Friday, April 1, 2016

7+ months home update

Living life as a family of five has been an adventure!  So many things have happened since Aleks and Milena came home in August.  We've been busy managing doctors appointments, surgeries,  IEP meetings, other school meetings, half days, holidays and everything in between!  The kids are doing so well overall but life is not without difficulties.

Claudia has grown in so many ways since Milena and Aleks came home.  She recently had her 3 year school review and has made huge progress in the past 7 months alone.  Having siblings has helped her so much!  When Claudia came home just over 3 years ago, she tested in the 9-18 month range in most areas; she is now testing as high as 48 months in some!  Claudia continues to use ASL as her primary method of communication but I still have hope that she will one day find her voice and will be able to communicate with everyone.  Her frustration levels have decreased so much and we don't see negative behaviors nearly as often.

Claudia adores her little brother and can often be found getting his pajamas and diaper ready at bed time.  She likes cuddling with him and also wrestling around on the floor.  One of these days I think he'll be bigger than Claudia and then she'll have her work cut out for her!  She loves her brother all the time... except for when he pulls her hair!  Just a little ironic huh? 

Claudia looks up to her big sister, Milena.  She frequently wants to do whatever Milena is doing.  Claudia has learned a lot from her including how to help clean and clear the table.  Claudia is learning to be more independent all the time although she regresses occasionally when she wants attention and won't eat unless she is fed.  She does get jealous at times although it's nothing more than any other siblings. 

Did I mention how much Claudia has grown physically?  I don't know exactly how much taller and leaner she has gotten but just comparing pictures from even just a year ago is amazing!  She'll always be small but she's growing!

Milena's English is getting better all of the time.  She still struggles with who, what, when, why and how.  At this time she does not have a handle on those concepts.  She is learning sight words and doing well with phonics as well.  One day she'll love to read just like her parents.  Her self care skills have improved and she is very independent.  Milena is a super sweet girl which has led to a few boundary issues that we've mostly worked out.  She really wants to please people and can shut down at times when she thinks someone is mad at her.  Milena loves her family and loves being a big sister. Milena is a good big sister but can be bossy at times, so we're working on that.  She wants to help out, sometimes a little too much...  Milena is such a great child although we do have some struggles.  The most difficult things we are dealing with right now is her story-telling.  Milena struggles with truth/lie, reality/fantasy and wants to please people by answering their questions how she thinks they want them answered, not necessarily the truth.  This has led to some difficulties with the school and we're trying to figure out how best to handle this.  I can't believe that we're going to have a teenager in less than 6 months!!!


Aleks has come a long way since August.  He has finally been putting on weight, about 2lbs since coming home.  He can eat most of the foods we eat (cut up very small) instead of just pureed food.  Aleks will eat almost anything although he does not like anything to do with apples!  He LOVES his veggies though, so I can't complain.  Aleks went from drinking strictly from a bottle to using a straw and is even doing some open cup drinking!  His heart looks great and he has been weaned from his pulmonary hypertension meds!  Aleks has gotten so much stronger, he's not the wet noodle that he was when he came home!  He's been walking short distances unassisted and can walk pretty well holding one hand.  Aleks is paying more attention to his surroundings and responds to his name.  He has learned his first sign ("more") and is using it appropriately.  Aleks still struggles with playing with toys appropriately, he likes to bang things and make loud noises!  Our biggest struggles with him are the self-harm.  Lately Aleks has been punching himself in the head and face and laughing about it.  The self-harm behaviors are so hard to watch!  He's also gotten into pulling the hair of others and smacking at people (mostly me) at times.  I really think he is beginning to understand when he does something wrong but he just gets a big grin on his face and laughs about it.  We're working on these behaviors too.  This boy is such a ham though!




As a family we've made day trips to the local parks, the play museum and the zoo.  It's not easy to get out with all of the kids but it is so worth it! 

Jason and I are still figuring out our "new normal."  We still have some doctors appointments to tackle and we'll be glad when we're down to just routine visits.  Our house had not been clean in over 7 months and the laundry and dishes are never ending but things could be so much worse!

As you can see, it's not all sunshine and roses but we take things a day at a time and count our blessings.  Things have gone so well and could have gone a lot worse.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Angel Tree 2015

It's that time of year again Reece's Rainbow's Angel Tree!  Angel Tree is up and running and this year I have chosen a 12 year old girl called "Rebecca" from Asia to be my Angel Tree child.  My goal is to raise at least $1000 towards a grant fund for her.  On the right hand side of this blog you will see the link to her page.

Here is what Rebecca's file says about her (and continue reading to learn see some great T-shirts to help her grant fund grow):
Down syndrome
A family hosted her two summers ago and would love to see her find her forever family. They’d be happy to talk to inquiring families.  Comments from her host mother:
She is spunky, lively, funny. She had SUCH personality. She responded to love, to being held. She was strong-willed. Very much a “mommy”, too. But, if you had to tell her she did something she shouldn’t, she would break down and cry. So, I would hold her on my lap and she would curl up, close her eyes, and fake being asleep. She just wanted to be loved. She was funny, and LOVED to help. She loved sweeping and cleaning.

When here, we got her glasses but she didn’t like to wear them. She even hid them once. I would try to get her to wear them, but I didn’t want a “battle of wills” to develop. I let it go, and she would occasionally put them on. She had nystagmus, her eyes shook, and her head would shake a bit, too. It was very endearing to me. When she would insist on something she would stomp her foot, cross her arms, and give me a serious look. It made me smile. She can be bossy!
She LOVED swimming! The picture in the purple shirt and sunglasses is at the pool. Every day she would put her swimsuit on, waiting to go swimming, all ready to go in case we went! She blossomed so much! When she first came, she would not let me hug her, or touch her. I kept at it, she eventually curled up in my lap when upset. I would rock her to sleep.
She had the BEST laugh! I mean, with her entire heart and soul!! I. Loved. It!

Why did I choose Rebecca?  She reminds me so much of our Milena.  She is sweet, funny and mommy-like and they were both born in the summer of 2003.  Milena waited nearly 12 years for a family of her own and Rebecca is still waiting.  I am hoping that my advocating for her this Angel Tree will help get her some exposure as well as raise some funds towards her grant.  Now for a few pictures of sweet Rebecca:

How sweet is this precious girl?  I am in contact with the family that hosted her a couple of summers ago.  If you have questions, I can direct you to the family.

How can you help?  You can use Rebecca's link on the side of my page to make a direct donation to her Angel Tree fun.  If you donate $35 or more, you will receive a Christmas ornament with her beautiful picture on it!

I will also be holding several fundraisers over the next weeks to help raise her grant money.  I currently have several t-shirt fundraisers going on and will list them all below.  Each of the t-shirts is available in more colors than are pictured below and most are offered as a unisex size, women's size and sweatshirt.  Please take a look at the pictures below to see my current T-shirt fundraisers:





Friday, November 13, 2015

Sibling Love

Have I mentioned how well Claudia has done since Aleks and Milena came home?  I can honestly say that second to adopting her into our family, giving her siblings is the best thing we have done for her.  Claudia has become more caring and more fun loving since her siblings came home.  She absolutely adores her them!

If Aleks is near her, Claudia always wants him to lay on her (he'll often fall backwards onto her/she'll pull him backwards and hit his head on her abdomen or chest which she thinks is the greatest thing ever!)

Claudia loves just hanging out with her big sister!  She has learned so much from Milena, she even helps to clear the dinner table with Milena.  Frequently Claudia won't want to go to bed unless her big sister is coming too (they have bunk beds.) 


When we first started pursuing Aleks, we showed Claudia all of the pictures and videos of him that we got from our agency.  We called him her "baby brother" as he was just a year at the time we started the process.  Claudia now refers to Aleks as "baby."  When we added Milena onto the adoption we also showed Claudia her pictures and videos as well.  This was the best way we could think of to prepare for their arrival.  It took about 21 months from start to finish, so in reality we were preparing her for almost 2 years.  I think our preparations payed off.

Seeing my children all together is priceless.  Sure they have their spats but really they get along better than we ever hoped.  We were expecting the much more jealousy than we saw.  There has not been much from any of the kids, just occasionally when we're doing something with one or two of the children that the third is unable for whatever reason to participate in.  I think one of the hardest parts of having the 3 children that we do have is that it's difficult to find activities that they can all do together.

Many people fear adoption, think that it could ruin their lives, too many "what if's..."  I will tell you that Jason and I also had those same reservations about the adoption of each of our children.  We chose to listen to what we felt God was calling us to do.  There are many unknowns but so many blessings that can come from any adoption.  There are people, even social workers and adoption agencies that will tell you not to adopt children out of birth order or not to adopt multiple children at once if they are not biologically related. We did both, Claudia went from our only child to a middle child and she is thriving.  Milena and Aleks are not biologically related but they are as close as if they were biological siblings.  Milena is so sweet with Aleks (as is Claudia.)  I'm not saying that these situations are best for everyone or that they always work out this well; but we have been blessed. If you are feeling led to adoption, no matter how afraid you are, take the first steps to look into it and learn the truth.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Family of Five Together at Last!

The ride home from the airport had us just a bit worried although admittedly everyone was tired and not feeling their best.  Claudia did quite well at the airport but became jealous when her new siblings were in the van.  She put up a bit of a fuss but settled down after a while.  I don't think anyone actually fell asleep in the van.

When we got home, the dog and cats that Milena had been excitedly talking about for 3 weeks terrified her to the point that she was shaking, jumped on the couch and tried climbing the curtains!  I had just a small inkling that it might happened but was upset when it did.  I wish I knew more about her past experiences.  I'm happy to say that now Milena loves all of the animals and has great relationships with them.  That was not the case at first!

The first night everyone slept quite well in their own beds.  The next day was spent getting to know each other as a family unit.  Claudia did surprisingly well as did the other children.  Milena was shy with Jason but the day went well.  That night I don't recall difficulty getting the children to bed but in the middle of the night Claudia climbed into Milena's bed with her and slept till morning.  Claudia seemed to really like having a big sister!  Jason and I woke early the next morning and were downstairs where we heard it... the crying!  We both ran upstairs to see what the matter was Milena and Claudia were both in the top bunk crying.  We asked Milena what happened but she shut down and would not respond.  Claudia was crying because Milena was crying.  They settled down quickly and we got them ready for the day.

That morning I had to get out and into a "real" store.  We really did need a few things and I was quite sure Milena would do OK if I took her with me.  I didn't want to leave Jason with all three kids by himself quite yet.  So he stayed home with the littles and I took Milena to Wal-Mart GASP!  She did very well except she wanted to touch everything!  As we were about half way through our shopping trip, Milena started talking to me in her broken English.  It took me a little while to understand what she was trying to say but she was telling me the story of what happened that morning in bed.  Milena said (I'm paraphrasing)

"Claudia came up into my bed, I told her to get down but she didn't listen (that happened earlier in the night.) Then (in the morning) Grace (the cat) jumped on the bed and Milena cry, Milena cry, Milena cry (remember she was terrified of the animals.)  Then Claudia cried and pushed the cat from the bed.  Mama and Papa came up and asked 'What happened, what, happend!"

Milena then proceeded to tell me this story about a dozen more times before we left the store.  BUT how awesome is it that she was able (and confident enough) to tell me that story!?!

At the checkout on our Wal-Mart adventure a middle-aged man with Down syndrome came behind us in line.  Milena took one look at him and pointed between herself and the man indicating she understood that they were "the same."  It was a sweet moment!

The early days of being home were mostly spent at home with several trips made to the local park so we didn't go too stir crazy. We spent a lot of time learning how to be a family.  Claudia took to her new brother and sister very quickly although she did get jealous when Jason would hold Aleks.  She always told Jason to "give the baby to mom."  Below are some pictures and a video from our park adventures.


Friday, October 30, 2015


I loved my time in Armenia.  Sure there were tough days where I wanted to (and sometimes did) barricade myself and the kids in our apartment all day to work on bonding, but I also really enjoyed walking around Yerevan.  I loved much of the food (I really miss those croissants from Baguette and Co.) There was Gelatto or ice cream on most street corners.  You could get a cone for just $1 US!  I even got comfortable shopping in the grocery after several visits and even ventured to street vendors for fresh fruits and veggies.  There were many people that stared at us but I don't think anyone was rude.  There was a gentleman in the grocery who was following me around trying to say something about Aleks, I think it was because he looked so uncomfortable in his carrier, but otherwise people left us alone.

On the weekends in Yerevan there is a huge outdoor market called Vernissage. Hundreds of vendors come to sell their wares.  There are many artists who do beautiful work from painting, sculpting, woodworking to jewelry and more.  I came home with some lovely treasures to share.  One such treasure came from a sweet older woman named Tamara.  I met Tamara as I was admiring her cross stitch work.  She commented on my children and how they were Angels.  Tamara did not speak much English but there was another vendor close by who was able to translate for us.  She showed me pictures of some Biblical scenes she had cross stitched in the past and I ordered a cross stitching of Milena's name in the Armenian alphabet done in bird letters.  Basically each letter is a character (the Armenian alphabet) that is made to also look like a beautiful bird!  I will post a picture of the finished piece below.     While conversing Tamara gave Milena her ice water (it days I was in Armenia.)  In our conversations she asked my name and we laughed about her comment about my children being Angels and my name being Angeline.  Tamara was a sweet woman, easy to talk to and very talented.  If you ever venture to Yerevan you won't want to miss Vernissage!  Make sure to see Tamara and her artwork!

Milena's name in Armenian. Sorry the picture is vertical, I can't seem to get it to flip!
We had a few paperwork hiccups while in country but both our team in Armenia and stateside worked their tail ends of to get the children and I home.  If there was a way to make things happen more quickly, they were on it and we are so grateful!  Just as I was getting comfortable venturing out on my own it was time to come home.

We left our apartment at 1am Saturday morning on August 8th (Armenian time.)  We flew from Yerevan to Vienna, from Vienna to JFK and JFK to our home airport.  The children did remarkably well.  Milena was nervous for the first take off but was fine after that.  I was able to get Aleks to sleep for much of the trip and Milena watched movies.  The Vienna airport had a nice area for the children to play which took some stress off from me.  Milena and I dozed off and on throughout the trip home.  We got home late Saturday night, still August 8th since we went back 8 hours.  We had a lovely welcome committee of friends and family.  The only issue we had was one lost bag which was delivered to our house the following day (an elderly man took it by mistake.)  It was so nice to see so many of our supporters at the airport!  We even got a few pictures of our first time as a family of 5!

Aleks was sleeping.

Claudia, Milena, my cousin Claudia and Claudia's Frenemy Sara (Right Natalie!?!) taking selfies.

My cousin Claudia and Milena

Monday, October 26, 2015

Getting to Know Each Other Part 2 Church tour

These are pictures taken on the bus tour I took with the children to see some Armenian Churches and ruins.  It was a very hot day in the middle of summer but the kids and I did quite well.  Aleks fell asleep by the end of the tour.  This is the website of the tour service, we did the Sunday 4 hour tour:

We were able to witness some of the services at the Churches.

Saint Hiripsime Church:

Saint Gayane Church

Zvartnots Temple Ruins

The Mother Cathedral, surrounding buildings and gardens