Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hope-filled goodbyes

Today we had to say goodbye...for now.  We made the tough decision yesterday to return home until court.  We thought we would receive a court date sooner than we are now anticipating due to a variety of circumstances, none of which are bad.  Just simply the road of adoption.  A road on which you quickly discover you really are not the driver, you're just a passenger in the back seat in a strange town where the language is unfamiliar and where street signs aren't always legible.  But it's okay, it's called adventure and sometimes when you peer down a side street and think, "Oh, I sure hope we're not going that way," that's precisely the turn you'll end up taking.  And then it all works out better than you could have planned, even if your plan included avoiding potholes the size of small lakes.  This adoption is one crazy ride...and ironically I think driving (or rather, riding) in Ukraine represents adoption all too well.  And ours has really been a smooth ride.  But there are still times when you feel life flashing before your very eyes.  So you quickly learn to close them.  Sometimes darkness is better.  Trusting is better.  Not easier, but better.

So we will head home beginning at 1:30am tomorrow morning when Sergey picks us up to drive us to the airport at Boryspil.  Once we have secured a court date we will make plans to return.  Once we've passed court, Adam will return home again and I will stay with the kids until we have acquired birth certificates, passports, etc. in preparation for them to become American citizens!

But today...

Today we visited the orphanage for just over an hour.  We met with Maria whom Alla had already informed of our plan.  The kids, too, had been told, but we did not know how they handled the news.  We were told they took it well, but at that point hadn't seen them to know for certain ourselves that they were okay.

After a brief discussion with Maria, we were isolated to our favorite room and the kids joined eagerly entered moments later.  We had prepared a sort of goodie bag for each of them complete with chips, orange juice, an apple, some Nutella and gum.  For an hour we played and enjoyed one another.  It was a true blessing.

Max asked when we would return to Ukraine, trying to better understand the "plan."  This process has got to be just as confusing to them as it is to us.  He was also very disappointed that we were allowed only an hour together.  We were given the hour of 11:30am-12:30pm to spend with them so at 11:45am when he asked if we were staying until 7:00pm, my heart sank more than a little.  Sweet boy just wants our "family" to be together, even if it means countless rounds of boring Uno.

At the end of the hour, we heard the door handle turn and in walked Yelena.  I was thankful to see her face because I knew she wouldn't rush us out of there, but allow us a few moments to say goodbye to the kids.  And she did.  We hugged each of them several times, shared many "I love you"s and reminded them we would be back as soon as possible.

But one thing made this goodbye beautiful.

Hope.

We got to see it today in our kids' eyes.

In their eyes is a light, a sparkle, that I've not seen before.  Especially in Kate.  This is the girl that fell apart when I left her at the airport after summer hosting and the same little girl I had to leave again in January.  Today was different.  Today she was a confident girl who knows her Mom and Dad are not leaving her there to stay.  He shares that confidence knowing that we will be back in Ukraine just as soon as we possibly can.

They wait with confident expectation...of this I am sure.  Is there sadness?  Is there disappointment?  Most definitely.  But above all else they have allowed themselves to hope in what they know, to believe with certainty that we will return.

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end...




Hebrews 6:11

Today we walked away from the orphanage grounds with our own sense of hope, assured of our decision to return home and thankful for two orphans who have forever changed our lives.

~~~

The kids presented me with this notebook they received at school just a few days ago.  This one's a keeper.

The words printed on the front could not be more true with one exception...
we have entered into one another's worlds and love is both given and received.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A 2nd "Yes" and The Great Outdoors

Today was a good day.  It was a long day filled with lots of paperwork and too much waiting, but that's just the name of the game at times and we are very much along for the ride...whatever it takes.

The day began with a 7:30am pickup from the apartment.  Ivan took us to the orphanage where we waited.  We knew we were there to begin paperwork for Max, but beyond that we don't even fully understand what's going on.  There are lots of petitions and lots of requests for patience.  We smile and nod a lot and then later ask one another, "Did you follow that?"  To which our conclusive answers are most often, "Not at all."  But we stay the course and obey each directive given by our "bossy" facilitator, Alla.  It's okay that we call her that because that's precisely how she describes herself.  Quite honestly, that's the way you want a facilitator to be anyway.  She gets things done and is not satisfied with "we'll see" or "we'll get that to you later."  Nope.  Now is the way she asks that things be done.  And they are.  She also tells us she has "friends."  I don't think we have even the slightest clue to how extensive her network of friends really is, but we are grateful nonetheless.  Alla pushes, demands, argues (although they would consider it merely conversing).

Here Alla has taken over the notary assistant's desk and is working on the paperwork herself.
I digressed a bit.  Alright, so we were at the orphanage waiting on Alla and the inspector, Natalia, to arrive for our meeting with the two of them as well as Maria, the orphanage director, and our boy.  They locked us in the teacher's room to wait.  For some reason being locked in a room doesn't phase me in the least anymore.

Then we were ushered into Maria's office where all the necessary people were present.  Then Max came in to answer some questions from the inspector.  I wish I could tell you what the questions were, but unfortunately my Ukrainian is still in progress.  Natalia is a very kind woman and Max smiled quite often during their brief conversation.  Although I will say that he appeared nervous upon first entering the room.  He sat down next to me and I was sure to put my arm around him to remind him we are unified...we are family.

I noticed on the table that he had already written out his petition before we arrived.  I really wanted a photo of him writing it, but had to settle for getting a quick pic when, at one point, everyone left the room.

Max's petition made official by that blue stamp.
Once the paperwork compiling was in full force, we were escorted back to our waiting spot.  About a half hour later, Maria retrieved us and we waited a brief moment while Yelena, the orphanage lawyer, and our kids appeared from the hallway.  And we got to leave the orphanage!

Together, the five of us walked to a huge park located just beside the orphanage.  It is gorgeous, the ground covered with gorgeous tall pines, statues of all sorts and kinds and wildflowers sprouting all around.

Bouquet hand-picked by our kids.
I can't even tell you how amazing it was to spend time together beyond the orphanage walls.  Even with a chaperone, it was a little bit of heaven.  Speaking of our chaperone, Yelena is one person that I have really grown to love throughout this entire process.  She is the orphanage lawyer and she is the one who, each Wednesday morning would answer the call when we Skyped with the kids.  If they were not already seated at the computer waiting, she would rush off down the hall to bring them into her office to talk with us.  It wasn't until I visited in January that I realized that the "Skype computer" is her computer...and one of the only computers in the orphanage at all.  So, for her to make her computer available to the kids each Wednesday was a sacrifice.  She really loves and enjoys the kids and we couldn't be more grateful for her.

Yelena and Kate

Our time at the park was so sweet, we just wish this is what our time could look like every day with the kids.  There's something to be said for the freedom found beyond the orphanage.  It's like the kids come alive.  I think it's the fresh air.  I believe kids were created for play, for adventure, for climbing and skipping and jumping, for discovery.

A father and son stroll.

Beautiful view atop the "Bridge of Love."


Married couples secure padlocks to symbolize their love as they cross the bridge.
Peek.

Beach on the Dnieper River.

Quite the view from above.

Couldn't love these two more.


Posing for Mom.

A little man to man time.

Discovery in action.

A message from big brother: "I love Andee and Charlee."

Pondering what she should write.
Her name in shyshka (pine cone).

Only Dad can make her smile like this.

When our time at the park was over, we returned to the orphanage and we were essentially snuck into Yelena's office, out of sight.  The orphanage is being inspected by the government this week.  They come to count underwear and make sure no crumbs are found.  Apparently they don't need to see any Americans either.  We are typically ushered into rooms, but this ushering was even more greatly accelerated.  Once in Yelena's office we watched Donald Duck for our remaining 15 minutes together.  Now that's what I call bonding.

Warner Bros. transcends language barriers.

Once home, we walked to McDonald's and enjoyed some fried food.

Once home, we will be petitioning to have this tasty item added to the American McDonald's menu.
And that concludes the excitement of Day 15 of Ukraine life.

~~~

Grandma, Grandpa and the girls continue to do well at home.  In fact, they are doing so well that Grandma mentioned to Charlee yesterday that we were going to Skype and her response was, "We just did that!"  Feeling the love across the ocean for sure!  I choose to look at the bright side of this and be thankful that they are getting along mostly well without us.  The challenge is greater with Andee, as I anticipated, given her age.  But all in all, things are going better than we expected and that makes the waiting slightly more bearable.

And the daily pictures from Grandma certainly help too.  There is no shortage of fun being had back in the good ol' US of A.

Homework is completed...

...water play ensues...

...secrets are shared...

...greeting with Grandpa is enjoyed...

...and naked, after bathtime laughter is enjoyed.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Return to Cherkasy

Late Friday afternoon, Yuriy drove us back to Cherkasy.  Another nice car ride complete with leather seats, GPS, a little Enrique Iglesias and, of course, some serious passing of other cards on the road.  The best part about the ride was the gorgeous sunset that reminded me that the sky here is painted by the same great God who paints the sky at home.  And in the midst of continued turmoil within this country, He is the same good God who reigns sovereignly over the entire situation and calls each of these people by name.

Majestic.
While we love Kyiv and enjoyed our time there again, returning to our apartment in Cherkasy was a really good thing.  Like when you've been away from home for vacation and you're 5 minutes from home and it just feels right.  That's the feeling Adam and I both had returning to our little studio here. It's by no means home, but it's quaint and cozy and it's as close to home as we're going to get for a while so we're trying to make the best of it.

Saturday we had a morning visit with the kids.  Thankfully Kate was no longer sick and our whole family, as Max calls it when referring to the four of us, got to spend time together.  Max had this to give us when we arrived for our visit.  He wrote it by himself and was so proud to share it with us.

"so good"
We sat down and Max said to me, "You teach" which meant that he wanted to work on some more English.  Not sure I'm the most qualified of teachers, but I guess he's stuck with me for now.  He drew pictures and I helped him label them with the correct English spelling of the words.  What's fascinating to me is to watch him sound words out and assign them the letters he thinks are correct because it has helped me to understand Ukrainian a little bit better.  For example, he always wants to write the word "and" with an "e" instead of an "a" at the beginning.  After watching him consistently assign the wrong letter to a certain sound I began to be able to associate those sounds to the letters in their words (the phonetic spelling anyway).  I'm still far from fluency, but I've managed to pick up on a few things over time.

Counting to ensure he has 50 starts to represent each state.
Adding labels.
Yesterday my role doubled as I became a math teacher, too.  Suddenly, Max turns to me and says "mathematics."  I think he and I will get along quite nicely in the homework department.  Perhaps he will motivate his sisters as well.  One can hope.  So, we started with some basic math and then he asked me to write out some multiplication problems.  Not just your basic problems though, he wanted triple digit problems.  I was wishing for a calculator at that point.  I have to admit there were a couple times that in checking his answers I figured why bother, he's got them all mastered anyway.

Math facts with Mom.
While all this serious working was happening, Kate sat quietly by rocking out to "The Little Mermaid" soundtrack.  Schoolwork doesn't exactly get her as excited as it does Max.  This lack of interest is definitely not indicative of her knowledge of English though as there have been many times that she has corrected or helped Max with an English word or two.

"Who me?"
One advantage to a morning visit with the kids is that we have lots of time to get out and explore in the daylight after we leave the orphanage.  Yesterday that's exactly what we did.  We decided to make our way to the beach.  We were't exactly sure how to get there, but 3 miles later we were home and successful in finding water.

Beautiful beach.
 We try to include one adventure each day, which means either finding a new coffee destination, venturing out a new direction from our apartment or sampling a new variety of pastry.  Sometimes we get really crazy and do all three in one day...those are the best days in my book.  Pretty exciting, eh?  Tomorrow's adventure just may include a pizza outing.

Friday, March 21, 2014

SDA Appointment, Round 2

Early yesterday morning, Yuriy (a new complete stranger) picked us up from our apartment in Cherkasy and drove us to Kyiv where we had our second SDA appointment, this one for Max.

Leaving Cherkasy.  The orphanage is located just beside the radio/cell tower pictured.

I was much less nervous going into this appointment, having already had a successful appointment last week for Kate.  In fact, this time it was just a complete breeze.  Olga, Igor, Adam and I met again in the same small room with the same wall of binders marked by birth year and even the same page protectors.  It was all very familiar.  Last time Olga asked us nothing about how we knew Kate or why we wanted to adopt, questions we had been anticipating.  Yesterday she was very interested to know how our reunion with Kate went and if she was happy to see us.  Thankfully, we could positively report to her that our reunion was beautiful.  She seemed genuinely delighted to hear this.

This time Olga asked additional questions, one of which was how we know Max.  We explained that while he was hosted by another family, we met him while the entire host group was in California together.  She was content with that answer and we didn't elaborate to explain that we've also Skyped with him weekly for the past several months.  We didn't share that we had planned to host him over Christmas as well until that fell through due to some changes occurring at the orphanage.  And we absolutely did not share that I made a trip to meet him and spend time with both he and Kate back in January.  So, for all intents and purposes, tomorrow should be our first time meeting Max.  And yet, we can confidently say that we love him already just as much as Kate who we actually lived life with for a time over the summer.  We have been incredibly blessed with Maria, the orphanage director, who ultimately was the one who allowed me to come visit the kids.  She did not have to allow that, but instead she graciously opened the orphanage doors to me and allowed me time to bond with our kids that most adoptive parents wouldn't have before accepting the official referral.  She is an orphanage director like no other.

Olga also mentioned to us that Max looks like Adam and that Kate looks like me and then stated that "God decided" for them to be placed with us.  We took that as a very high compliment and were blessed by her recognizing, in whatever way, that God has a hand in this.  Overall it was a great appointment with many smiles shared and even a bit of laughter. 

Waiting in Yuriy's Nissan Maxima outside the SDA building. Note the fancy GPS!

And we had to get cappuccinos from our favorite street coffee vendor.

Later this afternoon we will pick up our referral paperwork and then travel back to Cherkasy to begin the paperwork for Max.  Lord willing, he will complete his petition on Monday stating that he would like us to adopt him.  This whole petition thing will forever remain strange to me.  Wonderful, but strange.  On Monday, an almost 11 year old boy will physically write a letter naming me and Adam as the two people (of all the people on the face of this planet) he would like to be his Mom and Dad.  That's just plain backwards, but very cool all at the same time.

After our appointment, we walked across with street to eat pizza with Igor, Alla and another adoptive couple who also had a successful appointment just before ours.  Igor mentioned several times, "I wish they were all this easy."  We are so thankful, too, for wonderful facilitators without whom none of this would be possible.  We ordered pizza with pepperoni to celebrate, but received pizza with pepperocinis instead.  Oops, silly Americans.  We enjoyed it nonetheless.

Our apartment for the evening was located about a half block from Maidan, or Independence Square.  The strangest thing about being this close to Maidan is how completely unstrange it feels.  Honestly, we feel safer walking around Independence Square than probably anywhere else.  We've been told to stay away from the "crazies" down there, but the first thing we did once we got settled in our apartment was walk out the door and head that direction.  When you walk around down there, besides the fact that you know it was once such a beautiful area, it feels like you are walking on sacred ground.  People walk more slowly and time is spent remembering the heroes who lost their lives just weeks ago.   And the more time you spend down there, the less strange it seems to see to see camouflaged men pushing chopped wood in a wheelbarrow down the torn up sidewalk as you are looking for a store to purchase a mobile wi-fi device.  Quite the contrast.

A vehicle equipped with a water canon used by the Berkut to douse the crowds during the protests.

Buildings still occupied by the people opposed to the government under Yanukovich.

A display that was not here a week ago.  I believe it says something about "stopping propaganda" and "no fascism."

Huge flag covered in handwriting waved by chanting people.
What I wouldn't give to know Ukrainian while in the vicinity of Maidan.  When we arrived yesterday I knew that these men (and some women) would still be here, camped out.  But to see it all a week later and to be reminded that they truly have no intentions of leaving.  It's sobering.  They are in this all the way.  It's a beautiful thing.

And just up the street from all this commotion I sit in a very modern joint with free wifi called True Taste Coffee House.  Again a stark contrast from the men sitting camped in their tents at the base of this street, who continue to make sacrifices to stand for the freedom they so desperately desire.  This should serve all of us Americans as a reminder that freedom doesn't come for free.  The freedom we enjoy in America was and is fought for.  We don't even know how good we have it.  Let us not forget to be grateful for the men and women who ensure our freedom daily...even when we cannot tangibly see the evidence.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Another day of play and an English lesson

Yesterday's visit with the kids was another great one.  Uno hasn't gotten too old yet so we played a couple rounds as well as Old Maid, which was a new game to both of them.  Some more arm wrestling took place in addition to "helicopter."  Adam may need to start training for an Ironman to keep up with this boy!  He loves it.  I'm always a little concerned when, by the end of our time together, Max is sweating and the caregiver who comes to get us from our room walks in.  But so far I don't believe he's been in trouble for being too active.  I imagine they wonder what in the world we do in this small space, but so far it's been received with smiles and, yesterday, even a laugh.

Happy sweaty boy.


Thankfully, while Max is very active he does enjoy calmer activities...like working on his English.  I may not be able to do pick him up and spin him around like Dad, but I can certainly sit and help him practice writing important English phrases. We worked on writing the alphabet and then moved on to some names and phrases such as "America," "Arizona," and "I love basketball."  I am definitely impressed by the kids' English abilities.  I was surprised by Kate's English when she came to stay with us, but I do believe that knowing they are coming to America has given them a bit more motivation to take learning English that much more seriously.  For these two, it's not just about learning another language either.  There's a whole new alphabet involved.  It's one thing to learn English as a second language when your native language shares the same alphabet, like Spanish.  It's a whole other ball game to change from a Cyrillic alphabet to the English alphabet.

Starting with the alphabet.

On to his second page.
 I thought it would be fun to make a calendar of sorts so that he has something to visually show him things he has to look forward to through the year.  I wrote out the months of the year and then he filled in the special events and holidays.  I'm fairly certain the his favorite thing to write was, "Go America," which we believe will happen sometime during the month of April.  And probably his second favorite, "Go school," for the month of August.  I truly didn't think kids ever got that excited to start school, but let me tell you, this boy is beyond thrilled.  His face lit up when I told him he would start school in August.  What?!?!?!

Finished work for the day.

I really felt like creating something tangible to remind Max that he has much to look forward to increased his hope.  We also wrote out a few paragraphs that we had a wonderful friend (Thank you, Alex!) translate for us to show both the kids yesterday.  We explained to them that we are waiting to get a court date at which time we will officially become their parents, that after court Mom and Dad will both return to America and that 10 days after court Mom will come back and take them out of the orphanage.  Then, the three of us will travel to Kyiv and wait on their new passports, etc. before flying home to America for good.  It's hard enough sometimes being on our side of this adoption, with so much unknown and not always the greatest understanding of the process so I can only imagine what it's like for them being nearly completely in the dark.  They probably wonder why in the world now that we are here that we just keep coming to the orphanage daily for weeks on end rather than just busting them out of there.  So, while still somewhat vague, our explanation to them did seem to resonate and make sense.

Kate was not feeling great today.  In fact, she entered the room wearing a surgical mask.  I understand the importance of that when she's with the other kids, but having two little ones back home we're quite accustomed to a runny nose and cough so had no problem telling her she didn't need to wear it around us.  Of course, we made sure she had it as 6:30 approached and the caregiver would come to escort us out of the orphanage.  Though not a great picture, I managed to capture a precious moment between Dad and daughter as she rested her head on Dad's shoulder while playing a game.

Dad: comforter and protector
Yesterday we also heard from one of our facilitators that we will travel back to Kyiv tomorrow for our second SDA appointment, this one for Max.  After that appointment, paperwork will be prepared and ready for pickup on Friday.  At that point, we will return to Cherkasy and the paperwork will continue beginning with Max writing his petition agreeing that he wants us to adopt him.  Now, this is all best case scenario and we continue to recognize that most everything is out of our control so at any point during this process something could not go according to "plan" and we will not be surprised.  But we are hopeful and prayerful that things will continue to move along as they have till this point.

~~~

We would like to ask that you would pray for all the adoptive families in Ukraine right now, and most especially for those in process of adopting from Crimea.  Crimea is the semi-autonomous region south of Ukraine that up until a few days was technically part of this country.  Now, after a questionable vote it will become part of Russia.  As you may know, Putin signed an anti-US adoption law into effect back in December of 2012.  So, it sounds like the orphans in Crimea, who had Ukrainian citizenship are now losing that citizenship to Russia.  What does that mean for families adopting from Crimea?  It means things are looking bleak and that it appears these adoptions will be prevented.  And what does that mean for these lives, many of whom already know the families who have come/are coming for them?  It means loss...as if they haven't already had enough of that in their lives.

So while things for us appear to be going smoothly, for other families things have turned devastating.  My heart hurts for these families and at times I feel wrong being so joyful, enjoying our process so much.  Please remember these families, and especially these orphans, in your prayers.  Pray that truth would ultimately prevail.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Does arm wrestling count?

We get to visit the kids daily for three hours, usually in the afternoon.  This is the period allowed for bonding.  In our case, a bit of bonding has already occurred, especially with Kate because we hosted her over the summer.  And even with Max some bit of a relationship has been established because of my initial visit and our Skype calls.  But true bonding won't really happen until we get outside these four walls.

However...  we are beginning to feel that the activity that bonds us to Max the most up till now is arm wrestling.  Okay, maybe not, but it sure is a whole lot of fun.

Round 1 with Dad.

Not gonna lose.

Even Mom got in on the action.

Mom was doing well until the tickling began...no fair!
 What we are quickly learning is that having a boy opens up a whole new world...one of competition.  We expected this, but it's been fun to actually see it play out.  Just about everything Max does, he does well.  And if there's something he's not particularly good at, he will be by about the third time he makes an attempt.  He is still working to master shuffling cards, but I have no doubt he will be a pro by the time he gets to America.  He watches me intently each time I shuffle a deck of cards.  He thinks my "fancy trick" of making a bridge with the cards to bend them back is pretty amazing.  I remember thinking the same thing watching my own mom do this many years ago.  He'll have it down much sooner than me, of this I'm sure.

Today's visit also included some play-doh molding.




And some more hands-on activities with Dad.  What the kids like to call "helicopter" where Dad swings them around until he and they are dizzy, sweaty and exhausted.  Then we quickly rub the scuff marks off the floor from Max's shoes so as not to be "found out" and to avoid getting them into trouble later.


An interesting observation we've made during our visits is how eerily quiet it is at the orphanage.  I mean, you think about how many kids are there and while it's not a large number (usually between 45 and 55), it's still children.  And children are noisy.  Our two back home make more noise during our Skype calls than we've heard the entire time we've been here.  It's very strange.  Orphanage days are very structured, which makes for very structured children.  Things must be just so.  I don't know what the repercussions are when they are not "just so," but there must be some.  Max takes care to place stuffed animals back exactly as they were on the rug after we play cards and to move the chairs back to the exact same spot on the floor as when we entered the room.  Scuff marks are removed.  Play-doh crumbs are wiped clean from the table and floor.  Some of this is just normal responsibility, the same things I like to see in my own home as I teach my girls to be good stewards.  But some of it seems to border on excessive.

What I wouldn't give to ask these kids questions about what their life here is really like...and this is a "good" orphanage.  Just breaks my heart when I reminded that these kids haven't had the opportunity to be kids as much as our two back home.  At 3 years old, Andee has experience more true childhood than Kate has in 10 years.  Which is why they all play so well together.  Kate is making up for lost time as a child when she plays dolls and dress-up and play-doh.  It's sweet to see them take so much joy in the things that are just typical childhood experiences.

Discovering play-doh.
Getting creative.
Moving on to "helicopter" again.
Beauty.
Handsome.
Selfie just before our time together came to a close for the day.
As the days pass our connection to these two precious kids grows by leaps and bounds and it appears theirs does to us as well.  We are asked repeatedly while together, especially by Max, "You go 7:00?," while he knows we have to leave at 6:30.  We arrive around 3:45 and by 5:00 he is looking at the clock, checking to see how much time we have left for the day.  Today there was more discussion about when we will go to Kyiv together.  They know that we must go there before we can leave for America.  They want specific dates and it kills me not to be able to give them those yet.  We say "in a few weeks," reminding them that it will be soon.  But what is "soon" to a child who has been waiting in a orphanage their whole life?  At times I wish they were told nothing about leaving until just days, or moments, before stepping foot outside the walls of orphanage life.  I guess I just want to protect their hearts, because that's what mommies do.

We say our goodbyes and each day it gets harder.  The kids linger that much longer, their faces saddened just a little bit more.  Such a hard place to be.  We don't want to see them sad, but it's encouraging to know that they don't want us to leave.  They want out of there, that's for sure.  So we continue to wait expectantly...we hope in the Lord.
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