared). There was an American couple also in the waiting area. When it was our turn, we went into the office and went through the formalities of getting permission to visit Orphanage #4 and visit with Anastasia. It was very formal - we had been told to only answer yes or no, and that it wasn't a time for us to ask any questions . . . Then, the woman turned the computer screen and we saw Anastasia for the first time. The tears started from my eyes immediately - she was so beautiful. The photo was taken in January 2007, so she was dressed warmly for outdoors, and she has a little blond curl on her forehead that had fallen out of her hat. Once everything was signed and official, we all walked to the car and headed to the orphanage on the southern edge of the city.

We arrived with several bags of gifts; for Anastasia, the staff, her playgroup and some gently-worn clothes that Joel had outgrown. First, we were taken to an office and met with a teacher, the social worker and a caregiver (the doctor and director were absent for the morning). They gave us a lot of her medical history and social background. We were able to ask lots of questions and were given many answers. At some point during the meeting the official guardianship representative showed up. Anja had told us earlier that she was to be there to supervise our contact with Anastasia.

When we were done, we were taken to the drama/play room where Anastasia was waiting for us. What a great moment. She ran up and hugged us, and said (according to the translator), "I've been waiting for you for a long time!" Galina said, "Show her the pictures of the boys!" (I had shown the photos in my wallet during the earlier meeting which the ladies oohhed and aahhed over). Then we moved over to some tiny little chairs where she opened her gifts. The clothes were just the right size (116) an the shoes too (28). I think she was a little disappointed with the paper doll set - she was not interested in opening it or playing with it. Her long blond hair was in french braids with big white puffy lacey bands fastening them. She is so adorable. She giggles a lot. She looks back and forth, smiling at us. During this first meeting, Anja was there to translate, and Tatiana, the social worker, was also there to help direct what we should do. In all honesty, it was a little bit awkward. At some point, the guardianship lady disappeared. We spent about 15-20 minutes with Anastasia and then they said she must eat and nap. She already calls us Mama and Papa.

We were to be gone a couple hours, so we drove to a mall, part-way back to the city (Anja was dropped off before the mall - we were not told why she wasn't going to translate anymore. Stefan thought she was fired because she had made some mistakes at the committee, but we don't know for sure . . . ). We bought lunch (Blinis) for Vlad and Galina and then shopped while they ran some other errands. We found a great toy store where we bought a doll set for Anastasia (earlier she said she hoped she would one day have a doll and a crib). It's a small set with a crib, high chair and stroller.

When we got back to the orphanage, Vlad was our translator. Just before we went inside, Galina presented us with a paper and said that if we were already sure about Anastasia, we could sign the paper now and it would hurry things up a bit - of course! Inside, we met with the doctor and director in the director's office. There, we officially signed the paper that we agree to adopt her. We also got more information about her. They told us that they had been worried about her future, but now were happy that she found a good home. For some reason, the staff seems to really like us:) Then, we were taken to her group's playroom to meet with her again. The children were eating the bananas we brought. I got a very mushy handshake from Vanja. . . Anastasia was thrilled with the doll set and happy to see us again. She had hardly slept, waiting for us to come back. The other children stared at us. Big grins when we smiled at them. Asking, "What's your name?" "That's Nastia's Mama and Papa." After some oohh's and aahh's, she showed us where she sleeps and then put on her coat and toque(she was dressed in the clothes we had brought) and we went out to the playground. I helped her open the doll set and then she set to swinging and running around.

I had asked her what colour she wants us to paint in her room. She said brown. Vlad thinks it's because Stefan's jacket is brown. But pink is her favourite. She's really taken with Stefan. "Papa, Papa." She wants him to be with her on the swings, hold his hand, play hide and seek, etc. We realized it was hard to get a really good picture because she's on the move constantly.

After about 45 minutes, Victoria (Tatiana's daughter) came out to get Anastasia because they were rehearsing for their pageant celebrating St. Petersburg's 305th birthday. Does she want to show us? Yes! Vlad has some place to go, so Victoria will translate for us for awhile . . . Anastasia's part in the pageant is dancing with scarves with the other bigger girls. Stefan and I were both very impressed with what these children can do. Unfortunately, our presence was a little distracting for some of the children - they had to be reminded to watch the performance, not stare at us! When she wasn't performing, Anastasia came and climbed up in Stefan's lap. When the rehearsal was done, the actress inside her came out and she performed just for us . . . some sort of speech . . . . some dancing . . . "Papa! Papa! Come dance!" We rolled a big ball around, too and played in that room for awhile before going outside again.

The other children were so curious about us. "Do you love me?" "Are you the mama?" They loved it when I flipped the viewfinder on the camcorder so they could see themselves.

We climbed on the monkey bars, played hide and seek and spent time with our little girl until it was time to go. We took her back inside, but she would not let us go yet. She insisted on showing us every one of her drawings before we left. She had a folder of them - there must have been close to 100!

Back at the hotel, we reflected on the day. Anastasia really made a strong connection with Stefan - already Daddy's little girl - but not so much with me. So, I feel a little bad, but at the same time I realize that she has so many females in her life already. The staff seems to be entirely made up of women. For her, she found the men most interesting (Stefan and Vlad). My time will come. I just need to be patient.

Stefan and I ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, looked at the pictures of Anastasia and crashed for the night.

Friday, July 4, 2008

a sad day for us

Our day started on a sad note . . Mercy went to the vet today and the decision was made to put her down. She had been suffering for quite some time with a bladder infection that wouldn't go away and with incredibly sore joints that made it very difficult for her to get up and lay down as well as go for a walk. She had also developed several large lumps over her body that the vet suspected were cancer. We knew this day would be coming, so we made sure we had some special time with her this past week. Poor Stefan, though. In the area where we live (aka not the city), the vet doesn't do anything with the body, so Stefan had to bring her back to the farm where he made a box for her and then buried her in the forest. Lucas took it very hard. He saw Stefan with the box outside the farm's fence and apparently he just howled and howled. Tonight he is so sad he is not on guard duty and is home at Fammo and Faffa's house. The boys were too sad to go there when she was being buried, but maybe in a couple days we will go and place a marker for her, so they can say goodbye.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

a long train ride is just the beginning

This post is about the events on 26.05.2008.

We were on the "Express" train from Bennäs to Helsinki first. They call it Express, but it's actually their oldest and slowest train. We had a sleeping compartment, which was a good thing, but we didn't sleep so much . . . the train is really noisy (lots of clattering on the rails and between the cars) and there's a lot of rocking on the track. Once in Helsinki, we had about half an hour before the train to St. Petersburg left, so we were able to take it nice and easy on the platform. The trip to St. P isn't very far, and there were not so many stops along the way, but the border crossing was the longest part. At the last stop in Finland, Russian officials boarded the train and started the passport control. In fact, they collected our passports. Then the train moved rather slowly through something like a surveillance zone . . . about 45 minutes. When we reached Russia, the first stop was in Vyborg where the train stopped for 20 minutes. Once the train started moving again, we got our passports back.

We finally arrived in St. P. a little after 2pm with 2 heavy suitcases and 2 heavy carry-ons. Our driver, Vlad, took us to our hotel, The Pushka Inn on the Moika River Embankment (very expensive mini-hotel, but really nice with a good location). After settling in, we went for a walk down Nevsky Prospect, looking for a currency exchange (the moving bank on the train didn't stop at our seats) and pharmacy (I needed some antihistamines after a sudden bad case of hay fever on the train - good thing the phrase book had "Do you have anything for allergies?" in Russian). Stefan and I were both feeling very tired as well as a bit dizzy and had shaky legs after 12 hours of rocking train motion.

We bought some souvenirs and then found a little Russian-European restaurant on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Moika. We were the only patrons in the place. I had some great Beef Stroganoff and Stefan had the Chicken Kiev, which he didn't really like. But, they served the most delicious garlic bread with our meal. Yummy!

The weather was sunny and really quite warm. While out walking we noticed how well the Russian people dress, especially the women. And the shoes . . . awesome, beautiful shoes . . . lots of stilletos . . . amazing how fast they can walk in them!

Stefan and I can't believe the changes in this city. It's so beautiful. Stefan was last here in 1987 and I was here in 1992. Those were not good times. The amazing architecture was the same, but the feeling on the street is completely different . . . and shopping experiences are nothing like they used to be.

One final comment before signing off . . . the traffic and drivers . . . unbelievable. I think the patience of the drivers here is amazing. The traffic jams are long and numerous, but people don't seem to lose their temper, they just wait their turn or for an opportunity to cut in . . . and we didn't see anybody yelling, cursing or making obscene gestures. Not one accident either, that we saw. Amazing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

a no-errand kinda day . . .

Yesterday was really busy so it was nice not to have to be anywhere or do anything specific today.

First thing yesterday morning we had to have the boys in Jakobstad for their doctor's appointment. Everything went well. We took the x-rays to him. It seems the blood will be sent to Tampere for analysis, so it may be a couple weeks before he can write our letters (besides, he's going on holidays for the next 2 weeks, and then we'll be away for 1).

After we left the clinic, we dropped off some paperwork at KELA/FPA so that we can receive child benefits, adoption support and then parental leave when she finally arrives. Then we went to the Magistrate's office to order some documents (one from the house registry and I'm not sure what the other was . . .). They'll be ready for pick-up when we go back to get some more things apostillized. We went to the hardware store and finally decided on a border for Sofia's room, so we were also able to pick out paint colours to match. McDonald's for lunch. Groceries at LiDL. Finally home mid-afternoon.
Then I decided to start getting ready for our summer guests by baking a whole bunch of stuff so the freezer's stocked. Stefan thought I was crazy to do it all at once, but I figure it's easier to only have to do the clean up one time!

We ended the evening by installing the new blind in Sam's new room and clearing out the painting stuff so the floor can be laid when it arrives.

Sooo, today was so nice to just take it easy. I did 7 loads of laundry and organized the rec room a bit after the boys cleaned it up. We put up one of the beds in there for our guests who will be here soon.

Mattias decided that he wanted to bake something special for the deGraaf's that we will take with us when we go pick them up in Copenhagen. He decided on shortbread, but he had to bike to the store first to buy butter and some more icing sugar.
Well, that was our day . . . really this was more about yesterday . . . right now I'm home alone while Sam is at work, Stefan is at the farm and Joel and Mattias are over at Marit's house (she just arrived yesterday from Stockholm).

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.