Thursday, August 26, 2010

We Miss You So Much, Sadie - Nov. 24, 2006 - Aug. 25, 2010

Our beloved Sadie sadly passed away yesterday afternoon at 3:00pm. Those of you who know us and know Sadie know that she was (is) a member of the familiy, and a wonderful companion to our dog Kona. We are all heartbroken today as we face the first day without her, and try to comfort our truly mourning Kona, who is depressed and very lethargic. We wanted to memorialize her here with photos and memories.

Sadie joined our family the night before our wedding, February 2, 2007. Kayla and Nate had always wanted a dog, and Matt told them that when they got a new mommy, then they could get a dog. So we gave them a surprise wedding gift, and Sadie was an instant joy to each of us.

After she passed away we held a family memorial where the kids wrote her letters that we buried with her, and we all cried and had a prayer.

This is one of our favorite memories. Sadie had a stuffed animal that she attached herself to when she was a puppy, freshly removed from her mom. Sometimes we knicknamed the stuffed dog her "boyfriend," and sometimes her "mom" (twisted, we know), but either way she was very protective and possesive of "it" and daily fell asleep next to it or on it. In this photo above, we had thrown it in the washing machine (as it had been dragged through the dirt and was covered in her slobber), and she would not leave the washing machine the entire time it was running. It was so cute.

Sadie always sat on the top of the couch looking out the window. When she went to grandpa Bob's house, she did the same thing - she just loved her window view.

This is Nate's favorite picture of he and Sadie - look how young Nate looks.

We can't believe she is gone. Just yesterday I was walking her in the morning before work, and she slept in our room with us Tuesday night, all curled up in her little "donut" shape on the chair. Kayla was just saying that she can't believe it was yesterday that Matt brought Sadie in the car with him to pick her up from school. We don't know how long it will take for us to not cry at every thought of her.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Trip 2 - Day 4

Still trying to dig out of the pile of photos I'm readying to upload, and battling the challenge of using up $ on the wireless connection - but stay tuned as I have edited a bunch of photos and will get them posted, even if it's from our layover in Washington DC on Sunday (wish we had time to hang out with all the girls while at Dulles)!

So day 4 (Thursday) started rather early with Oleg picking us up for the medical appt, which once complete, would allow us to get the Visas finished. Our follow up appt with the Embassy was supposed to be Friday at 10 a.m., but we were able to get it pushed to Thursday afternoon and in the event all went well with medical, we'd be able to completely finished. So medical did go without a hitch - whew! We then went to a downstairs mall in the downtown center of Kyiv and ate at a food court. So guess what the kids ate? Big Mac's and fries - while I, on the other hand, have been getting really good at finding the Ukrainian food I like (including the buckwheat, which is cooked much like brown rice) and had a great lunch with a variety of things - all very healthy, unlike my crazy kid counterparts!

We went to the MTC store where we initially purchased the wireless modem (1st trip) and had them look at why it has been behaving so glitchily (nice word, eh?) and they identified it was the USB cable - bought a new one for $10 and life has been smooth since. I wish you guys could see the number of gyrations sweet Cherstyn went through on the first trip, monkeying with the device, finding the precise position - typically hanging it from some inane structure like the ironing board, to get the darned thing to work... all resolved now!

Ashley, Shaun and I took a cab back to the apt and got ready for our final appt of the entire process - the US Embassy for the Visa! Once there, it went seamlessly and within about 40 minutes we had everything we need to bring them home! It'd be kinda cool to map out a flow chart of all of the various forms to be signed, documents to be notarized/apostilled, sweaty govt offices to sit in, oaths to be sworn, lines to wait in, photos, medical tests... such a relief to finally be finished!

Although we're now clear to come home as soon as we can get a flight, our timing requires us to wait here until Sunday a.m. when we fly home and go straight to San Diego where we'll meet up with Cher and the kids who are driving down there to meet us for a work convention Cher has. So these kids will get to go to Disneyland within their first few days of being in the U.S. and they are STOKED! (Personally, I rather dislike the place, particularly in the middle of summer when there are lines and a billion people, but I guess I can take one for the team and it will be fun to watch the 4 kids tearing up the place - but Cher is clear that this is going to be my last time for quite awhile - I need to go to Alaska or a surf/dive trip at least a few more times before I have to be submitted to the torture that is Didneyland!).

So Dale and I celebrated our successful day by taking the kids to see a movie at the cinema - initally we hoped to see Karate Kid, but showtime was too late, so they insisted we see StepUp 3D (again, how many points am I scoring here Cher??!) The kids loved it and it was their first 3D movie. This was the first big public setting that we've been able to observe the kids in and Dale and I both commented on how out of control they are! They really have zero sense of social graces and courteousness and I liken them to Tazmanian Devils, tearing through the place, doing whatever they want and oblivious to those around them. Kept having to ssshhhh them in the theater as they were so loud and crazy - please don't think I'm being negative here, just observant of the phonomena of what it must be like to go parentless for so many years. Dale and I are both of the mindset that this is their last chance on their turf and we're going to give them quite a bit of rein. I also like being able to just see them now for how they act and who they are, knowing full well that once home, we'll reel in the reins and establish structure and learning unlike they've never known. They LOVE popcorn and Dale warned me that popcorn is more important to them than the movie - and he was right. I pounded an entire can of Pringles (no time for dinner in order to make movie) and looked forward to some dinner afterwards.

While at the theater/mall, we took Ashley to get a new bathing suit and I'm grateful Cher has already established benchmarks for modesty with her - she walked into one store with 99.5% bikinis and started looking at some to which I gave her the knowing look and she smiled and said "let's go" and we went to the store at which Lena had purchased a nice, modest one piece suit earlier that day. Relief!

After movie we walked to a Ukrainian restaurant and the kids were going richter! Bouncing all over the place, dancing, singing, amped on sugar... and the riotness continued in the restaurant. Good meal and then Ashley, Shaun and I peeled away from Gledhills as our walk back to our apt was further. On the walk home, Shaun was in especially rare form, signing and skipping, listing off the names of each car brand we passed: "Lada, Skoda, Toyota, Volvo... Maserati!" The kid was cracking me up! We called Kayla and Nate and he was more vocal than ever, clearly high on life and willing to try his English more than ever - such a fun kid!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Trip 2 - Day 3

OK, so I must admit that in addition to missing my sweetheart for the many reasons I do - I'm now even more appreciative of how darned efficient she was on Trip 1 in updating this bloody blog and managing photos so well! I get impatient with the clunky upload speed and will likely scale down the size of a number of photos that need to be added for both this trip and the remaining posts we've yet to publish as I had left the camera in Oleg's car... miss you Cher!

So today, Wednesday, ended up being one of the longest, most difficult, and as is so often the case, most fruitful of days in Ukraine. Up at 4:45 a.m. to meet Oleg and Gledhills for the roadtrip to Kyiv, I readied Ashley and Shaun for their morning alone at the apt until Masha was to arrive at 10:30 to take Ash for a mani/pedi. (I came to later find out they woke up at 7 and took the bus to visit their step sis Ira - wanting to wake her up - clearly they adore Ira and I'm glad to see how important she is to them and vice versa and we'll encourage them to remain in contact.) So we loaded up the car for Kyiv with all of Gledhills stuff and hit the road - again Oleg pushing his poor Suzuki SUV as hard as it would go passing like a madman and making it to Kyiv in sufficient time for our 10 a.m. appt at the Embassy. We were met by our facilitator Natasha at the Embassy and so good to see her, having not seen her since Cher and I first arrived in Kyiv on last trip. She and Oleg coached us regarding the paperwork and then sent us into the Embassy (they don't accompany) and we went through more forms, more signatures, etc - very helpful staff and comforting to see a large map of the US in one of the offices as we entered.

Once we completed the Embassy appt, we got the fanTastic (think Nacho Libre Nate) news that Shaun/Ashley's passports were complete in Sumy and Oleg and I had to race back to get them before the office closed at 5. This was an incredible turnaround and something we didn't anticipate, so we called an audible and decided to race home, get the passports, get the kids and head back to Kyiv so we could make our medical and remaining Embassy appointments before Friday morning. The original plan would've had Oleg and I taking a leisurely drive home for another night in Sumy and then drive back to Kyiv on Thursday. We both agreed that this blessing needed to be capitalized upon (essentially ensured that we'd be able to have everything done prior to the weekend, as opposed to the very real possiblity that it could extend into next Monday/Tues...) so we hugged Gledhills and hit the road, making a quick pitstop at Oleg's house. While home, my amazing Cher arranged to get a large quantity of gluten free food for Oleg's 6 year old son Leon who has autism. We dropped off the food and I was able to meet both Daniel (8) and Leon and we wolfed down a quick bowl of borsch (I truly love this stuff) and were off, racing the 2 lanes to Sumy that have become so familiar. I continually joke Oleg about letting me drive as I genuinely feel bad for all the hours he's logging, and I really would like to help, and he always jokes back, "Oh, Matt... it's OK" For those that know my infamous driving record, I've posted tickets in nearly all of the western states and have even thrown in some New England hot spots like Vermont and New Hampshire just for fun - so why not add Ukraine to the list! Well sure enough, on the way back from Sumy, Oleg got pulled over again (he got a ticket on our first day with him when Cher was here). Bless his heart - I asked him if the officer had any idea of the kind of benevolent work he's involved in, and in true Olegian fashion, he downplayed it and told me not to worry.

So we got back to Sumy just in time to get the passports taken care of, finalized some things at the bank (model of efficiency...not!), I took a quick shower, packed, got kids situated, had final meal at upstairs pizza joint across from apt, bid adieu to Lena (stepmom) and Ira, and Masha and just like that were back on the same road, approximately 14 hours later, back to Kyiv. All told, the distance we drove was about like driving from Salt Lake to Los Angeles, but the vast majority on curvy, bumpy two-lane hwys with all manner of crazy distractions and complications lurking around each curve, whether it be slow trucks/vehicles to pass, herds of cows, ducks, gees, chickens, the sauntering bike riders... this was work. The above mentioned ticket slowed our progress by about 25 minutes and I believe we rolled into Kyiv at about 12:15 a.m. Bravo Oleg on a legitimate 19 hour day. Oleg dropped us off at the same apt Cher and I stayed in on our first trip and it felt good to be in a place I've got down. We got moved in and Ashley decided to take the bedroom (no A/C) while Shaun and I crashed in the living room on the rollout - not surprisingly he loves A/C. Also cute to see his eagerness to take another bathtub (he calls it a jaquzzi, though no jets) - this was 2 nights in a row and evidence that they're such ragamuffins at the orphanage for the most part because their showers are so hammered (and they have no tubs). Oleg is to pick us up tomorrow at 8:30 for the kids' medical appointment, next step in finalizing their Visas. Will upload photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Trip 2 - Days 1 & 2

Been running non-stop since Oleg picked me up at the airport in Kyiv yesterday (Monday) a.m. and we immediately drove to Sumy. Good thing Cher and Becky weren't in the car as we made record time and if I ever wondered what a ride on the autobahn must be like, I'm now certain! Arrived to scorching heat of 43 C, which converted is around 109 F, which coupled with Ukraine's humidity made it sweltering! Arrived and went straight to orphanage and got Natasha/Yuri and went to get their new passports in motion - more involved now as the govt has implemented a scanned version like we use in the US, so it takes longer to complete. We had lunch at the pizza/supposed Mexican place (Potato House) and I swear, I need to get behind the counter and show these people how to make salsa! They have all the ingredients to do so yet somehow the menu is void of the stuff. I repeated a mistake I made on the first trip and ordered a "burrito," which had I been smart and remembered how intensely flavored it was with fresh parsely, I would've punted... not that smart. So sure enough, I get the "burrito" and was virtually brought to nausea by the amount of fresh parsely that was squished into this flour tortilla! Slow learner.

That night we had a going away party for the kids with many of their teachers attending - great night. Got to hear Pasha play his flute - amazing talent that kid's got! Natasha's dance teacher was there and emphasized what a great dancer Natasha is and was happy to hear we've got her in dance this fall. Really neat to see how much these teachers genuinely love the kids - Dale, who regularly visits orphanages in Honduras while working down there, took a moment to address all of the teachers and express what a difference he sees in the kids from Sumy, confident, capable... LOVED. It was very heartfelt and I'm sure meant the world to these teachers - most of whom are losing their jobs this fall as the main Sumy orphanage for older kids is being converted to a private school.

I hit the gym this a.m. and was disappointed that Igor was not there, though did enjoy having the entire place to myself - could do those loud pppsssssssttttt noises with each rep which we all wish we could do but out of consideration for the other gym rats, we refrain!

Next came a frustrating 3.5 hour ordeal at the bank - Oleg did his best to navigate through the bureaucracy, but nonetheless, this guy at the bank was set on making a simple transaction virtually impossible!

Natasha/Yuri invited Masha and me to their biological father's apt for a final "dinner" (lunch)with them - we went expecting their Dad and his fiance Lena to be there, but found they weren't planning to attend and were at work, but had prepared us a delicious meal of borsch, salad, salmi and bread, mashed potatoes - and Masha and I brought a cake. Lena's 17 year old daughter Ira was there and helped serve the feast to us. Their apt is on the 7th floor of a building and there is no lift (elavator) so by the time we arrived at the top, I was drenched - and then without A/C in the apt, I just got worse. At one point during lunch (think steaming warm borsch [cabbage soup - I love it, Cher not so much so she's glad she was conveniently not able to attend said fiesta], warm mashed potatoes - I was shocked when the kids offered me a cup of boiling hot tea!), sweat pouring off my forehead and face, Yuri/Shaun grabbed a dish towel and mopped my brow, so observant. Once again, I was leveled in humilty to see that this little family lives in an apt that's less than 1/2 the size of the apt I'm staying in. Soon after our meal, we headed to the lake (with the slide and trampolines) and fortunately, mother nature felt pity for me and delivered a full blown thunderstorm with blasts of lightning and buckets o rain - we walked to the lake from my apt (Natasha/Yura/Ira/Masha), and had to sit out a downpour in a storefront for about 20 minutes. But once at the lake, it cleared and was just right and felt good to get in the water to cool down. Really fun to see how close the kids are with their "step sister" Ira and I learned they've known her for over 5 years. She's a sweetheart and seems excited for them and supportive of their futures in America. You might recall from earlier posts that Natasha/Yuri's Dad is engaged to Lena (Ira's Mom) and they will be married in October.

Finished off the night exposing the kids (both mine and Gledhill's) to sushi, at the restaurant situated in the front of our apt building. Neither Dale or I had been there and were very impressed with the quality of the food - while the service and turnaround time was horrible - took forever to get our food, but once we did, it was great. Barring the slow service, Cher would've loved the food (much more Japanese than just sushi) and would've been a regular. I was impressed with Shaun's willingness to experiment and he tried a piece of my spicy tuna roll... and liked it! He also tried miso soup with lots of tofu and seaweed and liked it - Natasha isn't as daring and backed down from each.

Sorry for the lack of photos - I will download many tomorrow or the next day. I'm cramped for sleep time as Oleg is taking the Gledhills and me to Kyiv tomorrow - Gledhills have completed all needed paperwork here in Sumy and will remain in Kyiv until they're finished - meanwhile Oleg and I will drive back to Sumy tomorrow evening as we're still awaiting passports here in Sumy which we're hoping will be ready Thurs/Friday a.m. Then we too will kiss Sumy goodbye and race to Kyiv. Masha will stay with Ashley and Shaun and take them bowling and to get mani's and pedi's (not Shaun), until I'm home.

Shaun came into my room just now (the only one with A/C) and asked if he can sleep on the couch as it's markedly cooler in here than in the other bedroom - he'll probably freeze as these kids NEVER get to sleep with A/C. As ever, I'm blown away with how tough and resilient they are!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ukraine Round II

Hi All:

This is Matt and I've officially comandeered the blog away from Cher and will do my best to update this final leg of our adventure (hopefully I won't screw it up too much!). Presently, I'm 35K feet above (probably) Nebraska, headed to NYC where I hope to make my connecting flight to Kyiv (loving this in-flight wireless capability on Delta).

The 2 week home break was appreciated and if I were to list each of the luxuries, indulgences, and quite simply the blessings we enjoy living in the U.S. - that list would exhaust both the reader and my laptop's battery. So for brevity's sake I'll list some of the more poignant ones (not necessarily in order of importance except the 1st two): hugs from Kayla and Nate, seeing my Dad's safe return from Baghdad, seeing all our family at the Miller reunion in Cache Valley, Sadie and Kona's unconditional love, Cher with her chickens, [backpacking with Kayla in the Uintahs - waiting out a summer deluge under pine trees - casting for rising brook trout with bushy dry flies], a houseful of family including Tlusteks, Bob-Suz-Ellie, Shaun/MJ, watching Nate throw his first gainer off the low dive, then high dive, then diving platform #1, then #2..., seeing the CRAZY ultrasound images of baby Luke - WOW!, rocking out to RUSH in concert with my Bros!, riding my mountain bike, real Mexican food, central air conditioning, sleeping in our bed, antibiotics (to cure an ear infection), driving a vehicle, witnessing a service project performed by the young men at church for a newly moved-in family, clean water... and to bookend this list, I must state how grateful I am for 2 orphans in Ukraine who have had the courage and heart to persevere and survive, even flourish, in a setting that would surely break the best of us. How grateful I am for a wife who's capacity to love is boundless and who's drive to pitch in and help as many people as she can humbles me and has led us to this amazing opportunity. How grateful I am for 2 children at home who cannot contain their excitement to get their sister and brother to Draper and begin sharing their lives. How grateful I am for the continual evidence of the Lord's hand throughout this process. Grateful indeed.

I'm excited to arrive in Kyiv and learned this morning that I'll be met by my now dear friend/brother Oleg, our attorney. I have missed him over these past 2 weeks and look forward to our beautiful drive to Sumy.