With Spring break behind us and April almost over, Niamh was the first to celebrate her birthday in Canada. After our return home, the highlight was experiencing connection with new big brothers and sisters. We asked what she wanted and her response was so Niamh! : “I want my big brothers and sisters here for a barbecue”! Phone calls were made and lots of texts flew back and forth. ” What would this new little sister like as a gift? What did she need?”
First Birthday Celebrated in Canada for Niamh
Yes she wanted a party with newly made school friends but that was over shadowed by her requesting that we have a special birthday party with her adult siblings and being surrounded by new family – family forever. Sharon and I were honestly apprehensive as to how it would go because we were not sure what Niamh’s expectations were of our adult children! But we were deeply touched as our grown children demonstrated so much love with openness to their new little sister. Sharon recalls as one of her most favourite memories was watching Matthew and Niamh walking hand in hand to go play some football. This is one of the times she didn’t have her camera ready and she has mentioned her regret several times because the sight of them touched her heart so deeply! Matthew at 6’4″ and soon to be a dad himself for the first time and Niamh holding tightly onto his hand and looking up into his face!
Declan’s experience at kindergarten was amazing, to have teacher who radiated Jesus’s love made a huge impact on his life. Early in May when he and Sharon were travelling about completing domestic errands, he began talking to Sharon about Jesus dying on the cross for his sins and he tearfully asked Jesus into his heart. Shortly thereafter Niamh created a treasure hunt with a list of clues that she wanted Sharon and I to follow throughout the house. We carefully read each clue following its directions till we found the next . . . and what a treasure was in store for us. The last piece of paper had written on it “Niamh is on the Jesus team.” Niamh’s English skills were still very limited but as we gently attempted clarification it became very clear what she was describing . . . in the early morning hours one night she too had asked Jesus into her heart . . . she wanted to be on Jesus team so she had signed up. God is so good.
Their English skills were developing so rapidly being in school that it was almost frightening and as that happened during the course of devotions Conor, who early on wanted to pray in Russian began praying in English. He also began sharing experiences from his past and this one is profound! When he had first been placed in the children’s home in Odessa he found himself at the brunt of bullying by older children. On one occasion he witnessed another boy praying and thought maybe God would hear him.
So in the fall of 2014 Conor asked God to provide a family for him and his sister and to take them away from the Ukraine. Two years later it was December 2016, but God was faithful and answered his prayer! As I ponder this I am taken to the Matthew 19:13-14. Children were being brought to Jesus that he might pray for them and place his hands on them – the disciples displayed typical adult attitude and began rebuking those who were bringing their children. Their rebuke portrays how we adults often respond to children, “run along and play, don’t bother me! BUT JESUS says “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
It is note worthy that Conor pleaded with God to give him a family in the fall of 2014. The bible study “Crazy Love” was suggested as a topic in our life group January to February 2015 which was beginnings of our journey of adoption and the beginning of God’s answer to Conor’s prayer. The prayers of a child were moving the hand of the God of the universe!
Building a Chicken Coop – A dream for Sharon and Promise for Niamh since she could not bring pigeons from Kyiv
Well I had to come good on my promise for a chicken coop! Sharon had wanted one for years but one thing or another had stood in the way – now it was time! All hands pitched in as we cleared a site and construction got under way. The kids helped with screwing the flooring down, nailing sheeting, and painting. Niamh at one point asked why are making it so nice? I really did not have an answer as I had never built one before and actually thought it was just a chicken coop. Summer vacation, and Bible camp stalled the painters. Sharon went as camp nurse for a week and the kids got to go along with her. By the time the campers returned from camp they came home to a dozen baby chicks! They were so excited when they came home.!
First Track and Field Competition for Niamh and Conor
First track and field competition was approached with incredible enthusiasm – Niamh for the competition, Conor for the pop and chips. But it was the highlight to have Sharon there to encourage and cheer them on. Sharon cheered so loudly that she was sure others thought she was crazy but that doesn’t deter my wife where her children are concerned!. Niamh placed 3rd in the 1000 meter and Conor had too much pop and chips before the race, that he could hardly run at all but he still had fun!
Niamh, Conor and Declan had never been on a family vacation before and this July would be their first. I love camping of all sorts and I looked forward to sharing that experience with them but Sharon insisted that we would not be tenting. We had done that years ago, and had upgraded to a 5th wheel trailer but when I suffered a shoulder injury which resulted a vocational change (that’s another blog story) we had sold both the truck and trailer. So how was I going to share a camping adventure without using a tent and only a Ford Escape? – that was it a tent trailer! I know some readers will say camping is either tenting or trailering – but not tent trailering! Well I started searching for as light a tent trailer as I could find that our Escape would tolerate and we found one in St. Anne at a very reasonable price. Summer here we come!
A test run experience to Grand Beach proved successful on Canada day weekend 2017. The children loved the sand, the waves and living outdoors! So much fun!
All I had to do was service the wheel bearings, and we were ready! I had blocked 2 weeks of vacation in July and we were going to Alberta. I have never been able to get all that Alberta soil off my roots: it will always be home for me. The longest road trip the children had been on at this point would have been Bilhorod-Dnistroskyi to Kyiv about 7 hours – this would be double that!
The solution : stop in beautiful Saskatchewan – Buffalo Pound Provincial Park which is almost dead center. We spent Saturday night July 8th at Buffalo Pound – we enjoyed the warm summer evening of southern Saskatchewan and the opportunity to get a break from driving.
With still about 6 hours of driving to reach my sisters place at Castor we were up in reasonable time and packed and mobile by 8:00 am. Shortly after dinner we were heading east on Saskatchewan Provincial Highway 51. About 5 miles east of Kerobert just as we descended into a valley there was loud thump thump thump . . . ? “That did not sound very good” I knew there was nothing on the road that I had hit – tires were still inflated even on the trailer. The noise stopped as soon as it had started . . . I started to breath easier and then the alternator light came on and we began our ascent of the other side of the valley – about half way up the temperature gauge began climbing, I can’t stop on this hill I thought ! I quickly shut off the air conditioner turned on the heater to high and the fan to full to provide as much cooling capacity as possible to the engine. And opened the windows to survive the heat. I needed an approach to safely pull over . . . finally one was straight ahead. I shut off the engine and coasted past just enough that I could hand dolly off the trailer. Only 5 miles to Kerobert I calculated so we should easily be able to get some help – our problem was a broken serpentine belt. Compounding our problem was the fact that today was Sunday!
Kerobert was hosting a local homecoming party so the service stations were offering pump service only. I walked to nearby farmers nobody home! Friendly folk stopped and offered assistance but without a spare belt we were stranded! Someone stopped and told us we could’t camp there. Sharon said ‘we are not camping here, we have a huge problem with our car engine!’ But we made the most of it and set up the trailer so at least we had shade. Sharon demonstrated her true colors to genuinely help make the experience memorable and pleasant, with games like ‘Who could find 10 white flowers, or seven pink petals etc. The kids eagerly got in on that. Then I swallowed my pride and called my nephew at Castor – Keith is a mechanic and owns his own garage. He was so helpful and 3 hours later he was at our location with 3 different belts as he was out of stock of the size for our Escape. We made it to Castor just after sunset that evening!
Castor was a total highlight with so many new cousins to meet and play with. Auntie Debbie and Uncle Clifford really won a special place in the hearts of the children. It was our plan to spend about 5 days in Castor (if we were not asked to leave and then venture off to the mountains). They are such a gracious family! I was able to return to my farming roots by cutting hay and baling. The children were shy at first but very soon they were head and ears into play from wake up till sunset. They enjoyed the time so much that I felt almost cruel saying we had to head out. I really think the only reason they agreed to leave was that I promised we return the following summer! Which we did but only for a couple of days as I did not want to wear out our welcome.
Dressing up fun at Auntie Debbie’s
First attempts at Fishing
A trip to Meeting Creek to meet their new Grandma and Grandpa, and see dad’s roots was planned. I always find trips to farm very hard as so much of me remains there. As I walked around with children, I showed them the places I played, worked and built. I was overcome with emotion. What is wrong dad? All I could say is this is difficult for me.
Photos around the farmyard at Meeting Creek – notice how Conor cuddles with Grandpa – such a need for love and affection!
McKenzie Crossing on the Red Deer river – connecting with Alberta family for the first time!
On our entire journey Niamh was desperate to succeed with the finishing rod. She never did this time round. She would not meet with success until the following summer. Take note of her professional fishing apparel. We had difficulty convincing her what was appropriate attire for camping, she even insisted on bringing her jewelry box with her, one we had purchased for her in Bilhorod. She also had packed 2 large bags containing photos in frames and almost her whole wardrobe. We allowed her, hoping her precious “Frozen” theme box would survive the trip. These pictures are at Obed Pass, the highest on the Yellow head highway – interestingly one is still about an hour east of Jasper at that point.
Obed Lake Provincial Park
As we advanced on Jasper as the children caught their first glimpses of the Canadian Rockies all three were astounded by the beauty and majesty. Over and over again we heard the words “So beautiful, so beautiful!” Declan repeated the phrase more than his share. It touched both Sharon and I how engaged the children were throughout the trip. The children experienced the summit of Whistler and marmots, Elk, and Black Bear. We drove up to the view point of Mount Edith Cavell – Niamh, Conor and I hiked up the trail to the Cavell meadows – Conor’s stamina was utterly amazing! Those skinny little legs seemed completely tireless!
The highlights of camping at Jasper National Park
We returned home via the Yellowhead highway through Edmonton – Lloydminster – Saskatoon – we broke the trip up again by camping a Black Jack Provincial Park just of Saskatoon for one night and then home again.
I had reserved 1 week of vacation time for the end of August to take the family fishing to Paint Lake only about 8 hours north of us just outside of Thompson, Manitoba – but Niamh would have nothing to do with another long road trip even if a fish was guaranteed. But she would change her mind the following summer and be richly rewarded for it!