HOPE is the belief that there is something better to come.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

She looks so much like you

I love this title; I love this statement. I am told this frequently when Natalia and I are out and about - even by people who don't know the long path it took for us to find each other. Every time I hear it, I just smile. You see, I have the most beautiful 13 year old daughter, born of my own flesh, who looks NOTHING like me. I waited years and years, just hoping some little feature or characteristic would come through. Nada. The spitting image of her Dad, except (as I mentioned) beautiful. There are good parts to this. She has perfectly straight teeth and legs that could easily clear a hurdle.

Of course, I haven't bothered to ask how people find a resemblance between me and Lala. Natalia has blue eyes; mine are brown. Natalia is blonde; I am too, most of the time, but only with the help of bleach and a talented stylist. If I had to guess, I would say that it's because we both have pinch-able (okay, if you must, "chubby") cheeks. Like I said, I haven't bothered to ask. The other thing I hear when we're together is "My, she sure is tall for her 2 1/2." Well, actually she is just under the 50th percentile. FABULOUS by any measure, especially given the limitations of her previous environment. However, I'm only 5'2" (rounding up) so she just appears really tall.

We rounded our second month home. No big news, which is the best news of all. If anything has not gone as well as I had hoped, it is limited to the amount of pictures taken. That has been a terrible disappointment. Today, I put the camera out on the counter - with hope that it will be a reminder to take more shots. There are a few on the iPhone; there were more up until a week ago when I suddenly recognized several missing. Yep, I believe Lala had something to do with that; my own dang fault. Natalia loves to make funny faces; so much so now I am challenged now to teach her how to "smile pretty". Those faces sure are funny though.

"Crazy Eskimo" face:

"Gangster Girl" face:

"PuppyDog Growl" face:

"Just Really Excited About the Mention of Meeting Sydney at the End of the Driveway After School" face:

As every mom knows, the sweetest faces come when we just don't ask for them at all - or dress for them:

Please bear with me, and the rare posts, over the next few months. This whole parenting x 2 + working + law school is more than I bargained for. In only a few months, the law school part will be done (except for that pesky bar exam). I hope to keep up with the blog; to keep in touch with friends, family, and all those fellow families made even happier with little Ruskas and Ruskees - that and it's just really fun to write something creative (loose use of the term, please) now and again. Love, Cameo - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How time flies

Like most of you, our December flew by. Our first 30 days together remained smooth sailing with the exception of various viruses running laps in our household. We're now looking forward to the quiet of the latter part of a Minnesota winter (with weather that is more like spring). With any discipline, that will also mean a few more blogposts to keep you all up to date.

Here are a few take-aways from the month of December; all thanks to our little Natalia . . . .

* Bed is good; Natalia was just ready to lose that "baby look". Crib is now converted into its toddler bed form and full nights of sleep abound in our house.

* Everyone needs a little time to warm up before dancing. Last week Natalia realized dancing is a heckuva lotta fun. Now she can boogie down with the best of 'em. This is good as we can often be caught dancing around the kitchen at our house.

* A couple snacks and decent toys make an hour of church much more bearable for a toddler - and fellow parishioners. This was one of those moments when Chad and I looked at each other and went, "oh yeah, now I remember".

* The best foods are those that are in their most natural state. Yep, still lots of fresh fruits and veggies.

* However, you can't go wrong with bacon. Natalia ate almost a half package of bacon a few weeks back. It was the first she had ate any meat with us. Since then, bring it on! Being the good American and cattle producer I am, I have her first (to my knowledge) taste of hamburger and ketchup on video.

* Do not eat too many M&M's before trying to get to bed. Self-explanatory.

* Continuing on the food theme . . . If one appears to be completely inconsolable for no apparent reason at 11a.m., just try moving lunch up by one hour. Da-da!

* An extra set of hands in the kitchen, no matter how small, is quite helpful. The same can be said for household chores. Natalia loves to help cook, put away dishes, dust - you name it.

* Asian beetles are a total nuisance. To such an extent that Natalia overcame her fear of the vacuum so that she could suck those little buggers up.

* The cat should not be on the counter, or on the barstool, or on the edge of the bathtub. I busted the cat sleeping in Natalia's bed while Natalia napped just yesterday. I don't know if I dare let Natalia in on it; poor Ruby would be in much trouble.

* One would be hard pressed to find an activity more rewarding than to rock a child to sleep.

Until next time,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tomorrow's special day

Tomorrow marks our one month anniversary; one month since I sprung Natalia from the baby house. I must admit that that day seems like a world away which, I guess, makes sense.

Today I finished the last of my exams and papers to complete the fall semester of law school. After this finals period I now have a better appreciation for God's hand in the timing of our adoption. Law school + toddler = not so easy. I am very happy that I will be doing a little less multi-tasking starting tomorrow and go back to focusing on Natalia for much of the day. I am also very happy that I have only one more semester to go!

I'm looking forward to a little Christmas shopping outing with Natalia tomorrow. She hasn't seen that beloved stroller since we got home so I think she'll enjoy it too. As well, I'm looking forward to wrapping presents with Sydney tomorrow evening after Natalia starts dreaming of those sugar plum fairies.

Everything is splendid here, with the small exception of a toddler-cat scrap a couple nights ago. Ruby is now in a probationary period, awaiting sentencing. Don't worry, Natalia is absolutely okay and has not regressed to an fearfulness toward the cat. I know, not necessarily a good thing. Here's a sample of what may have led up to the unfortunate incident . . .

Natalia has happily settled into a new nickname, "Lala". It came about as a combination of her being unable to say her name and that she would often sing a little "la, la" tune. Even if we were unsure about it, Natalia quickly took a liking to it, pointing to herself and saying Lala with a big smile on her face. Lala it is!

For now, we continue to prepare for Christmas at our house. Here's a little peek at our curious one checking the contents of a stocking. Oh, how I can't wait for Christmas morning!


Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Like it's been forever

9 days home. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to post. I'm guessing by now some of you may have been thinking that we were a wreck. That would only be true to the extent that Natalia and I were sick. Poor little thing, Natalia had a visit to the ER on her third night home for an ear infection. Otherwise, it has been so good; so good that it feels like we've been together forever. Natalia settled in so well.

She continues to sleep well, sleeping in her crib in her own room for both nap time and bed time. Before both we rock and read a story. I'm not sure who enjoys it more, Natalia or whichever of us gets a turn. During our time in Russia, especially before springing her from the baby house, I thought it was going to take some time before Natalia sought our physical attention. Not so. Giving kisses, which is more of offering up a cheek. Cuddling in the rocking chair while keeping eye contact as long as I do. Asking to be picked up, including saying "up pweez" as of yesterday. And, as of a couple days ago, giving great big hugs.

The cat is also the recipient of some of this amorous attention. The breakthrough occurred on Sunday morning. Over the subsequent days Natalia went from chasing Ruby around the house, as if to scold her, to laying the cat across her lap to "gently" pet her. Since Ruby has been known to bite a person for standing in front of her favorite heat vent, her patience with Natalia is a welcome surprise. I'm sure there are moments when Ruby would be pleased to return to the locked corridor of the basement.

Communicating with Natalia has been very easy. She understands most everything we say. No, she doesn't understand the meaning of each word, but she gets the gist of the message. That being said, it's amazing how many words she does know. She is also starting to speak English words. Papa was as proud as can be when Natalia, on her second day home, spoke her first English word: please. By now, she's got the usage down. When she wants something, she says "pweez". A few days ago, that word was combined with "up" to change the request to be picked up from a couple of "ugh-ugh"s to an actual phrase. She says "Bubba" a lot. We have a dog named Bubba to whom she was introduced through photographs (along with our other pets). However, Natalia may think that Bubba means animal because she says "bubba" when she sees most any kind of animal.

She's working on "thank you", but the pronunciation isn't quite there yet. Even so, she recognizes the appropriate time to use it. Sydney taught her "I love you" yesterday. Natalia was confused with the "I" having learned where her "eye" is. Sydney said Natalia kept pointing to her eye when she was trying to teach her. Today she learned to say "monkey" simply because there was a monkey on her shirt. There are other words too, and more that I know will be added each day. The cutest part is how she looks when she is trying to say a word in English (this doesn't occur when she speaks in Russian). She blinks her eyes and nods her head; she looks like a little genie. Man, it's cute!

As mentioned, Natalia knows where her eyes are. This comes from a favorite game of hers, one she started the first night we were together in Vladivostok. When I'm holding her, she likes to point to parts of my face and then point to the same on hers, while I name them by their owner. "Mama's nose; Natalia's nose". "Mama's cheek; Natalia's cheek". I knew of this method to create eye contact which helps to promote attachment. Never though did I imagine that Natalia would be the one to initiate it. It's almost like we can see God's hand, continuing to take care us during this very amazing time in each of our lives.

Like I said, it feels like it's been forever. And you know why? Because it just feels so normal. Man, do I love it.

And now some pix . . .

Natalia's first self portrait, taken in the gym room at her baby house.

This photo was taken for Natalia's passport. We are perfectly aware that it looks like a really, really bad (ala Lohan) mugshot. Like I said, she is a changed little soul.

At the Vlad airport. Let's blow this popstand.

From orphan to iPhone . . .

We call it "funny face" . . .

"I have a sister!!!", said Natalia - and Sydney - with delight.

Family of 4!

First holiday photo opp, at the Moscow airport . . .

Ruby is definitely on Santa's "nice list" this year . . .

Like it's been forever . . .


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The roaming blog

So titled because this post was written over various locations.

In the air, earlier today. . .

It seems that the only place I have time to create a decent blog is when we're in transit. I am very happy to report that we are on our way home. This morning we traveled from Moscow to Amsterdam and are now a couple hours in to our flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis.

Natalia has turned out to be a comfortable traveler, which is another example of how she is the perfect fit to our family. She was awake for the 3.5 hours from Moscow to Amsterdam and was a cheerful trooper for the entirety. Now she sleeps, having fallen to sleep even before take-off. Car rides are still not the best for her. We we surprised that she got sick on the way to the airport, especially after our numerous adventures on the Moscow metro this last week. We'll just wait and see how the one hour plus drive home from the airport goes.

Our time in Moscow was enjoyable, but we are SO ready to be home. We did finally make it to Red Square, roamed around for awhile - long enough to confirm the fact that we are not the touristy type. We probably would have lasted longer if the weather wad better and we had a stroller. The next day we remedied the part over which we had control and purchased a stroller. This was an adventure in itself and well worth the time invested to locate said stroller. Natalia LOVES the stroller, sometimes gets really bummed out when she thinks it's time to get out of the stroller. These instances have shown us what a really good faker this girl can be. Open the stroller, with the sole intention to put Natalia's jacket on (or off) her. Mad girl. Reclasp lap bar. Happy girl.

Once we had the stroller getting out was much easier - on everyone. We also became pro's at navigating the Metro system. It is quite impressive, allowing you to get from corner to corner, and anywhere in between, the Moscow area. Chad will tell you that I struggled with the appropriate method to scan my pass the first few times. However, I will counter that with the fact that Chad about locked Natalia, while in her stroller, into a pass gate for his own improper scanning. Ha!

Natalia continues to be a very healthy little eater. Although she's sampled some new things, she consistently goes back to fresh fruits and veggies. Even at the Amsterdam airport, she scarfed down the cucumbers and tomatoes from a salad bar. I am pleased to say that she has found a liking for ice cream. You gotta like ice cream.

In my last post I mentioned the use of the crib. Subsequent nights haven't gone quite as smoothly as the initial night with the crib. Natalia still sleeps very soundly, either for her full nap or for the entire night, in the crib but she's not pleased to simply be placed in the crib to fall asleep. We're happy to rock her and speak or sing softly to her. It is such a perfect example of what every little one deserves but that so many have been left without. Yep, we'll rock her and cuddle her and sing to her off key the whole night through. Like I said, though, she is a very sound sleeper. Once she's out, she seems to sleep through about anything; including a nasty little cough she has right now. One tip, for anyone in the process - Russian lullabyes are a must! Playing these on the iPad has given Natalia something familiar and comforting while establishing some predictability at bed time.

Bath time continues to be a blast. Here again I recognize moments that this sweet child has gone without. It includes just plain old bath time. A time to play and splash in the tub, not just a necessary chore to wash the stink off. Even more so there's the cuddle time after. Our hotel had the big bath sheets. After bath, we would wrap Natalia in one of these and just cuddle. I think she would stay like that all night if we didn't eventually have to diaper up and put on jammies. She is taking to us very well and doing all kinds of things that show her fondness for us and desire for us to do things for her. Last night she gestured for me to give her the little bottle of Johnson's lavender bedtime lotion. I did and the two of us sat on the couch. She sat and leaned into me as I put lotion on her, massaging her little arms and legs and rubbing her back. She just loves it, and I know it is a wonderful, simple, quiet way for us as we move along on our path of attachment.

And just like that, from Stanchfield . . .

It's done. In the last 22 months we made the decision to adopt, gained approval to adopt from both the U.S. and Russia, waited to find our little girl, renewed our approvals, found our little girl, traveled to meet our little girl, prepared and passed court to become Natalia's parents, waited for another 10 days to take custody of Munchkin, brought our little girl out of the baby house and into my arms, were together for the first times a family of four for the most amazing Thanksgiving ever, and have spent every day since loving Zehnder x 4. And now, today, we returned home. Today Natalia Hope Zehnder touched ground at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport and became a citizen of the United States of America. Within minutes she was introduced to four overjoyed individuals; Grandma Kathy and Grandpa Joel and Grandma Linda and Grandpa Dick.

All of these moments, so very important, so very meaningful. None though compares to the moment we arrived home. Stepped foot in our house. 22 months later it's just like we envisioned it. Natalia just had a bath and she's running around in her footie pajamas. Oh, she's also trying to feed my a booger. Perhaps I didn't envision that.

I owe you all some pix, and one funny video. It's coming. Now I'm going to sleep in my own bed for the first time in 28 days.


P.S. Dorothy was right; there's no place like home.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Okay, so the nap before Red Square turned into a full "catch up" of our jet lag. Well worth it if we can complete the week here on a normal schedule. When we awoke this afternoon we still found some adventure by getting to the local grocery store for some staple items. This was the second time in the same number of days I have heard my husband say that we could take our time while we shopped. Wow.

We also had dinner out at a place called Torro Grill (good food, great service, reasonably priced - in case you find yourself in Moscow in the near future). Our server was really great. Kept making sure we had everything we could need, with special attention to the needs of a certain 2 year old. Natalia enjoyed eating the tomatoes and cucumbers from my salad and also sampled just a couple french fries from Daddy's plate. She also sampled a few other new items today. This made me very happy, especially since she hardly ate a thing yesterday.

Tomorrow (for real this time) we will head to Red Square; in the morning with bells on. Caveat (isn't there always?): Unless precluded by obnoxiously early wake time followed by impractical duration of nap.

So, what else . . . How about a few lessons; more the kind that serve as good reminders than any earth-shattering revelations:

1. If a child has been accustomed to sleeping in a crib, put the child in the crib when it's time to sleep.
Don't even dare to call me stupid here. I know I'm not the only one who has had the idea that a child is better off (to fall or to stay asleep, to feel more secure, etc., etc.). This evening when it came time for bed, we simply laid Natalia in the pack-n-play. Who would have guessed that she would lay down, roll around for about 20 minutes without fuss, and then go to sleep. Hmmm . . . now that I say it, it really does sound familiar. Dang, I am out of practice.

2. Toddlers don't necessarily reserve biting as a form of self-defense.
In terms of "rainbows and butterflies", Natalia continues to "entertain" us with 2-3 games of "who's the boss" each day. As I told Sydney last night, our job is to teach Natalia everything she would have learned in a family from the ages of 0-2 years old. This endeavor includes a little tidbit Chad and I learned on our 1st or 2nd visit with Natalia when one of the caregivers told us that Natalia bites. At the time, the caregiver was telling us how Natalia and another little girl in her grupa would battle it out from time to time. The other little girl was waiting for her mother to be released from prison. I figured, maybe Natalia just has to bite in some form of toddler self-defense. Nope, not just reserved for self defense. Both Syd (mostly Syd) and I have been the recipients; not like jaws of thunder or anything, but she does like to give a good chew now and again. We're working on it.

3. Forgiveness is the most powerful of all.
Natalia has recognized that Sydney is also a child (albeit a more grown up version of a child); this has meant that Sydney sometimes ends up being the other player (or innocent 3rd party) in a game of "who's the boss". This was definitely true last night not long before bed time. When Natalia went from playfully battling (by her terms) with her sister to sad and regretful, Sydney did the simplest, yet the most amazing, thing. As I was achieving mediocre progress at calming Natalia, Sydney rose from her bed, picked up her new little sister and said all kinds of sweet words to her. Then the two of them laid down on our bed; while Natalia was still crying just a little, she was completely transfixed with her sister. I do believe she was experiencing the power of forgiveness. Sydney had been hit and bit; yet her actions and words were telling Natalia that she still loved her. Isn't that what it's all about? Even if I don't like what you do, I will still always love you. It brought to me tears (which I think I successfully hid from them both).

Chad and I continue to look at each other, asking if it's really real. And it is. As real as our life always is. I say this as Chad and I watch a live stream of the first annual "Ladies in Red" Red Angus cattle sale. We, as Zehnder Cattle, are so very proud to participate in this event alongside the Bayer family (TC Reds) and the Weber family (Weber Land & Cattle). Us Zehnder's have had the easy part of this one since there is very little that can be done for such an event from half-a-world-away. I'd like to take a moment to thank Scott and Mia Bayer and Jesse and Michelle Weber for this event, and for doing even more work to cover for mine and Chad's (much more obvious) absence. Also, a huge thank you across the world to Alex for holding down the fort at home, Zach Wangen for an excellent job getting the reds ready for the sale, and to Matt and Bob for helping put the pieces together the last couple weeks as well.

Now, finishing this post on Sunday morning, we're really headed for Red Square!

Cameo, Chad, Sydney, & Natalia

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, November 25, 2011

Playing tourists

Good morning all,
It's 9:30a.m. in Moscow. Chad and Natalia are checking out the hotel gift shop. At this moment I see Natalia in Chad's arms, probably peeking at some shiny trinket tucked safely behind the glass. This is a wonderful sight, especially because this is the first morning that Natalia has been comfortable enough with Chad to let him hold her. They sealed the deal last night when Natalia got a great hoot out of Daddy squirting her with water from a seahorse toy at bath time.

We adventured out a few blocks yesterday. Today we're heading to Red Square to take it all in. That is, after a nap. We were up at 3:30a.m. this morning; second day in a row. Miss Natalia is doing her best to adjust to the time change, but 3:30 a.m. is actually 10:30a.m. in Vlad so we're doing pretty good.

The four of us are absolutely awesome. Natalia loves Syd especially so and, just like I thought, Sydney is a wonderful big sister. Of course, there are a million memories being made; I hope to have another lengthy blog for you retelling them in the next couple days.

In the meantime, I bet the picture below will tide you over. I mean, come on, is she cute or what?