Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Nastya has a Summer host family!

OK, it has been an embarassingly long time since I've blogged. Wish I had a great excuse, but I live a life of multiple priorities and this one has just been taking a back seat lately. So, what has brought me out of hibernation, you ask? Well, first off all, I'm away from home, relaxing, with nothing like laundry or dishes nagging at me to be done.
Enjoying some R&R in beautiful San Clemente
More importantly, I have news to share. For those who did not see it on my FB wall post, I want you all to know that Nastya has a Summer host family! I have had the pleasure of messaging back and forth a bit with her new host mom, Laura, and I can already tell that N is going to have a fabulous time with her family this Summer. You can find the link to the Robey family's blog and their announcement about hosting here.

They are in the process now of fundraising for their last $1,200 to bring Nastya here. I know that many of you fell in love with her as we hosted this past Winter and we very much appreciated everything you did to partner with us to give her a positive experience during her time with us. If you are looking for a way to continue to bless her, please consider donating to help her come back to America this Summer. You can find the link to the donation page here.

Laura appears to be better at this blogging thing than I am so I hope you all will continue to follow the next chapter of Nastya's American experience this Summer. I can't wait to see what new mischief she will get into with this fun-loving bunch!

One of my companions as I blog today
In the meantime please keep Nastya and the Robey family in your prayers. Even though I have been able to share a lot about Nastya with Laura, there are many unknowns for their family as they prepare for her arrival. And Nastya will not even know until well into the month of June that she is being hosted again so please pray that God is preparing her heart appropriately for her next visit. Her well-being is part of our daily prayers here and we are excited to see how God will continue to fulfill His promises to her through her time with the Robeys.

Monday, February 18, 2013

"N" is for Nastya

Trevor's preschool class has a letter of the week. As part of this experience, they create a paper letter each week, with items glued to it that represent that letter. I've been hanging them up in his room and, like everything else, had gotten terribly behind. Today I decided to catch up.
I found myself hanging up the letter "N" and remembered that this was the letter of the week on the day that Nastya left to go back to the Ukraine. She has obviously been on my mind often since she left, and we pray as a family for her everyday. "N" is for "Nastya".
We were asked a couple of weeks ago if we would like to host her again this Summer...well, of course we would!! However, this Summer it will not be feasible for us for a variety of reasons. Instead, we are setting our sights on a Winter 2013 rehost and hoping that everything works out both here and in the Ukraine to make that happen. "N" is for "next time".

In the meantime, Nastya has been added to the most recent New Horizons photolisting and is available for Summer hosting. You can check out her picture and bio or those of many other kids here. "N" is for "no obligation" to take a look!
Maybe you would be interested in sharing your family with her this Summer? Or maybe you know someone who would? "N" is for "never say never"!

The other three kiddos from her school that were hosted along with her this winter are all being rehosted. It makes me incredibly sad to think that she will be the only one not returning. I would love for her to have another American experience, especially if it were with one of you! If you have any questions, please let me know. I'd be happy to talk to you about Nastya or about hosting in general. "N" is for "Nastya needs a family this Summer"...could it be you?

Friday, February 8, 2013

We talked to Nastya!!!

OK, so it's 12:40am right now...way past the time I should be asleep...but I can't sleep, because we got to talk to Nastya tonight!!!
Hello, Nastya? It's Mama and Papi!
Greg and I have been talking about trying to give her a call sometime, but hadn't taken the time to get Skype set up to do it. On Wednesday night I finally sat down to figure out everything we needed to do to attempt to call her school. We found out through another parent who hosted from Nastya's school that the kids don't have internet access or Skyping capability, but Skype still provides one of the more inexpensive ways to make international calls to a landline so this is what we set out to do. 

We had been told that calling between 11pm and 4am was the best window of time (while the kids are in class) so we kept ourselves busy for most of the evening with a careful eye on the clock. Our expectations were low. We had heard that many host families have had trouble getting through so we figured we wouldn't have any success (but you all know me...I just had to try anyway!)

Our first three attempts we got a busy signal, but on the fourth time it rang and was quickly answered. I was shocked. The lady on the other end said "hello" and I asked for Nastya by her full name. I got another "hello". Uh oh. This was going to be tough without speaking any Ukrainian. When I tried again, she said "Oh! Sure, sure, sure!" and we heard a bunch of commotion in the background. Next thing we knew we heard Andrey, the chaperone that had come here with Nastya, on the line. Hello Andrey...yahoo!! He told us to call back in 10 minutes and he'd go get her.

Nastya with Chaperone Andrey
When we called back, Andrey answered and put her on right away. We chatted with her for about 10 minutes. We knew the conversation would be mostly one-sided, but we wanted her to know we cared and missed her and were thinking about her. We asked her if her sisters and friends liked the gifts she brought back to them. To which she replied "Yes!" We also asked if she was taking good care of Grammy's stuffed panda bear that she took back with her and she said "Yes!" We shared a couple of jokes that we had from her visit and we all laughed. 

Grammy's Panda that now lives in Ukraine
We wrapped things up by telling her that it was late at night here and so instead of us telling her to go to sleep, it was her turn to tell Mama and Papi to go to sleep this time...ha! We told her we wanted to pray for her, so we did that, and then we told her Lyublu (I love you in Ukrainian) and she said it back to us. Pretty sweet!

It's strange to think that it has only been three weeks since she boarded the plane back to Ukraine. In some ways it seems like she just left and in others it seems like it was months ago that she was here. In any case, we are still so very thankful that God moved our hearts to take the leap of faith that allowed us to be her parents for four weeks. I went into the process thinking that we would be blessing her life and I believe we were, but our lives have been equally blessed. 

Host sibling love

If any of you are feeling a similar tugging at your hearts, please don't ignore it. I encourage you to head on over to New Horizons website and look at the newly posted photo listing of available kids for the upcoming Summer session at www.newhorizonforchildren.org. There is a short form to fill out to get access, but there is no obligation to host after that.

Just do it. Just go look. If you have been at all inspired by our adventures, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Don't let your laundry list of reasons why you can't host blot out all the reasons that you can. If we could do it, then so could any of you! Trust that God will provide a way for you to host if you are willing to let Him.
It was truly a gift to be Nastya's host family!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Life is getting back to normal, but it's still not the same!

It's been almost two weeks since Nastya left and I've been busy catching up on work that I put off while she was here. This is my busiest time of year as a bookkeeper with year end reporting for 2012 happening so I've really been hustling to get it all done. It's been a nice distraction and throwing myself back into my work has helped quay the tears and the dull ache of separation that has yet to leave my stomach.

I've also been busy getting our house back in order. Christmas decorations are finally down (I didn't have the heart to take them down before Nastya left) and we have rearranged the bedrooms so that Samantha now has her room back. However there are still lots of things around here to remind us of Nastya and I think about her and pray for her several times a day.
She made these flowers out of tissue for me one night      
I'm not sure we will ever take this down!
For those of you who sent her stickers...this is where many of them ended up!

These say "Angel Mommy" and "Angel Daddy"
Our stairwell was turned into an art gallery
This has all our names and then says "my family, I love you" in the bottom right corner
The other side of the stairwell with signs for Dada and Mama
Another work of art

I find myself wondering about her often and adding the nearly half a day to ours to figure out where she is at that very moment. What did she do today? What did she eat for dinner? Did she think about us at all?

We sent a digital photo book back with her and a mp3 player so I'm guessing that she has paused more than once to flip through them and think of us. Oh, and she did take those roller blades back with her (as carry-on in her backpack!) so once the warmer weather comes I'm sure she'll be tearing up the Ukrainian pavement and remembering her fun here!

Showing off her mp3 player to host friend Nataliya at the airport
We have yet to try and call her, but will probably give it a shot this week. So far, the other three families who hosted kids from her school this winter have not had any luck getting through so I'm keeping my expectations low. We knew before she left that Nastya did not have any internet access so phone calls, letters and care packages will be our only communication for now.

Speaking of care packages, she should be receiving our first care package any day now! It was mailed by the New Horizons interview team while they were in the Ukraine talking to kids for the summer hosting program. Odds are good that it won't get lost in the mail and that it will find it's way to her. There are lots of goodies in there: hair barrettes, snickers bar, pistachios, stickers, gum, a small stuffed panda (of course), some compressed washclothes, a flashlight and a few other goodies that are slipping my mind right now. I didn't have the presence of mind to take a photo (I was stealthily packing it in our garage while she was still here because it had to ship to the interview team before she left). Wish I could be there to see her face when she receives it!

I will continue to post updates as I have them on any communication we have with Nastya and any new news on her medical care (which I need to follow up on this week...please continue to send up prayers that we will make some progress in that area!) In the meantime, I am going to start to write some "catch up" blogs to share some more of our escapades from her visit. Keep an eye out in the next day or so for a post on our fun day with Nastya's chaperone Andrey!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tears of sadness; Tears of relief

It is so quiet around our house today. Samantha is off to school. Trevor is watching a show. And Nastya is on a plane back to the Ukraine along with a piece of my heart.
Sad, but still smiling
It's hard to believe that our much anticipated visit with her is already over. Last night was tough. We were finishing up our after dinner ice cream and, for the first time, Nastya asked me "I sleep now?" Very funny kid! For most of her visit we would get a "No sleep!" from her when we said bed time was coming. This actually became kind of a joke for us over the course of her visit. At any rate, I had to sadly tell her "No, you airport" which brought the tears on again for both of us. We had been prepping her for the past week and counting down so this wasn't a surprise; more a dreaded confirmation that the time had come.

She asked me to pull her hair into ponytails for the last time (this was a common occurrence...after the botched job I did on her braids, she never asked for that again!) And we both stood there with tears in our eyes. She looked so little all of a sudden. We got the last of her things together (her bag had been mostly packed for the past couple of days already) and headed downstairs to say goodbye to Trevor and Samantha. It's hard to tell how much of their tears were because they were tired (it was bedtime and Sam had been sick all day Sunday) but I know that they will miss having their "big sister" around and will be sad for a while. 
A little teary-eyed, but at least Panda is safe (thanks Grammy & Papa!)
On the drive to the airport Greg and I were joking with her about the fun things we did while she was here. We talked a little about her reunion with her sisters and friends and how fun that would be. We tried to be upbeat, but it was hard. 

At the airport she was happy to see her chaperone, Andrey, but she also became pretty solemn and quiet. Honestly, we were too. There just weren't any last words that made sense. And it wasn't just us. All of the host families seemed to be focusing on the mechanics of getting their kiddos through ticketing and embracing the distraction so we didn't have to think about what was coming.
The whole LAX crew
When it was time to say goodbye, I knelt down and hugged her tightly, kissed her cheek and told her she was a good girl and we loved her. I couldn't contain my tears and even though she was stronger than I was, she spilled a few too. I think we held it together pretty well all things considered. Andrey was trying to be lighthearted and said "no crying, no crying", but I'm still glad that she knows we were sad to see her leave and I'm also glad, as I had been several times during her visit, that she was able to express her emotions as well.


Greg and I were reflecting during the drive back from LAX last night that we are so thankful that we went into this process knowing that Nastya was not available for adoption and that she was "host only". It really freed us up to have fun with her, fulfill some of her requests for activities and work on getting her medical care. This doesn't mean we didn't love her, weren't intentional about parenting her or that we didn't grow attached, but I think it helped us to let her go knowing that she was only going to be ours for a little while. Some of our fellow host families are putting their future kids on a plane and will not see them for six months to a year at least. I can't imagine.

As far as Nastya's future goes, she asked us if we would have her back to visit. There are no guarantees that she will be available for future hosting periods, but we are hopeful that she will be. If nothing else, we hope we will be able to get her back over here for further medical care. I told her we have loved having her and we hope God will provide an opportunity for us to have her here again. This is the best we could promise and, although vague, I think she realized that this was not a forever goodbye for any of us.
Look at that smile...she knows she isn't rid of us yet!

She has shared with us that she has older siblings, some with their own families, who are gainfully employed (one works in a dairy...another on a farm) and who have never been in the orphan system. She seems to be very close to them (we sent back gifts for all of them) and says she sees them regularly. 

It still breaks my heart that she is growing up without parents, but I am hoping that when her time comes to strike out on her own, they will be there to at least offer guidance and keep her from falling prey to the awful prospects that face most of these kids. You can read my earlier post with the statistics here. While life in the Ukraine will certainly not be easy for Nastya, we hope she is the exception to the rule and we hope we can continue to have a positive influence on her life over the next several years.

As you all know, we have had tons of fun with her here. It was kind of like a four week vacation. But, just like when a great vacation comes to an end, we are exhausted. Our house is a mess. Our routine has been history for a long time. So, although we will miss her terribly, it is also somewhat of a relief to know that things will get back to "normal" again. Our lives will forever be changed by our time with her (and God willing vice-versa), but they will also go on until we can get her back over here again
I love this wild, silly girl, but I have to confess that a few of my tears today have been tears of relief!
I plan to have a future post dedicated to how hosting Nastya has positively impacted our family because there were many surprising ways. One of the biggest ways, and probably the least surprising, is the fact that we have become much more aware of the incredible need for families to reach out in meaningful ways to the orphaned children of the world. 

As I catch my breath in the coming weeks, I look forward to sharing the rest of our experiences with Nastya, but also hope to share some of the stories of fellow host families, stories of fostering, and stories of adoption as I run across them so that we can all become a little bit more aware and ask ourselves "what is it that God is calling me to do?"

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's not that I don't care; it's just that I'm having too much fun!

Hello readers of my sorely neglected blog. I would apologize for being a slacker, but the real reason I haven't been keeping up with my posts is that life has just been way more busy and exciting with Nastya here than I ever could have anticipated. This girl likes to be active and we are having lots of fun! 
Dressin' up for Wii dance game
We have been miniature golfing, have gone to the LA Zoo, and the Aquarium of the Pacific. We have had a dental, vision and ortho appointments. We have visited Chuck E. Cheese and Jump n' Jammin' indoor playground twice. She has had her face painted (a butterfly) for the first time. She has tried frozen yogurt, had Japanese food cooked in front of her, and we've had a girls' beauty day. We have spent lots of quality time together as a family playing wii games, hide and seek, reading, riding bikes, skating and playing board games. We even had a glow stick party dance party one night!
Our creepy bunch (vampire teeth courtesy of Chuck E Cheese)
She has gotten to know and love our extended family and several of our friends as well. I have watched her face change from bewilderment at receiving her first letter in the mail to now having her beg me to go check it (and what cool mail and cards she has received from some of you...thanks!). Tomorrow we are taking her to Disneyland (thanks to a handful of very kind friends who are making it possible) for our last big "hurrah" before she leaves us on Monday.
Me and my Minnie cup
I have so many details of fun things we have done and I look forward to sharing them with you, but I can safely say at this point that it will be AFTER Nastya leaves. I am soaking up every last minute with this wonderful little girl who calls me Mami and who threw her arms around my neck the other day, said "I love you", and planted a messy wet kiss on my cheek.

Love this kid!
I know now, with absolute certainty, that God did not bring her into our family by mistake. He has a plan for her, for our family, and for all of you who have supported us for the past few months. Even though she will go back to the Ukraine in four days, our story will continue.

Before signing off, I want to share the much promised medical update...mostly because I want to request prayers for wisdom for Greg and I.

After meeting with the specialist at LA Orthopedic Hospital this past Wednesday, we've been able to discern that Nastya truly does have a leg length discrepancy. It was obvious when she arrived and even though she compensates for it very well, it is significant. The challenge of the short leg is further exacerbated by the fact that she was born with a  hip deformity that causes the hip joint of the shorter leg to slope upward instead of downward as it should.

Needless to say this is not a quick nor easy fix. It would require two surgeries and constant monitoring here in the States for a year. We are unsure what we will be able to do at this point, but we intend to pursue whatever course is agreeable to Nastya and to both the US and Ukrainian governments. As you can imagine there are a ton of factors at play in this situation and we are still wrapping our minds around all of the pros, cons, time constraints, and red tape involved.

It is hard to not feel discouraged by what seems to be an insurmountable task ahead, but Jesus promised that "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26) so I will stay faithful and look forward to seeing Him work some miracles over this situation in His time.

In the meantime, Nastya will be going back to the Ukraine with a modified, lifted, shoe which should improve her gait (and maybe make it possible for her to run?) so we are excited that we have been able to help in this way. If nothing else, she will at least know what she is dealing with now (the orphanage had diagnosed her with scoliosis and she was wearing a brace at some point in the past). Please pray that she wears the shoe, that it helps, and that at some point in the future God will make the path clear for us to do more. Thanks everyone!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

God has a sense of humor...

...and so do we! If we had any doubt that God guided us to hosting Nastya, the silly pictures in this post should prove it. She's as wild and crazy as we are! 
Photo bomb!

Not even sure what to say about this one...

Many of you have commented on how much she lookes like Samantha. Ironically, she is also very much like Samantha in personality as well. Sam has always hated going to sleep and this kid is no exception. We've made a joke about Nastya saying in a sing-song voice "no sleep". Picture this said with a cute Ukrainian accent, and you'll know what we hear almost every night. 

This kid loves her "booble bat", which is good because she also likes to play with ink pads!

She is pretty particular about what she eats but she can devour a plate of chicken wings and leave very little but the bones behind, she's a huge fan of pizza and anything from the potato group (especially chips..."cheeps"), and she loves chocolate (my kind of gal). She's told us she doesn't like spicy foods so our diet has been pretty bland, but I've been impressed with her willingness to at least try any new things we offer (usually with a little bit of proding however).


You already know that she loves skating and anything that involves being active, but she is also very focused when it comes to playing board games. We have introduced her to Memory, Zingo, the Busytown Game, and a few others. She may actually be the luckiest person I've ever met because she wins nearly all the time (which is good because I'm finding that she's not a great loser!)

Auntie Mer made us matching braids!

Wild hairdo time for Mami (payback for my poor braiding skills?)
She says she has studied English for 5 years so even though we don't get a lot of sentences spoken, I'm fairly confident that she understands us a lot of the time. I am really impressed with her because she often takes the initiative to practice while she is here.

She enjoys playing our kids' MobiGo game system that has alphabet games on it. She has been willing to watch some of the Netflix selections that teach basic English (Leapfrog stuff...geared toward toddlers and such). And she has instigated games like "my name is____" with us where we point at something and say what it is in English. I keep telling her that I'm proud of her and love watching her face light up when I tell her how smart she is for practicing.

She has shared with me that she does go to church (or rather church comes to her) back at the boarding school in the Ukraine. I had not purchased a Bible for her yet...just a storybook version...so I was happy to hear her say that she would like one and have ordered that for her to take back home.

After this past week's church service I asked her what she thought about our church. She said it was very different (we happened to have a more contemporary musical presentation this week to add icing to the cake). She is familiar with an orthodox service so I'm sure it was quite different than what she's used to. So far she has sat through services, but I could tell she was bored.

Next week I plan to take her to Samantha's Sunday school class so she can see what that's all about. They usually have a basic lesson and a craft and I think she will enjoy that a bit more than sitting through a service in a language she doesn't understand.

Just put on a silly face

It's hard to believe it, but we are already past the two week mark of her visit. Time is flying by! We have a few more big outings planned while she is here, but I am also looking forward to the week I have with her after Sam and Trevor are back in school.

I feel like we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg with her and I'm hoping that the kids being in school will slow the pace down and provide the opportunity for me to have some more meaningful interaction and some quality time chatting on Google Translate with her. We shall see!

Just one of the (crazy) family