Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Russian Fairy Tales & Recipes

Previously, I've written about Cava's struggles with reading comprehension. One of the suggestions I read about was providing cultural context for him, so when I was in a local Goodwill and came across a beautiful copy of Russian Fairy Tales, I snatched it up. This week, for his daily reading assignment for school, Cava has picked a different fairy tale to read from this book. 

First, he chose "Masha and the Bear." It's no shock he would choose this one since he loves the cartoons. As he read the tale, he kept telling me, "This is not like the cartoon at all!"

The next day, he chose the tale of "Kolobok." This fairy tale is the Russian equivalent of "The Gingerbread Man," in which a childless old couple make a kolobok or traditional Russian / Ukrainian pie or small bread. The kolobok becomes alive and escapes the babushka and dedushka's home and rolls out into the world where it encounters different animals who long to eat it. He escapes each time by rolling away and singing a song about how he escaped from grandfather and grandmother and will now escape from the hare, wolf, and bear. Finally, the kolobok comes upon a crafty fox who out tricks the kolobok by pretending to be hard of hearing and asks the kolobok to hop up first onto his nose and then onto his tongue and sing the song louder so he can hear it. Of course, the fox gobbles up the kolobok and so ends the tale. The kolobok,unlike the gingerbread man, does not escape.

After reading this tale, Cava told me, "Can we make one?"

"Sure," I replied and went online to look up a recipe for kolobok. Once I found a recipe, Cava and I set to work making it.

1 cup flour
3 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
.5 cup of sour cream

We mixed all those ingredients together until we got a thick batter.

While he was stirring, I put oil in our electric fry pan and let it heat to around 300 degrees. Then we scooped the mix out with teaspoons and dropped them into the oil.

"Smells good," Cava kept telling me. When the kolobok was finally a golden brown, I took them out and offered the boys a choice of toppings: powdered sugar, powdered chocolate, honey, or jam. Both chose the powdered chocolate.

And quicker than the fox, they set to gobbling the kolobok up. Ours didn't have a chance of rolling out of our house.

And what was Cava's verdict on this treat?

An enthusiastic "thumbs up" followed by a mouthful of, "Can I have some more?"

This was definitely homework we enjoyed not only reading but eating.!

Here's the tale animated in Russian:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Talking To Cava About What's Happening In Ukraine

One of the questions I get most these days is, "Does Cava know what's going on in Ukraine? And, if so, how is he handling it?"

The answer is, "Yes, he knows."

Every time he hears someone on TV say the word "Ukraine" he darts in to see why.

It has upset him, made him sad, and scared him to see what is going on in his homeland. He often asks us why all of that is happening. He worries about his friends who are still in Ukraine, even though we have explained that they are  safe at the boarding school, which is four hours away from Kyiv.

If it's difficult for Danelle and I to process what is happening in Ukraine, it is even more difficult for Cava to process this information. The more violence breaks out and as more Ukrainians are murdered, the more our hearts break in sadness for the people of Ukraine who only want democracy.

It's hard for us not to see Cava in the young boys who are a part of the protests.

These children are not our son, but they are some mother and father's children. And we pray for them throughout the day.

We are careful not to let Cava see the really explicitly violent footage of what's happening and when Cava does see what's on the national news, we always take time to comfort and talk with him. These conversations end in praying for his friends and for his country.

When he sees footage, he remembers Kyiv when he was there with Danelle. It's hard for us to see what has happened to places we visited, such as Independence Square.

When we talk to Cava about what he's seen on the news, we listen to him and respond to his questions as simply as we can. We offer him reassurance and let him know that he does not need to worry about his safety. It's not easy and we are careful to watch to see if he has nightmares or if this affects him physically, such as stomach aches. We limit Cava's exposure to the news. Sometimes it's better to hear the stories on NPR than to see them on the national news. 

Sometimes, we try to focus on some of the more positive stories for him, like the man who protested by playing Chopin on his portable piano.

Prayer is key.

We tell Cava that while things may look out of control in this world, we pray to a God who has control over all of it.  So Cava prays, "Lord, make Ukraine better. Keep my friends safe. Help them to all be nice and happy. Jesus, amen."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Praying For Ukraine

We were in Ukraine for over a month, but that country has never left our hearts. Flying there the first time, our family was a bundle of excitement and nerves about going to a country we'd never been to, where we didn't speak the language, and where we hoped to adopt a child. Once we set foot in Ukraine, we were overwhelmed by the city of Kyiv. Like Lucy when she first entered the wardrobe and found herself in Narnia, when our family went through that simple, bluish-gray door to the SDA office, our world was forever changed.

That time we were there, together as a family, was some of the happiest we have experienced as a family. We grew closer as a family because we were who we spent most of our time with 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. When we speak of Kyiv and of Ukraine, it is with love and fond memories. We have often talked of returning when Cava is older so that he can see more of the country he came from and to see how truly beautiful it is.

Ever since the protests began in November, our family has followed the news coming from Ukraine so closely on-line, as our news media only began truly covering the events of this week. As we have watched things deteriorate and the violence escalate, our hearts have been broken by what we have read, seen, and heard. The streets we once walked and enjoyed are now being described as "apocalyptic."

This is a city we associate with our son and how he came into our family. We think of those streets in terms of what part of the process we were in with regards to adopting Cava. While we were there, we did a lot of walking and loved taking in such magnificent sights as St. Michael's Cathedral, whose bells ring now as a rallying call to all who are protesting, as well as a call to God. 

Ever since the protests began, our family has prayed daily for Ukraine. We have prayed for its peace and its people. We have prayed for those families we met while we were there as well as for families traveling there to adopt. We have prayed that the world would take notice of this country and what was happening there, and to act on behalf of the people of Ukraine. Jesus told us, "Blessed are the peacemakers." We pray for their government to seek peace and not violence and repression against its own people. 

We pray for those Christians who live there to be a light on a hill that shines for Christ. May they walk as examples of His love, even towards those who would do harm to them. We pray that these Christians seek God for wisdom, for peace, for guidance and direction. We pray that they would help lead their country to doing the same, for there is no peace without Jesus. 

We pray for those who have lost loved ones due to the violence. We pray that God would comfort them amidst their sorrow and pain. 

We pray for protection of the innocent, that they not suffer violence at the hands of paid thugs.

We pray for justice to rain down from heaven on this country, that those who are unjustly and falsely accused will see the truth come to light. That those who would seek to do harm would be brought to justice. 

We pray that those in power will no longer use it as a way to oppress the people of Ukraine. 

We pray that more will stand up against corruption and injustice in all of its forms. We pray that all of those in office will use their position for good and not evil, whether they be in small towns or in high office. 

Every day, many times a day, we pray for Ukraine, for the homeland of our son. We hope that you will join us in praying for them and for those families who are there, in-country, adopting, those who are waiting to travel there to bring their adopted children home, or those who are waiting to travel there to adopt a child or children. Pray for peace.

As Saint Francis prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

To know and understand more about what's going on in Ukraine, go to the following links:

Radio Free Europe:

Kyiv Post:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Stories & Snowy Day Frustrations

Last week our area was hit with snow. More snow than we are used to getting. Most kids love snow because it means they get out of school, but Cava is not like most kids. Instead, he was frustrated by this.

He and Benjamin did enjoy playing outside in the snow: snow ball fights, sledding, snow angels, and building a snowman were all part of their fun activities.

And, Cava being Cava, would take breaks from playing in the snow to do what he loved to do best: puzzles! He did another 1,000 piece puzzle . . .

And two 3-D puzzles: the White House and the Empire State Building. One of the advantages of him doing these was we got to do two short history lessons on the importance of those two buildings in American history.

I love to read and I also love reading to my kids. When Benjamin was younger, I read to him every night and now I get to read to Cava. One of my favorite kids' books is Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, which is the perfect book for anyone who loves books and reading. When I first read it to Benjamin, he and I both loved this magical tale of stories come to life. Now I was fortunate enough to get to share that with Cava.

I think it's important to read to Cava so he can not only hear the story, but also hear the language. After I read a little to him, I stopped and ask him what he thinks about what has happened in the story so far. 
I know better than to ask him an abstract question like, "What do you think will happen next?" because he won't be able to even guess because that is something that has not been taught and he will only shrug and give me his usual, "I dunno'." 

"It's hard for me to understand," he replies, "There are so many words."

So instead of reading chapters, I may only read a page or two to him before we stop and talk about what I've just read. Reading to Cava is not about getting through the book, but helping him to understand both new words and all of the elements of a story that he hasn't learned yet (such as about plot, character, and setting). It helps to stop every so often and talk about what I've read to help his concentration because if I just read aloud, he loses his focus on what I'm reading. I also have him sit right up next to me, so he can see my finger move along each word on the page. 

Reading comprehension is a real struggle for him.

Despite being out of school, we still worked on homework he'd been assigned, such as his daily reading and answering a question related to that reading. On the last day, he had to read a story and then write a question that he had about what he just read. I told him to keep this in mind as we read so that he could think of one after we'd finished. 

With Cava, I sit next to him while he reads and we stop after each page to go over what we just read, also I can go over the meanings of any words he doesn't know. If I let him read a book on his own and I ask him what he's just read, he will reply every time, "I dunno'." 

The story he read was about two friends: one who loves to stay home and one who likes to travel the world and see different places. The illustrations and the text show each friend at home or somewhere in the world (Egypt, Paris, Antarctica, etcetera). When we got to the end of the book and I asked Cava, "So what is the question you have from reading this?"

He looked at me all blank-eyed and confused. 

"Remember, your homework for today was to read and then think of a question you had about something in the story and for you to write it down. What question do you have about anything you just read?"

I can tell he is waiting for me to give him a question, but this is his homework assignment, not mine, and he needs to learn how to think about what he's reading. As I wait, he begins to get frustrated and he tells me, "I dunno'. This is too hard for me."

Patience is critical despite how frustrating it can be. Taking things slowly is another key to helping him. So I take a deep breath, and try to find a way that he can understand the task that is put to him.

"Okay, the story is about one friend who loves to stay home because they think nowhere is as perfect as where they live and the other one loves to see the world. If you could ask one of them a question, what would it be?"

"I dunno'."

"Well, what if it was Trevor?" I ask about his best friend at school. "What it Trevor went away on a trip. When he got back, what would you ask him about his trip?"

He thought for a moment or two before answering, "What did you see on your trip?"

"See, that's a question you could ask one of the characters. Write it down on your homework sheet."

To formulate a question was to abstract for Cava when it related to a story, but when I posed him asking a question of his best friend who just got back from a trip, he could do it. He had a concrete context to work from.

As Dr. Boris Gindis has written in his article "Cumulative Cognitive Deficit in International Adoptees: Its Origin, Indicators, and Means of Redmediation":

Based on my experience with hundreds of internationally adopted children undergoing psychological assessments at the BGCenter, I can trace the roots of their reading comprehension problems to 3 major issues:
  1. Lack of cultural context awareness.
  2. Delayed cognitive processes and skills necessary for a speedy cognitive/ academic language acquisition.
  3. Emotional problems related to weakened nervous system and developmental trauma, lower self-esteem and motivation, which often block cognitive processes involved in reading activity.
In regards to the first category, Cava tends to do better with books that he's seen the movies or TV shows for, which is why he often checks out books based on shows he watches (Curious George, Martha Speaks, Phineas and Ferb) and movies he's seen (Spider-man, Frozen, and any other Disney or Pixar film). But if he reads a new book that is unfamiliar to him, he struggles with understanding not only the words but the story as well because he has no frame of reference. 

During our snowy break last week, as I was taking some dirty laundry to the washing machine, I past by Cava working on a puzzle. I could tell from his demeanor that he was upset, so I stopped and asked, "You okay, buddy?"

With a crack in his voice, he sadly replied, "It's too hard for me?"

"What is?"


Putting the laundry basket down, I sat beside Cava to listen to him. "Everything is pretty big. What exactly is too hard for you right now?"

He brought up shoveling snow, which he and his brother did. "Yeah, it can be when the snow is icy and it's not something you do every day. But you did it. Was there anything else?"


"I know reading can be difficult for you, especially since you are still learning a whole new language. You are having to relearn reading and reading in English can be tricky, especially when you have words like year and cheer which are spelled differently but sound the same when spoken aloud." (I used those two words because they had been spelling words for him). "But you've come a long way in just over a year and I'm proud of you. Do you know what that word means?" I've told him I'm proud of him many times but this was the first that I stopped to take the time to see if he even knew what I meant.

He shook his head. "No. What does that word mean?"

I gave him the simplest definitions I could, "It means we are happy with you, with all that you have done, such as how well you are doing in school, and are happy that you are our Cava. We are proud that you are our son now."

"Oh, okay."

"And Mommy and I and your teacher will all work with you on your reading. Just think how much more you can read and understand than you did just a year ago."

"Yeah, I know more words in English now."

While he is quick in his acquisition of his new language, English, his progress in reading and understanding what he's read is coming at a much slower pace. 

It is important for him to not only build up his speaking vocabulary, but also his understanding of what words mean verbally and written on the page. We do this by reading with him and asking him about what he's read on each page. When he struggles with understanding something, we have to put it into a context he will understand that way he won't get defeated so easily and become frustrated, angry, and then give up. We have to raise his cultural awareness and his contextual knowledge of the material he's reading. 

Dr. Gindis writes that to give an internationally adopted child context, go back culturally to their beginnings: songs, riddles, cartoons, books, images, games, routines, favorite places, sounds, food, and activities because "everything that surrounds a child born into this culture has to be re-introduced into your adopted child's life and be reinforced through multiple repetitions." Repetition is critical.  

Many of the learning skills that Benjamin has acquired both through school and at home, are missing for Cava. We are having to go back and help him learn how to learn. We are having to teach him to not only be able to read in English, to understand what he's reading in English, but to, hopefully, be able to formulate his own thoughts and ideas on what he's reading. 

As I've written about before, we are working on both Cava's communicative language (the language he needs for social interaction in everyday communication), but also his cognitive language, which Dr. Gindis defines as "a tool of reasoning, a means of literacy, and a medium for academic learning." By strengthening both, we are also helping to build his self-confidence so that he can see that he can do something new and challenging because he already has accomplished so many difficult and challenging things successfully. Reading is just one of those areas that we work on daily with him. Unlike with Benjamin, we realize we have to approach teaching Cava differently: both in terms of pace but also in terms of how we teach him, which all goes back to framing it in a context he can grasp. 

Though this process can often be extremely frustrating, it is also very rewarding. When I see that he gets it and, more importantly, see that he realizes he's understanding what he's reading and that there is a joy to his understanding, it makes all of this worth it. 

Hopefully, I can keep the spark of a love of reading alive in him and that it doesn't get squashed under all the frustrations of re-learning how to read. Cava loves to go with me to the library or to the bookstore, which are both something I hope will continue throughout his life. I want to foster a real love of books in him. I think it will give him a much bigger picture of the world around him. His world already got larger when he came here to begin with, so I can only imagine how much greater it will be when he finally reads a book that makes him understand: I'm not alone. Someone else understands, too. That is the magic of books.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Return to a Snowy Day

We don't tend to get a lot of snow where we live, so it's even rarer that we get snow just a couple of weeks apart. Cava said it was because Elsa was here (Yes, he, like so many others, is a huge fan of the movie Frozen). He then walked around the house singing, "Let It Go." Cava also said he wanted to build a snowman like Olaf. "He was soooo funny," he laughs just thinking about the "silly snowman."

Cava loves school and he hates to be out, whether it be a holiday, teacher's workday, or, as is the case for the last couple of days here, a snow day. So when it snows, he tends to get anxious. I notice a lot more rocking when he's stuck at home when he longs to be in school. To tide him over, we tend to print worksheets that he can do while he's home. Unlike me, he loves math and is extremely appreciative when we print math worksheets up for him. Just the mention that I'd print some up got me some serious Cava hugs.

Most Southerners upon hearing the word "snow" rush out and buy bread and milk (What they do with all that bread and milk is beyond me). I, however, bought items that would give us something to do together to have fun and keep Cava occupied (such as ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies). Yes, we did have milk for the cookies.

As the first flakes began to come down, we put out our bowl to make snow-cream. When the bowl was full, we brought it inside and fixed Cava his first ever snow-cream. He tasted it and declared it, "Yummy!"

We also listened to our favorite songs from Disney movies (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and, of course, Frozen). So we danced and sang around the house. It's hard to hear "Hakuna Matata" and not think of when Cava first got here as he watched The Lion King almost every day and that was his favorite song from the movie.

Cava also used his day off to finish yet another in a long line of puzzles. This was yet another 1000 piece one. He never fails to amaze me by his love and ability for puzzles. Both of his grandmothers would have been proud. As he was putting this puzzle together and I was making the bed, I asked Cava, "If you found a bottle, rubbed it, and a genie came out and the genie said you could have one wish, but it couldn't be for more wishes, what would you wish for?"

"My family," he replied.

"But you have us already."

"Yes, but that was my wish."

Gotta' love that boy. I'm so thankful that his wish did come true.

But the boys couldn't stay inside for too long when there was snow out there to be enjoyed.

Here's Sponge-Cava Squarepants . . .

With that Spongebob mask on, he made me think of the lines from Robert Louis Stevenson's poem "Winter-time":

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

How true! Well, except we don't have a nurse.

Cava enjoyed going down the snowy slide . . .

As the day progressed, more snow came down . . . 

And down . . .

And down . . .

Here's Cava and I doing our best impression of Luke and Han on the ice planet of Hoth . . .

Back inside, Cava wanted hot chocolate - with tiny marshmallows, of course!

Of course, with the kids home, that means they get exposed to different forms of music. Once the Disney soundtracks were done, I moved on to the classics: The Beatles (I danced with Cava as I sang "Got To Get You Into My Life" especially on the chorus: Oooo, then I suddenly see you. Ooooo, did I tell you I need you. Every single day of my life.  As I did, he told me, "You're a good singer, Papa." It pays to have the music playing loud enough that it overpowers my out-of-tune voice), Ella Fitzgerald, and no musical education is complete without some Hall & Oates (For the record, pun intended, Cava's favorite by this duo was "Out of Touch"). I thought it very appropriate that we listen to Icelandic group Sigur Rós as well as Fleet Foxes, especially their "White Winter Hymnal." For those of you who aren't "Indie hipsters" (as if the word "hipster" could ever be applied to myself) and are unfamiliar with the song, here's the video for it. I love their beautiful harmonies.

Since we've been having a great day together, I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings! 

Monday, February 10, 2014


Every day for school, Cava has to read for 25 minutes. Today he went to the playroom and got the book he wanted to read off the shelf and brought it to me: Dream by Susan V. Bosak. It's a beautifully written and illustrated picture book that I had bought for Benjamin years ago. It is all about how a person's dreams change over their lifetime. 

As Cava turned to the first page, this was the illustration we saw:

Then he began to read:

When you're a baby,
you're cuddled and comforted
in your own cozy little world.
You smile and gurgle
and fuss and cry
and get fed and need changing
and sleep and dream.

As he read these words, my heart broke. 

It broke because he didn't get this. This was not the world he knew as a baby. No one came to comfort him or cuddle him. His world was not cozy. Cava rocked himself to sleep each night.

It broke my heart because we couldn't be there to comfort and love him. I didn't get to cuddle him until he was eight years old. That is too long to go without being held, cuddled, or loved. 

It broke my heart because I know that there are millions of other kids, like Cava, who did not grow up in the image of this illustration. That was not the world they knew. They are hurt and damaged kids who desperately need love and a family to give that to them. Their dreams are to have that.

Cava told me that he often dreamed that he would have a Mommy and a Papa back when he was in Ukraine, but that he never believed that dream would come true. His dream did come true, but there are millions whose dreams haven't. Consider making another child's dreams come true: ADOPT!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sadness & The Science Museum

It was obvious this morning that something was off inside Cava. He was not his usual cheerful morning self. Typically, he will come over to me with his great big smile, a wonderful Cava hug, and say, "Good morning, Papa." This morning, however, he was more subdued and more solitary. Looking at him, I could see a sadness in him.

As he was getting dressed, he got angry with putting on his socks that the grays on the bottoms of them weren't lining up properly. He snapped, "Stupid socks!" Later, as he was working on his puzzle, he got angry with some pieces and yelled, "I hate this puzzle!"

At one point, Cava said, "I don't like this house!"

Danelle overheard him and asked, "Well, where do you like, Cava?"

"Ukraine," he replied. She felt hurt hearing this, came and found me to tell me.

"It's too be expected," I replied. "I'm sure he feels a real, deep sense of loss."

At lunchtime, after I'd said the blessing, and we began to eat, Cava didn't. He just sat there with his head down and a look of sadness about him.

"Cava, are you okay?"

"I dunno'."

"Do you want to talk about it with Papa?"

"Yes," he said and got up from his chair and we went to another room. I sat him on my lap and held him. "What's the matter, buddy?"

"I dunno'."

"Are you sad?"


"What are you sad about?"

"I miss Ukraine."

"What do you miss about Ukraine?"

"My friends."

"I'll bet you do," I said, hugging him, "it's hard to leave your friends. I grew up in Charlotte and when I was 12, we moved. I was sad because all of my friends were there that I had known since I was little. Moving to a new place where I didn't know anyone was hard and scary. Even now, Cava, when I think of home, I still think of that house."

Then I asked him, "What do you think your friends would think of where you live now and your room?"

"They would think it's cool with all the Spider-man."

"I'll bet they would."

And we began to talk about his friends and I asked if any of his friends in Ukraine liked to do puzzles as much as he did (there was only one puzzle at the boarding school where he lived).  "No, they didn't like puzzles." He began to tell me how, when we go back to Ukraine to visit, that he'd show me the room where the puzzle was. Going back to visit Ukraine is a new subject that he has begun to consider. He speaks of going back to visit his friends there.

He perked up a little but I was concerned because we were going to meet friends at the Catawba Science Center that afternoon. I was also concerned since Benjamin's friend Shane was coming with us and Cava struggles with not having friends of his own to come over and play with him (which is also part of the reason that he misses his friend in Ukraine so much). He has a hard time in feeling like an outsider. He desperately wants to fit in and not be seen as different. With this struggle, it is natural for him to miss his homeland where he did fit in.

At the Catawba Science Center, Benjamin and Shane went off on their own while Cava tended to stick to either Danelle or myself.

He was thrilled to touch a live shark (to my surprise, shark's skin doesn't feel smooth but feels more like sandpaper).

The aquariums tend to be his favorite part of the museum and he'll spend more time looking at those than any other areas.

He even took a trip to Mars. Here he is on the red planet.

After Cava was done visiting all the areas of the science museum, he and I went over to the art museum. We walked among all the paintings and sculptures, talking about different works, what we thought they were, which ones we liked and didn't like. He showed his Cava charm with this lady . . .

But he declared this one, "Creepy."

As we walked along together, just the two of us, I noticed that look of sadness about him again. 

"Cava, it's natural for you to miss Ukraine. You can always tell Mommy and I that you do. We won't get upset if you do. But as much as you miss Ukraine, I'm glad you're here with us now. I love you very much and if you weren't here, do you know what I'd be?"


"Exactly! Very, very sad."

"Papa?" he said.

"Yes, Cava?"

"I'm glad I'm here, too." Then he came over and took my hand. 

As we walked back to the others, I knew this would not be the last time we would have to console his grieving. There are so many areas where we have just begun to scratch the surface of what is inside of this brave little boy who has suffered so much pain and loss. We are just looking at a thimbleful of water and there is a whole ocean of emotions that are unexplored within him. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Gift

Adoption is not a second choice; it's a divine privilege, a glorious gift, and a glimpse into the very heart of God.