Friday, November 28, 2008

Giving Thanks ....

... For:
the smell of turkey roasting
pumpkin pie
when one of my kids says, "You make the best (xyz) EVER!"
Rosie's turkey pictures
Christmas music on the radio
family games
watching A Christmas Story with the kids on the couch
my comfy bed
getting closer and closer to a "good night's sleep"
washing laundry in my washing machine (instead of the bottom of a shower)
drying laundry in my dryer (instead of draped over radiators)
first trip back to the farm for fresh milk
Sophie's neuroses, and her cuteness
healthy happy children
wonderful, caring, helpful extended family
friends I've met along the way

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Home safe and sound

Just wanted to let everyone know we made it back home safely. It was a looooong journey.

After court Weds morning (11/19), we left Ust early afternoon and arrived in Almaty a couple hours later. The flight was fine; Air Astana is a major improvement over the old Kazakh Air! Nikolay picked us up at the airport and drove us to our hotel. He told us that the Kazhol (where we stayed on our way in) was booked, so he was taking us to the Kazakhstan Hotel. Fred and I just looked at each other and shrugged, cuz' what do we know? He pulled up to this 25 story high-rise and when we walked in we couldn't believe our eyes: soaring ceilings, gleaming marble, sophisticated seating areas throughout the lobby, and a pianist at a grand piano. We had to check ourselves from saying out loud, "we're still in Kazakhstan"?! We were told it was more expensive than the Kazhol, but at this point we didn't care! It just seemed like we were so much closer to home standing there in that lobby. So we checked in, said goodbye to Nikolay, and headed up to our room. But once we opened the door, Kaz reality came crashing back. Let me backtrack just a step. We couldn't simply "open" the door. Fred practically had to do a shoulder slam break-in to get the door to open. The room was barely large enough to hold the two twin beds and a lttle table and TV cabinet. And I use the word 'beds' loosely. There were no towels in the room, so when we were in the lobby later we asked for towels for three people. When they brought them up, Fred counted three in the stack. Wasn't till after they left he opened them up to realize they had brought us a bath towel, a hand towel and a bath mat. Well, I guess that's three, right? We discovered later that a throw rug smelled like cat pee ( in a hotel????), so we pushed it under the bed in order to keep our socks from stinkin', but then Fred discovered there were little shards of glass on the floor where the rug had been. If I close my eyes, I can picture the scene in which the smuggled koshka pees on the rug, followed by much Russian cussin' and a bottle of Vodka being thrown across the room.

For in-house dining, we were able to choose between the hotel restaurant and a pub called, incredibly, The Guns-n-Roses Cafe. We thought that was just too funny to pass up, so we walked in and asked if they were open for dinner, b/c it was completely dark, save a floodlight and a few tealight candles. They said they were open, but their lights were out. We decided to give it a try, so we sat in a booth and shaded our eyes from the floodlight as we looked over the menu. A little while after we ordered (Fred chose the "hen sandwich"), the lights came back on, so we were able to dine sans floodlights. It was actually very good! Who knew.

The next day went pretty well at the embassy and notary. We got a few more souvenirs, had dinner at the Guns-n-Roses again, and tried to grab showers and a few hours sleep in our room. Fred had one twin bed and Natasha and I had the other. Between the crowded sleeping arrangements, the smell of cat pee, the lights outside our window (sheer cutrains, no drapes), and me having to problem-solve such urgent issues as where our two new kids will store their coats and shoes once they're home, I was not able to sleep.

Nikolay picked us up at 1:30am, then another family from an apt, and brought us to the airport. Luggage checks and passport/visa checks went smoothly, and before we knew it, our 4:10am flight was lifting to the air, flying us out of Kazakhstan. Since we were now flying "back in time", our flt, which was about six hours, landed us in Frankfurt at around 6am. We had to kill a lot of time in the airport, as our next flt wasn't scheduled to depart till 1:30. Even after getting a bite, shopping in the airport stores, and walking around for awhile, we still had hours and hours to go. But finally the time came to board and we settled into our seats for the final leg of the journey home. Only to hear there were some technical difficulties that needed to be checked out. About an hour later, the problem was resloved, and we were slotted first for take-off b/c of the delays. However, now we had to wait again b/c of high winds. When we were finally cleared (two hours after scheduled departure time) we were so thankful to be on our way, but our relief soon turned to anxiety. Seems the high winds they were having us wait out had not gone after all. As the plane was accelerating down the runway, it was being buffeted back and forth by the winds. The plane lifted to the air and started its ascent, but we could feel it being knocked around as it climbed. I didn't see how it was going to get past these high winds, it must have taken everything the pilot had to control it. We finally reached cruising altitude and things settled down. The captain came on a bit later and told us that he's been flying planes for 18 years, but he has never had a take-off like that. I know. Comforting.

But the rest of the flight went smoothly and we arrived in Philly around 5:30pm. Our friend John picked us up and drove us out to get our kids. Of course, we had to stop at a Mickey D's on the way for some grease. I think it's some kind of law that you have to do that when you've been out of the US for two weeks or more. When we got to our friend Jen's house, we were all just so excited! So much hugging and tears when we were finally reunited with our sweet chillens! We finally got them packed up and loaded into the car and got home about 9:30pm, over 30 hours since we had left our hotel in Almaty. Needless to say, we had no trouble sleeping that first night. The next night, however, Fred, Bella and I were all up in the middle of the night, suffering the effects of the dreaded jet lag. That's OK. Small price to pay. We're just glad we're home, we're safe, and we're together with our kids again. Now we just have to get two more home and we'll have our complete set: 3 boys, 3 girls. 3 bios, 3 adopted.

Thanks so much to everyone, friends, family, and complete strangers, for all the well-wishes, prayers, and support. It was so nice to feel the presence of all your loving hearts during this journey. God is good.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


That's right, you heard me, our petition to adopt Borya and Julia has been granted by the judge!!!!! Hallelujah and praise be and amen and hot-diggity-dog!

Here's how it went down: we left at about 9:30 for our 10:00 court appt. Once at the court house Alma scurried around signing various papers as we stood in the middle of a crowded, bustling lobby while we waited for the rest of our group to arrive. For once an interior room was not scalding hot, but this time pretty darn cold. The unmanned metal detector was perpetually whistling its beeps as people passed in and out. Finally all the key players had arrived, and after waiting what seemed an eternity, they called is into the court room, which looked more like some kind of ante-room for signing doc-oo-ments than an actual court room. It opened right off the lobby, so we went directly in and arranged ourselves on the benches, per Alma's directions. Pretty soon the judge swooped in and we all stood and were again seated. As the speeches began, Alma leaned over to us and whispered the translations. As a Mom, I cringed to hear the directors and officials repeatedly state that in all the years the children have been in the orphanage, no family members have visited them, no one has shown any interest in their fate. I wanted so badly to cover their ears so they wouldn't hear those harsh words, that ugly truth, but all I could do was reach back to them to squeeze their hands. We stood and Fred read off our prepared statements, and Alma translated for the rest of the court. After hearing from the ministry official, the directors of both orphanages, and Fred and I, the prosecutor asked Borya to stand and answer some questions, and then Julia. They did a great job, standing tall, good eye contact, clear speaking voices. After a bit there was a short recess for the judge to review everything, so we waited in the lobby again. Poor Julia at this point began to cry, so the director of her school ushered her into a semi-quiet corner to talk to her. I didn't know what to do b/c she's gotta be just so scared and nervous right now and yet we still don't speak each other's languages, so I wasn't sure what I could say to her. She still really knows the director better than she knows me, so I just went over, and while the director was talking to her and giving her a hanky and a mint, I just rubbed her back and whispered "Ya tibya loublue" in her ear a few times (I love you). But she seemed OK, just slightly shaken and nervous. She's a scared 10 yr old little girl.

After only a couple minutes they called us back into the courtroom and we all stood (me with knees shaking) while the judge read his decision. It took him, I think, roughly four hours to read off all our names, address, kids' names, school names, and anything else he was creative enough to throw in the pot, before he issued the words, "petition is granted". Tears, hugs, hand-shaking and hand-holding all followed. I stopped short of doing cartwheels, afraid the judge might reverse his decision. Borya and I just gave each other a look that we mutually understood to mean, "Can you believe we finally did this?" I was concerned that Julia might cry again afterwards, but she seemed fine. And happy. We had a baby doll to give her, and she soon discovered that when you press its belly it laughs and says "I love you", which in turn made her laugh. That was music to my ears.

We then walked outside into snow flurries under blue skies, and handed out gifts, took pictures, and did more hugging and crying. It will be a long wait till we see them again, possibly more than a month. I'm sure that will be even harder on them than it will be on us. We leave today to begin our trip back to the US and our busy lives, and prepare for Christmas, to boot. Borya and Julia, on the other hand, will not even have each other, as they will be split into their separate orphanages to go back to the daily routine of school, carrying on as though nothing has changed until the day comes for them to be escorted home.

So now, if you're not all too prayed out, pls send up prayers once again that the two week post-court waiting period will pass without incident so we get our official decree on 12/5. And if you could throw in one tiny little extra prayer? Let it be that we can get our kids home in time for Christmas. Isn't that what it's all about?

Day 24

Can't believe I'm saying this, but this will be our last night in Ust! Tomorrow we have court in the morning and then we board an Air Astana flight for Almaty in the afternoon. So whaddaya think, did I get any sleep last night? Nyet. My mind was a-whirl with things I wanted to talk over with Julia about during our last few moments with a translator, what we need to do while we're in Almaty, parting gifts for translators, drivers, directors, etc, what to pack in which suitcase for God's sake and let's not forget the ever present all-the-things-that-could-go-wrong-with-the-adoption worries that constantly plague my mind. One thing's for certain, tonight will be an Ambien night.

Even Bella has switched gears, preparing for our journey home. Tonight she's playing waitress with us, taking our orders for The Waffle House. We want eggs and bacon and waffles and above all COFFEE! I love the tea I get here in Kazakhstan, but come on, I've been nearly a month w/o an honest cup o' Joe and I'm truly Jonesing. Know what kept her pretty well entertained here most days? Pretending she was a notary. She would fill a paper with a bunch of lines, then come to me and say sign here here......and here at the bottom, too. OK, now print your last name here .... first name .... and middle name right there. I teased her about becoming a professional notary when she grew up, and the poor thing looked so torn, because as much as she loves it, she wants to be a hairdresser. So I suggested to her that before she cuts someone's hair, she can have them sign a few forms. That was all it took. She now has a crystal clear view of her career stretched before her.

Driving out to the orphanage this morning was unbelievable, I have to say. There had been a frost over night, and a fog this morning, and when we crossed the river all the trees as far as the eye could see had every branch coated in ice. With the mist surrounding the frost-covered forest, and the barest glimpse of the mountains in the lanscape behind, it was eerily, breath-takingly beautiful. A scene straight from Dr. Zhivago. Of course, ironically, when I mentioned that to our fur-coated, high-heeled, Russian speaking translator, her response was, "Dr. Zhivago? That's a movie, right?"

Prayers, please, and good vibes and anything else people send out/up, for Weds 10am Ust Kamenogorsk time! That's 11pm EST for anyone keeping count. Thanks everyone!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Day 23

Julia loved her purse! We had bought a few little things to go in it, such as a pack of gum, a little mirror, a hairbrush, sunglasses, etc. She was just delighted and carried it with pride the rest of our visit.

This was a very special visit, actually, as it was the day we re-visited the Preschool Orphanage. We were able to meet with the music teacher, and the orphanage director, Valentina. We went to the music room which was still decorated for an autumn presentation they had just completed, and had a photo op there. Both ladies were so sweet, and glad to see both girls, and to hear how Bella has been doing in America. I also told Valentina of several other children that had been adopted from her school that are now in America and I could tell she was so hapy to hear they were doing well. She wrote down the school's address and asked if I could have some of the parents send pictures and letters of how their children are doing. I would be happy to give that out off-line to anyone who would like it. Sadly, the orphanage does not receive copies of the post-placement reports, so once the children leave here, they often never hear anymore about them, and they worry.

Best of all, when we went outside to revisit the playground where Bella and I spent so much time years ago, there was only one caregiver with her group of kids out at the time, and who do you think it was but Mama Lena! She was Bella's caregiver when we were here in '03, and she remembered her! There were hugs all around, and she asked if I remembered our walks into the surrounding hills. How could I ever forget? Her charges today are younger than when she was Bella's groupa's Mama, they are maybe 3 or 4 yrs old. So little! As we were talking, a tot waddled up, bundled from head to toe, and stood toe-to-toe with Bella, staring up into her face. Bella stared down at the child, not knowing what to say, and simply patted her on the head. She then wobbled over to me and put her arms up to be picked up. Fred muttered, "Watch it!", but I picked her up anyway and stared into her blue eyes while the tears slid out of mine. After a bit, I put her down, and she walked over to each person in our circle, arms outstretched, to be picked up. Even Bella and Julia took their turns. For all his gruff exterior, even Fred couldn't help smiling into her little face as he held her. By the time we left I was a wreck; crying over the memory of my little Bella running around in the dirt of the play yard so many summers ago, crying over the love Mama Lena had then and still has today for the little ones under her watch, crying for the children so desperate for the love of a family, or the fleeting embrace and gaze of strangers. Fred worries needlessly about me asking him to do this again, but the truth is, my poor heart can't take it!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Day 22

Went to the market again today, as we wanted to buy Miss Julia a purse (she's always walking around clutching Luba's). I don't think we'll ever get used to the markets around here. They're very interesting, and you can sure see a heck of a lot of merchandise for a relatively small amount of footwork (compared to say, a mall). You can pretty much buy anything at the markets. We've seen furs and boots, jewelry and underwear, sheep's heads and raw fish. But there's such a narrow aisleway between the tables that you pretty much have to walk single file, with much pushing and scrambling and jockeying for position. There is generally either slush or puddles or ice underfoot, so in addition to looking ahead for your child, looking behind for your husband, looking side to side, up and down at the merchandise, you also have to watch your footing so you don't soak your feet, trip over a plank, or fall on your a--. If you do stop at a stall to see if they have what you want, you have to rein in your companions and do a quick side-step to look it all over. Some of the stuff is hanging from chains about 10' up in the air, and if you want to see it they retrieve it with a pole. If I'm interested in an item, the next step is to ask "skolka?" which pretty much means how much. Since I don't know Russian numbers over 10, they'll tell me a number, I'll puzzle over it awhile, vainly thinking I can decipher what they told me, then finally give up and pantomime for them to write the number down or punch it into a calculator. Sometimes we'll get momentarily disoriented within the bowels of the market, as there are tarps or corrugated metal makeshift rooftops, and very little sunlight makes its way down to eye-level. There are vast stretches of the markets that seem to specialize in one particular item, such as fur coats. If you get lost in these spots, it's eerily frightening, with fur surrounding you on all sides and towering above. So we'll walk aways, come to a cross-section, decide on a right, then a left at the next, and so on till we spot something familiar, or at least a bigger patch of sky above. We've considered leaving a trail of bread crumbs to find our way out, but it would be pretty futile since there are so many dogs wandering at large out here.

Today was a good day and we were able to find our way out. Purse in hand. I believe Julia will be pleased.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Day 21 - 3 weeks in Kaz and counting

Today we planned on visiting the Preschool Orphanage after our visit with Julia, so Bella could walk down memory lane at her old stomping grounds. On impulse, I asked if Julia would be able to accompany us. The director at Julia's school, gracious and kind as ever, said yes. So after spending some time with Julia, and feeding her the snacks she so looks forward to (today she ate a banana, a yogurt, and two cookies. And her "veetamin"), Julia found a big, bright orange coat to borrow and we headed out to the car. I had our translator tell Julia that one of Papa's favorite colors is orange. She just looked at her hands in her lap and said the coat wasn't hers. I told her that soon she would have a coat that belonged just to her and it was all pink. She looked up, clearly delighted, with a big smile across her face.

Sadly, we were not able to tour the orphanage as we had hoped. When we got there, they had us wait in the hall for a bit, and came out after a few minutes to tell us that many of the children had an illness, so the school was temporarily closed to visitors. They told us we could try to come back again on Monday, though. As we walked back to the car, I asked Luba about the pictures I had seen displayed in the hallway that had peaked my curiosity. There were several enlarged photos, in frames, of young cildren standing in the snow, barefoot, in their underwear. In one of the pictures, the children were pouring buckets of water over their heads. Luba explained very matter of factly that this is a process the children go through to build their immunity. Well, since the school is closed today because of rampant illness, I'm thinking they either need more water, or to stop the practice entirely. Although I'm trying to educate myself on local traditions and cultural practices, this is one practice I think I will NOT be following with my children back home ....

Interesting post note --on the drive back to the hotel, we passed an older man jogging along the bridge through the slush, while a wet snow/rain fell. Naked save the cap on his head and either a pair of short sorts or some underwear. Guess he's building his immunity. Tell ya' what, do me a favor? If when we get home, any of you see Fred or I out and about in the snow and ice in our underwear, slap us hard, OK? Thanks.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Day 20, same ol', same ol' .....

Put your hands to the crystal ball, let your eyes glaze over, and try to guess what we did today.......Wow, you must be some kind of mystic, how did you know that we:
1)woke up at 7am
2)received our call from the kids back home
3)got showered and dressed
4)went to breakfast at the hotel restaurant
5)went to the orphanage to visit with Julia
6)hung out at our hotel room for a bit
7)walked around town for a mid-day meal and a quick trip to Daniel's
8)hung out in our hotel room for the rest of the afternoon/evening doing homework, reading, and watching Russian cartoons
9)got ready for bed at 9pm

Oh my gosh, I can't even get to 10. That's pathetic.

We didn't do step 7 yesterday b/c it was snowing all day. Thought today's weather was better suited for walking. The weather wasn't a problem, but the street conditions were. Slightly warmer than freezing temperatures resulted in yesterday's pristine snow transforming into today's greyish-brown sidewalk sludge. It was like walking in an icee. Fred kept grumbling, "Why didn't you let me pack boots?" Grrrrrr. Of course I all but made him pack boots, but he didn't think he'd need them. At one point Fred, leading the way, stepped off the sidewalk into a slushee-filled pothole that nearly swallowed him. I silently grinned and thought about asking him if he wanted a snorkel, but thought better of it.

The visit with Julia was fun. I let Bella bring her computer and a Tom and Jerry DVD. It was just too comical watching the two sisters sitting side-by-side on the couch watching the cartoon, each giggling and keeping running commentaries, one in English, the other in Russian.
Julia: Etta moshka dielitz (the mouse did it)!
Bella: Jerry pulled Tom's whiskers!

The other highlight of the visit is when Fred engaged in a pillow fight with the girls. At one point Julia went to Luba (our new translator) and asked how to say something in English. She then got back into the fray and started calling Fred a "granny" everytime he threw a pillow at her! You heard it here first, folks. Fred's new nickname is Granny!

Day 19

Before heading off to visit Julia today, we went to the Air Astana office in town and purchased our tickets from Ust K to Almaty for next Weds. So at least now we have our foot in the door to the way home!

When we got to the orphanage, the room we usually visit Julia in was locked up and no one seemed able to find the key. Since I've been wanting to see more of the school anyway, I thought this was the perfect time to ask if Julia could show us around. In contrast to how things went down in Ridder when I asked the same question, we receieved a personal tour of the school from the head teacher. At first, not wanting to intrude or disrupt anything, I felt a bit awkward, but it was apparent from the start that they were very proud of this school and wanted to show it off to the visiting Amyerikanzas. They showed us a wall display that featured pictures of some of the older students tending vegetable and flower gardens (in warmer weather, of course!). I asked if Julia does any of the gardening, but they don't get that responsibility till they're much older. Though Julia's class tends to the houseplants inside the school. We walked past a stage area where the students give performances, and there were a few ping-pong tables with children playing. They took us into several classrooms in session. When we walked in, the children all promptly and quietly stood at their desks till told to be seated again (American students could learn a thing or two about order from this school!). The teacher would then tell us what they were working on and show us some examples of their work. There were only about 8 - 10 kids per classroom, Borya and Julia are in for a shock when they see their classes back home! The little ones were sooooo cute! The 1st and 2nd forms (which translates to 2nd and 3rd grade) wear uniforms, though the older kids do not. All the children look clean and well-dressed and the girls all have their hair beautifully braided and bowed by their caregivers. We then went on to see the woodworking shop for the boys, and the sewing rooms for the girls. The girls learn to sew by hand, by machine, and also some embroidery. They have sponsors that donate fabric, and once the girls have mastered the skills, they make some of the clothes for the students at the school.

The teacher also explained to us that the children set the tables for their meals. After lunch, the children have homework/studying time, some playtime, then dinner. Then they help clean the school before bedtime, which is at about 8pm. There are about 200 children at this school, from age 8 - about 16. Their schooling includes training in trades, as mentioned above, which is different than it was five yrs ago (or at least, so I had been told). I didn't get to see Julia's sleeping area b/c it was locked up. Maybe another time. All in all I was very impressed by this school. It looks like a pleasant place for her to have spent the last two or three years (prior to that she was in the Preschool Orphanage, where I met Bella and Borya, though I hadn't seen her when she was there).

It was snowing today. Started sometime during the night and kept up pretty steadily all day. I'd say we have maybe 6" on the ground. Of course our translator showed up in high-heeled boots. I just had to ask her how all the Kazakhstani women manage to wear such high heels in the ice and snow. She said it actually helps to wear them because the spiked heel digs into the ice and keeps them from slipping. Kind of like an ice pick. You know what? That actually makes sense to me. Have I maybe been here too long?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New count -- Day 18

Finally decided to switch over to counting the days by # of days in Kazakhstan. As you can see, we're up to 18 now, and probably another 10 days +/- will pass before our feet touch down on US soil. But hey, at least we're past the mid-way point, so we're getting closer!

We actually learned our court date today! Next Weds, 11/19, we will go to court at 10am to have a judge determine if we are fit to be parents to Borya and Julia. He will review a year's worth of paperwork which includes several sets of fingerprints, many dozens of documents signed by notaries and secretaries of state, medical clearances that declare we're not about to drop dead any time soon (though Fred loves to walk around clutching his chest, as if the actual act of being in Kazakhstan could indeed kill him), pictures of our house, our family, DNA samples (OK, now I'm just making stuff up). He will listen to statements Fred and I have prepared, review our journal entries and dated photographs that prove we have truly been visiting with our children over the last two weeks instead of sitting in a Kazakh cinema watching movies in Russian and inhaling the surrounding cigarette smoke. He will ask both Borya and Julia if they want to be adopted by us and move to America. He will ask the children if they want to change their names. Borya has told us he will tell the judge, "Yes, I want to change my name, but I can never remember what it is". And then we will all bite our fingernails to the quick and hold our breath till we're blue in the maddening anticipation of hearing the most beautiful word, the one we've been waiting so long to hear ..... da.

So to sum things up, if we are deemed capable of parenting these two wonderful children, we will fly out of Ust Kamenogorsk that afternoon and stay overnight in Almaty. The next day we will spend running amok signing more doc-oo-ments. We will get a few hours sleep, then take a 4:10am flight out of Almaty, lay over in Frankfurt, and arrive back in Philly Fri eve, 11/21. Fred and I will be so happy to be home again. We miss our kids terribly. Bella will be glad to be home, too, though she certainly has been wringing every drop of pleasure that she can from this trip to her homeland. Yesterday while shopping, she looked up in one of the market stalls and saw a pink furry creation at the very top row that just called her name. So now when she bundles up to head out into the snow, she puts on her pink snow boots, her pink coat, her pink gloves, and like a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae she smothers her head in a gigantic pink fake-fur/shearling Russian style hat with ear flaps and just a hint of bling. Our little Ust native ....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What day is it now?

Well, yesterday was the 14th day of visitation, today is day 1 of the 7 - 10 day wait till court, it is our 17th day in the country of Kazakhstan, and the 18th day since we've seen home. So what day is it now? Nyeesnyoo. I don't know.

After yesterday's hair-raising, knuckle-whitening roadtrip, we were glad to sleep in a little later. Alma and our driver picked us up around 10:30 and took us to the court to file for our court date (we're hoping for next Tues, and will hopefully find out tomorrow). Next we went to the notary (a different one than usual) to sign over power of attorney to a man we have never met before, to give complete authority over our two new children for the trip home in a month or so. Afterwards they drove us back to the hotel, so I asked what time they'd be picking us up later for our visit with Julia. My answer -- "Not today. You go tomorrow, yeah?" Well, since we can't walk there, yeah, sure. Meanwhile I'm wondering, since I had told her yesterday that we would see her today, has anyone told Julia that we're not coming today? I guess they must figure what's one more abandonment issue thrown on the heap, right?

Parental guilt notwithstanding, we managed to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. Fred, Bella and I went shopping for the last of the items we needed for our kids' travel clothes. We also bought them the first two Harry Potter books in Russian. They're both H. P. fans but have never read the books. Picked up a couple English workbooks for them to do on the plane, and a few other odds-n-ends. We then had a scrumptious "linner" at the Chinese restaurant we like, while watching the snow fall over the park next door. We walked back home through the snow, bellies full, and settled in to a quiet evening of reading, and homework for Bella.

Bella has been an angel on this trip, by the way. I don't believe I've heard her utter the oh-so-popular kid's phrase "I'm bored" even once on this trip, though she says it all the time at home. And she doesn't have nearly as many boredom busters in her arsenal here as she does back home. She's been keeping herself entertained with homework, crochet, puzzles, drawing, and Russian cartoons. And at least once a day she clasps her hands together under her chin, gives a little skip, and says, "This is the best day EVER!"

Day 14 -- Last Day of Visitation!

The last day of the two week bonding period arrived today! We left earlier than usual to go to the notary again, then off to visit with Borya and Julia for a short time. After a bit, Borya went to gather the backpack of clothes and stuff he had at this school for the last couple weeks, we said goodbye to Julia (well, "da zavdra", which is "see you tomorrow"), and left to take Borya back to Ridder, his school in the mountains about 80 miles northeast of Ust Kamenogorsk.

It was a crowded car, as we had the driver and our coordinator up front, and Fred, Borya, Bella and I in the back. And we're not talking SUV or even mini-van, but compact car. Bella sat in my lap the whole way. Along the way, Borya grew tired and rested his head against Fred's shoulder and went to sleep. How do you say "awwww" in Russian? Partway through the drive it began to snow. It was exciting at first, to finally see some honest-to-God snow up here, but soon the roads started getting snow-covered and slick. There was a patch where we passed several cars either pulled over or slid over to the side of the road. Our driver finally decided to pull over himself and change over to winter tires. Something he accomplished, in the snow and with no gloves, in about 10 minutes. The tires helped, but it was still pretty treachorous going. As we climbed higher into the mountains, the roads became steeper and the turns twistier. We slowed to a crawl, we all held our collective breath, and we finally arrived in Ridder. Our last turn before entering the town proper, our car went into a spin and nearly crashed into a pole. I grabbed onto Bella and shut my eyes, Fred threw his arm across Borya and watched everything. We stopped inches from the pole, no damage, no injuries. Breathe.

So we get to the orphanange and we're ushered down several long hallways and into the director's office. After a long bumpy car ride with a 65# child bouncing on my lap, I'm in desperate need to use the "twalyet", but we are neither greeted, nor offered a drink, nor offered the use of their facilities. Instead, we all sit silent as our coordinator and the director and a secretary-type begin arguing in Russian. Nothing is said to us, and I'm about to get sick all over the conference table, thinking something has gone dreadfully wrong with the adoption. After a while, our coordinator leaves, and we sit with this man trying to make polite conversation though none of us speaks the other's language. Fred finally asks if we may use the bathroom, and the director takes us there personally. But I must warn you here and now: never, EVER use the bathroom at the orphanage in Ridder, Kazakhstan (remote chance, I know, but still you must be warned). When we got back to the director's office, neither he nor our coordinator were there, and I'm trying to hold it together, thinking the adoption has just been scrapped. Fred's trying to comfort me, but I just know it has gone all wrong. Alma returns and we gathered our courage to ask her what that was all about. Turns out it wasn't even related to our adoption, but some registration numbers that needed to be filed on someone else (doesn't even directly affect that adoption). The term emotional rollercoaster does not come close to doing justice to what we are going through here. I think I might coin a new phrase -- how does emotional tsunami roll off the tongue?

So the meeting with the director over, I ask permission for Borya to show us around and introduce us to his friends. Basically, this is the reason I wanted to come to Ridder at all. But no. So we get one picture of Borya with a couple boys who happened to be around, and it was time to leave. By this time there are several inches of snow on the ground, and just as many mountains to climb through. What should have been a 2- hour drive turned into a 3+ hour drive. We did get to see some lovely scenery, including beautiful montains with the sun setting behind them, stands of birch and forests of evergreens in the snow, quaint villages nestled in the valleys, tendrils of smoke curling from the chimneys of the little cottages, with a backdrop of snow-covered Christmas trees on the hillside ..... and sheer drops down the mountain at the side of slick, snowy roads!

As I'm sure you must surmise from reading this blog entry, we survived the trip. Never was I so happy to see the smokestacks spewing forth the pollution that covers Ust as I was when we neared this city. We arrived back at our hotel about 10 hours after we had left. We hadn't had anything to eat or drink (other than the pack of crackers I found in the bottom of my purse on the drive home) since breakfast that morning. But we signed a few more "doc-oo-ments" that our coordinator put on the table in front of us in the hotel lobby, had dinner in the hotel's restaurant, went upstairs and pretty much collapsed.

I will certainly miss Borya over the next week as we await our court date. The road to Ridder, I will not miss.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Day 13

It's Sunday. Our 13th, which is next to last, day of visitation. Can't believe how fast our 2 week bonding time has gone by. We didn't bring in anything new today, just played with the things we've brought before. We played with Play Dough, Julia made another necklace, we played more card games, including a new one we taught Borya. And of course more pillow fights. Besides "Oh snap!", Julia has also learned how to yell "Enough!" as well as "Calm down!" to her brother. Calm down comes out as callum down. These are phrases that I'm sure will get put to good use once we're home. For her as well as for me.

Afterwards we did some more shopping, as we still needed a coat, hat, gloves, scarf, pants and shirts for Julia, and another shirt and some gloves and a scarf for Borya. We were able to get most of the things, but still have a few more things to check off our list. We then took Olga to lunch, as today was our last day with her. We went to a place we haven't been before called The Pancake House. It was very good. We had tea, and chicken noodle soup, and Fred had a Russian dish - a minced meat thing in a little fried dough ball. And some yummy bliny for dessert (Russian pancakes with sweet filling). Olga had tongue. Tomorrow she goes back to school and we will use someone else whenever we need translation services from here on in. We will miss her!

It's much colder today. We've had a few light snow showers througout the day, and the mountains in the distance are now snow-covered. I don't think it was too much below freezing, but when the wind picked up, yikes! Siberian air chillin' our bones.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Day 12

We had to go to the notary this morning before our visit with the kids. We were joined in the office (which was about 120 degrees) by our coordinator, our translator, and two other adoptive couples that we know. After signing countless documents (hopefully we didn't sign away our house or our kids, because all the documents were in Russian) we all went our separate ways to visit with our children.

We had a great time with the kids today! We had pillow fights and Borya made gross eyeballs and boogers with Play Dough. We had wheelbarrow races with Bella and Julia. We taught Julia how to say "Oh snap", so that everytime Borya was about to throw a pillow at her she would say "Oh snap!" before she ducked. I'm sure she'll teach all her little friends at the orphanage how to say it, too. I do believe we just made the world a smaller place.

It's been pretty mild weather since we got here. Unseasonably so. Right now it's raining, but word on the street is that it's going to get cold, and we'll probably get snow tomorrow or the next day. I know, as Fred keeps pointing out to me, that if it turns cold we won't be able to get out and about as easily, but I'm still looking forward to some colder weather and some snow, I just can't help myself.

Speaking of Fred, our coordinator was prepping us for our court statements today. She was explaining the things we would need to include in our statements, one of which was, how long we have ben married. Fred asked her, "How do you say 'too long' in Russian?" Wise guy.

Day 11

Bella brought her laptop along on our visit today. There's a thing on it where you can take pictures of your face all distorted, like with only one eye or a huge forehead and tiny mouth, etc. Borya and Julia were laughing so hard at all the crazy pictures they were taking. You can also make mini movies on it, which Borya loved b/c he wants to make movies when he grows up (Aunt Mary, can you get him connected?).

Bella's been really good on this trip. Right now she's watching Drake and Josh in Russian on TV. It's fun trying to figure out what they're saying. I taught her how to crochet, so that's something we can do to pass the time. She's finished most of the homework that she brought with her, and she's done a 550 piece puzzle a couple times, but she never really sems bored. She misses her brothers and sister back home, but she's having a great time playing with her new brother and sister here, even though it's only two hours a day.

Day 10

Today we brought some books for the kids to look at. We had Borya and the Burps, a story about a Russian baby boy who is adopted by an American couple; Russian Barbie ABC, which is an ABC book in Russian with the English words also (we bought that when we were in Kaz last time for Bella); and First 1000 Words in Russian, which has pictures of everyday things (classroom, kitchen, city street, farm, etc) with all the things in the pictures written in English and Russian. We had the kids practice their new names again, as well as our names and their brothers and sisters. Whenever they try to say Fred, it comes out friend, which I think is cute.

Afterwards we went shopping to buy Borya and Julia clothes they will need for their journey home. That was more difficult than I thought, and way more expensive. Five yrs ago, prices in Kazakhstan were a fraction of what they were back in the states. Today we've found that the regular stores' prices are just out of the question. So then we went to "the markets", thinking we could get things much cheaper if we were walking through puddles, down narrow, dark aisles covered by tarps, and crossing over planks. Nyet. We still had a heck of a time finding a coat for less than 6000 tenge, which is about $50.00. Even then, the coat we bought Borya, which is so heavy I have a hard time carrying it, caused our sweet translator Olga to look at us sideways and shake her head. Though the kids will not be walking the streets in winter Kaz weather, we are expected to bundle these kids as if they're going on an Arctic expedition. They will be driven by heated car back and forth to buildings so hot you could roast your Thanksgiving turkey in them, but we were given a list of things to buy the kids for the trip which included long underwear, tights, fur boots, jackets, coats (yes, I said jackets AND coats), scarves, gloves, caps and more.

Ooh, gotta go! Without looking at the TV, I can tell you that Russian SpongeBob is on. And it's not just the music I recognize (sad but true). The other day in the car I found myself singing along to a Kazakh pop song I've heard a couple times. You know you've been in Kazakhstan too long when .....

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Day 9

Not a whole lot to report today about our visit. We brought Uno and taught the kids how to play that. We also brought Silly Putty and had fun showing them how to lift pictures off a page, and make bouncy-balls with it. I made a colored-pencil drawing for Julia of an embroidered flower picture on the wall.

It was interesting watching the election results in Kazakhstan. When we got up on the morning (about 8pm EST) things were looking pretty favorable for Obama. By the time we got back from our visitation, it was all but over. Seems strange to be heralding in a new era so far from home, and to be learning all the details from Euro CNN.

We've been meeting more Americans the last couple days. We've met up a couple times since we've been here with Dee and Craig, the couple from Mass who is adopting brothers from Ridder, where Borya is from. We've also met people from NJ, Indiana, Chicago, and more. All of them are adopting from the baby house. We had lunch today with a sizable crowd and it was nice talking shop with folks of the same language and culture. We got to compare notes about the places with the best bathrooms, how to procure more tp from housekeeping, and places to eat that have recognizable food and English menus. We all sympathized with the family whose peanut butter was seized at the airport. She had brought a healthy supply with her for her little boy, but someone decided it was contraband. Alas.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Day 8 -- Allow me to introduce ....

My children:

Borya is 13 1/2. He's a handsome fellow, with medium brown hair, dark brown eyes, and a smattering of freckles. He's tall compared to other kids his age in the orphanage, but compared to my kids back home, he's probably somewhere between Patrick and Rosie in height. He has a scar low on his forehead that he says he got from a dog biting him when he was a little boy. But when I asked if he was afraid of dogs? Nyet. He's a talented artist, and seems to prefer drawing to most other pasttimes that we've engaged in during our visits. He's a serious boy, watching the world around him with eyes deep in thought. When he's focused on a thing, he's the picture of concentration. I'm told he's a good student, and he picks up on all that we explain to him and teach him very quickly. His favorite color is green. He gives wonderful hugs, and doesn't seem to want to let go ....

Julia is 10 1/2, a beautiful girl who looks so very much like her big brother. She also has medium brown hair and dark eyes. She is bright, picking up all that we teach her so quickly, but her thoughts are scattered, her attention shifting frequently to whatever interests her (hmmm, this problem somehow seems familiar to me, since 3 of my so far 4 kids have ADHD, lol). She loves to pretend to talk on the phone. She prefers jeans to dresses though her caregivers usually dress her in frilly dresses with her hair done up fancy in elaborate styles with a gigantic bow. She loves horses and dogs. She has a talent for drawing, but her interests generally lead her on to other things. Her favorite colors are pink and red.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Day 7

Borya's too smart for us. We had brought him a Bionicle to put together, thinking it would take him a while, but it only took him a few minutes to finish the thing! For Julia, we brought a bead kit, and we all worked on making bracelets and necklaces. Bella also brought her play cell phone, which is an old one of mine. So it looks like the real McCoy, but it doesn't get any service. Well. Little Miss Julia had the time of her life with it! She had so much fun having make-believe conversations on it. And she would hold it to her ear against her shoulder, talking away in Russian while making a necklace or something. Multi-tasking at ten. At one point she was pretending to talk to Borya on the phone and she asked him what he was doing. He responded, "I'm making a necklace for my Mama" (I'm wearing it now, it's beautiful!). We also made paper airplanes and Bella taught Julia and our translator Olga how to make "cootie-catchers". I made an airplane and drew the American flag on its side and made little paper dolls of Borya and Julia and flew it across the room, telling them the airplane was flying them to America. They laughed and took turns flying it. I can't wait till the REAL Borya and Julia are on a REAL airplane flying fast to America!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Day 6

Sunday was our 6th day of visitation. We brought "pipe cleaners", and had fun twisting them into sculptures, jewelry, animals, etc. I made crosses for Borya and Julia, and they turned them into necklaces and tucked them into their shirts. Julia's hair was fashioned into the most exquisite French braid I have ever seen. It twisted round her head, with a central knot on top. I don't think a princess' hair could have been styled any more elaborately. Though one of the caregivers had styled hers, Julia also knows how to fix hair, and worked on Bella's for a bit. Julia always gives Bella a big hug when we leave, as well as a kiss on both cheeks!

We've noticed a few changes here in Ust since we were last here. For one thing, the caliber of the cars on the road seems a bit higher. We've seen Lexus, Landcruisers, BMWs, mixed with Toyotas, Chevys, and a bunch of assorted foreign makes, and we're just as likely to see the driving wheel on the right as on the left! We ourselves are chauffered to the orphanage each day in a Mercedes, which seems a bit of a paradox to me.

Our driver, "Bebe", whose Kazakh name means peace, wants to know if we'll adopt him, too! I told him to prepare the documents and I'll see what I can do.

Day 5

Sorry it's been a few days since I've added an entry, internet has been sketchy here.

I forgot to mention what we did for poor Bella yesterday since it was Halloween. When she woke up we told her "Happy Halloween" and she ducked her little head and looked so sad. So when we went to the market, we bought some candy for her w/o her seeing it. Then when we got "home", I wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and put her stuffed animal kitty around her shoulders, and had her walk hunched over like a babushka. She knocked on our hotel door and said "Trick or treat" to Fred and he filled her grocery bag with some candies. She was quite delighted!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Day 4, Boo!

We brought some Play-Dough with us today, and our kids had fun playing with it, finding more uses that I ever would have thought possible for the stuff. Borya even invented a game of marbles using it.

I asked today about the spelling of Julia's name, as I've seen it spelled Julia, Yulia, Yulya and Ylia, and it is pronounced with a "Y" sound. They said we can decide how we want to spell it since it differs from the cyrillic spelling anyway. We also asked about middle names. In Kazakhstan, children have patronymic names (not sure if I have that right), which is just their father's name, or a feminized version of it for a girl. Since we'd like to give Borya and Julia American middle names, we asked if they have any they like. Neither did, but Borya said he would think about it. So Fred and I will talk about that tonight and present them with some options tomorrow.

We're falling into a nice, if a bit dull, routine here. The kids from back home call us just before they go to bed, and that is our wake-up call. Best alarm clock I've ever had! Then we get showered and dressed, and head downstairs to the hotel's restaurant for the complimentary breakfast. It's a nice buffet, with a couple kinds of porridge, eggs cooked to order (when the egg chef can be found), yogurt, fruit, tea, many lovely pastries (my favorite part) and a few other things. Fred and I laugh b/c they usually seem to have some "elevator music" playing in the background, which is a loop of Hotel California, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and something else. Then we head back to the room and pack up a bag to take with us to the orphanage. After hanging in the room for a bit, we head down to the lobby to meet our ride. We are usually met at 9:45 by Olga, a beautiful university student who serves as our translator. Such a sweet girl. Olga, our driver, Fred, Bella and I cram into the car and off we drive, over two rivers and through an industrial area and a very poor-looking residential area to the orphanage, about 15 mins away from our hotel. We spend two hours visiting with the children, then we head back to the Shiny River, where we eat lunch on our coffee table. We generally have bread with some cheese or peanut butter, though we've almost reached the end of our PB supply from home, and we can't buy it here. We drink water or some soda or ice tea that we've bought from the nearby market. So then we're in our room for several hours, during whuch time we will do work/e-mail on the computer if internet is up and running, or we read, play card games, or watch Euro-CNN. We've also made a couple trips to the market for bread, water, snacks, etc. A couple afternoons I've done laundry in the bottom of the shower stall, and then I drape the clothes over the radiators to dry. For dinner we head out early b/c our favorite (read only) place starts getting crowded early. It's called Pizza Blue and is only two bocks from our hotel. They make really good pizza, and meatball soup, and they're pretty cheap. After dinner we take a walk along the river, then back to the hotel to pass the time much as we did in the afternoon. We try to make it to 9:00 before we head to bed, but it ain't easy!

Tune in tomorrow to learn the kids' new names!
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