Sunday, December 28, 2008

Merry Christmas

Cousins in their matching pajamas (note Nik's focus on the dog)

"I want a puppy for Christmas"


Alexis in her "butterfly dress"

Cousins - Ryan, Nik, and Alex

The boys (and Jen) playing with Alex's doll house

Playing with his new water table

Hanging with Grammy

We had a fun and crazy Christmas with my family. My sister and her family came into town and met Nikolai for the first time. My mother-in-law came into town too, so in total we had 10 people! My niece and nephew were of course full of energy and for the most part Nik kept up with them. They were really sweet and good about letting him play with them. Alexis kind of treated Nik like a doll and kept squeezing his cheeks and giving him kisses.

Nikolai has figured out that “more” means more of anything. He even says “more ba” for more bottle. When I ask him if he wants to eat or if he is hungry he will pretend to chew, opening and closing his mouth. He will even do this for his medicine, which is lucky since he will be taking it for the next 9 monhts. But now he has started doing this for anything he wants – which mostly this holiday has been my sister’s Boston terrier. Nik crawled all over the house following Cocoa. At first Cocoa liked it and gave Nik lots of kisses (tongue to tongue – ah!). Eventually Cocoa started running when Nikolai came close. Nik had a particular yell he reserved for the dog, although he has now started making the sound for our guinea pig too.

Nik is not walking, but can stand a little on his own. He balances for a few seconds and then gets overly excited by the event, laughs, and falls down. He will also walk holding on to our fingers, leading with his belly. He just learned to put things “in” and let go – so maybe soon he can help put things away rather than just pulling them out? His Grammy got him a neat train with alphabet blocks that shoot out the back of the train into the next car if you put them in the top of the engine, and Nik likes to put the little blocks in the slot. Nik has really gotten into reading books. He pulls his books off the shelf one at a time, looks at the cover, and either drops them or sits down and indicates he wants them read. I have memorized some of his favorites – and I think he has too. At one point I started reciting one of the books because it was in my head and driving me crazy, and Nik crawled right over to his book case wanting to read the book. It is amazing how much he seems to understand even though he cannot express it yet.

The youth at church say Nikolai is the baby from Ice Age. We watched Ice Age to see what they meant, and they are totally right! He makes the same looks and is always clapping and happy like the Ice Age baby.

This is my last week off from work and I am definitely not looking forward to going back. My parents are going to watch Nik for most of January, and then he starts at daycare. This week we plan to try to get some of the post-adoption things done. First we need to apply for a social security number. Unfortunately we were mistakenly sent a Permanent Resident Card for Nik rather than a Certificate of Citizenship so we do not know if we will have to update his SS# info once we have proof of citizenship. USCIS told us the "system" shows him as a citizen, not a permanent resident. We need to get new passport photos taken for all of us, and apply for passports. I also need to take Nik to the lab to try once again to get blood drawn to finish the range of tests recommended for adopted children, and required by our pediatrician before he will sign off on the daycare application. We have our first post-placement visit in January. We are trying to correlate the visits required for VA and Kaz to save on costs. At some point we need to take the required online courses for Hague compliance, update our home study, and submit an I-800a for China.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Update 1

We had a fun Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania at Chris’s mom’s house. My parents and our friends from Salisbury, MD joined us as well. Nik did well with meeting a lot of new people as relatives stopped by to visit. He had fun playing with our friend’s 5-year old. By the second day he was very attached to his Grammy and crawled over to her to be picked up. He also seemed to really like her big black lab, Abby. Nik gets a little overwhelmed by the full-face licking, but so do I. At one point, Nik was playing on the floor in the kitchen and someone let the dog in, who went right over to Nik. We put Abby back outside really quickly, and Nik crawled over to the door crying until we opened the door to let him see the dog again.

Nikolai is so funny. He is starting to imitate us a lot, including fake coughing when we cough and pretending to chew when we are chewing a crunchy snack like nuts. He says several words, but I do not think he knows what they all mean. I always thought he would start saying a few simple words for things he likes the best, like bottle and bath. Instead he seams to repeat words he has heard, often out of context. We let him gnaw on an apple after I ate the skin (and after he threw a fit because I was not sharing) and since then he has been randomly saying “apple, apple.” Many people use signs with babies, so we tried to teach him the “more” sign. Now he will say “more” over and over and if he gets desperate he will add the sign. Unfortunately he appears to think that “more” means Gerber puffs. He will have a tray full of cheerios and baby food waiting, but will keep saying more until the puffs appear. I want to reward him for communicating and making it clear what he wants, but I really do not want to reinforce his belief that “more” means puffs. Plus, a baby really cannot live on puffs alone. He says “uh oh” every time the pacifier comes out of his mouth, and whenever something falls – even if it is a ball he drops intentionally. He seams to have decided that Chris is “dada” even though we have always called him “papa”. Apparently someone (possibly a grandparent) taught him dada and it has stuck.

We bought a Christmas tree last night. We put it up after Nik went to bed, and I was anxious to see his reaction in the morning. This morning he was a little sleepy and playing with his toys and finally noticed the tree. He stopped playing and very seriously said “oh”. He crawled over to it and I picked him up to get a closer look. He cautiously touched a branch and pulled his hand back. This evening he still seemed wary of the tree, which hopefully lasts for the next 3 weeks!

I started looking at daycare facilities since I have to go back to work in January. The first Kindercare place nearly made me cry. The room for the babies and toddlers was about a quarter of the size and with much fewer toys than Nik’s room at the baby house. Plus at the baby house there is usually a 1 to 3 ratio, while daycare facilities only have to have one adult to four babies. I could not picture my active boy being confined to such a small space all day. Many places I called have a waiting list until July or August, so I did not bother visiting them. Today I visited a different Kindercare that I liked a lot. There are a lot more babies in the room, but the rooms for the babies, wobblers, and toddlers were big and clean with lots of toys and room to play. To enter the baby room, we had to take off our shoes, which seemed very Kazakh. The staff seemed good and calm. The wobblers (a transition stage between baby and toddler at this facility) were actually in a quiet environment for a nap, which would clearly never happen at the first Kindercare. I decided to reserve Nikolai a spot at the center and while I was writing the check, they let Nik play in the baby room. When I went in to get him, he had already accumulated two toys and was trying to get another toy out of a little girl’s hand. He may be trouble at daycare. He was a little upset that I cut his play so short when we left.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Random Musings

Nikolai seems to get cuter everyday. He is so funny. He has started playing peek-a-boo himself, pulling the blanket over his face (or at least close to his face). His grandfather also taught him to “high five” and Nik will stop in the middle of eating or playing and raise his hand until someone responds. Some meals are hard to get through with all of the high fiving. He LOVES music. We went to lunch with my parents at one of my favorite restaurants in Old Town Alexandria on Friday. Soon after we sat down he started rocking side to side and it was only then that I noticed the quiet music in the background. He seemed to like the classical guitar pieces the best. After lunch I took him into the bathroom to change him. Luckily there was no one else there as it had a great echo and Nik enjoyed shouting out some of his favorite sounds. I joke that he is slowly composing a baby opera as he has a few favorite series of sounds that he repeats for a few days and then chooses new series. He is getting really good at pulling up to a stand and has started cruising on furniture, crossing one foot over the other. He is still working on getting down from a stand without assistance.

I cannot believe how people’s opinions about what a 9-month old should eat vary. The international doctor feels all foods should be pureed smooth. The pediatrician said he can eat anything as long as it is cut into square or triangular pieces. We are sort of splitting the difference. He eats pureed or mashed oatmeal, rice cereal, snow peas, green beans, carrots, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocado, banana, apple, pear, and papaya. He also eats pieces of avocado, ripe pear, soft tofu, egg yolks, baby puffs, and cheerios. He has a funny habit when eating puffs or cheerios of holding one in his right hand the whole time. He eats this one last. I think this makes him feel more in control of the end of food and the end does not catch him off-guard. For some reason he does not like carrots, but will eat about half of a ice cube’s worth before refusing to open his mouth.

It is much easier to take care of a baby everyday now that I am rested and no longer sick. Still I sometimes have trouble getting lunch for myself. My neighbor Marina, who is from Kazakhstan, has been really sweet and has cooked me lunch twice. The first meal was beef stew with a lot of dill. The aroma reminded me so much of Kazakhstan it made me miss our time in Astana. I bundled Nik up to walk over to Marina’s house and return her pots. In Kazakhstan children must be completely covered and kept very warm or else you are likely to be scolded by perfect strangers. It is not unheard of for young kids to be dressed in snow suits when it is 70 degrees out, so I was very conscious to dress Nik warmly to go to my neighbor’s house. She said she liked his hat, but didn’t his grandmother knit him any booties for his feet? (which were already covered with tights and socks!). So funny. It will be such a gift if her family remains in the townhouse complex until Nik is older so she can tell him about Kazakhstan. Her kids speak Russian and English and were excited to meet Nikolai too. When Marina speaks Russian to Nik now, he gets upset. I do not know if it really is the fact that she is speaking Russian or if it is just that she gets close to him and she is still a stranger. Marina showed me the correct way to open a pomegranate – it’s amazing and I intend to share with my family and friends.

Nikolai was evaluated by the international adoption doctor on Tuesday. His language and puzzle solving are slightly delayed, but he is actually advanced in gross and fine motor skills. This was great news. He also has gained 1.6 pounds since he came home. Unfortunately the doctor thinks he probably has a submucous cleft palate as well as the cleft in his jaw. This may mean surgery soon as well as in six years. With all of the screening tests required and the need for a craniofacial evaluation, he is going to be at the doctors a lot. The doctor also recommended vision and hearing screening with two separate specialists who evaluate babies. It is not likely that this would be covered by our insurance, although possibly the hearing evaluation since he has cleft issues. I really do not think he needs it, though, as he seems to hear subtle sounds and imitates us fairly accurately (when he chooses to imitate). We just said uh oh! and he repeated it back exactly! These are two sounds different from his normal ba, ma, la, da, etc.

Nikolai is missing some vaccines, so he had three shots – including a flu shot – on Wednesday. He has had hives all over his legs since then, poor baby. We gave him some Benadryl yesterday and more today, which seemed to help a little. It made him crazy though. It sort of reminded me of the Simpson’s episode where Maggie gets into the coffee. He crawled and cruised around babbling constantly and giggling. He also seemed to get hyper focused and would repeat whatever we said including a few new sounds. I am glad that we did not give him Benadryl for the flight home like some people recommend – not that we really considered it anyway since we do not think medication should be given with no reason.

Monday, November 10, 2008

First Week Home

The past week went pretty well. Nikolai is so cute, sweet, and happy. I realize we are spoiled and I cannot imagine how hard it would be if he was a difficult baby. As it is we are exhausted and get frustrated with his moments of screaming (like when we try to put a new diaper or clothes on him). Nikolai slowly has adjusted to the time zone and has gotten close to sleeping through the night. However, he still wakes up between 4 and 5 am wide awake and wanting to play. It is better than 1 am like the first few nights, though. Unfortunately he and I have caught bad colds. His breathing was so labored on Friday that we took him to the doctor, who prescribed asthma medication to open up his lungs. The combination of a bad cough waking him up and the medication has messed with his (and our) sleeping pattern. He does better during the day and likes to eat and play.

Nikolai has experienced many firsts this week – first ride in a car seat, first trip in a stroller, first football game with dad, etc. He is pulling himself up on everything and seems to prefer to stand – even if it is on the tops of his toes (ouch). We brought Nik to church with us on Sunday since it was youth Sunday and the youth had been very anxious to meet him. Chris went early before the 8:15 service to help out with the three services. I brought Nik to the 11 am service. We were greeted at the door by a mass of excited junior high and high school students. I often say that Nikolai is a flirt – he likes attention and will generally smile at new people. We realize that this can be a sign of attachment problems, but have not worried yet since he has only been with us for two weeks. We were pleasantly surprised that at church Nik kept laying his head on my chest and averting his eyes from all of the new people. Maybe he is attaching to us! He loved the music at church and shook his shoulders back and forth during the hymns.

We have not really established a consistent schedule yet, especially for lunch time and the afternoon. We learned tonight that what little routine we have begun is VERY important. Nik was winding down a little late tonight – around 8:15 when in the past we had had a hard time keeping him awake past 7:30 pm. We decided to skip the bath since he was not too dirty and I am out of energy with being sick. After trying to get him to sleep for nearly 45 minutes, we put him down on the floor to crawl around thinking he wanted to play a bit more. He made a beeline for the bathroom and tried to climb in the tub, crying the whole time. So we gave him a bath and he went right to sleep afterward. Note to parents – DO NOT try to skip bath time again.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Our Week in Almaty

I apologize for the long post…

Traveling - Saturday and Sunday 10/25 and 10/26

Our first big adventure happened before we even left the house. Our flight was at 9:54 pm on Saturday, so we waited to pack until Saturday morning. No problem – we were ready to go by about 2 pm. At that time we decided to check the tickets one more time and make sure we had the time correct. We did have the time correct, but not the day! The tickets were for Friday the 24th and then Saturday the 25th from Frankfurt. This despite our having been provided an itinerary by the travel agent for the dates we requested – leaving on the 25th. So we panicked a little, bought a new ticket from Frankfurt to Astana since it was not too expensive and we figured it would be easier to find an alternate flight to Frankfurt than to Astana. We then left for the airport immediately. The person who arranged for our tickets got in touch with the travel agent and she got us seats held on the Saturday 9:54 flight out of Dulles. She also got us seats on the flight to Astana on the 26th (yes – the flight we had already repurchased on our own).

When we got to the airport, we were told that the seats that had been held for us on the 9:54 flight were in business class rather than economy like our original tickets, and the new fare would require an additional $16,000! The flight was apparently oversold by about 20 people in economy, so there was not much they could do. The gentleman helping us looked at the earlier flights, and found that there was one economy seat on a flight leaving at 7 pm, so we decided to fly separately in order to save $8,000. As he was booking the seat for Chris on the 7 pm flight, apparently he had kept hitting refresh just in case and a second seat opened up. We could tell he was happy about something, but he did not tell us until he had gotten the second seat booked. Miraculously he also managed to get us seats together on the 7 pm flight to Frankfurt, and then cancelled the double-booked flight to Astana. The new tickets did not cost us anything, despite it being our mistake for showing up a day late. Franz Jean-Jacque helped us for literally a half hour trying to ensure we had an affordable option to get to Astana on time and he will forever be part of our family history. The customers in line behind us were not nearly so appreciative of his efforts, but you cannot please everyone J. The rest of our travel was largely uneventful. We had an 11 hour layover in Frankfurt, but were able to get some sleep in the lounge chairs that line the halls of Terminal 2. If anyone ever is in Frankfurt for an extended period and wants to relax – go to Terminal 2. It had lots of chairs, good restaurants, and was largely deserted (unlike the B portion of Terminal 1, which we had found to be miserable during our first trip to Kazakhstan).

Forever Family Day – Monday 10/27

We arrived in Astana at about 6 am on Monday. Our plane got in right after a large flight from Moscow, so getting through passport control took forever. When we finally got through, Zhana (our interpreter) and Murat (our driver) were waiting. They took us to a hotel so we could rest a bit and shower. We had been told that no apartments would be available and that we would have to book our own hotel for the few hours in the morning. This is usually something that is done for parents if apartments are not available, but we figure they were annoyed since we had originally planned to got through Almaty and then changed to Astana to avoid one flight (I hate flying). Most hotels that offer ½ day rates would not answer the phone or were booked, so we ended up at a hotel with reasonable but not cheep rooms. Their website advertised that they had ½ day rates, but no one on the phone would confirm that. When we arrived at the hotel we found that they would not offer a ½ day rate and we paid for a full night’s stay. Murat was outraged at the hotel clerk; we felt it was unfortunate because it seemed like a waste to spend so much money just for a shower, but it was still cheaper than a flight for two from Almaty to Astana, so it was ok. The hotel room was fine, but really made us appreciate the apartments we had stayed in – even the old (and rather dirty) apartment in Almaty.

We showered and then organized all of the gift bags for the baby house (8 caregivers, head caregiver, baby house main doctor/director, doctor, and secretary) as well as for Zhana, Saule, and Murat. We were then picked up around 11 am and taken to the baby house. Since Monday was a holiday, few of the normal employees were there and the baby house director had made special arrangements to be there. Incidentally - Republic Day (which is really on October 25, but celebrated on the Friday before and Monday after as well) is a day when Kazakh people celebrate new beginnings; it was the day that the Kazakh SSR signed their declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. This sentiment is quite fitting for the first new day of our family.

We went first to speak with the baby house director to express our gratitude and answer any questions she had. We gave her her gifts, which she looked at right then (we had been told no one would open gifts in front of us). She said she liked the scarf and pendant, and that the stationary was a very unusual gift (good unusual). We left gifts for the caregivers and secretary who were not there today. We also gave her our cash donation for the baby house and the items that our friends and family had given us for donation (toys, diaper cream, diapers, crayons and coloring books). The director was appreciative of the toys and said they were very good and would ensure the children had good development.

Nikolai with his favorite caregiver

We then went upstairs to get Nikolai! His (and our) two favorite caregivers were the only ones working in the room (Aitugan and Zhan). Zhan picked up Nikolai and changed his diaper and dressed him in the clothes we brought. They then handed him to us. He did not smile or anything, but was not worried either. The caregivers looked more upset. We had stored the gifts we had brought in the playroom, so when we went in there to get the two caregivers’ gifts, Nikolai got really excited (poor baby). We then brought in the gift bags for the two caregivers. Aitugan called Adilet’s name and tried to get him to go to her; he halfheartedly held out one hand. She said that was a very good sign and that Adilet had been looking for his mama and papa since we left. She is really sweet. We then went back downstairs to say goodbye to the doctor and baby house director. The director picked up Nikolai and showered him with kisses. I think she kind of scared him and he reached out for Chris. Then we bundled him up and we were off! I had meant to try to get more pictures of the baby house, but everything happened so fast I only got one picture.

Playing at the hotel

We were thankful that we still had the room at the hotel as we had almost two hours until our flight to Almaty. We were dropped off at the hotel, and they said we could get some lunch and feed Nikolai. This seems like a simple statement, but since we had just arrived that morning, had a limited amount of tenge, did not know the restaurants in the area, and have never had a 9 month old baby before, it was fairly daunting to us. Luckily we had brought some formula and baby cereal with us from home, so that is what we fed him. He seemed to like it. The whole process was quite messy, though, and when we went to rinse out the bib and cloth napkin, we found that the room no longer had water. So we packed everything up in a blue diaper bag to deal with in Almaty.

To Almaty - Monday 10/27

When Zhana, Saule, and Murat brought us to the airport, they gave Nikolai a gift – a small dombra. It is wonderful and was thoughtful of them. Getting checked in for our flight, bags checked, and through security was a blur as I was carrying a baby and operating on about 2 hours sleep. We were grateful that Saule and Zhana came with us and spoke to the people at the counter and directed us where to go. We had to show Nikolai’s new birth certificate to take him on the plane; it shows us as his parents!

The plane ride was fine. We had made some Hipp tea in a bottle just in case take off and landing hurt Nikolai’s ears, but he was content sucking on a pacifier and did not seem bothered. After an hour on the plane, though, Nikolai no longer wanted to sit still and play with toys, but wanted to move around. He crawled and stood on our laps but that was the extent of his ability to move. Luckily (and I will never say that again in reference to a flight) we hit pretty bad turbulence on our descent to Almaty. The planed was blown side to side as well as up and down. Nikolai loved it! After a bought of being blown around he would giggle and move his shoulders side to side as if trying to make it happen again.

We landed safely and were met by Dima, who had driven us to the apartment our very first night in Kazakhstan back in September. He took us to the Partners’ office to fill out some paperwork. We then went to the Ramstore to get some food for the night. Finally we arrived at the apartment, which is the same one we stayed in when we were in Almaty last.

Nikolai was happy and wanted to play with everything on the rug. We laid down a sheet to keep him off the dirty floor. He is crawling really well now, and can pull himself up to a stand on anything. He has also learned to clap, but otherwise seems the same as when we left. He was excited to see some of the toys he had played with before, like the singing caterpillar and stacking cups.

First night with a baby

The first night, as expected, was pretty bad. Nikolai slept well from about 9 pm to 1 am. At that time he woke up and we assumed he was hungry since he is used to being fed a lot of cereal at midnight. So we gave him some cereal and tried to get him back to sleep. I think the stress of the day before plus the sugar rush from the cereal made him wide awake. He finally fell back asleep around 3 am, but awoke every hour after that. Finally at about 6:30 am Chris was in the shower and I could hear Nikolai moving around. Suddenly I heard a thud and got up to find he had fallen down between the mattress and the crib side. I knew the crib in the apartment was fairly flimsy, but I had not noticed this flaw. He was shocked by the event, but did not get hurt and did not even cry. Although it is horrible to say, he looked pretty funny with his arms and head sticking out from the side of the crib, especially with his wide eyes looking up at me. I brought him into the bed to try to rest a little longer. He laid there for a little while, but then discovered he liked the game of crawling over my legs (and towards the edge of the bed) so I reluctantly got up. We reworked the crib, adding lots of rolled up towels and blankets to cover over the spaces where he could get caught or fall.

Doctor’s Visit – Tuesday 10/28/08

We did well sticking to his normal schedule in the morning. Nikolai even went down easily for a nap at 8. He was still asleep at 10:30 when we had to wake him up to get ready for the doctor visit. The visit was easy – they just weighed and measured him, listened to his heart and lungs, and checked his ears, nose, and throat. We had been wondering about his measurements – 70 cm long and 8.06 kg (17.6 pounds). Other than wanting to grab the stethoscope and thing to look in his ears, Nikolai did well – he likes attention.

Church in Central Park

After the appointment, we decided we wanted to take a walk somewhere, so Dima told us how to get to Central Park from our apartment. The park is only about a block away. It is wonderful! We have not been very ambitious about sight-seeing in Almaty since we are so tired, but I really wanted to see one building that I had seen in models (while in Astana) but I did not remember what it was called. It turns out that this building is the Orthodox Church in Central Park! It is beautiful - like a cross between a fairytale castle and a Russian church. The park also had an interesting memorial to people who had died in wars and a monument remembering the defense of Moscow during World War II. The trees in Almaty have just turned so the park was all decorated for fall. Teenagers and families with little children were all over the park. Nikolai loves to watch kids, and birds – and kids feeding large groups of pigeons was particularly interesting.

Embassy Visit - Wednesday 10/29/08

We were picked up in the early afternoon to go to the embassy to file the I-600 paperwork in order to get a US visa in Nikolai’s Kazakh passport. The embassy is across the street from the Partners’ office, so Dima parked at their office and then told us to just wait outside. We saw a another family go into the office and I recognized them from following their blog since we started the Kazakh process. Then one of the younger people from the office (Asel I think?) came out leading two other families and their new babies. She led our funny parade across the street to the embassy. We went inside and joined a few other families with little babies from other agencies. When they called our name, we went up to the window, told them when we were leaving and they handed us Nikolai’s passport with the US IR3 Visa along with a folder with all of the original or official copies of the important paperwork that had been submitted in support of the adoption. This included Nikolai’s original birth certificate, the adoption decree, and various other items. Considering how difficult it is to deal with USCIS and file the I-600A in the US, filing the I-600 was surprisingly fast and simple.

We then went back to the office and paid for the rest of the stay (apartment, registration fee, etc.) The staff were sweet and really seem to care about all of the children. They addressed each of the babies individually and commented on them. One of the staff picked up Nikolai, who was a little unhappy having missed his morning nap and wearing the overly warm snow-suit. He would not smile for any of them – so unlike our flirty boy. Then we were done and they said “your adoptions are complete” and we could leave.

Thursday 10/30/2008

We asked Dima what he thought we should see in Almaty and he suggested the Tzum store, Central Park, art museum, mountains, and history museum. We had no interest in shopping and were not prepared for the mountain trip with a baby, so we decided to go to the history museum. We were not overly excited about it having been to two museums in Astana, but felt we should see part of Almaty and if nothing else would enjoy being driven through the city. It turns out that the museum is amazing and very different from the one in Astana. The first floor included paleontology and archaeology exhibits with lots of fossils and artifacts. The second floor had an exhibit similar to that in Astana with a yurt and examples of traditional clothes, tools, decorative arts, and household items. The third floor was really neat and had little exhibits representing the cultures of the groups of people who live in Kazakhstan (Korean, Tatar, etc. ). Nik did well through the trip and only got a little fussy a couple of times. The biggest problem is that he loves to hear his voice and there were many places with good echoes in the museum so he would yell Ah! to hear the effect. People kept looking at us, so I eventually gave him his pacifier (sorry baby – I promise we will encourage your talking once we get home). The top floor was an exhibit celebrating independent Kazakhstan, which we went through quickly.

Happy Halloween - Friday 10/31/08

We decided to lay low on Friday since we were going to be picked up at 1 am to leave for home. We packed and took another walk to Central Park. We also got some giant Kit-Kat bars (one of our favorite things in Kazakhstan) to celebrate Halloween.

The Trip Home – Saturday 11/1/08

Friday night was the first night that Nikolai did not wake up at 11:30, so we had to wake him up at 12:30 to get changed and fed. We were running a little late and had not left the apartment at 1 am when we were supposed to be at the end of the drive with our suitcases. Now I understand why it looks like the people in the apartment before just left without even throwing out perishable food – we apologize to the family who came after us. Dima came upstairs at 1 and carried one suitcase out to his car, and we were downstairs about 8 minutes later.

The flight from Almaty to Frankfurt was pleasant. We had business class tickets (courtesy of Chris’s company – thank you TDI!). Plus we had a bulkhead seat with a bassinet. It was dark and quiet and Nik slept more than half the flight. Otherwise he had a meal and played quietly. He had done so well with takeoff and landing on the flight from Astana to Almaty with just a pacifier that we did not prepare a bottle. But I think he was too tired during the landing in Frankfurt to actively suck on the pacifier – he chose to scream in stead, poor baby. The flight from Frankfurt to Dulles was much harder. Nikolai cried for the first few hours, and then was unhappy the rest of the time. A nice lady sitting next to us gave him a few crackers, which kept him happy for a bit. He slept the last three hours of the flight, but that was it.

He's a US Citizen!

Nikolai became a US citizen as soon as we landed. We therefore were able to go through passport control in the line for US citizens. The officer opened the sealed “brown envelope” and stamped our customs form with something to let the customs officer know where to direct us. Incedently, the brown envelope is just a normal brown mailer – we expected something much more formal and impenetrable. We had heard that getting through immigration could take a long time, so we had told our parents we would call them when we were getting close. But it took no more than 10 minutes to fill out a form and get the required stamps that will result in Nikolai’s Green Card automatically to be sent to us. Then three of us were off! We stopped by my parents’ house on the way home. Chris’s mom had come down from Pennsylvania and was staying with them. Nikolai charmed them all and then we went home!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


"I can hold the spoon myself!"

"Papa is so funny"

Our little German Shepherd - trying to herd both parents back into the same room

“How nice of mama and papa to put this toy here for me!”
(Seriously – this is the only cabinet he has shown any interest in)

Monday, November 3, 2008

We're ALL Home!

We all made it home safely on Saturday afternoon. Chris and I adjusted to the time difference pretty easily, but apparently Nikolai is still on Kazakh time. He wants to sleep all day and play all night (we are very tired). Today is our second day home and it has been a little better, so I do not think it will take too much longer to get him on a more normal schedule. He has a bad cough, but otherwise is a very happy easy-going baby. We are so in love.

Chris’s mom came into town to meet Nikolai and stayed with my parents. They spent the morning on Saturday making baby food! We are so lucky to have such supportive families. So far Nikolai pretty much likes everything. His favorites are snow peas and pears, and of course formula and rice cereal. He was a little perplexed by the sweet potatoes and could not yet handle the skins in the blueberries.

As someone who has gotten stuck in the China slowdown, I always get annoyed with people who respond to the despair of waiting China adoptive parents with statements like “it is all part of God’s plan” or “it will all be forgotten when you meet your daughter.” These statements dismiss the feelings of people who are facing not only an unexpected 4+ YEAR wait but also much uncertainty about whether or not the adoption will ever really happen. However, since the cutest, most wonderful little boy ever has come into our lives, I cannot help but think that God did have a different plan for us than we originally thought. If it were not for the China slowdown, we would not have pursued a Kazakhstan adoption and we would not have our son – a frightening thought indeed. I will never say it in reference to anyone else’s situation, but for us, it was all part of God’s plan.

We did not have internet access while in Almaty, but I did continue to write posts, so I am going to post them all at once soon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Getting Ready – Or Not!

We are getting really excited (and a bit nervous!) Before our first trip we ended up packing the day we left. That was stressful and we promised ourselves we would plan ahead for the second trip. So here we are the day before we are to leave and we are both at work and have not packed!! We also have not yet figured out how to install a gate across the top of the stairs since our banister is metal. I think if necessary we could do that when we get home? The most important thing outstanding is the car seat. We MUST at least get that task done in order to get home from the airport.

I think if we can survive the first day in Kazakhstan we will be ok. We land at 6 am, go to the baby house some time in the morning, and then fly to Almaty. I really wish we had one day to reintroduce ourselves to Nikolai before we take him on a plane, but it is not to be. I hope we will at least have time to make a bottle for the flight. Do domestic flights in Kaz have the same liquid restrictions?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Waiting Period is Over

So it has officially been 15 days since the judge named us Nikolai’s parents. As far as we know we are now legally his parents! It seems a bit anticlimactic since he is so far away right now. Every step counts, though.

As an update to China adoptions - the petition worked! More than 17,000 people signed the petition, and with congressional support USCIS has agreed to allow families to continue to file the I600A for up to 6 years as long as parents do not let their 171H/797 expire and the original was filed before Hague went into effect in April of 2008. This allows for the original filing and three renewals, with every other renewal being free. This is great news for those concerned about meeting China’s new guidelines and especially for people whose agencies are not Hague accredited.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Business as Usual

We are home for about three weeks before we get to go back and get our son. After that I plan to take some time off. So I have three weeks to try to wrap up all of my outstanding projects. I found out Friday I need to go back down to Mississippi tomorrow! It seems so funny to take a business trip during this brief period home, but it works I guess. But I hate flying and I seem to be on airplanes a lot lately. Oh well - maybe work will give me a little leeway on the deadlines for the other projects. I wonder if I will be able to do a little work during the two months I am home with our son - maybe while he sleeps? At least to my knowledge no hurricanes are headed to MS right now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

China Adoptions

In general we feel sort of removed from the China wait since we are so close to getting our little boy. But a recent post on Rumor Queen is so disturbing, I keep thinking about it. Based on information she has gathered from the thousands of members, it appears that nearly 40 to 50 percent of the people who originally submitted dossiers in 2006 have or plan to withdraw. That means as many as 10,000 or more people who wanted to adopt NSN from China have been unable to complete their adoptions. Luckily that number includes many people who switched to special needs adoption from China – great for China’s SN orphans and for the people who have been able to build their families. Other people have switched countries or given birth, but still many others have had to withdraw without a child.

It is heartbreaking reading about people who are forced to withdraw because after waiting several years with years to go in the wait they will be too old to legally add a child to their family. I cannot imagine living somewhere that could dictate the maximum age to be a parent or the maximum number of years between your and your child’s age. The economy is forcing some people to make difficult choices as they face another home study update. And USCIS may end up forcing some people to withdraw by only renewing their 171H if their applications are Hague compliant, their agencies are Hague accredited, and they meet China’s new guidelines. None of these requirements are applied by China to families who submitted their dossiers before the new rules, but USCIS thinks it is too hard to keep track of the date the dossier was submitted and they are trying to hold everyone to the same standards. In theory people could receive a referral from China without any problems, but be unable to complete the adoptions because the US is too lazy to distinguish between pre- and post- Hague China adoptions.

We definitely have to submit the I-800A since we let our I-600A expire, so we will have to ensure that our application is Hague-compliant. Our agency is accredited, we have not lived in too many states (for getting clearances), and we are willing to take the required classes. It is unclear if USCIS will try to hold us to China’s new rules or not, but I think we do meet them. You can help many people whose agencies are not Hague accredited, who do not meet the new rules, or for whom making their applications Hague compliant is too much of a burden by signing this petition, or following the other suggestions of the JCICS.

The most disturbing part of all of this is that despite only half the number of dossiers still remaining in line, China continues to reduce the number of LIDs they cover every month. What does this mean? It almost seems like China is reducing referrals to nothing – but then why are they still accepting dossiers?

One good and virtually unheard of bit of info – apparently a second “add-on” batch of referrals has been sent out for some (if not all) people with 2/16/06 LIDs, despite the official cut-off being 2/15/06!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Happy Birthday Chris

Please join me in wishing Chris a very Happy Birthday!!

It looks like we will not be going back to Kazakhstan until October 25. I do not know why we have to wait so long, but I guess we can survive. We come home for good on Halloween!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

We're Home

We definitely miss our little guy, but there are some nice things about being home:
Being able to watch the Redskins game (especially a division game that they won!!)
Warm, humid weather
Trees and singing insects
A dishwasher
Brushing our teeth with tap water
Chinese and Indian food
Comfy bed
People to talk to in English

Both of our flights home were sold out. I cannot imagine surviving the flights with a very active baby on our laps. We hope we will be able to afford a seat for him – not that he will sit there, but the extra space would be nice and perhaps we could lay him on the seat to sleep. We were dreading all the work we would have to do when we got home, but came home to find that my parents had kept up the yard, mowed the grass, and even removed the stump of a dead holly I had been unable physically to dig out. They also left us a freezer full of food and fruit and milk in the fridge. Best of all they humored us with looking at all of our pictures and video the day they picked us up from the airport. My parents are awesome.

We do not know yet when we can go back, but we hope it is soon.

Friday, October 3, 2008

But I Don't Want to Leave!

Today was our last visit with Nikolai. I am going to miss him SO much. I have no idea why our agency says it is easier to make two trips and encourages people to do so. Leaving is hard! Living in Astana is easy.

Nik played for a long time on the swing again today. He was playing games with us – saying ah! and we would repeat it and he would laugh and say it again. He also was playing with me in the mirror; as soon as I would make eye contact in the mirror, he would look right at me, so I would look at him and then he would go back to the mirror. This went on for a while, accompanied by many giggles. The toys he liked weeks ago are now boring. He tried to use us as jungle gyms, but does not quite have the coordination to do so yet. He also tried to climb into the swing by himself. I think he gets frustrated that we try to help, but otherwise he would have fallen and the swing would have hit him in the head. At one point today he was heading for the pile of things he is not allowed to play with (my purse, plastic bag, camera) and we picked him up and turned a different direction. He basically spun on his belly all the way around and then started crying as he quickly pushed himself up into a crawl position! How can that not make him happy? He seems so unimpressed with his accomplishments.

When we left, they gave us the bottle we have been using during our visits. It is the one we bought and it has his name written in Kazakh on it. We left a blanket in his crib, so that when we come back to get him we can take something to remind him of the baby house. We left the crinkly book – which is one of his favorite toys, especially because it has a mirror in it. We also left the picture album my sister made for him – can you tell he likes it in the photo?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Court Day

Saule, doctor, judge, us, secretary
Saule, us, Zhana, Irina, Murat

We’re parents! Or at least will be after the 15 day waiting period. Since we are so close to officially being approved and this is a private blog, we have decided to share a picture!

I am going to include a lot of detail, because I know it helped us prepare to read the process others went through – so if you are not interested in the details the important part is above. Court was not fun, but it was not that bad either. The day leading up to it was not fun, as we prepared our speeches and rehearsed our answers to questions that may be asked. We were the first family with our agency to go through the new court system (juvenile court) with the new judge in Astana. It is possible that we were only the third international family in general to go through court. The last woman (from Spain) was initially denied and her court date postponed for three weeks, and then at the last minute, postponed another couple days. So our facilitator was very stressed.

The day of court we were picked up at 11:10 and taken to a generic building with a lot of people standing around. We went upstairs to a dark hallway lined with chairs. We stood there for a while, and then had to present our passports. Since Chris had to say the first paragraph of his speech in Russian he wanted Irina (our translator for court) to review the Russian. She told him to practice it out loud, and then continue with the English. This was great as it made us more relaxed and gave her a chance to practice translating. Eventually we went into the court room. We sat in the front row of several chairs, with Irina between us. The baby house doctor and social worker sat at a desk to the left of the room. It was nice to see people we recognized, and I think they are generally there to bolster the case of the adoptive parents. The secretary sat at the far end next to the judge’s desk, and the prosecutor (who we think represents the state) sat on the right side of the room. I was surprised that after we sat, Irina told me to practice my speech and she practiced translating. When we heard someone coming down the hall, everyone got quiet, we stood and the judge walked in.

Court Process

The judge began by listing everyone present, explaining our rights, and asking if we trusted everyone and understood our rights. We said yes. She then asked whoever was going first to begin. Chris stepped up to the podium with Irina beside him and gave his speech. Afterward the prosecutor and judge asked him many questions (details below). Eventually the judge told him to sit down, and then it was my turn. I gave my speech and was asked questions by the prosecutor and judge. The judge then asked Chris to stand up again and answer more questions. Finally when we were done with our part, we sat down. Next Saule was asked to stand and explain her role in our adoption. Then the baby house doctor gave a speech about Nikolai’s health and past diagnoses. The social worker went next, and basically outlined the process that was followed – that we had a dossier that presented us as good people with good references and family, that we had visited the baby every day for 14 days, etc. She read her speech and read it very quickly, so Irina had a hard time keeping up. She was funny – at one point as she was whispering the translation, without a break, she says “she is saying other things; she is talking too fast; my feet are cold.” It was very nice to break the tension for us.

Eventually after everyone was done with their speeches and being questioned, the doctor, social worker, and prosecutor all went around and gave their recommendation. All recommended in our favor! The judge announced that she would come back with her decision at 1 pm. At the time it was 12:50 so that seemed like really good news. The prosecutor rushed out the door so that we did not have time to give her her gift. She eventually walked back by once – so we were able to give her a gift. We started to walk up to the social worker and doctor to give them their gifts, but then an unknown woman came in and started talking to them, so Saule told us to wait. When the woman left, we started for the table again and then the woman came back in, so we stopped again. I am sure that the doctor and social worker were both amused at watching this as they are used to the giving of gifts after court. The social worker then left. Saule told us that she assumes the decision will be good, since everyone has already left.

The judge came back in at about 1:20 and read a very long decision very very quickly – too quick for it all to be translated. The gist was that she approved the adoption and after 15 days it would become final. She then outlined her reasons for granting the adoption.


In Chris’s speech, he thanked the court for hearing our petition, introduced us – including our names, where we are from, where we work and what we do, and how long we have been with our companies. He then explained why we chose to adopt, and why we chose Kazakhstan. He talked about when we arrived in Astana, how we chose Adilet (Nikolai), and how we have watched him develop since we have visiting him. Chris discussed how much we have enjoyed Astana and how we plan to ensure that Adilet will have knowledge of the country and be proud of his country of birth, and that we plan to bring Adilet back to visit at some point. Next he stated that we understood the medical history and diagnoses of Adilet, and that we had good medical insurance and would immediately bring him to a doctor and undertake any treatment recommended. Chris discussed our ability to financially support a child. He described our neighborhood and the fact that we have Kazakh neighbors, really good local schools, and that we would ensure Adilet had a good education and was allowed to make his own choices in life. Chris explained that he hoped to share his interests in music, theater, and travel with Adilet. Finally, Chris asked in Russian for the court to decide in favor of the adoption, and that we love him very much and want him to be our son.

My speech was much shorter. I described the moment we first met Adilet, and that we have bonded with him and love him very much. I described the room we had prepared for him at home, and my interests I want to share with Adilet. I then promised we would send post-placement reports until Adilet is 18 so that they can see how he is developing and what he is learning. I then stated that we knew that bringing a baby into our lives would be a big adjustment, but that we wanted that more than anything and that we have a great support network of family and friends. I then explained our plan for taking time off when we get home and then our plan once I return to work. Finally I asked the court to grant the adoption.


Most of the hard questions came from the prosecutor; she would ask a question and then use our answer to trap us in the follow-on question (e.g., asking if we could afford to travel every year with the implication that it would be good for Adilet’s education and when we said yes, she followed up with Do you realize you will not be able to have a care-free life travelling whenever you want once you have a child). The judge asked questions, but was actually personable. At one point she asked Chris if I knew how to make beshbarmak, and then told us to be sure we learned how before we left Kazakhstan because Kazakh children like dough with meat. They all laughed when Chris explained that he is the one who cooks food from this region.

The first question that Chris got asked was actually the hardest. The question itself was not hard, but our facilitator had told us not to mention any interest in adopting from other countries, and to focus on how excited we are to adopt from Kazakhstan. So of course the prosecutor’s first line of questions was about China. We have one line in our home study explaining that we started with the intention of adopting from China and then switched to Kazakhstan (it was required to get through USCIS in VA). Luckily we did not have to get into a discussion of the ongoing China adoption. Even Irina and Saule did not believe us when we told them it takes 4 to 5 years to adopt from China and we did not want to get into that in court.
Other questions:
Why not adopt from the US
How did the process of choosing a child at the baby house work
Why did we choose Adilet
What medical treatment do we plan to undertake – will we have Adilet get surgery
How much money do we make
What assets do we own/ what is our value
How long did the process to adopt from Kazakhstan take
What was the process in the US to adopt form Kaz
Do we have enough money to take a yearly trip
Do we realize that once we have a baby we will not be able to live like before and travel
Are we worried about unknown medical conditions with Adilet
Have we had any problems communicating with Adilet (we assume they meant bonding)
Are we planning to have more children; when we answered that we wanted to adopt this child and then would decide later, the judge said we could come back to Kazakhstan to adopt again (always a good sign)

I was asked the following questions:
When I take time off, will I get paid. When I said no, they followed up asking whether or not I got maternity leave and when I said no again, they explained that their country was much more supportive of mothers. I agreed – really all other countries are more supportive of mothers.
What did the social worker in the US do
Is the social worker licensed
Is there a financial or tax benefit to adopting internationally
Who will watch the child after I go back to work and if that would be true until Adilet was school aged
Will we enroll him in preschool
There may have been other questions.

After court we went home for lunch. We were picked up at 3 to go to a notary to take care of a bunch of the paperwork. We then went out to dinner to Samibar to celebrate. Zhana, our normal translator, met us there. Chris and I walked home since the weather is beautiful right now. This allowed the translators to get a ride, which is good because otherwise they often have to ride a bus home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Last Official Visit

We finished our mandatory 14-day visitation a while ago, which allowed us to apply for a court date. Today we signed in the last space in the baby house log-in book assigned to us. We are going to court tomorrow. Assuming the outcome is positive then we can come back to the baby house until our flights home, but apparently we will not have to sign in any more.

It will be so hard to leave him. I feel like he has really opened up to us in the past couple of days. Today he repeated sounds we made for the first time. He also reached back to us when we returned him to his room for the first time. He moved all over the room today. He still much prefers to crawl on his belly and elbows than crawl for real. I think once he is able to balance better and realizes he can reach for toys while in the crawl position he will be more open to it. At the end of the visit he did not want to get down, or be held, or be given his bottle – I think he was tired but too hyped up to calm down. He did finally calm down as we read him a book, bounced him, and gave him a bottle at the same time. He kept babbling with the bottle in his mouth – not the most efficient way to drink.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Baby Bits

Can you tell he likes toys?

Nikolai was so cute today. On Saturday when we left, he was holding one of the bigger playroom balls that is blue with white dots. It is somewhat deflated and he can hold it with one hand. When we took it away in order to bring him back to his room, we told him he could play with it again on Monday. And today as soon as we walked in before we even laid out the blanket, he reached toward the blue ball sitting on the shelf. He is so smart. He is going to be a lot like his cousin Alexis in that he loves roller coaster-like movements. He laughed out loud at being dipped upside down and being held on his back and swooped around.

Recently Nik has been in an exploratory mood. I think he just realized that he can get where he wants to go and has decided to check everything out. He went over to the swing, so we let him sit in it for a while. Nik also crawled for real today! He complained the whole time, but did it. I guess he was complaining because I had taken the ball out of his hand in order to get him to use both hands rather than elbows and had rolled it out in front of him. He crawled to go get it, but was not happy about it. He giggled at being bounced in time to music on the little singing caterpillar – much of which was quite fast energetic music. Eventually, he nearly fell asleep doing this, though.
Zhana’s mother cooked us a whole batch of blinchiki since she heard we had been buying them from the store! These are big pancakes, like Swedish pancakes (or Russian I guess), filled with things – usually slightly sweet cheese like a blintz. We were surprised by a caramel-filled one we came across during dinner last night.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Clingy Baby and Sightseeing

At the good restaurant
Kazakh and Astana Flags in the wind
Chris and Zhana in the Model near a Southern Region
Model of Almaty (note - the four buildings in the back are real)
View of the Old City from the Monument to Victims of Opression

During our visit on Saturday there was another couple (from Spain) who was visiting their daughter for the first time. Nikolai was so funny and reacted in an unexpected way (at least we did not expect it). When we first went into the play room he gripped my arm and did not want to get down and play. When he did play, he kept gathering his toys - sort of in bulldozer fashion crawling on his elbows and scooping the toys in front of him. The little girl was playing with the stacking rings and the blow-up tube that jingles, which are communal toys. He kept trying to go over and take her toys – even the stacking rings, which he has had no interest in playing with ever; he would complain cry when we would redirect him. I guess since other than the second day of our visits there has been no one else in the play room, Nikolai had decided everything in sight was his. He only really relaxed when the couple left early and we had the room to ourselves again. Hopefully he will be secure enough to share by the time we go to get his little sister!

The weather on Saturday was beautiful – warmer and sunny. We went for a walk to a park we had seen driving home from the baby house. It has a great sculpture at the entrance that would be perfect for a zoo. There is also an empty building with the outlines of trees around it. The center of the park is paved with flower gardens. The surrounding area has natural winding paths through birch and other trees. We then walked back down to Kshlak for dinner – which is definitely my favorite restaurant here.

Sunday we went to a place with models of the major cities and landscapes of Kazakhstan. It was neat, and would be a lot of fun for kids because several of the models can be climbed or walked through. It was sunny, but there was a constant 30-mile an hour (or so) cold wind that made the trip a little difficult. I felt bad for our interpreter in her nice skirt and fancy boots. I wore wool socks, hiking boots, and kept the hood of my coat up the whole time. She did not try to rush us at all – if I were in her shoes I would have been tempted to ensure we kept moving to get out of the wind sooner. There was no guide available because of the cold, but Zhana did tell us a lot about the buildings in Taraz, where she is from. This was useful because based on the models it appears that Taraz really has the most interesting features as it is one of the oldest cities, having been situated on the Silk Road. It is also at the base of a mountain range. I really want to go to Taraz.

We then walked to the aquarium and paid the fee to get in to the first section (no fish). The aquarium itself was more expensive and I had heard not that interesting so we skipped it. The first section was kind of like a kid’s Vegas, with one-story models of various places including the Statue of Liberty, a tee-pee, the Great Wall, Greco-Roman statues, etc. We had a cup of tea and then went across the street to the Mega Center, which is basically a mall like you would find in the US, except with more hands-on activities for kids.

Murat was not able to pick us up afterward because of family obligations. So we took the bus with Zhana. It was really easy – and just 60 tenge. It would be easy for us to get home on a bus by ourselves as getting us anywhere close to Bayterek will do. I imagine it would be harder to try to take the bus to some other specific place without knowing the routes.

Two more days till court – Ack!

Travel Tips

I decided to post some packing tips for anyone who may be travelling soon who has not been here before. The most important thing in travelling is (to quote our agency) go with the flow. Things change constantly and we were often unsure how or when things were going to happen, but it all works out. Even the procedure to follow at the baby house changes daily, perhaps based on who is working, so now I do not feel so bad that we did not know what to do at first.

I think everyone feels self-consious in unfamiliar surroundings. Now that we have been here a while, I am more at ease and have found everyone to be friendly and helpful - even when trying to order food in a restaurant where no English is spoken or on the menu. I have read some blogs where people felt they were stared at a lot and they did not like it - do not let it bother you, just have fun. We mostly have only been stared at by children - after they heard us speak. I have to admit I have done my share of watching people as well. If you are worried about standing out, plan to primarily wear dark colors, such as a nice black coat, and you will blend in more.

Things we are very glad we brought:
A universal power strip (there are few plugs and it is nice to be able to plug the TV, cable box, DSL box, laptops, cell phone charger, etc. into the same power strip despite the various plug types);
A small photo printer to print our date-stamped digital photos for court;
A few zip-lock bags of various sizes;
Blue diaper disposal bags (both for use at the baby house and as liners to the trash cans in our bathrooms);
Travel coffee presses and ground coffee (we have been able to buy ground coffee since we ran out, but it was very expensive);
Sugar, salt, and pepper packs looted from fast-food restaurants (not that I am encouraging looting :);
A long phone cord (would have liked to have had a long computer cable too – but were fine without it);
Granola bars – for quick snacks, especially when we first arrived;
Couple water bottles for our first night in Almaty (bought during layover in Frankfort);
DVDs of our favorite TV show, and a variety of music (on one of our laptops);
Clothes for any weather (it has been between 30 and 88 degrees here in the past couple weeks);
Stacking cups;
Water-proof bibs;
Shoes easy to slip on and off for the baby house visit;
Non-toxic all-purpose wipes (for quick cleanup of the table/ kitchen and for wiping down drooled-on toys)

Things we wish we did not bring:
Diapers (maybe bring 4 or so just so you feel you have some, but mostly I wish we had just bought them here - especially not knowing the size ahead of time);
Power converter (have found no use for it as all of our electronics have their own converters);
Some of the baby clothes (we did not need anything short-sleeved other than under-shirts, and did not need warm sweaters since we will not have custody on this trip – one winter coat for baby was useful, however)

Things we wish we had brought but did not:
At least one bottle (obviously more is needed if you are only making one trip);
A really warm sweater that would fit over a long-sleeved shirt (even if just worn in apartment; the heat still has not been turned on even though it is below freezing every night);
Warmer socks;
A bigger blanket to use in the baby house (I did not expect him to move off of our little blanket so quickly);
A few thin undershirts/ onesies to put on as a bottom layer rather than having to add a sweater to increase layers;
Something spicy, whether it be chili powder, tobasco sauce, taco seasoning or whatever. Food here is never hot spicy (spiced and flavorful yes, but not hot spicy);

Larger/ longer baby socks or tights to ensure no skin gets exposed.

Other random observations:
I like to watch TV (more than I should) and the only English language show we have is Fox news, which I can only tolerate for so long. I have become addicted to Lazy Town and other kids shows where you do not have to understand what is spoken. We have also caught welcomed episodes of Power Puff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Sponge Bob is somewhat disturbing in Russian (or maybe always).

Watching TV in Russian does not lead to being able to understand or speak Russian (I keep thinking I must be absorbing something – but no)

Dora the Explorer here speaks Russian and the Spanish phrases she normally says are in English.

Most entertainment places here seems focused on kids – which is neat. It would be a great place to be if we had a 5-10 year old.

We feel old in Astana. I do not know if it is where we have gone and driven or what, but almost everyone looks like they are under 30 years old.

Everyone only wears black, and stylish black high-healed boots are standard now that it has gotten cool. We feel like we stand out a lot when we wear bright colors, and we are definitely not as well dressed as most. I never have mastered wearing heals; I prefer my hiking boots.

I will miss good juice when we leave. All of the juice here tastes just like the fruit. Cherry is the best. While I dislike most cherry-flavored things in the US (artificial, sweet), in Kazakhstan I love anything cherry – juice, yogurt, etc. (tastes like fresh sour cherries).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nikolai apparently slept better the past couple nights and he was in a good mood for our visits today and yesterday. Yesterday when I first picked him up he giggled, buried his head in my chest, and kicked both legs with excitement. He is definitely getting more snugly, although he still has to face outward if we are moving. I think he likes to see where he is going. He has been saying a variety of different sounds – ba ba, ma ma, bla bla, da da, ah, and of course the excitement screech. Today he crawled using both legs for the first time, rather than just the right leg and left toes. He was carrying two toys at the time, though, so he was down on his elbows.

We were told yesterday that he had been taken to the dentist, and the dentist thinks he will have to have surgery on his upper jaw at some point. Today they said the opposite – that the dentist saw a tiny cleft in his jaw that is not likely to need surgery. I think the difference is in the translation provided to us, not the actual decision. We just need to get him home and see what our American doctors think (and hear the explanation in English!). In looking in his mouth, we cannot see any problem. It is convenient that he opens his mouth so wide when excited – makes it easier to look.

We had lunch at the coffee house across the street today. The coffee was really good and strong. We each had a slice of pizza, which was served cold with soft cheese and pepperoni, tomatoes, and parsley. It was good, but not really very pizza-like. Chris was still hungry and ordered a second piece. This one came out hot! Very funny. The coffee place is also a bar. It has a nice atmosphere and I would like to get a drink there some night - as soon as I get over this cold. I know I probably should not be visiting the baby with a cold, but I am fairly certain I caught it from him and I am careful to clean my hands beforehand.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Court Preparation

When we received our LOI, our agency thought we would not be able to get a court date on our first trip. So we planned to have the pre-court interview and then come home for an undetermined amount of time before returning for court, the 15 day waiting period, and all of the other paperwork to bring our son home. Since we have arrived, our adoption facilitator, who is also a lawyer, (Saule) has been working to try to get us a court date on this trip. We will be the first family with our agency to go through the new juvenile court system in Astana rather than the general court system. Therefore everyone is a little on edge because they do not know what to expect.

This morning Saule came over to our apartment with an interpreter (not our normal interpreter) to prep us for the pre-court interview and court. We discussed all of our answers to the questions we can expect and what to include in our speech. Apparently we BOTH have to give a speech. I hate speaking in public even when I can read what I am going to say. How am I going to present a memorized speech in court that will determine the fate of our family forever? Saule said “it only has to be about 5 minutes”…5 minutes! That is a long time! They also reviewed our gifts again and determined exactly who will receive which gifts. We were told to dress professionally for pre-court and court. I only brought one nice outfit, so I was thinking I would have to wear it for both events.

After they left, we had pizza for lunch and got ready for the baby visit. At first we were told that the visit would have to be cut short in order for Saule to submit our paperwork to the judge to request the pre-court interview. But half-way through our visit, Saule called and said that instead we would be picked up a half hour late because she had gotten an appointment with the judge. When she picked us up, she said that there would be no separate pre-court and that our final court date may be as much as a week-and-a-half earlier than expected! We will know for sure later. We suddenly feel like our time here is limited and we need to do everything quickly. We will still have to change our original tickets to come home later, but by much less than we expected.

When we arrived at the baby house today, there was a news crew there. We were quickly ushered upstairs to wait for Nikolai to be brought to us. We watched the news interview from the window, but I do not know what it was about. All I saw was a very well-dressed woman holding a baby girl all in pink getting interviewed. She then drove away in a fancy Mercedes with black windows.

Nik was very unhappy today and the aunties said he had not slept. He actually cried just out of tiredness for the first time that we have seen. Plus they gave us a bottle that just poured out liquid, which made him cry because he could not just chew or suck on it without it spilling all over (and me taking it away to make sure he did not drown). He fell asleep about 20 minutes before the end of the visit. There were some brief moments of crazy laughter today as well – especially while we swung him in front of the mirror. He loves looking at himself in the mirror and it usually makes him giggle just to catch sight of himself.

The weather is slightly warmer today, so we decided to walk down to the fountain where we had found the good restaurant before (Kyshlak). There are four or five restaurants at this location (which is called “round square”). We decided to try one that looked Japanese. Despite specifically saying we would not have Sushi in a land-locked country like Kazakhstan, we had sushi! We also had the best miso soup, vegetable tempura, and sake. It was strange to order Japanese food in Russian from a menu written in Kazakh and English. The restaurant was expensive, but it was a really nice change from the food we have been making in the apartment.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Day 12 to 14

I got distracted by a deadline for work and have not written recently. Our visit Saturday was a lot of fun. Nikolai was in a great mood and wanted to play. He can screech really loud when he gets excited, which should be interesting as he gets more comfortable with us. After the visit on Saturday we went to the Eurasia Market to get a few souvenirs, including a “national outfit” for Nikolai and some classic Russian fairytales. The only outfit they had is for an older boy, but he will grow into it. We would love to just take our time walking around the market, but we do not know how we can get there without our driver and do not want to be rude and tell our translator we do not want her to come. I tried to keep track of how we drove home thinking we could try to walk back there some time, but after the fourth turn and many miles I gave up.

Saturday was “subbotnik” which literally means a Saturday when everyone works. It is a day when everyone goes out into the streets to clean and do maintenance projects. We passed a group of teenagers who were obviously supposed to be cleaning their section of the road side. As Chris said, they could have been the church youth or any other group of American teenagers. Most were standing around in big groups, with one person sort of sweeping the same spot over and over. One was climbing a concrete road barrier. And a few were working hard picking up trash and sweeping the sidewalk. Our driver told us that all of the schools and colleges take part in subbotnik. Our translator asked us what they call it in America when everyone cleans the streets on a Saturday :-).

Sunday we went to the Pyramid of Peace, which is basically President Nazarbayev’s vision of a utopian society where all people and all religions live in peace. If the people in Astana did not take the idea and the building so seriously it would be quite silly. The bottom section is all in dark tones, representing the past. The middle levels are white, representing the present, and the top is blue representing the future. The stained glass at the top includes doves, each representing one of the nationalities that live peacefully within Kazakhstan. From the air, the stained glass appears as the sun on the Kazakh flag. To reach the top you walk up suspended staircases through a hanging garden. At the top is a circular table with a circular halo above it where President Nazarbayev envisions the world’s religious leaders meeting regularly in a peaceful conference. The first conference, unfortunately, was attended largely by political leaders. There is a beautiful opera house in the very bottom of the pyramid; if possible, we hope to see a concert there while we are here; it would be walkable from our apartment, although they constantly tell us not to go outside at night. We will have to see how much tickets cost. The elevators in the pyramid move diagonally up the side so as to leave the interior space unbroken.

Within the lower levels of the pyramid there are models of Astana as well as planned buildings including a huge entertainment center that will open next year and become the tallest structure in the city. The center will house a theater, golf course, sand beach and wave pool, gardens, restaurants, etc. A development is also planned with 12 apartment buildings, two office buildings, and a central building whose purpose I cannot remember. Within this development, there will be no cars, but everyone will get around in gondolas. A huge resort area is planned on a lake. It was sad, the tour guide kept saying that the lake is currently the “pearl of Kazakhstan” but soon it will have a big development.

We had a morning visit with Nikolai today so that Saule could submit all of our documents to court this afternoon. He was really excited for the first 30 minutes and then got tired and grumpy. While we were first dressing him, one of the doctors came by as asked to listen to his chest. I guess she was listening to his heart, because I am sure that his breathing did not sound too good with his bronchitis, but she listened and then let us take him to go play. Everyone in the baby house (including Saule) seemed really stressed today. When we had first arrived in Almaty the partners had said that it would be difficult to get an appointment with the Ministry of Education since we would be arriving on a Monday, which are always more busy. I guess they were right – everyone seems to move at double-time on Mondays.