Friday, April 29, 2011


It has been a VERY busy day and I hate to tell you that we don't even have pictures :( no time).  Of course, I didn't get any sleep, because I was constantly checking to see if the girls were breathing.  We have been very closely following the schedule they had at the orphanage (with some wiggle room).  Juliana gets 3 medications a total of 7 times a day (just keeping up with that is a HUGE job for me because we all know how absent minded I can be).  As if being a new parent isn't difficult enough, I have found it extremely difficult to be brand new at this in a foreign country.  It is hard to buy food for the girls, the apartment is dirty (just has a nasty feel about it and very little cleaning supplies) therefore I don't want them to touch anything, but there isn't much for them to do (we can't really bring a walker or swing or such).  We can not wait to be home.  WHICH, I am currently working on obtaining tickets for next Friday!!! Details to come....

I will give you some of the memorable highlights from the day:

  • Lunch with the Clark family :) (they came for a visit; so first official visitors of the girls since we have had them.
  • Juliana has livened up considerably, even since yesterday.  She is showing much more emotion and so stinking cute.
  • Juliana loves to stare at us as we feed her and will even track us when we are moving about.
  • Rabbit not Horse: There are interesting flavors of baby food here.  You have the usual fruit flavors, but in the meat section we have chicken, beef, rabbit, and horse, of course! (Yes, we bought a jar of rabbit and fed it to Elena; she liked it)  Bye-Bye Thumper
  • Elena is picking up some sign language pretty quickly.  I have been working on teaching her "more" and "finished".  She will use my hands to sign more by manipulating my hands together.
  • Elena HATES baths (well she hates trying to be held in a sink and held to stand in a shower, since we have no tub)  We decided the shower was going to be the best way so Ezra held her standing up while I bathed her.  She was pitching a fit the whole time and....during this fit....she gave us quite a surprise as she pooped in the shower (grown man size).

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Today was "Gotcha Day".

Our facilitators have been frantically rushing around getting paperwork together.  Sasha drove out to the town we tried two days ago at 6:00a this morning to be there when the doors opened.  Violetta said that this was a personal record for her - she was able to get everything done in one day.  We have the new certificates of birth.  We have the new Social Security numbers.  We went to the orphanage and picked up the girls for about an hour.  We got pictures made for passports and visas.  We took the girls back to the orphanage again.  We went to the bank and cashed out their accounts to give to the orphanage. 

This time (4:00p our time) we took them for keeps.  They dressed the girls in the clothes we had bought this morning at the market.  We took pictures of the workers holding the children one last time.  They have been the only mothers these girls have known.  We left and hurried to the passport office.  We had paid  the $400 apiece "expedition fee" ($600 each for passports, plus $400 "expedition fee") that ensured the passports were completed in three hours instead of 2-3 weeks.  We took their new passports.  We now have the girls and all the paperwork that says they are ours according to the laws of this country.  We went to the train station and bought tickets.  On Saturday we will head back to the capital city where the girls will get permission to travel to the US.

It is an odd feeling.  When we were being driven through town, we were both so aware of how fragile these little ones were.  All of a sudden the crazy driving is a lot more serious matter (there are no car seats for these children, and a decent amount of cars lack seatbelts) - we were holding the girls in our laps.

I am not sure the realization has sunk in.  There is a huge difference between playing with the children for a couple hours and taking them home.  While they lived at the orphanage, we could always hand them back when they were dirty or cranky.  Now - we are their parents.  We have gone from married with no children to having a infant and a toddler.   Juliana has special medicines and feeding schedules.  Elena is destructive and into everything. 

Kelly tried to feed Elena her dinner (oat cereal).  In her haste to get to the food, Elena promptly kicked the bowl off the table (while cats land on their feet, bowls of porridge always land top-side-down).  She made the connection (food was here, now food is gone) and started crying.  Kelly made up another bowl and this time Elena ate it (relatively neatly).

Needless to say, we have been busy all day running between places.  Needless to say, we have been busy all night juggling babies and now both girls are finally asleep.  Oops, now we have to wake Juliana for a scheduled feeding.  Hopefully they will stay asleep throughout the night while we contemplate packing and/or babyproofing this apartment.  Elena was very very excited over our laptop.  Currently the laptop is still in one piece. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bad Babushka #14232011

Today we went to Juliana's birth city and got a new birth certificate.

When we got to her city we stopped and asked a young woman at a bus station which way to the government clerk office.  She pointed us the way.  With her (and all the other young women in this town) we found ourselves wondering - was this the mother of our child?  What would her life be like if she had kept her daughter?  What would life be like in this town?

The roads leading to the city are horrible.  For our friend Andrej in Slovakia who apologized "I am so sorry - the roads here are horrible, horrible" - NO.  The roads in Slovakia are NOT horrible.  One small pothole does not make the roads "horrible, horrible."  Andrej, these videos are for you - here is an example of what "horrible" roads are.  The roads look like they have been bombed.  To our friends and family who do not believe us when we say the roads are bad - believe these videos.

If we think of it as just a highly dangerous roller coaster ride with lots of obstacles, oncoming traffic, and no safety gear, it helps.  To our friends who have not gone this route - you don't know how much bone-rattling fun you are missing. 

Unfortunately, our driver asked a taxi driver in town about a better way back to the main city.  Apparently that WAS the best route, the other roads were worse.

These people pay very steep taxes for driving (car tax, gasoline taxes, etc.) yet they have precious little to show for it.  It makes me very appreciative for the paved roads that our tax dollars support.

They do have a sign posted.  "Bumpy Road" is what the pictogram reads.  Really?  No <!!@@#!?> duh!  I am so glad that they thought to tell us this!  I might not have figured out from the 100km of jolting jarring that the road was trashed.  Thanks!!

When we filled out the paperwork for the new birth certificate, we were told it might be a while.  Since our bladders had been given the treatment on the ride over, our translator asked for a restroom (she needed to go also).  We were pointed to the hospital a block away.  We trooped over to the hospital and found the restrooms.

It was unbelievable.  The restrooms:  1) had no toilet paper   2) had no toilet seats    3) were some of the filthiest things we had ever seen (gas station restrooms included)  4) had NO sinks for handwashing 5) didn't flush.   To flush the toilets, you had to go scoop a pitcher of water out of a bathtub and pour it into the toilets.  Yes, you heard me right.  The hospital had no facilities for handwashing in the restroom.  Kelly and Violetta saw several nurses use the restroom and leave - but without handwashing because there were no sinks.  The hospital was very dimly lit and was overall a fairly dirty place.  One woman we passed on the staircase had her dog (unleashed) following behind her.  Every clinic, every health center, every hospital, even every veternarian's office I have ever seen in America is far cleaner.   Both Kelly and I thought to ourselves "Is this why 'Marlena' died during heart surgery?"   As far as we know, it wasn't at this hospital - but to see that this level of poor sanitation could exist in one hospital opens the door in our minds that other hospitals could also be thus.  If this is how the normal people are treated - how much worse do is it for people with disabilities?

When we came back, we asked how long it would take to get the birth certificate.  This was around 11am.  We were told that it might be 3:00p, or it might be later than that (5:00p+).  Our translator finally asked if we bribed them if we could get it faster.  They agreed (and worked through lunch) and we got the document around 1:30p.

It leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.  In America this whole procedure takes 30 minutes, with most of that spent waiting in line.  The thought that something like this could conceivable take all day is unbelievable.  The thought that we have to bribe a government official to get it done - this is a foreign concept.  This should not have to happen.

The poor sanitation in the hospital - the bribing needed to process paperwork - these are examples of blessings we in America have taken for granted.  We never knew to be thankful for these things because we never knew anything different.
On our death-defying trip back to the city, we saw something hunched over in the road.  We couldn't recognize it.  When we got closer - we couldn't believe it.

An old babushka woman was standing in the middle of the road with a hammer and a long chisel.  She was chipping a hole in the middle of the road.

To reiterate:  on a road that already looked like the Air Force used it for target practice, an elderly woman is standing in the road with a chisel and a hammer making ..... ANOTHER HOLE.

What the <Expletive of Choice!>   Apparently she was very upset that this particular 2m of road (out of 100 km) did not have a pothole in it, so she was making one.  Words fail me.  We wish we had been able to get a picture.  Sasha yelled at her through the window "QUIT BREAKING THE ROAD!!!"  The absurdity of it had us laughing for a while.  Bad Babushka!!


We took the bus from our new flat to the orphanage.  We were able to spend about two hours with the girls.

The girls interact with us so much more than they did at our first meeting.  We heard Juliana laugh today for the first time.  Her ability to hold her head up (that she was making great strides at) when we left her has atrophied considerably.  This means that she has not been getting practice sitting up and holding her head upright.  We will have to work on this more.

We hope to get Elena's new birth certificate tomorrow.  Once we have that, it will speed up things in this town.  We may get to take the girls from the orphanage tomorrow, or perhaps Friday.  Hopefully our time is drawing to an end.


The Air We Breathe

We got to see Juliana for a few seconds yesterday - we had to run by the orphanage to get paperwork.  She lit up like a Christmas tree when she saw Kelly. Kelly got to hold her for a few seconds.  I only got to see her through the glass (she was already back in her crib at that point).  We will be doing paperwork the next couple days, we will keep our constituents updated by blog as much as possible.  Right now there is a good chance that we will get the children Friday or Saturday.


The people over here do not have "Do not litter" as part of their social understanding.  Yes, there are trash cans in the downtown area.  Yes, people use them.  However - people think nothing of just throwing trash out of their cars.  They think nothing about just dropping litter on the ground.  Even in the nicer parts of this city there is an impressive amount of garbage on the ground.  While traveling by train, there are large piles of garbage occasionally and almost a continual string of small litter (cans, cigarette butts, paper, etc).  The trains actually have a sign on some of the windows that is a bottle going out the window.  There is no slash mark on the picture - you are actually encouraged to throw the bottles out the window because it saves space in the (singular) waste can on the train carriage.  The toilets on the train also dump human waste straight onto the track.  The air pollution is impressive also.  Factories pour heavy smoke into the air.  There are no emissions controls on the automobiles either.  The air quality is lousy and our nasal mucous is very dark.

All the restaurants allow smoking.  In the restaurants there are "no smoking sections".  These are often populated by smokers.  In any case, a smoking section in a restaurant is like having a peeing section in a pool.  Every time we go to a restaurant we spend the next day congested due to the large amounts of smoke.

While we sometimes fuss about government regulations and controls - living in a county that doesn't have some of these environmental controls has been eye-opening.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

Back to our children

We will be traveling back to NameOfCountry today.  As such, there may not be updates for a couple days.  We will leave Slovakia and be in the air this morning.  We should land in CapitalCity this afternoon and then there will be another 16 hour train ride back to the city where our girls live (by the time this is over, we will have spent three days on a train).  We may or may not get to see them Tuesday when we arrive (we hope we do!) because we will be hitting the ground running doing paperwork.  At this point we don't know when we will have Internet next, so it may be Wednesday before we can post the next status update.

Last night we worked with a sweet little girl who had spina bifida.  Although she was only four, she could talk very well and was incredibly smart.  She could use a computer well (she reads, knows her letters, and can type letters deliberately on the keyboard) and had great fine-motor skills (in one hand only).  She had great fun using the talking powerpoint stories the Slovakian teachers made during their training last year (and she picked up the control interface immediately).  We tried her on the talking word processor.  It was so cute - when the computer first said "Hello" her little mouth fell open in astonishment.

I cannot say how much seeing things like this moves me.  The things I designed are actively helping these children in Slovakia.  From the times of their inception to their creation - I have only regarded them as jokes and toys - proofs of concepts, showing what is possible - and to see them actually being used with children touches my heart deeply.

Our time in Slovakia has been wonderful.  Kelly and I are treating it as a last little vacation before children.  The food has been great, the weather has been great, the people have been wonderful.  It has been great to spend time with our friends in Slovakia and they have taken great care of us.  We have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  We have gotten much done in terms of training and development.  We have laid the groundwork in a couple critical areas that will allow for future progress.  We hate to leave.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Slovakia, Days #4, #5, #6

Day #4 - Our first day in Poprad.  We (yes, both Kelly and Ezra) worked long hours revising the Talking Word Processor.  After seeing Terezia use it in a classroom, we could see several improvements that needed to be made.  Among the changes: graphical buttons for everything (having English labels for Slovakian children is non-intuitive), greatly simplified configuration, the addition of Russian as a language option, and the enunciation of which language is in use.
Afterwards we toured Spi┼í Castle with Martina, her father-in-law, and baby Zoika.   While in ruins, the castle is still an impressive structure.  I found it interesting that the doorways and even the suits of armor were so short (I know that we are taller now, but it does destroy some of the illusion - the gallant knight in a suit of armor is still a full head shorter than me).  The approach to the castle was very steep on all sides (it was built on a mountain) and the walls were very high.  This helps support the illusion - someone would have to be very, very buff to charge the castle hill while wearing plate mail, breach the outer wall, and then climb yet another hill to the castle and still have strength to wield a sword instead of passing out.

Look!  A device for stretching the truth!

The tower stairs were very narrow and slick.

After dinner we walked around town a bit with Martina's family.  We went to "Bon Bon's Chocolateria", a store that specialized in drinkable chocolate.  It was delicious!

Day #5 - Poprad -

Since today was a holiday, we went to visit the High Tatras (as opposed to the Low Tatras, which are across the valley).  These mountains were beautiful!  It was my first ride on a ski lift.  It was so tranquil and quiet to ride up the mountain suspended in the air.   We have had stunningly perfect weather the last two days.

After lunch, we said goodbye to Martina and family and boarded the train back to Trnava.  This train was much faster and quieter than the other trains we have ridden.  We especially liked that the doors were all automatic.  Press the button, the doors slide open with a nice whooshing sound.

Oh yes... a video.

Day #6 - We toured the Redstone Castle with Maria and Natalia.  They had a live "Birds of Prey" show. One large hawk flew over the audience a few inches above the crowd.  Kelly freaked and dove for cover (sorry, no video).

The last part of the day was spent in a six-hour training of toy adapting and switch making.  We had a good attendance and many of the people in training picked up the skills very quickly.

Afterwards there was a cookout with lots of yummy food.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Slovakia, Day #2 & #3

Yesterday we toured two different schools.  One was a "special" school, and one was the school at which Terezia teaches.

It was touching for me to see toys that I had adapted and equipment that we had donated being actively used with children with disabilities.  It was very moving to see a classroom full of children using the talking word processor I had developed to increase their bilingual education - they could type a word and see how it sounded (in either English or Slovak), then repeat the word themselves.  We are thousands of miles from home and here are items that I had personally made in years past - in use and helping to change lives.

We worked with one boy with CP.   His seating posture was very bad, and his feet dangled freely.  I made a footstool for him; we will see if that helps his fine-motor control.  This boy had been working on the computer, but his mother had said "No more computer".  This was shocking to us, because the boy is very bright and has good social skills.  Computer skills will help this boy be much more functional as an adult.  I argued that he should continue using the computer.  The boy's mother came in later, and the teachers presented some of my arguments.  The mom changed her mind and said that he could continue learning the computer.

One of the things that we have come to realize on this trip are things that we take for granted in America like the ADA.  Kelly and I have grown up with handicap ramps being common.  We think nothing of seeing a person in a wheelchair.  We have no real grasp of all the battles that had to be fought in the hearts and minds and courts to bring America to where it is today.

For instance, the doorways in several of the schools here have a threshold that is about 1" high.  These are not beveled in any way.  Not only are such designs a significant tripping hazard for people who can walk normally, but they are a huge impediment to wheelchair access.  It means that a wheelchair user must pop a wheelie to enter/exit a room.  In another place, we encountered a sidewalk that went up a slight incline.  A ramp had been added next to a small flight of stairs.  It was a step in the right direction, except that the slope was 45 degrees.  He was unable to  climb such a steep incline by himself and needed someone to push him up the ramp.

We toured the castle of Smolenice.  It is a very magnificent structure.  While I have cautioned people many times against cultural architectural hubris (e.g. "Look what WE built") I still find it amazing to see ruins of castles built 600 years ago by peasants.  Castle Smolenice was built in the 19th century on the site of a ruined castle from the 14th century.

We ended the day by scouring the local big-box store for materials for the toy-adapting and switch-making class I will be teaching on Saturday.

Today we visited a child with spina bifida in Zilina.  We talked with her mother a while, then we went to talk with the mayor for a couple hours.  The elementary school is being renovated and the mayor was interested in making the bottom floor of the building universally accessible and wanted our input regarding building accessibility.

We spent the rest of the afternoon with the same family, brainstorming ways to come up with a better walker for the child.  We will stay in Poprad for the next two days.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Safe in Slovakia

We have landed without problems in Slovakia.   Our friends here are taking very good care of us.

It has been amazing how homesick we have felt after being here.  Trnava looks and feels much the same as Chattanooga does.  It is springtime here and it is awash in flowers.  The trees are green.  The roads do not have huge potholes.  The tap water is drinkable without boiling.  The water is not yellow.  Kelly's hair doesn't have gunk in it after washing in the water.  We haven't seen one person yet drive up on the sidewalk.  Everywhere we look there is color. 

Oh, the color!  Slovakia and Prague (Czech Republic).  There are flowers and trees everywhere!  Even the buildings are pretty!  We have been too long in a land of nothing but grey.

Tomorrow we will be visiting some schools and talking to parents of special needs children.

Tonight at dinner, one of our friends tried to say "children with disabilities" but it came out "children with possibilities" instead.   There is so much truth in this slip of the tongue!  We like her way better.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Goodbye for a moment

We had a nice visit with the girls today.

Since the court has accepted our petitions, we now get to unveil the new names - no more aliases.

"Aurora's" name is Elena Joy   (ell ay na).
"Leigha's" name is Juliana Beth (Julie aaah na)

There is a 10-day waiting period until the decision of the court can be received (and we can move forward with more paperwork so that we can actually take the children home with us).  During that time, we are going to visit our friends in Slovakia and work with some of their special-needs schoolchildren.

This means that we are going to be separated from our girls for 9 days (since we saw them today).  Oh, how it tugs at our hearts!  We hate having to leave them.  We have grown so attached to them these last sixteen days.   They are both cuddlebugs.  They have both grown more social in this short while, especially Juliana.  She is getting much better at holding her head up to look around.  We fed Elena some baby food again today.  She sits very still and eats very neatly when it is just her.  When we had to feed her in her classroom she was all over the place - I think she was worried about her classmates eating her food.

When we picked up Juliana today, they put a cap on her and then wrapped her like a burrito in a blanket on the off chance that she might freeze to death in the 85°F playroom.  Kelly and I have both been sweltering - both indoors, and outdoors (when we wear only light jackets).

We don't know when we will have internet again.  We will post updates as we are able.

Here are a couple pics from yesterday of babies in carriers. The rest are from today.

Ezra, Kelly, Elena (who is actually laughing), Juliana

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mommy and Daddy

What strange feeling words especially when they aren't with us:(

We had court today and the judge ruled in our favor.  We are now the parents of Elena Joy Reynolds and Juliana Beth Reynolds!!!  We love them so much and can't wait to bring them home. 

We will have to wait 10 days (to give birth family a chance to change their minds), then on the 26th we can go to the court to pick up the Adoption Decree.  We will still have a few other things to take care of (birth certificates, social security numbers, passports) before we can take them from the orphanage. 

We are leaving for Slovakia tomorrow.  Though it will be an overnight train tomorrow to the capital, then fly to Slovakia on Sunday.

I will post pictures from our visit today later and tomorrow we will try to get a family shot.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A good way to carry the babies

We tried out our baby slings today.  Corrie gave us these two slings at the Atlanta airport when we left.  They work great!   The children fit nicely into the slings.  "Leigha" in particular loves to be snuggled close and was great in the sling.  We want the girls used to it before we have to actually carry them in it.  With the two slings, one of us can actually carry both babies at once!

We also fed the girls some more baby food.  "Aurora" ate very neatly (in comparison to how we have seen her eat before).  "Leigha" made some nice faces at the little bit of baby food we gave her (see video below).


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


We just got back from the store an hour or so ago and in true AMERICAN fashion...we loaded up the cart.  Now, my friends that coupon would be horrified here as they ain't no deep freezers here.  In America, it tends to be more cost effective and time efficient to shop weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.  Find the "sales" on chicken, buy a months worth (2 months if you are from the depression era), separate into individual freezer baggies and throw it in the deep freezer.  We stock up on canned goods when they are on "sale" or for those trying to be "healthier" buy the frozen veggies and throw them in a deep freezer.  We ALWAYS have an abundance of food in the fridge even when we whine and complain, "I'm hungry, we have nothing to eat."

This my friends is NOT the practice here.  Like I said, loaded the cart down (and we were of the very few that used a cart in the store).  We bought enough groceries for about 7-8 meals and of course another  6 liters (1.5 gallons) of water.  While waiting in line, people were staring at us and our cart.  It made me quite uncomfortable.  Yes, I know we stick out like a sore thumb; Ezra wears every color in the rainbow and not just BLACK, I do NOT wear skinny jeans and boots (heck the word skinny doesn't fit my mouth), we probably look clueless walking around trying to sound out words like a child learning to read, my 'purse' is very colorful and not just black and is a bit larger than theirs, I am the ONLY person here wearing a green coat, we also <gasp> do not wear heavy coats in FRESH spring weather.  Though it is quite funny to see very skinny girls walking around in their skin tight ultra mini skirts and hooker boots while wearing a heavy coat.

But after walking a block from store to home and climbing six flights of stairs, we understand why there are many more grocery stores/square mile (although with much smaller selection, though means less to choose from so doesn't take AS long) and why no one buys that many groceries in one shot.  Plus the refrigerators are dorm size (at least in the apartments we have stayed in.

Now the BEST part of all this means...the food is MUCH fresher.  You want fish, just came off the boat or straight out of the aquarium AT THE GROCERY STORE.  You want bread, just came out of the oven.  You want vegetables, just picked with dirt still on them. You want chicken, just went out back and wrung its neck (just kidding).  This means the food does not have as many artificial ingredients and preservatives and will not last as long in your home or in your "system" (which is a good thing; much better digestion).

We in America are MARKETED to DEATH.  "Hey look, cereal is on SALE; it is NOW only $3 instead of 3.15.  We MUST buy 15 boxes NOW, so we don't pay more later"  Here, for the most part, the price is the same today, tomorrow, and next week (except in the open air market where prices are negotiable).   AND you don't need some upteen million "customer loyalty" cards (which are really just another way to deceptively track customer sales in that area so that they can spend more dollars to market those items to those people driving the cost of said items up in that area) to keep up with for every store to get the SALE.  *Sorry about the rant and sorry to all my English teachers crying in their sleep.

Sorry not completely unrelated but just another thought and for those of you that know me, know that talking to me is sometimes like watching a ping-pong match which is why I normally let Ezra do the writing on this blog.   Today in the Market, Ezra also got a lot of stares because of his BRIGHT tie dyed shirt.  He did not wear his jacket so even when I lost him, I quickly found him because he had the BRIGHTES shirt even amongst the ladies.  I would walk a bit behind him and watch people's heads turn as he passed and then laugh and speak their language.  It was funny, though I did find myself wishing I had brought him a SOLID BLACK shirt so that he could occasionally blend in.

Kelly Jo


We got another court date...Friday at 2:30 (7:30am EST)!!!  Can't wait to announce their new(and semi-new) names.

The footsteps of spring

Spring is coming at last to this land.  Today was the first mostly sunny day we have seen.  We have only seen the sun a few times in this country - it will come out for a few hours then is veiled by clouds again.  We are starting to see light wisps of grass.  There are some crocuses in bloom at the orphanage.  When we first arrived in ThisCountry, we knew in our heads that we had arrived at the ugliest time of the year, but that didn't help our initial impressions of the place.  Grey skies, ugly grey buildings, bare trees, not a blade of grass or unbare tree to be seen, nothing but mud and dirt and smog.  Our first thoughts on landing in the capital were: "this is one <expletive> ugly place".

The longer we stay here the better we understand these people.   It is a poor country in many ways - poor in resources, poor in training, poor in spirit - but they must do the best with what they have.  Our translator said of the people in this region "everybody here works very hard - it is mostly surviving and not much living".  The police officers here, for instance, make $125 per month.  We spoke with a woman today who said "under communism nobody had any things.  Now that it is gone, everyone is preoccupied with getting more stuff/things, no one is concerned with people."  On the one hand, we can point out the harsh conditions that people with disabilities face in these countries.  "How dare they treat them thus", we may think.  However, on the other hand, we must be mindful that America had asylums and institutions for the disabled 100 years ago every bit as bad as things here.

Our opinion of this country is changing as we stay here longer.  We see the bare trees everywhere, and know that they will someday soon begin to leaf and flower.  In many ways we see this as a metaphor for the country as a whole.  The infrastructure is rusting and crumbling.  The buildings (the older buildings especially) are as ugly as only Soviet buildings can be.  There are buildings and architecture that is newer that is very pretty, and new buildings are being built.  Renovation is happening.  The people who live here are hardworking and friendly.  It is not an uncommon sight to see store owners sweeping the sidewalk in front of their stores.  There are small flower gardens planted throughout the city in otherwise wasted space.  These are examples of the heart of the people.  They have been dealt a very bad hand, but they are doing what steps they can to make it prettier and to make the city cleaner and neater.  It will be a long and difficult time before the damage that has been done - to the city, to the land, and to the people - by decades of socialism is erased, but they are on the right track.  Spring is slowly coming to this people after decades of winter.


Today we rode the bus to and from the orphanage.  We managed it with no hassles.  It is crowded - if you have personal space issues you need to take the taxi.  The bus line is so much cheaper than riding the taxi, though.  Now that we know where to get on and off, we will ride it exclusively from here on out.  We had lunch at another cafeteria.  The food (especially the blini) was very good.

After lunch, we went to the big open-air market for this city.

Imagine everything you could ever want to buy.  Toys.  Bikes.  Bread.  Power tools.  Drapes.  Pomegranates.  Yarn.  Fabric.  Nuts.  Knives.  Apricots.  Lawn mower parts.  Plumbing supplies.  Cheese.  Secondhand clothes.  Very fresh fish (still breathing).  Clothing.  Blank DVDs.  Sausages.  Pirated movie DVDs. Toilets.  Office supplies.  Strollers.  Questionable meat-on-a-stick.  Guns.  Cell phones.  Nail polish.  Purses.  Fried food. TVs.  Telephones.  Doors.  Sinks.  Fresh unrefrigerated meat.  Candy.  Purses.  Bottled water.  Lingerie.  Wallets.  Carburetors.  VCR and DVD players.  Shoes.  Pizza.  Religious bling.  Cigarettes.  Magazines.   Kittens.  

For our American readers, imagine all the merchandise of Wal-Mart, Lowes, Bed Bath & Beyond, a supermarket, a decent shopping mall, and a huge craft fair rolled up into one bazaar.  This market is spread out over about two or three city blocks and very densely packed, both with booths and with customers and the occasional stray animal.

The best part is that there is no order and certainly no directory.  Shopping malls in the US have a directory, and stores are grouped by category (e.g. "Electronics", "Womens' clothes", "Jewelry", etc.).  Here, very generally (exceptions abound) the things are grouped by category.  The power tools are near the lawnmower parts which is near the plumbing supplies which is near the person selling kitchen sinks.  Specifically, though, everything is randomized.  There may be a meat-on-a-stick place squeezed in between a cigarette booth and a booth selling children's clothing.  Across the aisle is a guy selling track lighting, a woman selling fur hats, and a booth selling refrigerator magnets / bikinis.  The place is a labyrinth - it is very easy to get turned around and then not be able to find your way out again.  You could spend days in here and not even see it all.  Since it is all individual owners, you can haggle the price if you wanted.

I bought a knife because the knives in the apartment (to cook with) are abysmal - they are falling apart and frightfully dull, to the point of having difficulty with cutting butter even after sharpening.  I have nearly cut myself multiple times while making dinner.  Some have the handles literally falling apart.  I figure the cost of a half-decent knife from the market ($6) will be cheaper than the bandages to put a finger back on from one of the apartment knives.


We had learned that "Aurora" was missing her mid-morning snack because she was with us.  We fed her a purred blend of raspberries, blueberries, and peaches from the baby-food section of the store.  We fed her with a baby spoon, not the ladle-disguised-as-a-spoon that they use in her room.  She figured the food out very quickly.  We tried "Leigha" on a bite of the same stuff (curious if she knew how to eat from a spoon).  She didn't react to the spoon, but did stick her tongue out to taste the food.  She wasn't getting any except on the tip of her tongue, so we put some in her mouth.  Apparently just blueberries and raspberries are much more tart than anything she has ever eaten.  She puckered up her little face tight, but she did like her taste of it (sorry, no pictures this time).  We took the girls outside today.  "Leigha" promptly went to sleep.  We put "Aurora" in a walker so she could scoot around. 

What?  Oh yes.  Enough rambling.  Pictures of the babies.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Another one rides the bus

This trip has been a series of firsts. It has been my first ride on a jumbo jet. It has been my first actual ride on a train (riding the thirty minute ride at the train museum is not the same). It has included my first time of riding in a taxi. Today, I add to that list my first time of riding a bus. Yes, I have ridden a school bus. Yes, I have ridden a chartered bus. I will even admit to having ridden the free electric shuttle bus in Chattanooga (once, many years ago, as it took us from our parked car to the Chattanooga Aquarium and then back again.). However, this was my first time of being jammed together with 348+ strangers in a 15-passenger (aka "Church Van") bus.

We have been taking a taxi to and from the orphanage. However, we heard from many people that riding the bus is just as good and a lot cheaper. How much cheaper? It costs $0.22, which is less than 10% of a taxi ride, which is normally $2.50. The thing that has finally pushed us to ride the bus is the arrival of the Clark family in our region. They have prior bus-riding experience (i.e. "more than us, which is zero) and they will be using the bus system. We figure - safety in numbers is a good concept, and I certainly feel safer having five people blundering through the bus system (and through downtown NameOfCity) than to only have Kelly and myself.

We caught the bus at the end of the line next to the orphanage. We intended to get off near a cafeteria-style restaurant that we wanted to eat at for lunch. We had seen buses with that route number just outside the cafeteria, and made the assumption that the cafeteria was on the bus line. We stayed on the bus until the other end of the line, only to be nowhere near where we wanted to be. Apparently the bus we saw in the downtown area was out gathering day-lilies for a beau or something, because that line doesn't hit the downtown. We all paid our fares and marched across the street and got on the same line going back the other way (because none of us knew where in the heck we were, and we wouldn't even be able to call for help). We knew the stop (in front of a park with army tanks) that would be close to the cafeteria. We picked a different stop (closer to where they lived, and they knew it was the same street) with the assumption that it would be a relatively short walk to the restaurant.

An hour of walking later, we finally hit city we with which we were familiar. It misted rain a bit and the wind was cold, but the feared downpour didn't happen. We had a very nice lunch with them, went grocery shopping, and then went our separate ways. We shall certainly ride the bus tomorrow.


Many people have heard stories about dolphins rescuing people who fall overboard at sea. The dolphins helpfully push the people towards land and have been credited with saving many lives.

The unfortunate truth is that no one hears the stories about the people that the dolphins ignore or the stories about the people that the dolphins push farther into the ocean. "Dead men tell no tales" as pirates might say.

Here is one story of a boy, John Lahutsky, who was saved from the institution in Russia:

Boy From Baby House 10

We hope to spare our girls from a similar existence. We hope that this journey, our efforts, and the efforts of our family and friends will mean that these girls never have to experience such things. We hope that their story will be sweeter.

Many children are being adopted and will not have to endure the hell of the institutions. They will have lives and families. They will have birthdays. They will open presents at Christmas. They will attend school. They may go on vacations to the beach. They will matter, they will be be important. They will hear someone say "I love you" and feel a tender kiss. These children will have stories to tell.

Most children with disabilities go from the orphanage to the institution. The system is relentless, grinding children into nothing, turning hopes and dreams and futures into dust and ashes and despair.

Who will ever listen to the stories of these children? Their stories will not be heard because no one rescues them - they are pulled further and further out to sea and are lost.

Here is one boy, "Mason" (same orphanage as our girls) who is perilously close to aging out. He needs a family. He needs someone to listen to his story. He needs a family to make him their own.

Or what about this little girl: "Vika". She is in the same region as "Marlena" and "John Mark" - the first children we tried to adopt. She has a family that is wanting to adopt her and they have been a huge help to us in our adoption process. They are very close to traveling and they still need help with their financial goals. Please help them out so that "Vika" will have a loving family sooner!


We were in a much smaller room today with the girls. It is one of the "doctor's" (in the US it would probably be "therapist") offices that had a bunch of toys. It is actually where we first played with the girls twelve days ago. The main playroom was being cleaned.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The best laid plans of mice and men....

... often go astray.

We were supposed to have court today. 

While we were at the orphanage visiting the girls, our translator told us that the judge for our case had suffered a death in her family.  The earliest we might have court is this Friday or next Monday.  A new official date has not yet been set.  We may not know our next court date until Friday.

This sets us back in several ways.  We had been hoping to attend/speak at  a special education conference in Slovakia this Saturday.  Even if we had court this Friday and immediately left for Slovakia, we would arrive too late.   Since next week is Easter week, the school systems in Slovakia all shut down and so at this point it looks like our Slovakia plans are derailed.

It is now possible that one of us (probably Ezra) will fly home early.  Since our Slovakia trip was a business trip, our employer was paying for that.  With this canceled (and an additional delay due to the death) our timetables are pushed further behind and we would be pushing the envelope of our FMLA sick leave. 

There are several options on the table and we are not sure what are plans for the immediate future hold.  Being in limbo is a horrible feeling because we can't plan or anticipate as well.  On the plus side, we had been debating all last week whether to go ahead and buy our train/plane tickets for Slovakia.  The prices increase dramatically if you buy at the last minute.  Our facilitators, Sasha and Violetta, advised us to wait until after court to get the tickets.  We are glad we have heeded their advice, as we would have purchased $1000 worth of tickets and not been able to use them.

We have been divinely hindered.  We are not worried.


Here's the day's haul of pictures and video.  We got "Aurora" walking with a walker.  Leigha started off in a good mood and then got grouchy near the end. 


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Groundhog Day #10

We got to see our babies again today.  It was a shorter visit - we had trouble getting a cab to take us there.  On the way home, the taxi driver was lost and kept stopping to check his map.


We are heading out in a few minutes to have dinner with the Clark family who are adopting "Robert" from the same orphanage.

On to the part that everyone wants to see:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mus Micropoda

We had a good visit with the girls today.  "Leigha" seems to like Ezra more.  Kelly picked her up out of her crib today and she was staring straight through the glass at Ezra.  She is considerably quieter when he has her.  "Aurora" is equally fine with both of us, but since Ezra is often taken by Leigha she gets a lot more "Kelly time".


Last year Kelly and I went to the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburgh, TN.  For all y'all in the Tennessee area, this is a great country fair with lots o' tasty vittles.  (This year it is April 30th and May 1th).   If you're interested, here is the website:

Relevant to our current adoption trip?  Yes.  It has rained now for two days straight.  When we went to the cornbread festival last year, it was threatening to rain and so we stopped at a store and bought two ponchos to keep the rain off of us.  When packing for our adoption trip, we brought the ponchos because they work well and pack very light.  Today when we got back from playing with the girls we went to lunch.  We wore our ponchos to keep from getting wet.  Unintentionally (on our part) the colors of ponchos that we grabbed off the shelf last year, long before we ever even thought about adoption, turn out to be the national colors of this country.  We still stuck out like sore thumbs (our ponchos are very bright), but we did see three other people (all of them old women) wearing poncho-like rain coverings.

We ate lunch at Chelsea cafe.  It was very good food also.  Kelly's entree was "the best we have had the entire trip".  Ezra's was not as good as what he had yesterday at Fresh Cafe.  A very good meal regardless.

The menu had English translations of each dish below the main heading.  It was very choppy English, but it was understandable.  In the "Garnish" (side dish) section was one exception: "Complex Side Dish" was all the description that was given.  Of course, Ezra ordered it just to satisfy his curiosity.  It turned out to be three different vegetables, each served inside a slice of bell pepper.  It was a very pretty presentation.

When we were leaving the orphanage, we saw a mus micropoda in the hallway.  Kelly screamed and jumped and squeezed Ezra's arm to mush.   Oh the horror!!!

Its version:  As I was going about my business I was nearly trampled to death by two towering giants!  I barely escaped!!!  Oh the horror!!!


"Aurora" liked her combination teether/rattle we bought her.

Ezra holding "Leigha's" foot.  So tiny!

"Aurora" stealing Ezra's pen


Beef Stroganoff (tasted like BBQ made with strip steak)  with "Complex Side Dish"

Chicken with apple and pomegranate and pineapple, potatoes with mushroom and cheese