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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!

Day 13—School's out

Because it was the official holiday, there were no classes at the boarding school on Saturday, October 25. (Yes, Max, the kids here have to go to school every Saturday except for holidays like this one...no kidding.) When we arrived, there were kids all over the grounds, just hanging out. Each day, they eye us curiously and many greet us, some in Russian and some in English and today was no exception. We found our way to the director's office where we found him hard at work in spite of the holiday. We chatted briefly with him, using my limited Russian, his limited English and some pantomime. He told us that the school's basketball teams played against another school the night before and had won their games. The boys won by a nice margin but the girls team won 34-4, a real rout. He was obviously proud of the kids' success and we were interested to hear that basketball is a team sport at the orphanage.

Before long, Aniyar and Madiyar appeared and our friend Tatyana joined us. We went up to the Green Room again for our visit; everyone here has decided that it's better for us to meet in a place where the boys can play...and I think as gracious as Koodaibirgin Kakenovich is (that's the director...we've had to practice long and hard to be able to say his name), he's happy to get us out of the office so he can get some work done. As we walked to the Green Room, Madiyar ran ahead of us and Aniyar carefully took us both by the hand, saying, “Madiyar doesn't respect Mama and Papa who do everything for him and bring him gifts.”, then he gave us a sweet smile. We're very familiar with sibling rivalry at our house so the underlying message was clear: I'm the good kid. I had to laugh...

Madiyar wanted to explore the computer and Aniyar wanted to play with a puzzle we gave him and then play videogames for a while. We chatted with Tatyana who is trying her best to teach us all about the history of Ridder in specific and Kazakhstan in general. She's proud of her home and wants us to know that Ridder can claim war heroes and poets as well as the mining engineer the town is named after—Philip Ridder. After a while, Madiyar was ready to play photographer again; he has taken a multitude of pictures of our shoes, the ceiling, the computer, the GameBoys...and even a few actual shots of people. He seems to like photography...maybe cousin Matt in Florida can give him some pointers. Aniyar still likes Super Mario best of all; he's getting better every day at it and when he gets stuck, he asks Craig to help him get to the next level now. Madiyar also asks Craig for help on the computer; he'll play GameBoy but he likes the greater challenge of learning to switch hard drives, boot up the system, and find his way around to the games he likes. He told us that kids his age take computer classes twice a week and he knew some basics but he's already learned a lot more about computers since we've been here. As our visit wound down, the boys did more headstands and backflips for us...they're both very athletic and flexible. Madiyar especially is wiry and strong and has a great smile...I personally think he just might make some hearts flutter among the girls at Salem Academy.

Since the boys had no school, we were allowed to visit from 10-12 and then we were headed back to Ust. Each day as we leave, I tell the boys that we love them...I don't expect a response at this point but I want them to know that's something they can begin to believe. As Aniyar led us down the stairs to the front door after the visit, he paused and said, “I love you.” It's a first...and a great end to our 13th day.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Day of the Republic and Day 12 for us

We got to the boarding school just in time to see the holiday show the children had prepared for Kazakhstan's Independence Day. It was an elaborate production, complete with costumed dancers and singers. There were poems and speeches about the beauty of Kazakhstan and the diversity of its people...and the music teacher played the accordion! Aniyar was in the show; he performed both native Kazakh and Russian folk dances and he was great; he's quite a ham. He kept grinning and waving to us from backstage; he was very excited to have us there and so proud of himself. (Madiyar wasn't in the show, he says it isn't his thing...not surprising at his age.)

We felt like honored guests...we were introduced at the show and were offered the first taste of the Ukrainian food being served after the show. It was galushki, a lot like pirogies with lots of butter. My kids at home would have loved them! (Don't worry, I'm getting the recipe translated into English.)

We also had time to visit a little and play some games. Madiyar loves the computer and has gotten pretty good at Tux Racer; Aniyar played Super Mario on the GameBoy for a few minutes before we had to leave. Mom and Dad had to sign more papers for court and then it was time to hit the road...day 12 is a wrap.

The Road Less Traveled

We've spent much of the past two weeks headed to a place that many local people rarely visit. Ridder is not a large city; it doesn't offer vast job opportunities, it has no airport, and it's somewhat remote. It's almost 80 miles between Ust and Ridder but it takes 2 hours to make the drive. Much of the road is rough and slow going; it can be closed for days when the snow falls. Ridder's clean air and mountain hiking and skiing trails do draw visitors and there is mining here that supports the local economy. There are good primary and secondary schools but no professional schools or colleges to draw students to the town. The population of Ridder is 64,000 people, greater than the population of our own town of Salem...but the area is large and the population density is small. Ridder has the feel of a small town in the White Mountains...it's not a village. It boasts two traffic lights (one put in since we've arrived!) and has shops and services in many of the apartment blocks, also an open market and an enclosed market much like Ust...but you get the feeling that everyone knows everyone here and the locals have lived here forever...and then there are the cows that you see wandering in the street on occasion.

We also pass through true villages on our drive each day, small settlements that have some houses and even sometimes an apartment block. The shopping in these places consists of a small “magazeen” here and there, like a mom-and-pop store...or even more often, a group of ladies seated next to a table where they're selling their home-canned vegetables and fruits or buckets of potatoes from their garden.

We stopped in front of one house because Alma wanted to buy mushrooms...you can see the proprietor trying to convince Alma that her canned mushrooms were safe to eat and not the deadly variety that can also be found here..the lady couldn't tell Alma what type of mushrooms she had canned so it was a no sale. In these small villages, you're as likely to see a horse-drawn cart as you are a car and motorcycles with side cars that have been modified to carry parcels on a flat bed are also seen. We see many contrasts on our drive that show the changes that are coming to Kazakhstan...sheep and cows cross the road in front of us but so do kids with backpacks, cell phones and MP3 players. We see men on horseback in the fields and people searching for mushrooms by the side of the road on a clear day. We also see that not much gets wasted out here...recycling occurs on a very practical level; empty soda bottles are washed and filled with milk from the family cow that's then sold at the roadside. The jars that are filled with home canned goods are also recycled. Table scraps are used to feed livestock or are used as compost...everyone has a garden as a matter of necessity in the villages and food is still stored to be used in the winter months. The gardens are all but empty now, just some cabbages and potatoes are still being harvested and sold. It's clear the babushki have been hard at work pickling cucumbers, cauliflower, and mushrooms, making fruit compote, and storing the root vegetables that will last for months.We pass a trash dump on our ride each day...it's really just small piles of refuse which are burned and there's not a whole lot there...no trash pick up or big landfills out here.

The countryside is beautiful, the rolling hills are dotted with stands of birch and pine trees and there are many small lakes and rivers.. The mountains seem to greet us each day as we approach Ridder; Tatyana tells me that the locals believe the mountains guard the town. She also say there are wolves and snow leopards, deer, elk and squirrels in the nearby forest. The air is much better than the air in Ust, another fact that the locals are all quick to point out. We see the evidence of this each day as we return to Ust—the haze from the air pollution is visible many evenings; health advisories regarding the air quality are frequent here. Everything's a trade off and bigger cities can mean bigger problems even in this part of the world. It makes the road less traveled look pretty good.

Friday, October 24, 2008

By Popular Demand

This is a short post to respond to a special request. OK, Sandi, here's the pic of Craig standing on his head that you wanted to see...as a soon-to-be father of five, he'll probably be doing a lot more of that!

Love to all the Florida family...it's so nice to get your comments and emails!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day 11 is done...

The weather has warmed even more and we were able to leave our heavier jackets behind when we headed to Ridder. The sun was shining brightly and when we arrived at the boarding school, it was in the 50's. We were again led to the Green Room to visit; the director was at a meeting in Ust and Natasha and Tatyana both agreed we'd be more comfortable upstairs on the sofas than in his office.

Madiyar appeared and was all smiles; Aniyar was off performing a dance at the Hall of Culture as a part of the holiday festivities so Madiyar had us all to himself for a while and he seemed to enjoy the undivided attention. We had brought the boys Plasma Dragons, a small building kit that comes in an egg with a yolk sac made of sticky material; the parts for a small dragon are inside the sac. Madiyar had his assembled in a flash and then enjoyed throwing the sac at the walls to make it stick...typical boy fun. He also took pictures of all of us and of his friends from the open window...he's mastered the digital camera with ease. After a while, he asked me if he could play on the computer. He likes a couple of games Craig has installed on a spare hard drive but I think he also likes helping Craig switch out the hard drives and boot up the system. He's learning more each day, mastering basic computer skills rapidly...he likes hardware and learns by watching Craig and exploring on his own. It won't be long before he'll be computer savvy.

We saw Aniyar briefly when he returned from his performance; all the kids were carrying their costumes as they came in. They had walked as a group to the Hall of Culture (about 30 minutes) and were a bit tired but we were still greeted with a grin and hugs from our boy. He was pleased with his Plasma Dragon; he's a creative kid who likes making things. He also tells us that his friends are enjoying playing with the toys we're bringing. We hear from his caregiver that he always shares with others and we're happy the other kids are getting in on the fun, too.

We headed back to Ust with our cheerful, careful driver...we have one fast driver, one careful and a bit slow fellow, and Arman. They alternate since no one loves the drive...but we're getting the job done. More in the next post about the view from the road.

Double Digit Day

The kids were outside when we arrived at the orphanage for our 10th day of visitation. They were all helping to sweep, pick up litter, and generally tidy the grounds in preparation for the upcoming holiday. (Kazakhstan's Day of the Republic falls on October 25; it's a big day here—no school for the kids and a performance that we're looking forward to when we visit.) The weather was perfect, much warmer, and it was nice to be outside with the boys for a few minutes, enjoying the crisp air and the beautiful view of the mountains. Aniyar and Madiyar greeted us warmly and escorted us inside. We were led to the Green Room for this visit; it's the recreation room that the boys use. It's a big, bright room with comfortable couches and rugs on the floor. Madiyar brought a friend along to join us; I suspect he had promised his pal some videogame time but when he realized we had brought more Lego sets and not the GameBoys, he was miffed. When I offered him the robot building set we'd brought, he steadfastly ignored me...the funny part was that the other boy clearly wanted to build the robot...but Madiyar was holding out for electronics. I told him if he didn't want what we'd brought, that was fine and I put the set back in my bag. Then Craig and I settled down to play with Aniyar who was all smiles as usual. Madiyar and his friend wandered around the room, looked out the window, and even wandered out of the room a few times before they decided building a robot was the best deal they were going to get.

As the older boys sat down and began to build Madiyar's robot, Aniyar turned to me and said, “Look, Mama, Madiyar is happy again.” and gave me a grin and a thumbs-up...very cute. With the mood du jour over, the rest of our visit was fun. The boys made animals out of the modeling clay I had brought and shot plastic balls at each other from their robots. Aniyar showed us the dance he had learned for the performance and both boys showed us that they can stand on their heads; then Craig stood on his head and everyone was duly impressed. Dad's still got it...he's wrestling with the boys and swinging them around in circles; the boys love the physical stuff.

As for me, I sit on the sofa and visit with my friends, Tatyana and Natasha. Tatyana is an English teacher in Ridder who helps us communicate here; Natasha is the Ministry of Education official who supervises our visits. I'm so pleased that these ladies seem to have accepted us. Natasha now says she knows the boys will have a good life with us and she's working hard to be well prepared for our day in court. I'm touched and honored by her trust in us.

At the end of our visit, we were led to the director's office where we found him hard at work on our behalf as well, preparing documents and records to be filed with the court for our adoption. We signed some docs and then they realized a document was missing...so the director joined us in our car and we drove to to the ministry office to retrieve the missing record. It was the end of his day and he didn't have to do this for us...but he, too, is being very supportive. In addition, we've come to realize he's just a very nice guy who seems to care greatly about the kids in his care.

I have to say that with all the other good things that happened on this day, the very best thing was finally talking to our kids back at home. The forgotten cell phone arrived via DHL and we were able to hear our kids' voices for the first time in almost two weeks. Kate, Tanya and Max—Talking to you was the greatest gift; it brought tears to my eyes...we miss you all so very much!

You know, it's not just our kids that we like hearing from...thanks for the good wishes via email and comments on the blog from all of you! It keeps us going to hear from friends and family at home and we want you to know how much your support means to us. We love you guys!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nine days down...

The day dawned cold and clear here in Ust at around 16 degrees. When we headed out for our morning walk, the sun was shining brightly but we wondered if a taxi might be a good idea given the chilly air. Ever the intrepid types, we quickened our pace and set our minds on cappuccino instead. We were greeted at the Karona as regulars...they know what we want when we walk in the door now. We chose our dinner items while they made our expresso drinks and didn't tarry long with our coffee. Yuliya wanted us to stop by her apartment and we were hoping to get our DHL package from home (the forgotten phone that Craig's sister Donna mailed to us) so we had a busy morning planned. We didn't go to any markets but we did stop at a street vendor's stall to purchase roasted chicken that looked delicious; 2 plump breast quarters cost us just over $3.00 and will make a nice quick lunch or dinner.

Yuliya's son Vlad was much better today, he's recovering from an infection of some type which caused him to have a rash and spike high temps. Yuliya is staying home from work for a few days until he's well again and she invited us for tea. We played with Vlad, met Yuliya's aunt, and had angel food cake and black tea; while we were there, DHL delivered our package...perfect timing. (It will be so nice to talk to our kids again...email is great but I miss hearing their voices.) The we were off again, back to the apartment to get ready for our trip to Ridder.

Alma joined us for this trip; it was time to review the court documents and collect records from the director and ministry official. We played with the boys while Alma, Natalya, and the director worked steadily, preparing statements and a journal of our visits which we all signed. The office was bustling but the boys didn't seem to mind; the first thing Aniyar wanted was to know if I had brought the GameBoys. He begged me very sweetly, showing me what he wanted by miming playing the game. I laughed and told him he could play if he could tell me the English word for what he wanted and he immediately said, “GameBoy!” There you have it, folks, his first English word that we taught him...GameBoy...sigh...such good parents, aren't we? Anyway, the boys played games, took more pictures with our camera, and Madiyar mastered Super Tux on Dad's computer. Arman was with us today and he was a great help; not only was he able to translate for Craig but he also knows videogames really well so he was able to explain to Madiyar what to do next in the game. The boys both love the videogames and while I'm not a huge fan of too much game time, they serve a purpose right now...as they face the changes that are coming in their lives, the games serve as a distraction. They also show us that the boys are both bright and have good memories; Aniyar now knows all the tricks to get to a new level in the Super Mario 3 game and Madiyar has mastered several games. We also can see that the kids aren't easily frustrated; when they make a mistake or lose at a game, they don't get mad...they just shake their heads and try again. I'm also impressed by how well they share, often swapping games without complaint and negotiating who gets to play what. We can see how these skills will help with their adjustment to school and and their new life.

Have I mentioned that the boys are tiny? Seeing them with other kids here, it's clear that they're small even by orphanage standards. Aniyar probably wears a boys size 6 or 7 and Madiyar might wear a size 8; they're both shorter than our kids at home, too. Don't get me wrong...they are obviously healthy and well fed here; they get 5 meals a day, 3 big meals and 2 snacks. Kazakhstan is working hard to improve the quality of life for its children, both in orphanages like this and in regular schools; the government sees the children as the future...and it helps that the president's wife has taken on children, particularly orphans, as her personal cause. Our boys tell us that they have fresh fruit, juices, rolls, soups, meats, potatoes, pelmeni, and more...and the orphanage has a garden in summer and an apple orchard that the children help to tend which provides more fresh vegetables and fruit. So will Aniyar and Madiyar experience the rapid growth that Tanya and Max did when we adopted them? We'll have to wait and see...but we also think genetics may be a factor here and the boys are just slender and small boned by nature.

Our visit ended late; Alma and the officials were discussing not just our adoption but another that will happen here soon, a family from Pennsylvania that I've been corresponding with. Anne and her husband and daughter will arrive here on 10/27 to begin their process. Like us, Anne has known Borya for 5 years and has been trying to adopt him ever since. I didn't mind waiting for our ride back to Ust...I know how long Anne's already waited, so what's an hour to us now?

Another good day...6 more to go. We're doing just fine but we miss our kids, our dogs and our own beds...still, it's a journey we wouldn't have missed for the world.

Mom's Misadventure and Day 8

As usual, we went on our walk this morning, treating ourselves to cappuccino at the Korona and samsa from a street vendor. (Arman introduced us to samsa the other day—it's a delicious flaky pastry filled with meat or cheese. Ours were stuffed with chicken and cost 60 tenge each, about $1 for both.) We did our shopping and were on our way back to the apartment with our groceries when I tripped on the uneven pavement and fell flat on my face. I wasn't badly hurt, just scrapes and bruises, but the eggs I was carrying didn't fare so well. Eggs aren't packaged in cartons here; instead, the vendor puts them in a plastic bag...I don't need to go on, do I? Hey, Kate, here's an equation for you:

Eggs + Gravity + Hard Surface = ?

Well, you're looking at the answer...scrambled eggs for lunch! Don't worry, we didn't scrape them off the pavement; amazingly, the plastic bag didn't break and we were able to salvage most of the eggs for this fried potato and cheese omelet.

All's well that ends well. Craig's just relieved that I didn't end up looking like the eggs. For some reason, he doesn't want either of us to visit a hospital in Kazakhstan. He's funny that way...

Our 8th day of bonding went really well. We took the boys Bionicle Lego sets that they really liked putting together. We also had a chance to talk with Aniyar's primary caregiver, a lovely woman who is obviously very attached to him. She told us about Aniyar's talent for art, his sweet nature, and his big heart. She let us see his room and meet the other kids in his group; they were too cute for words, politely inviting us into their playroom and offering us a seat. I asked their names and they introduced themselves, some in Russian and some in English. It's clear that the children are well cared for here...but as Aniyar's caregiver said, it's still not a family and the children all want a home.

I was taking pictures and offered to let Madiyar use the camera, an activity that turned out to be a hit with both boys. In fact, the rest of our visit was spent with the boys taking photos. Madiyar saw some of his friends in the hall and asked if he could take their picture...it wasn't long before the word was passed and we had a dozen or more kids appearing for photo ops. I think it helped Madiyar to have the chance to take pics of his friends; the kids were all having fun, being silly and doing stunts. Madiyar asked me to take a picture of him doing a back flip from a standing position...I didn't get the shot but I was suitably impressed with his athletic prowess! Anyway, I think we'll have some of these shots printed and let Madiyar give the prints to his pals along with our address; I've also gotten permission for both boys to write letters to their friends. Especially for Madiyar, it might ease his transition if he knows he can keep in touch with his friends back in Ridder.

It was hard to say goodbye...and it gets harder each day. The boys hugged us at least a half a dozen times each as we promised to see them again tomorrow. The ties are strengthening...and we're a little over half way through the bonding period. A week from tomorrow, we'll file our petition with the court to adopt Aniyar and Madiyar...not much longer.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Simple pleasures and random acts of kindness...

When we have down time here in Ust-Kamenogorsk, we spend quite a bit of time walking around the city. We're convinced the exercise is the only thing that keeps us from being crippled from the long hours we're spending in the car but we also just like seeing the sights. The pace of life is very different here and we're savoring the chance to slow down a bit and smell the roses...well, actually it would asters and mums this time of year but you get my point. Each day, we wander out in search of something for our dinner or some small gift to bring to the boys and we always come back with more than we bargained for, both literally and figuratively. Let me tell you about some of our simple pleasures:

Anyone who knows me is aware that my dear husband brings me coffee in bed each morning at home...and not just any coffee but a huge latte that's brimming with foamed milk. Since our expresso machine is a bit bulky to bring on our trip, we content ourselves with an occasional expresso treat in the local restaurants. We've searched out the best places for lattes and cappuccino and I have to say, what arrives at the table is not only delicious but also a work of art. The foam is swirled into a pattern, most often a heart design, and tiny sugar cubes are arranged on the saucer. When our kids are with us, they beg for the sugar cubes as their own little treat...we miss you guys..
In KZ, we drink Russian tea. We start each morning here with a cup (or several) of very hot tea; Craig favors his strong and with sugar and fresh lemon slices. This is his new favorite drink which requires us to shop for lemons regularly in the open markets.
Peeva (AKA beer) is another treat for Craig. He likes trying different kinds of local brews, especially dark beers. I like trying wines from this part of the world; the other night, we sampled Moldovan red wine with our dinner.

We have our favorite restaurants here but because of our schedule, we get back to Ust too late to eat dinner out. We've been buying our main dishes as takeout on our walks in the morning and then warming them in the microwave when we get back to the apartment in the evening. So far, we've had roast chicken, several different chicken dishes that have veggies and potatoes, and the best stuffed peppers and cabbage rolls we've had in years.
Since we got back from Ridder early on Sunday, we took the opportunity to cook our dinner ourselves. We were hungry for scalloped potatoes, something that we knew we could gather the ingredients for in the markets here. We sliced red potatoes and onion and grated cheese (it was a nice herb and pepper cheese, no clue what kind of cheese it really is but we liked it)...but we didn't have milk. We decided instead to use some of dried cheese powder like we use at home to make macaroni and cheese. (Did I mention that Craig's brother is a food scientist who makes this kind of stuff for a living? Dale actually formulated some cheese powder with powdered milk to bring to our friends here so that they could try American mac and cheese.) We sliced and diced, put it all in a casserole dish and baked it for about 45 minutes. The result was delicious and served as our main dish. We accompanied it with typical Russian salad of cukes, tomatoes, and shredded cabbage dressed with olive oil and a pinch of salt. For protein, we had hard-boiled eggs. It was a simple meal but we enjoyed everything about it...the shopping, the preparation, and certainly the eating!

Foods that we like better here than at home:
Juice—there's a greater variety and it's not nearly as sweet, the apple juice is more like fresh cider at home.
Bread—with no preservatives, it goes stale faster but it's the real deal, fresh baked bread with a nice crust just like Granny used to make. You can get dark bread or white, small loaves or large ones. No Wonder Bread here.
Carrot salad!!!
Yogurt—it's very creamy and the fruit selections are varied and delicious; I like the pear and apple yogurt best.

We like strolling through all different kinds of markets here, both the enclosed ones which have permanent stores and the open air markets which are more like our flea markets in the US. The open markets are where you get the best deals, bargaining for everything from fur coats to pots and pans to shoes; even bras and underwear can be found (though I'd never attempt to buy these; the sizing is totally different in this part of the world so it's tough to gauge the fit of such personal items!) This trip, we've also seen many more large stores than in the past. There's a beautiful new bookstore and toy store where we have found things for the boys; we enjoyed browsing yesterday and selected 2 more building sets to take to Aniyar and Madiyar. The girl who worked in the store figured out pretty quickly that we were Americans and she was very kind about communicating with me in Russian. When we paid for our purchases, she shyly said “Thank you!”; it was clear that she wanted to show us that she knew some English. (This happens to us often here, particularly with younger people who are now required to study English in school 2 hours a week as well as Kazakh 5 hours a week.) In fact, one of our favorite parts of shopping is meeting the people. I do my best to conduct our transactions in Russian and usually it goes pretty well but it's obvious to everyone that we're foreigners. Most of the time, people are very kind and go out of their way to help us. For example, we bought some produce in the green market the other day and the girl in the stall asked if we were from America. We said yes and she smiled, then told us that her sister lives in New York. We continued to chat and I found out that her sister lives in Brooklyn and told her we live near Boston; when we left, she was smiling and so were we. The next day, we went to her stall again to buy more produce and she greeted us warmly in spite of the fact that we only bought a cucumber and a lemon. We chatted a bit more in Russian and English and again left feeling like we'd visited with a friend. Yesterday, we returned again to buy tomatoes and I also selected a red pepper. She refused to weigh the pepper, telling me that it was a padarak, a gift. Then she told me to wait, that she also had some nice pears; she gave me two and wouldn't let us pay for them. It's this type of kindness that makes us feel so comfortable here...yes, she knows we're regulars now and she likes having our business...but I think she also likes practicing her English when we stop by. We experience the warmth of the people of Kazakhstan often and in turn, it warms us even though we're very far from home.

The landscape and all that's a part of it
The beautiful birch trees
The mountains shrouded in mist and capped with snow
The villages and scenes of daily life on the road to Ridder
Different birds, plants, and flowers...and even the animals (cows, pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens) that roam across our path at times in the villages we drive through
The people who live here...we love that many of them are willing to teach us about their country, their culture, their language and their lives. There's much change afoot in Kazakhstan as the country develops...but that's the subject of another post!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day 7 started early

Since the boys have no school on Sunday, we were allowed to visit them at 10:00 in the morning today. We were picked up at 8am; it was a clear day and we made good time on the road, arriving 15 minutes early for our visit. We stepped inside the front door to get out of the cold (it was in the 30's outside) and waited for someone to tell us where we should go...the director had told us yesterday that we would be in a different room for our visit since the offices are all closed on Sunday. While we were waiting, Craig was suddenly tackled from behind...and it was Madiyar who was hugging him and laughing. Aniyar hurried up to us a few minutes and more hugs were given.

Soon we were led to a recreation room where the girls dance, sing and play in their free time; the boys' recreation room is apparently a bit too noisy for visitors. We sat down on the very nice couch and gave the boys sketch pads and markers to draw with, telling them we wanted to see their art work. They immediately started to draw elaborate works of art that pretty much blew us away. Aniyar drew tiny cats and dogs and a Spiderman and a ninja, all in excellent detail. Madiyar drew a mythical creature that looked like a wolf with wings...again the detail was amazing...and a Spiderman that was so accurate, it could have been an illustration in a comic book. Madiyar also wanted us to see more of his work; he ran to his room to get the notebook we gave him the other day...and we were surprised to see that he's already filled several pages with drawings of comic book characters. These boys clearly love to draw and they're good at it.

After some drawing, Aniyar turned to me and said, “Mama, GameBoy?” and then put his arms around me and added, “Pazhalousta?” with his best puppy dog face. Well, pazhalousta means please and I'm a sucker for this kid's big brown eyes already...so it was GameBoy time. Madiyar was still drawing until he saw the GameBoys come out of my bag but it took all of 2 seconds for the artwork to disappear and he was ready for video games. The boys played contentedly while we chatted with Tatyana, the local English teacher who has been helping us communicate during our visits. A couple of the boy's tutors looked in on us and told us what good boys Aniyar and Madiyar are; we can see that they are well loved here and will be missed.

We saw no sign of sadness today in either Madiyar or Aniyar but we expect there will be some ups and downs for both of them in the next few weeks. Aniyar's tutor said he was crying the other day and that he's frightened; she said she thinks it's harder for older children to be adopted than for little ones who don't really understand the changes they face. I agree...it's a big change and there's bound to be sadness as they leave the caregivers and friends who are the closest thing to a family that they have had. In spite of their fears and tears, however, we feel them growing more comfortable with us each day and we admire their courage as they open their hearts to us. That's what the bonding period is all about...letting us all get to know each other and build the trust we will all need for Aniyar's and Madiyar's journey to a new life. One day at a time...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Difficult Choices

We arrived at the orphanage today at 3pm as usual just in time to see Aniyar and Madiyar leaving with a teacher. They were walking to the Kodak shop to have their visa photos taken, definitely a good sign of our progress here. We were assured by the director that our bonding time would be extended to make up the time lost to us by this task and we settled down to wait. It was only a short time before the boys returned, all smiles, eager to see what fun we had brought with us today.

Aniyar and Madiyar love videogames so I know they were hoping for more GameBoy time today. They were a bit crestfallen when I told them we had left the GameBoys in Ust and brought puzzles for them instead. (Craig and I want to vary the activities during our visits so that we can learn more about the boys' interests and abilities and have more interaction with them.) We also set up our laptop to show everyone a slideshow of photos of our home and family activities. The adults were more interested in the pictures than the kids at this point; the boys have seen most of these before. Aniyar started to put his puzzle together, glancing at the photos when there was something new to see. Some of Madiyar's friends were hovering outside the office door and they called to him; he chatted with the other boys for a while before Natalya noticed and called him back into the room...and that's when we saw a different side of Madiyar. He reluctantly returned to the room but sat down apart from us all. Natalya asked him to come look at some photos and he refused. He was polite but quiet and withdrawn. Natalya and Tatyana tried to coax him out of his mood but he was demonstrating a stubborn streak. His response to every invitation to put together a puzzle, see photos, or talk was “Ya ni hachoo.” (I don't want to.) He sat with his head down and eyes averted, barely whispering his refusals. This didn't really upset us; we know Madiyar is old enough to understand the enormity of the change he's facing and we've been expecting reality to hit him now that we're here. Natalya and Tatyana were obviously worried about our reaction to his behavior; they kept telling us not to worry and that 13 is a difficult age...but Madiyar remained silent and rooted to his chair. Finally the ladies went to fetch the director who was in another room. The director talked with Madiyar and slowly, the story unfolded. It seems that Madiyar has many friends here and he's a leader among them, both socially and in school. He is worried that in America he will make mistakes and he will lose his chance to be a leader.... I smiled and told him that I met him when he was 8 years old and he was already a leader then so I knew he would be a leader wherever he went in his life...but that's not something he can believe right now. The reality is indeed sinking in; in order to come with us, he will have to leave his friends and life as he knows it...and that's scary. The director gently told Madiyar he should apologize to us for his behavior but I didn't think an apology was necessary for honest emotions. I hugged him and told him that we were not angry with him; I was rewarded with one of his shy grins and the mood lifted. We were soon putting together a puzzle and joking...Aniyar was almost finished with his puzzle by then, proud of himself and cheerful as always. We spent the last 20 minutes of our visit chatting with the director while the boys played pinball on the computer. When it was time to say goodbye, the hugs were warm and the smiles genuine as the boys hurried off to have their dinner.

If you're wondering, we don't think Madiyar will change his mind about joining our family. We think he wants this but the fear of the unknown can be pretty daunting...frankly, I'd be more worried if a boy his age didn't have some concerns. He knows his life is about to change in every way and the enormity of that change is overwhelming. We've told him that we understand that the choice to leave his homeland is a difficult one but that it is his choice to make. Now we'll give him some time to work this out for himself. As for 13 year old moods...hey, we live with the Drama Queen...wink...we can weather any mood swing!

Kate, Tanya and Max--The critters hit the road with us today...they received lots of hugs and pats from the boys...and even from the grown-ups! They're getting sooo spoiled....

Friday, October 17, 2008

Day 5—Hitting the road again

I woke to drizzle and grey skies at 5:30 this morning. Craig was already up and making tea. Unfortunately, he woke up at 2:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. Since we were both up, we answered emails, had our breakfast, then headed to town for our morning coffee. We were among the first patrons at the Korona; as we sipped our cappuccino, we watched the girls set out tempting entrees and salads in glass cases. The bakery items were already on display; elaborate cakes and tortes, pastries, cookies, and cream puffs are all sold by the gram and they taste as good as they look. We passed on the sweets but chose some things for our dinner, then we were off to wander through the streets of Ust.
We decided to visit the open air market, one of our favorite places to shop. With winter not far off, the stalls are filled with fur coats, hats, and the most beautiful boots. (Kate, Dad and I saw dozens of boots you would love, from ankle high to over the knee styles...wish you were here to shop with me!) We left the market and walked all the way back to the apartment, logging between 3 and 4 miles on our morning stroll. We enjoy the exercise that our daily walk provides; it offsets the 6 hours of sitting that we do each afternoon.
Speaking of our trip to Ridder, it was a typical day on the road. We saw sheep, horses, cows, goats,and pigs grazing on the roadside and our driver kept a watchful eye on the wandering livestock. We had another new driver, a pleasant fellow who was much less prone to risk taking than yesterday's driver. In the end, we decided that it was like having a race car driver one day and someone's granny the next...maybe tomorrow, we'll find a happy medium! As we neared Ridder, the sky cleared briefly and I could see the golden sun illuminating the stands of birch trees. The snow capped mountains that surround Ridder are always a beautiful and welcome sight; it means we're getting close and the best part of our day is about to begin.
We're less of a novelty at the orphanage now. We are greeted warmly by kids and staff and we make our own way to the director's office. Today, the director was at a meeting and Natalya, our ministry official, returned to her office for a while, leaving us to visit the boys with only the translator present...woohoo! The boys ran through the door, greeting us warmly and looking hopefully for GameBoys to play with. We brought out the computer and showed them pictures from home and the pics we've taken of them this week, then we let them play videogames for a while. We also measured the boys to get a sense of their sizes...if all goes well, we'll be buying them new clothes soon. When Natalya returned, we chatted about life in Ridder and life in Salem; it was another great chance to find common ground. When the director returned from his meeting, he greeted us warmly and reviewed the weekend bonding schedule...yes, we'll be driving to Ridder on Saturday and Sunday as well. In fact, kids here in KZ go to school 6 days a week (Max, are you reading this? They have school on Saturday! Doesn't that stink?) so we'll be visiting tomorrow again at 3pm. On Sunday, we can visit them at 11am; it will be a nice change of pace. Our 5th day ended with warm goodbyes and we were on the road again...10 more days to go...

Madiyar showed us what he did with some of the tattoos we gave him...pretty cool, huh?

Day 4 was a blast!

I promised you more good news and here it is. Our 4th visit to the boys was incredible...but first, let me tell you about our morning.
Craig and I walked into town on a mission; we had used all the minutes on our internet card which allows us to have access to internet service from the apartment and we couldn't email or post to our blog until we purchased a new one (the technical difficulties I mentioned yesterday). We enjoyed the hike as a nice change from our long afternoon ride in a small car and it had stopped raining. We also enjoyed the lattes we rewarded ourselves with after our walk; we know all the places in Ust that serve good food and coffee and today we chose Pizza Blue for our morning treat. Then we headed across the street to purchase not one but 4 more internet cards; this will give us 20 hours of internet service. We did a bit more shopping for food, bought roasted chicken and more salads, juice (it's so much better here than at home; Tanya and Max, Dad got apricot juice...your favorite. Kate, I got apple and it's just as good as we remember. We also bought the boys a couple of Legos sets to take to our visit. We walked about 4 miles before taking a taxi back to our apartment in time for a light lunch.

Our driver picked us up at 1pm but it wasn't Arman. We think he couldn't face another drive like the day before and we can't blame him. This driver doesn't speak English but he's not very chatty anyway. Alma called to let us know that a translator would met us at the orphanage so we settled in for a quiet ride. No rain, ice or sleet...just as well since this guy drives really fast and passes everything in his path. Thank heavens they passed that seatbelt law here in KZ! We made good time, arriving 15 minutes early for our visit.

Someone must have told Madiyar that we had arrived. He came running down the hall to greet us, jumped into our arms for a big hug, then went to get Aniyar. They joined us in the director's office in seconds and there were hugs and smiles. We gave them the Lego sets and they were very pleased; we began building motorcycles on the floor of the director's office before the translator or ministry lady even arrived. That lasted until the director's administrative assistant came in and scolded him for letting the Americans sit on the floor. She moved their fax machine and insisted Craig and the boys move their building project to the table she had cleared. The director smiled sheepishly; it was clear that like many orphanage mamas, she is used to getting her way. By this time, Craig was helping both boys and I was chatting with the ministry lady (Natalya) and our translator (Tatyana). Yes, we are now on a first name basis and the climate was much warmer during this visit. I was able to tell them about our reasons for adopting, show them pictures of our home, and answer their questions about where we live and what kind of life the boys would have with us. I came away from this visit knowing that they are beginning to see us not as faceless Americans but as individuals who truly respect their culture and love these children. In turn, I am realizing that they do want to protect the children and do what's in their best interest and I respect them for their dedication to these children who have no one else to care for them. I feel the barriers falling on both sides of the cultural divide. By the end of this visit, the boys had created cool motorcycles with Craig and there were smiles all around as the boys proudly displayed them. We headed back to Ust feeling even more hopeful than the day before, convinced that we're creating allies for our day in court.
I've saved the best news of the day for last; Aniyar and Madiyar asked us when they could come home with us. It seems that they are as ready as we are for that day to come!

Back at the apartment, we fixed a quick dinner...as you can see, some of us were starving!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Day 3 of Bonding on 10/15

We're slowly settling into a routine here that fills our days. We've recovered from jet lag and we wake up each morning rested and ready for our day. Since we can't visit the boys until 3pm because they are in school, we have our mornings free. Yesterday morning, we walked into town in the drizzling rain, did some shopping and then warmed up with caffe lattes at the Korona. The Korona is one of our favorite restaurants in Ust; the entrees are prepared and displayed cafeteria style and all look delicious. You make your selections and the “dyevochka” will warm and serve them to you at a table or package it for take out. We chose two chicken entrees to take home, one with potatoes and the other with mushrooms and cheese. Our next stop was a stall in the market where we bought salads to add to our dinner entrees. Around noon, we took a taxi back to the apartment.

Arman picked us up at 1pm; since his English is excellent, he's able to act as both driver and translator. That worked well for us but not so well for poor Arman who had to drive through intermittent rain and sleet to Ridder. We arrived a bit late for our visit but were greeted warmly. Madiyar was hiding behind a door and jumped out to surprise us. After a quick hug, he ran off to find Aniyar and we headed to the director's office. The director and the official from the Ministry of education joined us for our visit again today. Under law, they are required to be present during our visits in order to assure the courts that we have complied with the bonding requirements for the adoption. In our previous adoptions, the bonding visits were less formal; we would see the director and ministry official but they didn't join us for the duration of each visit. Bonding was usually in a playroom or on the playground and not in the director's office. However, only one other adoption has preceded ours in Ridder and it took place under a different director and ministry official. As a result, this is a new experience for everyone except us. They're being kind to us and we think we;re making a positive impression as they get to know us...but they're dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” as they follow the letter of the law.

Now for the part you're really interested in...the boys! Our 3rd visit was punctuated by hugs and smiles (shy smiles and typical 13 year old boy quick hugs from Madiyar, great grins and fierce squeezes from 10 year old Aniyar); there were also arm wrestling matches, a game of crazy eights, and lots of Game Boy time. Tanya and Max, the boys thank you very much for he loan of your Game Boys. Madiyar likes the Shrek game best and Aniyar likes SuperMario. We ended our visit at 5:15 with more hugs and headed back out into the rain.

It was a long ride on a very dark road in bad weather and we were all exhausted by the time we saw the lights of Ust. We bid Arman good night at our apartment door at 7:30 and turned our thoughts to our dinner. Our take out chicken dishes, spicy salads, cheese, bread, and hot Russian tea were a welcome treat at the end of the day...and things are looking up in spite of the rain here in Kazakhstan.

I know...you're asking where the heck are the pictures and what happened to the day 4 report?? Well, we had a few more technical difficulties and my tech support guy is snoozing in the next room sooo...check back tomorrow for more good news from an even better day. (How's that for a cliffhanger?)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It must be dawn...

My mother used to say that it's always darkest before the dawn...and last night was pretty darn dark here as we worried and fretted over yesterday's news of potential problems for our adoption. We were both anxious about what news today would bring...but I'm happy to report that dawn did arrive here in KZ! Our coordinator brought us good news...she was able to resolve the problems in the boys' file and the legal path is now clear for the adoption. The documents were prepared today while we visited the boys; we will sign the formal letter of intent to adopt them tomorrow. We've breathed a huge sigh of relief and are moving forward. Of course, that's not to say we're guaranteed anything...but the orphanage director and ministry official both are willing to support our adoption petition in court so we're feeling much more optimistic.

Today we got big smiles and hugs from the boys. Madiyar played Gameboy and arm wrestled with Craig. He also looked at pictures with me and we gave him a temporary tattoo. Aniyar joined us late today as he was practicing a dance for a Kazakhstan holiday celebration on October 25; when he arrived, he was grinning as he gave us bear hugs. When he realized that we were leaving soon, he was very sad until I assured him we would be back again tomorrow. The director gave Aniyar permission to walk us to the door as we were leaving and he did that proudly...as I left he said, “Paka (bye)....Mama!” with a big grin. Madiyar has apparently decided that he's too old to call me Mama...today he started calling me Ma. Both titles are just fine with me...and they both brought a tear to my eye.

Day 1 and 2 of bonding are now completed...two down, 13 to go. We don't have much else to report since we're spending most of our other hours in the car commuting between here and Ridder. Tomorrow we will get up early and do some grocery shopping, then we'll be on the road again from 1-3pm, visiting from 3-5pm, then driving back here from 5-7pm. The drive is on good road for the first half and then the road conditions deteriorate. Travel is made more interesting by the cows and goats that wander into our path and I won't even mention the near head-on collision we faced today with a large truck...but it's all worth it. You can see for yourselves in the pics above just what I mean.

A final note about our great kids at home:

When we left for KZ, our kids each entrusted us with a stuffed animal to keep us company on our trip...from time to time, you'll see these 3 critters (a duck, a rabbit and an armadillo) pop up in the blog to document their journey. Tanya, Kate and Max....keep an eye out for your special animal friend and email me when you see him/her.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Good news and not so good

We've seen the boys and that's the most important thing. They look wonderful and were happy to see us. We had a great visit, gave them Red Sox caps and showed them the photo albums we brought. We'll post pics soon...having problems with that right now.

However, there are some problems arising already and they are potentially serious; we met with the orphanage director and the ministry official in Ridder yesterday and it's clear they are nervous about our being here. They are asking for a lot of documentation before we have even filed with the court and they have already informed the prosecutor that we are here. The prosecutor's office is asking a lot of questions about us...so nice to be famous. All that would be fine but the big problem is that there is an issue in the boy's file that still needs to be resolved. Alma will be trying to take care of this in the next few days; in the meantime, we are being allowed to visit the boys each day from 2-4pm. The boys are awesome and certainly worth every bit of our effort so we'll keep fighting for them.

We have decided to remain in Ust and drive each day to Ridder even though it makes a long day (2 hrs each way and a 2 hr visit for a 6 hr trip total). There is a hotel in Ridder and we could stay there but we are concerned that we would be without support. Ridder is much smaller than Ust and not as accustomed to Americans so it would be much harder to go it alone there. If we stay here, Alma will give us a driver who will also serve as our translator. At least for now, that's what we're doing....we'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

We've arrived!

Sorry it's taken me a while to post to the blog...but we've had minor technical difficulties. Let me catch you all up on our progress since we left home on Thursday night, 10/9.

Aunt Donna, Uncle Woody and the kids took us to the airport on Thursday evening; the trip was a bittersweet one. Our kids were trying hard to be brave but when the moment was upon us, it was a struggle to say goodbye. Max announced he wasn't excited about brothers after all, even told me he was mad at me for leaving...then he tried to convince me to take him with us...then tried to bargain down our trip from the expected 4 weeks to one week...always the wheeler-dealer, my boy! The girls walked ahead of us into the terminal, arm-in-arm and comforting each other...it reminded me of the summer day in 2003 when we first met Tanya in that very same airline terminal when she arrived with her Kidsave group. That day, our girls walked out of the terminal hand-in-hand, Kate shepherding a shy and withdrawn Tanya who didn't know us at all but who was willing to trust Kate and come home with us for a summer of fun...fast-forward 5 years and here we were watching our beautiful daughters hug each other, then run back to squeeze us tight. When it was time for them to go home, we gave them final hugs and our solemn promise that we would return to them. I told them each how proud I was of them, then let them know that they would find a little “bravery bonus” hidden in their beds at home...it was only a few dollars spending money for each of them and a note from Mom...but I'm hopeful that as they settled down in bed for the night, it eased their sadness...and if I know my kids, it wouldn't surprise if those notes were still tucked under their pillows as they fell asleep. (Can you tell that I really love these incredible children of ours? I am one lucky mom!)

As for us, we had a very good trip. We made the long trek across the big water and landed in Frankfurt. Our 2 hour layover was spent grabbing some coffee and emailing home; we wanted the kids to hear from us when they got up in the morning...and then there was the little matter of the special cell phone that Craig had bought to use here in KZ which we left plugged into the charger in our dining room at home...sigh...we're working on a plan to get it reunited with us. Then we boarded our next flight and flew over a whole lot of land to get to Almaty at 11:50pm Friday night. Our adoption coordinator, Oleg, picked us up at the airport and brought us to the Hotel Berkana. We were happy to have a shower and a few hours of sleep followed by a wonderful breakfast served by the hotel. We walked to Silk Way City, a large shopping center where we knew we would find internet access. We had just enough time to email our kids once more and get back to the hotel; Oleg picked us up at 10:30 on Saturday and we headed to the airport again for our 12:35 flight. We enjoyed chatting with Oleg and hearing about all the changes here in KZ. We even noted changes in the Almaty airport; we were happy to see that the airport now has several coffee shops including an American chain that's in many malls back home (Gloria Jean's Coffee). We laughed when we saw it...and bought large iced lattes from a young Kazakh entrepreneur wearing a Washington, DC t-shirt. How long before Starbucks shows up here to train Kazakh baristas? Anyway, we had a great flight on Air Astana (we were surprised to discover that our pilot was American!) and arrived in Ust at 2pm on Saturday. We were met by Alma, the adoption coordinator who will help us here in Ust; she and our driver brought us to our dear friend, Yuliya. We are now safely settled here in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan in Yuliya's mother's apartment.

Here's the news on the adoption front. Alma left us with Yuliya for the weekend and told us she would return for us on Monday at 8:45am. We will first go to the notary to draw up a power of attorney which allows her to file papers with the court for us, then we're off to the orphanage in Ridder. The ministry of education has already given Alma permission for us to see the boys...so while you are all sleeping on Sunday night, we will have our first bonding visit with Aniyar and Madiyar! Did you notice I said we'll be going to Ridder? Yes, the news regarding our bonding process has changed twice since we arrived in Almaty (this is Kazakhstan, after all!). When we first arrived, Oleg said they were not able to transfer the boys to Ust-K and we would be going to Ridder for the bonding period and court. That meant we would be in Ust-K for 2 days but moving to Ridder on Monday. We weren't too bothered by this news...we liked the idea of visiting with the boys in Ridder and thought of it as a new adventure. Then we arrived in Ust-K and our news changed again, now it seems that we will stay here in Ust and drive to Ridder each day to see the boys. Alma tells us that there are a few hotels but no apartments available in Ridder and she is concerned that we would be alone a lot there. They are now giving us the choice of staying in Ridder or here; we think we would rather drive each day but return to familiar ground each night. Since we have friends and know our way around in Ust, we will most likely stay right here unless something changes once we've seen the boys. Actually, I think we'll have the best of both worlds...a chance to see the boys in Ridder, meet their friends and teachers and learn a bit about the town they have lived in for the past few years...also a chance to return to a place where we feel very comfortable each night.

Yuliya is spoiling us as usual even though she and her husband, Jenya are as jet lagged as we are...they returned from a vacation in Russia only a few hours before we arrived here. Yuliya invited us to her apartment to eat dinner last night; she served us her mother's solyanka (a delicious Russian soup---note to self: Get the recipe from Yuliya's mom so we can make both borscht and solyanka at home!). We also had variety of Russian salads and an eggplant and tomato dish that was to die for, also a tasty pot pie filled with bits of fish and rice. We had fresh cucumbers and tomatoes from Jenya's mother's garden and Yuliya also served us spicy carrot salad which she knows is my favorite. We waddled home after our meal counting our blessings to have such good friends here on the other side of the earth.

It's Sunday morning now and I've been up off and on since about 2am. I couldn't sleep well because my body still isn't adjusted to the time change...I've whiled away the time writing emails and this blog entry to post later today. We don't have internet access yet here in Ust but will buy our internet card as soon as the store opens later today; then we can email more often and post to the blog. Kids, Dad feels really bad that he forgot the phone...we are sorry we haven't been able to call you like we promised but we'll get everything worked out soon.

Speaking of Craig, he woke up once in the night, complained of being hot...it's warm here, in the the 70's yesterday and very nice...but the heat is already on in the apartment and no way to turn it off. He looked in on me as I was typing away, then went back to bed. I did doze a bit more before dawn, too, then got up again about 5:30 and made a nice cup of Russian tea. Later on, we'll wander over to our favorite market to stock up on juice, eggs, cheese, etc. It's supposed to be nice and sunny again today with cooler temperatures coming in the next day or two. It's more like late fall here than we have in early/mid October at home, almost all of the leaves are off the trees and they've already had a frost or two so we'll try to enjoy the last of the warmth while we can.

Oleg tells us that Aniyar and Madiyar know we are coming and are waiting for us. Oleg also says he doesn't expect any problems with the adoption in court. We'll post tomorrow after we've seen the boys...be looking for pictures and lots of excitement. Don't forget to write to us! You can post to the blog or use our email address: darisley@comcast.net or cschoell@comcast.net

Late breaking news...we have been to town and now have our internet card so we can email and blog from the apt. More news and also some pics tomorrow!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Time to go!

The day we've waited for is finally here...we'll board our Lufthansa flight tonight and begin our 4th journey to Kazakhstan. All but the very last preparations are completed (the minor detail of packing is still on my to-do list). Aunt Donna and Uncle Woody are in the house and fully schooled in the care and feeding of the kids and dogs. Craig is officially on leave from work and I have completed my last consulting project meeting before our departure. The kids are holding up pretty well...they're nervous about our leaving but are already settling in with their aunt and uncle, enjoying their attention and making plans for the things they'll all do together while Mom and Dad are gone.

As for us, we'll land in Almaty just before midnight on 10/10 after a 24+ hour trip, spend a short night in a hotel, and fly on to Ust around noon on 10/11. We hope to see the boys on 10/12. We'll be jet lagged but so ready.

They say it takes a village to raise a child...and I can tell you it's also true of adopting one (or two!). We have an incredible village, from the family, friends, and teachers who are providing care and support to our kids to the many other wonderful folks who have helped us on the way. Our adoption professionals have been awesome, hanging in with us through thick and thin , helping us update docs and our homestudy and listening to us kvetch and moan throughout the process. Our larger network of friends, colleagues and other adoptive parents have provided moral support from far and wide. We owe a debt of gratitude to all of you...and you're all invited to the party we plan to have when we finally get the boys home for good.

We don't know if it will be all smooth sailing from here or if we'll face more rough seas with this adoption process...but we're up for the challenge. Watch this space!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

One week to go!

Well, it's finally October and in just 7 days, we will board our flight to Kazakhstan, leaving our kids at home in the care of Aunt Donna and Uncle Woody, pictured on the left. We are in the throes of final preparation for our journey and also our absence from home for the better part of a month. The documents are prepared, the travel arrangements are reconfirmed, the visas finally arrived, and the financial details have been taken care of. (Thanks, Maria, our wonderful banker who got us those truly beautiful and brand new sequential bills!)

Now I'm turning to packing and preparing the kids for our departure. Understandably, they're all a bit nervous about Mom and Dad being gone for so long but we're talking things out and trying to allay their fears. Here's a sampling of our conversations:

Max: Mom, I don't remember Aunt Donna and Uncle Woody. Are they nice?
Mom: Yes, Max. They are very nice and they will take the very best care of you!
Max: Can Aunt Donna cook?
Mom: Yes, honey...and she knows that you like sauteed onions, too!
Max: Will Uncle Woody like me?
Mom: Uncle Woody is funny and kind and he'll like you because you're funny and kind, too.
Max: Will he play my Dragonology game with me?
Mom: Oh, I'm sure Uncle Woody likes board games...and he likes card games, too.
Max: Can he teach me to play poker?

Tanya: Mom, will you be here for Halloween?
Mom: No, sweetie, we'll be in KZ but Aunt Donna and Uncle Woody and even Uncle Dale will be here for Halloween! Your costume is all ready and hanging in your closet...they'll help you get ready and take you out trick-or-treating.
Tanya: I know Uncle Dale's the best at Halloween stuff so I want him to help me look like a scary witch. Can he help us decorate our living room to look spooky, too?
Mom: I hear he and Aunt Laura are planning to bring some decorations with them...
Tanya: Awesome!!!

Kate: Mom, I'm a little worried about my Algebra homework while you're gone.
Mom: No problem, angel...Aunt Donna is really good at Algebra and Uncle Woody is a math whiz, too!
Kate: Cool! Can I go to the school dance while you're away? And why are boys so immature?
Mom: Sure, you can go to the dance...and ask Aunt Donna about boys, maybe she'll have a better answer than I do!

Max: Mom, can you call me on the phone so you can still read with me sometimes?
Tanya: Mom, will you send me emails?
Kate: Mom, if I need you, can I call you?
Mom: Even though I'll be on the other side of the earth...yes, yes and yes, my silly and wonderful children!

The hardest part of going is leaving our kids behind...and it's harder still for our kids. Kate, Tanya and Max, I'm very proud of you for being so brave! We could never do this without your support....in other words, you totally rock, dudes!! Grin...OK, now that I have mortified our children on the internet, my work is done for this post.