Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas from Vanya and Valya

Dobryden and Khrystos Narodyvsia! Hello and Christ is Born!

Well this is the first time I’ve ever tried to do one of these “Christmas Letters”. Mama and Papa say that everyone wants to know about us so we might as well write the Christmas letter instead of them. My name is Evan and Mama and Papa call me, Vanya. I’ve asked my sister to help me out but she’s only two and a half. Here, I’ll let her type:

J:;ldksjf poo ap0w afs;dk poo ;ksdjfa oida; bye

OK, OK, Valya. She says “poo” a lot right now, even when she types.

So, the year began with me and Valya at “Center Opeki”. It’s a big building in Mariupol, Ukraine with a whole bunch of kids in it right from little babies to big kids that are really old, like about 18. We all were in different groups. I was with kids 6 to 7 and Valya was with little kids about 1 or 2 years old. I saw her sometimes when we were outside at the same time, but we mostly were with our own groups where we ate, slept and played together. It was a good place with good caregivers. Anna Nicolai was my favorite. I really liked her.

I was going to school and learning a lot of Ukrainian and all the Ukrainian letters and sounds. I could even read books! I liked to play lego and go outside and play football and I played with lots of boys and girls. Valya liked to go with her group outside and chase after a ball and kick it around. Any ball is still her most favourite thing.

Lots of times kids would talk about new Mamas and Papas coming to take care of them. Sometimes we would see strange men and ladies come and meet and visit with kids and they’d tell us other kids about their new Mamas and Papas. I wondered if some day there would be a Mama and Papa for me and Valya. But each day was kind of like the next. Some days we did special things and in the summer our group went out at a summer camp on the beach on the Sea of Azov. It was fun being there but one day the grown ups came and took me back…after that everything changed for me and Valya.

Its time for Mama and Papa to jump in: Yes, most of you know the awesome, incredible and wonderful changes to our lives this year with the adoption of Evan and Valentina. Our adoption journey began many years ago with research into adoption in Ukraine. Then, it was finding the facilitators that would help us. Then we were submitting the paperwork and applications, then again, and then one last time. We felt that after 3 years and 3 applications it wasn’t meant to be. What we didn’t know was that it was meant to be. We just had to be patient and wait that long for two little miracle wonders to be put into our hands and hearts--- Evan (a.k.a Vanya, born May 4, 2001) and Valentina (a.k.a. Valya, born March 22, 2006). It began with a letter on December 28, 2007 from the national adoption department in Ukraine notifying us that we had a meeting in Kyiv on July 1, 2008. That was the first step in the final chapter of our adoption journey.

The planning began. Flights were booked. Work on the house went into high gear. We did make a quick trip down to Arizona and Mexico in February as part of Murray’s work. Otherwise, our focus was on getting ready for the trip. We expected to be in Ukraine anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks. We left on June 25th, a quick overnight in Frankenfurt, and then couple days in Kyvi, Ukraine. Then on July 1, 2008 we met with officials from the national adoption dept. and were given a file for two little children at an orphanage in Mariupol, Ukraine. After making travel arrangements, a 12 hr overnight train ride and 2 hours by taxi followed by a 6 hour wait to see the Director of the Orphanage and another night of waiting, at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 5th our life changed.

(This is Vanya again.) I got back to the Centre Opeki in the morning. They said I was going back to meet my new Mama and Papa. I hadn’t seen my sister Valya in a while. When I got there I saw her with two strangers, a nice looking lady and a big tall goofy looking guy. I was scared and confused, but they brought puzzles for me to play with which I really liked. Valya cried a lot at first but then they gave her a ball and she was happy after that. I started calling them Mama and Papa right away. Over the next few sleeps, Mama and Papa would come and visit Valya and me every day. We played soccer and Frisbee outside, had snacks, played cards and Mama started teaching me numbers and letters in English.

Then one day Mama and Papa picked us up very early in the morning and we flew in a plane to Kyiv. We stayed in an apartment there for a few days and we had lots of fun. We got to ride elevators, escalators and the Metro. We went to the zoo, ate at restaurants, and I went with Papa to a soccer game. Then we got on a very big plane to Canada (Aug 3rd). It was a long trip. I was a good boy, but Valya didn’t sleep much and cried a lot. Mama and Papa were happy to be in their home, but it was bit scary for me and Valya. Lots of strange faces and strange places and no one spoke Russian!

In the summer we did lots of stuff. I pulled a whole bunch of weeds and I made $25 that I used to buy my first bike!! Valya got a tricycle too and we rode round and round in the garage. Pretty soon I was riding on my own and I’d go visit my neighbor friends like Rachel and Madison and Emmet. I even lost two teeth right after coming home, and the tooth fairy left some money under my pillow. I spent a lot of time taking care of Valya, too. Mama and Papa say I am a very good big brother.

On Aug 27th I started school at Bishop Filevich in Saskatoon in Grade 2. My teacher is Pani Julia and Pani Marissa. I learn in Ukrainian half the day and in English the other half. I have lots of fun at school learning and playing police and goblins at recess and jumping too much. Papa drives me in the morning and Mama and Valya stay home and they pick me up after school.

In the fall, me and Valya were very busy. We took swimming lessons. I took piano lessons and Valya went to play and music groups. We went to Uncle Ken’s and Auntie Monica’s wedding. We went on a trip to Edmonton to visit our new cousins, Kara and Natasha, and we got to go to the Waterpark. At Halloween we made pumpkins and I was Spiderman and Valya was a Chicken and we got lots of candy. At home we play downstairs, I play Webkinz with Dina the Dinosaur on the computer and we read books. I learned to skate; that was lots of fun! Mama and Papa look tired sometimes. I don’t know why though. It’s me and Valya that do all the running around.

Now, its really cold outside, and its only 4 sleeps to Christmas. I wrote my letter to Santa and asked for a remote car. I’ve been a good boy, but I don’t know about Valya. She always takes my toys. Anyway, we really like living in Canada and I like to play computers and want to go sliding and skating outside when it’s warmer.

Mama and Papa say: Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Here's some pictures of me and Valya with our Mama and Papa.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ukraine’s Top Tens

Sunday, August 24

The last four weeks since we’ve returned have been a blur. We are sitting down during “nap time” to recollect on the trip. What better way to do it than some top ten lists:

Ukraine’s Top Ten Best
1. Bringing the kids home
2. Spending time with the kids
3. Meeting the kids
4. The way Ukraine’s culture has blossomed since Donna’s last visit in 1987
5. The food: Chocolate ice cream in the bag; bulk varenyky/perogies (esp cherry); picking up fresh bread at 6 a.m.; and good cheap beer anytime!
6. The markets (where “the Eagle” soared)
7. Ukrainian pop music on FM radio
8. Going to Chernivtsi and Western Ukraine (Kolomya, visiting relatives)
9. Ukrainian fashion—especially what the women wear (Note: This is a top ten item for Murray only)
10. Learning and reading Cyrillic language (Molodyez!!)

The Top Ten things we likely won’t miss about Ukraine
1. The freshly polluted air and heat of Mariupol
2. The traffic congestion in Kyiv, including dealing with parked cars as you walk on the sidewalks
3. Continually wearing a money belt at plus 30C temperatures with a big wad of cash.
4. . The sweet smells outside our apartments just before garbage day
5. Trying to speak Ukrainian to people in Eastern Ukraine who only insist on Russian
6. Doing business with Ukrainian taxi drivers, despite the meters in their cars
7. The bus ride from Kolomya to Vinnetsia on Ukraine’s bumpy and rolling roads
8. Dealing with Ukrainian officials who get off on power games (passport control; train stations; etc)
9. Kyiv Metro at rush hour (you feel like you need a rape kit after you get off the train); except when you have a 2 year old in your arms who parts the 'sea of masses' to get her own seat
10. 11 hour flight from Kyiv to Toronto with a two year old

The Top Ten things we looked forward to returning home:
1. Growing as a family
2. Getting to know the kids ourselves in our own home
3. The wonder and amazement of discovery for two new kids in Canada
4. Introducing our kids to family and friends
5. Sleeping in our own bed
6. The familiarity of home, including normal driving, clean and functioning bathroom facilities; fresh air (outside and in bathrooms too…), the English alphabet, and lettuce in salads
7. Watching the Riders win some more games (OK…so that hasn’t happened…I’m trying to convince myself that I’m not a jinx…it could be a 2 year old though ;-)…)
8. An early arrival back to Canada so that we could enjoy some Saskatchewan summer during August
9. All the toys that Murray gets to play with now
10. Just staying in one place and keeping a routine

It’s a Long Way to Tipperary – And a Helluva a lot Further to Saskatoon

Hello to all our blog followers. Yes, we have been back for four weeks now, but with settling in, buying supplies, meeting with family and friends, and most importantly being parents, the blog has been relegated to 15th or 50th fiddle. But, I finally have the time, energy and right headspace to get back into it, so here we go!

Let’s start with traveling home. Our last report was from Kyiv the day before we left. Our trip home on August 3rd began with a 7 a.m. wake up and ended with crashing into our own bed at 11:00 p.m. A 16 hour day? Not too bad. Well, actually with time changes it was a 25 hour day with 15 hours in the air enjoying a two year old.

But we were ready for that and prepared to deal with it. What we weren’t ready for was Ukrainian Passport Control at the beginning of our trip. Leaving the country requires clearance through Ukraine’s border officers. While I think this is primarily for their own citizens leaving, everyone is in the same mosh pit when it comes to getting through. What’s even more frustrating is to see the officials flipping through passports 4 or 6 times, stalling for no apparent reason. Although, I do understand that there are “expediting fees” that one can pay to arrange for faster treatment. Perhaps, this is why they stall with those who don’t “play the game”. After standing in line for 1.5 hours with many smokers around us, I was truly amazed that the official, after going through our documents repeatedly for 10 minutes, tapping his computer keyboard a few times, and generally dragging his ass, did not even look up to confirm that the kids we had with us matched the pictures in the passports that he so intensely examined.

So, we were off to a rough start; and then it was the 11 hour flight from Kyiv to Toronto and 3 hours more to Saskatoon. Some of the memories from that include:

Evan’s excitement in getting on a big plane and especially having the chance to use some really cool bathrooms;

Valya playing with every possible thing around her seat and Donna keeping her busy;

Murray and Vanya laughing and giggling as they sat beside each other. (I don’t remember why…must have been the children’s gravol for him and the sleeping pill for me…);

Valya doing laps around the aisles and one of us right behind her;

Valya’s timeout corner on the floor by the emergency exit at the back of the plane (She and I spent a fair amount of time on that floor);

Realizing that we were back in Canada as I gazed down at Newfoundland;

The joy and pleasantness of going through customs and immigration in Toronto, after our experience in Ukraine;

Timmy HoHo’s coffee at Lester B. Pearson airport;

Touching down at Diefenbaker Airport in Saskatoon!!

We made it!! Home with our new family!! All the time, effort and persistence (especially from Donna) had paid off. Some of Donna’s family and a few friends met us at the airport. And then our friend Boris, a Ukrainian ex pat drove us home. He had a car seat for Valya which we didn’t yet have in our vehicles.

We arrived home to a clean house, with a stocked fridge, a newly furnished bedroom for the kids, car seats, along with a bunch of clothes and toys. We are so thankful to everyone who helped out in different ways and for all your generosity in welcoming Evan and Valentina. You have all made it so much easier for both the little ones and the big ones to settle in!

We have many stories and pictures of settling in over the past four weeks; but that is for another blog posting…

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Family Time in Kyiv

We’ve been busy, there’s not doubt about that!. We now have our hands full with a 2 year old and a 7 year old. But it’s nap time right now and while Donna is on a quest for souvenirs and gifts downtown, I can hang out here at the apartment in Kyiv and do a blog posting.

So, what’s been happening? Well, first of all can you believe the Riders are 5-0?!? OK, OK….I guess you want to hear what is happening in our family. Well, after a bit of bureaucratic power-playing involving finalizing our documents to the satisfaction of the orphanage director, we first enjoyed a “good bye concert” for Valya and Vanya at the orphanage Monday afternoon. It involved some singing and dancing by the children, including Ukrainian dancing. (We have also found out since then that Vanya can do some pretty good Ukey dance moves himself.)

Then at 5:45 a.m. on Tuesday, July 29, our life as a family started together. We picked up the kids from the orphanage and headed for the airport for the flight from Mariupol to Kyiv. We are now in an apartment in a nice part of town in Kyiv and things are going well—keeping in mind that we are dealing with a two year old…yikes…lol. Other than the normal routines of meals, afternoon naps and going to the park, the kids have also become Kyiv veterans: riding the Metro (subway), going to the Canadian embassy to get their visas, visiting officials at the Ukrainian Adoption Office, eating at Pyzata Hata (a great cafeteria for Ukrainian food), shopping at markets, going to a toy store, and cramming into the Metro train cars. Everyone has been having fun.

Well, fun a lot of time I should say…I (Murray) have also learned a few lessons about dealing with a two year old. After I made a decision that kind of messed up our routine for the day, we (mostly Donna actually) had to deal with a two year old tantrum and we are finding that that is not easy. Donna got the short end of the stick on that one…Sorry Donna…. So all you veteran parents out there, what’s the secret to dealing with a two year old? Is it like Survivor – outplay, outwit, outlast? We’d love to hear your comments on this question for the ages.

Now, a word about the joys of being an international adoption family: Sure, we have missed the magic and wonder of pregnancy, the miracle of birth and the “joy” of all night feedings. But, we are learning that there are some special things that we are experiencing that we’d have taken for granted if we were a birth family. We have been able to watch a seven year old boy’s joy of discovery after living a sheltered life in an orphanage. I will always remember the simple discoveries like a straw which is bendable, how a no-touch hand dryer works, an automatic sliding door, the overwhelming freak-out of seeing a large toy store for the first time, and getting a new pair of shoes that are his and his alone. Everyday we look forward to the new discoveries that are around the corner. We also enjoy how they are both growing already: Valya chattering like she’s a Long and climbing stairs; and Vanya going from grabbing a hand and timidly getting on Metro escalator to insisting on getting on himself, saying “Look Ma, no hands!”

And it has also been such a joy as parents to see brother and sister reunite. Vanya is such a great brother to his little sister. He loves to push Valya around in the stroller, and makes sure she has all her things when we leave the apartment. And she has been looking up to him more and more as they do things together. There may have always been a brother-sister bond there, but now it is growing with each day.

What’s to come for our family? We are going back to the Canadian Embassy today as we have been invited to a pub/reception for the outgoing Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine. Then tomorrow, while you are cheering on the Riders against the ‘Stamps, Murray and Evan will be cheering at a football match, too. They are going to their first soccer game as father & son, to watch the Kyiv Dynamo against the Kharkiv Metallist. Go Riders! Go Dynamo!

Then it’s the flight home on Sunday and life begins at home. We (Donna and Murray) are looking forward to getting back to Canada. But we need to keep in mind that Evan and Valentina will be the ones that may be facing culture shock. No more Russian speakers or Russian alphabet; different food; living in the countryside vs the city; living with a couple of boring adults rather than with a bunch of kids; wanting to play with other kids but having to deal with strange languages. As much as there will be new wonders and lots of excitement, all of us—parents, family and friends—will have to be sensitive to how a couple of little kids have to deal with all this change. We must all give them lots of encouragement, love and time. And then, before you know it, they will be rambunctious, rollicking, rotten little wonderful Canadian kids, just like the rest of them out there. Look out, they are on their way!!


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Adoption Announcement and Movie

At 9:17 a.m. (Ukrainian time) on Monday, July 28, proud parents Donna Marie Zaleschuk and Murray Robert Long received official documents to adopt Evan Victor Robert (7 years, 46.3 lbs) and Valentina Anna Marie (28 months old, 23.8 lbs). And, by way of the same court documents, proud children Evan Victor Robert and Valentina Anna Marie adopted Murray Robert (43 years, 205 lbs) and Donna Marie (vitals undisclosed in interests of writer's health). All family members are doing fine and are now back in Kyiv doing final immigration paperwork.

Attached is a video about nashi sonychka---our little sunshines. Thanks to Donna! [Unlike the birthing process, we feel its ok to show this type of video...]

Sunday, July 27, 2008

As Ozzy Says...

"Mama, I'm coming hoooooome"...

Our flights are booked and we will be returning home on August 3rd... subject to the vagaries of airflight and Air Canada in particular ...

[This is Murray talking: Now I know how much you have all missed me in particular and are dying to meet me at the airport and shower me with gifts, kisses and money. Now, unless you are bringing money-and lots of it-I ask that you control your "Mur-mania" and not come looking for us at the airport. I'm not sure our tired and bewildered kids could handle the thousands of screaming fans that no doubt would be there if we let them know our fl;ight arrival information. For those wanting more information to satisfy their needs, please go to my website at ]

Heeeeeeeere’s Da Kids!!

Evan Victor Robert and Valentina Anna Marie. They are our sonycka----our little sunshines.
Anyway, here’s a few pictures for our blog. To see more, we will be posting a movie tommorrow on the “You Tube” site. Stay posted for a posting tommorrow hopefully...the final edits are in progress...a DonnaZ film production!
We hope you understand us having to make you wait for these pictures. Just like we will need some time at home with them on our own to get used to us, we also want time to know them for ourselves first before introducing them to the rest of our world. We think we have that right. After all, we will be their parents as of Tuesday.
We want to talk about Evan and Valentina in this posting, but you will hear a lot more in the future. Evan is our boy’s anglicized name and his Ukrainian nickname is “Vanya”. His been through a lot in his seven years; we can see it in his eyes—and sometimes he acts older than his age. But as we have gotten to know him, he is becoming more of the 7-year old boy that he really is. He loves to be outside playing sports, especially football. (Note: This refers to soccer actually, although soon enough we will have him playing the kind with the weird shaped ball and singing “Green is the Color”…Four and oh! Can you believe it? But I digress…)
Evan is quick with puzzles and at picking up and writing English. Of course, he has a very well qualified teacher in Donna. He is curious and likes to create with lego blocks etc. We have re-enacted the flights to Kyiv and on to Toronto and Saskatoon many time already. And the other day, Vanya used Valya’s RV pull toy along with his lego bus. He make-believed that he had “guests” come by bus to the house, and then mama and papa invited the guests into the house. After awhile, the guests had to leave, and took the bus back to the plane. What an imagination!
An then there is Valentina, or “Valya”, or as Donna has come to call her: “Little Stinker”. She is quiet because of here developmental lags, but she is still quite the kid with quite the character for 28 months. She sometimes likes to babble in her own language…much like Murray. Her favorite toy is her tea set, although we just gave her a plush purple cow backpack and that has gone over really well. Valentina really watches her older brother closely, and she is starting to mimic him more and more each day. We can’t wait for her to begin talking and soon enough we expect her to be reciting Shakespeare.

Boy, it’s great being parents and bragging about your kids…