The blog is set up so that the most recent post is shown first. If you want to catch up on what's been happening, start at the bottom and scroll up. You can also click "older posts" at the bottom of the page or use the blog archive on the left side of this homepage. If you want to know what time it is in the Ukraine, click on the link to the left that says "Clock and weather".

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Home at last!

Well...we're finally at home. I woke up this morning to find Alexandra staring at me this time. I smiled at her and she smiled back and we sort of "talked" for about 15 minutes before Candace woke up and joined us. It was a neat first morning back in Canada. Candace's sister and her husband kept their Christmas tree up so Alexandra had a chance to open presents under a tree, probably for the first time. Thanks to Camille and Anthony for your thoughtfulness and caring. It is these qualities that helped us decide that you should be our daughter's godparents. After breakfast and some visiting we hit the highway. We stopped at Portage to visit Walmart but it was in the process of relocating so we decided to pass through Brandon to go to the store there. Despite our eagerness to get home, we spent two hours in Walmart. I knew we were in for a long visit when I left Candace and Alexandra in the toy section to go back and get a second cart. Later, after catching up with them after a brief side trip to the electronic department, I found their cart overflowing with alot of size 3 clothing. After stuffing the three of us and our new purchases back into a vehicle already full with luggage, we finally made our way back home. As we pulled in the driveway, we were greeted by a sign that welcomed the three of us. Rumour has it that the handwriting matches a certain retired principal from Shoal Lake. Thanks so much for the wonderful gesture.
Originally, we were going to come home, get settled, have a quiet supper, and then retire early. After a short time however, we decided to invite some friends over to meet Alexandra. That was pretty exciting to say the least. There were more presents for her to open and we talked about our experience a bit more and watched video excerpts from our trip. The best part was having this little girl walking around calling us mommy and daddy with witnesses to confirm that it actually happened. I know there are many different ways to start a family, but I expect the end result is the same. It is hard to articulate what this end result is...but I expect it was close to that feeling I had as I sat there watching our daughter hug and kiss everyone as she was on her way to bed. I am not sure what is in store for me as a parent, and I know I have countless things to learn in my new role as a dad. As I sat in my living room watching Alexandra make her rounds I felt so many emotions...pride in being able to share this wonderful little girl with others, excitment about being able to introduce her to even more people, hope that her lifetime would be long and rewarding, and even a bit of fear, for those times in the future that I may not know exactly what to do as her father. It's ironic that when you get married, you pledge an oath to your new spouse that you will love, honour and cherish them until death causes you to part. Yet, people who have children aren't required to do anything similar. I expect that for most people the responsibility is understood. I am new at this, so I feel the need to be more concrete. So, promise to you is very simple...I will do everything I can for as long as we are on this earth together to show you how much you mean to us and how deeply you are loved.
This is the last post that I will be making. The blog's purpose was to chronicle our experiences away from home so that everyone knew what was happening. We also wanted to keep a record for future reference, mainly to give Alexandra a sense of how we all came together. But we are home now and our Ukrainian adventure has ended...and so too must this blog. Now our Canadian adventure begins.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Friendly Manitoba

"Sweet home Manitoba,
Where the sky's cold and grey,
Sweet home Manitoba,
Alexandra's comin' home to stay!"
Well, after 37 days away from home we are back in Canada with our new daughter. And about 2.5 years after we started this process, we are now a family with a daddy, mommy, and child. The airlines and airports tried to work together to conspire against us to make the day more challenging than it needed to be...but regardless of the mix-ups and delays, we finally made it back to Manitoba. That is really all that matters.
As soon as we boarded the plane for the last leg of our journey, from Toronto to Winnipeg, Alexandra fell asleep. She was still out when we came down the escalator at the Winnipeg airport. Despite having a really long day, Candace and I could not sleep during that final flight. The excitement of finally being home was tremendous and the anticipation of seeing everyone we care about and introducing them to our daughter was almost too much to bear. What a wonderful reception we received when we arrived at the airport in Manitoba. Looking down from the top of that escalator at all of you who came to welcome us back, one couldn't help but feel a bit overwhelmed. Seeing all of your smiling faces made everything so concrete in an instant...Candace and Stephen and Alexandra were finally home and we were finally a family. To those who came to greet us, thanks of course for the gifts for Alexandra and the Tim Horton's coffee and the kind words and hugs and handshakes. But thanks mostly for taking time out of your busy lives to come and help us welcome our daughter to Manitoba. For those of you that did not make it, and we certainly did not expect anyone to come, know that you were with us all the way through our trip, in our hearts and in our minds. We can't wait to see you all.
Reflecting upon all that has happened as we left Frankfurt, I almost had to shake my head with disbelief. Looking over at Alexandra in her plane seat listening to the in-flight radio on her headphones, I realized how happy I am that things worked out as they did. I am so glad that we chose to adopt, I am pleased that we found our way to the Ukraine, and I am very thankful that our trip did not happen until it did. I would not choose to change a thing, because in doing so, the three of us may not be together as we are now. I am thankful for everything that has happened during this little adventure. Since this will be my second last posting, I will indulge myself and take a moment to acknowledge those people that have helped make this all possible. Thanks to the Ukrainian Adoption Services of Winnipeg and their Ukrainian facilitators for leading us through the myriad of steps necessary to make this all happen. Thanks to all of those wonderful people at the orphanage for caring for our daughter until we could come and get her. Thanks to all of those people who posted comments on our blog. It would be an understatement to say that your thoughtful words were merely helpful. Every single comment kept us connected with home and made us stay focused, even during some challenging moments during our time away. It seemed whenever we needed a boost you gave it to us. Thanks to our family and friends for all of the love and support during the entire process. Your encouragement has provided us with considerable strength and hope along the way. Thanks of course to Candace, who is already proving herself to be a wonderful mother by showing compassion, wisdom, patience, and unconditional love for our new daughter. And finally, thanks to our beautiful little girl Alexandra. We promise to do something every day of your life to remind you how much you mean to us. It starts tomorrow on our drive back home...anything you want at Walmart is yours...except for a Montreal Canadians jersey that is...the David's are Maple Leaf fans.
For what it is worth, I did kiss the ground when I got back to Manitoba to show my joy in being home finally. I had contemplated doing it at the airport but I was worried about what some people may have thrown on the ground outside the terminal, so I waited until I got back to Candace's sister's house.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Goodbye Ukraine, Hello Germany

Let me start by saying this is a difficult post to make...because a German keyboard is different than the one that I am use to. I couldn't find the @ for my email login so I had to cut and paste it from another website.
Well, I woke up at just past seven and started staring at my sleeping daughter. She must have felt the eyes on her because she woke up shortly thereafter and started staring back at me. So I went over and joined her and we made faces at each other for a little while before getting out of bed. After breakfast, I went for a walk to find a post office to buy some stamps and postcards.
Our driver arrived just before eleven and took us to the airport. When we were checking our bags we encountered another little snag. First, we were told that our luggage had to be checked right through to our final destination. Then the attendant asked if I knew we would not be able to leave the airport. Since Alexandra has a Ukrainian passport, she requires a visa to enter Germany. So it looked like we would have to overnight in the terminal. When we arrived in Frankfurt I went up to the passport control and explained our situation. We were brought to the main office and spoke with the director. He was very compassionate and decided he could draw up a tempoary visa for us. Yee haw! Even though Karolin Klein is still the nicest German that I have ever met...this guy is now my second favourite.
Alexandra has been amazing all day. Before we even took off from Kiev, she fell asleep with her feet on Candace's lap and her head on mine. Somehow she managed to do this even with her seatbelt on...I guess her 20 inch waist made this possible. She slept for well over an hour. When she awoke we placed the airline meal in front of her and watched as she devoured it. It was as if she had not eaten in a month. We will add pasta with alfredo sauce to the list of foods that she loves...which already includes plain bread, bananas, and oranges. Interestingly, the foods she does not care for include chocolate and ice cream.
Back to was really mild when we arrived. We had to go outside to get our shuttle to the hotel. The airport here is huge and every cab parked in front, and there seems to be well over a hundred, seems to be a cream coloured Mercedez. Our hotel is only 4 kms from the terminal. It is called the Frankfurt Ibis and it is really nice...other than the wacky keyboard that has some of the letters mixed up. For example, the y and the y are reveresed so I have been spell checking alot.
Well, time for supper. Even though I am incredibly excited, I wish I could go to sleep right now until the morning. Tomorrow, it's goodbye Frankfurt and hello Canada. The post that I make tomorrow evening will be from Candace's sister's house in Winnipeg. I know it is dreadfully cold back home and I am sure it is uncomfortable for everyone...but I could care less. Minus 40 Manitoba will be a welcome relief from plus 10 Europe. See you all tomorrow!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Our last full day in the Ukraine!

I am making this post a little bit earlier because the internet cafe is quite a way from our apartment. I actually came to update the last two days that I missed as we travelled across the country.
Well...I can tell you this morning was like waking up on Christmas morning. At 5:20 am my eyes opened and I sat right up to look at the small bed next to ours. I saw this precious little girl lying there peacefully with her arm hanging over the side. Once I determined she was inhaling and exhaling, I spent the next few minutes sitting there watching her sleep. Candace must have sensed something because she sort of woke up and said "what's wrong?". I said "Look" and pointed at Alexandra. Candace looked, smiled, then went instantly fell back to sleep.
The girls got out of bed around 8:15 am. Candace and I took turns hanging out with Alexandra while the other one got ready. It was a great way to start the day, and an even better way to end this trip. I was smiling as I sat with Alexandra on my lap at the kitchen table...watching her as she ate an orange and a banana. I though how lucky I was that she was with us...and how lucky we were that we brought lots of wet wipes.
Around 10:00 am, I was picked up to go to the Canadian Embassy. We dropped off the documents to finalize Alexandra's immigration to Canada. I will go back at 4:00 pm to pick up her visa. Then Candace and Alexandra joined us and we did a bit of running around before stopping at a big outdoor market to purchase some souveniers.
Well, it's getting close to 3:00 pm and I have to get to the grocery store and back to the apartment before heading back to the Embassy. This evening we are getting together with the facilitators and another Manitoban couple for a farewell meal at TGIFridays. I am so excited I think I will need a sleeping pill or something to help me rest tonight. That being said, I could not care less if I sleep because I am heading home tomorrow. And if I am restless I will just lay on my bed and watch Alexandra as she dreams of her new life in Canada with mommy and daddy. It's I typed that last sentence I remembered something that happened this morning. I said something to Candace but called her "mommy". I told her I probably wouldn't be using her first name for the next few years. I imagined us being out for dinner alone or something and me saying something like "Does mommy want some wine or dessert". We'll see what happens I guess.
The next post I make will be from Frankfurt, Germany where we will spend tomorrow night. We can't wait to see everyone! Best of luck to the Strathclair Skyhawks Varsity Girls' basketball team at their home tournament this weekend. See you at our first league game on Monday.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Goodbye Kramatorsk!

Okay...Kramatorsk was the city where we have spent the last month. We are no longer there...we are now back in Kiev. Also, as of today, Stephen, Candace and Alexandra are a family 24/7!
We woke up at 6:30 am, got ready, and were joined by a new facilitator at 7:30 am. We went to the court house to pick up the adoption decree, got a new birth certificate, and headed to the orphanage. When we went to Alexandra's room, all of her caregivers were there to see her off, and they started crying as they said good bye. Then Candace and I got caught up in the moment and became a bit teary-eyed. So eight adults were shaking hands and hugging with tears on their faces and Alexandra was left to wonder what the heck was going on.
We then left for Donestsk and arrived at noon. After having lunch, we were dropped off at the apartment of another couple from Manitoba. We stayed there while our facilitator went and did the paperwork necessary for Alexandra's passport. Our plane was scheduled to leave at 6:10 pm but an announcement was made saying that it would be delayed until 8:30 pm. Everyone seemed very upset by this with the exception of us and the American couple. We were still smiling because we had our children with us and were on our way back home finally. I believe things happen for a reason and I was actually glad the plane was delayed. You see, our friends, the Spanish couple, had a big problem with their paper work back in Kramatorsk and did not arrive at the airport until 6:45 pm. Had their been no delay they would not have been able to leave until tomorrow.
When we landed in Kiev at 9:00 pm, we were met by a driver who took us to our new apartment. It was a great place in a building adjacent to the American Embassy. It even had digital cable and a high speed internet connection. Too bad I did not bring a laptop. After a late supper, we tried to go to bed. It took Alexandra quite a while to get horizontal. I wouldn't say she was wound up per was more that she had a really big day and had lots of new experiences. To be fair, even I had trouble sleeping. I spent some time watching my wife and daughter sleeping beside me before drifting off myself...I assume with a big smile on my face.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Another Day in Paradise

The bad news first...we went to pick up our official adoption decree today and they told us we had to wait until tomorrow. The good news...we are still scheduled to come home on Friday.
Candace and I packed everything up last night, woke at 5:45 am, and checked out of the hotel at 7:30 pm. We had assumed we would pick up the decree, finish the paper work today, and fly to Kiev tonight. We all know that things don't always work out the way that we assume they will.
We arrived at the court house at 7:55 am and we went in with our facilitator. Shortly thereafter, the representatives for the American and Spanish couples arrived. Candace and I sat on a bench watching them talk to the lady in the office of the decrees. There seemed to be a bit of a discussion, then our facilitatir started walking and we followed her to the third floor. The lady in the office came behind us. In a nutshell, the judge had guaranteed that we would get the decree today. The pencil-pusher from the second floor went up to remind him that the ten-day waiting period can not end on a must end on a working day. The judge said he made a mistake and all three families were told they had to wait an additional day. It was quite disappointing...but what can you do. Needless to say there were some teary-eyed people outside the courthouse. I even found myself reciting the serenity prayer, which our facilitator then asked me to write in her notebook.
The rest of the morning was spent completing many of the tasks that we were supposed to anyway. The bureaucracy over here is amazing. You get a form filled out at one office then you drive across town to get it notarized, then bring it back to show them it is official. From 8:10 am until about noon we visited, in this order...the court house, the department of vital statistics, the court house, the notary public, and the court house again. Then we went to the orphanage to complete the paper work there and make our donation. After a month of driving in extremely warm cabs we spent three hours in the coldest taxi in the Ukraine. Fortunately, we got almost everything done and we got our plane tickets for tomorrow evening. Tomorrow at 8:00 am we pick up her decree and then we stop to get Alexandra's birth certificate and passport application. We pick up our daughter (hopefully) at 9:00 am before we drive 90 minutes to the regional capital (Donetsk) to get the passport. Then we spend the afternoon there and fly to Kiev at 6:00 pm.
On a positive note, we had a much better room at our hotel when we returned. It has three rooms plus a bathroom with a tub. The most appealing feature however was the two beds and the couch. I guess the morning played us out a bit because Candace and I spent the afternoon napping.
Our evening visit, while not planned, was extremely enjoyable. For the first hour it was just the three of us. Alexandra actually spent some time teaching us Russian. She would say a word or phrase, I would repeat it, and then she would laugh hysterically. Then she spent some time sort of yelling phrases at the door to the room while sitting in the swing. Candace and I assumed that she was telling off anyone who had wronged her prior to her departure. We joined in and encouraged her a bit telling her to yell at whomever took her nail polish off as well as the lady who gave her heck for using the adult washroom. I don't know if Alexandra was actually doing what we thought but it was quite therapeutic for mom and dad nevertheless.
The American couple actually had to drive to Donetsk to pick up the plane ticket for one of their kids. Like us, they'll go back tomorrow and head to Kiev on the same flight as us. After our evening visit, we went out for supper with them and their facilitator to a nice restaurant that we had somehow missed in the last month.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Final visits and goodbyes

I hope everyone is having a good first day back to school after the Christmas holidays. I can tell you that I wish I was doing the same thing. We are really getting excited about getting home on Saturday. No matter what time I go to bed lately, I am waking before 6:00 am and thinking about being home in Manitoba with Alexandra. I also am waking up thinking about how much I miss my work and about getting back to our basketball team. While I will miss the home tournament, I am excited about the league starting Monday.
Taking to the Spanish couple, I discovered something else that Candace and I missed out on at our hotel. At the beginning of our time here, we spent one night in a small room with two single beds. The next morning I asked for a double doom and they told me it was three times the price. So we elected on keeping our smaller room. So in conversation with the Spanish couple, we found out that the double room we were offered was actually the deluxe suite. There is a wider range of rooms that are available that I guess was lost in translation when I first talked to the receptionist. For an extra $5. American a night they have a suite with a full bath, a living room, and an adjacent bedroom. Had I found this out last week I would have upgraded immediately. Given tonight is our final one here, we just laughed it off and are staying put. Live and learn I guess.
During our morning visit, Alexandra was already downstairs with a cargiver when we arrived at the orphanage. We threw her off a bit given that we were still wearing our jackets. She probabaly thought we were going outside again, which she doesn't seem to like. Tomorrow should be interesting. Once she settled in, she was full of the chatter (still in Russian) and was really animated. She even fed a bottle to the Spanish couple's little boy for about five minutes. It was so cute and everyone was taking pictures. While she likes feeding babies, I learned shortly thereafter that she does not care for wet willies.
Our final visit to the orphanage took place tonight from 5:00 - 7:00 pm. I can't believe how nice it was to type that sentence. It was both a happy and sad time as we said good bye to the other couples and their children with whom we have shared the experience over the last few weeks. We are all happy that we finally get to go home, but you do get close to people quickly in this type of circumstance. To our friends from Minnesota and El Corona, of luck as you begin your new lives together back home as a family. I will send you a copy of the Christmas Concert video in a couple of weeks.
This might be the last post for the next couple of days. We leave this city tomorrow and I am not sure where we we'll be tomorrow evening. Tomorrow at 8:00 am we pick up the official adoption decree. After taking care of some additional paperwork, we head to the orphanage for the final pick up our daughter for good!