Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This Blog is now a vehicle for me to rant about the weather

For those who have missed it, we live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  Saying you live is Canada anywhere in the world other than Siberia and Alaska is grounds for jokes about frost bite and polar bears.  Saying you live in Manitoba to another Canadian gets you the same, unless they're from Nunavut or the Yukon - but nobody is from there.  Saying you're from Winnipeg is like saying you're from Detroit, only with mosquitoes that carry away small pets.  In fact, our crime rate would be much higher if only gang bangers didn't have to spend seven months a year indoors.

Take today, for instance.  Days like today, where it's -50c outside, are special days.  They're the kind of days where the minimum recommended clothing for being outside is a pair of wicking socks, a pair of wool socks, then winter boots; thermal underwear, sweats, then regular pants; more thermals, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweater, a hoodie, then your parka, possibly with an extra hoodie squeezed in there somewhere.  I have hoodies in three different sized for the purposes of layering.  Then you've got a gloves, a neckwarmer, scarf, and some kind of fur hat that makes you look like some kind of freakish lovechild of the Michelin Man and Grizzly Adams.  This probably takes 30 minutes to put on.  I go outside to shovel the snow, since we got two feet of it this weekend, and after 10 minutes at most, I go back insisde to make sure I still have a face, and remove any icicles which may have formed.  Warm up, repeat until whatever silly task that needed doing is done.

By some cruel trick of atmospheric pressure, I would actually be warmer today if I jumped naked from an aircraft at 10,000 feet than if I stepped out the front door.  Bringing up the weather here is makinmg polite conversation anywhere else in the world.  Here, it's just rubbing salt in the wound, unless you're not from here - then we get to enjoy the false send of superiority that comes from living somewhere that doesn't have weather so much as cyclic wrath of God.

The time it takes to type this up is about how long it takes to get feeling back in my toes, in point of fact.  So now I'm back at it.  Wish me luck, and if I don't blog again in the next week, send a search party to my backyard.  


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Blog fixed!

Apparently something got changed in how images were displayed.  Guess that's what I get for not paying attention.  Blog fixed!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Developments...

Blogging can certainly be frustrating - I wish there was more to write, I don't really know how much of my day to day minutiae can reasonably be repackaged as relevant to international adoptions, and cat pics can take you only so far.  So I wait awhile until there's more to say.  I'm sure it's easier once children are actually in your home - finding content that is, not time to actually blog.

Here's what's up:

I have gone and left my employer of the last (almost) three years.

Not a lot of people I know are looking to make drastic career changes mid-stream, given the current economic climate.  What can I say, I love bucking the trends.

Context: I left a little corporate job with cubicles and boardrooms where there was nothing but a paycheque holding my interest.  I was pretty good at it, but it was never going to be anything more than a job.  All that changed earlier this month, when I gave my notice and started my career.  Not going to get into the details, but the environment is great, the people are amazing, and it feels like I was made for it.  Without bragging, everyday is fascinating, and I come home smiling about work, rather than leaving it - not saying there won't be bad days, but it's where I want to be.  Total change of pace, industry, everything.

More topically relevant, our homestudy is done!  Talk about anti-climactic!  We were notified it was done, that was it.  File is transferred to CFS, and now we keep waiting.  I need facebook to have a macro that just repeats your last update.  "We are waiting for XYZ for our adoption."  Repeat ad nauseum.  And it really is to the point of nausea.  I suppose this is one way of making sure that we're really serious, but seriously!

Waiting, waiting, waiting.





Friday, August 16, 2013

Aaaand We're Back to Adoptions...and Waiting

After some soul searching, more research, and a vacation, we're putting the wheels back on the adoption wagon and are pushing ahead.  First though, a moment of silence for everyone who was in process for the DRC, as by now most are aware that DRC has gotten significantly more difficult to adopt from, and has stopped issuing exit visas for children.  I can't imagine being on the wrong end of that.  Our sympathies to those who  were on the wrong end of the recent Russian closure, and dived headlong into the DRC as well, that would be rough.

The question about our own plans is 'Where do we go from here?'  Other than the countries which automatically jump to mind like Ethiopia or Russia (not China - currently that would be an 11 year wait for us), we have looked at a few lesser-knowns for international adoption, such as Nigeria, Benin, and Ghana.  None of these really seemed right for us, either in terms of stability or the availability of programs being open to Canadians.

After several more brain storming sessions and emailing various agencies, we've got a winner - an agency who will remain anonymous for the time being, because they are just developing the program now.  It's not advertised on their website yet, and we've volunteered to be one of the guinea pigs for it.  What I will say is this - Uganda, and #2 on the waiting list.  After preparing for a long wait or a tumultuous process, (or both!) for the DRC, we were both looking forward to some simplicity in this opportunity.  Silly us, I'm sure life will find a way to make these hopes seem like foolish naivete.  But here's to hoping.

The only speedbump now is getting our homestudy - we started the process with Adoption Options, and they graciously offered to finish out homestudy so that we could transfer it to whoever we work through.  As it happens, the great hand of irony struck us, and like the saying goes, it's best to strike when the ironies hot.  I sincerely apologize for that joke, but my father was a school teacher for over 30 years, and I am genetically predisposed to teacher humour.

Anwho, homestudy.  The homestudy must be completed as if we are adopting through one of the programs AO offers.  I don't know enough about the whole industry to know if this is common practice, so not judging.  We're doing an Ethiopian homestudy, which when completed will be transferred to...wait for it....Manitoba CFS.  We've come full circle, again.  Upside being that after speaking with a senior social worker, we were assured that if there is a waiting child, things can be fast-tracked with CFS.  If anyone else just heard a gong being struck, that was just us and irony mixing it up.  This week we received an email which advised us that the homestudy will likely be done for early to mid September.  Back on track.

Once the homestudy gets to CFS, they'll do a supplement to bring it up to their standards.  We will send a copy to the facilitator, who will give it the same treatment.  Thankfully the dossier is simple, and immigration as well.  We got reference letters in triplicate for the occasion, and will have our children's immigration docs in hand when we travel - no embassy visits for us.  The adoption will actually be finalized in Manitoba by CFS, because the Ugandan court grants guardianship orders only.  I'm not sure, but that may be why Uganda is less popular a program.

We also signed a contract with the American facilitator agency, and had a loooong (excellent/informative/assuring - too many appropriate adjectives) conversation, which in retrospect we should have gotten a phone card for or something.  90min call from Manitoba to Iowa stings a bit.

That's life right now, sorry for the month long break.

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Life Is Spinning, Please Make It Stop

So life is good, if spinning.  There really is no better imagery than spinning for what's all taking place right now.  There is THE GOOD, and THE BAD, which is normally easy to keep separate and distinct, but the pace and circular nature to some things going on in our lives right now means that lines are blurred, and we lose track of what was going in which direction and whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Lastly, there is THE ADOPTION (!!), which is the reason why we are here.

Here I am then, sorting them out if not for my own posterity, then for the enjoyment of others.

The Good

What's good about it then?  Well, Yuliya and I took off five days together, which is the longest stretch of time we have had off together in five years of marriage.  We got some good gardening in, replacing a few casualties amongst the roses and a few other annuals.  I maintain that I should have the right to sue anyone who markets something as 'hardy' which does not survived a -45c winter.  Having said that, Yuliya agreed that it was time to switch to some hardier roses, rather than trying to raise all the prettiest species which dry up and die when the wind blows from the wrong direction.  It only took two years of replacing the casualties.  Here is some of our handywork so far:

"Flower"

"See Above"

Next good thing, also done in our time off, was some really good fishing.  I went and spent a little time with some salty old-timers and learned the tricks of the trade, which resulted in some impressive catches this year:

"This is my catfish (pictured); this is my gun (not pictured)"



Not to be telling fish stories out of school, but the day before these pictures were taken I caught three in an hour and a half that were larger than these ones.  It was raining, windy, and cold.  I was soaked to the bone when I pulled out what must have been about a 38" monster.  I hauled it out of the river by the gills, and it's head was at my chest level with the tip of the tail just brushing my toes.  I had no camera, and had left my phone at home.  I looked the fish in the eye and told it to be back here tomorrow at the same time.  He never showed.  Lesson learned, never rely on a catfish to back up your wild claims.  To be fair, I did hook another monster that snapped a braided steel leader.

Anywho, catfish season is over, so now we're on the hunt for some good pickerel.  For that, we head north to Hecla Island.

We're also taking every spare second to get out of the city and go hiking, usually in the Kenora/Lake of the Woods area.  I love the Prairie sky, but the Canadian Shield feels like home to me.  Last week we went and met a few bears, a coyote, deer, and had a pair of loons come for a close inspection of us.  I seem to have an eye for wildlife - I pick animals out of the forest out of the corner of my eye as we drive by at 110 kph where Yuliya sees nothing at all.  Two weeks ago it was the deer and bears, last week it was a massive bald eagle sitting on a dead tree at the lake.  Yuliya's excuse is that there is no wildlife in Ukraine, so she's not used to looking for it.  The great thing was that the bear took no notice of us after we climbed out of the car for a better view.  Not saying we were being stupid - if you're meeting a bear in the wild, make sure that the distance between you and the bear is at least five times the distance between you and the car, because that's how fast they'll close the gap.  I also don't set foot in the forest without a bear spray in my pocket, and before we do any serious camping this year I've insisted we get a bear banger.  Yes, the flower picture is a wild orchid, which survives our winters and grows in less than an inch of soil.  The other one is a bear, taken from about fifty feet away.

"Orchid"

"Bear"


The Bad

In the spirit of honesty - I wrote the intro to this weeks ago, so it all seemed a bit more dire at the time.  We're not falling apart, we are recovering.  All the hiking, fishing, and gardening is doing wonders.  Having said that, there has been some bad.

Namely, that bad was the drama of Yuliya's mom leaving.  We had planned on making the move permanent, or at least getting her here for a couple of years.  As it happened, she really struggled with the cultural differences and expectations from day to day.  One day she was happy and cheery and Canada was great, and literally the next she called her sister to book her flights to go back to Ukraine in five days.  It was a real shock, and a disapointment.  Since then we've been kicking ourselves, and second guessing decisions we made which may have made things tougher for her.  That's as far as I want to go into everything, because we're doing our best to create emotional distance from the whole thing right now, and focus on moving our adoption forward.

When I started this, I thought that would be the only bad to report.  Sadly, that was not to be.  The last day Yuliya and I went fishing for channel cats, we saw the bar-none worst parents in the world, and they abandoned their children in the river.  They were also geese, but we were pretty upset about the whole thing.  It was a windy day, and the current was brisk.  They were leading their gooselets across the river, and a fish must have grabbed one of the parents feet, because both took off.  They honked like crazy, and flew off like they didn't have some flightless, fluffy little babies to worry about.  The fluffy, flightless little babies then proceeded to swim in little circles while peeping and utterly panicking.  Every couple of minutes a big fish would drag one under and it would pop up a few feet away.  Eventually they made it to shore, but for the 40 minutes we stayed there after that the parents never came back.  I'm not a romantic about nature, but that was really, really sad.  Frickin' geese.

One last minute bad to report - Yuliya was just watering the plants outside, and is now covered in little bumps.  Turns out she reacts badly to mosquito bites, and we do have some world famous mosquitos in Manitoba.  Really top end, both in quantity and quality.  Someone once told me that the Spanish word for mosquito translated literally as "little airplane in the bedroom".  I think he was lying, but that's a great description, because this time in the evening it's like the Battle of Britain out there.

This has turned out longer than I intended already, so the adoption update will come later in the week.  As a teaser I've updated our timeline.  Now I've gone and made a liar out of myself.  Shoot.

I digress, Yuliya is peeling a grapefruit, and I don't want to miss out.

*minutes later*

I've decided that somehow blogging and eating the juicest grapefruit to yet exist on the same couch is a good idea.  If anything goes wrong I've got kleenex, and we all know that if there's anything impenetrable and moisture resistant, it's four layers of tissue paper.  What could go wrong?

Quote of the Day 

"I'm going on a killing spree." 
-Yuliya, as she takes a container of Roundup outside.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cats! Not the musical!

So, not about adoptions so much as our cats.  We have cats.  Currently, we have two, down from three.

This is their story.

Cat #1 Teepee

Teepee was a rescue, who came from a place where there were a dozen other cats in one house, where access to the foodbowl was decided by sheer badassedness.  She was a little kitten, who lived on bread moistened with milk among other things.  Her name came from the fact that I had a tarantula at the time, which she expressed great interest in.  I promise that this will be the one and only time that I post a picture of a tarantula on this blog.  Yes, that is my real hand with a real spider that size on it.



I told her that she wouldn't be worth more than toilet paper if she tried to get it, hence TP, or Teepee.    We raised her, and she was an absolute psycho - no correlation.  She broke glasses to get our attention, mercilessly hunted our other cats, tried to break into bird cages, and thought that the best way to wake her owners up at the crack of dawn was to push things off the night table.  Onto our heads.  Eventually, we found her a nice, quiet farm to settle down on, which she warmed to immediately.

"I expect you to die, Mr.Bond"

Cat #2 Mishka

Mishka is a ragdoll.  He was kept in a cardboard box with his brothers and sisters until they were all sold.  He speaks his mind, which usually starts with "I want.." or "You should...".  He lives for attention, but will sit just out of reach so you have to come to him, and he isn't satisfied with being pet unless you maintain eye contact with him and talk to him while petting, and is unable to fully enjoy the experience if there are any other cats in the room.  The emotional needs are strong with this one.  Mishka also spent the first year of his life not knowing how to roll onto his back other than by doing a forward somersault.

He has no defensive instincts whatsoever.  Oncoming traffic is just a new best friend waiting to happen, so we keep him indoors most of the time.  Oddly enough, he takes leashes well, so we occasionally walk him on a leash, but he does tend to forget which house he came from.

Cat #3 Loco

Loco was another rescue from some students who kept her locked in a closet with their little lapdog because their apartment was not pet friendly.  They told us that they only fed her when she asked for food, and they must have been against animals on furniture, because it took her months to be okay sitting on the same couch or bed as a human being.  Heck, I think it was a month before she was comfortable in the same room as a person.  She has since bounced back.  She can be vocal as well, and is strong willed when she has set her mind to something.  We call her our fluffdozer.

Ragdolls have great personalities, so laid back, so easy going.  I grew up with Siamese, so this is the opposite end of the spectrum for what I think of when I reference the concept of 'cats'.  Siamese are vengeful, spiteful beings.  When I was little and we took a holiday, the cats would always leave presents on our beds and chairs, letting us know exactly how they felt about our absence.

The Great Catnap Duel of '09  

Kittens!

Mishka and Loco had a couple litters of kittens before we fixed them both.  Here are some pictures of kittens which we had.  If they warm the cockles of your heart, the donation button is to the upper right :P

While we're on the topic of kittens, we had one near disaster.  Loco had a litter of kittens a week and a half before we moved into our house.  Moving, as we found out, is very stressful for her.  She got colitis  and was vomiting blood and not eating for nearly two weeks before and after the move.  As a result, she abandoned her kittens, and we stepped up to parent for her.  It was an adventure - feeding five kittens, each four times daily.  I know now why cats evolved six nipples - because when there are only two bottles available, the kittens begin brawling like their life literally depends upon getting to the bottle first.  It was ugly, we got scratched up every time we fed them, and it was impossible to fend them all off with one hand while making sure that the kitten you were feeding got their fair share.  They attacked our hands, arms, and faces out of desperation.  On the plus side, we had them litter trained at four and a half weeks old.  They struggled at first with wet food, and it was weeks for them to transition from sucking to chewing.  What resulted in the meantime was a pack of 'meat-faced' kittens, because they just shoved their heads into the food and sucked out the juice.  It was grotesque.  Here are pictures of cute kittens.


This is how ragdolls sleep.  The mother, the father, all the little fluff monsters slept like this.  They are completely pose-able when asleep.  We did kind of abuse that power in order to create pictures of face-melting cuteness which were then attached shamelessly to our ads.


Here we see ragdolls in top form - yawning, or still asleep.  They get along pretty well in groups, and Mishka is really social.  The kittens were all his little buddies, and he was depressed for months after they left.  Depressed to the point of not eating, and losing weight for months after they left.  Loco on the other hand bounced back within a week.  Kind of tells you about the division of labour in that relationship.


This is, bar none, the cutest picture which exists of a sad kitten.







Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Life Goes On

Here is a mega-update on our lives, with some instances of parallelism.

Easter

My sister and brother-in-law came over for Easter and brought our nephew and niece over.  We planned and executed an Easter Egg hunt, and the little guy may have over indulged before supper.  It became a battle of epic proportions to keep him seated at the table, and like a chump I didn't have a camera on hand for any of it.  Yuliya got a hair cut from my sister, who was a trained hair professional in another life.  

Short story even shorter, we had a great time with family.  

***

Renovations

At some point I'm going to create a page to show everything we have done/are doing to our house.  That day is not today.

Renovations continue at breakneck pace on Yuliya's mom's room.  April 12th was the big day, and so far we  have the room drywalled, and still need to do painting, moldings, baseboards, and flooring.  One major frustration was doing some wiring, for which we needed to drill through an exterior brick wall that was drywalled on both sides with framing.  We didn't have a masonry bit long enough for the task, so I used a half-inch channeling bit, which worked just fine until it hit a steel plate in a brick, which makes no sense at all to me.  We had to pause the project until stores opened a day later, go out and get the correct metal bit, which went through in exactly one second, then complete with the channeling bit.  Things like this is what gives me grey hair.

A major success was rebuilding the window frame and installing a window ourselves and DIYing up a decent brickmold.  The great thing about renovations and DIY is the tangible money saved.  For instance, we built our own deck last year.  The price tag was $3000 for materials, but labour would have been another $5000 on top of that.  The window was $200, and installation would have been another $350.  A penny saved and all that.  What this has taught us is that a lot of carpentry is not very difficult, and if you take the time to plan the project and do your homework, it will not be drastically different from a pro doing it.  I suppose like so many things in our society, people pay for the convenience.  We would rather invest some blood, sweat, and occasionally tears and reap the full returns.  In this case, the lumber yard where we got the materials acknowledged our efforts in a contest for DIYers, to the tune of a $500 gift card.

It helps that I have a summer of experience in framing, and another summer in concrete.  I did a third summer building swimming pools, but I'm not sure we're up for that yet - or that our yard is big enough for one worth building.  The deck is about half the size of our first apartment, so maybe we'll put a hot tub on it.  Yuliya is handy as well - she replaced cabinets in her mother's apartment, did plumbing as well, and is meticulous in her measurements and cutting.  I'm less of a finishing carpenter, so it's a good match.

Me lift heavy things, she cut good. *grunt*

Sorry, couldn't help myself.

Since initially penning this entry, work has paused.  Yuliya's mother arrived, and until she is fully switched over to our schedule, we won't be working on the room.  Something about drilling and hammering not being conducive to sleep.

Which brings me to...
***

Yuliya's Mom

Yuliya's mother is here!  As of April 12th, actually.  After an eleven hour train ride from Kharkiv to Kyiv, then a three hour flight to Warsaw, followed by a nine hour flight to Toronto, and another two hour flight to Winnipeg, she is here, for real.  Also, forever.

This has been several years in the making just on paperwork alone, and we've seen major changes to the Canadian immigration process for parents (in another brilliant move by the gov't, which costs us a totally unnecessary $1500 a year on emergency-only health insurance), an airline bankruptcy that left us with worthless tickets, and the fact that Yuliya's mother has never travelled anywhere but on train, and never outside Ukraine.  It was an adventure for her - now that she's here, it will be an adventure for us.

She's only been with us for a couple of days, this is her first week in Canada.  Her first impression was of stepping out of the terminal into a characteristic MB evening of -10 in April with 50km/h winds.  When she left Kharkiv it was 18c and sunny.  So she hasn't been outside much, but all the good fishing starts end of May, and we're hoping it warms up by then.

As a tangent, the Red River at Lockport is a world-class channel cat fishery, and is about a 25min drive north.  From a boat you can pull in monster catfish all day, and late May through early June you can get them from the river banks as well.  Just make sure you get some heavy line, and fat nightcrawlers.  There's another half dozen species in large number as well, and it makes a nice early Sunday morning.  But I digress.

The whole experience thus far has been an absolute best case scenario, and this is of course the honeymoon period.  She loves everything we cook, finds her bed comfy, loves the cats, and cleans the house like she's being paid for it.  The kitchen was so clean yesterday that I felt a twinge of guilt making a salad for supper.  When it's clean, I feel like I should avoid it and leave it in it's undisturbed, pristine state.

It's not easy, but it is rewarding.  Yuliya had not seen her in six years, and commented that it's like a stranger has moved in with us - but in a matter of days they are becoming chatty and familiar again.  I tell you now, I am going to have to learn me some Russian, because English is now the second language of the household.

***

Give me the DRC or give me...another option

We got word yesterday from Adoption Options that CFS had just advised that a DRC moratorium was imminent.  Obviously, this is disappointing for us, and we self medicated that evening with a nice bottle of port.

Having put a week between the announcement and now, I can say that we are extremely grateful for the timing as it worked out.  Yuliya found another Canadian DRC blog which stated that travel to the DRC is becoming difficult, as the DRC embassy is flexing its muscles and conducting its own investigation of the legitimacy of the adoption before issuing entry visas.

So we're looking at another option, and are very hopeful after some intensive research.  Not gonna say more yet about where or through who, because I don't want to jinx it.  Magical thinking, yes - and extremely useful in creating a false sense of control over these events.  Just gonna plow on ahead with the homestudy come what may.

***

Distraught wives say the cutest things...

Here is an email which I received at work from Yuliya, the day after we got the news.


At lunch, I went to Superstore, and Lindt Easter eggs were on sale. So I bought a box for $4 instead of $8. There are Hazelnut, Milk chocolate, and dark chocolate eggs. I ate two, but (DON”T PANICK!) each only has 110 calories, so, I did not eat too much (yet).
Just if you are wondering, I am trying to eat away my sorrow (of not being able to adopt from DRC). Also, I am seriously considering adopting a chocolate egg (diaper changes could be problematic). It’s cheaper, plus I can have it now, and pour all my love into it, instead of collecting excess love into storage bins, piling them up in the basement, and waiting for four years for governments to decide that a starving orphaned child deserves a loving, safe, forever home.

Seriously though, is there not a person/agency in Canada who would know anything about this???

I might consider posting the above on our blog. That’ll show them character.
 She's got character in spades alright.

I'm feeling like something nice and fluffy for the next entry, so stay tuned for a blog about our cats with pictures.  Be warned now, there will be cuteness surpassing all understanding.

   

Monday, April 15, 2013

Timing Is Everything

I promise that I'm still blogging. Blog blog blog.  See, it's true.

Before getting down to the nuts 'n bolts of this adoption blog, I just wanted to say that our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by today's attack in Boston.  I think that the people who commit these types of cowardly acts are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of Americans, and will probably learn the error of their ways in the coming days.  It's a thought I relish - to be clear I'm not bloodthirsty, but I am not above gloating when suffering by innocents is repaid in kind upon the guilty.  One of my many flaws.

I digress though, it has been a hectic time, and we've been running in a few directions at once - further entries in the next week will shed some light on them.  In terms of our potential adoption of a sibling group from the DRC, things are not looking so good.  

There have been rumors floating around that Canada will impose a moratorium on adoptions from the DRC, which we have been duly investigating.  Several Canadian blogs in Alberta, BC, and Saskatchewan have all indicated that their adoption agency was advising not to start the process for a DRC adoption due to an ongoing gov't inquiry.  After contacting CHOICES in BC, we were informed that UNICEF and International Social Services were the best places to get information on this situation.  A nice chat with UNICEF followed, where I was told in absolute terms that they had nothing to do with any ongoing inquiry, are not involved in writing policy, and have never been asked to study the possibility of a moratorium on international adoptions.  ISS never got back to me, which makes sense in retrospect, because if they did know it was coming, they could not tell me before the official press release.

Speaking of which, there hasn't been one.  This in and of itself is not surprising, because our current wonderful gov't is well known for rolling back access to information and being the least transparent or accountable group of nitwits to darken parliament.  So I may not be voting Conservative in the next election, which cannot come soon enough.  What is disturbing about this is that literally no one in any level of gov't we spoke to had any idea a moratorium was coming down, until it did, and there was still no real announcement, it just happened.  Continuing this rare (I promise) political rant, this bloody gov't is just about the worst fiscal managers we've seen, and are busy cutting services on a misguided and misconceived attempt to make 'small government'.  I can't really give a good analogy for our American readers, but the current gov't falls to the left of Obama (he's not really a leftist, except in the USA),  with touches of Ron Paul libertarian leanings, and a solid Romney level love affair with the national corporate elite.  Deep breaths...  

That leaves us high and dry, so it may have been just a little providential that we made the switch from CFS to AO, and thereby delayed our adoption plans a couple of months.  Without those months, we would likely have passed on a $12,000 cheque to LBB, without being able to continue with the adoption itself.  However painful, it's a bullet dodged - though no matter where we go from here it will add two more years to our timeline.

In the words of Yuliya: 
"That really sucks."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Our Home, the Death Trap

There are things that you have to do to your home when you prepare for a homestudy.  I'm not talking about cleaning, sweeping, or vacuuming.  The social worker we spoke with used the exact words "I don't care about your dust bunnies, you can keep them."  So we've stopped cleaning; our home study is in three two months *crosses fingers*. We have it on good authority, after all.    

Never mind the homestudy then, what happens when we actually get kids?  We've been taking inventory of the items which will need to be far up, out of reach, out of sight, or just out of the house.  So without further ado, here are those things which we have identified thus far.  Feel free to chip in.

Cacti

Lots of people have a cactus.  Cacti are resilient and take up space.  We are different from "lots of people" in the fact that Yuliya has been an avid and active collector of cacti for our entire relationship.  At current count, there are nearly forty cacti in our house.  Not all of them are the happy, lives-quiet-cactus-lives type of cacti.  There are cacti in our house which weigh as much as our cats, and have inch and a half long spines which you could use to hang pictures or sew leather clothing.


Like this, but eight pounds in weight and eleven inches tall.  More of a home defense weapon than potted plant, actually.

Then there are the cacti with minuscule, almost invisible needles which break off in your skin and give you rashes.  Lastly, and my favorite, the cacti with milky white juice that oozed from it when you speak too loudly, and can burn your skin or blind you.

Threat factor: Minimal - we're leaving the more harmless "ow it's pokey' varieties on window sills and elevating the "kill you in your sleep" varieties to well our of any human's reach, barring an unprecedented visit by Shaquille O'Neal.

Cats

Cats are not really much of a threat, especially ours, barring allergies.  We've got a pair of ragdolls, Mishka and Loco.  With the exception of Mishka's breath, neither would be a danger to a child.  We know this because they have undergone rigorous stress testing by other people's children.  Here are pictures of our cats.

Threat factor:  Just look at them!

Loco the fluffdozer

Mishka doing his best impression of Marlon Brando.


Power Tools

Being handy folks, we have a couple of tools.  Off the top of my head, we're going to need to keep the kids away from two power drills, miter saw, skilsaw, reciprocating saw, jigsaw, heatgun, orbital sander.  That's not mentioning the hammers, utility knives, and screwdrivers, caulking and whatever else is in the basement.  

Which brings us to...

The Basement

The power tools are in the basement, so there's that.  There's also plenty of homely detritus, left over from furnishing a house, several moves, and just having too much stuff (see Yuliya's packrattery).  Not to mention litter facilities for the cats, and an incomplete bathroom.  We also have a healthy spider population.  Most are smallish, no more than an inch across.  Getting towards the end of summer though, we can run into some monsters.  There was a time when I brought the laundry down and came face to mandible with an eight-legged death machine that was easily four inches across.  We stared at each other for a few seconds, and it turned and disappeared into whatever hellmouth spawned it.

Threat factor: We'll be locking the basement.


Camping Equipment

Bear Spray. Flare Gun. Fishing line/hooks/lures.  The bear spray can only be purchased after leaving your contact information at the store, getting a 15min lecture on correct use, and presenting ID which is photocopied.  As it turns out in Manitoba, bear spray is controlled at a level just below firearms.  Anyone can buy a machete, axe or baseball bat at the same store, go figure. Believe it or not, the flare gun was an anniversary present from Yuliya to myself.  A few years back she asked what she should get me for our anniversary - not at all being a smart ass, I said a flare gun.  It was the weirdest, most random thing that came to mind.  Next year, she got a flare gun for me, so it turns out that she is at least a little bit of a smart-ass herself.

Threat factor: Extremely high - These will be kept in the basement, on the very top shelf of the tallest shelving unit we have, and will be locked in a safety box. Again, we'll be locking the basement.

In addition to the above, we will definitely be taking care of the wobbly railing on our stairs, installing a few more smoke detectors - CO detectors are already in place, getting a fire extinguisher for the second floor, and putting up safety gates at the top and bottom of both our staircases.  The plus side to all this is that my sister has an inquisitive toddler of her very own, who probes our plans for weakness.  So far we have discovered that the cat's food looks more like a buffet to a two year old, and the water dish was a handy spot to soften up the food first.

 So for the next year or (gulp) two, we'll be padding the walls, beveling every edge, and installing airbags on the stairs.

 A Tangent

Here is a look at what an innocent soul my Yuliya is, and what a dirty-minded curmudgeon I am.  Yuliya made a great pot of barley/pea/farmer sausage soup.  She asked me to come to the kitchen to sample her soup.  In this capacity I am a willing guinea pig, because our cooking rarely goes catastrophically bad.  There was the one time her chicken was under-cooked, but on the other hand I made baked salmon once with cinnamon and cloves.  I tasted the soup, signaled my affirmation that it was a worthy effort, and then she asked the question.

"Can you taste the pea-y-ness?"

What she meant was, did I detect the flavour of peas?  That was not what came across.  I choked out a strangled reply.

"What was in this soup again?"  She reached for the bag of dried barley and peas which she had used.

"Here, let me show you the package I used."

It's a good soup, I swear.  It tastes of peas.  PEAS.


  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

This House is Freezing

Quite literally.  It's now 5:26am here, and we woke up feeling unusually chilly about an hour ago.  Took a look at the furnace and surprise surprise, it's not running.  It's 10c now, which is 50f, and it's -20c outside, so it's cooling off pretty quickly.  The thermostat's batteries died at some point in the night, so I replaced those first thing, and the furnace fan comes on but the burners aren't igniting.  Yuliya ran the restart procedure a couple of times while I whipped out the yellowpages.  As it turns out, One Hour Heating/AC is just a name, and what they mean by 24/7 service is that they have operators on 24/7, not repairmen, so I've called six places and the first callback was at 6:23am.  They'll have a serviceperson out between 8 and 9, flat rates, no hourly rates.  Which is good news all around.  Yes, this is a lot of unnecessary detail about furnace repairs for someone who lives 3000km from you, but from where I am sitting it is quite relevant.  So there.

Our gas line works just fine, and the auto-start on the furnace is trying to ignite, so at this point my guess is faulty valve, limit control, or control board.  I have no idea what that costs, but I'm sure it's less than a brand new furnace.

On the plus side, we have a gas fireplace downstairs.  When we bought the place we thought it was garish and have not used it in three years.  Tonight, it's a life saver; we cranked the thermostat up to 30c and flipped the switch.  It took about half an hour but the room temperature is starting to feel livable again, and Yuliya opened the oven door and turned it on as well.  We also got each other some fluffy fleece bathrobes for Xmas, and they're helping the situation.

I remember once as a kid, we had a furnace repairman come and do some work in the dead of winter that required it to be shut off all day.  We had to wear our winter jackets inside, and my mom didn't have any plants after that was over.  We haven't got quite to that point yet, thank goodness.  Fuzzy slippers and bathrobes doesn't seem quite so dire.

Our cats gave us the first warning that something was wrong.  They're both long haired, and usually sleep near the bed, but not on the bed.  It's just too hot for them usually, but tonight they were piled up on us, and rolling over was like trying to climb out from under some sandbags.  Once we got the fireplace going downstairs, they came down to sleep in front of the fire, and Yuliya began shuttling all her plants to the coffee table in front of the fire as well.  Now it's getting bright outside, and we're yawning and waiting for the furnace guy to show.

**UPDATE**

Furnace repair guy arrived at 9:04am, opened the panel and said the igniter was broken.  Ten minute repair, $400.  Furnace is back in operation.

My theory behind why it broke is as follows:

1) Batteries in thermostat go dead.
2) Furnace shuts off, early evening sometime
3) Basement cools quickly, and the igniter cracks as it cools
4) Batteries changed, no furnace worky

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New Directions

I added a few features - Sean & Yuliya 'till Now are brief bios of our past lives.  Timeline updated as well, and I'm going to migrate some of the facebook notes over into a new page as well.

***

So good news for us comes with good weather.  Things are starting to melt and we got a definitive timeline on our homestudy with Adoption Options.

The meeting with them was great, easy in part because we had done our homework, and in part because the lady we dealt with was just plain nice, and very knowledgeable.  We chatted about adoption books, and she asked for our reading list to see if their library was missing anything.  While we would prefer things to move along a bit quicker, they explained that someone was just coming back from mat leave, getting caught up, etc. Our information session will be half a day sometime in June, rather than two full days and then two evenings as well.  Another half day will be a conversation about what we've learned regarding attachment issues.  We don't anticipate problems with this.  Of course, we're kicking ourselves for not going with AO back in December, but lesson learned, moving on.

Also, they had a notary in the office and offered to notarize our LBB application for free!  In hindsight, the story may have been worth the trouble.

***

Our home is changing, slowly but surely.  When we moved in three years ago, everything we owned (including the our car) would have fit in the living room.  The house is 1400 sqft and over a hundred years old, but is young at heart.  The back fence however was showing it's age.  It swayed in the wind, and we had visions of it falling into someone, or onto someone's vehicle in the back lane.  Those visions included insurance settlements, so one day Yuliya wound up and gave the fence a mighty whack with a wrench, and down it went.  We built a new fence, new deck, replaced a shower surround, and are renovating a room for Yuliya's mother.

Did I neglect to mention that so far?  This April, we are flying Yuliya's mom in from Ukraine to come and live with us on a ten year visa.  We thought that two children who didn't speak a word of english, running around the house shouting in lingala, swahili, or french would not be that challenging, so we're adding an adult to the mix who also doesn't speak a word of english, and hasn't lived with another living soul since here dear cat departed this world, and before that since Yuliya left Ukraine.  She trained as a chemical engineer, working in her field at a research institute.  In 1991 Ukraine became glorious and free, and she made a career change to selling flipflops in the local market.

If you're ever in the same situation, it always helps to buy tickets with airlines who aren't going bankrupt.  We were not lucky.  So far, my mother in law has taken zero flights, and we have bought her three plane tickets.  Mark my words, if LOT airlines goes down between now and April 12th, I am going to post angrily and shell out for another flight.  Maybe even write an email.  That's about all the drama that I've got in me. 

***

On the topic of languages, it's going to be interesting.  I'm hoping our kids speak some french, because my high school french is serviceable with some brushing up, though it is a vastly different kind than what is spoken in the DRC, or France for that matter.  A French college friend described Canadian french as being "archaic and provincial".

Yuliya's mother speaks only Russian and Ukrainian, and Yuliya speaks the same and perfect, flawless english.  So...language barriers.  We'll figure it out, or die horribly in the attempt.

***

After reading a little of Millions of Miles, I decided that this was one of my new favorite blogs, rights beside The Lyons Den .

***

In personal news, I turned thirty in January.  I have mixed feelings about this.  To start off with, I am married to the absolute, bar-none, most patient and forgiving woman in the world.  See Sean 'till Now.  In terms of careers and education, I'm not where I'd like to be, or planned to be at three-zero.  That doesn't both me too much though, because there is simply too much to life for me to concern myself with how to go back in time and change the things I wish I had done differently, while keeping all the things I like.  This is the one I've got, full stop, period.

Yuliya was her usual amazing self, and threw me a surprise party.  My friends got me a great single-malt scotch, which gave me an excuse to finish the scotch which I already had at home.  I think it was all part of the plan for them.  A good time was had by all.  For me, a wild party is drinks and a debate of alternate history or fringe theology.  Philosophy and politics are acceptable drinking topics as well.

***

  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Going Off CFS...

In the spirit of my past entries, I am going to start with a rabbit trail.

It's finally moving towards the -10c to 0c range, which is nice.  We can go out with toques instead of fur lined ushankas, and the car doesn't need to be parked in the back and plugged in every night.  It even smells like spring is around the corner.  There are more birds at the feeder, and the red squirrel which we have been plying with nuts all fall and winter has stopped storing them and just eats them as soon as we put them out.  He's a zippy little guy, on his first winter by himself.  Fun fact about red squirrels, the females bequeath their foraging territory to their daughters, and the males are out on their own, and have to compete for new territory.  This little guy started hanging around mid summer.  There are a lot of grey squirrels and larger reds around, so he had a hard time, getting kicked out of trees and chased around.  In the course of putting nuts out, we also found that the local crow population loves peanuts as well, and they figured out how to carry three in their beak at a time.  We see him once or twice during the week, and whereas he was a scrawny little wisp in fall, he's chubby and thick now, with the characteristic red tufts on his ears.  We spent about $10 in peanuts subsidizing his supplies this winter, and it seems to have paid off.

Now to the matter at hand.

Yuliya and I have soured on CFS somewhat since we started this whole thing.  For those who have worked with them, we now understand why so many do not choose to go the CFS route, and we will be following suit.

To be brief, getting information has been frustrating.  Our primary contact until being assigned a social worker never gave Yuliya or myself the same piece of information twice, despite being asked the same question at different times by each of us.  I was on the verge of attempting some amateur divination to scry the location of our social worker when we received the letter some two weeks after the date on which it was supposed to be sent.  From it we got the contact number for our social worker, who admitted to having done very few international adoptions.  His response when asked about the timeline for a homestudy for an adoption with the DRC was "Yeah, there's been more people lately asking about adoptions from the Congo.  What's up with that? Why are people interested in the Congo?"  Think Mitch Hedberg at half speed, and you've got this guy nailed.  We then almost fell over, when we were told that after our education seminar in May, it would take 3-6 months for our criminal and child abuse registry checks to be completed.  In reality, we knew it would be a maximum of seven weeks for both.  Then we did fall over, when he said that it would take 8-12 months to start, not complete a home study.  Taking that with the fact that six weeks after applying no one knew a thing about our file, and that was basically it for us.

We called Adoption Options and have an appointment to get our file started there  next week.  While this only represents a $200 setback at this point, it's also a month and a half lost in preparation time, and after all the calls about the timeline, it's amazing to me that no one thought to actually ask one of the social workers who has done international adoptions about how long things take.  As an aside, we were told that adopting with the DRC was no problem.  Our actual social worker said that they don't work with non-Hague countries.

Then again, for those familiar with the stereotype of Manitoba CFS, this sadly fits the pattern.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Preparations & Smoothies

It's snowing again.  Once it stops, I am going to be shovelling.  There is close to four feet of snow in the back yard from clearing our parking pad so far this winter.  I don't know where we're going to start putting it next.  At least the property slants away from the house, and we built up the soil around the foundation to keep spring runoff out of the basement (file under "Things you should do when your house is 100 years old").  Until then, we shall blog!

If this blog is not up to my usual standards, forgive me, but I'm blogging at lunch and we had champagne in the office to celebrate a new account.  The bubbles, the bubbles.

Apologies all around, an adoption blog about smoothies is not really the correct context for putting a humorous twist on quotations from Heart of Darkness.

As you can see we already have expectations, but expectations without preparation is just entitlement, so we are preparing for our adoption as well.  What does this mean?  This means we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Seeing as how there is a limited amount of preparation that we can do while waiting for paperwork to be completed and inspected, I have taken it upon myself to ration that preparation out to keep Yuliya from losing her mind and furnishing kids rooms, buying toys, books, and rubberized cutlery all in a one week span.  I think it was the day after we applied that she went out, and bought outlet covers and and door-knob covers for the entire house.  You see now what I am up against.

There are other preparations which are more serious, or that we are attempting to take more seriously.  These started about a year ago - we decided that it was time to change our diets.  Starchy foods are cost effective, and if there was one concern in our lives for the past few years, it was being cost effective.  We were getting Yuliya established in her career, paying down student debt, paying ongoing tuition costs, and juggling a high-maintenance car with the normal costs of living.  So last Xmas we decided to cut a huge portion of starch and sugar out of our diets, and replace it with fresh salads and veggie stir-fries.  Building on that, we eliminated the entire concept of supper from our lives this year - we are juicing.

We have also started more regular excercise.  We struggled with getting on the elliptical, biking, lifting weights consistently over the last year.    Since December, we've been hitting the pool for an hour at a time, at least twice a week to swim laps.  We aren't losing much weight yet, but we are toning, building stamina, and getting into good enough shape that the first week in the gym isn't totally demoralizing.  Yuliya didn't grow up swimming, so she struggles a bit with distance and duration.  Towards the end of the hour her laps usually end with near drownings.  It also hasn't helped that she looks like a turtle in a swimming cap and goggles.  I will do my best to extort a picture from her to post on the blog.

Here are our do's and don'ts of juicing.

Basic recipe for all our smoothies is:
Put in two cups of spinach and one and a half cups of water.  Blend for a minute.
Add a cup of any fruit you want.  If you're a wild and crazy guy/girl, add another cup of any fruit you want.  Add two bananas, two tbsp ground flax, one cup of fortified almond or soy milk.  Blend for a minute.  Serves two.

DO


  • Buy all the fresh and frozen fruit that goes on sale.  We have a deep freeze full of frozen peaches, pomegranites, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, passionfruit, etc.  When it goes on sale or starts to brown and soften up, buy it.  Take it home.  Freeze it.  
  • Expect colourful poops.  No dodging the issue.  The effect on our digestive systems wasn't cataclysmic, but it was eye-catching.  Also, there will be seeds.
  • Try crazy combinations of fruit.  Mango/blackberry?  Blend it.  Peach/raspberry?  Blend it.  Anything/Durian?  Do NOT blend it.  Durian is not a smoothie flavour fruit.
  • Get organic, washed spinach.  No matter how much you wash the regular stuff, it will always have a bitter aftertaste that slips through.  Get the biggest containers you can find.
  • Expect to be hungry afterwards for the first couple days.  This is not a steak dinner.  If a little rumble is a huge issue, make 30% more smoothie, or have some cut veggies with greek yogurt dip.
  • Depending on the nutrition you get for breakfast and lunch, consider adding protein powder to the smoothie - but get a decent brand.  The cheap protein supplements all have crazy amounts of cholesterol.  May as well throw a couple of deep fried hot dogs in the smoothie if you get a cheap protein supplement.
  • Cut loose, and toss a little vodka or orange brandy in the smoothie from time to time.  If you were having an occasional glass of wine with supper, this is the substitute.


DO NOT


  • Get a crazy blender.  Crazy fruit good, crazy blender bad.  We have seen people that have $700 blenders for the sole purpose of making smoothies.  If you were seriously considering mounting a light aircraft engine on your countertop for the purpose of chopping fruit, take the following steps: 
  1. Stop.  When you went vehicle shopping for something that was safe and had space, you did not buy an armoured personnel carrier.  You bought a Sienna.  Apply the same logic to your blender.
  2. Go to Canadian Tire or Walmart or Costco or w/e
  3. Buy the $30 on sale, Black n Decker special that has four buttons, no throttle controls, and no option to feather the blades.
  4. Wait until I post a paypal link, and give us the difference that we just saved you.  Now you too can enjoy brilliant smoothies and know that your money is being well used.  No nagging fears in the night about whether that decommissioned B-29 engine was a good investment.  You invested in us, and we are investing in children.  No fears!
  • Get a blender from TV.  Closely related to the above rule.  The blending at a higher speed or chopping it into finer particles will not make in more nutritious, or easier for you body to absorb.  What it will do, is potentially upset your digestive processes because your body expects to do a certain amount of work. Let it.  
  • Have dessert.  This is all the sugar your body desires, for the entire day.
  • Forget to floss.  I made the mistake of going to the dentists immediately following 'supper'.  I opened up, and the dental hygienist simply said "Oh my.  Broccoli?"  In the end it was delightful conversation as she was trying to get her family onto smoothies, and we traded recipes. 




 



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The DRC, Past and Present

There is the general idea floating around that the DRC, and most African countries are somewhere between impoverished, stagnant puddles of misery and outright hellholes.  That was the extent of Yuliya and I's understanding of issues facing the DRC, with the vague awareness that it was all somehow related to colonialism. 

As a result of this ignorance, we've been working hard to educate ourselves as to what exactly went on there in the last century.  It turns out that as the First Nations of North America didn't invent scalping, the Congolese were not the innovators of the tortures which they suffered either.  What shocked us was that while social issues involving First Nations are rooted in a 400 year history, the Congo really began it's colonial history in the 1870s.

We started with this video.  It's pretty dark, but will certainly put the brutality of the current conflicts in perspective.  I've visited Belgium, specifically many of the sites shown in the video which were built by Leopold II. It turns my stomach now to think of the human cost that went into the grandeur, and that there are still people defending the excess.  Not exactly in the same class as sweatshop t-shirts.  It was an eye-opener for us, and sobering to say the least.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rage Against the Public Notary

As a caveat to this entire story, I want to say that Yuliya and I are patient, rational people most of the time.

This all started with a simple task.  I needed to go and get copies of my driver's license, birth certificate, and passport, as well as Yuliya's passport, permanent resident certificate, and PR stamp in her passport notarized.  CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) required these documents as part of the application for citizenship for adopted children.  The CIC application for adopted children is a two step process - first step is CIC confirming the potential adoptive parents' citizenship status, second step is processing the documents for the children themselves.  Thanks to this compartmentalization, we can actually apply for the children's citizenship before we even get a referral, and we'll have their passports in hand when we travel to the DRC.  No embassy visit for us.

Anyway, that was a tangent.  In the course of Yuliya's immigration to Canada, we notarized about 50 documents for CIC, so we have some knowledge and understanding of the government requirements for these true copies.  Yuliya phoned a local law firm to make an appointment, and I went on my day off (yesterday) to get it done.

The first sign that this would be trouble was the receptionist.  I don't know what happened, but after she went to let the notary know that I had arrived, she burst into tears and left the building.  It's not related, but I consider it a bad omen when the person working the front desk breaks down and leaves the premises shortly after meeting you.  Yes, I know that this is magical thinking, but it improves the narrative.

The second sign was the lawyer herself.  Maybe it was a Casual Friday, but most lawyers in my experience still take themselves seriously enough to wear something other than black leggings and a tight t-shirt.  You will notice as well that I didn't mention her underwear.  That is because all evidence indicated that she had decided against any on this particular day.  So it was with trepidation that I followed her to her office.

I quickly explained the documents we needed, gave her the CIC guide for how they wanted things to be notarized, and waited while she made the copies.  She returned the documents to me and that is when the third sign of things to come was made apparent.  At some point in the ten minutes it took to photocopy our identification, she had lost Yuliya's passport.  After a short and exhaustive search of the office it was found.

Then everything went sideways.  CIC demands that all notarized copies have a statement on them stating the name, title, and law office of the notary, and verifying that these are true copies of the originals.  They are very specific about that requirement in the guide.  Our notary made the statement on a separate piece of paper, stapling it to the copy as a cover sheet.  I point out the requirement, and she looked the guide over, and dismissed my concern.

"This is how we always do it, and we've never had issues."  This phrase was a touchstone of the law firm, for the number of times we heard it.

I insisted that she follow the guide, and she was aggressive about this being correct as well.  At this point, I didn't have time to argue, as I had to pick Yuliya up from work.  On the way I called CIC and was informed that yes, the guide needed to be followed to the letter.  So I picked Yuliya up, and we headed back to take care of business.  We explained that per our conversation with CIC the original request was how things should have been done.  She then went and hunted down a senior partner because this was unheard of.  They decided that she should just write the statement of authenticity by hand onto the copies.  She did, and returned them to us.

Now, if you've ever gotten anything notarized, you know that there is always a very prominent stamp or seal displaying the name, title, and office of the notary.  On ours, the stamp was faint to the point of being illegible, barely a circle impressed in the paper.  We asked if there was a way to make it more permanent, and she said that was how it worked and no one had ever had issues with it before.  So we went back to the car and called CIC again, and verified that the stamp needed to be legible or at the end of the 6 week processing time the documents would be rejected and we would have to start over.  Back to the law office we went.

We entered the office in combat mode.  This is a frame of mind Yuliya and I get into when we're dealing with people who have our money and are not being reasonable about holding up their end of the bargain.  We become hyper-sensitive to obfuscation and fallacies in an argument, and are more than willing to call someone a liar if we can prove it.  When we're both like this, we treat the conversation more like a pack of wolves stalking a deer than anything else.  We are the wolves, and we are going to pull off somebody's arm if they don't lay off the BS and get something done.  We maintain a neutral tone but adopt extremely aggressive body language.  It has been highly effective in the past.

The first time that I can recall that we did this was dealing with a rental agency who was not getting our paperwork in order for an apartment, after we were kicked out of a basement suite on short notice.  We pulled our application on the grounds that three weeks was too long to wait for approval, and we had made other living arrangements.  The agency tried to keep our application fee, which they were legally entitled to - something we were not aware of at the time.  We asked them to show us where on the agreement we signed it said that they were entitled to the fee, and no one could, and they didn't think of pointing to the legislation.  We declined to leave the office until they paid us back.  After 30min, a very flustered lady came out and we got a cheque for about a third of the amount, which we were in no way legally entitled to.  But I digress.

Now the notary flatly refused to provide any further assistance, as in her opinion she had done her job, rendered services, etc.  We advised that CIC would not accept documentation with an illegible stamp, and she fell back on the company motto.  Yuliya requested that she come and read the stamp and see if she could read it herself, and asked if she thought that the CIC case officer would accept something that appeared to be less than authentic.  In turn, the notary advised that she would never have agreed to notarize the documents if she knew that those were the standards which the documents are held to.  I then charitably pointed out that I had put the document guide in her hand with the documents, which stated clearly everything that we had already asked for.

Her last defense was that this was how they stamped things, it wasn't going to get any better than this.  She offered the opinion that we should try another notary.  We agreed, but asked for our $63 dollars back.  She declined, and apologized for being unable to meet our standards, but felt that the work had been done.  In turn, we highlighted the fact that this wasn't an issue of our standards, but rather CICs.

By this time her body language had drastically changed, and we felt less like people pushing for their rights as consumers and the reasonable expectation of receiving quality services from a law firm, and more like a mama bear who had just turned around to see a foolish little human between her and her cubs.  I know that this analogy doesn't really stand, but here was an obstinate lawyer who had our money, and was putting herself firmly in the way of us moving on to the next step of getting our children.  She never stood a chance.

At this point she fled the office, literally shaking and stammering incoherently.  She said that the managing partner would be in later, which I didn't believe for a second.  What managing partner at a law office is out on a Friday at 2pm, but comes back in later?  We called her bluff and offered to wait for him.  She then returned with the office manager, who proceeded to correctly stamp and notarize the letters on behalf of the notary, who had retreated to the women's bathroom.  It took all of two minutes.

We left feeling red-jawed and vindicated, if frustrated that we had spent over two hours(!!) trying to get official photocopies of six documents made.  We returned home, documents in hand, and I listened to Sabotage, by the Beastie Boys.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Making Change

change

/CHānj/
Verb
Make or become different: "a proposal to change the law"; "beginning to change from green to gold".
Noun
The act or instance of making or becoming different.
Synonyms
verb. alter - exchange - vary - shift - convert - transform

A primer for this entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Indian_residential_school_system

***

I talked to a homeless man.

This happens relatively frequently, but the conversations are short, and usually end with "I don't have any change."

In this case, that was the beginning of the conversation. I walked about fifteen feet, thinking a few things over. I thought about the fact that Yuliya was still 10min from finishing work, and our bus was at least 15min away still. I also thought about the fact that I had a debit and credit card. I thought even more about the fact that Yuliya & I had discussed this, and said that we should make an effort to help more when we're confronted by people who want it.

So I turned around and came back, and offered to buy the two guys some coffee, as they were in the process of getting kicked out of the downtown skywalk (an indoor walkway that joins most buildings in downtown Winnipeg, popular with homeless people because they're heated)  by the BIZ redshirts (private security force funded by downtown businesses to suppress the visibility of social issues).

We crossed the street to Tim Horton's and I got them both a coffee, sandwich, and soup. They adamantly refused donuts. We sat down, and I called Yuliya to let her know where I was. She arrived and we chatted pleasantly with them for fifteen minutes. It turned out that they were from God's Lake Narrows. I asked if they knew Ronnie, whom I met last year in front of Subway.  They did, and asked if I had met Leonard. I hadn't. Their names were Rick and Thomas. Rick called himself Rick Flair, and Thomas was shy with a quick temper. The conversation drifted around aimlessly. I learned that Rick had been in the city a long time, had quit smoking at the age of 15, and that God's Lake Narrows was cursed. He said he was 49 now, and doing my math quickly, he must have come through the residential school system.

Then Rick asked me a good question.

"They told us that God was watching us all the time, and that everyone goes when they're supposed to. Is that true?"

It was rhetorical. He went on to explain that he had lost his brothers, brothers-in-law, parents, wife, sisters, and his daughters to the same disease in God's Lake Narrows - likely influenza. They all died in less than a decade.  He asked in a quiet, husky voice if I thought it was alright for a man to cry when that happens. Then he asked what happens to priests when they do bad things to women and children, and where they go when they die. He explained that he spends all day in the library reading history books, because it's warm there and free.

Soon after that we had to catch our bus. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the two of them. Losing everything in their lives twice - first their language, culture, and innocence in an intentionally hostile and inhospitable educational institution under the care of the servants of a loving, merciful God. The second time losing their families and hopes to an unknown epidemic under the watchful eyes of the elected servants of the people. I wondered at their determination to understand the past which destroyed their future, and what life can mean after that.

And I thought about the deeper implications of the common question - "Can you spare some change?" and the inevitable reply - "I don't have any change."

***

I wrote that just over two years ago, and it's a hard thing for me to revisit.  Those two taught me the true meaning of walking a mile in someone else's shoes.  The obvious and first question that comes to most people's mind when giving money to panhandlers is:

 "Will they drink this away?" 

I still ask myself that, and I hope they don't.  Sometimes I buy them lunch, but I often don't have time, and pass on some change, small bills, or bus tickets.  My answer to the question has become:

"Even if they do, what business is it of mine?"

I haven't lived their lives and had their struggles or pains.  If I was Rick or Thomas, and things conspired in a way that my entire family and way of life was destroyed before my eyes, I can't promise you now that I wouldn't dive into a bottle to numb the pain.  That's a lot to take on as human being.  So I try not to second guess the needs and requests of those in need, but not always successfully.  Nights like tonight I think about people like them - nights when it's -43c outside, and you see an ambulance picking up a body from the bus shelter in the morning.  I think some people like Rick and Thomas may be past the point of no return - their issues aren't mental health, or being junkies.  Life beat them down, and many that I have spoken to were just happy that someone took an interest in them, and weren't looking for miracles.

While this isn't really about our adoption, it is what our adoption is about in a way as well.  I want to have children to love, nurture, raise, and then unleash on the world.  No doubt about it, but it's also about the realization that my life is blessed, and yes, I can always spare some change.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Expectations

We try to balance our expectations of our lives, but optimism is infectious and frankly a lot more fun than cynicism or even realism.  Thank goodness we have a healthy mix of those in our household.  I am by far the optimist, and Yuliya keeps my unflagging spirits from carrying the house away on fantasy with a well-tempered if occasionally hard-bitten realism.

This post is an exercise in creating a benchmark for future reference, to list our expectations, not ideal dreams or wishes, for our adoption.  Periodically, we'll revisit them and see how they have played out.

Reasonable Expectations:
Our CFS education seminar will be no later than March - 2 full days and 2 additional evenings - $500 cost

Our homestudy will be completed and dossier sent to the DRC by the end of July 2013.

Our referral will come before Xmas of 2013 (Catholic, not Orthodox Xmas).

Referred children will be cutest things that have yet existed to date.  Really, once we get them, there is no reason for anyone to ever post pictures of their kids again.  Ours are cuter.  Just post pictures of our kids, and say yours are like that - just less so.

We will spend no more than 2 weeks confined to our hotel in the DRC.  Sean will stop shaving entirely as soon as the aircraft leaves Canadian airspace.  Yuliya may shave her legs for the first time in 5 years.

We will return from the DRC with our children (plural!) by September 2014 - Canadian immigration documents for the children will take 7 months after the adoption is finalized.

Total costs with travel shall not exceed  $35,000.

We will raise more than nothing towards that cost, if just.

At least once a month some complete stranger will touch our children's hair without permission or provocation, then demand their entire life story and a paternity test.

Our cats will not willingly be in the same room as our children for the first month.  They have had some unfortunate formative experiences with young children.

Best estimates on their clothing size will be at least 2 sizes too  large at time of travel.

The first month will be spend purging their system of parasites.  We're going to do our best not to loose our minds when we find little crawlies in their diapers.

Wait from referral to travel will be the most arduous wait of our lives.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How we got to this point....

It was a pretty daunting task to figure out exactly how we were going to adopt.  The adoption "market" in Canada is pretty shallow compared to the big 'ol USA, given that we're less than 10% of their population.  It doesn't help that some provinces - not mentioning any specifics, but I'll just say that I'm glad we don't live in Ontario - restrict residents to only using local agencies.  If that was the case, we in dirty Manitoba would be limited to only three private agencies - CAFAC, Eastern European Adoptions, and Adoption Options.

We knew as well that we had to work with a local agency for our homestudy.  We knew that EEA was out based on our preferences, and for the past year CAFAC has been acting like that goldfish you had when you were twelve; belly up one day, swimming around happily the next.  No telling what might happen in there or if we'll end up circling the drain once we ante up.  That left us with Adoption Options, who we dutifully contacted, signing up for their next information session.

At the information session, we learned of their program for the Democratic Republic of Congo, which impressed us with it's lower costs and shorter times than Ethiopia.  We had many questions for the representatives there, but were not able to extract much information.  Most responses to inquiries indicated that information would be available and we could go over all our options once we sign the contract with them.  For people like us, this had the same effect as putting a plate of steamed broccoli in front of a toddler and calling it dessert.  The information session proved it's value though, when they mentioned that intercountry adoptions can also go through CFS - Manitoba Child and Family Services, the socialist version of the CPS.  I say socialist because they do the same job as the private agencies, at break-even costs, and are government staffed, providing the same services as the CPS as well.

After that we connected with A Love Beyond Borders, which by most accounts is a wonderful for-profit (scandalous!) private agency in Colorado.  They will be our facilitators, and CFS will take care of our homestudy, and post-adoption reporting.  Savings going with CFS over Adoption Options will be close to $5000.

So now we're looking at a few other equally daunting tasks.  Namely, of networking with other adoptive families, particularly transracial ones.  This is the issue of the shallow pool again - but we're hopeful and have google on our side.  The second thing to look into will be post-adoption support and care - pediatricians, developmental and speech therapists etc, basically trying to anticipate every possible need our children could have upon arrival.  Good news on this front is that CFS also has a handy list of resources for adoptive parents, and the province covers the cost of any and all developmental, psychological, psychiatric, and educational support - assisting as well in coordinating with school staff to develop individual specific education plans.  So we've got the taxpayers behind us on that one as well.

More to come on the state of the adventure....

Monday, January 14, 2013

So - quick apologies to anyone who has already followed our blog.  Up until now, the layout and everything which appeared was experimental and subject to cataclysmic changes.  This layout is our finished product; other gadgets and links will appear as well, to allow for donations and in support of our favorite organizations.

We do reserve the right to change font colours from time to time, but we promise nothing more drastic than that.

Monday, January 7, 2013

We Are Adopting(!)



I suppose I blatantly gave away the subject of this post in the title. Not to mention the overall tone and topic of the blog. Our adventure has taken plenty of twists and turns, and we're currently looking at complicating our lives to a wonderful degree. I say complicating because that is what children do - but wonderfully so.

Yuliya and I discussed adoptions on what I believe was our second date. To be precise, Yuliya asked what I thought of adoptions, and I said that I was open to having my own biological children, but would prefer to adopt. She heartily agreed. For her, this was a deal breaker in potentially marrying someone - something I didn't know at the time. This stemmed from her visiting orphanages in Ukraine, and the conclusion that it would be selfish to have her own children when there are so many in need. This is culturally frowned upon in Ukraine. It simply isn't done and isn't considered an option or worth doing. For her, this formed part of the realization that she could never return to Ukraine and live there.

For me, the realization came more intellectually as a result of my own studies of global social issues. Our attitudes towards adoption are an excellent microcosm of how our attitudes towards life have formed - mine as a result of thought and study, and Yuliya's as a result of what she has seen and survived.

The first natural step was to study the issue - this is how Yuliya and to a lesser extent I tend to approach an issue.  We have learned a few things thus far:

If it wasn't for A Love Beyond Borders, we would sorely wish we were American. Working through American adoption agencies, adoptions can literally be a half to a quarter of the wait time and half the cost, compared to what Canadian agencies can offer. With a Canadian agency, we would be looking at a cost increase of 25% and a two+ years wait, going up depending on the country we adopt from. Thankfully we found a fantastic American agency which works with non-US citizens.

Not all country's adoption programs were created equally in terms of processing times, ages available, travel requirements, and cost. Some countries require prospective parents to come and visit the adoptive child three times before finalizing the adoption, including stays of up to three or more months. The ages of children available from various countries can range from infants to teens. 


We came upon the possibility of the Democratic Republic of Congo while researching the possibility of adopting from Ethiopia. In the course of an information session with the local office for Adoption Options, they mentioned the DRC program. Upon further research, we learned that the DRC has a much shorter processing time, and lower cost (hooray!). The cultures there largely preclude women from drinking or consuming narcotics, which means an almost zero chance of FASD (double hooray). 

Fortunately for our plans, the DRC processing time is currently at a year, at most. Yes, we are a little terrified by the fact that we could have children for summer of 2014. So we're currently chest deep in the research phase and wallowing towards the homestudy phase. 


It's funny to look up American vs. Canadian experiences on blogs and videos on youtube. A common theme for American adoption blogs is "It took sooooooo loooong we had a lesson in waiting and patience" after waiting eight months. Canadians usually wait two to three-plus years, for adoptions in the same countries. Maybe the difference is that queuing up and waiting quietly is the real Canadian national sport.