Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Exploring Riga : A Walking Tour of Old Town

Last night we had an amazing walking tour of Old Town ... we were blessed to have an America pastor here in Latvia at the same time as us and he has this extensive knowledge of the history here. He gives lots of tours - we chose a one hour tour so we could bring all the kids along and keep them engaged the whole time. {Pictured above a home built in the 1300's - the kids are posing by a symbol which would have been the address of the home.}

Our last stop was the location pictured above ... the house of the black cat. Legend has it that an artist was denied access into the craft guild in Riga - so he crafted this iron cat placed it on top of his home and pointed its bottom toward the guild. When the city council got involved and made the guild accept the artist he turned the kitty cat the other way. Anyway, this is a very famous building - I even bought a small watercolor painting of it.

Above, a shot of the beautiful canal in Old Town. The ship displaying the crest of the city. We thought it looked very Norwegian.

Family standing around a cannon outside one of the original walls that protected the city - the cannon dates back to the 1700's.

Pictured above, the sign above one of the entrances to the catholic church - this building dates back to 1225.

Above, outside one of the original gates to the city - this gate way built in the 1600's. Legend has it that a young girl was entombed in the archway because, she had wrongly fallen in love with a Swedish prince and to this day, if the moon is right and your heart is right, you can here her saying "I love you" when you walk through the gateway.

Devin, above, pictured outside one of the original walls of the city - some parts had been rebuilt. The city elevation has been raised to allow for modern day sewer and water - so many of the original buildings and walls fall below that level - as pictured above.

Another stop on our tour - the Freedom Monument - this is like our Statue of Liberty. Built in the 1930's it depicts many scenes of Latvians dying at the hands of their conquerors and represents all that this country has gone through to gain their freedom. The top of the monument between the arms and stars seems to show either a cross or an angel but, the artist never revealed what it truly was - so it is left up to the admirer to decide for themselves.

Pictured below, the powder tower - which housed the black powder used during times to fire cannons and guns. It is so beautiful and amazing to think of the history behind it.

We met this sweet woman playing her guitar and singing at the Freedom Monument - she spoke some English and chose English songs to sing to us. We enjoyed our conversation with her!

The Spanish looking building below at the end of the alley is from the Crusaders Period in the 1300's. Again, just amazing to be up close to these types of buildings. We took the kids picture outside the building - it is the first one on my blog post.

We went to the top floor of a hotel in Old Town and got this awesome view of the city! Lots of tops of buildings and a nice view of the bridge into the city over the river.

That is just a few of the pictures I took ... so much beauty in this city that has seen so much change and been ruled by so many different countries.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Exploring Riga : The Latvia Zoo

Yesterday, we took a trolley out to the L@tvi@ Zoo ... it is set in a beautiful location just outside the city in an area called Mezaparks.

The first thing I have to comment on here is the fashion you see in and around L@tvi@ - and this included the park. Women in heels in brightly colored dresses and adorable little babies in beautiful outfits with crocheted hats. I seriously could people watch for hours!

The flamingos were a beautiful orange/pink color ... knowing that normally the color is from their diet I wondered what they were feeding these bright colored birds - apparently they have a little bit of a trick they use in their diet to enhance the color.

Another observation I had ... animals in the zoo were very close ... you know how it is in America most zoos the animals are behind several levels of barriers, some seen and some unseen, here you could literally reach out and touch most animals. Love this sweet face on the giraffe.

Daune says only I would go to the zoo and then take pictures of things like tress and clouds ... just thought this cloud formation was really pretty.

Pictured above a Kodiak Bear ... so sweet and cuddly looking but, obviously would probably eat us in a heartbeat. Below is a beautiful bird we encountered - though I cannot remember its name.

Lexi posing by the lake in Mezaparks - bordering the zoo.

Sweet sleeping lions ... yesterday it was warm here, around 79 degrees so most animals were finding ways to stay cool.

Pictured below a monkey with her baby ... these monkeys would come up to the enclosure and try and reach their hands out to us.

Pictured below ... our own monkeys on the climbing gym.

Though warm it was a beautiful day ... and truly, in Atlanta standards not warm at all for a summer day ... after the zoo it was out to one of our favorite restaurants in L@tvi@ - Cili Pica (Chili Pizza).

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Exploring Riga : Natural History Museum of Latvia

Today's outing was to the Natural History Museum in L@tvi@ ... this museum is the oldest complex of natural history in the Baltics and holds the largest collection of nature items in L@tvi@.

Five floors of great exhibits on zoology, botany, entomology, paleontology and geology, the sea and anthropology. Some of our favorites - the ocean exhibit, the skeletons, the amazing specimens of animals - all so well preserved.

One of the hardest things to get used to in L@tvi@ - is the non-existence of elevators or indoor ventilation ... so once you got past climbing six flights of stairs in the beginning and little air circulation the exhibits were really fun to walk through {some even had English explanations}. It slows your tour down a little when you must stop and use google translate on exhibits.

It was well worth the 4 Lats {around $8} we paid! After the museum it was off to the local park - the girls jumped on trampolines and Devin and Daune played catch. Then we were able to meet up with Hope's brother and head to a local cafe for lunch. I could sit for hours and people watch here ... the fashion, the vehicles going by, all so different than what we are used to.

Friday, July 26, 2013

We're Almost Half Way There ...

Tomorrow we will be half-way through our stay here in L@tvi@ ... we fly out early on the morning of August 10th. That day cannot come soon enough. Don't get me wrong - L@tvi@ is beautiful, I could take photographs all day long of the architecture and people here but, the truth of the matter is ... I miss home.

It is also hard for Hope to remain here ... to truly begin our life as a family we need to be back in America. The one benefit we have had of staying here in Riga is getting to know some of Hope's family - especially her brother who is very sweet and super helpful - he even knows English!

Our first social worker visit was fantastic! The courts here really want what is best for the children - our social worker was wonderful in helping communicate important things to Hope. We worked through several issues and it was a really pleasant visit. For those going after us, I would strongly encourage you to be honest with any struggles with your OC social worker - they really do seem to want to help make the situation work between the child and family.

To pass the time, we do a lot of walking - to parks, Old Town, stores, and restaurants. Today we will head out and see the Tall Ship Races Festival - it only comes to Latvia once every 10 years so we feel lucky to get to see this event.

If it warms up {it has been unseasonably cool} we are going to head out to the beaches. Even if we don't swim the sea side village seems really quaint.

There are also tons of museums so we will try to visit a few of those in the coming 14 days. Of course, a trip to the zoo is also in the mix.

This trip has really made us appreciate America and how easy our life is there. We really do take for-granted the ease in which we grocery shop, do laundry, have our own cars for transportation, worship in a contemporary church, and the list goes on.

Please pray for our remaining 2 weeks here in country ...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Exploring Riga : Central Market

After not finding a good selection of veggies and fruit at the stores around our apartment we decided to venture out to the Central Market I had heard so much about - just a short 15 minute walk from our apartment.

The Central Market in Riga is housed in and around the old World War II Zeppelin Hangars - just that alone would have gotten me over there but, the vegetables, fruit, flowers, cheese, meats, and pastries will have me returning regularly to shop! {It is a daily market - not one just for the weekends.}

I could not believe the amount of vendors! It was overwhelming and I told my husband, I think I should go by myself next time as I could spend hours wandering through all the buildings. 

I thought I would miss my Saturday trips to the Farmer's Market on the Square in Marietta but, now I am going to miss this Central Market when I return to the States. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

"Gotcha Day"

Tuesday, July 16th was "Gotcha Day" for our sweet L@tiv@n girl! Our wonderful friends, who are here from Memphis and adopting a 15 year old boy, watched our children while we headed to "Hope's" orphanage. Our attorney and her husband picked us up outside our apartment and it was a short ride into a very poor part of Riga to the orphanage Hope was staying at ... it is not the orphanage the Hope had grown up in - that was over 4 hours away but, they transferred her to this facility to make the process easier. Everyone was so super nice - we were taken to the director's office and our translator was present to help us but, we were blessed that everyone spoke English well.

We were able to get lots of insight into Hope's past - along with her siblings past and parents. I will not go into detail on my blog about this aspect to protect our daughter's privacy but, it was very enlightening and even though hard to hear I was glad to get to know more about her past.

After the meeting wrapped up they sent for Hope and she ran into the room into our arms ... we all cried and she would not let go as she hugged and hugged us. I gave her a gift - a new Pandora charm bracelet with one charm. We were able to catch up a little before it was time for us all to head out.

We had a few minutes before court so we stopped into a cafe with our attorney and translator for Coke and some ice cream for Hope. Then it was off to court ... I was nervous but, it was a very easy process. Just a few questions like "why do you want to adopt this child" and they asked Hope a few questions too. So sweet to hear the orphanage director speak and talk about how good this was for Hope to be getting adopted. The court asked us to step out into the hallway and then a few minutes later we were asked back in and they told us they were granting us temporary custody of Hope and they would see us at our 2nd court visit on August 6th.

So, now we settle into life here ...we have some outings planned to places like the zoo and beach. We will need to be able to tell the court what all we have done together at our next court hearing.

We have been so blessed with lots of America families here with us right now also adopting. One family, who has been here already for almost 4 weeks, has been super helpful in getting us acclimated to things. Helping us set up our cell phone with a new SIM card and making sure we knew what was good to buy at the grocery store. Another family we know well has arrived this week from Georgia too! We have kids similar ages and their apartment is just 5 minutes away. :) Last night we were able to meet up with several other families here from the states in various stages of the adoption process. These moments are blessings from God ... we could be here all alone having to figure things out with no clue at all but, instead God blessed us with friends!!

Stay tuned as I update more about our adventures here ...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

We're Here!

This past Saturday we boarded a 9 hour flight from Atlanta to Frankfurt which began our trip to L@tiv@. Our check in at the new International Terminal in Atlanta was super simple - no lines and we passed right through security with ease. We had a quick bite to eat at the Food Court - Devin and Ava Mae chose The Varsity as their last meal in the US.

We had a short wait at the gate, which was good, as nerves began to kick in. When they called us to board (love being able to board first with children) Devin began to get sick - nerves had gotten the best of him. Thankfully, once we were on board and settled he was fine.

Our 8 1/2 hours in the air was less than eventful ... dinner was good and the kids enjoyed all the Disney shows and the movie "The Croods" on their seat back entertainment systems. I can't say enough about the Lufthansa flight attendants - some of the absolute best service I have ever received on a flight.

While some of us dozed on and off during the flights - Ava Mae slept almost the whole time and my husband got absolutely no sleep. Thankfully, we landed in Frankfurt right on time - with just 1 hour to make our connecting flight we were worried but, no problems! (Thank you to everyone who specifically prayed for us to make that connection.) We got to our gate in Frankfurt with time to spare and then boarded our last leg of the journey to Riga. It was a quick flight - just 1 hour and 45 minutes.

I will admit I had a slight panic attack after landing in Riga ... here we were and all I could think of was "what are we doing ... are we crazy?". It was hard but, I just went on auto-pilot. We picked up our luggage and stopped off at the taxi desk to get a mini-van to our apartment.

Our apartment is perfect with two bedrooms and two bathrooms ... plenty of space and a very convenient location. We are just minutes to a small market and just 10 - 15 minutes to Old Town and a larger market.

We have already met up with friends for lunch and a playdate yesterday in a nearby park. We are settling in ... grocery shopping was a little interesting. A large market here is nothing compared to our supermarkets. We could probably fit 4 of the store we went into yesterday inside our Publix. Also, found that most things like bread and milk here have no preservatives so everything expires quite quickly.

Lots more pictures soon ... today we head to court and get our girl!!

Thank you to everyone for your prayers - we appreciate them so much!!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

We're Leaving on a Jet Plane ...

This is it .... today is the day we have waited for over six months to arrive - we're leaving on a jet plane to go get our girl!!

I could not leave without thanking everyone who has prayed us through this journey so far ... without thanking those who have given financially .... without thanking those who have taken time out of their busy schedules to help with fundraisers and last minute errands that we needed done this week. Each and every one of you are a part of this journey with us.

Today as we board that plane I would ask once again for prayers for travel mercies ... prayers for our first court appointment on Tuesday ... prayers for our reunion with "Hope"... prayers as we spend the next month in a foreign country.

Looking forward to meeting up with friends in L@tvi@ who are already there at almost the end of their first trip. And, looking forward to seeing another family from right here in Georgia who are arriving just a day after us and staying in an apartment just a short 5 minute walk away.

Thankful for the One who goes before us - our God of angel armies!!

"So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10

Saturday, July 6, 2013

When God Calls You Out of Your Comfort Zone

In a week my family and I will be boarding an airplane, traveling half-way across the world, to a country a year ago I never knew existed, staying in that country for a month with our new daughter - following our heart and God's calling, to a place way outside of my comfort zone! This is real ... God has called us and we are following - stepping out in faith.

The journey we are on will not be an easy one ... saving souls never is. A year ago I was sitting comfortable - sure I volunteered at church, read my bible, went to bible study, brought meals to friends who were hurting but, you know what - none of that was outside my comfort zone. I liked my easy life. Following Jesus was not so hard in my comfy area in the northern suburbs of Atlanta.

I don't like flying, not a huge fan of international travel, and feel a 10 day vacation away from home is really my max. I like being home, knowing where everything is and how to get there. I like grocery shopping in a store where I can read every label and understand the language being spoken around me. We were open to adoption but, I thought a preschooler was in line with what we needed. I remember even thinking when someone we knew was adopting a teenager - that is something I would never do. You see until now I did not mind doing what God had called me to as long as it stayed within my comfort zone and my parameters. {If there is one thing I have learned from all of this - NEVER tell God what you are not going to do because, that will be exactly where he will call you too.}

So what is one to do ... I know there are two options ... I have been at that cross-road. You know that place where you can either choose to follow God's plan or turn and run the other way as fast as you can. Having been in that spot {at the end of winter hosting} I can say - while trusting God and following him down the path he has chosen is utterly terrifying it is also so amazing!! Will it be all roses, sunshine, and rainbows? No! God doesn't promise us that if we follow Him our life will be perfect. I have learned to look at this differently - instead I have decided that this place he has called us to is a blessing. While as Christians we are all called to help orphans and widows in some way - not all of us are called to pack our bags and fly half way across the world to save a child. We are on an adventure lead by God! This is the truth I hold to ~ He has a plan and all I need to do is follow ...

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;" ~ Proverbs 3:5