Bad Bloggers!!

For those of you who follow our blog you already know we are not very good at keeping up to date. Several of the reasons include laziness, having 5 children, jobs, home improvement projects and a general lack of belief that anyone is really that interested in our lives. With that being said we also use this as a communications tool for the families of a couple of our kids who live in Russia and Serbia. To you we apologize for the lack of updates. I recently discovered many of our pictures went missing as well and we will work on updating those, we switched from using Dropbox to Google Photos and somehow it deleted a bunch from the blog, but luckily not from our files.

We've been back from Serbia over 6 months now and a lot has changed and happened. We are over the moon with our Sara and look back very fondly at our time in Serbia, it is a country I hope to visit many more times in the future. Sara has gone to pre-school this year and grown taller and gained a bit of weight. She is very well integrated into our family with only a few areas of concern, primarily her desire to scratch people really hard or hit them. The hitting has slowed way down and we are working on the scratching, she seems to get a little over stimulated with certain situations and seems to do it because she thinks it is funny. Lots of progress but much more to come!

My big girls Caelia and Lera are wrapping up their time at Fraser Academy and will be moving onto middle school. We of course are extremely nervous about the transition since they did so well at Fraser and had some wonderful teachers and paras over the years. We have been very lucky and although excited about the next step, very leary about finding the right school and situation.

Masha has changed so much this year. She is finishing up 1st grade and matured a ton, not to mention grown much taller. I think with the exception of Sara all of our girls are incredibly tall by Down syndrome standards. Masha has also seemed to find her place in our house, she adores Sara and plays a lot with Lera and bit with Caelia. This is a great thing for her because at first she was not well liked by her big sisters, but they have all bonded really well.

Michael graduated from High school and is ready to go into a transition school where we will work on his basic college classes and also some life and career skills. Its so hard to believe he will be 18 soon, it seems like yesterday he was our only little baby, then a big brother to Caelia and now he has 4 little sisters. They love Michael so much and we know he loves them. We are lucky parents to have such a fine young man as a son.

Hopefully more posts and pictures to come....

Serbia Trip - Recap part one!

OK, so we did a horrible job keeping up the blog while on our trip, between illness, bad internet and the desire to spend a lot of time enjoying our new daughter we just didn't get around to it much. We did take a bunch of photos of Sara and Serbia and I hope to post some more while I cover some of the high points of the trip. So jumping from the last post to this post the cat is out of the bag, our new daughters name is Saramina Ivana Green or just Sara for short. You will figure out the meaning behind the name soon.

We had our meeting to get the process going on Monday the 4th of November and then made arrangements to travel to meet her the next day. Zoran drove us to Topola the town her foster family lives in. He got us settled into our first hotel and then we made the drive out to the home she lived in. It was a very cute farm area and and Sara lived in an adorable house with chickens, cats, dogs and I believe a cow out back in the barn area. This is one of those post card areas where you can see the hills for miles around and it has these cute little houses all over the place. An incredibly nice community for our little carrot to grow up in.

Ivana was Sara's foster mother and did a fantastic job in the year and a half that they had Sara. She obviously was very well taken care of and loved, not only by Ivana, but her husband Sasha, Ivana's mother and many others throughout the village who would visit her from time to time. We could not have asked for a better family to have taken care of Sara. Ivana explained that when she came from the institute she could not walk or talk and was very weak with extremely low muscle tone. She tended to sleep in a frog like position and wasn't strong enough to even manage to get a cell phone to her head. The little girl we met was bright and very active, a far cry from the institutionalized girl we were envisioning. Ivana was able to get Sara's strength up, managed to get her to sleep in a less damaging position and walking and talking. In-fact Sara is a bit of a chatter bug when you get her going and she has the most adorable little voice.

We spent three days visiting Sara at her foster home, over those days we spent time playing with her in an effort to get her comfortable with us. She immediately took to Sheila but wasn't very excited to play with daddy much, my streak of having 3 daddy's girls looked like it was coming to an end. We also got to spend a fair amount of time talking with Ivana and getting fed by her, she is an incredible cook and although we were very active on this trip, I felt like I was gaining weight. We had never experienced getting a child from a foster family and didn't know what to expect, it was actually a little sad knowing how much they cared for her, we felt a little guilty that we were taking her from them. We are going to make sure they get to see her growing up via Facebook, our blog, and Skype and I hope in a few years time we can return to visit them in Serbia.

 We had to make a change in accommodations after the first night of being in really dingy rundown hotel that wreaked of smoke and mildew. The staff was very friendly and helpful, but it was a hotel that time forgot. I cannot tell you how glad we were to find the the hotel Trio, it was more centrally located in town and was much more appropriate for a small child. We brought her to stay with us on Friday 11/8 and were a little nervous, Ivana had said she was not sleeping well and seemed to have some anxiety over everything. Luckily for Sara, Sheila and I are kind of goofballs, this is our 5th child and 3rd adoption. Every kid is different, but we felt like we knew how to get her out of her shell and make her feel at ease. We spent part of our first night with her walking around town and I discovered that between recovering from a bad cold and the hilliness of the town we really needed a stroller. It just happened there was a kids store right in the middle of town so we made the wise purchase of a nice stroller that we will leave at Mary's place for other families to use.

Cruising around town in her new stroller seemed to make Sara pretty happy, she watched everything that was going on. Although the town seemed big when we first got there after a few days we realized how small it was, it didn't take us long to go from one end to the other, but did get a good workout from all the hills. Feeding Sara was our biggest challenge so far, she can't chew at all which is very common for Serbian children who spent time in a institution. They seem to feed the children using a large nippled bottle like you would feed a farm animal with, both for their convenience and because they don't seem to think the children can learn to chew. Ivana wasn't able to make much progress on the feeding issue and we will have to continue to work on that. So even though she is five, we essentially have to feed her like a baby using mashed up foods and cereals.

After getting Sara to eat on her first night with us, it was onto bathing. The hotel did not have a bathtub or a large sink, so it was a shower for her. She looked a little curious about what was going on until we got her skinny little body in the shower, this girl is a little peanut and smaller than either of our adopted children were, the first thing you notice is the big scar on her chest from her heart surgery, she does take medications for the condition and all records indicate the surgery did what it was supposed to do, but we cannot wait to get her checked out stateside. In the shower she immediately began to sob, so we made haste and got everything done as quick as we could, she was shivering afterward so I turned on the hair dryer which also made her nervous and cry a bit. Into warm pajamas she went and then time for snuggling which calmed her down really fast. The little girl had a long week and now a long day with these strangers. We made a spot on the couch/bed for her and I laid down next to her and put my hand on her tummy. She didn't make any effort to move it and seemed to be comforted by it a bit. Two minutes later she was snoring softly and proceeded to sleep almost twelve hours.

We had to stay in Topola until the following Tuesday so the social center could keep an eye on us and we would be near Ivana should something happen. Luckily Sara really seemed to take to us and we got to walk around town everyday and establish a little bit of a routine. During the hours of playing, walking and relaxing we also started feeding some stray dogs around town. I bought a big bag of dog food and carried it with us, more than being hungry these dogs would crave attention. Sometimes I would leave a pile of food for them and they would leave it and follow us around. I'm sure the locals would laugh seeing these Americans pushing a stroller up a big hill followed by a pack of dogs. If I could I would have brought some of these doggy's home with us. Next stop back to Belgrade!

Serbia Trip - Waiting in Belgrade -Days 2 and 3

Randy's cold seemed much worse with a nasty sore throat by Sunday morning.  Since our girls had been diagnosed with strep before we left, he started on antibiotics right away.  Our doctor was very kind to send us medications for common travel issues.  We are covered for strep, yeast and bacterial infections.  We have always taken cipro and amoxicillan with us when we travel overseas. There is nothing quite like trying to explain stomach flu to a non-english speaking pharmacist with gestures.

Sunday was our day to reset so that we could be alert for our Monday appointment with the Ministry.  This appointment involves lots of people all of which are responsible for seeing that the prospective parents are fully informed about the child they have come to adopt. There were so many people!  This government has representatives, the US Embassy had representatives, the center for social work in the child's region had social workers and her legal guardian and her foster mother was there.  All of these people who are there solely looking out for the best interest of the child.  It was very heartwarming after the corruption of other countries.  Actually, the only one who was paid by us to be there was the court translator (roughly $150 for those who are considering adopting from Serbia.  She is required twice - once for the 1st appointment and for the adoption ceremony) Our girl was very fortunate in that she had a foster mom who brought her into her family and helped her enormously.  She was pretty fragile when she was brought from the institution but had progressed really well in the year since she came to a loving home. We are still not allowed to call her by name, so we will call her little carrot.  This was the first word that made her smile for the foster mom.  We were very lucky to have her foster mom at this meeting because she obviously cared a great deal for our girl and knew her so well that she could answer all of our questions about what she was like

We heard about her biological family and the circumstances of her birth.  Her medical history including surgery to repair her heart and medications that she takes.  We got to ask lots of questions and our contact from the ministry asked if we felt the information given we were given before coming to Serbia was accurately given.  Yes, it was very accurate but we also asked specific questions before we agreed to accept her referral .  We understand what adopting an orphan can really entail and have a clear picture what will work with our children who are already home.

I probably should explain that Serbia has independent adoptions.  There is no fee paid to the Serbian government to adopt a child.  The costs that incurred are homestudy costs, apostilles, document fees in the USA, travel, passport for the child ($52), Visa for the child ($275), medical for child ($100). We are fortunate to have discovered COCI, who was a great help with logistics. They found us lodging (25 euro per day in Belgrade)  made sure our dossier was translated (10 euros a page (1600 words per page max)by the court translator and provided transportation in country.  COCI does not have anything to do with choosing a child, contacting the Serbian ministry or making a decision on this child.  We contacted the ministry after our dossier was complete with specific requirements that we had in mind for a child.  And we asked questions directly regarding this child.  You do not receive a photo until you have made the decision that this is a good fit for your family.  You still have the option of rejecting the child if you don't approve of the photo BUT keep in mind that photos frequently do not capture who that child is really.  Actually, you are asked at each step of the process if you still want this child for your own.

There were things that made us nervous about what shape she was in but we are practical by nature and having completed 2 adoptions previously, we know that our definitions are sometimes very different from other countries.  So finally, we were asked if after all of this information, did we still want this child?  Yes!

A tentative schedule was made: 1st visit- TOMORROW (Yay!), 1st report on the 6th, 2nd report on the 12th and adoption ceremony on the 15th.  The adoption ceremony is where she is officially ours.  It is also the one date the no one has real control over.  It requires a signature from the minister and sometimes he is gone for a few days.

So tonight we get to pack up most of our things and tomorrow we travel to her current home in Topola.  We are excited and nervous about meeting our new daughter.