Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 2009

I cant believe the girls have been here 7 months and Im finally updating the blog. We finally took a week family vacation, we have taken a few long weekends together but this was the first full week. Vacations are always so interesting, no stress from work and school makes everything seem easy. We did a road trip to the hot spring in Glenwoood springs, Arches park, Moab, to Vegas, Zion park and home. The weather made the parks tough and our trip was cut a day short because of the storm but we had a great time. Sara is great in the car, she likes to sight see and the enjoys the wild west history. We are convinced she is an old soul. Jordan doesn't like to drive, she says the car makes her tired. I guess watching 10 hrs of movies is tough but outside of the car ride she is as fun as always. Attached are a few pictures from the trip

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day 19-8/22

Its Saturday morning 5:30am, I get out of bed didn’t get any sleep anyway. Heart was racing from 9:30 to 12:30 AM waiting for the final call and then lying awake thinking about the packets the rest of the night. Cheryl and I fold up our beds one last time. The girls, who normally sleep to 8-9am come out of the bed room at 5:45am fully dressed carrying their backpacks. THEIR READY! They won’t even eat breakfast. They watch cartoons and wait. Sasha and Sergey show up with the van right at seven, so we pile in and head to the Embassy. The roads are empty, so it’s a short drive. The Embassy is quite, only a single guard at the security office. I knock on the window, show the guard my passport and he passes me a green folder labeled “STEWART BABIES”. It contains two immigration packets, two Ukrainian passports and instructions for entering the United States of America. I feel as if the world has been lifted off my shoulders. Our drive to the airport is almost surreal, it seemed like it was never going to happen. We arrive at the airport 8:15 and breeze through the check-in / security without any issues. The passport check is a little unsettling as the inspector requests to see our adoption documents and verify we have the immigration packets. After close inspection of all the documents he stamps everyone’s passports and were done. The flight doesn’t even seem that long, the girls play with everything on the plane and are actually pretty good the whole flight. Ira sleeps for a couple or hours, but Ola just can’t get in a comfortable position to sleep. I keep one eye on them the whole time, so sleep is not an option. We land right on time and we are the first off the plane and into the passport/immigration line. The officer looks over the packets, stamps the passports and asks us to step into the immigration office for processing. They call us up right away, the girls sign their names in Russian, Jordan and Sara Stewart. The officer takes the index finger print and says “Welcome to America”. After three hours at the gate we board the plane for Denver, the girls are exhausted it’s 4 AM Kiev time. They sleep from the time we take off right until we land. No food, no beverages and no playing with everything on the plane. As we get off the plane the girls are already asking for “Mama”. We make our way from the concourse to the main terminal in record time. They see Cyndi as we reach the top of the escalator and run to her with open arms. This part of their journey is over and soon will just be a distant memory in their new lives.

Day 18 – 8/21

It’s Friday morning, first I send an email to the Embassy requesting one last time for any help they can provide to get the finger prints processed and the visas issued. A hearty breakfast and off to the park, follow our usual program to a tee. Then I get the call; Good Morning Stephen it’s Lililya with the Us Embassy I have some good news, Moscow finally sent over Cindy’s finger print records, it took a week just to get someone to email them to the Embassy. We also received confirmation the state department will have your prints processed by 12noon EST. Mike is not in the office yet, but I believe he is planning on staying late to receive the prints. OMG it’s a sliver of hope. This is the first time anyone from the Embassy has mentioned processing the visas. She follows up with “can you bring the girls passports to the Embassy today at 3pm so we can prepare all the documents?” I’ll be there before three. My mood is lifted and I feel rejuvenated. I run around the park for a half hour and feel I can run all day. I call Cindy with the news and with both breath a small breath of relief. Cautiously optimistic is the best way to describe it! Back to the apartment, a quick shower, lunch and we wait for a ride to the Embassy.
Sasha calls at 2:13PM the driver is tied up “can you meet me at the main post office in 15 minutes and we will take a cab to the Embassy” No more do I hang up the phone I’m out the door to the post office. Sasha walks up out off the subway and were off to the Embassy. I call Cyndi, to make a plan; if the embassy is going to issue the visa’s today she will cancel her flight, but the timing is close. Her flight is at 8am and my appointment at the Embassy isn’t until 3pm or 7am Denver time. So she will pack on a carry on and wait at the gate until the last minute before boarding. Worst case she fly’s to New York and she can call me from JFK. I arrive at the Embassy at 2:55pm, the facility is empty except for staff and security. I go right to the adoptions window and press the button for help. Lililya arrives at the window and ask for the passports. She says have a seat and Mike will be with you shortly. At 3:15pm Mike comes to the window. OK here is the situation: the state department has confirmed that they will have your finger prints processed by 12noon EST which is 7PM in Kiev, so we will process all the paperwork and place the unsealed packets at the security office, I will have the state department copy me on the email, forward the email to a co-worker and have her print the report
and bring the report to the security office. After that I will call you to confirm the packet is ready and you can pick it up tonight after 8 or so. Now that is all depending on getting the email tonight! WOW, that’s a lot of steps. I ask “How sure are you that you will get the email?”. Mike says “We work with the state department every day; if they say it will be sent today I’m 99% sure we’ll get it today. OK, I’ve got to make a call. I leave the Embassy pick up my phone from security, no cell phones in the Embassy, and I make the call. Cindy where are you? I’m sitting at the gate. We’ll you can go home, Mike is 99% sure we can get the visa’s tonight. OH THANK GOD. Ok, I’ve got to get back in the Embassy to finish processing the packet. We set up the plan and Mike will call me when he gets confirmation that the packets are complete. I head back to the apartment to start packing. I feel almost like a free man, but a little reserved until we pick up the packet. When I get back to the apartment the girls are ready for dinner and as one last treat we head back to the cafeteria. They order wild rice and mushrooms that of course they won’t eat, so it’s juice and bread for dinner. We walk up past the apartment two blocks to the Ukrainian Presidents house; it’s covered with all types of creatures sculptured into the exterior structure. At the apartment everyone is packed up and ready to go, except for me so I start packing, almost doesn’t seem real. Mike calls at 7:30 he doesn’t have the prints yet but no need to worry, he’s taking off to drop his wife and in-laws at the train station but will be home in thirty minutes. I work on the computer for a couple hours and we have some tea and muffins for desert. Mike calls at 9:30, Stephen I’m afraid we have a problem; the FBI hasn’t sent the finger print processing information to the state department yet. According to his source, the prints have been processed but the paper work hasn’t been sent up yet. You better get someone from the congressional constituent’s office to call the FBI. OMG, its 2:30 PM on Friday afternoon what if people are gone for the day. We send off a flurry of emails, we need someone to call the FBI and request that the finger print processing documents be sent to the state department and the US Embassy right away. Ken Salazar’s constituent is out of the office and no one is available to help. Peter King’s office is on it; they are making calls and requesting someone to expedite the processing. It’s now 10.15PM and we are running out of time. The email comes “ US EMBASSY HAS WHAT IT NEEDS”. I call Mike and sure enough he confirms that the documents have been sent, he has not received them yet but should have them shortly. I will call you back once I have them printed and on the way to the Embassy. He calls back ay 11:30PM “The finger print processing documents are on there way to the security office and you can pick them up any time”. After a short discussion we decide that traveling to the Embassy at 12 midnight is probably not safe. We will pick up the packet on our way to the airport, nothing like waiting till the last minute.

Day 16 – 8/19, Day 17 – 8/20

The package must be DC by now! I log into my computer with great expectations……….
only to find the package is still not in DC, 18hrs since the last update. I could walk the package from NY to DC in 18hrs. That’s some special express service on DHL. So off to the park, exercise, shower, cafeteria (the girls both order and eat cabbage rolls, they’re learning). Back to the apartment, its 7am in DC and the package has arrived and is scheduled for delivery on a courier service. The packaged is delivered 9AM. Again another barrage of emails, the finger prints have arrived and we need them processed. The first responses are that no one can find the prints and then they find the prints, but they need to be transferred to the FBI for processing. Then why did we send them to the State Department on the slowest express mail service system known to mankind? The prints go out government courier to the FBI. Another day down and no closer to home

No news, when we get up at 7am its 12 midnight in DC so we can’t even ask what’s going on and really nothings going on as everyone’s asleep. You know what’s next, yes back to the park, hey when you’ve got a system that works why change it! The girls are playing with other kids, dogs, cats and even some chickens in the park. Afternoon rolls around pretty quick, so we are back on the email wagon. Where are the prints and how soon can we get them processed. It’s been a day and we were told that reprints were very fast to process. We get the dreaded email; the prints haven’t even arrived at the FBI office and once they do it takes a day to process. Salazar’s office confirms with the FBI/State Department that the prints will be processed by 12noon ET on Friday. This means the Embassy will be closed for two hours before the prints are processed. I’m devastated again, we are heading into a three day Ukrainian holiday and we can’t get the finger print processing information until Tuesday. Delta doesn’t have a flight out Wednesday so that means we can’t leave until Thursday. OMG another week is all I can think about. I’ve been in country for nearly three weeks and I still can’t go home. We ask both congressional constitutes to make some calls, but they respond that Friday 12noon is what we can expect. Cheryl will be out of blood pressure medicine on Saturday morning and she has endured enough of my journey. I call Delta and schedule her flight home Saturday morning. Cindy’s at her wits’ end and decides I can’t be left alone with the girls for another week. Cindy is flying back to Kiev on Friday (arrive Saturday 9am) UGH…….
We also find out that Cindy’s finger print processing that were completed in one day at the USCIS office in Denver have not been sent to the Embassy in Kiev. The Embassy can’t access the DHS data base to pull the finger print records. So they requested the print records on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but DHS Moscow is not responding. So another round of emails requesting someone from the state department call the DHS office in Moscow to get the processing records emailed to the US Embassy.
On top of that our apartment has already been rented for the upcoming three day week end so we must find someplace to stay. Needless to say I don’t get any sleep Thursday night. My blood pressure is again pushing an all new high, eye is twitching again and my head in pounding. All I can think is this can’t be happening, I feel like we got nowhere in a week. We decide not to tell the girls until Friday.

Day 14 – 8/17, Day 15 – 8/18

Manic Monday: I track the DHL express document package with my finger prints and two my dismay they are still in the UK. Left the Ukraine at 6pm on Friday, 8/15, arrived Germany 10pm, left Germany 11:30pm and arrived UK Saturday 2am and is scheduled to depart Monday afternoon. Two days with no service on an express package, now that’s customer service.
We email everyone we think can possibly help get the finger prints processed, congressional constituents in Colorado and New York , former FBI agents and security officers for high ranking military officials in the hope that once the package arrives we can leave. Stay Tuned! Most of the rest of the day is the same as yesterday; park, exercise, shower, cafeteria (mystery foods that the girls won’t eat????) and big afternoon walks.
We are still having trouble figuring out what the girls will eat. Everybody likes grilled cheese sandwiches, right? They wouldn't eat the grilled cheese sandwiches! I think Jordan would have but Sara told her they were bad. They each ate two tomatoes a piece and one cucumber. Jordan ate one and 1/2 pieces of corn. Sara told her it was bad but she ate it anyway. The corn was OK. The cheese sandwiches were excellent. Sara refuses to try anything new and she uses the food as a control.

The DHL package arrived NY Tuesday morning, 8/19, and is scheduled to depart sometime Tuesday night….ugh. Express Package, not my idea of express. Stay Tuned
We confirm that we have some support; Ken Salazar’s and Peter King’s (Congressional Head of the Department of Homeland Security) congressional constituents have sent emails’ to the state department and the FBI requesting expedited service. Again another morning at the park, exercise, shower, cafeteria, this time Cheryl orders viriniki for the whole table as soon as she sets it down the girls dig in, now we know how this works. It’s still extremely hot in the afternoons (hottest week of the year for Kiev). We go in search of some coloring books and find a huge open framers market, a little expensive but the fruit and vegetables are great. Another day down and only a little closer to home.

Day 13 – 8/16

Its Sunday so we have another free day (no paperwork), we start with the yogurt / banana breakfast. Instant coffee with heavy sweet cream, hey I can’t read Russian and it looked like milk to me, and toast for the adults. The girls are still recovering from the emotional day we had at the Embassy. They didn’t understand a word but they knew it wasn’t good news, why else would he pull out all his hair and turn white like death. Ira is speaking only in Russian and Ola won’t even speak to us. They were feeding off our emotions, I tried for two weeks to keep a positive attitude and only have a smile on my face, but the Embassy was my final straw. I lost control of my mind, every challenge of the past 16 months came rushing in and my body responded with a heavy heart. Now is the time we find out what you’re made of, is all I could think about. We needed to have some fun and I needed to exercise out all of my inner demons. The park seemed to be the perfect place. The girls had everything they needed, even an inflatable bounce house with a slide. Cheryl and I took turns making laps around the ½ mile park until it was too hot. After a quick shower and fridge detail, oh yeah you can’t leave two ten year olds alone with any food right before lunch or they will eat everything except the lunch you just purchased, we head for another new experience Cafeteria style restaurant. The trays seem safe enough until they have an empty bowl, now we are in front of twelve different salads OH NO it’s brain lock, the girls walk back and forth like caged animals. What do we want? Not what someone put in front of us to eat. They go with “cucumbers and tomatoes”, this after 10 minutes of spooning through every salad bowl and investigating each ingredient.
Now we move to the main course, they look like deer in the head lights – eyes glazed over and frozen in there tracks. They walk back and forth; soup, meat, pasta, pizza, cabbage rolls, stuff peppers, viriniki, rice, bread and more food than they ever seen in one place. After 10 minutes of circular motion we find ourselves in front of the meat counter. The server asks what they want and they look as if they don’t understand Russian, just a blank stare until I start pointing out each item, eta ela eta ( this or this). Ira picks a fried chicken patty and Ola a fried round item covered in bread crumbs. I assume that this is something familiar to them and even though I wouldn’t order these it’s OK. Now on to the final journey, the drink selection; the shelves have water (regular, mineral, with gas or with out), juice of every flavor (by the glass, bottle, box or keg) , sodas , teas and even some energy drinks. Another ten minutes on gaze and we settle on some orange Fanta. With some strong herding by Cheryl, she has experience in herding three cats at home, we finally make it to the cashier to check out. The girls both are fascinated with the counter you can slide the tray right up to the register and stare at the cashier as she enters each item. Wow, 105.25 kryvnia ($23.00) for a dozen plates and four drinks. Again Cheryl uses her herding skills to guide them to an open table and we don’t even drop a single tray. The girls take one bite of the mystery meat and push the plates away with a crinkled face. OK they’re new to the choice thing. They eat the vegetables and bread circles, bread in the shape of the letter O covered in sesame seeds, looks like a pretzel but soft and moist. Doesn’t look like were going to starve for at least another day. We head back to the apartment to escape the mid day heat and watch some Russian and English cartoons. Later we take another big walk around the area to get the feel of the land and top it off with some soft serve ice cream swirls “Lemon and chocolate”. I thought it was vanilla. Oh well, the girls wear most of it anyway. You give them a nectarine, tomato or a plate of cucumbers and it’s gone in seconds. Now give them an ice cream on a hot day and they try to make it last for hours and of course it melts all over until it falls on sidewalk.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Good News

Stephen called me at the airport before I boarded, he had a call from the Embassy so I didn't have to fly back. Thank gosh!

The fingerprints were processed today at 12pm est and after many phone calls to congressional support they were sent over a little before 12am Ukraine time. Its the first time people were willing to help out. They just stopped by the Embassy to pick up the visas, its 7:30 am on Sat there and they are heading to the airport.

They will land in JFK at 2pm, leave at 7pm, and land in Denver at 10pm.