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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Home at last...

The past 48 hours are a blur...here's a synopsis of events. I haven't had time to upload pics, will try to do that later today. In the meantime, picture this:

Waited all day Thursday (1/22)with crossed fingers in Almaty to hear that the boys' passports had been flown to Ust and back and were finally correctly stamped so we could go home

Received the call from Oleg around 6:00pm that he was bringing the completed passports to us

Much screaming and cheering could be heard from 2 excited boys and their parents

Called kids in US around 6:15pm KZ time/7:15am US time to relay the good news

More screaming and cheering over Skype

Several hours of waiting to go to the airport at 1:30am

Madiyar asked at least 10 times how many more hours before we leave and proclaimed he wouldn't be able to sleep

Woke two sleepy boys to ride to the airport

Held our breath as the boys' passports and stamps were reviewed at passport control

Started breathing again once we were cleared for our flight

Waited for 2 hours to board our 4:10am flight

Madiyar asked at least 10 times how many more minutes until we would board

Dad spent the last of our tengee on over-priced airport candy

Boarded our flight and smiled as the wheels left the runway

Experienced much playing with tray tables, seatbelts, window shades, etc.

Eventually experienced much-needed sleep

Landed in Frankfurt at 5:20am for a 6 hour layover

Parents drank life-giving lattes while feeding the children M & M's, distributed Mom's stash of emergency Russian comic books, encouraged GameBoy playing, watched a movie until the computer battery died

Introduced our sons to the joys of playing on escalators and moving sidewalks, calling it exercise

Explored every inch of terminals A and B while trying to teach Aniyar to push a baggage cart without maiming someone

Visited several bathrooms, elevators, and more escalators and moving sidewalks

Instructed our children on the finer points of not pushing buttons or opening alarmed doors

Fed our kids their first McDonald's Happy Meals, including an ice cream sundae for Aniyar, a desperate attempt to bribe our way through the last part of our layover

Finally meandered to our gate at 11:00am

Responded to Madiyar's 20th request about how many more minutes until our 12:15 departure

Boarded our flight and walked through Business class to get to our cheap seats in Economy

Answered Madiyar's question as to why we didn't just sit in the nice big seats of Business class, dispelling his fantasy re: his new parents' vast wealth

Enjoyed Lufthansa's good service and food...for 8 long hours...with Craig seated 2 rows away from the rest of us

We travel back in time, chasing the sun across the sky and regaining a day in the process.

Gave Madiyar hourly updates on how many more hours until our arrival in Boston

After 6 hours, returned from bathroom to find the boys belting each other over rights to the window seat

Mom pulls darling boys apart and sits between them

Dad walks by on the way to the bathroom and wonders why Madiyar is now in the aisle seat and sulking

Mom reads and ignores sulking

Madiyar decides to stop sulking and asks how many more hours to Boston

Aniyar gets teary-eyed and asks why it's taking so long

Mom tells him stories about doggies who will give him kisses at home

Boys are distracted by the movie Wall-E and a snack for the last 2 hours of the flight; Mom is distracted by a small glass of purely medicinal cognac offered by the flight attendants.

Wheels touch down in Boston around 2pm on Friday, January 23 as new sons flagrantly attempt to flaunt seat belt rules while straining to see out the window.

Mom and Dad smile at each other across the rows as our new sons become US citizens when wheels touch US soil.

Mom tells boys they are now Americans

Aniyar asks if he can have a fishing pole now...he has seen Boston Harbor and wants to catch us some dinner

We proceed triumphantly off the plane and to passport control and immigration

No one throws a temper tantrum like Max did at this point in 2005

We go to the room where the boys' visas are entered into the computer system and they are welcomed to America officially as its' newest citizens

Everyone smiles and off we go into the main terminal by 3pm...over 5 years after we met the boys in this very spot, they've finally returned.

Our friend Deb picks us up and drives us home

We search the house for our kids but no one's home

Aniyar and Madiyar are greeted warmly by the dogs and new friendships are formed

Our kids arrive home from our friend Laura's house a few minutes later, screaming and yelling

Mom is assaulted by screaming children who knock her down with hugs

Other family members, new and old, are similarly and enthusiastically asssaulted

A maelstrom of greetings, showing the new kids around, opening overdue Christmas gifts, etc ensues

After an exhausting frenzy, various children engage themselves in movies in various languages, then videogames, then remote control vehicles

Around 6:00pm, Mom and Dad order take-out Chinese food since a home-cooked meal seems like an impossible dream.

By 6:30pm, we sit down to our first dinner as a family of 7...and we're all smiling.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Just when we thought it was safe to go to the airport...

Yep, you guessed it. We're still in KZ instead of winging our way home as we had hoped. Yesterday afternoon, Oleg called us with bad news. It seems that the boys' passports were missing one of two stamps required for them to leave the country. The same immigation official who had delayed us last week when he was in Moscow returned and stamped the passports once...but didn't add the required second stamp with his personal number. The passports were registered in Astana and were then sent to Oleg who discovered the error and was the lucky person who got to give us the bad news. This means that the passports have to be returned to Ust for the missing stamp. They're being flown there today, will be stamped and returned to us in Almaty by late afternoon. If all goes well and the official doesn't go to Bimini for vacation for a month, we'll be able to fly home tonight.

We completed our US Embassy visit yesterday, no problems there at least. We now have two lovely packets which contain the immigration visas for our new sons to enter the US. Assuming we ever actually get to Boston, the boys will become US citizens as soon as their feet touch US soil. Keep your fingers crossed for us...once again.

That which does not kill us makes us strong...so you may now all address us as Wonder Woman and Hercules, I believe.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Drum roll, please...

Tada!! It's finally time to go home. Three months after we arrived in Kazakhstan to begin our bonding and after 2 years of waiting, we're finally at the end of this long journey. The boys' paperwork is completed and our last hurdle will be crossed today...we'll head to our interview at the US Embassy at 2:15pm. Our flight leaves 12 hours later, not a moment too soon for any of us.

The boys are excited and probably a bit nervous but they're ready to go. We've spent the past 2 days in the apartment and even they are getting a bit tired of TV and movies. Aniyar and I looked at a book together yesterday and sounded out some English words. He drew me a picture and we practiced counting in English. Then we moved on to paper airplanes and playing soccer with a balloon. Madiyar spent most of the day eating everything in sight and trying to get his brother to wrestle with him when he wasn't continuously changing TV channels...yep, we're all pretty bored.

Last night, the boys went to bed without complaint. In fact, Aniyar was already dozing on the couch before the TV went off. Both boys were asleep within minutes, dreaming of airplanes and America. I woke up 3 times in the night to hear Madiyar talking in his sleep...I remember Max doing the same thing when he first came home...a stream of agitated Russian, a wild eyed look. I rubbed his back and told him he was safe and he was comatose once more.

It's a little after 8:00am here on Wednesday morning. The boys are still asleep and Craig and I are drinking tea. We're enjoying the early morning quiet...the sky is just beginning to lighten (the sun rises late here this time of the year). I can hear cars honking and the morning bustle beginning outside as the city comes to life. Inside our apartment, the bustle will begin soon, too...the boys will get up soon. We'll make a breakfast of eggs, yogurt, and salami. They'll watch TV and Craig and I will begin the process of packing our bags one last time. I'll pick my way over the treacherously icy sidewalks for one last trip to the supermarket where I'll buy just enough food for lunch and dinner, our last meals here in KZ.

We're counting the hours...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Our past few days...

We've made it through the weekend and we're all still in one piece. We stayed in the apartment on Saturday with Craig and I taking turns to go out for groceries and to get a little break from the boys. Oleg came over and talked with the boys about safety, the size of the city (2 million people), and the importance of staying together but none of us were convinced it would guarantee that Madiyar would stay with us if we went out. Even Madiyar seemed to be reluctant to go outside; he told Oleg he didn't want to go anywhere, that he wanted to stay in the apartment and watch TV until we leave for America. Even though he won't admit it (he's 13, after all...), I suspect he's intimidated and overwhelmed by the much larger world that sits outside our apartment door today as opposed to the small town of Ridder that he's used to. Anyway, Oleg left, saying he would call us on Sunday to see about taking us out for some fun.

Given our being cooped up in the apartment, Saturday was long but we got through it without too much drama, just some minor squabbles between the brothers and some sulking from our moody boy when we intervened. I found the day tough mostly because I was running on too little sleep again...I've been waking up at 4:00am or so each morning, putting in 18 hr days and running on empty. Sleep deprivation is an ugly thing...it saps my reason and my ability to cope. Right now, since I'm the go-to person for communication with our new sons, that's a bad thing for all of us...so Saturday night, I told the boys that I was going to bed early and they should ask Dad for anything they needed. I closed our bedroom door, read a while, then fell asleep before 9pm.

When I woke up Sunday morning, I could smell breakfast cooking and I heard quiet talking...but no TV. The boys were awake and Craig had made them breakfast. He said he expected them to turn on the TV but they didn't even ask. They were whispering because Mom was sleeping...and when I got up, they both gave me hugs before asking if they could watch TV if they kept the sound low. Wow...what a nice start to the day!

Our day got even better, too...around 1:00, Oleg and his wife picked us up and we went to the new Megacenter, a huge European style shopping mall. (When Oleg told him where we were going, Madiyar was reluctant to go along...but when he saw the place, his reluctance evaporated.) This place was amazing! It's multi-level, it has tons of stores, restaurants, a food court, even a grocery store...so why was this overstimulation palace a good place to take our boys? Because it also had the thing they needed most...a chance for them to get some exercise. First they had two turns each on the climbing wall; Madiyar got a bit nervous and only went part way up each time but Aniyar was fearless, going almost to the top both times. Next they went ice skating; Madiyar clearly knows how to skate and zoomed around the ice for most of the 30 minute period. Aniyar is obviously a beginner but he had fun and was beginning to get the hang of things near the end. After skating, we all needed a snack so we went to the food court. (Dad and I were thrilled to be able to get lattes!) Next, we went to Babylon Magic Park, a videogame and amusement park right inside the mall. The boys ran through the huge climbing maze twice and emerged dripping with sweat and grinning, then it was on to videogames. We finished our outing with grocery shopping (still in the mall), buying food for our dinner and some treats for the boys. Even Oleg and Natasha were having trouble controlling the boys in the store as they begged for everything that caught their eye but when Oleg told them we needed to go home, they didn't argue or sulk. We arrived back at the apartment about 6:00pm, tired but happy and much less stressed. As Craig unlocked the apartment door, Madiyar grinned at me and reminded me that we'd be flying to America in a few more days, then the boys carried in our groceries and unpacked them for us. Dinner was quick and easy, no arguments about bedtime, and they were out light the proverbial light, tired from all the exercise.

It's now Monday; we all slept in and are being a bit lazy. The boys wanted to call the boarding school in Ridder so we dialed up the main office there; it was a pleasure to see their faces light up as they spoke to the director and passed on messages to their friends. When they hung up, we got hugs from them both...we can see how much this contact meant to them and we're already figuring out how we can let them call from home. We've bargained chocolate bars in exchange for a bath so the boys are clean. We've just finished lunch and the boys are alternating between watching Clone Wars and playing GameBoy. This afternoon, we hope Nikolai will come by to help us get out of the apartment to break up the day.

We're getting closer to going home, only tomorrow with nothing to do but wait. Wednesday we'll be busy with our visit to the US Embassy (I love going there and talking with Americans...not to mention it signals the end of our process!), then it's packing for our flight. We leave on Lufthansa's 2:35am flight on Thursday, Wednesday afternoon at home in Salem.

Kate, Tanya and Max--We miss you guys so much and can't wait to be home with you all. Laura, our fabulous surrogate mom—we love you to pieces for staying with the kids and hanging in there during our delays. For the rest of our village who are helping to raise our kids in our absence, we send our heartfelt thanks for bringing our kids home from school, taking them to piano lessons, helping with homework, etc.--we owe you big time!

Will try to load pics with the next post...more later.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The latest news...

We are in Almaty, one small step closer to home. We arrived here Thursday afternoon and are staying in an apartment. The weather has been mild, mostly in the 30's during the day and sunny. The apartment is big and quite nice; the fact that it's a fourth floor walk up just gives us all a little more much needed exercise. A big supermarket is just a few blocks away and the boys are pretty pleased with the food we've been able to get there...roast chicken, varyeniki, pelmeni, salami...nope, eating isn't a problem.

We completed the boys' medical appointments on Friday so at least that is done. Unfortunately, we won't be going home on Sunday as originally planned due to the absent police official who needs to stamp the boys' travel visas...no remedy for that so we wait until his return on Sunday or Monday to get the visa applications stamped. Once we have the stamped applications, they have to be sent with the boys' passports to Astana for registration, then returned to Almaty so we can have our US Embassy interview which will allow the boys to enter the US. Of course, the US Embassy is closed on Monday for the MLK holiday and the first appointment we can get for our interview is on Wednesday...so here's the current plan. The visas/passports will registered in Astana on Monday and returned to Almaty on Tuesday morning, our docs here will be dropped at the embassy for preparation on Tuesday and we'll have our interview on Wednesday, then we'll fly out of Almaty at 2:35AM on Thursday to finally head home...phew!

We miss our friends in Ust and are longing for our family at home. Time is hanging a bit heavy for all of us; the boys are getting bored and Craig and I are feeling the stress but we're hanging in there as best we can. We celebrated Aniyar's birthday on Thursday with a few small gifts including two small remote control cars and both boys had fun playing with them in the apartment...at least until the batteries ran out. The boys have watched too much TV and played too many videogames; we've tried to get out of the apartment and walk around but that presents its own set of problems right now due to the overstimulation it presents to the boys; they get pretty wound up and don't have the best impulse control; they will run into the street without looking or wander away to look at something that attracts them which makes us somewhat nervous (that's code for it drives us crazy/scares us half to death). We've seen all these behaviors before with our other KZ kids and we know in time, it'll pass...but Tanya and Max were younger and easier to control when we adopted them; dealing with this behavior with an 11 and a 13 year old is a lot tougher.

Our moody Madiyar is the one who is testing us in ways that wouldn't be a big deal at home but are of concern here. For example, he got mad yesterday when we went out to buy new batteries for the little cars. He wanted us to buy Duracells (he's smart enough to know that Duracells have a much better life than the cheap Chinese batteries that are common around here) but the store only had 3 of them, enough for Aniyar's car but not his; we bought another brand of batteries for his car and this made him mad. (I know, I know...it's more the reaction you'd expect from a 3 year old than a 13 year old...and therein lies our dilemma.) We've quickly seen that when Madiyar's upset, his reaction is to distance himself from whatever is upsetting him. He tried to walk back to the apartment by himself...from the local grocery store at home once he knows his way around, this wouldn't be as big a deal and we'd probably let him walk to blow off steam and cool down...but in a big city like Almaty where he knows no one and doesn't even know which direction the apartment is in, it's a safety issue. Craig had to run him down to get him going in the right direction which didn't make Madiyar happy...but he did turn around and come with us. Once home, he went in the bedroom and sulked for a while, then I talked with him about the unsafe choices he had made. I gave him a consequence...no new batteries at all until he apologized to us for his behavior...and left him to sulk. It didn't last long; when he heard Aniyar happily running his car on the new battery power, he came to us and apologized, earning his new batteries. (Yeah, we know...he only apologized to get what he wanted....but for now, we'll take it.) Of course, Craig and I don't have any illusions that this problem is totally resolved. Just to be safe, we'll limit our shopping trips from now on. Last night, Craig stayed with the boys and I went to the store for groceries..it was less stressful for all of us, I think...except for the part where I had to carry all the bags home by myself!

Here's the good news...when I got back from the store, I was exhausted and in tears. How is this good news, you ask? Because when Craig opened the door for me and I stood in the doorway laden with heavy bags and crying, my 2 new sons jumped up to help me. I got much needed hugs from everyone first, then Craig helped me out of my coat and the boys took the bags from me. By the time I calmed down, the boys had put away the groceries and gotten me some water. I kept hearing them say to each other, “Mama's tired.” and “Help Mama with that!” These boys have good hearts and they're already bonding with us...everything else will work out over time.

I'll close with this...yesterday, Aniyar and Madiyar were shyly trying out their English, mostly counting and a few phrases like “Thank you” and “Good morning”. We went through sister, brother, mother, father...and I praised the boys for their efforts which pleased them both. Then all of a sudden, Madiyar said, “My family...” and broke into a huge grin. It touched me to hear those words from him and to see that smile...it's the smile I remember from the 8 year old boy we met in the summer of 2003. Whatever else we'll deal with as the boys adjust to their new life in America, especially with our teenage boy, we'll be OK.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Control, change, testing...and learning

We're in our 3rd day with the boys and we've had a few challenges, nothing horrible but when you're suffering from jet lag, even the little things can seem big. First, we didn't get to Almaty after all yesterday. Alma stopped by our apartment just 2 hours before we were supposed to be picked up to tell us that there was a problem with processing the boys' travel visas. It seems that the only person who can approve the visa applications is in Moscow until Monday and without his stamp of approval, we can't move forward with the registration of the adoption and passports in Astana either...so we're looking at a possibility of Craig going home on Sunday as planned and me remaining behind with the boys for 3 or 4 more days to finish the rest of the processing in Almaty once the paperwork is completed . (Sigh...this news triggered a flashback to the stress of my time alone with Max in KZ in 2005 while we waited weeks for his passport and travel visa, not a happy memory.) OK, no point in rushing to Almaty to wait since everything is much more expensive there so we changed our airline tickets. Now we're flying out on Thursday, will do the medical exams on Friday and then see what happens. There's a small chance that another official may be able to stamp the visa application and we'll still get out on Sunday as planned so keep your fingers crossed. Lack of control over this type of change is a part of the deal when you're adopting in Kazakhstan...accepting it is a survival skill.

We're trying to keep busy in the meantime and we're all adjusting to being together. We went to the pre-school orphanage yesterday; we had promised to take the boys to visit their former caregivers. They were excited to see their old home and to show everyone how they've grown. After our visit, we went to Arzan for groceries and that's where we ran into some limit testing with our oldest son. We should have seen the effects of overstimulation coming after all of our experience with Tanya and Max...but Tanya and Max have come so far that we're finding it hard to remember back to what the first few days of their time with us was like. It's all coming back to us, though...read on and you'll see what I mean.

The boys were overwhelmed by the big warehouse type store and ran slightly amok, begging for movies and toys. We let them pick some movies in Russian to watch on our computer but said no to toys, then we started to shop for groceries. This was OK with Aniyar who was easily redirected with a chance to push the shopping cart but it didn't please Madiyar. He kept wandering farther away from us, playing a 13 year old version of hide and seek to see what we would do...when we had our translator, Arman, remind him that we needed to all stay together for safety reasons, he got mad and walked away from us, leading Arman and Craig on a not-so-merry chase after him. It all turned out OK in the end but the drama resulted in Madiyar receiving his first consequence for not listening to his parents; he lost GameBoy and TV privileges back at the apartment until we talked about what happened and he apologized. (Our kids at home know all too well that the loss of videogame/TV privileges is a standard consequence for behavior issues, right, guys?) The good news is that Madiyar and I were able to communicate; I was able to tell him that we loved him and we wanted him to be safe; he was able to tell us he was sorry and earn his privileges back. Lesson one in adjustment to life in a family has been learned, I think.

Madiyar was a model citizen for the rest of the day and we all had fun. We went to Ice Town with Yulia's family for sledding and sliding in the evening; the boys had a blast running and playing on the ice slides. They needed the exercise and the chance to blow off some steam and this was the perfect place. They played for a long time and we had other fun as well. Aniyar was brave and rode a Kazakhstan horse, we ate shashlik, (Kate, are you jealous yet?) and we all laughed a lot. On the way back to the apartment, Madiyar asked if the boys could watch a movie until bedtime...and I was happy to tell him yes since they had been good, listening to us and staying near us all evening. They watched Clone Wars in Russian; they really liked the movie but were tired so when it ended, they didn't resist getting for bed. We had about 20 minutes of giggling and whispering before they settled down...and Aniyar was asleep first. Madiyar was still playing the “I'm not tired, I need a drink, it's too hot in here” game that kids all over the world seem to be fond of. We turned a Deaf ear to his pleas, and after another 10 minutes with no audience, he gave up and fell asleep.

Today we went into town for a little shopping and some lunch. Before we left, I explained to the boys exactly what we would be doing and where we would go; we also talked about listening and staying together. With our expectations and the plan for the day clearly mapped out, the boys knew what to expect and didn't get overwhelmed. We had a good trip and both kids were well behaved. Madiyar responded well when we praised him for listening and staying close to us; we rewarded both boys with letting them pick out some gum, a huge treat for them. The boys are now happily playing videogames and watching TV as a further reward for their good behavior.

Tonight, we're going to Olga's house for dinner so we'll have a change of scenery. Even the boys tire of videogames and TV after a while so it's good to get them out of the apartment. Tomorrow we're off to Almaty (at least we hope so!); it's also Aniyar's 11th birthday so we'll do something to celebrate there.

Most of all, we need structure...it's hard to establish a clear routine in limbo (no school, not much of a schedule, a lot of down time) but we're trying. The boys do pretty well in the apartment and they quickly adjusted to the routine here; they help set the table and clean up after meals, they know what their bedtime is and they get ready when we ask them to. They even make their bed in the morning without being asked. They're polite and their table manners are pretty good. They're not thrilled with bathing and they don't love brushing their teeth (neither of these things come as a surprise to us) but we're making progress. Being in an apartment really helps because I can cook familiar foods; the boys have enough changes to deal with right now without screwing up their diet so I'm trying to keep the menu to their version of comfort food. We're eating a lot of pelmeni, salami, hard boiled eggs, and fried potatoes, but not too many veggies (that's a fight for another day!). They're inhaling everything I put on the table, no problems with food. We'll have an apartment in Almaty, too, so we hope we can maintain the routine we've established here.

I'll close this post with an observation...these are great kids! They're funny and smart and interesting and I think they'll fit right in with our other 3 funny, smart and interesting kids. These boys have very different personalities and both of them will challenge us, I'm sure, especially as they get acclimated to their new life...but we're looking forward to their transition and ours as we become a family of 7.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pics from Gotcha day

We promised you pics from yesterday and here they are! We're on our way to Almaty this afternoon, don't know yet where we'll be staying or what our internet access will be like. We'll post as often as we can.

For our kids at home, our international cell phone is not always working...tried to call you guys today and couldn't get through. We'll try again tonight, also will keep trying Skype around the time you guys are getting ready for bed so listen for the call if you can.

How do you like these pics? We have the official photo with the director and Alma, also getting the boys dressed in their new duds...and the warm goodbye as we drove away.

Our boys are in the next room!!!

We drove to Ridder before dawn, arriving at the registry office a few minutes before they opened. It took almost 2 hours but we finally got the adoption certificates and new birth certificates that we needed to spring the boys. We arrived minutes later at the orphanage where the boys and the director were waiting for us. We gave the boys their new clothes and set about the business of getting them dressed in enough layers to keep them warm in Antarctica, then we distributed our gifts, said our goodbyes and headed to the car for the long ride back to Ust. The boys were in great spirits and the director told us they've been ready to go for days; there were no tears, only smiles as we left Ridder.

We've had a good day with a few to-be-expected challenges...one episode of car sickness (Aniyar), one episode of pouting (Madiyar), and a fair amount of stalling about going to bed (both boys)...but we've also had several hugs, lots of smiles, and some great manners. In fact, I cooked two meals here in the apartment and the boys jumped up after we were done eating to wash and dry the dishes. Tanya, Kate, and Max, are you reading this? Are we seeing some testing? Yes...but honestly, we would be surprised if we weren't.

Tomorrow we head to Almaty to complete our processing for the US government. We'll do a medical and a visit to the US Embassy; while we're there, we'll also celebrate Aniyar's birthday on January 15. We expect to fly home on Sunday...can't wait!

I can see I'm going to need all my strength to keep up with these two characters...they're still fooling around instead of settling down to sleep...hmmm...and so real life begins. I'm trying to act tough...but it makes me smile just to hear them whispering, just knowing they're finally with us. It also reminds me of our other first nights with our kids...Kate as a newborn, Tanya and Kate giggling together in their bed at the Irtysh Hotel, Max's first night with us and the two or three baths he took just to play in the tub. I'm so grateful to have this first night to add to our list...there were times when we really didn't think we'd get the chance.

Check back tomorrow...right now it's late and some of us (apparently, that means Mom and Dad) need our rest...but we're so darn happy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Journey to the other side...again

We've arrived safely in Ust-Kamenogorsk once more after a smooth trip. We had no real delays or problems and we've made the the trek so many times now that it feels almost like commuting. We've flown through Frankfurt Airport so often in the past few months (we've been there in October, November, December and January!) that we have our favorite spot to get coffee and were greeted warmly once again by our favorite “coffee lady” there. The lattes were still excellent and provided us with enough fuel to make it through our 7 hour layover and on to the next flight. We arrived in Almaty around 1:00am; we were driven to our hotel by Oleg's dad who asked us if it was our first trip to Kazakhstan...we had to smile at his surprise when we told him it was our 6th trip. We settled in quickly at the Kazhol, luxuriating in hot showers before we settled down to rest for about 6 hours, then we enjoyed the breakfast that's included with the room. By 10:30am, we were back on the road to the airport for our flight to Ust...more coffee at Gloria Jean's, more waiting to board...a lovely Air Astana flight that landed on time in Ust at 2:00pm.

Arman was waiting for us at the airport and there were hugs and warm greetings, then he drove us to Yulia's mom's apartment. Yulia and Jenya were waiting for us there; there were more hugs and kisses, then we dropped our bags in the apartment and all went to the computer store. We wanted to make a gift to the orphanage that would benefit the kids there and the director said this was something they could really use. All the kids take computer classes but they don't have enough equipment. This desktop will supplement the limited supply of computers that they currently have...and it also is fast enough that the kids can play computer games on it during their recreation time.

When we were done computer shopping with Arman and Yulia's help, we went back to Yulia's apartment and Craig set up Yulia and Jenya's new computer (yes, they bought a new system, too!). We were fed a lovely meal of borscht and plov...it's so nice to have family here in Kazakhstan, Yulia's family has so kindly adopted us and they take such good care of us! After dinner, Yulia's Deaf cousin Natasha and her husband Misha stopped by and we had a nice visit with them, too, then it was hugs and kisses and goodbyes in Russian, English, and 2 different sign languages and we walked through the mild night back to “our” apartment which Olga has kindly loaned to us again.

We spent the next hour or so picking out clothes for the boys to wear tomorrow and putting their new clothes and shoes into their new backpacks. It's pretty exciting to think we'll be seeing them tomorrow and bringing them out of the boarding school. Our driver will pick us up at 6am, then it's off to Ridder one last time. We expect to go first to pick up the birth certificates and the adoption decree, then we'll have the documents we need to have the boys released to our care.

It promises to be a beautiful day, temps in the low to mid 20's and sunny, a good day to start a new adventure. We'll arrive with gifts for caregivers and kids alike to show our gratitude to those who have been Aniyar's and Madiyar's family until now...we'll take pictures and pass out our email and snail mail addresses so friends can keep in touch. We'll let the boys decide how to say their goodbyes, then we'll be off to Ust again in search of some fun and celebration. It's the last night that the boys are spending in the orphanage...I wonder what they're feeling right now. Are they scared? Excited? Nervous? All of the above? One day soon, I'll be able to tell them how much I admire their courage in taking this giant leap into a new life with us...and we'll face whatever their feelings are as a family.

I wonder if they're having as much trouble sleeping as I am...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's official!

Our finalization period ended today and the news is all good...there were no last minute problems, no protests against our petition to adopt, none of the disasters I've envisioned in the wee hours of the night for the past 15 days. Our coordinator emailed me this morning to tell me that she received the court decision and has filed it with the registry office to have the boys' adoption decree and new birth certificates issued. Just in case you were wondering what all this mumbo-jumbo means, let me interpret: Aniyar and Madiyar are now and always will be our sons. We have only one more task and that's a happy one...on Friday, January 9, we will make the trip across the big water once more, then another couple of flights, then the bumpy but now familiar drive to Ridder...and finally, we will collect our boys and bring them home. We still have a bit more paperwork to do in Kazakhstan but we'll be back in the US in about a week.

Home...to a new world with new challenges. There will be so many firsts for the boys in the next weeks and not all of them will be easy. There will medicals and embassy visits, more medicals and language evaluations, strange foods and new schools...but there will also be the familiar faces of our kids waiting eagerly at home, the love and support of their new mom and dad, and even a Christmas tree waiting just for them. (The needles are beginning to fall and it looks a bit droopy but our tree will stay up until our boys have a chance to open their Christmas gifts.)

We also hope the boys will like their new room...Max is already enjoying the new triple bunk beds; Aniyar's and Madiyar's beds are waiting for them, all made up in blue camo sheets and fleece blankets. The room looks awesome, like a really cool college dorm, very suitable for big kids who are getting bigger every day. The boys have clothes waiting in their dresser, books in Russian on the bookshelf, and computer games to help them learn English. Max has even offered to share his stuffed animals with them! Kate has bought each of her new brothers a gift with her own money and Tanya can't wait to show them the ropes around here.

We met Aniyar and Madiyar the same day we met our Tanya, more than 5 years ago...and we never forgot them. This picture was taken at the airport the day the Kidsave kids all returned to Kazakhstan after their summer 2003 visit to the US. I can't wait to snap some new pics of our kids at Logan Airport...when we're are all home for good!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Our Happy Holidays

I took a break from posting to give my family a special gift...my undivided attention for the holidays! Here's how we spent our time:

I woke up early on Christmas and tiptoed downstairs to stuff the turkey, hoping to slip past the radar of our very excited younger kids. Didn't happen...Tanya and Max were on the stairs in a flash, begging me to be allowed to storm the Christmas tree. I sent them back upstairs for 15 minutes so I could get the turkey in the oven. By then, even Ms. Teenage Kate was awake and begging to begin Christmas. Craig was obviously not feeling well but he got up and the frenzy began about 7:00am, first the kids saw what Santa brought them (a guitar for Tanya, an archery set for Kate, and a huge number of Legos for Max). Then we moved on to stockings, followed by the rest of the gifts...and somewhere in all of this fun, Craig seemed to be melting. He lasted until the kids opened all of their gifts but didn't feel well enough to open much himself. As I started fixing the kids bagels for breakfast, Dad went back to bed...and he stayed there until dinner was served. The poor guy was feverish and achy all day, managed to eat some dinner and then melted back into bed again. Was it a fun Christmas for him? Well, not his best...but we were home and all together for Christmas so we're calling it a success. As for gifts...well, nothing could possibly beat the gift we got in court when our adoption was granted.

The rest of Christmas week was great, Craig recovered nicely and the kids had a blast with their gifts. They all got cookbooks and we spent the next few days trying recipes. Tanya made delicious Russian blini (thin crepes/pancakes) for all of us and Max made a Jello and fruit dessert to share with us all and Kate made a Spanish frittata that was delicious. Flush with these culinary successes, Kate suggested that they all make Dad a special birthday dinner (Craig's bday is December 30). Max baked brownies with butterscotch chips and chocolate frosting for Dad's cake, Tanya made a beautiful banner and helped decorate with crepe paper streamers, and Kate made Prawns in Garlic Oil, Parmesan Risotto, and Olive Bread with Mom acting as sous chef. I have to say, the meal was very tasty and I was so proud of our kids for wanting to give their Dad this special treat for his birthday.

New Year's Eve was fun, too, in spite of freezing cold temps and quite a bit of fresh snow. The kids made individual pizzas for dinner and watched movies. Our closest friends, Rick and Deb, joined us for appetizers and a simple dinner of delicious soup that Rick made, served with crusty bread.
I passed out party hats and noisemakers so that our celebration wasn't too quiet. The kids were thrilled to be allowed to stay up until midnight and they were going strong, running in and out of the kitchen to visit with us and blow their noisemakers. The grown-ups toasted the New Year with champagne at 11pm and our friends went home, then we joined the kids upstairs in the family room to watch the ball drop on TV.

By this time, the kids were pretty tired...they managed to stay awake long enough to toast 2009 at midnight (that's ice water in those champagne flutes), then they collapsed into bed. Max was literally asleep the second his head hit the pillow, Tanya and Kate weren't far behind.

We started the first day of the New Year by going to a rug sale...we bought new area rugs for the kids' rooms on a special inventory clearance...then we went to a party! Rick and Deb host an annual New Year's Day Open House and we always attend, it's a great chance to catch up with all of our friends and review the events of the past year. (We had lots of news to share this year!)

After the party, we headed home to do something exciting...we took apart Max's bunk beds and cleaned his room. Why was this exciting? Because it was in preparation for the delivery of the triple bunk beds we purchased last week for our 3!!! boys to sleep in. Yes, it's true...after all the waiting and worrying, the time has finally come to prepare for the boys to join us in our home. I've never smiled so much while cleaning...Happy New Year indeed!