Here's the latest update from our household. Sorry it's a long one, I really do need to post more often.
June is a special time for dads. We celebrated our 2nd Father's Day together as a new family. I love my kids. I get lots of affection from all three of them.
Mark got his first "real" parttime job this summer, working for an employer. Here he is with his first paycheck. We have told Mark and Valya that now that they are 16 they will be working fulltime next summer.
Sergey loves the New York Yankees first, baseball second. The last two summers he has played on a youth rec league. This year his team, the Yankees, naturally, took first place in the city tournament. This is a picture of last year's and this year's team photos. Next year he will be too old for this league. His only option is a traveling team that plays all summer. It requires tryouts. We don't know yet if that's the right thing for us. It would be a very large commitment and expense if he were to make the team.
Nancy has a sister who has also adopted two children. Here Sergey is with one of his little cousins.
Sergey and mom Nancy.
While the boys would be content playing video games much of the time, Valya likes to spend her time with friends, in person or on Facebook.
We went to the Black Hills this summer to visit my mom. Though she lives in California, she stays at her cabin several times a year.
We also spent some time touring Spearfish Canyon.
I like this picture because Sergey is helping Valya. They haven't always gotten along well but seem to be now.
In July, Mark and I went on a boy scout backpacking trip to the Shoshone National Forest in northwest Wyoming. The scenery was spectacular.
Amelia Earhart had planned to retire to this area, near the mining town of Kerwin. She hired workers to build a home for her here. They had started on it, but then she never came back from her trip and the work was abandoned. In this picture, we are walking past the ruins of the unfinished cabin.
This area has been decimated by pine beetles. Much of the pine forest is nothing but dead trees.
One of our daily camps. You can see yellow electric fence around the tents. This is bear country. A couple of weeks after we got back, a bear attacked some tents not far from here and and killed one. In some of these pictures you can see the bear spray canisters we wore in case we met a bear. Our guide also had a rifle along.
From this vantage point we could see northwest toward Cody, WY. The distant mountains in the upper left are about 60 miles away, and those farthest gray ones in the center are about 100 miles away.
Our guide points out where he likes to go elk hunting.
The end of a memorable time together.
We celebrated Valya's 16th birthday in August. She had a pool party with her friends. We also brought a cake to school so that she could share it with her classmates, and then we had a private family time at home later.
Every Labor Day weekend, there is a huge Christian music festival called Lifelight near hear. It is a 3-day event with about 200,000 people entering the gates during that time.
Here, Valya picks out a girl to sponsor with Food for the Hungry. She looked for someone exactly her age.
Lifelight is a good place to meet up with friends. This is a place you can go to and not see your kids the rest of the day. Thanks goodness for cell phones. It would be impossible to find people otherwise.
Some of the friends we like to meet up with are the Wolff family. Here Valya poses with Anya and Nastya. They lived in the same orphanage as our son Sergey, but they are a little older than him. Nancy and I swapped stories and advice with their parents about our post-adoption family life.
When Valya went to Bible camp this summer, there was a counselor there that gave a concert, named Adam Sieff. He has recorded a rap CD called Incarnation Invasion and was at Lifelight this year with F.O.G. Flame On Gospel.
For almost a year I have been wanting to share this family on our blog. We bumped into our friends Joel and Gloria at Lifelight. They are church friends of ours and adopted domestically. They were working on their homestudy when we were. I would ask Joel, So, did you get your questions finished (like 50 or a 100 for the HS). And he'd say Nope not yet! He was kind of like me, he did not enjoy that part. (Nancy, on the other hand, loves probing questions. But me, not too much) We went to Ukraine and back before they were able to adopt their little one. Their profile was in an album and they needed to wait for a birthmom to select them. So belated congratulations to you guys!
Our tradition is to take a fun trip right before school starts. Usually we go to an amusement park somewhere, but this year the kids wanted to go to the Omaha zoo (I grew up watching Mutal of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, did you?). It is an awesome zoo. Everyone enjoyed it. As it turns out, one day isn't enough time to see it all. We want to go back.
School started in August. Mark is in 10th grade, Valya is in 8th, and Sergey is in 7th. You can tell from the obligatory First Day of School Picture that they are thrilled to be there again.
Valya at PE class. She can't waste an opportunity to hug a friend. The baseball mitt she is wearing was Nancy's dad's. He passed away in 2000.
Fall ushers in our busy time as a family. For example, here is a picture of our September calendar. Each of the kids has their own color code. They are all in a different Fall sport, so we find ourselves going in many different directions all week. Such is life with teenagers. This is just another season in our lives and someday, not too far away, this will all be a memory.
Mark is running Cross Country again this year. He enjoys it and it helps get him in shape for basketball season.
Valya watches Mark approach the finish line.
Valya is playing JV volleyball this year. She really enjoys it. Our team doesn't have the best win-loss record, but they do have the best socks! The varsity team has them, too. She says that she can't decide if she wants to play volleyball or soccer next year. She is #10 in these photos.
Probably the best thing about the summer was the arrival of two special teenagers from Ukraine. Marat was one of Sergey's best friends at Orphanage #4 in Odessa, and we had spent some time with him while we were there adopting Sergey. He has an older sister, Alina, whom I had gotten to know a little because she had been one of Sergey's and Marat's playroom supervisors after their primary supervisor went on maternity leave. When we got back home, we advocated for these two, and another Mitchell family actually went over there and adopted them. I never EVER in a million years would have expected that. They arrived in July, while Mark and I were in Wyoming, so I wasn't able to meet them at the airport. I also had the camera with me so we have no pictures of their arrival. Their adoption story is an amazing one. The family got to the US Embassy in Kyiv to turn in advance papers for Alina 53 hours before her 18th birthday. Literally, in the nick if time. They had no idea that a family was coming for them and to hear the story of their first meeting after she had given up hope of being adopted was just... it was a miracle.
Marat and Alina at the school. Marat is in Sergey's 7th grade class, and Alina is enrolled in 9th.
Our friend M from Odessa came to Mitchell to visit. We always enjoy it when she comes to visit. We stayed with M while we were adopting Valya and Sergey. We can't repay her enough. She gave a presentation to our high school during chapel about life in Ukraine, the orphans there, and following God's call on our lives.
Mark also recently celebrated his 16th birthday. He wanted to do the cosmic bowling thing with all of the bright lights and loud music and a late pizza party. At age 15 he had gotten a restricted driver's license, which prohibited him from driving after 10 PM. So when he drove to the bowling alley, he wasn't able to legally drive home until midnight since at 16 he could drive anytime. I thought it was kind of funny that there was a 2 hr. window there when he couldn't drive home.
On his actual birthday, we just had a quiet time of opening cards, then went out to eat.
Mark's birthday was also the start of homecoming week for our school. He needed to go to a friend's house for their sophomore class's skit practice. So that is where we had his cake.
Being in 7th grade now made Sergey eligible for high school soccer. He played JV, while Marat played JV and varsity. Two years ago, on a visit to Sergey's orphanage, I blogged about Marat being the fastest runner. Sergey wasn't bothered by the fact that Marat got to play varsity because he also recognizes his ability, having told me about him several times before.
Sergey in action.
Marat in action.
This picture of Marat would otherwise be uninteresting but I wanted to include it because it reminds me of another one that I posted of him one time. After 2 years, I can finally reveal that the boy in the picture walking on the soccer field at the orphanage was, in fact, Marat. That particular day we were visiting, the orphanage was overcast and seemed particularly depressing. What a contrast having Marat here now.
Mom Nancy watching a game.
Here are some pictures of Sergey (#11) and Marat (#12) playing together.
Alina and Valya watch their brothers play.
M was able to see one of their games. Here she is with the Mitchell Ukies.
Every day during homecoming week was a different theme. Here Valya, an 8th grader, is wearing one of Nancy's 8th grade dresses. Sergey dressed as Michael Jackson.
Mark's sophomore class had a food booth fundraiser at the homecoming soccer game. At our school, the junior class always goes on a short-term mission trip to a foreign country during Spring Break. They get to decide where they want to go. But they are also responsible for raising the funds that they need. I don't know what they will decide, but I think Haiti would be an excellent choice.
We first moved to Mitchell when Mark was a baby. Our neighbors across the street gave birth to a baby girl. As the kids got older, she was one of Mark's playmates until we moved to a different neighborhood. But she has been a classmate of Mark's since preschool. She is the beautiful blond girl in this picture, working in the food booth (In front of Nancy, the beautiful brunette!). I include it because it causes me to marvel about how fast time is slipping by. Wasn't it just last week that we had Leah and Mark in the back seat giggling? No, I guess that was 12 years ago.
Sergey's History class was studying Egypt and he was assigned a project to make a model of the pyramids. I helped him with that. It's good that Sergey has a dad to help him with stuff like this. I did this same project 3 years ago with Mark.
Recently, we went to a corn maze as a family. Our two Ukies had never been in one before. They're kind of fun. They're even open after dark, but that would be really hard to get through.
I don't know if you've been following the Weber adoption. All along they had been hoping to adopt both a boy and a girl from Ukraine, having that in their homestudy. When they got there, they got the runaround from the officials that there were NO available girls in that whole oblast. Um, right. While at summer camp, they met and fell in love with a little girl. They came home during the waiting period for their son while their (and our) facilitator tried to arrange another appointment with the SDA for this girl. He was successful and they were able to get the referral, but in the meantime, the girl had been getting told lies about Americans and had decided that she didn't want to be adopted after they went back to get her. I offered to have Valya write a letter to her to try to reassure her to not be afraid to come to America. According to Valya, she wrote the words with Ukrainian letters but the words would sound Russian when they were read to her. Kind of mysterious to me how that works. Anyway, I scanned the letter and emailed it to Erick, and within hours after Valya wrote it, it had beem read to her. They said it helped. As of this writing, they are waiting for a court date for her. Theirs is truly a marathon adoption.
We have a starfish magnet on our refrigerator, right next to our broken Ukraine magnet. It is a reminder to us of our own two starfish, and all of the other starfish in the world waiting for a family. Will you save a starfish? Or are you too overwhelmed with the magnitude of the world's orphan problem and do nothing?
A Car Ride
1 day ago