Thursday, December 24, 2009

Catching Up

The week after Thanksgiving my Grandmother passed away, so Nikolai and I got on a plane and headed back to Michigan. It is always hard to lose someone, but it was nice to see all of my mom’s family and to visit my sister again. Nikolai now really knows his aunt, uncle and cousins; he will still occasionally name them all (including Cocoa and Sebring) and then sadly say “bye bye”. The day after the funeral we went to Grandma’s house and the whole family went through her house and chose things we would like. It brought back a lot of great memories about Grandma and Don. Some of my favorite memories include playing spoons, raiding the pantry for home-made pickles, fishing, looking at the polished rocks Don was working with (we always got to keep one!), and just laughing a lot. The smell of bacon in the morning still reminds me of vacation. Chris still talks about the first time he met Grandma and Don and one of the first time he met my family in general. He came up to watch a skating competition my sister was in and we all met at a restaurant, where Grandma and Don proceeded to start a mini food fight!

Nikolai amazes us every day. He is so cute and silly! The other evening he pulled a yogurt out of the fridge and carried it around while I got the rest of his dinner ready. A few minutes later I asked him where the yogurt was, and he said “where go?” I asked again, “where did the yogurt go?” Nikolai suggested “fridge?” (not likely – he cannot open the door). I found the yogurt inside the seat of his ride-on truck. When I pulled it out, Nikolai declared “oh yogurt” in the tone as if he was saying “silly yogurt”.

He calls Santa Clause “binga ball” (jingle bells) and his Frosty the Snowman musical card “happy face card” since the song says Frosty was a “jolly happy soul”. He loves to dance and sing.

Current cute phrases: careful!; where are you?; let’s go!; (I) did it!; come ere (here) let’s play; this way; whoa big truck

He asked to poop on the potty, and actually did! He often asks to pee on the potty, but has never actually gone. I think perhaps he asks when it is already too late. At least he seems to be starting to become aware, not that we have any intentions of potty training in the near future.

SNOW! We got about 2 feet of snow. Shoveling off the sidewalk and around the cars reminded me how many muscles I have lost since I have transitioned from mostly fieldwork to mostly office work. Nikolai has no interest in playing in the snow, but admittedly it is nearly above his head. He loves to eat it though. Although lately he has been asking to go “outside snow” a lot, so I think the snow is starting to grow on him – or perhaps he just likes to wear his hat and gloves.

Now on to Christmas!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

We are Very Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving

Sharing Nana's Lap

Drumming at Jungle Java

Mom and Jen trying to flip the turkey AFTER it was put in a bag to marinate

Sweedish pancake breakfast

We drove to Michigan to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my sister and her family. My parents, Ron’s mom, and Ron’s brother and his family all came too. Ron’s brother has a daughter just three days younger than Nikolai. They were really cute together, especially leaning in at dinner to smile at each other down the length of the table. Nikolai sounded a bit like a broken record, though, constantly saying “mine”. He gathered his and a few of Ryan’s footballs and guarded them. While Bella does not say a lot, it was clear she got the “mine” idea as at one time she got a hold of one of the footballs and paraded around waving it above her head. Kids are SO funny. Nikolai was especially disturbed to discover he has to share his Nana and Pop with his cousins. We heard a lot of “My Nana!” “My Pop!” “My football!” “My Dada” “My ice”… you get the picture. By the end of the weekend he was ok if my niece or nephew sat on my parent’s laps, and even shared my lap with Alexis at one point.

Friday we went to Jungle Java – a coffee house with a huge indoor play area for kids. Nikolai had so much fun, especially once he abandoned the under 3 playground and headed to the big kids’ climbing area. Of course I had to go with, which was fun and great exercise. He (and I) was exhausted by the end.

I think everyone had lot of fun. I was so impressed with all of the kids – no one had any real meltdowns and everyone had fun playing together. Nikolai even learned to take turns. And the adults got to play a lot of cards and watch movies.

Adoption News:
We received Nikolai’s Certificate of Citizenship!!! It only took 12 months, three in-person meetings with USCIS officers, and the involvement of our Senator. It made me laugh, though, when we finally got the certificate it had Nik’s original visa photo despite our having to provide new passport photos and a full N-600 application (luckily without fee!). So USCIS had the info just sitting there for 12 months and no one thought to hit print??

No good news from China. While referrals came out today and finally all of March 2006 LIDs have been matched (with adorable babies!), no referrals were sent in September or November. In September there was a big holiday and in November a new director of CCAA was appointed (first time in about 7 years) so there were reasons for the delays and hopefully it will NOT become a pattern to send referrals every other month. Still, since we had been thinking we would get referral at the end of 2010, skipping two months pushes us into 2011.

The atmosphere in the China adoption world is all doom and gloom, with rumors that the NSN program will close and no one beyond April 2006 will even get referral, or that May 2006 will wait an additional 2 years. I am worried about the increased time between referrals, but otherwise do not buy into the horrendous predictions. I really think all of April, May and early June 2006 LIDs will get referral next year. I really feel for those with 2007 LIDs, though, who have already waited 2+ years and probably have 4+ years to go.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, except that Chris’s dad died on Halloween. We miss him a lot. I am sure he would have been a great grandpa, and is watching Nikolai grow up from heaven.

Earlier in the week we carved our jack-o-lantern. I did not want to wait till Halloween to roast the seeds – yummy. Nikolai helped take the guts out the pumpkin. Luckily we planned ahead and he just wore a diaper. By the end he had a thin layer of pumpkin over most of him – to the point that he was too slippery to stand up, and I had to pick him up to get rinsed off. It is amazing how willing he was to dive right into the pumpkin, especially since I have read about so many adopted kids with sensory issues.

Nikolai was a lizard for Halloween. His costume was supposed to be a dragon, but he said he was a “zhizhard”. He wore his costume at daycare for part of the day yesterday for a parade. When I picked him up he was still wearing his lizard shoes. He likes to wear them around the house in general.

We took Nikolai trick-or-treating after dinner. We went to the neighbors we know – as well as anyone right around them who had their lights on and main door open. Nikolai caught on real quick. He walked right up to the doors, grabbed a piece of candy (or two) and put them in his pumpkin. He was so used to the process that each time we came home he grabbed a few from our candy bowl and put them in his pumpkin as well. He was a little freaked out once we started encountering more kids dressed up – especially the ones with scary costumes. He got tired pretty quickly and we did not make it even to all the houses where we know people – which is probably for the best candy wise. I think he had fun, though.

We came home and dumped out his pumpkin to see what he got. We then shared some kitkats in honor of the giant kitkats we had last Halloween on our last day in Kazakhstan. Nikolai had his first (to my knowledge) lollipop, which turned his whole mouth and chin blue. He was really tired and it was bed time, so I put his candy up on the table to get him ready for bed. You would have thought we took his most prized possession – he looked SO sad and cried hard, saying “my chocolate”. Luckily he calmed down quick once he went upstairs and fell sound asleep.
Mama! Look!

The requisite tasting of the pumpkin top

What's in there?

Trying on his costume

Here we go!

Adding the candy from our house to his pumpkin


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Forever Family Day

Yay Football!

More Borscht Please

One year ago today we arrived in Astana after an 18+ hour trip, drove to the baby house, and were finally handed our son to be part of our family forever. Nikolai’s favorite care giver dressed him for the last time, reviewed the outer clothes we planned to put on him to keep him warm for the last time, and kissed him good bye. We then headed back to the airport and to Almaty.

This past year has been more amazing than we could have dreamed. We have been blessed with the cutest, silliest little boy in the world. He is currently obsessed with football. This morning at 6:30 am, he greeted me with: “morning mama; watch football?” Apparently he had his morning milk sitting on Chris’s lap watching Sports Center. He likes to play football too, but unfortunately seems to be emulating Jason Campbell. He wildly throws the ball, and then spins and falls down. Anything exciting gets a “Yay football!” sort of the same way that any music he likes is described as “drum!” I played the Happy Adoption Day song by John McCuteon in the car on the way home from daycare, but Nikolai barely tolerated it before requesting his current favorite song – a Laurie Berkner song called Song in My Tummy that he calls “La La”. We usually listen to that song at least three times on the way home.

We went out to dinner Saturday night to celebrate because Chris knew he had drama rehearsal with the youth tonight. We finally ate at the new Kazakh restaurant in Arlington – CafĂ© Assorti. It was SO good, had a great atmosphere, and was totally kid friendly at the same time. The food leaned more towards the Russian rather than Kazakh side of the cuisine. I could smell the dill when we walked in, and had four different Pirozhki – cabbage was the best (as usual). Chris had pelmeni, and Nikolai had chicken blinchiki. Chris and I also ordered borscht, and Nikolai ate a lot of it. I think it was more vegetables than he has eaten in months. It was really fun to see Kazakh people too. I do not think the people we met who worked there were necessarily Kazakh, but there were several tables of people who were. They clearly were a little amused to see a little Kazakh with us, too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


We just got back from 11 days of vacation in the southwest. We flew to Phoenix and then starting driving, eventually making our way to Denver to fly home. This was definitely a test of Nikolai’s resilience. While he was tired by the end, he did great! We had been so worried Nikolai would get sick before the trip, but he was fine – and Chris and I were sick. Oh well… we still enjoyed ourselves. Chris had never been to that part of the country before, so we spent a lot of time just observing the scenery. It is hard to be back at work, but nice to sleep in our own beds and be back in a more humid climate. I feel like we were gone so long, I was a bit surprised to see that they have not finished repaving the beltway and the same 10 or so songs are still being played on the radio.

Prescott, AZ

The drive from Phoenix to Prescott was amazing. Unlike in the east where if you go way up, you then go way down, we went up a big incline and then leveled off! We traveled from an area of saguaro cactus up to a rocky landscape of scrub brush and mesas.

We went to Prescott for a friend’s wedding. Kirsten and I worked together nearly 10 years ago and she is still an architectural historian with my company – in the Phoenix office. Prescott was cute, but definitely outfitted for tourists. Much of the town, including our hotel (which is on the National Register of Historic Places), dates to the late 19th to early 20th century. The wedding was outside and it was a little difficult to hear, especially after a low, small airplane flew overhead and Nikolai repeatedly exclaimed “airplane! airplane! one more?” The reception was beautiful. I wish I had not been sick.
Traveling with a 20-month old was an interesting experience. Nikolai had a different focus than us, which was a bit frustrating at times, but mostly amusing and forced us to look at things in a new way. This was particularly noticeable on the brief hike we took at a lake outside of Prescott. Much of the path was paved with rocks and boulders. Nikolai would stand on a rock, count 1, 2, 3 and jump off. He would take a few steps and then excitedly climb onto the next rock and start again. Meanwhile Chris and I are looking at the ½-mile of rocks ahead of us wondering if we will ever reach the top. We intended to do the entire mile or so hike, but a 50-mile an hour cold wind led us to cut our walk short.

Since I was not feeling well at all at that point in the trip, I went to bed at the same time as Nikolai and Chris went out exploring. He came upon a folk music festival – which is funny since Chris is currently obsessed with perfecting his banjo and mandolin playing in order to participate in our local bluegrass jam sessions. Who would have thought we would find folk music – including some bluegrass – in Arizona!

Ready for the wedding

The entrance to our hotel in Prescott

1, 2, 3 Jump!
Grand Canyon, AZ

Prescott is only 80 miles from the Grand Canyon, so we could not pass up the opportunity to visit briefly. We managed to get a reservation at one of the hotels in the national park, and had a great room just a short walk to the rim. Having always visited national parks as a kid via tent camping, it was interesting to stay in a hotel instead. When the temperature dropped to 20 degrees overnight, we were especially glad not to be in a tent – I sure hope my parents are staying warm. They are on a 6-week camping trip in UT, CO, AZ, and NM. The weather was really nice once the sun was fully up.

The Grand Canyon is perhaps the easiest park to visit with a baby. The rim trail running the length of the park is paved, so we took a 3.5-mile walk pushing Nikolai in a stroller. We took the free shuttle back to our hotel – not exactly roughing it. I think the canyon itself was lost on Nik, but he really enjoyed carrying rocks, occasionally throwing rocks, and watching the people and dogs walking by. Despite this rather settled/populated experience of the national park, we managed to see some wildlife, including several mule deer, elk, little lizards, and a squirrel (well, the squirrel hopped up on the wall and begged for food, so not exactly “wild” but still cute).

There was a full moon that night to guide us back along the rim trail from dinner at a different hotel. The views of the canyon lit by the moon were breathtaking. We did not encounter anyone else on the trail that night, so it was just the two of us pushing a stroller through the woods along the rim of the canyon by moonlight. I think Nikolai may be starting to realize what a crazy family he is a part of.

A common activity on the trip - collecting a rock
Los Lunas/ Albuquerque, NM

Next we drove 6 hours to my aunt and uncle’s house in NM. The drive was beautiful – especially the part just south of the canyon through a ponderosa pine forest and the first part of NM through Navajo lands. It was strange to be on so many roads where we did not see another car.

It was so much fun staying with my aunt and uncle. They are fun, generous, loving people. Tom and Dorene have two sheep, a cow, two dogs, a cat, two goats, three rats, a bearded dragon, chickens, a duck and probably other critters. Nikolai loved being able to wake up in the morning and visit the sheep. One of the new words he learned on the trip was lizard, which he says so cute – like zhizhard. He especially had fun driving the golf cart with Dorene’s dad.

We originally planned to get up early and drive to Albuquerque for a 7 am hot air balloon launch, but the balloons did not fly due to rain and a thunderstorm. So we went out to breakfast and then walked around the old town part of Albuquerque perusing the various stores. There are some amazing American Indian artists in the region who make beautiful (and expensive) jewelry and ceramics. Many of the stores had large drums for sale or holding up tables, etc. Nikolai was in heaven getting to beat on so many drums. We bought him a little toy drum supposedly made at the Cochiti Pueblo, which includes several well-known drum makers to the point that the seal of the Cochiti Pueblo is a drum.

Being silly at the balloon museum

Golf Cart!

Canon City, CO

Finally we drove about 5 hours to Canon City to visit our good friends who just moved from MD to CO. We arrived after dinner time, but Nikolai was so excited to see his friend Tyler he ended up staying up late. He kept giggling uncontrollably at everything Tyler did. We realized that most of the vacation Nik had been happy, but it takes other kids’ craziness to really make him laugh. We stayed four nights and by the end Tyler and Nikolai were actually starting to get on each other’s nerves, especially in the back of the car when one had something the other wanted. It was so funny to listen to them – sort of a preview of what to expect once we bring home our child from China.

Unfortunately Canon City experienced a cold spell with record lows while we were there; we visited the local Goodwill to buy a snow suit for Nikolai. Cacti coated with ice are pretty. The first day’s weather was not bad once the sun came out in the afternoon, so we visited the Royal Gorge. The gorge has the tallest suspension bridge in the world, which we walked and drove over. There is also an incline railroad that we took to the base of the gorge. On the coldest day we went to the local history and dinosaur museums, and then had dinner at Jen’s parents’ house. Jen’s dad is a geologist who now runs the dinosaur museum; he had a great rock collection I enjoyed looking at. The final day we stayed inside most of the day, but went for a brief walk in the afternoon once the clouds broke up some.

Welcome to Colorado

Icy Cactus

Royal Gorge

Uncovering dinosaurs at the museum
All bundled

Ooh. Pretty

Sunday, September 20, 2009


When we landed at Dulles back in November 2008 we took a picture to commemorate Nikolai becoming a citizen. Since then we have been struggling with USCIS to get them to acknowledge that Nik is a citizen rather than a permanent resident and to get a Certificate of Citizenship. Several USCIS officers told us various things and promised the mistake would be fixed – with no action other than to confiscate the Permanent Resident Card so that we have almost nothing to prove that Nik is even here legally.

So we enlisted the help of our senator – who got an answer from USCIS the next day after contacting them! Our file and related documents have essentially been archived and there is no hope of fixing the mistake in the ways the USCIS officers assured us would work. Rather we need to submit the N-600 and supporting documents. This is not a big deal and it would have been a lot simpler if USCIS had just told us this back in January. Because of all the hassle, our senator’s representative will be hand delivering our application to the congressional liaison to USCIS, who will be hand delivering the application to USCIS headquarters and requesting they waive the fee. Whether we have to pay or not, I am finally feeling confident that this will be resolved. The senator’s office also told us she could arrange for us to go in person and apply for a passport without having to turn in Nik’s Kaz passport (which contains the IR-3 visa and the only proof of his immigration status we have).

We heard from the senator’s representative today and need to get the N-600 packet to her tomorrow. Since we first thought we might have to submit this application back in January, the passport-type photos that we had of Nikolai were way too old to use. So I attempted to take a quick digital picture that would work. I found the series of resultant photos funny:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


This weekend we went up to Chris’s mom’s farm to camp with a bunch of friends from college. We first got together in 1997 and have only missed a few years (including last year since we were in Kazakhstan!). What started out as a bunch of recent graduates drinking beer and playing board/card games has turned into a big family weekend. Adults still barely outnumbered the kids – by one. All of the requisite Crowlstock activities took place: horseshoes, camping, a huge fire followed by smores, games, and a trip to the corn maze. Nikolai loved the weekend since he was entertained by the other kids and the grandparents, he had unlimited access to whole peaches, and he got to be “out si” almost the whole weekend. We had him sleep in his new peapod bed in the tent since it is all we are bringing on our upcoming trip to the southwest. He woke up several times the first night, but slept better the second night.

It was great to see everyone!

Helping prepare the fire pit

In the "girls' tent" - after being invited since he "is just a baby"


A crowded sand box

The grandparents and I escaped to do a little tasting at a local winery