Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shhhh, It's been very quiet on this blog.

I am sure many of you have been wondering what is up with the Tordoff's since our return from Latvia. The answer quite simply is Following our three weeks in Latvia, we had to quickly immerse ourselves back into school, work and the pleasures of integrating Luke and Hannah in to our family and community.

We've been blessed to have had a visit from Grammy and Grampy Tordoff from Maine shortly after our return home. They were a HUGE help by dog sitting Zoe in our absence. They drove to Lancaster from Maine to spend a couple days here before taking Zoe north for a Maine vacation. Needless to say, everyone was thrilled when Zoe returned home with Grammy and Grampy.

We also had a fun visit from Nana and Pop-pop Cobbol from Connecticut along with Aunt Nancy and Uncle Marty. The kids have really enjoyed and valued meeting family. While everyone was in town we were also able to go to Sight and Sound's production of Jonah. Needless to say a real treat for all.

In between all of the fun, we also have been going through many adjustments as we get used to living as a family of five. Due to the adoption not being final yet, the kids have been home schooled by Sue each day. This has been a lot on Sue to keep finding appropriate curriculum for their levels and keep all the kids focused and engaged. Some days are smooth, but often this is a struggle. Needless to  say, we all are looking forward to the time when they are able to go to school. This is partly for the academics, but also so they can engage with other kids socially and get a change of scenery from our house.

Of course, we've had the usual fun of Halloween to take part in since we've been home. We had a baseball player (Luke), a cat (Kaitlyn) and a snow queen (Hannah) marching around the neighborhood. Luke and Kaitlyn were also able to go to a fun "56" party at church that was highlighted by marshmallow fights.

We now know the next steps in the adoption process. The next court date in Latvia is set for December 6, so Kevin and Luke will once again be heading to the airport on December 3.  This is the trip when the adoption should become approved and finalized by the court. We have a return flight scheduled for December 7. We're happy this is a 5 day trip and not another 3 weeks. We have also received approval of our I-800 form from the US government and have had our home visit by the social worker completed. If you remember, we were praying for the second trip to happen prior to the end of the year to qualify for the adoption tax credit. Thank you Lord for allowing this to happen!

Here's just a few pictures from our time at home over the last few weeks.

Our Halloween tricksters

Pumpkin carving time
Hannah at the kids party at HOPE
Bonding over electronics
The quiet side of Hannah
Getting some energy out at a local park
A couple of new cooks in the kitchen

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Packing Up!

Well, here we are in Riga on October 10th. The highlighted date on our calendar for weeks has been October 11th, the date we return to the States. This week has been about final appointments and paperwork.

On Monday, we had a medical review with the Embassy doctor. This was a very basic review of the files of Luke and Hannah and just some very basic check-up steps (height, weight, eye chart, etc.) This is likely done more for comparing files in the future than for any diagnosis at this time. The doctor gave each child high marks for their current health conditions and expressed no concern with future health based on a variety of blood tests that were done prior to our arrival. We are very grateful for these reports.

After the doctors appointments, we headed directly to Tukums to the orphan court. After about an hour of driving we arrived and proceeded to the same room we were led to a few weeks earlier. Once again, the kids' foster mothers were present. This time Luke's foster mother also brought along his little foster sister who happens to be about the cutest little toddler you could imagine. He will miss her greatly. Once again, the court process consisted of questions asked privately to the kids and then a series of questions asked to us about our experiences with the kids over the three weeks. In the end, they decided it was in the best interest of the kids to proceed with the adoption. As a result, we have been awarded guardianship to host the kids in the US and the adoption process will proceed with a formal court decision to be made on our second trip which we are praying happens prior to the end of the year.

Clearly, we were all excited and relieved to have passed this milestone in the process.  Following the proceedings we left the building and Hannah and Luke once again had to say their goodbyes. While joining our family is clearly what they want, understandably ,the goodbyes are very difficult after spending the past four years with these families.

On Tuesday, our only obligation was to travel to the US Embassy to file the paperwork for the kids travel Visas. The US Embassy has moved in the last year to a more secure location, so it took a little longer than expected to travel there on a cool and rainy day. Once there, the proceess was very quick and smooth as there were only a couple people there with other matters.

We ended the day by eating out at Lido, a very affordable restaurant that is conveniently located next to our apartment. It was nice to take the night off from cooking and dishes as our food supply is intentionally dwindling down.

So, today is packing and prepping for the trip home. One of us will need to travel back to the embassy this afternoon to pick up the visas and the kids' passports. Aside from that, our biggest challenge will be waking up at 3:30am for our 4:00 ride to the airport. Our flight leaves Riga at 6:15am. If the travel day goes smoothly, we'll be back in Lancaster in time for dinner tomorrow and then tuck ourselves in our own beds. All of this sounds wonderful!

Thanks so much for your prayers and support along the way!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Outdoor Adventure, Caves & Castles

We had an incredible long, full day of adventure on Saturday, October 7. Earlier in the week Sue ran into Sandra Rancane on Gertrudes Street as Sue was returning from the market. Sandra stayed with us for a couple of nights two summers ago when she was with the hosting program in the US. Obviously it was amazing to simply run in to each other. Sandra came up to our apartment to visit with us after she was done with an appointment. She brought us some delicious pastries which all the kids enjoyed, but she also offered to spend the day with us on Saturday. After some discussion, we made plans to meet on Saturday morning and go to Sigulda which is about 50 km from Riga and about an hours drive.

We met Sandra a little after 10:00 in the morning and squeezed the 5 of us in to her car. After more than two weeks it was almost odd to ride in a car! We were headed to an outdoor activity center called Tarzans. The main reason we were going was to ride the toboggan track, their version of an alpine slide. It was a lot of fun for everyone, but that was just the beginning. The kids also did the trampolines attached to bungee cords and then spent most of their time navigating the first four levels of the ropes course. It's a pretty amazing progression of ropes courses they offer and the kids did more than we expected them to including zip lines, climbing up high, traversing with ropes and more. Here are some shots from their day.

Luke and Kaitlyn traversing an obstacle
Hannah riding a zip line swing between trees

Luke bungee jumping
Kaitlyn moving across the wire


Kaitlyn zipping along
The day was a bit cool in the lower 50's with occasional rain. We learned we were lightweights as there were many out enjoying the day from Latvia. Clearly, rain is not a deterrent here. We left the climbing and fun of Tarzans behind and took a ride across the town to the Gutmanis Cave. You'll have to explore the link to read about the tragic tale of the young woman Maija.
Sandra and the kids outside the cave
The family at the entry to the cave
After checking out the caves (which weren't very deep or long), it was time to explore a castle. We headed up the road a short distance to the Turaida Castle which is now a museum/reserve. Built in the early 1200's, the castle has a lot of lore. We spent a bit of time climbing to the heights of the tall turrets which afforded spectacular views of the area as well as the autumn foliage. The castle and grounds are partially restored and offered a glimpse of a period of history not found in the US. Enjoy the pics!
A perfect grey day to visit a castle
View of the main castle from the tower
View of some of castle ruins from tower
More castle ruins

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another Visit

So a few days have past since our last post. Frankly, not much of news has happened in the last few days. The weather has settled in the lo-mid 50's and most days have a pattern of grey skies with either occasional bursts of rain or brief moments of sunshine.

Monday was exciting as it marked passing the halfway point of the trip and we flipped the calendar to October. Kevin was out for a walk in the morning and was passing through the parks when he noticed a sad sight.

One less activity to entertain the kids
Yes, that's right, the trampolines in the park were being dismantled. Apparently, October 1 is the date the park entertainment goes away.

On Tuesday, we took the kids in the afternoon to Grafikas Darbnica. This is a small, but cute kids art workshop locate din Old Riga by the Galleria Centers. We dropped the kids off at 3:00pm for an hour and they went to work.

Instruction Time
Hannah working the press
Kaitlyn pressing her project
Luke with his bookmark project
Hannah's artwork
Kaitlyn's gallery entry
Luke's musical notes
The kids had a lot of fun creating and printing their art and this afforded a unique idea for Sue and I to escape to a coffee shop for a quiet conversation. This is likely our only alone time of the three week trip. We walked out of the rain and into to the confines of Caffe Costadoro. We sat in an old part of the cafe with aged beams and brick walls. Our table was adorned with a simple candle. For 45 minutes we were able to enjoy our lattes, with an assortment or gingerbread and hazelnut cookies and a chocolate cake with a dark cherry moussed filling. These moments were a wonderful escape albeit short.

A few moments of quiet for Kevin & Sue
Today, Wednesday, we had our second visitation by the orphan court. Linda's daughter was sick, so Agnes made the trip from Tukums to meet with us. Daina also was not able to be here, so Brigitte was the translator. The meeting lasted about 45 minutes and was a basic series of questions inquiring what had been happening in the past week. Our next official step is Monday, October 8th, when we go to the orphan court again in Tukums.

All in all, we are doing quite well. That said, each one of us are eager for October 11th to arrive so we can travel home.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

How Did I Get Here?

Note: this post expresses the opinions of Kevin and not necessarily Sue's  .... although I hope she does agree with a few comments ;)

I'm sitting in Latvia, while Sue is with the kids at the park and store. At this time, it's easy to ponder "What am I doing here?". Well, God had indeed led us on quite a journey beginning some ten years ago when we traveled to Belarus to welcome Kaitlyn in to our family and at this time while we are in the process of adding Luke Ritvars and Hannah Agija to our small tribe. Motivations are tough to explain and with adoption I have found this to definitely be so.

I have wrestled at times if our pursuit of adoption was because:
a. we selfishly wanted kids
b. we want to be heroes and save a child or children from an uncertain future
c. we simply wish to follow God's call to care for the fatherless, for orphans

As time has passed, I firmly believe "C" has driven us coupled with a healthy dose of desiring to add to our family. While I would like to think that I've sought ample adventures in my life, the truth is I'm not as much of a risk taker as I believe myself to be. I thought I would share a few of the resources that helped push me to the point of saying "Yes. Let's do this.".
  • The Bible: James 1:27 is a very succinct statement: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." There's no mincing of words here. God has a deep desire for each one of us to care for those in need and He specifically calls out children without parents. Enough said!

  • Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt: This book should not be a surprise to most. David Platt is one of the freshest voices in the American church.The challenge here is to set aside our American feelings of entitlement to a comfortable life and gain a new vigor for the unreached while living a simplified lifestyle, all because God deserves our devotion, attention and passions culminating in sincere effort. While pastoring a mega church, he has moved his local church and many outside its walls to a renewed sense of calling and focus.
  • Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick: I'm not sure how many may have read this. Overall, I enjoyed it. Steven is the youthful, energetic, and the sometimes in-your-face pastor of Elevation Church. The title is based of the Joshua 10's account of the faithful warrior, Joshua, making a request of the Lord for the sun to stand still in the sky so they could have enough daylight to complete the battle. Joshua asked. God made it happen. History has even proven it. So what's the point? Yes, early in this round of the adoption process I had my doubts. I decided to ask BIG of God and ask for the heart and the passion to make this happen. And yes, here we are.

    Love Does by Bob Goff: I know of know other book that put as many smiles on my face and instilled a fresh zest for living and loving than this book. There is a good reason it soared to the tops of the NY Times bestsellers list this summer. This book was my summer read while in Maine and I force read it to my family at dinner most nights. I say "force read" but I'm confident everyone was marveling at how Bob has seen opportunity and lived life. My big takeaway? I'm missing out on way too many opportunities to show love to those around me, both close and distant. If God has showered His love on me without condition, who am I not to do the same to others.
Barefoot Church  - Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture by Brandon Hatmaker: This is a book a whole lot more people should be reading, especially those who serve in the church. Brandon's challenge is to turn the church upside down and move from  creating the production that goes on inside the church and instead focus on serving and loving people outside of the church. Far too many human and financial resources are spent on making "Church" happen rather than addressing critical needs that surround us which are at the heart of being a follower of Christ. Brandon and his wife, Jen, are adoptive parents and Jen has a couple of books, including "Seven", and a blog that should be on your reading list as well.

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis: Wow! This is the book I am reading now. There is no way to read Katie's story and not be captivated. Katie moved to Uganda after high school to follow the leading from God she gained on a simple missions trip. Katie had it all. Top of the class. Homecoming queen. Boyfriend. Entry to top colleges. Parents who loved her and wanted her to stay close to home. Anyway, Katie listened to the voice of God and what has transpired in just a couple short years is her adoption of 14 girls and a ministry to educate, feed, share Christ and build a future for more than 400 Ugandan children. Behind it all is her strong faith that leads her to love those around her, regardless of the harshness of the physical circumstances. She is being used by God and I for one am anxious to keep reading her story.

There you have it. While God is clearly the playwrite with our adoption story, He has clearly used the words of others to motivate me to action and obedience. I hope He has your ear as well!

Miķeļa dienas gadatirgus!

Miķeļa dienas gadatirgus is the Autumn Market or Harvest Festival and occurs annually on the last  Saturday of September. The festival is set up on the cobblestoned streets and squares surrounding the Cathedral and town hall in Old Riga. Also known as the Apple Market, hundreds of farmers set up their stalls with tables and tents and sell fresh produce as well as handmade crafts and even homemade hard cider and wine. Naturally, plenty of beer, sour kraut and sausages are also available, not to mention folk dancing and singing.

The festival goes from 10am to 5pm, so we planned to go down and join in the festivities after lunch. As expected, the streets were bursting with people and making our way past all of the displays took hours. Luke and Hannah shopped for some small thank you gifts for their foster families, while Sue shopped for other Latvian goodies to bring home. A few samplings of candy, ice cream and other treats kept everyone energized throughout the afternoon.

After the festival closed, we headed to the Pizza Patio and was seated in a very cool underground seating area with old brick walls and paintings of canals on the walls. We ordered up a couple pepperoni pizzas and a chicken, parmesan, mushroom combo that was the perfect amount for our family of five. Sadly, we discovered that Luke Ritvars really doesn't like pizza. Hopefully he grows out of that.

Everyone was exhausted from several hours of walking around in the cool fall air, so we inserted Mary Poppins as our evening movie. Everyone loved the movie, including Luke and we found ourselves all toe tapping and dancing to the classic tunes. The kids are now planning their own musical production for tonight. I guess that is a story to be written later.

Enjoy these pics of the festival!

Latvian Folk Choir
Beautiful architecture surrounding the square
Farmer's Harvest Display
Shopping for keepsakes
This photo reminds me of the Venetian and Ceasar's Forum Shops in Vegas ... but it's real!
B&W always transports me to another time
Even pumpkins can be bullys :(
For the women: a Latvian bride traverses the festival
Pizza Time!

Back on Schedule

Friday, September 28
Following our day at the zoo and a day off school, we needed to get back on our schedule of home school. The motivation level for reading and studying wasn't as high today, but we managed to  get through a few hours of work that brought us into the afternoon. We had promised the kids a special treat in the afternoon, but didn't tell them what is was. (note: yes, there are a lot of special treats. we try and find one unique thing per day as a reward for all of us living in the confines of the apartment).

For our special treat, we left the apartment but took an unexpected turn from our normal route of walking. Three blocks up stood Lāčuks and to the kids surprise, Dad walked straight in the front door. You see, Lāčuks is a toy store with three floors of captivating play things. The kids were given instruction that they could each pick out one toy that was of reasonable price and reasonable size to pack and transport to America.

Lāčuks - three floors of toys!
You should have seen both the excitement but also the stress the kids (including Kaitlyn) exhibited in making their selection. Countless times the direction of shifted from one possible toy to another, not from a "want" perspective but because the choices were so wide and varied that narrowing down to one was nearly impossible.

In the end, here are the three winner toys:
  • Luke: a remote control truck that has been used in many time trial races around varying obstacle courses in the apartment
  • Kaitlyn: a Zoobles collection that is a pretend house for the Zoobles pet that is set up in the girls bedroom on the window sill
  • Hannah: a battery powered phone set linked by a 30 ft wire that has been constantly ringing with pretend conversations for 2 1/2 days now
It was a real treat to see the kids reaction to our toy store visit, espcially knowing they are heading to America with few momentos other than their memories of their Latvian past.