Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Catching up...Today it was Trams!

Maybe you've noticed there hasn't been a post in a few days...SORRY!  And maybe you haven't, and that's ok too ;-)

Honestly, our days have been so long, at some point I had to decide to either go to bed at midnight or go to bed at 3am...and I've been so tired I chose midnight!  And that is why there've been no posts.  To share with you a little from Saturday...

Saturday began the first of our past four days of really just "being a family."  There wasn't any big sightseeing or trip planned and no souvenir shopping.  We were all wiped out from walking who knows how many miles (or kilometers!) at the castle on Friday and so we just slept.  Late!  As usual. 

We talked about all that we needed to do or had to do over the next few days and started mapping out how we would get it all done.  One of the things we did definitely want to do was see our friend Inese here and her two foster children.  She has been wonderful in arranging the apartment for us and we wanted to thank her and deliver some things that were sent by folks for her and the kids to use. 

We had to meet the lady here at the apartment at 3pm to pay for the rest of our stay and then as soon as she left we struck out to figure out the trams.  Inese lives in Mezaparks and none of us, even J!, were familiar with how to get there.  She had shared to use the Number 11 and it would be very easy. 

You buy the tickets for these at the Narvesson which are the 7 Eleven stores I was telling you about before.  We started out on our walk because the stop for the tram is located behind the opera house.  We stopped at the Narvesson, bought our tickets and continued on our way.  Remember I told you about the flower stands all around?  Well, I still love these things!  And so we thought (Gary and I separately and at the same time!) that it would be nice to take her some flowers. 

I asked the kids what they liked and they picked the red and white gladiolus.  They were gorgeous...I said two of each please!  J then quickly said, no mom...you need to buy five.  You can't get even numbers...it has to be odd!  OK, I'll entertain this for now...give me five. 

Glads in hand we head on to the tram station.  It takes some figuring out but as we work our way around, ask several questions, we figure out where it picks up and that we have about 7 minutes wait.  Finally it comes and we board...and it's nice.  Cheap way to travel around the city and in about 30 minutes we are there.

Mezaparks is a lovely area with some beautiful homes and streets.  It's definitely one area I would like to spend more time in...but for ths day, only a quick visit.  We see the entrance to the zoo...but don't get to go.  And instead after a quick call to Inese, walk down the street to where she is.  Her apartment place is really lovely...a gorgeous house that has been outfitted into apartments.  Or maybe it was apartments all along, but really pretty. 

Her little angels are sitting on the couch and are there for a visit.  She gets them full time on Monday and it is so nice to see them being loved on!  They are beautiful!  Check out my facebook for photos of them.  Absolutely precious!  They don't know English but quickly seem to understand hello and smile! 

We visit in the other room while the kids watch AirBuddies in Latvian and Stuart Little in English.  Over a cup of tea we chat...about Latvia, about the children, about our children, about ministries.  She is a wonderful woman who loves God and has ministered to so many.  Such a privilege to be able to just sit and chat! 

Our kids are starving (sleeping til noon will cause this when you have breakfast of cereal at 12:30pm)...ugh, this will not continue in America!  ;-)  So we ask if we can go find something to eat nearby and we all go for a walk.  It really is a lovely area and we enjoy the walk to the restaurant.  It isn't very big and as soon as we walk in the girl tells Inese that she only has one cook so it will take at least 50 minutes for food.  We feel so welcome!  LOL

After some debate we decide it's getting late so we'll meet again later and have dinner some other day.  The little ones most likely can't take the wait.  We part ways and we head back into downtown Riga to find dinner.  We reboard the tram and ride back and get off at a stop closer to the apartment.  Double Coffee sounds like a good solution to dinner so we head there...they have the best Caramel Coffee!  My only wish is that these yummy beverages came in a venti size!

Here we encountered some "no one's ever told me this was not ok" behaviour.  Nothing major but the cell phone became a dinner guest and Mama and Daddy weren't happy.  One quick look across the table though silenced it and we finished dinner and headed home. 

We got home and I grabbed my grocery list and without having to ask had three volunteers to go to the store with me.  We got our groceries...some begging ensued for ice cream for which I relented (funny, it was the same kind we bought in the park the other day and it was cheaper in the park!) and then started the walk home. 

Finally, in for the night, another load of clothes, unpacking groceries and another "kitchen conversation."  I love the way these just pop up...many times instigated by our children.  Meaningful talks just out of the blue...some of them are better than others at starting them...but it's nice to know they WANT to talk. 

Parenting kids, teenagers, is never easy.  They are figuring out themselves and we are trying to walk them through it all.  And really this is what today became (well Saturday since I'm writing this way late)...it became the day we started figuring out our family.  No castles, historical places or shopping to distract.  Just a day where Gary and I and our five children went to visit friends...nothing fancy about it.  And it was good.  Mind you I said it was good...not perfect, not the way I want every day to be, not without challenges...but it was good, in ALL of it's imperfections.  ;-)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Planes, Trains and Automobiles...Well, Not Exactly!

More like Buses, Golf Cart Cars, Feet, Cable Cars and Trains!  Today we were tourists!  Well, yesterday...I was wiped out...worse than wiped out last night...so today I write ;-)

The one request by everyone was to go see a castle...a real castle.  So I began looking for them and there are tons in Latvia but we wanted to find the best one that wasn't too far away.  At least two natives here had suggested we go to Sigulda and that area was mentioned in our travel book too.  I looked up the train schedule and wanted to be on the 8:05am train out there.  Of course my teen, pre-teen entourage looked at me as if I had three heads and we compromised on the 10:42am train.

Well, as you all know, I have taken to staying up til 3am to write these blogs (except last night of course).  Alarm went off at 8:30am and I just couldn't move...add to that having a hard time getting everyone else going and at 10:30am we still had teeth to brush and shoes to get on and we are a good 15 minute walk from the train station.  Frustration set in...but then I realized little E most likely wouldn't last more than about 6 hours hiking all over creation so we went to option two...the buses!

We found one that left at 11am and the next after that to be 12pm.  None of us, including J, really knew where the bus station was...we knew general vicinity but not really where it was.  So we decided the 12pm was the best choice to give us time.  We struck out toward the train station where we believed the buses to be too.  It was neat, we got to walk through Central Market too...one of the things I wanted to mark off of my things to see/do list.  We arrived, bought our bus tickets and made our way to the platform to wait.  It was to be about 45 minutes wait. 

While we were sitting there, I pulled out my book and looked for reading material.  As I read, I found out that the huge warehouse things right in front of us were built to be German zeppelin hangars in WWI...and now they are used for markets.  It's interesting, if you just open your eyes, you find the most amazing details in what's right in front of you. 

That leads me to our life lesson for the day.  As we sat there waiting, a man came by.  On face value he looked pretty ok.  Appeared to be clean, holding a shopping bag.  Until he started digging in the trash cans, looking for food.  He didn't speak to us, he didn't make eye contact, he just did what he needed to do to try and find food.  And as he passed, I noticed the "details."  He "appeared" to be clean and well put together...but in the details - the hem of his shirt was filthy, his pants down at the bottom of the legs looked extremely worn and his shoes...well his shoes had no laces and were just hanging on his feet, soles looking sooo thin.  He continued down the line of trash cans (they're placed about every other platform) and I couldn't stand it.  He didn't beg...he was just surviving.  I gave some money to J and told him to please go give it to him and tell him to get food.  He did and the man finally made eye contact. 

Now this guy needed physical help...food, clothes, you know the drill.  But the lesson I shared with our kids last night is the fact we need to pay attention to the details.  There are people around us every day who are hurting...they may have the best looking clothing but if you look at them closely, really get to know them, we find they are filthy inside and in need of something we can give - a kind word, a hug, a shoulder to lean on, the truth of Christ and how He can change all of that.  I am not naive enough to think we can help all the hurting people either here or in any city...but I do believe we are called to action. One at a time...that's how we impact any issue, right?

Our bus finally came and we boarded...not super luxury but not terrible either.  It was a little hot but otherwise ok.  We all piled on and got comfortable.  The issue we had was that no one was really certain where exactly we were to get off.  As we drove, everyone took a little nap or read for a while.  It was a little over an hour ride and as we got closer we started speculating on where we should get off.  At one stop, it looked right, so we started to...and this wonderful man sitting next to Gary said No! Wait a little more. So grateful he spoke up!  The bus pulled us right up to the main station and the information center with a fabulous English speaking clerk was literally right next door. 

Our main goal was to see a castle so she offered us several options to see several castles and then get back to the train.  It was later though so we decided we should go straight to the biggest one and then make our way back down.  They called a Golf Cart for us and we ran across the street to a pizza place to get some lunch.  We ordered three pizzas to go (their larges are like our mediums...so we're not being exceptionally piggy ;-)) and drinks and as they came ready, our cart pulled up.  We had a sweet driver who showed us some sights as we went up the mountain.  The actual town for the castle was Turaida and was only 6 km from Sigulda. 

She offered us all blankets, said it gets cold as she drives.  M&M&E accepted but our "tough guys" decided they were fine.  And I was upfront beside her.  We got to the top and we were all COLD!  We sat outside the gate on some benches and ate our pizza and then went through to enter.  They had prices for two adults, and two kids (family) and we were trying to figure out how we would pay.  Finally, I told her, "let me just tell you what we have and you tell us how much."  I told her we were two adults and five kids and all were ours.  ;-)  She let us go in for the same family price as the two and two! 

We started out and went up by the oldest wooden church in Latvia and where the Turaida Rose is buried with a hundreds year old linden tree keeping her company.  Then on down toward the castle.  There's a gift shop there with authentic Latvian made items inside...super expensive!  I wanted a wrap badly but it was 42 lats!  So, not this time ;-)

I cannot tell you the surreal feeling as we crested the hill and the castle came into view.  Imagine being, for real, in a place straight out of Lord of the Rings.  The castle tower rising above the road.  Standing still for a minute and imagining what we're reading.  There used to be two towers with a gate in between and a moat...oh my goodness that serious dip in the ground used to be a MOAT!  Wow!  J said to me, wouldn't you like to be able to go back in time and just see what it might be like?  Like if there was a way for you to just see the figures moving...but I suppose that is what our imaginations are for ;-)

We continued on in and saw the courtyard, the areas where the guards lived and worked, the well, the jail!  The furnace room and the gardens.  This is alll from 1207...hello that's like 800 years ago!  We kept saying as we walked we just could not believe we were walking in these places!  The wooden part of the castle was destroyed by fire in the 1700's I think and was never rebuilt.  So the palace part was purely imagination...nothing but the foundation remains.  We all took a turn with the archery there...not too bad.  J and Zach hit the yellow part of the target, Gary was good too.  I actually hit the white paper!  E and at least one of the girls missed the board completely ;-)  It was fun!

We climbed the tower...which was a LONG way up!  All of the stairwells and walkways were super narrow.  We laughed about how everyone must have been skinny and short back then.  But one really cool observation was that the stairs were worn. The bricks had smoothed out curves in them where hundreds of feet have gone up and down.  We walked and walked and walked up the stairs til we finally reached the top and could see the most amazing views.  The River Gauja in flowing right beside the castle and in the distance, Sigulda Castle and Krimulda.  Sooooo much cool history here!

J commented that he felt like a tourist...we told him he was.  Our answer has become, when people ask us why we are here, we are here to pick up our sons...they've been living here for a long time and they're coming home now.  ;-) 

So the deal was we had a ride up the mountain but we were to walk down it and see sights along the way.  And off we went since it was about 6pm.  The first sight we came to was the largest cave in Latvia.  That was so cool.  Legend has it that the Turaida Rose was murdered here because she would rather perish at the hands of an admirer than deny her love for her true love, the gardener Victor from Sigulda.  There's also a stream there that flows out of the cave where women in olden days would bring their newborns to wash their heads there and it would make them smart and beautiful.  I laughed with our kids that boy did I miss an opportunity HAHA.  The cave is made of sandstone and people have carved their names and dates in it for years.  The oldest one we could find was from Lucy Lane 1817. 

On we walked past another smaller cave and then to Serpent's Road.  This was a ,80 km walk UPHILL along a winding road.  You could say we certainly got our workout in!  At the top of the hill is the Cable Car ride and after a brief rest and wait it came.  While we waited there were some kids playing with motorbikes.  Gary really enjoyed this as they were rundown bikes but he loves this stuff.

On to the Cable Car that would take us over the valley and directly over the River Gauja.  These views were amazing...great pictures of Turaida, Sigulda New Castle and Krimulda Manor.  And the best gift was an amazing rainbow that appeared in the clouds just as we crossed.  This Cable Car dropped us right at the Tarzan Parks where we had promised the kids to ride the toboggan.  Mae was scared...not sure she wanted to.  They took off down the mountain and they got to ride the chair lift back up.  When they got back up there was a chorus of "again Mom...please!!"  I sent them right to Daddy and he relented...one more. 

From there we started heading to the train station and realized that by the time we got back to Riga, it would be after 9pm so we just happened to pass another pizza place ;-)  This place was cheap...amazingly so.  We went it and it felt wonderful...the seats at the tables were like armchairs and couches and it was so warm (it was getting really cold outside!)  We cozied up and ordered more pizza and cokes and even ice cream and then it dawned on us, hmmmm, the last train to Riga, we don't know when that is??  We asked the server and she said she thought 9pm...uh oh, it's 8:30!  Cancel the coffee, gotta go! 

We headed out foregoing pictures with the HUGE spider yard art out front and walking quickly to the train station.  We got there and found out it was really 9:20pm for the train...so we had some time.  The girls and I ran back to the same pizza place for lunch for a bathroom break and wonderfully, saw he had a coffee machine!  I ordered two capuccinos to go and back across the street we went. 

We finally boarded the train and settled in for the hour long ride back to Riga.  What a wonderful wonderful day!  All outside, all walking and hiking...definitely time for a nap.  After getting all toasty on the train, looking at all our pictures on the camera of our day and napping a bit, we finally arrived back in Riga.  It was a freezing walk back to the apartment where we relaxed with a cup of tea and Circle Time. 

What a blessed day!  What fun!  The only "bummer" part of the day was thinking of how many of our friends and family would have loved to have been here with us.  Those who would appreciate it for the history and the fun.

We had a great day...but we are READY to go home.  And now we're down to more of the "business" we came here for.  Today we are going to meet a friend in Mezaparks and maybe go to the zoo.  Monday we have court again and then going to the Baltic Sea.  Tuesday Embassy interviews and Wednesday picking up their Visas. 

Please keep praying for these last days...it gets a little harder every day and a little easier too.  I know that may sound odd but it is true.  Lots to plan for and lots to say goodbye to.  Very much need the support and prayers of our friends and family. 

Thanks...here's hoping we continue to get stronger and build even more family memories together!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Do Not Be Anxious About Anything!

Well, we've all heard that one before...but today, I was stubborn!  I went to bed at 3am again after blogging once all the kids were in bed.  I have this issue that my twins like to write too so while I start writing, they start talking and before you know it we've gone an hour and a half and it's crazy! 

Anyway, I was awake at 8am freaking out about to make myself ill worried about flights.  Would we be able to find a flight for the 15th, how much would it cost, can we get J and our friend's child on the same flight with us.  I got up and starting surfing the web trying to find phone numbers.  We had a travel agent do all of the arrangements for us and with the Hurricane changing everything he did the first leg of changing with no fees.  Then he had surgery...and I have felt terrible in having to bother him while he's healing!

But our challenge is that we had no way of knowing if our departure would have to be changed til we got here.  So at 8am I'm trying to figure out what to do on my own....I've always been an Expedia kind of girl so this is daunting.  I email our agent, I email a friend and I facebook a friend who I think might have a clue as to what to do...and then realize it's the middle of the night in my real world and there's nothing I can do.

So, I pray about it...and go back to bed and try to sleep a little more.  Finally at 10am I get up and decide to give it a try on my own.  I grab my trusty Latvian phone and call the Latvian number for FinnAir.  Mercifully, the wonderful woman Eva speaks English.  I tell her our situation and she finds our records and says she'll need to work on it...can she call me back.  I thank her and wait for her call. 

Shortly after she does call me back and give me good news and bad news.  Good news is she found flights that all 8 of us can fit on...the bad news is it will be $250 to fix the six tickets (PER PERSON!) AND 150 lats per ticket on J and our friend's child.  Deep breaths...we'll figure it out.  My biggest concern is having our behinds on a plane on the 15th.  So I tell her fine, we'll take them and figure out any reductions later.  I'm kind of in a tight spot boys (That's a movie reference for my parents.)

Not that easy...she can't take my card over the phone...can we come to the airport?  Well, sure, that's not a problem...ugh...just not the way I had planned to spend my day.  Showers done we head to the airport to work it all out.  Before I go in their offices, I check my email once again to see if there's anything from our agent...no word.  But an encouraging email from my FB friend saying she'd be praying and to kindly but firmly keep asking for a supervisor.

FinnAir was wonderful...they called their supervisor but unfortunately because the ticket was issued by American Airlines, there's nothing they can do.  And they don't have a number I can call.  Grateful for free wifi in the airport, I start searching for American's help desk line while sitting at Lido.  Finally I find a number and using my $2 a minute phone, call.  I get this wonderful woman named Sandy who checks it all out and sympathetically listens to my story...she checks and says the best she can do is if we can leave two days after our scheduled departure since that is the amount of time we were behind in arriving.  I explain to her it isn't that easy...I'm working with the courts here in Latvia...we're adopting!  She says I should speak to a supervisor (wink wink...thanks Sandy!) She puts me in touch with Ann and I explain it all again...Ann thinks about it, explains her side.  I recap to her that we have court Monday, Visa interviews Tuesday, pick up Visas Wednesday, leave Thursday.  I assure her we aren't just hanging out to sightsee some more.

She puts me on hold...and then comes back to say she's going to confirm the seats and I'll need to get back to FinnAir to take care of the other two seats.  She finishes and says "is there anything else I can help with?"  I said, well, how much is it going to cost me?  Her reply, Oh nothing...I just exchanged them for you.  I cried, called her an angel, told her she was an answer to prayer and ran to the FinnAir office! 

We did have to pay for those to be changed but Ann saved us $1500!!!  And it's so cool...because we found out later we needed to pay a little more to stay longer in our apartment too.  But here's a cool story too...when we thought we needed to pay for the ticket exchange, we were trying to remain calm and figure out how we would finagle the money to make it work.  It's cool y'all...it's all His but we've got to be responsible with it.  So math lesson...we had a certain amount we were encouraged to bring in cash by our agency.  We thought it was way too high but complied.  We knew how much we needed for court costs and we knew how much the apartment would cost and we knew from our trip in March we could use our cards and ATM's all over.  But grumble, grumble, fine we'll take it.  Well, checking out our accounts back home, thinking of which cards to use...it dawned on us, how much cash do we have left?  We deducted the amount we needed to pay for legal stuff and the amount left over was EXACTLY what it would have cost us if we'd had to pay for the change.  It just encouraged me soooooo much!

We returned to the apartment and decided to take our usual walk of the area.  We needed to get passport pictures/visa pics made of the boys so we went in search of that so we could handle it for the next day.  We found ourselves again by the Dome Cathedral, then looking around St. John's Church and this cool little walkway that used to be the monastery entry.  We walked through a neat courtyard that had many restaurants and the food smelled sooooo good.  But we were on a mission.  Out the other side of this ancient courtyard and there was a brand new mall (the malls here go up instead of out and have really great modern architecture).  Inside is where the passport pics were so we went down and she was still open! 

Mark that off the list!  While we waited for them to be printed there was a tiny pet shop across the way so we looked around.  We saw our first ever chinchilla for sale.  He was so cute!!  Photos done, E bouncing off the walls, frustrations with parenting stuff starting to bubble and I was hungry!  We walked out and Gary asked me what I wanted to do.  I spouted off "I want to find a lovely restaurant with a beautiful courtyard where we can have an amazing meal and relax outdoors and just appreciate we're in Latvia!  But it's late and I seriously doubt that's going to happen!"  Then my sweet Marleigh said, Hey mom...why don't we go back to that place that smelled so good.

So we did...the Black Pigeon was our dinner spot with this beautiful courtyard in the middle of a 17th century old monastery...and as we read about it, isn't it fitting it's actually a hotel restaurant?  And it was soo good!  They had a family style dinner that was supposed to feed 4...she looked at us and said "it will be enough."  Sausages, pickles, french fries, pork ribs, two different sauces (Latvians like their sauces), onion rings, chicken "shishkals" shishkabobs and of course our obligatory coke and coke light.  It was so refined they brought us cloth placemats when we were seated and little wine glasses to drink our cokes and apple juice from.  And the whole meal for all seven of us was about 35 lats.  A little over our daily budget but we took home enough meat to make another meal out of it!

It really was relaxing and fun and a wonderful experience eating a true Latvian meal.  Check one more experience off the list please!  We walked back through Old Riga and it was fun to see it at night.  The cobblestone streets, the night life (both good and questionable)...there was a three or four piece 50s style music band playing right on the square...if it weren't chilly I would have enjoyed sitting and listening for a while.  But our little one was really really tired. 

I hung back and watched them walk...girls goofing off taking turns walking funny, boys dancing like sillies as we walked past the band, Daddy holding the hand of little E as we walked and him dancing along. 

Closing down for the night with Circle Time and funnies about the day...I love this part of our family time.  It's when I was reminded, so gently by my sweet daughter..."do not be anxious about anything" cause it's in the Bible!  Please continue to pray for us.  We are trying to have fun (and we are) but we feel distractions and pulls trying to steal our joy.  There are many who realize this is it for J, he's really going...and some, not all, are trying to make that departure emotionally difficult for him.  Mae even said as her prayer request tonight for "evil to just stay away from us."  So please be praying.

And me?  I'll remember that in all things to give thanks...but to not be anxious for any of it.  Cause He's already figured it out...He just hasn't shown me how yet.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It Feels Like...

Our family has always done birthdays big.  Not like tons of presents or extravagant parties that would be featured on some reality TV show...but we love to celebrate each other!  And I'm a party planner by trade and creative thanks to God so it's always a bit more involved than it has to be...and my husband tolerates...no embraces! my craziness. 

The day started out like every other...E in the bed with us at 7am, trying to sleep in spite of his rolling and tumbling, starting to give up when it got to be...oh wait, is that the phone ringing??  Yep, I rush out of bed at 9am because our dear friend is calling and I need to meet her to deliver some papers.  I actually thanked God for her as I went to shower because I needed to get up...and that was my incentive.  Get going Shelley!

We made arrangements to meet by the Opera House and I ran to get a shower.  As most of you know by now, today was J's birthday.  And as you may or may not know about us is that we have this tradition.  You get the number of gifts that you are old...so he was in line for 15!  Now, don't go crazy on me...they aren't big gifts.  There might be one or two that are "fun" but they aren't a big deal.  However I was up til 3am last night because I write these cute little poems to go with them and leave little numbers all over the house...the kids have to find them.  So, before I left I had to get a couple set up and leave instructions on where the next few were in case he found them too quickly.

Before coffee, before granola bars...Zach and I headed out for the short walk to the Opera House.  It was a nice walk...beautiful morning!  We got there in time to see the posting of the guards at Freedom Monument...did the quick exchange with our friend and headed back.  It was some great one on one time with my firstborn.  Love that kid!! 

I know I've mentioned this before but there is something so refined, so cultural, about Europe. Today's observation was a cute little girl riding on her Daddy's shoulders dressed to the nines.  Purple leggings, purple cordoroy skirt, light colored jacket, blond hair in pigtails and a proper little kerchief tied over her head.  Adorable!

When we got back, I got my coffee, yogurt and granola and settled in to start looking through my tour books (you know my nickname is Tour Guide Barbie).  The girls were giving J an introductory lesson on how this birthday deal works and he was loving it.  We also realized there are seven of us and we have seven days left here...so we decided to give everyone a day to plan...and today was J's. 

He said he didn't know what to do, so could we just go grocery shopping and hang out here.  We thought, well maybe he doesn't know what to suggest...so let's just get out and walk around.  So off we went...heading toward Old Town again and let's see what we find.  We always walk straight into Old Town and for some reason stay to the left...so today we decided let's go right.

The girls wanted to feed the ducks so we took the bread we thought was wheat that turned out to be rye (not a fave in our family) and headed toward the Riga Channel that runs through town.  As we headed down we saw the boat landing with paddle boats we had been in search of two days before!  And everyone thought it was a good idea to see how much it costs.  The girls and E went to the channel's edge to feed the ducks and we sent the two big boys over to find out costs.  They called to say it was only two lats per boat...pretty economical in Riga.  We decided it was a good birthday idea!  And they were willing to let us have E ride with Gary and me.

We all piled in our boats and took off.  Sooooo much fun.  I'm not sure I've ever done paddle boats before and I'm certain our kids hadn't.  It really is cool the different perspective you have of the city from those little boats.  However, about 10 minutes into it you understand why they are booked in 20 minute increments...our thighs were screaming at us!  Ouch!  We paddled, had a bit of bumper boats, coasted, dodged a bigger boat! and all around just had a blast.  Funny, towards the end, the kids took to paddling (pedaling) with their hands because it hurt their legs! 

Once we climbed out, we started walking through the park...and the first thing we saw was an ice cream cart.  These things are all over Riga.  In the strangest of places...but really ALL over the city.  We relented and bought one of the cheapest on the list...again, a fun birthday thing to do.  And we kept walking.  There's this raised area in the park that looks like it could be a cool historical spot...but I haven't been able to figure it out yet...so we walked to the top of that. 

I think I mentioned yesterday that we had invited J's sister and brother and nephew to dinner for his birthday.  I think it was something he was so excited about but didn't want to be a bother...but meekly he added two more to the guest list and we were happy he wanted to share this day - and us - with more people here.  The one friend was coming at 3pm to meet us in Riga and we met up at Cili Pica and continued our walking.  As usual we headed into Old Town and had our history lesson for the day. 

The Powder Tower (circa 1647) is situated right at the edge and has cannonballs stuck in the side of it said to have been launched there by Peter the Great himself (I think...I don't have my tour book here with me ;-))  And inside this tower is the Latvian War Museum going all the way from the 1200's to present day.  Very cool.  We spent quite a while in there as it was a total of four or five floors of museums.  The area that struck me the most was the section about 1991 and their fight for independence.  As I stood there looking at the photos of the resistance, I thought about what I was doing in 1991.  I was one year out of high school and one year into college.  I was worried about what I was wearing to Emerald Ball, how I was doing in class and when I was going to see my boyfriend again.  These people were fighting, life was hard...and the economy and the wonderful resilient people are still rebuilding from this. 

Don't get me wrong, I think some - maybe even most - here are just fine...really fine.  They have wonderful lives..."normal" lives.  And honestly many of those are the wonderful people who are helping those of us who have children here.  But for those on whom it hasn't been as easy, I think there is still a sense of extreme hardship.  Whether it is financial, addiction or just having been dealt a hard luck hand...the hold just isn't as easy to climb out of.  All of that just hit me as I looked at those pictures from 1991.  And I thought of J's mom...in 1991 she had two kids already and she would have two more...and what was she doing in 1991. 

So after our long visit there, we headed back just as a rain set in.  J said every year it rains on his birthday!  We rested for just a second and then headed to the grocery.  He had to  pick out his cake!  I had a pretty long list and we walked around the store gathering all our things.  Latvia's most challenging thing for me is the size of the items you can buy.  For example, one cannot buy a gallon of milk here...it's all quarts.  So for a family of seven this can get very expensive!  Cereal comes packaged in these little bags that would take care of my boys one morning!  Eggs come in a 10 pack, not a dozen.  You get the picture. 

We headed over to the pastry counter to look at cakes.  They are works of art...really gorgeous!  With the number we have coming we decide we better get two.  J doesn't know what to pick...so we talk him through it.  Do you like berry, or just chocolate?  We decide on one that is mostly chocolate and one that is kind of a cheesecake with cherries on top.  They both look amazing.  Again, my high culture or maybe it's old fashioned observation is that they put it in this pretty box and place a lid on it and then tie it up with these strong ties - but pretty - so you can carry it old fashioned style just from the little ties.  Yes, I took pics.

We check out and head back and we're all starving because we didn't really eat lunch.  After a quick snack of fresh baguettes, salami, mozzarella, tomatoes, cucumber and the like Gary and I start cooking.  Peeling potatoes, putting the macaroni I brought from home on to boil (mac and cheese velveeta style is on the menu) and opening up the sugar peas I bought.  J wanted the potatoes fried so that's what we did. 

About 10 minutes in he said his sister and nephew had arrived and would be at Freedom Monument soon.  I kept cooking while he and Gary went to meet them.  While they were gone the power turned off three times!  Apparently you can't run more than one unit at a time on the stove without tripping the breaker! 

I'm not sure I've fully described our kitchen situation.  We have a kitchen up front with refrigerator and great countertops...but no sink or stovetop.  The kitchen in the back is about the size of a hallway (smaller really) and has the cooktop, sink...but no fridge...hmmmm.  Tough when you get like five people in there some making tea, some slicing potatoes, some washing up dishes...a leetle tight!

I realize at this point I should have done all the potatoes first because they take the longest.  But the noodles are already on for the mac and cheese so I'm committed.  I finish these up and Gary returns with J, sister and nephew and now E is in heaven!  He has a playmate!  We keep cooking (having a small frying pan doesn't help either) and just getting such joy from how happy J is.  He keeps coming back to check on us...are we ok?  do we need anything?  Thanks for doing all this. 

As potatoes get ready, we offer for those who are here to go ahead and eat...but we find out that his brother and his best friend are coming soon, so can we wait?  And the answer is of course we can. They arrive in perfect time and J and his sister walk to meet them.  When I meet them all, I just can't help but hug them all.  These are the people who love J...who have helped shape him into the boy he is. 

Marleigh has been busy entertaining J's friend who came early, Mae has been almost obsessively cleaning the apartment and setting up the buffet (I think she's gonna be like her mamma!) and Zach has been resetting the breaker box, slicing potatoes and helping tidy up.  We get everything set up finally and everyone is here and gathered.  The buffet is Rotisserie chicken from Rimi, Velveeta Shells and Cheese, Sugar Peas, Fried Potatoes and beautiful cakes!

We all gathered in the den for prayer before dinner and then the buffet was open!  They were somewhat shy at first...but it really is amazing what the language of love and acceptance can do to bridge the gap.  We got everyone fed and had to hurry a bit through blowing out the candles and cutting cake because J's friend had to head back to school.  While everyone was eating dinner, J's grandfather called.  He wanted to wish him a happy birthday.  We so wish he and his other brother could have come but they were both sick.  J translated what he wanted to say to us - thanking us for taking care of J, he wishes us only the best in life and please keep doing what we are doing with our good hearts.  Wow...I love this man and have never met him.  I cannot imagine how hard this must be for all of them.  We've asked J to be sure this is what he really wants...and he tells us he wants a family who can care for him AND loves him...and this is what his family here wants for him too.  We tell J he needs to go visit before we leave...we have to make the most of every day we have.  God is SOOOO AMAZING!

He had such a good time and we were so glad to be able to do this with and for him.  We snapped a quick photo of everyone at his party and then he and his sister walked his friend to the train station.

We tidied up a bit and then just visited with our guests until they too had to go to the train station.  I went in to check with Gary about who would walk them back and he was exhausted.  Here's where the title for tonight comes in ;-)  We are beat...our backs hurt, our feet hurt, we're just plain tired.  And here's the fun realization...we feel EXACTLY like we do after we host a birthday party for one of our kids HAHAHA (that's me laughing with joy) because ladies and gents, we just did.  His very first that was all his...and it was wonderful!

And the other realization I have is how truly blessed J is.  He has two brothers, a sister and a grandfather that love him and want what's best for him.  And now he has us who love him as one of our own...poor kid, he's a Belk (soon).  And sweet E...I realize just how blessed we are.  No one's asking to say goodbye to him...but again, he's already said goodbye.  His last name might not be Belk yet, but he's a Belk through and through.

At Circle Time, J shared with us what a good time everyone had.  We complimented him (Zach's observation) on what a good host he was.  He worked the room visiting with everyone to make sure no one felt left out.  I remember when he made his plate for dinner, he said "Mom, there's so much food.  It reminds me of America." This made me happy and sad at the same time.  He also shared with us that his friend felt we were too "good" for him to mingle with us.  He was too "bad."  Made me so happy that I'd given him a hug...praying that showed him we love everyone just like Jesus does. 

Then he said it was the best birthday he'd ever had...and he was ready - so ready! - to go home.

Want to know what J's 15 presents were:
1  underwear
2  socks
3  a card from his brothers and sisters
4  three toy skateboards
5  deodorant
6 a calendar
7 hair gel
8 basketball shorts
9 undershirts
10 a tee shirt from annapolis
11 cologne
12 a card from me and Daddy
13 two snicker bars
14 a sketchpad with a drum set on the front and a paper jamz guitar from burger king
and 15?  oh yeah...
15...a plane ticket home

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thanks Mom...for Holding me Accountable ;-)

My mother missed my blog post last night so the first thing I did this morning was post my blog.  Since she's my best friend, financial advisor, prayer warrior Mama...I decided I wouldn't keep her waiting again.  So here we go:

It was a chilly, rainy day in Latvia (sounds like the beginning of a great book huh?)...and we slept in.  Wait, that sounds like every other day!  Seriously though, we did sleep a little late.  Gary and I were troubled about several things and I personally didn't sleep very well.  That coupled with the fact that a certain little boy magically appears in our bed around 6 am every morning to then flop and flip and elbow us with hugs and kisses sprinkled in makes for the fact I woke up tired and a bit irritable. 

I immediately got coffee from my hubby and then blogged before Mama called me out again ;-)  At 11am we decided the kids needed to rise and shine so we rousted them out of bed.  Breakfast was an "on your own" kind of thing with cereal and granola bars...this family goes through so many bananas I'm beginning to think the moniker "monkeys" is quite fitting.  Once done with breakfast, Gary and I decided a talk was in order. 

It was a good, cleansing, get it all out in the open kind of talk.  And everyone felt better afterwards.  While the kids were held hostage by "yellow" (it's all E wants to watch...Sponge Bob Square Pants) Gary and I got our showers and discussed what to do for the day.  J had wanted to go to Kemeri to get his things from the orphanage...another big step in this process.

I really cannot imagine what it must feel like to have been in a place for three years where it's been the only home you've had and now you're moving out...and you're moving out because you now have a family.  It has to be wonderful, scary, thrilling and sad all at the same time.  I had emailed his Orphanage Director to make sure that was ok and had not heard back but he called and it seemed to be ok.  So we took an empty suitcase and off we went. 

It seemed God was really smiling on this as the rain stopped and when we got to the train station, blue sky was already starting to show.  And it had been raining ALL morning...hard! 

The train ride is an hour to Kemeri.  We all piled on and the trek began.  E got bored pretty quick but I gave him my music on my iPhone and my ear buds and before long he was jamming out bigtime.  Zach and J were sharing ear buds on Zach's iPod.  Marleigh and Mae were between reading, listening to music and snacking (they are very efficient travelers...never leave without a bag and always have a snack).  Gary borrowed Marleigh's ear buds and before I knew it he was serenading us on the train with some good Beach Music.  I told Marleigh...the train ride was 13 lats for all of us...but the entertainment was free!

Finally we got to Kemeri and off we piled.  There's a short cut through the woods I knew our blond kids would enjoy.  So we took the suitcase and E and went by the sidewalk and told J to take the others through the woods and we'd meet them at the orphanage.  We got there and went up to his room...he wanted all of us to come.  He packed a few things, showed us a few things, got his guitar immediately and asked Gary to play while we packed him up.  After a few minutes, he asked if we could walk around some.  We had about two hours before the next train.  So we did...

His sister works at the little market on the corner so we went down there and visited her and bought some chips and cokes for a snack.  His brother...VERY SHY...was coming to meet us for the first time and visit with him and bring his little five year old nephew to see us too.  We hung out and just walked around...getting eaten by mosquitoes again!  His brother arrived and little Zhenya bounced off the bus with him.  It was so good to finally meet this brother and see little one again.  We set out walking around and just looking at the area.  Stopped and took a few photos along the way...shocker!

E was so funny with Zhenya!  Acting like the big man on campus and making him hold his hand as we walked.  J really needed this time I think.  It wasn't closure yet...but the beginning.  When it was nearing time to go for the train, we walked back to the orphanage and got his suitcase...packed a few more things in.  He said goodbye to the lady who works mostly in his group...she was obviously touched by him...happy for him.  I gave her a hug and said Paldies...so so much!  These are the women who have tried so hard to work with and care for our sons.  And they have made a difference.  This makes us want to so badly to do something for and with this orphanage. 

It is a unique place...not perfect but wow, so caring.  And it made me sad too for E.  He has nothing to gather from this place.  But at the same time, he's the happiest kid around.  He could care less about stuff to take away...look at what he's got!  A FAMILY of seven people...where's he's the Baaabbbbyyyyy!  (drag that out and put a little sing song on it).  However, at orphan court, their director commented that when she saw us with E in March, her heart had let him go.  Now how many directors out there would get that attached to their kids?  I'm telling you, she's a GREAT director!

We walked to the train station and re-boarded to head back to Riga.  I reflected to Gary how fortunate we are.  We'd spent the afternoon walking around this small town admiring the little things.  Houses might be run down but did you see the flower garden?  Front yard a little rough but how about that very cool ladder built out of two tree trunks with smaller logs for the rungs?  Just appreciating the little things in this town that our boys have called home for three years.  And seeing other orphans from their home riding each other on bikes around the block, taking turns.  It struck me...who's there to doctor a leg if they fall down and scrape a knee?  And who's going to make sure they get a bath before bed?  These kids are cared for but they need homes!  At one point, J had seen another kid out and about...and J said, "he's too young." And he yelled across the street and told him to get back to the orphanage...he knew he wasn't supposed to be out.  I hope more of the older ones help look out for them.

As we pulled back into Riga, J was the happiest he'd been since coming with us.  All four of the big ones piled into the little exit area and started making lots of noise.  He commented "everyone's going the other way because there's a bunch of Belks back here!  And Daddy's trying to act like he doesn't know us!"  We struck out toward the apartment walking quickly because we were all starved for dinner.  Half the crew had Ramen noodles and Gary cooked the others a breakfast supper. 

We spent some time catching up again and just chatting and then Circle Time. I think "home" is starting to come about again finally for all of us.  It seems every time one of us "feels" good, Satan comes along trying to steal our joy again.  And he does for a minute...but then, somehow, it all comes right again.

Tomorrow is J's birthday...and while one of our issues has been not to make everything "all about him," tomorrow needs to be.  He said to me that he's never had a birthday cake that wasn't shared with someone else.  And he said everyone forgot about his birthday...except his parents (THAT'S US Y'ALL)!  We've invited his brothers and sister and little Zhenya to eat dinner with us.  I'm making mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, sugar peas and this really yummy looking rotisserie chicken from Rimi. 

We're all ready for home...and the next 9 days are going to be long.  Please be praying for us to make the most of it and not miss any opportunity to enjoy each other and give glory to the One who's brought us here.

Sorry Y'all...I Was Just Too Tired!

You know I had to be tired to not feel like writing last night!  It was a busy day and we're still trying to figure out this timing!  I can't stand staying up so late and sleeping half the day away...but somehow that is what tends to happen when puzzles, UNO or other activities are going on and it's just fun!

So, yesterday...the social worker was to come at some point but we didn't know when.  She was going to call or text J's phone (they got that from him at first court before I could share that we had a Latvian cell).  Now early in the morning is most likely not the most reliable time to text or call a 14 year old.  I was up at 8:30am or so...got my shower, tending to laundry.  Just waiting for the call.

By about 10, we figured we better get everyone up and tidied up...we hadn't heard yet but surely it would be soon!  Yesterday was a gorgeous day and we were anxious to get outside and seeing more of Riga.  We woke J and asked him to check his phone and sure enough, there was a text from her...she was outside right now!  Once she came in, she politely removed her shoes - a Latvian custom I think we will adopt - and I offered her coffee.  I had some of my French Vanilla Creamer and she loved it!  (Mental note as to what my next round of gifts will be!)  Then we found out she'd been outside the apartment for over 30 minutes! 

Yikes...great impressions already.  She asked me simple questions about the layout of the apartment, sleeping arrangements, how many bathrooms there were.  Then what we'd been up to and what our plans were for the rest of the time.  She then spent the next 20 minutes or so with J...asking questions and interviewing him.  When that was done, she came back to me and shared the final schedule of court and embassy meetings.  We are free and clear til next week.  She did confirm that Gary and the school kids can leave on Friday if need be...but all of us can leave on the 15th.  That seems like so far away!

M&M are really missing their fluffies!!!  And we're all ready to get home and get into a routine, whatever that will be.  She was so so nice though and thanked us several times for wanting both boys.  She said we would not see her again until "big" court on our second visit. 

After she left we were hanging around waiting to hear from Daina so we can get some documents to her.  By 11, I went ahead and called her and she was in Old Town...asked if I knew where the McDonald's was to meet her.  I feel like I know this city like the back of my hand now...and yep, I still love it!  Gary was wanting to go to a consignment shop right next to the apartment so he and our big boys went there and me, my girls and E went to meet Daina. 

That was a quick drop off so from there we went in search of the paddle boats and how much they cost.  We got into the park and began walking the direction we had seen them:  up past the National Opera House and behind it (interesting...it is such an upscale area and yet, behind the opera house there were some artsy, young, hippie looking people hanging out back there with a few bottles of beer...it's now 2pm?)  These park areas are really pretty. 

We went on up and made our way to the light to cross the street.  There we saw an old woman, sitting flat on the sidewalk with her old, swollen, arthritic looking legs stretched straight out in front of her.  And one hand stretched straight out, unwavering, begging.  I couldn't look at her without thinking of my own grandparents...no one her age should have to be sitting and begging.  No one should have to beg period.  I pulled out my wallet and Marleigh asked if we could give her something.  I gave her a coin without looking and said yes.  Turns out it was a lat...and while that may seem like a lot ($2) it seems so easy to part with it since it's a tiny coin.  But what it meant to her?  She cried out in a voice I'll never forget "Paldies!  Paldies! (Thank you!  Thank you!)  It brought tears to my eyes. 

As we crossed the street, I noticed that she got up and starting shuffling down the street, her cane...no it was really a stick...helping her move along, barely.  So I wonder if that was enough for the day...or if her need was so great that she needed to go tend to something right away...and the cynical person would say that she'd gotten enough from that corner so she'd moved on.  But seeing her...friends, we need to open our eyes to the needs around us...no matter the continent we are on.

The girls, E and I continued down to the other side of the park where the paddle boats were no where to be found.  So we found a sunny spot and sat in the grass to have a snack and wait.  It was so peaceful and nice and quiet!  We sat there on the banks of this little river and they played, feeding more of their snack to the birds that came around than eating it themselves.  E picked me a bouquet of fallen leaves which of course he asked me to hold for him.  I called the boys to tell them where we were and found out they were search of an inexpensive barber shop for Gary.  They were headed to the train station because it's really like a mall in there.  I told them where we were and pulled out my travel books to figure out where we wanted to go after we all got back together.

It was so nice lying there in the soft grass, watching the girls and E find feathers, name all the birds (Snowy, Puffy, Pinto, Hairy, Fluffy, you get the picture).  They would get the little, downy feathers and blow them off their hands and then try to keep them airborne.  Finally the girls laid in the grass too to read and of course that bored E...so he began jumping on us and when we said no, he'd flop over like he'd passed out...we'd make a fuss over him and then it started all over again.  So much fun!

The boys finally showed up...Gary got a Latvian haircut - he looks even more European (everyone thinks he's from here)...and they had this great idea to go have hotdogs from the train station Narvesson (kind of like a 7-Eleven).  So off we went.  For 9,50 lats we fed all of us and the dogs were pretty good.  The buns were like these pretzel buns that had been grilled and the hot dogs weren't very thick but they were long and the mustard (they call it mayonnaise) and ketchup were good.  Pickle relish they call salad...all very good.  We sat on the wall outside the train station and ate. 

Oh!  I almost forgot to share!  We had to go to the restroom at the train station...and I got to experience what Shannon Starr had written about!!  15 centimes per person to use the bathroom and you got your toilet tissue at the place you paid!  Our lady was very nice and could tell we didn't speak Latvian...she spun her hand around a lot to show us to take it there.  No limits.  Marleigh thought she was telling her to hurry LOL.  Very interesting and I thought a great way to keep the place cleaner!

I remembered when we were at TGIFriday's and we asked the server if refills on  beverages were free...she said to Gary "This is Latvia, Honey!"  Hilarious...and she was wonderful!

Then it was time for the history of the day!  I led the way with my trusty map...complainers in tow.  We went to the oldest warehouses still standing (from the 17th century) and continued exploring til we found the last part of the fortification wall from 1537 still standing.  Gary was thoroughly enjoying the adventure and all our kids enjoyed what they called the "creepy, cool old streets."  We were really in the section of Old Town not frequented by tourists...which made it even more fun. 

As I continued to lose my audience, I offered them 10 lats if anyone could give me the meaning of etymology.  No one could but I had their attention...and we did a quick lesson on the street names and their derivations.  I LOVE history...and my poor children suffer for it! 

We walked back and got to the apartment in time to sit for a minute and then made sandwiches from this really good stuff I got at the store.  I bought some Buffalo Mozzarella with Basil already in it, Salami, Herbed Crusty French Baguettes and Tomato.  Oh my word what a great sandwich! 

Puzzles, TV and Circle Time wrapped up a great day in Riga. 

Today so far it is raining...and pretty hard at that...not sure what today will hold except a walk to the consignment store to buy an umbrella.  We forgot all of ours!

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Today was Sunday, a wonderful day to venture out and experience Latvian church life...well it would have been!  Except we can't seem to get on a good *normal* schedule.  In fact, tonight we have required everyone to head to bed by midnight...let's hope they can actually sleep!  And Gary and I have decided to wake them by 9am in order to get a bit of a normalcy going on. 

Today was a great day though.  I was up around 9am and started out just ill.  Frustrated I mean.  I had this perfect day in my brain.  Church, lunch somewhere, a little more sightseeing...you know the drill.  And here I had this apartment full of sleeping humans.  Remember when I said I wasn't expecting everything to be perfect immediately?  Well, I think I need to get THAT tattooed on my forehead! 

So anyway, the monkeys didn't crawl out til around 12pm...and by then I had done a load of laundry, washed all the dishes and had already showered.  After a quick breakfast and Gary reminding me that the only person I should be irritated with is me (I mean really, I could have been dressed and Eddie and I could have been at church by 10:30am) we were all ready to hit Riga once again. 

It was late again and we had no ideas as to what we wanted to do.  So Zach had suggested the museum that was in Old Town.  It is the museum of the Occupation of Latvia.  This little country has been through so much...and yet they have such resolve and persistence.  Such a proud people in spite of all they've been through.  If I remember correctly 10% of the population was deported at one time for reasons that made no sense...but because of their size, they really had to just go along with Russia or Germany (depending on who it was at the time).  Really all the Baltic States had to deal with this. 

As we were walking through, J mentioned there was a train memorial/monument not far from Riga, we could go there.  With E getting a little restless and the older ones having already blasted through the museum, we  headed to TGIFriday's for lunch/dinner (J's choice!) to get a bite before going to the memorial.  We ran into one of J's friends from the orphanage who had recently left to be on his own.  He's in between homes right now so we invited him to eat with us.  He only speaks Russian so I'm not sure how much of a positive influence we were on him...but at least we know he ate well tonight. 

From there we walked to the train station and bought our "billettes."  Only three lats for all of us to ride.  It was only one stop away in Tornakalns.  There we see a train car...looks like a cattle car really...that was used on the nights of June 13 and 14, 1941 to deport people to the GULAG.  It is tiny...and terrifying to think of this.  In fact, this monument area is called the Communist Terror...I'm certain that I cannot relate to this...I've always felt safe. 

As we stop for photos, Gary politely motions for a two women to walk on by...the one says "no, we'll wait."  And then she asks where we are from.  He told her Maryland, USA...and she says ME TOO!  Crazy isn't it?  This world is so tiny y'all!  She lives in Potomac and works in Rockville and she's originally from that small town where we were visiting this monument.  Gary had to give her a hug ;-)

We walked down around the other monument, were nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes (Robert and Wendy, it was bad enough to remind me of Savannah and the biting flies!).  J picked me a flower for my birthday a week or so late.  I took pictures of all my kids climbing all over the statues.  And then little E started picking me flowers.  Now I had to take pictures of this.  J's flower was one stem with the extra leaves pulled off...Marleigh and Mae added more whites, yellows and some purple...carefully thought out. 

But E?  E's bouquet was snatched handfuls of clover, tall grass and some yellow weeds all mashed together.  He shoved them in my face with a huge grin and "Mama!"  Then just as quickly told me to hold them but they were "Ebbie's."  He was soooo funny!

We went back up to wait for the train to take us back to Riga and while we waited the girls picked more flowers among the train tracks...they look like little yellow snapdragons...the boys pitched lats (yes like pitching pennies....but with lats).  And I swatted mosquitoes!  Got one on Gary's shoulder and one on Zach's chin!

Finally the train came and we got back to Riga.  J pointed out where his church is that he has attended on occasion...if we are here through next weekend, we are going to go there on Sunday.  And also the building where one of his friend's grandfather's works. 

We walked a different street back to the apartment and cut through the park...they are so pretty here!  Very manicured and lots of flowers.  As we walked along, E practically pushed me down the path towards...you guessed it!...the very Auto Bounce House we saw the other night.  For one lat he could bounce for 10 minutes!  He was in heaven!  (If I have not clarified before, Auto = Disney Cars...the kid is CRAZY for auto!)  The girls stayed with me and jumped on a trampoline for 10 minutes while he did and then we all headed back.

We had a quiet evening here at the apartment.  Sandwiches for dinner, watching Nickelodeon...Circle Time together.  It was nice when J said his praise for the day was being with us as we learned more about Latvia.  He's proud of his country and we are proud of our son. 

Two things to share that are just observations I like:

The first are the street performers.  Some are simple beggars (I can't stay here too long because I really want to help them all).  But some are very talented and just have fun doing what they are doing.  There was one set today that started with guitar and singer...and they were good.  And as we walked back after lunch, they had changed to guitar, bass and clarinet...and they were good!  I was wishing my husband would have twirled me around a bit...with our five watching there would have possibly been a mutiny from embarrassment though ;-)

The other observation I had wanted to share the other night and forgot...there is such a nice "civility" thing you see here all the time.  People walking with fresh flowers.  There are flower stands all over and some are already made up into pretty bouquets...almost like you could walk up and do an entire wedding from what you see there already done.  And they are pretty cheap...3 lats for a nice size bouquet.  But EVERYONE buys them...and when I asked why?  Well, it's just because.  Flowers are nice.  I think we should all learn a little from that...don't only take time to smell the roses, but take some home (unless you're Mae wanting to pick one from the window box of the Radisson hotel HAHA).

For starters, I'll take my hand picked bouquet from the little meadow in Tornakalms...and thank God every day for the hands that picked them!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life!

What a great day!  Thanks everyone for your prayers!

We got up early...well earlier than the past few days ;-)  I was up earlier...just felt the need to be up and reading.  My brain has been full of the things that have to be worked out.  Some of the concerns I shared briefly yesterday...just feeling in a funk.  And then the "stuff" that still has to be worked out of traveling, extended time here, finances (always) and then when we get home of schooling, the next step in the process...you get the picture.  Don't get me wrong, I think I've been clear in all of these writings that we have seen time and again how He works things out.  But I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. 

My chronological Bible took me to John 6.  And as I read it was the part about the loaves and fishes:  John 6:5-6
      When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?  He asked this ONLY TO TEST HIM, FOR HE ALREADY HAD IN MIND WHAT HE WAS GOING TO DO.

And, don't you know it!  He already has in mind what He's going to do for us too.  Again, I am humbled that He takes the time to care about what is going on in my little family...in ALL our families. 

We woke the rest of the crew and began getting ready for the day.  Have I mentioned how glad I am that I packed all of the food I did?  We're still spending a fair amount on food but we've been able to stay within budget so far! 

We had a nice talk with J...I love these talks as we build our family.  And it reminds me how we need to trust Him with everything, everyday.  He is always faithful to work out our concerns. 

We made arrangements for J's friend to come at 6pm and the rest of us struck out to begin our own exploring of Old Riga.  FUN!  We hit the open air market...or rather the little vendor stands...shopping a little, looking a lot.  Continued on to Town Hall Square and took pictures at the statue of Roland (since we have two!) and the House of Blackheads.  Our main goal of the day was to visit Big Kristaps, who according to the tour book was located in Albert Square.  He (legend has it) is the Giant whose money began the city of Riga.  Everyone we asked said go to the river and turn right. 

I couldn't see it right off, so we kept circling back, certain that we needed to stay in the cobblestoned area.  We found ourselves back at the market square and this woman painted head to toe in gold.  J didn't believe me that she was real and he approached her.  You should have seen his face when she blinked her eyes!  Hilarious!  We got pictures with E with her (he was scared at first but liked her little gold bird) and then with E and finally with M&M. 

We kept walking and finally made it to a part of the Daugava River where we could see the encasement Big Kristaps now stands in.  We went down, took pictures and then decided it was time for lunch....well dinner too.  We've been trying to eat one bigger meal a day and then have smaller "apartment" meals for the other two.  And with so much to choose from, we've decided not to eat at the same place twice.  That does make it fun!  The kids just had to choose McDonald's today...they were just not convinced it would be the same. And it was!  Aside from very little ice in the drinks and having to pay for ketchup, everything else was really the same. 

E was hilarious chasing birds (pigeons) and wanting to be just like the big kids.  Don't try to hold his hand!  He makes us nervous though running on the very edge of the sidewalk, so we've taken to forcing him to hold our hands or just holding on to his wrist...which he really hates.  You know that just isn't cool! ;-)  By the end of our trek he was getting piggy back rides from several (mostly Daddy)...funny again because when he first came to us, that terrified him!  It is unbelieveable to see how he has grown and changed.  And so much fun to be on a front row seat.

I commented to Gary at one point that I was just so very happy.  It is so fun to look at the five kids meandering along in front of us and know...THEY'RE OURS!  As we went about on Friday, it dawned on me, we have to get skilled at navigating seven people and keeping us together and accounted for.  I can't wait for the practice! 

We walked back through part of the botanical gardens of Riga and arrived just in time to rest a minute before the guys went to the train station to meet J's friend.  I happily put my feet up and rested...such a quick but effective nap!  The boys returned and J's friend had made me a birthday present...a beautiful brooch!  Truly a Latvian souvenir!

We spent the evening working puzzles, playing UNO and just visiting.  Really a wonderful night. 

So the news report is that all is worked out, everything is resolved and it's smooth sailing from here.  NOT!  I know you guys who read this aren't that naive ;-)  BUT, the news report is that I do know who the Captain of the ship is...and He's got it all under control.

Night all!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Riga...Home Sweet Home

And so it is for about two weeks ;-) 

Today we slept and slept and slept!  I was shocked to wake up and find out it was Noon!  Even E didn't get up til then.  You have to know we were jetlagged, drained and just downright tired from traveling and the activities of the past 48 hours. 

We did what has become natural for us of piling on our bed with coffee, NutriGrain bars and the like and catching up on emails, watching some TV and just generally lounging.  Sidebar:  I WANT ONE OF THESE BOIL IN A MINUTE POTS TO TAKE HOME!  I've already asked Gary if he could install a European outlet in our house so I can have one.  They are so cool.  You fill it with water, turn in on and go about your business and in a couple minutes, voila, boiling water!  It turns off by itself when it is ready...and in seconds you have Ramen noodles, instant oatmeal or a great cup of tea.

Around 3 or so we decided to get showers and venture out for a while...and we found ourselves at Galleria Riga again.  We love this mall...good places to eat!  Although the shopping is a bit pricey, we found a few good deals.  New shoes for J only 8 lats and a new Auto boomba for E only 1,90 lats.  The girls got a couple puzzles for us to work on and I picked up a few travel books on Riga and Latvia to try and get some day trips planned. After wrapping up with dinner at Hessburger we went down to Rimi and picked up a few essentials and then headed back to the apartment. 

It was a nice day just to walk and honestly I wouldn't have minded venturing to another park or something just to be outside.  I love the architecture here.  As we walked back, I really noticed the narrow streets, cobblestone paving, old and new buildings mixed together.  The detail in the architecture is really lovely.  There are little shops and coffee cafes all over...and these gorgeous spires of old buildings that jut into the sky and really make beautiful pictures against the clouds and sunset.  But crazy enough many of us were still tired.  So we worked puzzles, the guys surfed the web, the girls did some frype messaging and E played with his boomba.  It makes us sad to see how much he has forgotten the little Latvian he knew. 

When he was interviewed by orphan court yesterday he really knew nothing they were saying.  Gary had to go in with him and the translator (wonderful wonderful woman we've gotten to know) quizzed E on a few key points to get a feel for how he sees us.  But no more Ata, no more boomba...we've actually been working with him on saying boomba again.  He's picking it up.

I have to say I've been in a bit of a funk today and am praying it is just fatigue.  It just seems strained and I'd appreciate the prayers.  We've got the weekend ahead of us and nothing planned to fill it yet...and somehow I feel that every idea I'm coming up with just doesn't seem to fly.  So maybe tomorrow will be better.

Later this evening, we decided to play a round of UNO...that was fun!  Finallly something all of us together...and E was having a hard time falling asleep, so he got to come back out and play too.  Well with me anyway. 

I guess that is it for tonight...as I struggle with many "little" things, our Circle Time tonight was from Matthew and Jesus telling us that to deny our lives and follow Him is to live.  And the well known truth that what profit is it if we gain the whole world yet lose our souls.  Thankful to Tobymac for making that well known song of scripture to make it relevant for our youth.  We're following and trying to remain true to that...and praying ALL our children understand what that means.  This world has NOTHING to offer us...HE has everything to offer us.  And the crazy thing is that it is here for the taking...FREE, with no strings attached. 

We have not decided what we are doing tomorrow but please be in prayer for us.  One of J's friends has asked to see him and while we want to comply to help with the transition, it's hard.  We want so much for our family to bond together...and sometimes it feels like these are distractions from that.  Please pray for wisdom for us on how we should proceed and work with him to accomplish both. 

I'm not a very good writer tonight so I'll stop...until tomorrow! 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'm Sorry to Inform You...

That we will not be home on schedule.  OK...sorry, that was mean.  But we can't leave on the 9th because J SAID YES!  And he's coming home!  And the orphan court needs that much time to get the ministry to issue a referral for him and then do court again.  So, we definitely need to change our flights...which is a stressor but, He'll work this out like everything else!

So, let's start at the beginning...this morning:

We had a great morning.  Thankfully Daina was too busy for a morning court time so we were scheduled for 1pm as you all know.  What a blessing! We slept til about 9am and then started in on breakfast (sooooo glad I packed that suitcase of food!  Instant oatmeal, granola bars...man what a savings!)  Zach was up first and we could tell he was worried...not troubled but concerned if that makes sense. 

We had a great morning though all piled on our bed drinking coffee, remembering funny moments on the plane, just laughing like crazy.  We needed to leave by 11:30am to walk over to Cili Pica to meet Daina so we started getting ready...picking out the right outfits and making sure we all looked our best.  E really slept late and about 10am he comes shuffling in our room already fully dressed in his blue jeans and auto t-shirt, auto socks carrying his new Vans shoes.  I ran him back to his room and put on the clothes we had picked out for court (thanks Chastity!  tan courdoroys, green button down...but I relented and allowed his auto shirt under the green one). 

We rushed to finish up and before running out the door, we all stopped to pray...to really give this day to God and thank Him for all the friends and family we had praying for us all over the world and to trust Him with the outcome.  Easy to say but hard to do, yet we truly felt His peace as we walked to meet Daina. 

We feel so citified (put my southern accent on that one).  We walked down the main avenue toward Freedom Monument and passed these gorgeous flower stands.  I SO wish my mother-in-law could see these flowers.  The size, color and kinds I've never seen before.  Don't worry, I did take pictures!  Walked a little further past the Russian Orthodox Church where Gary and I stopped to pray in March...on down past Freedom Monument...stopping briefly on the bridge for a photo to prove Riga is not frozen all the time!

Nerves are a little crazy at this point and you cannot imagine my relief when I spot Daina.  She's looking wonderful as usual but says she's suffering from her once a year headache.  She is truly like a calming balm in this process.  Between her and Kelly Barth, our case worker, I really don't know how they do it all.  All these families wanting their children and these two women work all over the great country of Latvia.  Daina literally drives all over, city to city, to be there in person for all these families.  Just amazing.  God's Angels in the flesh!

We jumped in her car with her son driving (again, her giving so much of herself! and her family too!) and head to Jurmala.  All the way there I am asking questions about how this will work, what if Janis does say yes, where do we have to be next...she is calm all the way, answering my questions as best she can and assuring me that if Janis says yes, she will get it done as quickly as possible.  We share with her we have no idea what will happen but we are hoping and praying for the best.

I have to stop here for a minute and just say I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW WONDERFUL IT IS TO BE TYPING THIS AND HEARING MY TWO TEENAGE SONS BANTER ABOUT SHOES AND COOL JACKETS!  God's mercy is amazing and wonderful!!

So, back to court...we arrive at Jurmala court and Daina says we need to sign three documents.  She says we will sign for E today but she has already prepared for J...in hopes that we are there soon.  We go in and head upstairs and  Daina lets them know we are all here and just waiting for Kristiana.  We wait a while longer and we get a call from  her...that she AND J are on their way.  According to Daina, my eyes got as big as my head and Gary and I both cried, laughed and then cried some more.  We didn't know what that meant but we knew for sure we were going to see him at least. 

We sat and waited and suddenly Mae said "Mom!  There he is!!"  He came up the stairs and we rushed over and cried and hugged and cried some more.  After he'd hugged everyone, he quietly said, "Mom...I've decided I want to come home."  I couldn't believe I was hearing those words.  Gary said, what did he say?  And I repeated it.  And Gary jumped up and danced a little jig and everyone was so happy to see all this happening.

I am forever grateful to everyone in Latvia who has faithfully worked on all of this to get us to this point.  We all agree, it is simply God working in His timing to make this miracle happen. 

And so the court proceedings began...they interviewed E and our translator said he did well.  Then they interviewed me and Gary...we did well but we were a little unclear on some of our questions.  They asked us how long we wanted to visit with him, keep him...and we didn't realize that they were asking for this "visitation" period while in Latvia...so we said forever!  HAHA.  They asked us what countless friends and family have either asked or thought about asking:  You have three kids, animals, demanding jobs...why in the world do you want two more kids?  And our answer?  Because God told us to and we love them like we love our own birth kids. 

Then they interviewed J...for a while!  After that we went back in to talk to them again, this time about J.  Then they agreed to allow us to "host" J and "preadopt" E.  They have to do it this way because we don't have the referral yet.  That's ok...he's with us...and tonight I get to experience what I have begged for...I am the Mama to five beautiful children!  So, now we have to wait for our referral, do another round of courts and then get visas...which will extend us til at least the 15th of September.  That's ok...we've said whatever it takes...and we meant it.  If we were in this for only the easy stuff, we'd have jumped ship long ago.

Please please be praying that by another miracle, all can get done faster and maybe we won't have to change flights.  And that if we do, the fees for the changes will be affordable for us to work with. 

So after court, we headed to Kemeri to get J's things.  It was so good to be back there...I LOVE the people there!  They love the children so much and truly try to work with them and for them.  We sat in Kristiana's office and had a civilized cup of tea while we reviewed documents.  J packed a backpack to come with us and we got our painting that Diana had done for us back in March.  We needed to kill some time before the train came at 5pm.  So we walked down the street, showing the children where J and E were from.  Came up by the local store and stopped in for sodas and water...E had to get an auto candy! 

We passed two girls on the street that looked shocked and they spoke to J in Latvian.  After we walked by he said they knew E from before and could not BELIEVE how different he is now.  We walked on toward the train station and saw E's old school and, now, J's old school and then on to the train. 

We headed in on the train and stopped off and picked up a friend of J's to come and join us for dinner.  Our day had been so so busy we never ate lunch...only snacks and breakfast.  We got into Riga at 6pm, walked to the apartment (can you believe there was some kind of festival going on in the park beside the apartment with Disney Cars bouncehouses!  E was in heaven!!).  After changing clothes we headed to Cili Pica for dinner to celebrate.  Dinner was great...we were starving!  And then we headed to Double Coffee for dessert and coffee.  A really fun night! 

We got back here at 9:30 or so and J's friend had to catch the 10:30pm train to Tukums.  Gary and Zach walked with them to the train station and we got little E in the bed.  Once they returned we had a great time just catching up.  No more silence, no more wondering if we really loved him in spite of anything he could have done or said.  He wanted to really talk to us and he did.  It isn't going to be easy...but he loves us and we love him and this is what families do. 

And every time I look over at the couch and see him sitting there beside Gary and Marleigh, I praise God for allowing me this.  Family is what matters..our kids matter.  They are worth it...if they are born to us or brought to us...they are worth it.  Every heartache, every stress, every disappointment...and every joy, every celebration, every hug.  We promise our spouses we take them for better or for worse...why in the world would we not promise our kids the same thing?

I promise not to get hung up on wanting things perfect immediately...it isn't going to be.  I do promise to enjoy every day starting today.  The really cool thing too is that E has never given up on J.  Tonight as I put him to bed, all the big boys had gone to walk J's friend back to the train.  He walked around the apartment saying "J, hug?  Zachturn hug?   Daddy hug?" And as soon as they got home they went in to make a little boy's night. 

There's a lot of history here for J...so we've decided we'd do every other day.  One day just us, bonding and building our family...and one day with one friend or family member from here.  We're being honest with each other and tonight started the real conversations of what we expect and what he needs.  He's an amazing young man and he's already fallen right back into the yes ma'ams and yes sirs.

Please keep praying for us...we've a long road to go yet.  But God knew the desires of our heart as a family and He chose to grant them to us.  And we'll be true to that.  Love y'all!