We are adopting two adorable girls who have a little something extra, Down Syndrome!
We are excited to add them to our family.
We will use this blog to update family and friends on our adoption progress and fundraising efforts.
Just joining us? Click on the 2011 posts in the archive to find out why we are adopting the girls.

Alisa's Birthday

Tomorrow is my daughter Alisa's birthday. She is going to be 6. Tragically she will not be with her family playing silly games, eating way too much cake and being the center of a ridiculous amount of attention :(. So to celebrate her birthday we are asking everyone to please either go buy a slinky or a pair of shoes (any size) for her orphanage, we are gathering both to bring in Aug. Or if you prefer, you can just donate the money for a slinky or a pair of shoes to http://reecesrainbow.org/29924/sponsorgrove and get a nice tax write off. Please help us spread the love!


Missing our girls terribly tonight.  We do not like the idea of them sleeping so far away from us.  We wish they were snuggling in bed with us.  Having a hard time this evening.  Wishing they were being loved, not just taken care of.

Super Funny!

This was hanging in our hotel.  Can you find the funny mistake?


Sorry the videos were not working before!  We could see them in Russia but I guess they didn't work in the US.  I reloaded them so they are working now if you want to scroll down and watch them!

Novosibirsk Tips

This list is going to be totally RANDOM but they are all things that I thought would be helpful to know for those who follow after us in Novosibirsk adoptions.

*There are MANY MANY children with DS and other special needs of ALL ages that are not represented on RR.  If you feel drawn to this region but not necessarily to a particular child, PLEASE consider a blind referral (meaning Russia assigns a child to you that meets your criteria).  It may be that child's only chance of getting adopted because no one knows they exist.  If the child is not yours, you can reject the referral and ask for another one.  If you meet the child, and they are not yours, you ask to be shown another child.  You can also get very young babies this way because it can take a long time for kiddos to get on the database but most of the children who have DS are relinquished at birth.  They do have to be made available exclusively for Russians to adopt for 6 months but after that they can be adopted by foreigners.

*Everyone we have worked with so far has been GREAT.  Do not be afraid to meet with government officials, orphanage personnel, etc.  They really want these kiddos to be adopted into families.

*Do not bring a ton of cash!  Our agency told us to bring $3,000 in crisp new bills.  We exchanged only $200 into rubles because we just wanted a little to get us started and we didn't know if the exchange rate in the hotel was any good.  We only spent $100 of it and that was only because at the end of the trip we were thought, "Crap!  We have all these rubles we need to get rid of!"  Everyone takes credit cards so we never needed any cash.  Ok, that is not totally true, I bought a mirror from a little street vendor for $3 and I needed cash for that transaction.  Otherwise, all the stores, restaurants, the hotel, the corner ice cream stand, everyone takes credit card.  And the exchange rate was much better on our credit card then we could get anywhere in Novosibirsk.  I think it is DANGEROUS to carry that much cash unnecessarily.  So this would be my advice:  if you love to spend cash and do not want to use your credit card that much, bring $1000 in cash.  If you run out, you can use your debit card at no-fee atms to get more.  If you are like me, I rarely carry cash anyway and much prefer just to hand them plastic and not have to figure out foreign currancy, I would only bring $500 in cash to just have in case of an emergency of some kind.  But honestly, if you brought $100 in cash, I think you would be just fine too.  Anyone have advice for Moscow and money? 

*The Hotel Siberia is very nice.  If you are traveling in the winter, you can get a really good deal on a very basic room.  If you are traveling in the summer, it is worth paying the extra money and getting a Business Deluxe room because you will get A/C.  TOTALLY WORTH IT!  Springs and Summers in Novo are HOT and no one has A/C so you will spend your days out of your room frying.  Especially if you need to make the long 2 hour drive to Oyash in Kate's car which has no A/C and she is worried about you rolling down the window more then a crack because "you might get sick".  Coming back to a cool hotel room is worth any extra money you need to spend and then some. 

*Traveling during the summer costs significantly more then the winter but is a lot more pleasant.  We already discussed the hotel will be more, flights are also go way up as soon as the 3rd week of May hits.  I think no one in the right mind travels to Novo unless they absolutely have to in the bitter cold and so all the summer flights tend to book up quick and be more expensive.  You will also spend more money because you will enjoy going out in the warm weather visiting restaurants and shops.

*Novosibirsk is very, very fashionable.  The women all look like super models, seriously!  They are thin and gorgeous and dressed in beautiful dresses all the time.  Women dress much more formally in Novosibirsk then we do in the US.  It will really not be appropriate for you to wear jeans, or shorts or T-shirts.  Skirts, dresses, dress slacks, slack capri's, nice blouses are the way to go.  The clothing shops in the area around the hotel are all very high end fashion and are fun to go through but honestly in my stay-at-home life I could never justify the prices since typically I am wearing some prechewed food or snot as accessories.

*In front of the hotel a little ways you will find stairs that go underground, take these.  It is a tunnel to get under the busy street and across to an adorable street.  Stay on the left hand side as that is where all the good restaurants and shops are.  I highly recommend spending some time in these restaurants.  They have fun outdoor tables so you can people watch and the food is really good.  We especially loved a Chocolate Patiserie.  Not only does it have great chocolate but they also have great salads, crepes and sandwhiches.  Just to warn you, stay away from the cafe with that is lime green.  We ate there (the food was AWESOME) but shortly after we ordered, they brought out big opium hookas and everyone started smoking opium.  We ate inside (because the outside was full) and the opium party took place outside so it did not really affect us much but it was quite shocking.  There is also a great market on this street that has lots of western products that you will recognize. 

*At the end of the street, you will find Lenin Square and a large very nice park.  We spent lots of time there because it is a refreshing break from the grind of the city.  It also has restaurants.  The pizza place in Lenin Square next to the big fountain was not very good at all, stay away.

*Definitely go under Lenin Square!  Under the busy streets of Lenin Square is an underground mall in long skinny tunnels.  Super different and very interesting.

*We plan on only bringing one outfit for each of the girls on our next trip.  Kate showed us a HUGE store for children with great prices.  Our plan is to save the luggage space for orphanage donations and take the girls to this store when we pick them up and get them clothes that will actually fit because we can try them on.  This place is MASSIVE.  Imagine Ikea or Home Depot but with kids stuff.  There had to be 150 different kinds of strollers!

*Many public bathrooms do not have toilet paper.  Also at the orphanage they use book pages as toilet paper.  So it is a good idea to bring some with you at all times.

*Almost everyone in Novo smokes and there are no non-smoking sections to anything but the hotel rooms.  I suffered greatly because I am allergic to smoke and it is everywhere.  If you are too, I just happened to bring allergy meds and cough drops along and they helped greatly so I would strongly suggest the same.  Even still, I have had a terrible cough and burning lungs for the past 3 days. 

*In Novosibirsk, all children wear hats or scarfs when they go outside.  So make sure you either bring several with you or the HUGE store has HUGE selection of them.

*People in Novosibirsk are BIG on ice cream.  Seriously, when you are walking down the street every third person has an ice cream.  Ice cream vendors can be seen every 10 feet.  I asked Kate what all the ice cream stands sold during the winter and in a confused tone said, "Ice cream!  We love ice cream year round!"  So yes, even in 30 below weather, they love their ice cream.  Consequently, many of the restaurants we found to have amazing gelato.  Definitely worth a lick.

*Buy a few water bottles (you can't drink the water).  Then at the hotel they have places on each floor where you can fill them up with drinking water for free.  The water bottles at the hotel and airport are EXPENSIVE.  They are very reasonably priced at the ice cream stands and the market.

*Bring pens with you all the time.  We were constantly having to sign things or fill out things and no one (but us) ever seemed to have a pen (including government officials and agency reps). 

*Most of Novosibirsk is grey, cement, post-communism, ugly.  But as the pictures above show, just when you least expect it, you fill find a little treasure.

I hope that helps!!  Feel free to send me any questions you might have. 

Last Day with Alisa :(

Yesterday was a hard, hard day.  We had to say goodbye to our darling Alisa.  I was kind of a wreck.  It was also a very hard visit because they decided that they better have a whole bunch of officials view our visit with her in order to testify that we will be good parents (again first ever adoption of a special needs child over the age of 4 for this entire region--equvivalant to a state).  It is so hard to really be yourself and enjoy eachother when you have a million people watching you and taking notes!  Not what I wanted for a final visit.  But they all had a positive experience and loved us so I guess it went well.

I hope that people get what a massively HUGE thing this is.  NO ONE, not Russian, not any nationality has ever adopted a special need child over the age of 4 from this entire region.  It has never happened!  We are breaking down major walls and changing major preceptions.  Just by the questions the officials ask us you can tell that they are learning so much from this experience about special needs, Americans attitudes towards it, opportunities in America for people with special needs, family size, adoption in general, EVERTHING.  It is going soooooooooo well and we are really being guided by the spirit what to say.

We did find out more info from these officials that may be of great importance to those are following closely behind us.  This institution has 275 children and they are considered the very worst special needs.  Sooooo not true in US standards.  There are kids who are just on crutches because they have a foot turned weird, there are kids with bad birth marks, kids who look absolutely normal and act absolutely normal as far as we can tell, there LOTS of kids with Down Syndrome, and yes there are children with severe special needs.  But the majority of kids that at least we see (because they are outside playing or walking to various activities), I would classify (just by looking at them) as very minor to moderate special needs. 

There is also another institution like this one that is closer to the city.  It is much smaller and the social worker we were talking to has a bad opinion about it.  So I have learned that it is not a guarantee that your child will be in this one if you are adopting an older child with special needs.  But she kept saying it is tiny so I guess your odds are pretty good.

We have walked in on Alisa's group twice unexpected now to get a hat to go outside.  Both times the kids were just in an empty room, on the floor, no toys out, with the caregiver in the chair watching an adult tv show.  There was lots of self-stimming going on so I think things are not quite as rosy as they initially appeared.  This made leaving harder.

The girl pictured above is Katia. Her and Alisa are best friends and everyone says that they are inseperable.  She is an ABSOLUTE ANGEL FROM THE HEAVENS.  Totally cute.  I really hope that I can convince someone in Utah to adopt her so that the girls can stay in touch.  I was thrilled I was able to pics of her and Alisa together.

At the end of our visit it was time to say goodbye.  I did not handle this well.  I pretended to be asleep in the car because I could not possibly speak and finally I did fall asleep.  I don't know why we cannot just go to court now.  This waiting 3 months is wrong for everyone involved.  Alisa happily said goodbye and then as she walked away turned and said "Tomorrow!"  She thinks we will be back again tomorrow.  :(  We left all the toys and treats we did not leave with Hallie (btw, pronouced Hal-lee) for Alisa and her group.

I will have to wait to post pics from the last day until we get home.  We are getting ready now to head for the airport.  I plan on writing up a "survival guide" for Novosibirsk post when I get back with lots of pointers on getting around, restaurants, hotel tips, etc for those who follow us.  So stay posted ;).

Video of Alisa!!!

Videos of Hallie!!!

Last day with our baby :(

Today was the last day with Maria.  It was soooooooooooooooooo hard to say goodbye.  I was in tears and everyone kept asking me why I was crying.  I am going to miss that sweet marshmellow :(.  She was so adorable today.  She was a lot more interactive and made lots of babbling sounds.  We did several "tests" with her and confirmed that she is not deaf!  So that will be good.  She just doesn't know her name. 

Speaking of which, at the end of the meeting with her today, we had to sign a bunch of paperwork saying that we were still interested in adopting her and we had to include her new name!  Talk about on the spot decision!  We did not know that today was the day and then was the moment!  So we quickly agreed on a cute name we have been kicking around for her. . . drum roll . . . Hallie!  We also had to name Alisa and since we hadn't decided yet on Alisa vs Lisa we decided to keep Alisa and we can always still call her Lisa for short if we decide to.   

THESE NAMES ARE OFFICIAL AND THE LAST TIME WE WILL CHANGE THEM.  We had to sign a paper so it is the end of the name switching ;).  Go ahead and make them personalized things :)! 

Oh, and Ethan, yes we left the slinky with Hallie.  It was by far her favorite toy of the things we brought.  In fact it was the favorite toy of everyone we have met while in Russia (adults and kids alike).  They all LOVE it.  So, we are doing a Slinky Drive in Hallie's name and we are going to bring a ton on our 2nd trip to her orphanage.  If anyone would like to donate one you can get them for super cheap at Walmart.  Also, Alisa's orphanage is in desperate need of shoes.  So we are going to do a Shoe Drive in Alisa's name. If anyone would like to donate shoes (any size), we will be bringing them on our next trip as well.  Just a small way that you can make the lives of special needs orphans a little better.

No personal space in Russia

Note to all future traveling families, Russians do not have the personal space boundaries that we do. They will literally stand right next to you, leaning their body against yours even if you preceive that there is plenty of space for everyone. They will fill elevators to 3 times the number of people we would and have no problem pushing you gently further in to fit even more. This does not happen because there is a long wait for an elevator or because there is an emergency but because they are totally comfortable being smashed against a stranger. Don't freak out or feel like you are being molested when the guy behind you stands so close you can feel his breath on your neck. While in Russia do as the Russians do and just lean back on him and give your tired body a break :). He will gladly support you. Just don't fall asleep because Russians also love to butt in line and you need to defend your territory!

Besides the personal space issue, I have found Russians to be my kind of people. They don't have strict manner rules, they say exactly what they think, and they are not worried about offending because they are not easily offended. They have an easy time laughing at themselves. They are kind and are good at unpredictable. They are pushy, opinionated and straight forward. Like I said, my kind of people.

Name Game for Maria

Seriously Mindy?! Ivy Grove or Lily Grove?! I LOVE both Ivy and Lily but we cannot use them with our last name!! ;)

Ok, here are the rules to the name game everyone!

*No flower or plant names (not with Grove)

*No more then 6 letters. But less is better.

*Easy to pronounce.

*The less letters with curves the better. Straight lines are easier to write. Feel free though to include letters that when capatilized do not have a curve. For example, lower case e is HARD but upper case E is easy.

*We prefer that the name not start with the following letters (we already have kids whose names start with these letters and so it will make name signs more difficult): Z, M, E, A, L, C, N, T, J

*Has to go well with the middle name Cherie
*You can only submit names if you will not be offended if we mock you or at the very least not chose the name ;)

DELIGHTFUL little girl!!

This little one is one of my FAVORITES at Alisa's orphanage.  She is sooooooooo delightful.  She is has significant delays but the ultimate best personality in the world.  She is always super happy, excited about anything going on and adores any attention she can get.  She is the most social in Alisa's group and really, really needs a family.  Note: her head is shaved now and she no longer gets to wear glasses for some reason :(.

You can find more info about her here: http://www.usynovite.ru/child/?id=14l6r

We are in love!!

NAME ALERT:  We have discovered that Alice (RR name) or Elena's (name we chose) real name is not Alyssa (as we previously were told) but Alisa (pronounced Aleesa).  We love it, it fits her, she knows her name and unlike Alyssa we do not think it will be confusing for our daughter Clarissa (who has cochlear implants) so we have decided to keep it.  Sorry we have been so confusing.  So from here on out, she will be referred to as Alisa.  Just to further clarify, she is the 6 year old :).  We are trying to decide if in the future we will call her Alisa or just Lisa.  Stay tuned ;).

Mara (RR name) or Maria does not at all respond to her name (or really any sound at all).  We highly suspect she is deaf and so she is not at all attached to her name.  So we are considering new names.  We have to decide on a name by Friday.  Because in sign language, your name sign is identified by using the first initial in some manner, we are thinking of using a first initial that we do not already have in the family.  We are kicking around names that are short, easy to write (no curvy letters like "s") and easy to pronounce since we feel these will be major assets as we think she will have significant delays.  Feel free to leave suggestions only if you are in no way offended if we do not pick your choice. ;)

Now onto today's events.

We are madly in love with both of our girls!!  Things went soooooo well visiting Alisa!!  She was a TOTALLY different child and we were in a much better place as well having had enough sleep.  She is going to fit in fantastically with our bunch.  She is such a funny girl!  Her facial expressions are constantly bringing us to laughter.  She is quite smart and understands everything being said to her (in Russian).  Her gross motor skills are right on target.  She will need some therapy with her fine motor skills in that she does not have a pincher grasp nor can she color.  She is easy, delightful, and has the sweetest disposition.  She is already learning several signs well having just been with us today.  She is GREATLY going to benefit being in a signing family as she can't really say words and so she will finally be able to communicate her wants/needs/thoughts. Today she learned fish (for fishy crackers), please and more with great proficiency and retained them throughout the 4 hour visit.  AWESOME since they have not been signing with her at all.

It was very sad to leave her today as she desperately wanted to leave with us and was not at all interested in going back with her group.  In fact, she suddenly sat down in the hallway and refused to move.  Broke my heart!!

We saw many more children today and lots more areas of the orphanage. For the mom who asked, we did not see Evelyn today but the facility is HUGE so that does not mean that she is not there.

They DESPERATELY need new safer play equipment.  If anyone has any connections along this line, these kids deserve a safer place to play.  They did have some rather creative things to  play in though.  For example, they have bathtubs full of water in the yard that the kids can play in like little swimming pools, cracked us up!  Overall the orphanage is in very good condition and they are really trying their best to provide a good life for these kids.  I was feeling very positive about the place until I discovered non-mobile area of the orphanage.  This is where the kids go if they cannot walk.  There are many kids with cerebral palsy and other disorders.  It was AWFUL.  The kids are very, very skinny and confined to beds.  Older children look like babies.  Their joints were filled with contractures from lack of stimulation.  I walked right in and stared holding, touching, loving these children much to everyone's distress.  I didn't care.  These children responded instantly to any affection with big smiles and open arms, desperate for human touch.  I stayed for about 5 minutes and then was kicked out.  I left in tears, feeling helpless and hopeless. A number of my children if they had been born in a different country could have been confined to rooms like this.  The problem is that the caregivers have no vision of the life possible for these children.  They assume that if their bodies don't work, then their minds don't either so the care is irrelevant or at best just basic needs.  My daughter Clarissa is deaf and has severe cerebral palsy.  She goes to school, gets straight A's, has friends, is an amazing horseback rider and despite her body not working, she has a full meaningful life.  At this place, these children are not afforded any possibilities.  It is HEART BREAKING.  I need to find a way to get them out or get help in.  But how?  I am so upset. I need to find a solution, I need to be their opportunity.  How I wish I had millions.  How I wish I could just gather them all up and bring them to the US.  How I wish I could fly the caregivers to the US and show them Clarisssa and her life.  WE NEED TO INCREASE SPECIAL NEEDS ADOPTIONS TO THIS REGION, WE NEED TO INCREASE THE EDUCATION.

So let me tell you why you should adopt from region 8!

*WACAP (the adoption agency we are using) is AWESOME.  I have done a number of international adoptions and they have by far been the best.  They hold your hand through the whole process and are just simply wonderful.  They will also give a $10,000 grant to any family who adopt a child from this region with significant special needs.

*This region provides monthly subsidies to children with special needs that goes into a bank account for them to collect either when they get a family or when they turn 18.  We were told to expect to recieve $2,000-$3,000 per girl.  This was a big surprise and will greatly help with adoption expenses.

*You can adopt 2 unrelated children and WACAP will WAIVE ALL ADOPTION FEES for the 2nd child. 

*The city is easy to manuever, very modern and has all the amenities of home. 

*This region is well known for waiving the waiting period for special needs adoptions.  We have been told repeatedly that we should expect it to only be 2 trips but that it may be 3 trips (although that has never happened so far for a special needs adoption).

*The Dept of Education here is WONDERFUL.  They have done everything with great speed and are very accomodating.  We were well recieved and thanked repeated for adopting special needs children.

*The process is short.  From start to finish we are expecting our adoption to take less then 9 months.

*The needs is HUGE.  There are sooooooooooooo many special needs children that are not even on the RR database.  And their future without adoption is that of being forever institutionalized.

Ok, enough of that, here is what you all came for: ADORABLE PICS!  By the way, if you want to see larger versions, just click on the picture.

New Sleeping Schedule

I think we have worked out a sleeping schedule that works with our orphanage schedule, Kevin's work schedule and our jet lag.  We are now sleeping from 5pm (local time) to midnight.  That way Kevin can still work from midnight to 6am and we are still getting a descent amount of rest.  It worked very well tonight.  Although now it is 2am and I am STARVING.  There are some 24 hour restaurants nearby like Subway but I am not sure how safe it is here for a woman to be out alone so late. So we will have to hit the market tomorrow so we can buy dinner to eat at 2am.  Funny!

Meeting Maria

We met Maria today!  What a squishable, edible, sweet doll she is!  She is going to need LOTS of therapy but she is going to do well.  I really think that horse therapy is going to be the best thing for her.  Her core is very loose and she cannot sit on her own but she is very close to crawling and I think that she will be by the time we get back.  She is very chubby and HEAVY.  I am going to get some serious biceps with this baby around.  Maria seems to be developmentally 6 months old but is chronologically 16 months old.  During her medical info session we found out that she has some hydrocephallus and brain damage so that may affect her development (in addition to Down Syndrome).  She also has crossed eyes.  This is something I have not had to deal with yet so I guess I am going to learn something new.  She refuses to bear weight in her legs so she is going to have lots of time in the Johnny Jumper.  I think that she realizes how heavy she is and is saying, "Are you serious?!"  Maria also has very unique ears.  I think we will need to do some hearing tests when we get home.

The most concerning is her heart defect.  It is getting worse and she really needs to have it operated.  Unfortunately, they have decided not to perform the surgery so we really need to get her home right away.

She makes the most adorable little sounds.  She has a very calm and sweet disposition.  The kids are going to simply adore her.  Poor thing will never have a moment of peace because she will have so many brothers and sisters eager to play with her.  This will be a great thing though as it will build her strength and coordination. I really believe that siblings are the best therapy of all.

Maria is in baby house 2.  Unfortunately, they are much more familiar with international adoptions and therefore we did not see many of the other children and we didn't see any RR kiddos.  We found the facility nice.  They do not have consistent caregivers though and they just have several people who rotate through.  This was disappointing as this can create serious bonding problems.  Maria seems cognitively delayed enough that this will probably not be an issue though.  As a note to future adoptive parents, if you are adopting from Novosibirsk baby house 2 make sure that you wear socks as they make you take off your shoes.

I feel much better today now that I have had enough sleep.  After enjoying Maria today, we both feel much more confident and far less worried about our meeting tomorrow with Alisa.

Enjoy the pics!