Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why We Aren't Paying Our Children's "Ransom."

This Sunday at Mass, our pastor preached a sermon about the Corporal Works of Mercy, which include things like "feed the hungry" and "give drink to the thirsty," among others.  One of them is "to ransom the captive."  Now, our priest said that he wasn't sure how modern day Americans could do that, and moved on to the next thing on the list.

On the car ride to lunch (Papa Beast and I always enjoy lunch together after church on Sundays), we discussed how we can improve in terms of doing good works and helping others.  Once again, the topic of ransoming captives came up and I jokingly said that some people would say that our adoption fees count.  Immediately, Papa Beast's face changed, and he was quite offended by that line of thinking.

Sometimes, often in Christian circles, adoption fees and other related expenses are referred to as a ransom.  This is sometimes a way to drum up donations toward these expenses. 

We don't agree with the implications of the word "ransom" when referring to adoption.

Much of the fees go to keep an agency going, including paying its staff and dealing with overhead costs.  We chose to work with a non-profit agency, and we know that every dollar we pay them is being used to bring home our children.  But it isn't a ransom.

Because a ransom implies that someone is keeping our children captive on purpose, and is demanding payment in order to set them free.

Who, exactly, is keeping our children captive?

Is it our social worker, who has done so much to help us bring our children home?  She has prepared our documents, taught our classes, spent hours interviewing us individually and together, spent even more hours on the phone helping us evaluate files and come to a decision that is right for our family, and more.

Is it our program coordinator, who has also spent countless hours working on our case and other cases in Central Asia and elsewhere?  Who put so much work into getting the Kazakhstan program going, to no avail? 

Is it our agency itself, which has done so much work for so many orphans? 

Is it the airline?

The hotel?

The doctors we paid to do our medical exams?
The doctor we will pay to review our children's medical files?

None of these people want our children (or any children) to remain in orphanages without a mother and father to love them.  None of them want our adoption to take a long time or even to cost so much.  But, sadly, there are many pieces to the puzzle, and all of those pieces are expensive in terms of both time and money.

Some people seem to imply that the money given to the child's birth country is a ransom.  And yet, most of it seems to go to court expenses and orphanage donations.  As Papa Beast said on Sunday, how could he not pay that forward, when money from previous families has helped to keep a roof over our children's heads?

Others seem upset about giving gifts to the director and workers at the orphanage.  I personally cannot imagine begrudging a lipstick, a bottle of perfume, or a jar of peanut butter (which is expensive and hard to find overseas) to the women who have changed my children's diapers for incredibly low pay (some websites say that orphanage workers in Kyrgyzstan make the equivalent of $1-2 a day).  

It also seems that the culture of the former USSR is often one of gift giving rather than tipping, at least when it comes to certain things, like drivers and translators.  Here in the States, we would probably find ourselves giving people like that a small tip, while in Kyrgyzstan it seems to be more culturally acceptable to give them a small gift instead.  Cultural differences don't constitute a ransom, however.  :)

Note: for a full list of the Corporal Works of Mercy, along with the Spiritual Works of Mercy, see here -- Catholic Encyclopedia.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

You Know You're a Waiting Family When...

1) You give your agency a special ringtone in your phone because you're sick of getting your hopes up when you hear the default ringtone.

2) Every holiday or milestone or fun activity that passes, you find yourself hoping and praying that next Christmas/Easter/Thanksgiving/4th of July/Halloween/birthday/spring/summer/Disneyland trip/whatever you will have your child/children home with you to share in the celebration.

3) You find yourself looking longingly at the adorable children's clothes in every shop you enter, and the only thing stopping you from buying them is not knowing the right age, gender, and size to buy them in.

4) You start checking things off of your "pre-kids bucket list."  For me, it was cake decorating classes and a trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain (it's going to be quite a while before our little ones "make height" for rides like X2 and Tatsu). 

5) You find yourself torn between wanting a referral RIGHT FREAKING NOW and feeling like you're running out of time to learn your child/children's language.

6)  Plans you make with other people that involve what's happening more than a month from now have a "standard disclaimer" involved.

7) Your father has actually heard you use the phrase "standard disclaimer" when taking about your plans for two months from now.  He knew exactly what you meant.

8) You are so excited about your upcoming adoption -- and you're willing to talk about it with anyone who will listen.

9) You keep up with the news in the country you're adopting from -- and so does your family.

10) You've scoured Trip Advisor for reviews of hotels and restaurants to visit on your trip(s).

11) You've gone to restaurants in the US that specialize in the food from your child/children's culture.

12) You've prepared some of that food yourself.

13) You read everything your local library has about your child/children's country.  If all they have is children's books and travel guides (welcome to adopting from Central Asia, enjoy the lack of books), then that's what you read.

14) You have spots in your house where you plan to display cultural art that you plan to buy "in country."  Ex -- hanging a Kyrgyz rug on the wall.

15) You "speak adoption" fluently, and you forget that most people don't use words like "dossier," "referral," "apostille," "home study," etc. on a daily basis.

16) You check your email.  First thing, last thing, every five minutes, whatever. 

17) You check your snail mail box compulsively, wanting a letter the USCIS.  You tell yourself you're checking for an Amazon package, but that's a lie.

18) If you're using an out-of-state agency, you know the conversion to their time zone without even thinking about it.  You've been known to wait to go to the grocery store until it's no longer "business hours" there when waiting for a call back from the agency.

Do any of you have any good "you know you're waiting when..." moments to add?  Please share them in the comments.  :)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cake Classes: Wilton Course 1

Another thing I've been doing to help the wait go by quicker (ha! as if!) is taking Wilton cake decorating classes at my local Michael's.

The first night of the first course (I'm taking the second course now) was focused on cupcakes and certain basics of decorating, such as making a rosette, doing the swirl on top of a cupcake, doing a zig zag, and making our own buttercream frosting.

Rosettes are much easier than they look.  :)

I had so many extra cupcakes -- the recipe that normally makes a two layer round cake made almost three dozen cupcakes!  So, I decorated six in class (as instructed), and then decorated the rest as practice at home.

The extras were enjoyed by kind guinea pigs at my Papa Beast's office, Papa Beast's vanpool, and Super Pup's dog park. (The people enjoyed them -- they weren't for the pups! :P)

The second night of class was focused on torting, filling, and icing a cake.  There was also a lesson in doing a pattern transfer with piping gel.  There were patterns included in the course kit, but I decided to design my own by drawing the Kyrgyzstani flag onto a sheet of wax paper.  I think it came out okay, especially for a first attempt!

The cake itself was chocolate, with a raspberry jam filling.  I'm not a fan of chocolate, so this was a special treat for Papa Beast.

Week three was really intensive, with us learning several new techniques like the shell border, leaves, a few different flowers, etc, etc.  We were asked to bring in several small treats, like Rice Krispies, cupcakes, Hostess products, or cookies.  I chose Rice Krispies.  It was really fun to try the different techniques and do various things with them.

The final night of class involved bringing in a cake that was already iced and ready to decorate.  We learned how to make the ribbon rose, as well as how to write (both cursive and printing) on our cakes.

I was having difficulty with icing consistency, as well as being very shaky and dizzy from my bad reaction to typhoid pills.  I'm not thrilled with the job I did (especially on the roses) but I am happy that I stuck with it even when I was really struggling.

You can see here where the blue icing was a little too runny to even be the thin consistency normally used for writing.

It does look really pretty on our berry plates, though.

The cake was lemon with raspberry jam filling.  I'd like to try making lemon cake again during my time in Course Two, because this cake had a bit too much ginger in it and was more spicy than sweet to my taste buds.  Then again, I'm not a big fan of ginger.  I'd like to have something that tastes like sweet lemons, though, so it tastes better with the raspberry.  If only I could make cake that tastes just like my dad's lemoncello.   I'll be hunting online for a lemoncello cake.  :P

Russian Festival in West Hollywood

We've been doing a lot of things as we wait.

Fun things, productive things, cultural things, time wasting things.  All sorts of things, really.  I'd like to highlight some of them, even though I'm a bit behind.

Here's the first one...

In May, we went to a Russian cultural festival in Los Angeles, where we got to see Russian folk dancing, including that squatting dance the Cossacks do.  It turns out that's called Kozachok or Kaзaчoк in Russian.  It actually comes from Ukraine.

Here's our favorite group, Russian Souvenir, doing their routine from last year's festival:

It is held every May at Plummer Park in West Hollywood, which has a large and historic Russian population.  The Russian WWII Memorial is there, commemorating the veterans of the USSR countries.  It's not something that's talked about a lot Stateside, but Russia lost more men in the war, which they call the Great Patriotic War, than any other country.  May 9 is Victory Day in Russia, and they celebrate it as a kind of Memorial Day, which parades and honors for veterans. (These articles discuss it: Wikipedia: Victory Day  Buzzfeed: Why WWII Matters to Russians Today) 

The Festival was a lot of fun.  We met up with friends from the a local Eastern European/Central Asian adoption group.  There are several areas to the Festival -- the main stage, the booths (for food and other vendors), and the bounce houses (free of charge for the little ones).

One funny moment for me happened at the DirecTV booth.  They had a spin the wheel of fortune type give away with lip balm, pens, etc.  They also had a raffle for an iPod if you filled out a survey form (all in Russian).  So, I walk up to spin the wheel -- and get a sales pitch totally in Russian.  From what I could gather, it seemed to be focused on Russian language programing and channels.  I kept saying "no thank you" in Russian, and they kept trying to hand me the survey.  "Nyet, nyet."  "iPod, iPod."  "Nyet, nyet."  "iPod, iPod."  Until I finally gave in and admitted that I'm sorry, but I don't speak much Russian. (And, even more relevant, I don't know how to read it -- but, sadly, I don't know the word "read" in Russian.)  Maybe those Russian language channels wouldn't be such a bad idea, after all!

The first show of the day was the Children's Show, where kids get to display their Russian cultural talents.  Everything from singing to ballroom dancing to rhythmic gymnastics was showcased.

Then there was a break, where a magician came out to entertain the little ones.  We were able to move forward for a better view after we grabbed food (pelmeni and shish kebabs) to enjoy while we waited for the second show.

The second show was filled with mostly the grown up performers, but there were a few excellent children's groups who made the cut as well.  It was definitely the more professional of the two shows, though, and featured the wonderful Russian Souvenir dance group (pictured above).  We weren't able to stay for the whole show, because we needed to go home to feed our dog, but we will definitely come back next year and bring him so we don't have to hurry home so early. (We weren't sure if dogs were allowed in the park -- but now we know.)