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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Home for the Holidays...

Craig and I spent our last few days in KZ preparing to bring home our new sons in January. We left a suitcase full of clothes for the boys in KZ, we only need to buy shoes and backpacks for their trip. We have written a letter to Aniyar and Madiyar explaining the timetable for the next few weeks so they know just when we'll return for them; our ever wonderful Yulia has translated and faxed it to the orphanage for us. We completed the necessary paperwork for new birth certificates, visas, etc. to be issued and now just have to wait for the finalization period to run its course (January 6th is the magic day) before everything can be filed.

Once the details were taken care of, we spent the rest of the time before our flight home visiting with our friends. Yulia and Jenya fed us, took us shopping, and took us to see Ice Town, an amazing collection of ice sculptures and slides made out of ice for all the citizens of Ust-K to enjoy free of charge. We walked around in the freezing cold, marveling at the beauty and creativity of the place...only in Kazakhstan, where it stays cold enough for this ice exhibit to last until Spring!

We flew out of Ust on Monday, December 22, arrived home here in Massachusetts on the afternoon of December 23. The trip was exhausting as usual but went off without a hitch; when we arrived at Logan Airport, our kids were there to greet us...there was much jumping, screaming, and hugging going on and we enjoyed every second of it!

Today has been a whirlwind of last minute food shopping, wrapping, and cooking...not to mention all the snow shoveling Craig did in the aftermath of the storm we had a few days before we got home. Craig still has a cold and we're both feeling like the walking dead...but we're home for Christmas and that's what counts. I read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to Tanya and Max tonight, we tracked Santa on NORAD, and we've left Santa a lovely plate of cookies and a cup of eggnog...organic carrots and fresh water for the reindeer...the children are nestled all snug in their beds, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon will be...here! Better get to bed myself if I don't want to run into the jolly old elf.

Happy Christmas to all...and to all, a good night.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

As promised, the details of our day in court

We were up and ready early, waiting for Alma to pick us up at 7:30 as planned. When she still hadn't arrived at 7:45, our anxiety level skyrocketed...had something else gone wrong? Yeah, I know, we sound a little twitchy and impatient...but given our past experience with this adoption, it's hard not to be. Anyway, we called Alma and she said they would pick us up in 5 minutes...OK, blood pressure returns to normal and we start to breathe again. We were on the road by 8:00am, heading to Ridder under a snow sky and in the fog. The trip took longer than normal due to the slippery road conditions; our driver, Kolya, was very cautious which is not normally in his nature so that will give you an idea of how slick the roads were. We were packed in the car like sardines, Alma in the front with Kolya and us in the back with our translator, Luba, who would be helping us in court. Luba is a lovely young woman who has an infectious smile and a love of her work; chatting with her helped me to relax and kept my mind occupied during our ride. This was especially helpful since Alma, not exactly a morning person and clearly nervous about our chances in court, was pretty uncommunicative during the whole trip. We arrived in Ridder around 10:30 and went straight to the court...well, actually we parked in front of the court building and waited for a while in the freezing cold. Alma asked me for my precious dossier and I retrieved it from the trunk of the car, handing it over like the Holy Grail. She checked it briefly, reviewed the copy as well, and then left us to give it to the judge. A few minutes later, we saw Aniyar and Madiyar arrive with Koodaibergen Kakenovich, the director of their boarding school orphanage. With that, we all hustled inside the building where we had our first chance to hug our boys. They were dressed in suits and grinning from ear to ear, clearly excited that our big day had finally come. Within a few minutes, we were ushered down a hallway toward a courtroom...oops, until we were called back by a fit-to-be-tied security guard who argued with the court clerk that we had not been properly signed in...ahh, power struggles between court employees, just what we needed. Anyway, we all produced our passports and were duly registered in the guard's book, then we continued to a real courtroom where we took our appointed places. The judge swept in almost immediately, imperious and grand in her teal robes, and ascended to the bench...after all of the past few months of false starts and stops, delays and disappointments, court was finally in session.

The judge's first decree was to remove the boys from the courtroom, admonishing them to sit quietly in the hallway until they were called. Then we got down to business by producing our passports yet again and having our personal information duly recorded by the clerk. Craig and I each stated our name, date and place of birth, and occupation for the record; all the other parties assisting us did the same. Then the judge read aloud our petition to adopt and asked us to make our court speeches. She and the prosecutor asked us detailed questions regarding our petition; with that completed, she began the dossier review...page by page, she identified each and every document for the record, slowly working her way through all 183 pages. Once that process was done, she asked to hear from the boys; the clerk retrieved them from the hall where they had been not so patiently waiting (apparently running around and making a nuisance of themselves, to be precise).The judge spoke with Madiyar first and we all held our breath...did he want to be adopted? He faltered a bit at first, then said that he did in fact want to be adopted by us. She asked him more than once and each time, he became a bit more definite. She asked if he was unsure of his decision and he said he was nervous because it was his first time in court...but yes, he wanted to be adopted. Satisfied, the judge asked to speak to Aniyar and we finally exhaled...Madik had done well and we were confident that Aniyar would happily tell the judge of his enthusiasm for the adoption just as he had related to us every day we saw him. Well...when the judge asked our adorable boy if he wanted to be adopted, he seemed confused. Then when she asked him, “What do you want?”, our Aniyar replied with a sweet smile, “I want...to dance!!” Well, this brought smiles to the faces of everyone, including the judge who told him he could dance later but for now, she needed to know if he wanted to join our family. He said yes but he was clearly nervous and confused by all the questions. Although not totally satisfied with Aniyar's response, the judge excused him anyway and we moved on to the other testimony in our case. The orphanage director made a beautiful speech on our behalf, telling the court that he had observed us with the boys and saw our obvious dedication to them. He gave examples of this, saying we supported Aniyar during his holiday dance performance and recognized Madiyar's athletic ability. His speech was eloquent and very personal; it touched us greatly when he told the court that over the course of our bonding period, he came to believe the boys belonged with us. Natasha, our ministry of education official, spoke next and she also was very kind, telling the court that the boys would be best served by joining our family and stressing the positives of the life we could offer them, not the least of them being our love. The prosecutor asked questions of the director and Natasha, then the judge and the prosecutor asked several times about the boys' birth family and received the same answer each time... no relatives had ever visited or inquired about the boys since they entered the orphanage system six years ago. This sad fact was important to our case; contact with relatives would mean that family members might contest the adoption. (At one point, the judge even asked Madiyar if he had contact with any relatives. He replied, “Yes, I have my brother...he's waiting in the hall.” and we all smiled again since that isn't quite what the judge was looking for...but ironically, his answer summed up the reality of the boys' situation. For the past 6 years, they've had no one but each other to rely on.)

After all the testimony, speeches, and the dossier review, we were hopeful that a decision was near but the judge wasn't quite done yet. She said she wanted to talk to the boys without us in the room...so we trooped out into the hall and she questioned them one at a time about whether or not they wanted to be adopted. Madiyar was unwavering at this point and he took only a minute or two to convince the judge of his desire to join our family. Then it was Aniyar's turn...he was in the room for several minutes but he still couldn't quite answer the judge's and the prosecutor's questions about his own feelings. Again we moved on to other required steps in the process and we thought we were done...the judge asked the prosecutor if she had any more questions for us or for the boys and she said no. The judge thought a moment and said she still wasn't confident that Aniyar wanted to be adopted or understood what that would mean for him. She questioned him a third time...and this time, she was quite stern, pressuring him pretty heavily. She asked him if anyone had coerced him to say he wanted to be adopted, if anyone had promised him gifts, if the director had prepared him and told him what to say...and finally, she asked him if he understood that being adopted meant he would leave Kazakhstan forever and never return. The poor kid didn't understand half of what she said and the director told the judge that, protesting that the boy was overwhelmed and confused by her questions. The director rephrased the questions for Aniyar...and then the judge asked us if we were willing to bring the boys back to Kazakhstan for visits. I told her I was willing to vow in open court that we would return to Kazakhstan for visits just as we had done already with Tanya and Max...and if they wanted to return to Kazakhstan to live after they turned 18, we vowed to help them do that as well. The judge said to Aniyar, “So do you understand that if you are adopted, you will go to America and you will only come to Kazakhstan for visits every year or so?” but at this point, Aniyar had turned to look at us and he was all smiles again...and Aniyar said, “I want to go to America!”. “Are you sure?” This was met with another big smile and “Da!” The judge looked at the prosecutor and asked if she wanted to question Aniyar again; she said no, she had no more questions. Aniyar took his seat and the judge asked the prosecutor to make her recommendation...would she support or contest the adoption? The prosecutor rose solemnly and said she would support our petition to adopt the boys...and Luba translated those words with a smile in her voice. As I looked around the room, I could see the relief on everyone's faces; now the only thing left was for the judge to deliberate and announce her decision. She swept from the room to deliberate in private but wasn't gone long...when she returned, she announced her decision to grant our adoption and we all finally exhaled. We offered our thanks and the judge left the courtroom again. There were hugs all around and even a few tears (mine, of course); the director shook the prosecutor's hand and the previously stern faced woman smiled warmly and offered to have her picture taken with us. Alma sent Luba to the car for our camera and we posed arm in arm with Madame Prosecutor and our new sons...and when she asked for a copy of the photo with our signatures on it, we realized that she was a bit proud of her role in this adoption! As for the judge, she didn't stick around for the photo op and she certainly put us through the ringer getting the job done. Did she hate the idea of international adoption or was she just trying to follow the letter of the law by being so very strict? We'll never know for sure...but she gave us the one precious gift we all wanted and for that, we'll always be grateful.

With our hearing complete, there was nothing more to do than pass out the little gifts we had brought to the boys. Standing in the freezing cold in front of the court building, we gave our new sons robot bugs that Madiyar declared very cool, also some small games to pass the time until they can leave the orphanage. Tanya, Aniyar was delighted with the little yellow duck you sent to him...he really was excited to know you wanted to share it with him! Kate, Madiyar was equally thrilled with your gift...Juma now has a new crowd of kids to entertain with his blinking eyes and funny noises and Madik couldn't wait to show him to his friends!

Under Kazakh law, there is a 15 day waiting period before the adoption will be finalized and we'll all have to just wait that time out before the boys can come home with us. Madiyar had already counted up the days and knew just when the time would be up...we told him that there would a few extra days for the final paperwork to be processed (new birth certificates, visas, etc.) and we explained that we would be returning to America to get things ready for their arrival. Aniyar asked me about the remote control car he had requested for his New Year gift and I assured him that gifts would be waiting for both of the boys in America. There were more hugs and then the boys headed back to the orphanage without a single look of sadness...they know that it's only a matter of a few weeks until they'll be on a plane to America. We can't think of a better way to start the new year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

We'll be home for Christmas...and we already got our present!

We made it to Ridder today for our court hearing. It was a long session, lasting from 11:00am-1:30pm and it was full of the dramatic moments that have punctuated our entire adoption process. It involved a judge in richly colored robes, a page by page review of the precious new dossier, an orphanage director and a ministry official who stood firmly at our side, a prosecutor who was both tough and kind, and two handsome young men in suits who were very brave during their day in court. I'll be happy to regale you all in detail after I've had some rest...but for now, here's the only thing that really matters:

On 19 December, 2008, our petition to adopt Aniyar and Madiyar Tatimbekov, citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan, was granted by the court in Ridder. Pending completion of the required 15 day finalization period, we will officially become parents again, bringing the number of kids in our family to a total of five. We couldn't be more thrilled...or relieved! Almost exactly two years to the day after we began this journey, we've made the dream come true, proving that it pays to be persistent.

All's well that ends well....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jet lag and thoughts that go bump in the night

It's early morning here in Kazakhstan and I've been awake for several hours already...my body is convinced it's mid-afternoon here just like it is in Massachusetts and my brain is steadfastly refusing to stop whirring away a million miles an hour. Must be time to write a blog post and share with you, my faithful band of readers, some of the random thoughts that are keeping me company in these pre-dawn hours.

Caution: Be warned that these mental meanderings will not necessarily tie together at all or make sense to anyone but me. The point is just to preserve the moments, to get it all down so that one day, if I'm very lucky, Aniyar and Madiyar will read these words and get a sense of what we experienced here, complete with the sights, sounds and feelings, and what was in their Mom's mind as she waited anxiously to adopt them. This is for you, boys...but that's what this process has been all about, isn't it?

I've been pretty product-driven lately (focused on getting the dossier updated, getting us back to KZ, getting everything ready for our kids at home to be cared for during our absence) that I haven't taken much time to truly enjoy the holiday season. Oh, yes, we've done most of the same things we always do...but it's been more like a “To Do” list this year than the fun it usually is....tree trimmed, check; house decorated, check; presents wrapped and under the tree, check. I've been so well organized this year that all my holiday preparations were completed by December 15, a full 10 days in advance of Christmas. (So what the heck, as long as we're not doing anything, why not leave our kids, get on a plane, fly half way around the world to Kazakhstan? There aren't many things in the world that could make me miss seeing Tanya and Max singing in the holiday concert at their school...or the chance to bake cookies to give to the kids' teachers...or to visit our friends at the holidays. In fact, there are only two reasons I'd leave home at the holidays...and their names are Aniyar and Madiyar.) Now that we're on our journey, I'm forced to stop doing and start living once again; here's some of what I've seen.

Wow, the holiday decorations in Frankfurt Airport were really pretty! There were white lights everywhere...angels and snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, Christmas trees and wreaths festooned in ribbons and silvery balls, giving everything a winter wonderland feel to it. I admired the sights as we sipped our very large lattes at the McCafe...and I can testify that at least in Europe, Ronald McDonald makes darn good espresso drinks...Starbucks, be very afraid.

I finally fell asleep on our flight from Frankfurt to Almaty and dozed for a couple of hours. At one point, I woke up with a start and didn't know where I was, then the thrum of the engines reminded me. Sitting there in semi-darkness with flight attendants passing silently through the cabin like wraiths, offering water or juice, I was struck by the surreal quality of it all. I felt like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. For us, the adventure begins again in Kazakhstan...who will play the part of the Cheshire cat? Who will be the queen? What will be our fate? We'll just have to wait and see.

What fun to experience Kazakhstan in December! To my delight, we found Almaty decked out in holiday decorations. I was expecting to see preparations for the traditional New Year celebration but the huge decorative displays everywhere took me by surprise. As we drove to our hotel, thousands of white lights illuminated the roadways and images of Father Frost and his granddaughter, the Snow Princess, were everywhere, also Santas and reindeer. When we arrived in Ust, we saw more holiday lights and decorations. There is even an ice town being constructed in preparation for the New Year celebration, a whole village of ice sculptures and small ice slides for the children to play on...our friend Yulia pointed it out to us as we drove by last night...I hope we get to see more of it before we leave here; I'd love to get pictures. It's clear that this season is much loved here even though the date of celebration isn't December 25.

More holiday thoughts and late breaking news: We went shopping tonight and saw more evidence of the holiday traditions in KZ. There were lots of artificial trees for sale in all sizes (Even a purple one, Kate!) but no real trees, my friends...Yulia says if anyone is caught with a live cut fir tree, there is a huge fine and the sale of them is forbidden. There were also all kinds of gift items and fancy paper bags and cardboard boxes filled with candy. Yulia tells us that as a girl, she and other children used to make the fancy gift bags with paper and scissors...but kids rarely do that any more.

Kate, Tanya and Max...guess what Yulia and Jenya just bought? They now have a Honda van, it's very nice; we rode in great comfort from the apartment to Arzan last night. We're so happy for our friends because they waited a long time for a car they ordered from the US which never came...now they have just what they need!

It's really funny how comfortable we are here. It flies in the face of common sense for many, I'm sure...we are after all on the opposite side of the planet from our home...but for us, coming to Ust is very much like coming home. We arrived at the apartment, unpacked a few things and then walked to Yulia's apartment where we visited with Yulia and played with Vlad who now has spent enough time with us that he calls us by name. Yulia fed us soup and bread and homemade fudge, then we walked through the snow back to our apartment. We set up the computer, answered some emails, made a store list, and watched a little CNN on TV. Around 8pm, we went to Arzan, the Costco type store here in Ust where many of the locals shop. Yulia and Jenya were going shopping and invited us to go with them last night; we were happy to have the chance to stock up on a few essentials like fruit juice and tissues to help Craig's cold. When we returned to the apartment, we snacked on cheese, kielbasa, fruit, yogurt, and a glass of wine, did some reading, surfed the internet, then went to bed...when I couldn't sleep, I made myself a cup of tea and started writing. I'm sitting in the kitchen listening to the now familiar sounds of the apartment building waking up; our neighbors are running their shower, someone just took out their trash, and I can hear the heavy metal entrance door clang from time to time as people leave for work. The sky is beginning to brighten; the air is cold and crisp, and the snow and ice on the trees is beginning to sparkle in the growing light. Soon I'll make us a breakfast of eggs, yogurt, bread and cheese, and tea. Later this morning, we'll walk into downtown. We'll stop to exchange money (dollars for tenge) so we can buy coffee at Pizza Blues and a new internet card from the Rating store; the one we're using now is left over from our trip last month and should run out of time soon so we'll pick up another 10 hour card to keep us going. Yep, that's life here in Ust-K...it's like we never left and that's oddly comforting. We feel safe and calm, surrounded by the support of our friends and family on both sides of the earth. Time to finish what we started here even though we know it won't be easy.

Are we nervous about court​? Oh, you bet...we wonder what the judge will be like; we wonder what the prosecutor will be like; we wonder how the boys are feeling and if anyone has told them what's happening. I wrote and faxed them a letter about our court date which I hope the director gave to them but I don't know for sure if they got it...and Alma tells us that Madiyar is still upset about all the delays and he thinks we've all lied to them because we haven't been to court yet. After all, his friend Borya is being adopted and he went to court already (in Ust where adoptions are quite a bit easier but try telling that to a 13 year old ). Borya and his sister will be going to the US soon and Aniyar and Madiyar are still waiting...sigh...it's hard to argue with Madiyar's disappointment and frustration. Serenity prayer time...back to my Lamaze breathing; as my darling Kate would say, I must align my chakras and not allow all this negative energy to continue harshing my mellow.

Stay tuned for more adventures from Wonderland---we are T-minus 27 hours and counting to our assigned court hearing time in Ridder.

How many people do you know who have been to Kazakhstan five times?

Once again, we have made the long journey from the US to Kazakhstan, arriving in Almaty around 1:00am this morning. We grabbed a shower, a few hours sleep and a hot breakfast in the Kazhol Hotel, were back at the airport 11 hours later to travel on to Ust-K. Our Air Astana flight from Almaty to Ust was very pleasant, just 90 minutes and no delays so we got in on time at 2:00pm, were met by Alma and her staff. After a brief chat with Alma, we were driven to “our” apartment which Yulia's mom is once again graciously lending to us...how lucky can you get? We found the apartment warm and the refrigerator stocked with food...it's good to be in our home away from home!

Our trip was pretty uneventful unless you count the adventure we had with the fishing rod Craig brought as a gift for our friend, Jenya. We hand carried the rod onto the plane from Boston but when we got to Frankfurt, we were told by security it had to be checked as luggage. This resulted in us trekking around the airport at 6:30am looking for baggage services where they wrapped it in plastic wrap to protect it. Then we stood in line to check the rod in, then we had to go back through security again. Oh, well...since we had an 8 hour layover, this gave us something to do to pass some time...and we saw quite a bit more of the airport, getting our exercise in the process. Our luggage issues continued when we checked into our flight from Almaty to Ust. For the first time ever, we had to pay an additional fee because our luggage exceeded the weight limits...we brought an extra bag with clothes for the boys and some gifts so we weren't too surprised that we were over the limit and the fee wasn't awful. If these are the biggest problems we have on this trip, we'll be happy.

Craig somehow developed a full-blown cold on the flight from Frankfurt to Almaty...good thing I packed plenty of cold medicine...and we're really tired but otherwise, we're fine. Tomorrow, we will rest and prepare for court. Alma says she'll pick us up around 7:30am on Friday and we'll drive to Ridder; our court hearing is scheduled for 11am (midnight at home) so while you're all sleeping, we'll be pleading our case for our adoption of the boys. It's funny...I don't look much like her, but these days I feel Zena, Warrior Princess preparing to go into battle. (I am armed now with almost 600 pages of documentation...our new dossier, a copy of our new dossier, and a copy of the original dossier we filed in 2007 when we began this process...all these papers are in my carry-on bag and would make a dandy weapon just by their weight alone.) Wish us luck and the strength to face the battle ahead!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

183 pages later...

You know, lately it seems that everything we do is fraught with drama. I don't know why...I wish life was a bit less exciting...but it's just the way things are. For example, in my last post, I told you that we were approved, legalized, and good to go back to KZ for our December 19 court date...because I thought we were. However, it seems nothing is ever simple with us...so when our courier went to the embassy on Tuesday, Dec. 9 to pick up our legalized dossier and was told to come back on Thursday, I was a teensy bit nervous...and then on Thursday, when she was told it still wasn't ready, I was terrified. You see, I knew if the dossier wasn't released on Friday, we wouldn't have it in time to hand-carry it to KZ with us on our flight on Monday afternoon (12/15). The first thing Friday morning, I started making phone calls...our courier told me she had been informed that she shouldn't come in again to the KZ embassy until they called her...don't call us, we'll call you...never a good sign. I called and emailed everyone I could think of and our agency director did, too (even the State Department) (Eek...KZ embassy is only open for dossier business from 9-12 and it's almost noon...are we dead?) Finally, at just before 12, I got an email from Oleg, our Almaty, KZ coordinator who knows the dossier guy at the KZ embassy...he says our courier should show up at the embassy at 4pm to pick up the dossier. Phew...but will it really happen? I spend the next few hours sweating, praying, trying to figure out the difference between an anxiety attack and a nervous breakdown. Finally at about 4:45, I get a call from the courier...she has the dossier! She had to wait for them to finish it but she has it in hand and is on her way to FedEx with it...would we like it delivered on Saturday or would we prefer to save a few bucks and wait until Monday AM? Ha!!! I wanted that puppy in my hands ASAP and intend to keep it on my person until I see a judge in Ridder...so we opted for Saturday delivery. It arrived yesterday morning, all 183 pages of legalized and translated glory....and a copy to boot. Seeing it actually made me cry...so much blood, sweat and tears and so many hopes and dreams riding on these pages. It will be in my carry-on all the way to KZ...and I'll guard it with my life.

We fly out of Boston at 4:35pm on Monday, 12/15. We'll arrive in Ust on 12/17...our next post will most likely be from there. Court will be in Ridder on Friday, 12/19 at 11:00am. If all goes well, we'll return home on 12/23. We're ready...as for what lies ahead in the next phase of our battle...bring it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It's been a long morning...

It's December 9...so of course, I woke up and went straight to my computer, hoping for an email re: our court date. Nieto, zip, nada...no messages from Alma or Oleg. Not a good sign. Sigh...Craig handed me my acid reducer medicine along with my coffee and we went about getting our day started. I got the kids off to school, Craig headed to work, and I tried to focus on something other than compulsively checking my email. OK, I admit that means I wrote emails begging for info from Alma and Oleg...and yes, I did call our adoption agency and leave a phone message...but can you blame me for being a bit anxious after all we've been through?

Have I ever mentioned that we have 3 greyhounds? Well, let me tell you that these greyhounds are great therapists...they love to cuddle, they're great listeners, and their favorite thing in the world is not racing after a mechanical bunny...it's being at home with their humans. Today my doggie therapists knew just what to do as I paced around the house, muttering to myself...they rubbed against me like oversized cats, then trotted over to the stairs. In greyhound language, that means, "Hey, Mom, let's go have a nap in your room!" (Greyhounds are really the biggest couch potatoes and they like nothing better than a mid-morning snooze!) Well, it didn't seem like a bad plan so the 4 of us headed up to my cozy bedroom, me with an armload of Christmas catalogs to peruse. It wasn't long until the pups were snoring and I was less stressed...one of the greys always joins me on the bed so I have at least one furry friend within arm's reach at all times...they seem to know that a snuggle and an ear scratch makes us all feel better...wish I could take these guys to KZ with me when we return for our court date...

"Court date?", you ask..."What court date?" Well, once I decompressed with the dogs, I took another look at my email...and there was a message from Alma. We are in fact now scheduled for court on December 19 at 11am. Wahoo!!!!! More details later...but right now, I have travel arrangements to make!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Refreshed and waiting...

We had a great weekend making Christmas magic and appreciating our hearth and home. I began the process of decorating the house and the kids were duly impressed when they got home from school. Friday evening was very laid back and the atmosphere was lighthearted...hope is a wonderful tonic for the spirit. We ate Thai takeout with Rick and Deb, our dear friends and the unofficial godparents of our kids...this is a regular Friday night ritual that we all look forward to.

Saturday, we bought our Christmas tree and the kids got into the decorating mood. Max helped me with our wreath for the door and put up window clings while the girls hung paper snowflakes all over the living room. We had everybody's favorite pizza delivered and ate it while we assembled and decorated our gingerbread train. (Tis the season of busyness...thank heavens for takeout food!) At 9:00pm, I settled the younger kids into bed and my teenager and I went Christmas shopping. (Kate has been begging me to take her out shopping late in the evening ever since I told her that I used to go to all the Midnight Madness holiday sales with my mom.) We left the house about 9:15 and returned home around 11:15, shopping 'til we dropped at Kohl's...my 13 year old was on Cloud 9 to be out and about so late!

Sunday morning was my Tanya's turn to shop with Mom; Tanya is an early riser who was thrilled to hop in the car and head to Wal-Mart at 7:30am while almost everyone else was still sleeping. The first snow of the season was falling and all the trees looked magical under the dusting of white...as Tanya said, "Look, Mom, it's a winter wonderland!" We finished Tanya's holiday shopping, then went out to breakfast. We had a lot of fun being silly and just talking. Spending one-on-one time with my kids isn't always easy in our crazy lives but it's so worth the effort!

Sunday afternoon was Mom and Dad's time to Christmas shop sans the kids; we finished all the important stuff and headed home for our traditional Sunday family movie night. I actually managed to cook a meal (pot roast and gravy, potatoes, carrots, peas, even ice cream topped with crushed candy canes for dessert) to assuage my maternal guilt over all that takeout food. We watched the new Prince Caspian movie...a hit with everyone. After that, it was time for the kids to head to bed...and Mom and Dad kissed each of our 3 kids as we tucked them in and thought of the two who are still waiting for us.

OK, the respite is over and it's time to turn our thoughts to our adoption process again. Alma will meet with the judge tomorrow; allowing for the 11 hour time difference, we should hear some news in the next 24 hours. I already have butterflies in my stomach and am beginning to compulsively check my email for any word...it's too early, I tell myself...then I check again anyway.

Keep your fingers crossed that the judge will meet with Alma in the office building pictured on the left and assign us a court date of December 18 or 19. While you're at it, visualize us walking into the courthouse building pictured on the right and having our hearing...

Friday, December 5, 2008

We have news...and for once, it's good

I'm sitting at my computer and the tears are flowing...I've been waiting on pins and needles all morning to hear if our dossier made it to the KZ embassy today and the call from our agency came a little while ago. Our dossier was delivered and reviewed page by page for accuracy. One minor error in page order was discovered and corrected, everything else was deemed accurate and the dossier was accepted for registration and legalization! The even better news is that our courier was told to return on Tuesday, December 9th to pick up our dossier and our travel visas. Sooo...it would appear that we're out of the woods and we will make the judge's deadline after all. We are still aware that there are no guarantees here...but we intend to savor the moment and allow ourselves a little ray of hope.

As for me, I'm thinking of starting a new business when all this is over. Now that I hold the World's Record for dossier preparation, maybe I should go professional...let's see, more paperwork, more apostilles, more waking in a cold sweat...uhhh...never mind.

New plan...spend the weekend buying a Christmas tree, decorating, making a gingerbread train, shopping for gifts for my wonderful family...better, much better. We'll rest a bit, then gear up for the next step on Tuesday when Alma is supposed to get a court date from our judge. The saga continues...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hurdles overcome in our race to December 9

Well, since my last post, there's been no end of the drama here. We did finish updating our documents and we sent them off to our adoption agency as planned; they arrived on Monday, were reviewed and translations were completed but we still needed the updated documents we had carried to KZ in October and given to the judge. Of particular importance were the FBI clearances and the medicals that usually take weeks to complete. Suffice it to say that we really didn't want to have to redo those...so over Thanksgiving weekend, a flurry of emails between Kazakhstan and the US resulted in finding out where our docs were, connecting with the family who hand-carried our docs back from KZ, and getting them to FedEx said precious docs to our adoption agency to complete our dossier. (Many thanks, Thomas family!) The docs arrived at our agency on Tuesday morning...so that should have been good, right?
Yeah, well, Tuesday night, the agency director called me in a panic...the packet from KZ was missing our FBI clearances. Without those, we wouldn't have a complete dossier....who knows what happened to them and how they got pulled out of the packet that I hand-carried to KZ, but they were gone. Without FBI clearances, our dossier would not be legalized before December 9, our judge's deadline in order for us to be given a court date.

Luckily, I had a 2nd set of FBI clearances in my adoption file. (Believe it, yes, I am just that paranoid...but see, being somewhat obsessive about paperwork/multiple sets of original docs can be a good thing.) I made the trip into Boston to have our precious FBI cards apostilled on Wednesday. I was a bit nervous since I had problems when I tried to get these same docs apostilled a couple of weeks ago. However, I'm now on a first name basis with Cathy of the Certifications and Apostilles office who has been awesome about helping me on my last 2 visits. (It might have helped that I brought all 3 kids with me on the day before Thanksgiving when I was dropping off some documents...Tanya asked her if she was going to help us get her brothers home...everyone thanked her for helping our family...and we made a human connection that broke through the red tape barrier.) Anyway, Cathy apostilled my FBI cards in five minutes flat yesterday and I scurried over to FedEx to overnight them to our agency. They were delivered today (Yes, of course, I tracked the delivery, silly...our package was delivered at 10:37am!) which means we should have everything for a brand-spanking new dossier.

So what happens now? Well, the dossier was assembled, the translations were attached, and copies were made today. The file was FedExed to Washington DC this afternoon...I got an email from our adoption agency at a little after 5pm saying that they had completed everything and the dossier was on its way. It will be delivered to a courier by 10:30am tomorrow, has to be filed at the Embassy by noon. The courier is standing by...if there are no glitches (frantically knocking on my wood desk as I type this), our dossier will be registered and will be officially under review on December 5.

The next hurdle is getting the dossier approved/legalized before Dec 9. If the guy at the embassy treats this as an emergency, he will review and legalize it in time...if not, we're dead in the water again. The judge won't give us a court date until we have a legalized dossier. If we can't get it legalized by Dec 9, I'm not sure what that means...but I'm sure I'll be awake in the middle of the night worrying about it until we get an answer.

Keep your fingers crossed for us...and to all of you who have emailed and left us comments, thanks for your support. It means the world to us, especially right now.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving...and fear

We've been back from Kaz for 2 weeks now. If all had gone as we had hoped, we'd be on our way back for our anticipated Dec. 2 court date...but it didn't happen.

On November 20th, we were notified by our agency that our judge had decided that our adoption dossier was out of date and we needed to redo it. For many, this would have been the death knell of the adoption. Never mind all the updated docs that we had given to the judge in Kaz while we were there...she wanted the full dossier, 30+ docs, all approved by the Kaz Embassy. She gave us until Dec. 9 to accomplish the near impossible...assembling an adoption dossier generally takes 2-3 months, then another 2-3 months to get it approved at the Kaz embassy in Washington, DC. If we can meet her goal, then she says we can have a court date of either Dec. 17, 18, or 19. Sigh...I did a lot of whining and not sleeping for the first few days, then I kicked it into high gear and started assembling a dossier...for the fourth time. Our adoption friends have been a great help...our home study agency and social worker have moved the world for us to update our docs; our friend and personal notary even showed up at our house in her bathrobe late one night to notarize docs for us. Our international agency arranged for emergency translation services so that each document could be translated as I completed the notarization and apostille process, even over Thanksgiving weekend. People we don't even know have hand-carried docs for us from Kaz to the US which they will send to our agency tomorrow to complete our dossier...and yes, after I finished whining and complaining, I did manage to assemble a 25+ document dossier in a week's time. Craig and I sent it via Expressmail yesterday to our international agency. Our new docs and the updated docs that were returned to us from Kaz will be married up, checked for accuracy, and sent to the Kaz embassy this week. We have been told that the person who reviews dossiers there understands our special circumstances and will review our paperwork on an emergency basis. We can only hope...so what do we have to be thankful for? Oh. Just everything.

In the frenzy that existed this past week in our house, I was still able to see what we have to cherish...3 great kids who are frustrated by not being able to have Aniyar and Madiyar here with us...but who also are happy to have Mom and Dad home for Thanksgiving. We watched the Macy's Day parade, stuffed a turkey, made cranberry-orange relish, started our Christmas shopping, enjoyed Max making French Toast for the whole family's breakfast and Kate's Apple Crumb pie. I had the great joy of going to both the library and the Early Bird sales, sharing Family Movie Night (it was "Get Smart", we all loved it) and then reading with my kids before bed.

So much to be grateful for...but I just wish we had been a little closer to 2 other kids who wait for us on the other side of the planet...still waking in a cold sweat at 4am, afraid we'll fail after all of this. Dawn helps...keeping busy helps...and I'm no quitter. We'll play the hand we've been dealt and hope for the best. Tomorrow's goal...write to the boys, try to explain all of this and the new timetable...hmm...how the heck do I do that? See, lots to keep me busy in those very dark hours before the dawn...feel free to send me comments and emails, I'm often checking for cyber support in the wee hours....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's good to be home

We had a long but fairly uneventful trek home, arriving in Boston on the afternoon of Friday, 11/14. Fog and rainy weather followed us the whole way but didn't delay us unduly. Our friend Laura arrived just minutes after we cleared customs and walked out to the curb; she drove us home where our kids were waiting to greet us. Our greeting was awesome; our 3 kids and even two of their friends hurtled down the stairs and threw themselves at us as we walked through the door. There were squeals and smiles, tears and laughter, and lots of hugs and kisses...even our normally reticent 11 year old son was in on the action! Any of you who have pre-teen boys will know how rare it is to get an actual hug and an "I love you" in front of peers...but we got all of that...guess we were missed.

We're using the weekend to settle back in and rest from the trip. Jet lag is tough when the time difference is 11 hours. When the trip itself spans two days and includes only 4 hours sleep, it's even more challenging. We got home about 4pm, ordered Chinese food and managed to stay awake until 8:30 before Craig crashed and burned; I was in bed by 9:30. Of course, I was awake again at 4am but the 6 1/2 hours of sleep I got in my own bed helped me feel human again...and large infusions of coffee during the day helped, too. We started the first load of laundry and began unpacking, made our weekend Costco run, and generally tried to figure out what we had missed in the last 5 weeks. Reentry is in process...we even managed to stay awake until after 10:00 last night!

Much to my chagrin, time did not stand still while were were out of the country; the leaves have all fallen off the trees, the stores are all decorated for Christmas, and Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away. There are bills to pay and there's work to be done. Tomorrow, jet lag not withstanding, we'll resume life as usual...the kids will go to school, Craig will go to work, and I'll refocus my energies on my consulting project. We bought a turkey today and this week, I'll do the rest of the planning and shopping for the Risley-Schoelles Thanksgiving feast. The kids are starting their Christmas lists and I need to start my holiday shopping. At the same time, I'll begin planning for our next trip to KZ which is only a few weeks away. I think I'll just empty the suitcases and begin refilling them again. I have one last document to update and carry back with us for court; I'll make tentative flight arrangements for early December which we'll confirm once we get word of our actual court date from Alma. (We should hear from her after her November 21 meeting with the judge.) I'll also write a letter to Aniyar and Madiyar, have it translated and fax it to them at the orphanage (waiting is hard and we want to reassure them that we really will return for them soon). In short, there's plenty to keep us busy...but our hearts are still with two boys in Kazakhstan who are waiting not so patiently for our return.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On our way home...

We're in Almaty after a long day. We woke up to a lot of snow and were delayed about 4 hours getting out of Ust-K but since our flight leaves here at 4am, it wasn't that big a deal. We're grabbing a few hours of rest now in a hotel, will be picked up at 1:30am to go to the airport.

We'll be home on Friday afternoon...more then!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things are looking up...

No, we didn't get a miracle court date when we went to Ridder today...but all is not lost. Here's how our day went. We left Ust at 7:30am and arrived in Ridder around 10:00 due to the snow on the roads. When we arrived at the court building, we were told to return at 12:15 to meet with the judge who would be hearing our case...OK, that was at least progress. We had tea and soup for an early lunch, mostly just killed time. At 12:15, Alma was told to come back after the lunch break which runs from 1-2pm. OK...more sitting in the car waiting until the judge was finally available around 2:30. At this point, I was pretty sure we were never going to get anywhere but finally Alma got her chance. The judge met with her for about 20 minutes and when she came out, it was with good news. The judge we have been assigned to is the same one who heard the only other adoption case in Ridder...and she granted that adoption. She was also able to explain Ridder's rather lengthy and complex court process so now we know what to expect.

In Ridder, when a case is assigned, the judge has 2-3 weeks to review the file. Then a determination hearing is held in order to let the parties know if there are missing docs or other problems with the case...that's what we had today. The next date will be held on Nov. 21; Alma will represent us at that hearing where the judge and prosecutor will ask any questions they might have re: the case. After that meeting, a court date will be assigned. The judge will allow us to request a date of our preference because of our travel from the US. It's all standard operating procedure, not the conspiracy to avoid giving us a court date that we were beginning to fear so that's a relief.

We're not thrilled with the delay and we wish we had known about this process a bit sooner...but we can go home now knowing that we are still moving forward. We're requesting a court date in early December, just 3 weeks from now. That will give us some recovery time and a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving with our kids. We'll return here for court but it will be a short visit, less than a week. We'll figure the rest out when we get there.

We saw the boys today to tell them the news...Aniyar took it well but Madiyar was frustrated. The poor kid finally got his head ready to make this big change and now he's looking at another delay...we know just how he feels.

OK, that's all the news for tonight. We're exhausted...we drove through terrible conditions coming back from Ridder. Imagine blowing snow, near zero visibility, and next to no plowing of the road...it wasn't fun. Add the stress factor of the last several days to that and you can probably understand why we're pretty worn out. Time for some sleep...tomorrow, we fly to Almaty in the afternoon, grab about 12 hrs rest in a hotel and then we'll begin the 24 hour trip home, arriving on Friday afternoon. Can't wait to see our kids!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

No court after all...

We never got to Ridder today. Alma was supposed to hear something from the court there; she called them several times and they kept stalling her. Each time she called them, they told her to call back later...by 2:00pm, it was clear that there was no point in making the 2 hr trip, especially since the weather was bad...snow, icy roads, and a late start that would have us returning in the pitch dark no doubt played a part in Alma's decision to wait until tomorrow to take us to Ridder. As a result, we have no news regarding a possible court date or anything else.

Here's Plan B: We're supposed to go to Ridder at 7:15 in the morning to try one last time to get a hearing or at least a new date in the next few days. If that doesn't work, Craig and I will leave Ust on Thursday and fly home from Almaty on Friday. We're discussing alternatives and other options that are open to us and Alma will continue to work on our behalf. We'll leave it to Alma to get us a court date in the next few weeks, then we'll return here for court. We plan to see the boys tomorrow and tell them what's up...it's so hard to leave them hanging this way and we don't want them to think we're abandoning them. They've had more than enough of that in their lives already.

We don't know what else to do...Craig is running out of vacation time and our kids at home need us after more than a month away. We're also pretty much mentally exhausted at this point and it's hard to see things clearly. If we can't pull off a miracle tomorrow, then it's time to go home to rest and regroup, then return to fight again another day.

Today it was in the low 20's here, windy, felt colder than it was. The snow is beginning to accumulate when it's not blowing in your face. Feels like we're in Siberia...no, wait, we pretty much are. There are plenty of clouds in the sky...haven't seen too many silver linings lately, though.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Court day...or not

Today is Tuesday, November 11, 2008, the day scheduled for our court hearing in Ridder...sort of. Alma arrived last night for what we thought was a brief session to review our court speeches but it wasn't quite that simple. (You have to understand that Alma is very efficient and doesn't fluster easily...but when she is flustered, her favorite English phrase is, “Oh, my God!” We knew something was up when she came in and said, “Oh, my God!” three times before she was able to tell us what was going on.) She had been to Ridder earlier in the day to prepare Aniyar and Madiyar and had called the court around 4pm to reconfirm our date and time. Instead of the hearing we had been promised, the clerk instead told her that the judge will make a “determination” about our petition at 9:00am. What does that mean? Even Alma wasn't sure, she called her contact in the courts here in Ust to get the explanation...it's a step in the process that isn't even done in court here and it's basically a review of the petition before it's assigned a date. Sigh...back to square one, right?

Well, maybe...but the clerk also said we might still have our court hearing later today. Anyone out there have a crystal ball? Anyway, Alma says she'll call us as soon as she talks to the clerk this morning but that we will go to Ridder in the afternoon in any case. Yes, we're back to begging...so we'll be dressed in our finest and driving the now snowy mountain roads to Ridder for an event that might or might not happen. It's really cold here now and the road conditions are getting worse. Alma's driver had to stop to change to snow tires yesterday on her trip to Ridder...it seems other cars were spinning out. (Our friends the Gibersons were in the car at the time...pretty exciting, right, Anne?) Anyway, keep us in your thoughts and prayers today as we make the journey into the unknown in more ways than one.

We do have some good news...Alma said she talked with Madiyar yesterday about his rather conflicted feelings and she says he's ready for court. He says he's still nervous but he wants to join our family, both for himself and for his brother. Both boys practiced their court speeches and are ready to go. The director of the orphanage and our friend Natalya are ready for court and so are we...they all still think court is today since this change was a last minute surprise...and maybe it will be. We'll just have to wait and see...as Alma would say, “Oh, my God!” and as my mother would say, from her lips to God's ears...we could use the help here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Two more days until court

It's Sunday evening and we've had a good day. The highlight was meeting our friend Yulia's Deaf cousin, Natasha, and her husband, Misha. Yes, he's Deaf, too; both use sign...it didn't take long before we were able to understand each other pretty well because American Sign and Russian Sign are very similar. We had tea and chatted for a couple of hours; the similarities between American Deaf culture and norms and what Natasha and Misha described to me about the Deaf community and culture here were striking. It was also fascinating to see our Yulia using using both Russian signs and home signs to communicate with her cousin; they were very close growing up so Yulia is pretty close to a native signer. We all exchanged signs, swapped stories, and looked at photos together...Yulia said she thinks it would only take me a week or so to be able to learn Russian sign but it's a bit more complicated than that...there's still that little problem of fingerspelling and the cyrillic alphabet. Even so, this was a highlight of this trip for me...it really is true what they say in ASL, small world Deaf!

We made chicken rice soup again tonight because it's gotten so cold. It snowed a bit last night and today. It's been below freezing all day and will probably stay that way for the rest of our time here. We're just hoping the road to Ridder stays halfway decent through Tuesday; right now, the forecast is for 2-4 inches of snow and temps in the high teens or low 20's for our court day. It didn't seem too cold when we went out for coffee this morning but we felt the difference quickly and were pretty chilly by the time we reached Pizza Blues. We had really big lattes that helped us to take the chill off before we headed back to the apartment. We were expecting Alma to meet with us to go over our court speeches but her schedule changed so she'll be coming tomorrow afternoon instead. We still don't what time we have court on Tuesday but all will undoubtedly be revealed in due time. Yep, it pays to be flexible here in Kazakhstan...more deep breathing on my part...reciting of the Serenity Prayer, also. Only a few more days.

We had a lovely time at our friend Olga's apartment last night. Dinner was very tasty, we made mac and cheese for everyone and Olga roasted chicken and made Russian potatoes. We also had spicy carrot salad (just for me since they all know it's my favorite!), a couple of other salads, homemade pickles that Tanya and Max would have loved, and a spicy tomato sauce that Olga's mom made. Yulia brought dessert, cookies filled with the caramel sauce Kate loves so much and other cookies dipped in chocolate. We had a variety of teas to choose from with our cookies, a nice end to our meal. We got back to the apartment about 10:30 last night, late for us to be wandering around the streets of Ust-K but we were glad to have something fun to do to pass the time and such good friends to do it with. Even so, we really are longing for home. Kate, Tanya and Max, we miss all of you so much and it gets harder every day to be away...we're counting the days and hours now until we're home again.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Preparing for the next step...

Now that we have a court date, we're moving into the next phase of our journey. We're distributing the “thank you” gifts we brought from home to our adoption staff here. (Our drivers are getting Red Sox caps...of course! Our buddy Arman got a Red Sox cap, a Salem t-shirt, and some cheese powder so he can make American mac & cheese for his family. For Alma, we're still thinking of the perfect gift...but it's looking like an unlocked Blackberry might be just the ticket for someone who has to organize all the details that she has to keep track of!) We've already bought gifts for our kids at home (No, kids, I'm still not telling you what we got, it's a surprise.) and also some souvenirs and mementos to bring home from our 3rd adoption adventure.

It's Saturday here; the weekends can hang heavy without much scheduled but we're keeping busy today We've been to the notary's office to sign more documents and with our friend Yulia's help, we've booked our flight from Ust-K to Almaty for Thursday and changed our Lufthansa reservations for our flight home from Monday to Friday. We also were able to buy books for Aniyar and Madiyar with Yulia's help. We even have plans this evening; our friend Olga has invited us to her home for supper. It will be a real party with Yulia, Jenya, Olga, Andrei, and the two of us. I'll be taking pictures as usual and posting the pictures later. In the meantime, here's a pic from the last time we ate at Olga's house in the summer of 2007...remember what a great time we all had?
We'll also be visiting at Yulia's again tomorrow; I'm very excited that I'll get to meet Yulia's deaf cousin who I've heard so much about! Aren't we lucky to have such wonderful friends?

Tomorrow, we will meet with Alma briefly to prepare for our court appearance. We still don't know what time court is on Tuesday but I'm sure someone will tell us when it's time for us to know...in the meantime, I'm practicing my deep calming breaths....again.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Our visit to the Detsky Dom (AKA Ust-Kamenogorsk Children's Home)

One of the things we did this past week was to visit the preschool orphanage here in Ust where our kids from Kazakhstan used to live. Tanya and Max, we saw Mama Luba and she sends her love. We gave her pictures of you both and she was very impressed by how much you've grown! Tanya, she also said that you've become a beautiful young lady. Max, we asked to see Mama Luda, your favorite caregiver, but she wasn't working the day we were there; I left a picture of you for her so she can see how big you've gotten. We asked about Galina Ivanovna, the caregiver who escorted Tanya and the other Kidsave children to Massachusetts in 2003; Galina has retired so we didn't get to see her...but we hear she still takes care of the flowers at the orphanage during the summer, now volunteering her time at the orphanage where she worked for many years. We also saw the orphanage director, Valentina Sergeyevna, who was very happy to see the slideshow I made from some of our family photos. She liked it so much that she asked if she could keep a copy to show some government officials who were coming to inspect the orphanage...just think, now we're all famous in Kazakhstan!

As you can see, we did manage to get a photo of us all; Mama Luba is next to me and Valentina Sergeyevna is on the end. Do you guys remember them? They sure remember you...in fact, Valentina says she still remembers Max because of how much he liked to eat, that he would try to get extra food all the time. Hmmm....some things haven't changed.

The orphanage actually looks great; it's been recently renovated and everything is freshly painted and very clean. The bathrooms have been updated and the children all have new beds, new cupboards, etc. We see the government making a real effort to improve conditions for children here, both in the orphanage system and in schools in general...it's especially gratifying to see the improvements in this orphanage which means so much to us.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Finally...a date!

Yes, it's true, we do have a court date! Alma called us this morning to tell us that we have been scheduled for court on November 11, next Tuesday. Right now, it looks like we'll be able to leave Ust-K on Thursday, Nov. 13 and will arrive home on Friday, November 14.

As planned, we went to Ridder today, not to plead for a court date but to visit the boys; as you can see, it was cloudy and damp but our hearts were light as we made the trip. (Aren't the mountains beautiful shrouded in clouds?) The boys were happy to see us and to hear our news. We talked with them about their appearance in court and reviewed the questions the judge may ask them. It's clear that Aniyar is totally excited to get this show on the road while Madiyar is still struggling with the enormity of the changes he's facing. His nervousness and ambivalence are understandable and we're trying our best to help him deal with his feelings. We've told him that he can write to his friends and also email them as the orphanage will soon have internet access. We told him we'll give his friends addressed and stamped envelopes so that they can write to him. We've also told him that we will bring him back to visit Kazakhstan just as we have done with Tanya and Max. We feel we've done all we can to show Madiyar that we'll help him maintain his ties here...now we'll leave it up to him to sort things out. In the meantime, the caregivers and the director will play an important role in the next week in helping Madiyar and Aniyar to prepare for the hearing. We'll all be nervous...but at least we'll get our day in court!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The wheels of justice grind slowly...

Well, not much has changed here in Kazakhstan. We're still waiting for a court date but at least we have a bit of news. Alma called last night to fill us in. While our adoption petition has been in Ridder for a week, it still has not been referred to a judge. Alma doesn't know why this is, they say they're still reviewing the docs and they don't seem in a hurry to complete the process. While it's usually only 7-10 days between bonding and court, it could be as much as a month before they assign us a date...in Ust-K, the courts are accustomed to working with adoptions and schedule them within a 7-10 day window after the petition is filed but in Ridder where they've only processed one other adoption, they don't seem to be interested in observing that convention. Without a court date, we're caught in limbo...we can't go home until after court but we can't stay here indefinitely. We have a return flight home scheduled for November 10; unless a minor miracle occurs pretty quickly, it seems clear that we'll have to change that date...but to what? It's a dilemma.

I'll admit I've been worried about how this would impact our chances of success. The good news is that Alma says she is sure that we will be able to adopt the boys; our paperwork is in perfect order. Eventually, we will have to be given a court date; since we have the support of the ministry of education and the orphanage director, she is sure we will succeed...the only question is when.

We're going to Ridder today to meet with Natalya, our ministry official there, who will go with us to the courthouse. She will intercede on our behalf with the court officials since she knows everyone there...hopefully, she'll be able to convince them to help us. After we finish begging for a court date, we'll go to the orphanage to see the boys for the first time in a week.

Keep your fingers crossed for us--Dee

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Wednesday morning for us, election night for most of you...

When I got up this morning, Craig was already tuned into CNN and getting the early elections results from home. With the 11 hour time difference, we'll be able to watch the coverage most of the day here. At home, we usually have to go to bed before the final election tallies are done so it's kind of cool to be able to see it all unfold this time. We're watching CNN Asia which has been doing extensive campaign coverage for days now...since CNN is one of only two English channels we get here, we feel well informed. (OK, the truth is we're getting pretty sick of the whole election thing and will be happy to see some new CNN programming starting tomorrow!)

No, we don't have a court date yet. After calling and sending messages to our coordinator through other adoptive families here, we finally caught up with her Tuesday afternoon. She told us that the court in Ridder says it's reviewing our file and isn't ready to assign a court date yet. No idea why that is since she says our paperwork is in perfect order but they do have the right to review and can't be forced to give a court date at this point. Alma is making use of her court contacts in Ust who are calling the Ridder court and trying to push things for us so there is a chance we'll hear something today. If not, Alma says we'll all go to Ridder tomorrow to meet with officials and try to convince them to schedule us. International adoption is always an adventure...and it never seems to be lacking in drama.

We walked to Arzan yesterday, the big Costco-type store Arman took us to last week. My dear husband convinced me to walk there, assuring me we could take a taxi back. Hah! It was a long walk over a bridge, through the woods, along a crazy busy highway and over rocks and stones on the narrow shoulder but we arrived safely and the shopping was fun...as for taxis for the return trip, there were none. We made the return trip on foot and with shopping bags, stopped for coffee in town and then finally got a cab back to the apartment. When we told our friends here that we walked to Arzan, they were stunned...they assured us that no one walks that far here! Yeah...tell me about it. After realizing that we logged about 10 miles walking yesterday, I've informed Craig that we won't be walking to Arzan again and that I sense there are more taxis in our future.

Today, we'll finally get to the pre-school orphanage to visit Tanya's and Max's former caregivers. Arman will pick us up at 3pm so we do have something to look forward to. We'll try to post pics after our visit.

Some of you have asked about our kids at home. They're doing very well with Aunt Donna and Uncle Woody holding the fort, waiting as patiently as they can for Mom and Dad to return. We are so blessed to have our family and our friends taking such good care of our kids, our critters, and all the little things that have popped up in our absence like clogged plumbing, missing paperwork, bills, etc. Everything is being handled efficiently and our kids are missing us but are secure and safe. They had a great Halloween...this year, we had a witch, a Jedi knight, and a woodland fairy.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Monday...and still no word.

We made it through the looong weekend with not too much more whining on my part. Sunday was broken up for us thanks to our friends here...while we didn't get to the Comfort store, we did go to a ski resort about 30 km outside of town. No, there's no snow yet...but they have horseback riding and a lovely cafe. We took two cars, Yulia, Jenya, and the kids rode in their car and Olga and her boyfriend drove us in Andrei's car. It was a beautiful day with temps in the high 40's-low 50's, sunny and clear and the air was as clean as Yulia had promised. Jenya and Andrei decided to go horseback riding and some noble steeds were brought down the mountain...at the last minute, Andrei offered his horse to Craig who had mentioned that he'd like to ride a bit. Suddenly, Craig was mounted and following Jenya up the trail on a horse that wanted to canter instead of walk. As they disappeared from sight, Andrei told us that the ride was an hour...I knew Craig didn't realize that he was in for an hour's ride and told them so. We all giggled a bit but thought it would be fine...until Yuliya found out. She was concerned that it was too cold and the ride too long...so she whipped out her cell phone and called Jenya on his cell phone, ordering him back early from the trail. Craig wasn't sure what was happening when Jenya suddenly turned his horse around and headed back toward the horse stalls but he followed along...good thing the ride ended when it did as Craig was a bit saddle sore already. After the ride, they joined us in the cafe where Yulia had shepherded the rest of us. We enjoyed a snack of hot green tea and crepes with sour cream and sweetened condensed milk and then we headed back outside. This time, Andrei convinced Olga to ride with him, just a short loop because Olga is afraid of horses...but she did well if you overlooked the expression of abject terror on her face. We left the resort and got back to Ust around 2pm.

Hmmm...what to do with the rest of the day? Of course, a walk and coffee at the Korona, then leftover Chinese food for dinner. Kids, we had our family movie night here; Dad and I watched “The Spiderwick Chronicles”. Our evening was brightened considerably with a phone call from our kids, always a mood lifter. We also had a call from another adoptive family from Ireland; they have a son from here and are adopting a baby girl now. Their son was born in Ridder and they were calling to ask if we would take pics of the town so they would have a few photos of his birthplace. We spent some time after our movie selecting and copying pics of Ridder to a memory stick for them; we'll give them the photos we have. We know what it's like to crave information, pics, even small details about our adopted kids' early lives.

It's Monday evening now. We've passed another day walking, shopping, drinking coffee, and chatting with other adoptive families. Craig finally convinced me to walk to the Comfort store, a bit of a hike but what else were we doing? The store is another indication of the changes here; it's filled with light fixtures, small appliances and electronics, home repair supplies, bathroom fixtures, and even some grocery and household items; none of these things were easy to find here a few years ago. We bought a bar of soap and some gum...we know how to party. We've finished our dinner, more homemade soup and some bread, and leftover mac and cheese.

Still no word on our court date; we've been trying to call our coordinator this evening but haven't reached her. Sigh...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Need to Know

It's my humble observation that most Americans are control freaks...we need to know what's happening, have a plan, see forward movement toward our goals, get answers to our questions, etc. We're not very patient, either...we want everything to happen as quickly as our fast food order is prepared. I'm certainly guilty of this, anyway...and for someone like me, being in KZ can be both a blessing and a curse.

I already told you that we still don't have a court date and that means we are in limbo until at least Monday. On Friday, the weekend loomed rather largely with nothing scheduled and no news to report...sigh. OK, that's fine, we got up Friday morning with a good attitude and Plan B; we had places to go and people to see even if we didn't have our court date. I was feeling better after a pretty good night's sleep and we headed to the notary at 8:45am. We signed a new power of attorney which will allow our representatives to file our adoption with the Ministry of Education in Astana once our adoption is granted (from my lips to God's ears, as my mother would say!) and then we hopped into Arman's car to go to our planned visit at the pre-school orphanage. We were surprised when Arman headed back to our apartment; I asked him if we were still going to visit the orphanage and he said yes...but in the afternoon at 3pm. Okey-dokey...apparently, the reason for the change of schedule and the change itself was on a need to know basis and we didn't need to know until the last minute. We found ourselves back at our apartment at 9:30.

Luckily, Craig had something to do...Alma has a small netbook computer that she needs changed from English to Russian and Craig agreed to work on it for her. (Yes, even in Kazakhstan, Craig is still the Go-To Guy for computer problems.) After a couple of hours of tech support for Craig and reading for me, we walked into town for lunch at the Korona. We bumped into more of Alma's Americans there, all of them adopting from the babyhouse here in Ust. We whiled away another hour or so chatting with them and then headed back to our apartment so we wouldn't be late for our orphanage visit. Arman arrived at 3:00 as planned but as soon as we got in the car, he said we weren't going to the orphanage; he said there was a conference or meeting going on and it was a bad day to visit. OK...time for Plan C. Arman was great, he helped us with a few errands including ordering our photos to be printed for court but by 4pm, we had nothing else to do.

What do these Americans do when the going gets tough? Why, we go shopping, of course! Arman took us to a store that he says is like Wal-Mart in the US...actually, it's more like a warehouse store (think Costco or BJ's) where many items are sold in bulk, the first of its kind here in Ust. It was a lot of fun browsing there...we bought everything from DVD's that will play in Russian and English to foods like smoked string cheese and plov (a Russian dish that's like fried rice with bits of meat and veggies). Most exciting of all, I found the Korean spice needed to make spicy carrot salad at home...and Kate, I also bought shashlik seasoning. We can now make our own shashlik kabobs on the grill!

Saturday, we made our cappuccino walk into town, had our coffee and then walked straight back to the apartment. We had plans to spend the afternoon with our friend Olga (we met her in 2004 when we were adopting Tanya and have kept in touch via email; she also helped us arrange our visit to the boys and translated for us in 2007) and we were looking forward to seeing her. Olga picked us up at 1pm and we went to lunch at a Chinese restaurant, another first for us here in Ust. The place was very nice; the food was excellent and served in massive quantities. We ended up with a large bag of leftovers to bring back to the apartment. After lunch, Olga took us to pick up our court photos and helped us correct an error they had made in the printing; it's so nice to have friends who are also translators! Olga dropped us off at our apartment around 4:30 and we were in for the night, wondering what in the world we would do with ourselves until Monday. Yulia called and saved the day; she wants to pick us up tomorrow and take us to the Comfort store that Craig has been hoping to visit, then out of the city for a walk in the fresh air of the forest. She say the air pollution is bad right now and we need to get out of town for a rest...smile...that's our Yulia, always taking care of us.

OK, the truth is, we're a bit restless and anxious. We'd be a lot happier if we knew our court date and had our goal in clear sight (see, there's that control thing I was talking about!); we miss our kids at home and worry about the boys who are waiting and wondering in Ridder. The suspense is killing us and there's not a darn thing we can do about it...around here, if you ask why there are delays, people shrug philosophically and say, “It's Kazakhstan.”...but we also realize how lucky we are. After all, we have gotten this far and we're not without support. Even as the temperature drops and fall slowly turns toward winter in this part of the world, we're surrounded by the warmth of our friends here in KZ. That and the love our family and friends at home will help us go the distance...just keep your fingers crossed that Monday will bring news about our day in court!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Odds and Ends

Now that we're not riding to Ridder each day, we find ourselves with an extra 6 hours a day on our hands. This post will be mostly musings and ramblings about how we're spending our time now.

Our first priority is to focus on the next step in our adoption process; we've written the speeches we'll be expected to make in court and are assembling a series of photos from our visits which will document our bonding in a photo journal. The photo journal will be offered in evidence to the court along with an additional journal that the orphanage director, the ministry official, and Craig and I signed each day during our visits. Tomorrow, we'll give our speeches to Alma on a memory stick and she'll translate them so that the court will have a transcript in both Russian and Kazakh of what we'll be saying in English. We'll also get the photos printed and put them into an album with captions and dates. No, we still haven't heard when our court date will be; Alma called this evening and said the court in Ridder will let us know Monday when our court date will be. Under KZ law, our court date should be held within 7-10 days after our petition is filed. For us, that would mean anywhere from next Tuesday -Friday, we'll see. Once court is done, we'll head home for a few weeks...we hope it won't be much longer.

We're doing a lot more walking. We have a shopping list which includes gifts for our friends, family, and the adoption professionals who are helping us here so we have a good excuse to wander the markets endlessly...and guess what, kids? Dad found a store that's a lot like Home Depot (OK, maybe it's more like a Home Depot wannabe...but it's pretty close for Kazakhstan) and he's trying to talk me into walking there. It's really far from our apartment and I keep telling him he's not allowed to buy Yulia's mom a new toilet but you know how he loves stores like Home Depot. I have a feeling we'll end up in a taxi headed to the Comfort store before long.

We visited the Shiny River Hotel! My internet friend, Anne, arrived here a few days ago and she and her husband and daughter are staying at this beautiful European style hotel in Ust. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours with them yesterday, swapping stories and sharing tips on where to eat and shop. Anne and Fred are adopting a boy from Ridder also but they got lucky...Borya was transferred to Ust because he has a sister here who they are also adopting so they do their visits in Ust and return each evening to the swanky Shiny River. We envy their beautiful bathroom most of all...Anne and Fred, are you sure you don't want to adopt us???

We're even bird watching...we enjoy seeing the different flora and fauna on this side of the planet. We snapped a couple of pics of two unusual birds we see often around here. The first is a type of crow—but it's white and black with a very long tail. The other is a beautiful little green-breasted finch; the coloring is quite striking.
We're also people watching...we sat in the park yesterday and admired the well-dressed ladies in their stylish clothes and high-heeled boots. Man, I feel so underdressed in my Land's End squall jacket and all-weather mocs...but at least I'm comfortable.

Of course, we're cooking and eating. We've told you about our daily trip cappuccino treat so I'm posting a pic of one of the beautiful cakes at the Korona.
This cake is named for one of our kids...who is it, guys? Click on the photo so you can read the label on the cake...let us know when you figure it out. Today, we ate lunch in one of Kate's favorite restaurants on the planet. Can you guess where we went, Kate? I had the ham and cheese crepe, Dad had the pot roast, and we both had soup...too bad you couldn't join us, it really was delicious.
Then there's always cooking at the apartment. We made a delicious pot of soup last night from scratch, chicken rice with various vegetables. It was so good, we're making more stock tonight...we're using the bones from rotisserie chicken that we buy at the market; it tastes a lot like shashlik which gives the soup a fabulous flavor.

We did more walking and shopping again today but I have to admit my heart wasn't really in it. I woke up today with body aches, a sore throat and a headache; I'm worried that I'm coming down with a cold. Another good reason to make chicken soup, right?I'm missing everyone and everything tonight...my kids at home, Aniyar and Madiyar in Ridder, our home, my own bed, my dogs...sigh. I'd feel a lot better if we had our court date...ah, well, one day at a time. We're keeping the faith, we've come this far and we'll go the distance. I just need a good night's rest...

Tomorrow, we're off to the notary (more paperwork!) and then we'll be visiting Tanya and Max's former orphanage. We've put together a slideshow of family photos so we can show everyone how our kids have kids have grown. It should be fun and we promise to take pictures.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We're bonded and filed!

We finished our last bonding visit with Aniyar and Madiyar yesterday (Monday). It went very well; after doing our usual routine of building robots, taking pictures, and playing on Dad's computer, we reminded the boys that our visits were ending and they wouldn't be seeing us for a few days. The boys asked us more questions about when they would be coming with us to the US and we reviewed the timetable as best we could...we wait for a court date which will probably be some time next week. At court, we'll ask the judge to allow us to adopt the boys and the boys will tell the judge that's what they want (yes, they'll have to testify since they're both over age 10). If we are allowed to adopt the boys, then we'll begin the 15 day finalization period. We explained to the boys that we'll fly back to the US to get everything ready for them at home...they liked the idea of new clothes and shoes...then we'll come back for them when the finalization period has ended. Madiyar did some mental math and said, “So, we're going around the end of November?”. That's a pretty good estimate and we told him so...and he rolled his eyes, complaining that it was too long a wait. It was nice to hear he's looking forward to the trip. As for Aniyar, he's just one big grin every time we mention going to America; he's so ready...and so are we.

Kate, Tanya and Max—Your critters came with us on our last trip. They rode shotgun with our friend Arman's pals, Sponge Bob and the singing mouse. Thought you'd like to see a photo...

Today we filed our petition to adopt with the court in Ridder. We rode to Ridder once again, leaving Ust at 6:45am in order to arrive at the orphanage in time to collect more papers from the orphanage director and Natasha, our ministry official. We had to get there early because they were all headed to Ust for a meeting today and wouldn't be available at a more civilized hour. As we waited to sign the final documents, Natasha and I chatted (no, there wasn't a translator in sight but she and I have gotten to the point that we can understand each other pretty well in a rather creative blend of Russian and English). I told her that we're a bit nervous about our day in court and she reassured me, telling me that everything will be fine and that she will be there to support us. It feels good to know that we've made friends here who will vouch for us and we are honored that they are willing entrust the boys to our care. With waves and good wishes, we headed to the court building. By 10:30, our petition was in the hands of the court and we were on our way back to Ust...now we wait for a court date.

So what will we do with ourselves for the next few days? Well, we plan to enjoy not doing the 4 hour round trip to Ridder for the next few days; getting back to the apartment today at around 1pm instead of our usual 7pm was a nice start to our hiatus. We walked into downtown, had cappuccino, rolls and solyanka for lunch (I've got to have this soup recipe, it's really good), visited our favorite produce lady in the open air market, bought fresh bread and smoked cheese, and planned our dinner. We came back to the apartment and began to slice and dice, making a nice Russian vinaigrette salad of cabbage, carrot, tomato, and cucumber. We also made a really delicious pizza with a fresh baked crust we bought from the bread vendor near our apartment. We covered it with sautéed onions and garlic, fresh tomatoes, roasted chicken, and smoky cheese. After a short time under the broiler, our masterpiece was ready to eat. We toasted our creative cooking with a glass of Kazakh cognac...doesn't it all look scrumptious? It was!

We're ending our evening with more excitement, laundry by hand in the bath tub (I miss my washing machine almost as much as I miss my kids). I'm catching up on my writing for the blog and Craig is reading. Just another quiet evening here on the other side of the earth...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Day 14...getting closer

See this sign? It says Ridder and it greets us each day as we get to the outskirts of town; it's a welcome sight and the view is pretty terrific, don't you think?

We were up and out of the apartment at 8am again today; it's Sunday so the kids had no school and we could see them from 10-12 again. We had a great visit with both boys...the best part was that Madiyar seemed much more relaxed. He asked us questions about when we would all go to America together and he talked about the last time he flew to the US in 2003. He seems ready for the changes that are coming now...we know it's a lot harder for a 13 year old to make this leap than for a younger child and we're happy that he's beginning to talk to us and work through his feelings. As for Aniyar, he's made it clear he'd be happy to leave with us tomorrow even though he'll miss his friends and teachers.

We got back to Ust about 2pm, ate some lunch and then went for our walk. We shopped for gifts (yes, girls, we bought you really cute hats...no, I won't tell you what they look like...it's a surprise), drank cappuccino (the girl at the Korona didn't even bother to ask me what we wanted today, she just rang up our coffees and we all laughed), visited the toy store to buy more Bionicle robots for the boys, and stocked up on some food for the next few meals. We walked back to the apartment to warm our dinner and were delighted when we got a call from home. Our house in Salem is now pretty full since our kids, Aunt Donna, and Uncle Woody have now been joined by Uncle Dale and his wife. What a party! It was so nice to talk with everyone...almost like being there. Thanks for the call..it's chilly here in KZ but hearing from you guys warmed us right up.

Tomorrow is Monday, October 27...our last day of bonding. We've been here over 2 weeks and are now looking forward to filing our petition to adopt, then court. One more day to go...

Kate, Tanya and Max--Your critters have been really good about staying in Ust and napping while we've been driving to Ridder...but tomorrow, they're going on a road trip. Watch this space for the photos!