Thursday, April 25, 2013

Catching Up

Over the past two weeks, Ruslana has...

Met some awesome people.  Including the Reed family (of Smiles and Trials), Uncle Tom, Aunt Jane, cousin Ryan, and Aunt Jacqueline.
Jumping with a few of the Reeds...one of her new favorite things
Eating with Uncle Tom and Grandmother
Playing with Aunt Jacqueline
Played at Chuck E. Cheese after a half day at school:

Celebrated grandmothers birthday by gifting her a paper airplane with their photo and a chatter box (guess those gems are universal).  She also made her a video:
and had fun at the doctors office: 


We've had some high points:
  • During math at school she raised her hand and answered the question (in English) correctly!  The class clapped for her :) I'm so proud of her, not only for knowing the answer, but for being brave enough to raise her hand.  I was personally encouraged knowing that some of our math time paid off. 
  • She started attending BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) and has been able to work on the last two lessons. She has also memorized a memory verse. 
  • Food is getting easier.  She's been more willing to try new things and has even started to like them! She recently saw a bag of marshmallows in the pantry and asked if she could have one.  Of all things to try, a marshmallow?? Well she had one and now she loves them. So random! 
  • Her English vocabulary is growing at a rapid pace. 

And some low points:
  • We went to the dentist.  We knew her teeth were in bad shape, as the orphanage didn't even have toothpaste, but they were worse than we hoped. She has 9 cavities--5 permanent and 4 baby teeth.  The dentist plans on filling the cavities two at a time.  Hopefully using an electric toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash will prevent any further damage. 
  • There's been some defiance issues at home and at school, as well as not wanting to share with the other kids.  
  • We've had to talk to her about her attitude and disobedience on several occasions.  She is really not fond of the times outs that follow.  She is starting to learn though that bad behavior has consequences, and we've seen improvement. 
Helpful tips I've learned along the way: 
  • A timer has been extremely helpful.  I use one when she brushes her teeth, uses mouthwash, engages in certain activities, and occasionally at mealtimes.  Seeing a countdown keeps her motivated and allows me to avoid repeatedly saying "keep going" or "times up." 
  • Food temperature.  She doesn't like things very hot or very cold.  I'm guessing she isn't used to hot food because I imagine that by the time all of the children were served food in the orphanage it was most likely room temperature.  I also imagine that things were never served very cold since they don't use ice in Ukraine.  By me serving things not too hot or cold, it's eliminated part of the food struggle. 
  • Food familiarity.  I've found that if I have something familiar on the table (often I'll just do a bowl of tomatoes, cucumbers, and pickles) she is more open to trying something new.  I've been trying to compromise and not press too hard in the food department and it seems to be helping. 
  • Meeting people, especially in groups, is extremely overwhelming for Ruslana.  If she meets you and stares, please don't take it personally!  We've been practicing what to say at home, so hopefully this will translate into real life introductions.  
  • Consistency, patience, and discipline is key.  It's hard now, but hopefully it will pay off! 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ukraine is literally insane


Everyone likes a good adventure every now and then, right?  At least that's what we thought when we left Los Angeles for Ukraine back in February.  Though I had a different definition of "adventure" in my head initially, our time in Ukraine was nothing short of a wild, roller coaster endeavor.  Join me as I explore some of Ukraine's "special" quirks...

1. The roads.  Recently named among the worst roads in the world, Ukraine definitely lives up to its title.  Gigantic potholes litter the roads and, as a result, it takes ages to get anywhere, particularly when you get outside of Kiev.  If Google Maps tells you your trip will take two hours, plan on four bumpy hours.  Our facilitator told us about a truck she recently saw completely emerged in a gigantic pot hole.  She couldn't even see the top of the truck until she passed it.  Blowing tires and breaking axles is a common occurrence.  With no AAA roadside service, pray you don't get swallowed up! 
2. The plumbing.  You aren't supposed to flush the toilet paper in Ukraine.  Yes, you read that right.  Wipe and toss is the motto.  You can imagine the stench of walking into a public bathroom with a trash can full of used toilet paper.  Yuk.  Apparently you also aren't supposed to flush fireworks. Darn.
3.  The water.  Though I previously touched on the green-yellow hued water, I left out the fact that it also has flakes in it, which remain even after boiling.  I can't help but wonder if they are pieces of my toilet paper I've rebelliously flushed. Bottom line: buy and use bottled water.

4.  The beds.  No mattresses here, only box springs.  Or incredibly uncomfortable futons that will leave you needing physical therapy (seriously).  Sleep tight!

5.   The ice cream.  It really is great.  Of the kinds we tried, they each had multiple favors in one container.  While the taste earns high ratings, the packaging falls short.  Ice cream in a bag? How are you supposed to polish off a carton when its in a bag?? 
6.  Another Ukrainian specialty--Top Ramen.  They know how to do it here.  In addition to the seasoning packet, they include a little packet of oil.  That oil makes all the difference and brings it up at least four notches.  I can't even count how many times we ate it during our two month stay.  Cheap, familiar, and good = gold.
7.  Fashion.  The women in Ukraine are beautiful and dress very fashionable.  A typical winter outfit consists of a fur coat, sheer stockings (below freezing and snowing? No problem!), and boots.
8.  Smoking.  The must-have accessory in Ukraine is the cigarette.  Boo to smoking!  Everyone smokes, it's just a way of life.  In fact, while visiting a Sunday school class a little boy had a piece of paper rolled up and was pretending to smoke.  And if you're on a car trip, expect multiple stops so the driver can take smoking breaks.  I will say, however, that when you get outside of Kiev the number of smokers decreases.

9.  Parking.  No parking spots?  No problem!  Park on the sidewalk.  Personally I think this quirk rocks.  Especially since we own two Jeeps.

10.  Handicapped Accessibility.  There's no real way around this--if you're disabled you're pretty much outta luck here.  Buildings elevators often start on the second floor, leaving you to walk up a flight of stairs before reaching the elevator.  Some stairs have wheelchair "rail ways," but they look much more like death rails to me:

11.  Safety.  Door hinges on the outside?  Great idea!  Lock those doors but they just may be gone in the morning. 

12.  Construction.  Do the buildings look like they're about to crumble?  If so, you're probably in Ukraine.  During our two month stay we didn't actually see any buildings crumble before our eyes, so hopefully looks are deceiving.  But I have a feeling it's just a matter of time.

13.  Groceries.  Pretty much anywhere you go there are small markets to get the basic necessities.  This is convenient and helps a great deal when you can't drive.  The downside is you aren't left with much selection, and you may end up like us--eating eggs, cereal, bread, and Top Ramen for two months straight.  Needless to say, we got pretty sick of them and may never eat these items again!  We did end up coming across a larger grocery store, which would have been awesome if we liked non-refrigerated fish or frozen fish parts. The vegetables also come with a pile of dirt free of charge.
14.  Language.  Should you speak Russian or Ukrainian?  The answer depends on the area you're in and the person you're speaking with.  In our case this makes for a fun game of gestures and blank stares.  Good times!

15. Stairs.  Warning: don't get into a comfortable gallop the next time you go down a flight of Ukrainian stairs.  One step could be 3" tall, the next 8" tall.  The only thing that's predictable about the stairs is their unpredictability. Dun-Dun-Dun.

16.  Power.  Ukraine runs on the standard European 220V power.  Being a "savvy" packer, I opted to bring a straightener, but leave my hair dryer at home.  I thought plugging it into the converter would work.  And it did, for a few days.  Then POOF it blew up.  RIP my beloved straightener.  In addition to being cautious when converting power, be prepared to have no outlets in the bathroom.  I got ready in the kitchen using the reflective surface on the microwave.  Hope I looked ok!

17. Cell Phone Rings.  Forget about the standard "ring-ring."  If you're Ukrainian, your ring tone is going to be a loud pop song or an American hit from at least ten years ago.  Rock on.

18.  Restaurant behavior.  Never walk into a restaurant and say "dva" (two) and wait to be seated.  Not that we did that, of course.  We would never do that.  But assuming we had, they would've looked at us like we were crazy.  In a land with no order, seat yourself.  If there's a crowd, don't expect a line, expect a race to see who gets their first.  Game on.  Also, don't expect to get your check--you need to ask for it.

19.  Harry Potter.  Ahh there is universal good.
20.  Stray animals.  Ukraine is filled with wild dogs and cats.  Poor babies, they must be so cold in the winter!
21. Personal Space.  There is none. While out at a restaurant, changing your money, or in an elevator, expect the stranger next to you as close as you'd want the man or woman of your dreams.  Yes, they're that close.  Also, if you're eating at McDonalds and sitting at a booth, someone will probably come sit with you.  Just a little uncomfortable.

22. The money.  The Ukrainian currency is the hryvnia.  Right now it's about an 8 to 1 dollar to hryvnia conversion rate.  It looks like big monopoly money with facial hair. 
23. Social classes. Our driver told us that there isn't really a middle class--there's an upper class and a lower class. In Kiev there are tons of Range Rovers, Mercedes SUV's, and other luxury cars. But once you get out of the city you definitely see poverty.
24. The kids.  The kids here are seriously the best and being able to give one of them a forever home is worth all of the hardships and inconveniences.  Plus, you get to come back with some great stories and lasting memories!  If international adoption is on your heart, DO IT.  Now that you've been forewarned on some of Ukraine's quirks, you'll be ready to go!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Weekend Plans

Ruslana met some of her immediate family members for the first time this past weekend.

First up was a meeting with grandpa (my dad). We discovered a great restaurant for Ruslana--Souplantation. She can load up on tomatoes, cucumbers, and her beloved soup and bread.  Ruslana and grandpa had a fun time singing a Ukrainian song together, watching the Redlands bike race, and enjoying a scoop of chocolate ice cream.
Meeting Grandpa
The next day she met her aunts, uncles, cousins, and great grandparents.  At first she was pretty shy and somewhat overwhelmed with the number of people wanting to meet her, but over the course of the day she started to open up and enjoy her new family.  She especially loved playing catch and bowling with her cousins.  We've discovered that she's got quite a throwing arm!
Meeting Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins
She also experienced In-n-Out for the first time.  She loved it!  I guess our girl has some American taste buds after all.

Here's to two of God's greatest gifts--family and In-n-Out! 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

First day of School

Yesterday was Ruslana's first day of school.
We arrived a little early to meet her teacher and get her settled.  With about ten minutes to spare before school began, we asked her if she wanted to sit at her desk or go out on the playground with the other kids.  Being the brave soul that she is, she was ready to play!  And just like that, she was off exploring the field.  A group of girls in her class came up to us and asked us how to say "hi" in Ukrainian because they wanted to be able to talk to her. They were the sweetest girls who literally chased Ruslana around the field to talk to her and make her feel welcome.  I found out later that this same group of girls also took her to the cafeteria, showed her where to find the food, and ate with her. I am so thankful for these girls!  The principal and teachers were also incredibly welcoming and went out of their way to make her first day go as smoothly as possible.  So far I am very impressed with the school.

When I picked Ruslana up she was very happy.  She had a great day! She told me that she liked school, her teachers, and that her favorite thing was "the children."  She also told me that she got to work on the computer, something that she really enjoys.  I'm amazed by our little girl's brave attitude.  In her position, I would have been paralyzed with fear! 

To celebrate her first day of school, we went to Chick-Fil-A to get an ice cream cone and play in the playground.  She had so much fun playing with the other kids.  I'm beginning to see just how important social interaction with other children is for her, which helps solidify our decision to put her in school so quickly.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Belated Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday.  I started the day off by doing what any young and crazy 25 year old does to celebrate...I toured the local elementary school.  Mark and I were both very impressed with the facilities and the available English learning tools.  The school offers a computer software program called "English in a Flash" (similar to Rosetta Stone), as well as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher that the English-learning students see in a 3:1 ratio.  The principal told us that there is a little girl in the program who speaks Russian, which we are happy about.  Although Ukrainian and Russian aren't the same language, hopefully there will be enough similarity that they can still communicate.

While we had initially thought we would keep Ruslana at home for awhile and home school, we decided that at this point she would do best in a school setting.  For one, she is used to going to school in Ukraine.  She seems to thrive and be more comfortable in a structured environment.  Second, she is used to being around other kids all the time.  While she likes being around us and Scarlett, I think she is missing the social interaction that she has grown accustom to.  Third, I think she'll learn English quicker by utilizing the ESL tools at school and having a teacher trained to help her learn the language.  Because there's only about eight weeks left of the school year, we figure we can use this time as a trial period and reevaluate after that.

After we toured the elementary school we went and got pedicures.  I've been saving a gift card since Christmas and I decided that now was the perfect time to use it.  She picked yellow for her toenail polish.  Not the color I'd choose, but to each his own.  She didn't seem to show a lot of emotion during the pedicure:
but she did like her nail color:
Later in the evening we went out to dinner to Benihana with my mom and sister. I thought that she'd enjoy the chefs cooking at the table and have a lot of fun, but she seemed really tired.  Going out to eat has been somewhat of a stresser because she is having such a hard time adapting to new foods.  She takes about 10 minutes to chew one bite (despite us continuously telling her to swallow) and loves telling us "NO" to trying new foods.  During dinner we told her that if she ate a small section of her food she could have ice cream.  Well, she was having a diva moment and decided that she wasn't even going to take one bite of it.  So, she ended up with no ice cream.  We felt bad that she missed out on a special treat, but we are striving to be consistent and not go back on our word.
It was a great birthday spent at home with my family and new daughter. I am so thankful and blessed. 

However, I'm not going to lie, this week has been difficult and trying.  The transition hasn't been easy. Ruslana is testing us constantly. Today I told her she couldn't get in the pool and to spite me she jumped in the pool fully clothed--including her tennis shoes.  She's had meltdowns where she cries, screams, kicks, and hits.  Meal times are a struggle.  She doesn't always see the need to obey us. Yesterday she took the keys out of the car's ignition while Mark was driving and then threw papers out the window.  Things aren't perfect.  But going from an orphanage setting to a home setting is one that will take time, love, and patience. I just need to remind myself that it won't happen overnight. 

But as with most things in life, the low points are followed by high points.  Take for instance the notes she put around the house this afternoon expressing her love (or "lofe" as she wrote) for her mama, papa, and relatives:
Or the fun time we had playing on the playground: 
Or the darling poses she makes: 
High and low, we love this girl! 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Amer-eeka!

With two hours of sleep, we woke up at 2am Friday morning to start our journey home.  Ruslana was excited, running around like an airplane with her arms spread out saying "Amer-eeka!!"  She was ready to embark on a new adventure that would lead to her new home.

At the Kiev airport most everyone had their bags wrapped up with cellophane and duct tape.  We asked our driver, who accompanied us inside the airport, what was going on--he said they do it for privacy.  Hmm..I don't think TSA officials would would appreciate that!
The first leg of our trip took us from Kiev to Moscow.  Ruslana was stoked on the airplane.  She thought taking off and landing was the funnest thing.  From Moscow to Los Angeles we each had our own TV, which was this techno girl's dream.  They didn't have a Ukrainian language option, but it didn't seem to stop her enjoyment of the numerous choices of movies and games.  So much so that she didn't sleep a wink on the entire trip home! She credited all the cool things--namely the TVs & airplane food--to Amer-eeka.  We didn't have the heart to tell her we were actually on a Russian airline, so we took the credit for America. 
                                         
With no weather delays, we landed in Los Angeles as scheduled.  Ruslana landed as a "new immigrant," but walked out of the airport as its newest citizen!
                                         
By this point, her lack of sleep over the last 48 hours was starting to show and she was fading.  Not exactly what we were hoping for because our immediate family rented a limo and were anxiously waiting to meet her at the airport.  
This girl plays hard and sleeps hard--we knew when she did crash she would be out.  And that moment just happened to be the second we got into the limo.  As her eyes flickered opened and closed, we asked her, "are you tired?"  She defiantly repeated, "no, no, no."  Poor thing.  Despite her fascination with everything outside the window, she was struggling so hard to keep her eyes open and ultimately she lost the fight. 
When we pulled up to our house, we were greeted with a beautiful banner and balloons made by our family.  Ruslana sleep-walked right past all the pomp, skipped the grand tour of the house, and climbed right into her new bed.  Scarlett, our beloved dog, slept on Ruslana's bed all night waiting for her to wake up.  It was the cutest thing! 
We weren't sure how Ruslana would react to Scarlett, having never been around dogs before.  Well, let's just say they became instant best friends.  They LOVE each other and are inseparable.  All day Ruslana says, "Sca-lett, come here please!" I am so happy and thankful that Ruslana has Scarlett to play with.  There are no language barriers with those two!
At the crack of dawn (actually before, around 2am), she begged to go swimming in our pool, or as she calls it, the "bool." We were able to hold her off until about 8am.  She had a blast swimming with Scarlett and lounging on the pool raft.  Needless to say, the weather was a little different than what she was used to in Ukraine!  Grandma (my mom) also stopped by and gave her a pair of sunglasses which she now totally rocks everywhere she goes.  
Later in the afternoon we went for a walk around the neighborhood with Scarlett. She saw that papa had a hat on and said that she wanted one too.  Here are the Dodger twinsies: 
Ruslana loved walking around and would say with awe "Amer-eeka" anytime she saw something she liked.  She also made sure to pet Scarlett the entire we time were walking.  These two are in heaven together.
Considering that her world has just been turned upside down, she is doing remarkably well.  We are, however, struggling with food.  Unless its soup, fruit, or juice, she doesn't want to try much of anything.  She puts her arms up in an X and says "NO!!"  I don't want to push her too soon, but also don't want her to get into resistant habits.  We're trying to get her to at least try something before she says she doesn't like it, but that's not an easy task.  Another struggle we're having is finding the balance of appropriate discipline.  In the orphanage we purposefully tried to make our time together full of fun and bonding.  But now that we are home, we know it's time to lay down the law and start teaching her what we expect from her.  She's been testing our boundaries and boy has she got her sad pouty face down!  An example of her testing us happened yesterday when the teller at the bank gave her a lollipop.  We told her she could have it later at home.  And trust me, she knows what the word later means from us saying it so much. When we got in the car she discretely unwrapped the lollipop and plopped it in her mouth almost purposefully testing us.  And having being tested all day long, we were not going to let our "later" become a "yes."  So what did we do? Took that lollipop right out of her mouth and threw it out the window! Ha! Whether is was a right tactic or not, hopefully now she knows that when we say something, we mean it.  

After our high parenting moment over the lollipop, we went to lunch at Chick-Fil-A.  We ordered her a fruit cup and grilled chicken nuggets.  It took a long time and much convincing, but she did end up eating her chicken nuggets, which I was very happy about because she needs the protein.  She chewed each bite about a million times and her mouth ended up being full of chewed chicken.  We told her in the translator to swallow, and she replied "I like to chew my food then swallow." Ha! Good thinking girl--just swallow before you look like a chipmunk! After she finished her meal she played in the indoor playground and had the time of her life.  I felt bad for the other kids though...in true Ukrainian form, she doesn't believe in lines and order.  The slide that you're supposed to go down on? She went up it. The kids waiting in line to go down it? Move it or loose it! We'll have to give her a politeness talk later.  But for the time being she loved playing and having her mama and papa watch her.  She waved at us, beaming, each and every time she did a lap around the playground. 
Another highlight over the past few days was Ruslana receiving a handmade blanket made by grandma (Mark's mom).  She likes it so much that she took her comforter off of her bed and just sleeps with the blanket now. It was such a thoughtful gift and we all love it! I know it will be one of her prized possessions. 
Several people have asked me if I plan on continuing to blog now that the adoption process is over.  I've decided that for now I will.  So many people have graciously invested their time, money, and prayers into our adoption, and now is the time for you to see the blessings that have resulted from your help.  We wouldn't be here without you and for that we will be eternally thankful!