Monthly Archives: August 2012

How She’s Doing

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The first picture we saw of her

A year ago (on August 9th, 2011) we were sitting in the SDA office in Kiev, receiving referrals for two children.  Up until that point, we thought Lena, (who’s Reeces’ Rainbow alias was ‘Lori’) was born in 2006.  It wasn’t until they pulled her file that day in Kiev, that we were told she was actually a year older than we thought.

This is a big deal because although we had seen ‘Lori’s picture many times, we passed over her in our minds because she was at least a few months older than our oldest biological daughter, and we’d been warned about all the things that could go wrong if we decided to “adopt out of birth order.”

Eventually, the Lord dealt with our hearts and impressed upon us that He was wiser than the wisest advice of men and that He had a plan.  Had we known that she was a whole year older than we’d originally thought, we may not have even opened our hearts and minds to the idea in prayer for the possibility of adding her to our family.

An updated picture sent to us from someone who visited the orphanage…
looks like she’s always liked helping with the cooking!

 Lena Joy Hazleton – born ‘Olena’ – turned out to be quite different than all our expectations.  The day we met her, I was shocked at how tiny she was.  So little.  And painfully thin.  See-all-your-bones thin.  This could have been from the massive amounts of parasites she came home with, or the ridiculous metabolism of a child who was probably rarely still for the first 5 years of her life, or maybe because children with HIV have different needs nutritionally, that weren’t being met in the orphanage.  Or it could have been because she was born prematurely at home, weighing only 4 pounds.  It is a miracle she is even alive, because her birth-mother had her early – at home – and then took her to the hospital, where she was abandoned just hours later.

Or maybe it’s just in her genes, because after getting her home and ridding her of the parasites, we finally put some weight on her – only to have her shoot up in height and get skinny again. :)

The Day we met her

So she was tiny, but she was dynamite.  A firecracker.  My wildcat.  During our visits to the orphanage, Lena would literally climb us like we were trees to be conquered.  She would hang on us, laughing wildly.  Nothing deterred her – or made her sit still for more than 2 minutes.  Jeff and I would leave the orphanage every afternoon completely exhausted.  And I worried that we had made a mistake.

She’s a great big sister, and loves babies

But now I can hardly believe the transformation in this child.  She is calm.  Gentle.  Helpful.  She beams when she is praised or thanked for anything.  Before we brought her home, we knew there was a possibility that Lena has FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome).  Honestly, I kind of wrote this off.  I very naively thought, well if she does have it, it must be mild, and we’ll just work with her and help her get better.

But the thing about FAS is that the brain is permanently affected.  And with Lena, I didn’t realize the extent of the damage until I sat down to begin teaching her some kindergarten basics.

There is a lot to say about FAS and how it affects Lena – so much so that I’ll have to write an entirely separate post about it.  Suffice it to say that there are definite challenges.  And we have had to change the way we parent with her.

Modeling her new dress from Granna

But thankfully, knowing is half the battle, right?  And we’re seeing progress, both in her behavior and learning, and in our bonding with her.

Lena loves to play with her brothers and sisters.  She’s an extremely big help with watching over Carson and sitting and talking with Olivia while I’m cooking dinner.  She loves to do anything to help with dinner or around the house, and constantly asks what she can do for me.  She makes my bed nearly every single day.  And honestly, if given the choice between watching a show with her sibling or making my bed, she’d choose to make the bed.  Just yesterday – of her own accord – she decided to clean out and re-organize the drawers in their dresser.

Easter Sunday with (most) of her Sissies

And on top of that, she asks to rub my feet every.single.night.  Pretty amazing girl, huh?  And you know what?  Because of the difficulties she has with FAS, Lena is emotionally much younger than six. So her being older than our oldest biological daughter is not even an issue.  I’m so glad we decided that God knows best.  Because look at the blessing we almost passed over!

Miss Hazel Eyes is growing up

How He’s Doing

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It’s been nearly one year since we met Christopher and Lena, and so I thought it would be fun to post some updates on ALL the kiddos.  (Plus, I have to put together a report for the Ukrainian Embassy, so I might as well start thinking in this direction.)

If you followed our adoption journey from the beginning, you’ll remember that Christopher’s ‘alias’ on Reeces’ Rainbow was ‘Kirk.’  His name given to him at birth was Anton (pronounced more like ‘Ahn-tone’), and we changed his name to Christopher Anton Hazleton.  For the first month we called him Anton,…. then Christopher-Anton… then dropped to just “Christopher”, and he took the transition like a champ.
On a side-note, Lena’s little accent causes her to call him “Clis-toh-fer” (roll that last ‘r).  So cute.
The first picture we saw of him

When we met Christopher, he was incredibly shy.  In fact, when they brought him and Lena into the orphanage director’s office to meet us for the first time, he literally hid behind his sister.  (Which wasn’t easy, since she was bone-thin and weighed about as much as our 18-month old at the time.)

The snapshot my friend Jess sent me when she met him about 4 months before we traveled
He was so very quiet.  But those eyes were just as expressive as I imagined they would be, just by staring at the few photos I had of him before we traveled to meet him.
The day we met him

 Based on the first few weeks I knew this boy, I thought he was going to be our moody child.  He could kind of take me or leave me, and although he loved to be swung around and ride on Daddy’s back and shoulders, he was also content to ignore us and sit drawing by himself.  He was taking everything in through the filter of that furrowed brow.

The first several months home were bumpy.  I kind of felt like he was feeling out whether or not to trust me, and attachment was definitely not instant.  Communication was difficult, and hours were spent daily, translating things through Google Translate, just so we could get through basic things.  Christopher needed to be taught things like house rules, family roles, and gender roles as well.  The boys and girls at the orphanage all played with the same toys, slept in the same room, and wore the same clothes.  I distinctly remember the day – not long after we got the kids home – when I turned around and my almost six-year-old son was dressed in a tutu, dress-up shoes, butterfly wings, and a princess crown, sporting a purse, and talking in a high-pitched voice with a huge smile on his face.

I quickly loaded all five kids into the van and made my first outting by myself with them since having the two newbies home.  I drove straight to the Dollar store and we loaded up the buggy with every last boyish dress-up item we could find.  The boys came home with a stash of pirate paraphernalia, guns, swords, cowboy clothes.

For months, he was my quietest child.  His favorite thing to do was sit and draw.  He would ride quietly in the van, hardly making conversation.  Just listening and looking out the window.  He wasn’t unhappy.  Just quiet. Taking it all in.  I would wonder daily what was going through that mind of his.  I could tell he was sharp as a tack.

We had a lot of growing pains as we went through teaching him about what lying is.  And that lying is wrong. Every time.  I grew frustrated each time we would come home from his friend Alik’s house, and I’d find a small toy hidden in his pocket, or stashed in his toy bin – stolen from his friend’s stash… we had to teach him that stealing is wrong, too.  Every time.

Helping Daddy build the benches for our new table

But boy, is he a different child now!  If Christopher is anything, he’s a jokester. And a HUGE talker.  I hardly remember those quiet days in the minivan.  Now I have to tell him that it’s time to play the quiet game.  Almost every mealtime I’m having to tell him 5 minutes into the meal to stop talking and start eating.  Christopher loves to laugh and loves it even more when someone thinks he is funny.  He is still shy around people he doesn’t know very well, but he loves attention.

Sporting his tie and shades for his sister’s tea party birthday

 He also loves playing with cars, trains, and especially army men.  His Daddy taught him how to set up strategic battles and now it’s one of his favorite things to do.  He loves to play ‘soccer ball’ at church, which to him refers to both soccer and to volley ball.

Showing off his muscles

 Speaking of church, he loves to wear his tie almost every week – and was especially excited this past Sunday when I surprised him and added a second tie to his collection.  He loves to tuck in his shirt and pretend he’s the preacher.

He’s a big helper around the house and – most days – does his chores quickly and happily.  He knows he’s a part of a family.  And that the job he does helps all of us – and I am quick to give him praise and thank-yous for taking out the bathroom garbage and sweeping the kitchen… and especially for killing and disposing of any bugs he finds indoors.

And he still loves to draw.  He’s quite the artist, in fact.  Which I love, since it was one of my favorite hobbies growing up as well.

In a lot of ways, it seems like he’s been home way longer than a year.  He’s definitely a Hazleton.  And a blessing!

One Year Home (almost)

One Year Ago…

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One year ago yesterday we boarded an airplane.

We boarded an airplane and our lives changed.

We flew to Ukraine and met two children who were always destined to be ours.

A boy and a girl.  A son and a daughter.

To celebrate, I made borscht last night, with potato & cheese dumplings, and crusty bread. My little Ukrainians were in heaven.  Christopher ate until his tummy hurt.  Lena said it was her favorite supper ever.  While I was making dinner, Lena was my shadow.  She wanted to know everything I was doing, and when she saw the dumplings she literally jumped up and down in the kitchen.  I saw a glimpse of the little hyperactive wildcat she was in those first days we’d visit her at the orphanage.  She jumped up and down and said, “Oh I remember we ate dose in da groupa!!  Dey are my favorite!!  Oh, day are so yummy; I can’t wait to eat dem!”

I decided to post a few pictures from our trip to Ukraine last year, and in the next few days, I’ll give an up date on each of the kids.

The Day we got the kids’ referrals and permission to go to their region and meet them

Minutes after meeting them for the first time

A few Days later… “papa” was a jungle gym

Doing crafts

With our fierce & amazing facilitator – she’s gold!

She’s a Lefty!

She doesn’t realize she’s going home soon!

“Gotcha Day”- finally! My friend Andrea was on the 2nd trip with me to bring the kids  home.

We are seconds away from literally running out the door to race to the train station

The Finale’: an Engagement Story

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This is the finale’ of our story… to read how we met, read here.  For Part I of The Rest of the Story, read here, and Part II here

Hanging out at one of the ‘Guest Houses’ Jeff & his backpacking partner called “Home”

It was early morning when I peered out my dorm window in the little Chinese town I loved.  Looking out at the cloudy sky, I felt disappointed.  It had been raining all week – my last week here before returning home.  

I had a lot to look forward to in returning home – I wouldn’t be going alone.  Jeffrey and I were scheduled to leave this town early the following morning, making our way through the capital city of the Province (where we would stay a few days with our supervisors) and then making another stop in Thailand to finish out all the paperwork involved in ending our term of service in this wonderful country.

On a Team-Building Trip during my term

We would then make the long flight(s) home to the United States, and hit the ground running with just four short weeks before our wedding.  

We had planned everything from our wedding from overseas (I highly recommend this to any of you planning to get hitched – it is a LOT less stressful.)  There were just a few major things that needed to take place once we made it safely to the States… for one, we did not have jobs lined up,… oh, and we also did not have a vehicle to drive…. oh, and we didn’t have a place to live, either.

The original plan had been to secure seminary housing in New Orleans, where Jeffrey would attend NOBTS for a year before we would head back overseas as career workers – we had planned to make our life in China.

But many are the plans of a man’s (and woman’s) heart… but it is the Lord who directs their steps.  Shortly before leaving the country to head home, all of our plans regarding living, school, and going back as workers overseas – it all fell apart.  It seemed God was directing us elsewhere – but we had no idea what He had in store – or where.

So yes, there were a few details that needed to be worked out before the wedding….

Oh, and then there was one other small thing…. we weren’t technically engaged – yet.
While serving our terms overseas, as a ‘company’ policy, we could not technically be engaged, although our team and our supervisors knew we were a couple and were planning our wedding.  Our teammates even threw us a wedding shower – my supervisor’s wife planned our surprise wedding shower for the same day I had planned her surprise baby shower.  Keeping the two events (one in the morning, the other in the afternoon) organized and top-secret must have driven our team crazy! 

So here we were the day before leaving the country to return to the States for our wedding – and I didn’t yet have a ring on my finger.  We could not technically get engaged until we were en route to the United States – which would leave Jeffrey a small window in Thailand for popping the question.  My only request was that he not ‘propose’ to me on the plane or in the airport! 

I didn’t know what he was planning, but I was confident he had a plan.
I sighed and moved away from my dorm window.  As it was rainy season in this lovely Chinese city, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the weather.  But it was disappointing because the rain and mud made it difficult to make last minute visits to local Chinese friends to say goodbye.  And we had also planned a picnic that day with our closest friends on our team – Billy and Teesa, who had a cute little apartment in town.  Our plan was to meet up with them at the apartment, and then all travel together out to a remote, beautiful place beside a lake, where Jeffrey had been before and wanted to show me before we left the country.

On this morning of the planned picnic, it wasn’t actually raining, but rain-clouds loomed and I knew everything in the area was wet – it had been raining for days.  I looked around my dorm room at things which still needed to be divided among my teammates or stuffed into luggage and action packers (foot lockers) for the long trip home.  It was a daunting task, and my stress level was rising – especially knowing I still had a few dear local friends to say goodbye to – and saying goodbye meant one more chance to share the Good News with them before I left.

My cell phone rang, and I knew before I answered it that it was Jeffrey.  We would have to decide if the picnic was a bust or not.  I told him of my growing stress and my conclusion that everything in the area would be a soggy mess.  To me, the picnic just didn’t seem like it would work.  He sounded disappointed (and so was I), but in my mind there was nothing we could do to change things.  I suggested we just visit with Billy and Teesa at their apartment – eat our picnic there and hang out a bit before I finished my packing and said my goodbyes.  He was reluctantly agreeable to my modified plan.

Lunch at Billy and Teesa’s place was – as always – relaxing and refreshing.  Teesa is an excellent cook and always has a knack for entertaining guests… and Billy was always keeping us laughing with stories and his animated way of telling them.  I loved these people, and would miss them dearly.  

{To this day – nearly nine years later – Teesa and I still email nearly every single day, though we haven’t seen each other face-to-face since we visited them five years ago.}

I should have known that spending time with our best friends there would dissolve my stress and put me in the mood for some fun, especially since the clouds had given way to beautiful sunny skies. I suggested that we could still take a trip out to the picnic spot. Teesa hesitated and the two of them deferred to Jeffrey, who was lounging on the couch.  He frowned and quickly dismissed the idea.  

That isn’t like him at all, I thought.  He seems to be sulking.  While I was truly disappointed that no one was taking me up on my spontaneous idea, I couldn’t really complain, since I was the one who had modified the plans to begin with.

We enjoyed our last afternoon with our friends, and Jeffrey took me back to the dorm on his motorcycle.  I had a lot of packing and goodbyes to tend to…
Morning came early, and our entire team joined us down in the courtyard facing the dorm at our language school, as we loaded up our luggage and action packers onto the tiny truck that would carry us to the airport and away from the city I loved.  I was a mix of emotions thinking over what had been the most meaningful and yet most challenging year of my life at that point.  

Soon we were on the little plane that pointed towards the capital city of our province.  We pulled out the Chocolate Revel Bars that Teesa had made for us to snack on during the journey.  Bliss!  

A quick 45 minute flight and we were once again loading our belongings into a vehicle as Jeffrey negotiated fare and gave them directions to our supervisor’s apartment.  

K and S fed us and encouraged us… our weekend stay with them just wasn’t long enough.  It never is.  And once again we were on our way.  

One might think we were already weary from all the traveling, but this is the life to which we’d become accustomed.  Every few months, we’d travel to the capital city… sometimes it was by 45 minute flight, but often it was by primitive 14 hour bus, winding through the mountains. Other times it was by night bus, as each person tried in vain to get sleep (or sometimes read by head lamp) on their tiny (filthy) bed, while simultaneously trying to keep oursleves in our beds as the bus sped and bumped and turned through the night.  And each day had its own fill of traveling by foot.  Any time we left the grounds of the language school to go into town and meet locals or buy food or exchange money or pay the electric bill – it was done mostly by foot.  Slow travel had become a normal part of our lives. And I found it relaxing.
Finally, we found ourselves in Thailand.  This was our last stop before heading to the States.  And we had a few days to explore the city before the long flight home.  By our second day in Thailand, I was beginning to grow impatient, waiting for Jeff to officially ‘propose’.  By the time we were eating lunch at a little table in the local mall, I’d had enough waiting, completely frustrated at the thought that maybe he’d forgotten that I did not want this formality to take place on the plane or in an airport… I couldn’t imagine another scenario at this point.  We were running out of time and I let him know my frustrations.

And he listened patiently.  And then decided to let me in on a secret.

“I had a plan”, he explained.

“I had planned for us to go on a picnic at the most beautiful spot I’ve ever scene in China.  And I was going to bring my guitar… and sing to you while we sat by the lake.  I had a plan.”

My heart positively sank.  He did have a plan.  And I had messed it all up.  And I had disappointed him  in the process.  I could see it all over his face.  He’d had a plan.  Now all he had was a deadline, and no opportunity to match the wonderful plan that had fallen through.  All because of me.

“But at Billy and Teesa’s house I changed my mind and said I wanted to go,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “but by that time we only had a few hours of daylight… and I didn’t have the guitar or the ring with me, because you had said you didn’t want to go… the ring and the guitar were at my place all the way across town.  There was no way we’d have had time.”

I was sad.  And so was he. 

But I just couldn’t let our trip end this way.

“It’s okay,” I said.  “We’re still here; let’s make the best of it… we can still have a picnic and have a great time together…”

We were staying at the most beautiful resort and the grounds around the resort were covered with breathtaking Thai gardens and secluded benches and wooden walkways.  It would be easy to find a wonderful spot for a quiet little picnic together.  It was our last day in Thailand, and we’d be flying out the next morning.  So while out in the city, we decided to pick up a Pizza Hut pizza and Vanilla Cokes (both rare delicacies during our time in China)… along with a candle to make our picnic romantic.  

We rode back to the resort in high hopes… until the rain started…

It was hours later, and the rain hadn’t stopped.  Much of the grounds around the resort were flooded.  There was absolutely no way to have the quiet little beautiful picnic we had hoped for.  Not wanting to succumb to disappointment we laughed it off and decided to do the only thing we could – an indoor picnic.  

After I had my hair cut in the salon on the ground floor of the resort, we met back up in my hotel room and spread a blanket on the floor.  There we ate our cold pizza and room-temperature vanilla cokes (the room fridge wasn’t able to sufficiently cool them)… we couldn’t light the candle because we thought it might set off the sprinkler system in the room.  We laughed at the sad state of our ‘romantic’ picnic, but dinner was delicious.

Then Jeffrey sang the sweetest song to me.  I won’t share it here because some things are just ours to relish.

He told me sweet things and gave me the ring we had picked out together at a jewelry shop in China.  I could finally wear it, and couldn’t stop looking at it.

It was late and we were tired but happy when he headed back to his room.


Early the next morning we met our hired driver at the entrance of the hotel and Jeffrey helped him load up all our baggage into the trunk of the car.  The two of us sat in the back seat and before he drove away with us, Jeffrey began searching his backpack…

Months before, when we had picked out my engagement ring, we had also picked out my wedding band, and Jeffrey had kept up with it all this time.  He knew he had placed it in a certain spot in his backpack, and decided to double check before we left the resort – and the country – for good. 

He didn’t find it.

We had minutes to spare before we had to leave to make it to the airport in time for our flight, and Jeff explained things to the driver and sprinted up to his room.  While he checked every drawer and square inch of the room, lifted up mattresses and searched underneath pillows, I sat in the backseat of that car and decided that no matter what – even if he didn’t find the ring – I would not be disappointed.

He came back completely dejected and apologized.  I smiled and told him it was okay; it would all work out.  As the driver sped away with us in the back seat, Jeffrey decided once more to check his back pack.  And there – just where he’d thought he’d placed it – was the ring.  It must have been there all along.

We both smiled and he held my hand as the car weaved in and out of traffic on the Thailand freeway.  We raced toward the airport.  Towards home and the unknown and our new life together.

And I knew- no matter what was coming – it would be an adventure.

Shortly before leaving the country