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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fall

Griffin experienced the beauty of fall in Ohio: nice weather, changing leaves, Halloween, numerous soccer games, and a season of OHIO STATE BUCKEYES football.



Griffin dressed as a scary bat on his first Halloween. OK, I must admit. I picked the bat costume and it was too small. He grew a lot between the time I got it and Halloween night. Not too scary, instead he looked like an overstuffed purple and black pillow. He enjoyed the evening out. He rode happily in the stroller while Connor and Lana ran from house to house.



Griffin had the privilege of watching both Connor and Lana play soccer games every Saturday this fall. He was usually content to do so as long as he had a cell phone, car keys and a few snacks. After every game we'd race home to catch the Buckeyes game on TV. I think Griff finally started to understand why all his clothes are scarlet and gray.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Griffin's First All-American Summer




What a wonderful summer we've had getting to know our Kazak boy! Griffin has enjoyed all sorts of summertime fun. He thoroughly enjoys trips to the neighborhood YMCA water park and to Kings Island Amusement Park. He celebrated 4th of July with a traditional cook-out and fireworks show. The above picture captures just one of his many trips down a 16 foot water slide rented for Connor's birthday party. Griffin's brother, sister and cousins eagerly took turns assisting him down the slide. He would squeal with laughter every trip down.





Just a few weeks ago we attended the Ahlers family reunion in Monticello Indiana. Family members from 8 states came together for a long weekend of fun and sun. During an afternoon of boating he took a nap and enjoyed eating a snack while watching the big kids ski and tube. Griffin wore out every member of the family with his relentless desire to practice walking. (Thanks everyone for your many trips around the grounds.) I would say Griffin's favorite summertime activity is eating ice cream! The below pictures captures his joy of eating (and sharing) an ice cream cone with his Great Aunt Mary Beth.





Throughout this summer Griffin has been introduced to family, friends, neighbors and co-workers... we'd like to say thanks to everyone for welcoming him with such enthusiasm.

A few other photos of the big boy...



Friday, June 20, 2008

Home

I'm thrilled to be writing this post from home.

Wow, I think I'm in a bit of shock. We finally reached the finish line. We started the adoption process about 18 months ago and it feels wonderful to have our whole family together for the first time. (Side note: we filled out the first piece of adoption paperwork on Jan 1,2007 only 8 days after Griffin was born.)

Believe it or not the flights home went very well. In the 24 hours of travel Griffin only had about 2 or 3 hours of "freak out time". Yes, we were one of those couples with a screaming baby stuck on an airplane with no where to go and no way to get him to calm down. I think Griffin realized that if he acted the same way on the next two flights we'd put him in the cargo area therefore he was an absolute angel for the remainder of the very long day.

Connor and Lana met us at the airport along with Grandma T and Papa, proudly wearing their hand-crafted Big Brother, Big Sister T-shirts. There were tears, hugs and kisses for all. We were also greeted by welcome home signs from our Churchill Court family.

I don't know who's luckier: for us to have him or for him to have all of you. Thanks family, friends and co-workers for your support.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

We're coming home...

Yippppeeee!

We got Griffin’s travel Visa today and we’re coming home!

I'm so excited to embark on the journey home… well sort of. The journey home starts with waking at 3:30 a.m., a 7 + hour flight to Amsterdam, a 5 hour layover, a 9 hour flight to Detroit, a 3 hour layover, 1 hour flight to Cincinnati… oh and an hour drive home. Seriously!

If the Travel Gods are with us we’ll be landing in Cincinnati at 10:35 p.m. Wednesday night.

Tired Cowboy






Preface to story: When ordering a meal at a restaurant in Kazakhstan you usually seat yourself at a table and then are presented with a menu. A minute later the waiter is hovering to take your order. They don’t take your drink order and then come back for food order. They take your complete order all at once and then bring food and drinks at random times. The side dishes and entrees come separately and each person at table just has to wait until their food arrives. You always have to ask for the bill, they will not bring it until you ask. We’ve been here long enough to know the routine and it’s really no big deal.

So Monday night we meet the Finney’s for dinner and decide to go to a “bar and grill”. This saloon has a serious cowboy theme. Cowhide, horse shoes, wooden benches and post, bull horns, even the waitress wore a cowboy hat. The restaurant decided to carry the cowboy theme onto the menu. They had dishes named, The Big Horn and Saddle Stew. We all chuckled as we read the names because we’re quite right. For example, one dish is named the “Tired Cowboy”, the description says “beef that will melt in your mouth”. Everyone places an order and we sit and wait. Finally the first entrée arrives, the waitress puts the plate down in front of Ben (see photo above) and we all start laughing. You’ve got to be kidding me… is that sausage? So Jesse is in hysterics and really starts giving Ben a hard time about his dinner. “Where’d they get that sausage from Griffin’s diaper”, “Isn’t that cute, it has a peace sign. Have peace on your digestive tract”, “What was that dish called, Alpo?”, “I need a picture of that gross looking stuff”, and on and on and on and on.

The completely none-English speaking cowboy hat wearing waitress comes back a few minutes and appears to be apologizing about something. We have no idea what she’s saying. She finally just reaches in front of Ben and grabs the untouched plate from him and places it in front of… Jesse. That’s the Tired Cowboy dish that Jesse ordered, not Ben’s sausage. The laughter that exploded from Ben, Kerry and I could be heard in Ohio! Jesse was speechless.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

An Evening at Medeo

Ever hear of the fairy-tale of the Olympic sized speed skating rink located in the mountains?  Well, Saturday evening we set out to determine if indeed such a place really existed.   In this case, the ‘we’ consisted of Amy, Griffin, and me, as well as our new American friends the Finney’s (Ben, Kerry, and Liam).  Medeo is truly a unique place, and is hard to describe in words, so I’ll include several pictures to help give an overview of the place.  As you can tell from the picture below, Medeo definitely exists, and is truly an Olympic sized speed skating rink located in the middle of the mountains.



Medeo is only about 20 kilometers outside of Almaty, and can easily be reached within 20-25 minutes.  The roads to Medeo are very well maintained, since they pass through some of the most expensive properties in Almaty (as our driver would say ‘big dollars’).  Contrary to the American stereotype of Kazakhstan living, there are certainly many people in Almaty that are very well off, American standard or otherwise.  As a matter of fact, Amy and I happened by a gentleman driving a Ferrari just yesterday afternoon.  And the cars parked in front of the McMansions on the way to Medeo would rival any posh neighborhood in the States (think BWM, Lexus, Mercedes, etc.). 

As we wound our way up the mountain toward Medeo, the first thing we noticed was the cooling temperatures and clear, alpine air.  The landscape was beautiful, and certainly not a place where we would expect to find an Olympic speed skating rink.  Actually, Medeo is one of two venues that were built as a start toward a bid to host the winter Olympic games (unsuccessful so far), with the second being the Chimbulak ski resort that is located another ~7 kilometers farther up mountain from Medeo.  Since the weather definitely gets much cooler in Chimbulak, we decided to enjoy our stop at Medeo and hold skiing for another trip (hmm… say next year?).   Below is a picture from inside the rink.


If you can get past looking at the good looking people in this picture, you will notice the large damn-like structure in the background.  It’s actually not a damn, but was built to protect against avalanches.  Makes you feel safe, eh?  If you look really closely, you will see many, many steps leading up the structure.  We felt that the views had to be outstanding from the top, so we mentioned to our driver that we would make the trek to the top with the kids in tow.

He smiled at us politely.  Then he nodded, and communicated that we could do that, but we would in effect be crazy.  Now realize that our driver speaks only slightly more English than I speak Russian, but for some reason we had some ‘Onagee’ thing (‘Friends’ reference for Jamie) going that allowed us to fully understand each other.

He then motioned to a side road that we hadn’t noticed, and indicated that we could drive up to the top.  As we sat in the car and listened to it struggle to pull us up the hill, I realized the magnitude of the error that I would have made had we tried to climb it.  I’m thinking that Griff would have had to roll back down on his own, as his two out of shape parents would surely have suffered heart attacks.  Below is a picture of the group from the top.



To help give some additional perspective on how remote this area really is, below is a shot of the valley from the top of the ‘damn’, opposite side from the skating rink.


Yep, there is really nothing else out here but the skating rink and a few snack stands, but we really enjoyed getting out of the city for a few hours.  On our way back to the city, we noticed that they are building a ski lift from the city to Medeo, continuing on to Chimbulak.  That will be a great addition for tourism, and should hopefully help spur along some additional investment in the area surrounding the rink (as much as you can on the side of a mountain).

And for those that are curious, the rink is actually used for more than simply entertaining goofy American tourists.  Several Kazakhstan Olympic skaters have apparently trained here, and Medeo will be one of the venues when Almaty hosts the Asian Games here in 2011.

After our adventures through the mountains, we enjoyed a great late dinner at L’Affiche, a little café outside the Hotel Almaty.  For those that will be staying near this area, we highly recommend this spot, as the food is the best we have had yet in Kazakhstan.





Long Distance Happy Father’s Day Wish

Dad,

I know that we traditionally get together on Father’s Day and grab dinner together as a family.  Since we are half-a-world away this Father’s Day, we’ll obviously need to postpone the dinner, but wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you today. 

Ever since I can remember, you have always been there for me.  You have shown me that one of the more important traits of a great father is not in having all the right answers to the difficult questions, but just always being there to support your children in their struggles.  While this sounds fairly obvious, I think it’s more difficult in practice, as the perspective of a youngster tends to make everyday issues into monumental quests.  I thank you (and mom of course – focusing on dad since it’s papa’s day!) for having the patience to deal with my continually changing interests as a child, and for now showing the same love and care with my kids.  They are very lucky grandchildren. 

Know that Amy and I would not be able to maintain our sanity (or what’s left) without the knowledge that you are holding down the fort at home, while we are off globetrotting for Griffin.  It’s clear that Connor and Lana are doing great, primarily due to the activities that you have planned for them on a daily basis (swimming, karate, gymnastics, movies, sweatshop work… kidding).  I thank you for being the rock during this process, and can’t wait to get back home to thank you in person, and give you some relief from your duties. 

Give Connor and Lana and hug and kiss for me today, and let them know that we’ll celebrate my day when I get back.  I’ll expect cookies from Lana, and some fierce tackling from Connor.

Look forward to seeing you soon,

-Your son

And to the other father’s out there, have a great Father’s Day today.  I know that I’ll be looking for some shashlyk (i.e. kabobs) and a few colds ones to enjoy with Amy and Griffin (nyet cold ones for Griff, but he certainly enjoys the kabobs).  Best, Jesse.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A typical day in Almaty

It’s Saturday morning and we’re trying to stay positive and enjoy our time with Griffin in this beautiful city. The last couple of days the weather has been cooler, in the upper 80’s. We call these days “one shirt days”, meaning we should be able to get by without changing our sweaty clothes at mid-day. This is only an issue because we didn’t bring many clothes. I’m washing things almost daily in the sink – at least they dry quickly.  As nice as it is here, I’d still much rather be at home.

 I’m looking forward to some home-cooked meals when we return, even willing to tolerate my own cooking. (As most of you know Jesse does the majority of the cooking for our family).  Mealtime here feels like a chore. We try to plan where we’re going to eat (or just start walking), find the restaurant and pray that they have an English menu and a high chair for Griffin.  So far only two places have had high chairs, our hotel’s breakfast room and Mama Mia’s Pizza place.  I think the Lonely Planet Tour Book should add a “kid friendly” rating to their restaurant recommendations.

Although I must admit we enjoyed dinner last night, because it wasn’t a chore at all. We went out with our new friends Kerry, Ben and their son Liam. The boys were content throughout the whole meal, the food was fine and the conversation was great.

If we weren’t living in a hotel with a tiny refrigerator we would take greater advantage of the fantastic grocery store nearby. It has everything you could imagine. A deli with recognizable meats, a bakery and fresh produce area.  Much to Jesse’s displeasure, they even sell non-alcoholic beer!  Jesse stood in front of the beer section for 20 minutes, mulling over which beer to select. Later that evening after a long day in the heat, he opens the beer and scans the label as he begins to drink it. The words, “Nyet Alcoholic” suddenly jumps out at him. Ahhh, I can’t help but to laugh. Yesterday for lunch we bought food at that grocery and ate at the park across from our hotel (see picture below).


A little about Griffin… we’ve figured out his schedule and I must say it’s very “parent friendly”! 

7:00 – 8:00 a.m.  Wakes in the morning and eats breakfast #1 (formula)

9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Eats breakfast #2

10:30 – 11:30 a.m.  Sleeps  (Jesse’s time to go downstairs for internet use)

12:30 – 1:30 p.m.  Eats lunch

3:30 p.m.  Eats pre-nap snack (formula)

4:00 – 6:00 p.m.   Sleeps  (Amy’s time to go downstairs for internet use)

7:00 – 8:00 p.m.  Eats dinner

9:30 p.m. Eats pre-bedtime (formula)

10:00 p.m. Bedtime

Jesse here – I had to interject a quick comment.  Notice anything interesting with this schedule?  Yes, our youngest child is either eating, planning on eating, or sleeping.  The ‘tick’ will be a nick name that may stick for awhile…

Griffin’s food issues are challenging but expected. He has no control over his eating, yet. He will not stop on his own, which means that we must remove food from his sight.  Actually, we’ve started trying to time it so we’re all finished eating at the same time. He freaks out if we’re eating and he doesn’t have something.  We allow him to carry his snack cup full of Cheerios in hopes of providing comfort. Ben and Kerry said Liam did the same thing for a couple of weeks as well.

As Jesse said in the last post, we’ve seen the new passport and it’s correct. It’s traveling long distances throughout Kazakhstan for the required stamps. We’re hoping it will arrive in Bayan’s (our coordinator) hands on Tuesday morning.  If so, we go back to the Embassy on Tuesday afternoon and then home on Wednesday.  Our fingers and toes are crossed!

I want to tell everyone how much we've enjoyed reading your comments.  Not only it is great that so many people are reading the blog and following along with us on this journey, but your comments of support and humor are very comforting and a constant reminder of how many people we have supporting us back home.  Thanks so much!

Friday, June 13, 2008

One Step Closer

So, before any adoption related updates, I figured we should just start with the fun stuff.  Kinda like starting with dessert.  To the left is our little munchkin' caught in one of his favorite activities.  As I mentioned in the previous post, Griffin loves his sleep.  What I didn't mention is that this little guy could sleep through a tornado, which makes sense considering he is probably used to another ~100 or so screaming Griffin's laying next to him.  In addition to the quite, the air conditioning is a bonus that he also seems to greatly enjoy.  The average temperature in Kazakhstan in the summer is near the 100's, and I've heard rumors it can reach near ~120 F in Shymkent.  No fun.  This picture to the left, of course, is pre-haircut.



And this picture above is after Griffin's haircut yesterday! Holy cow, it's a boy!  It was another fun experience trying to arrange Griffin's appointment.  Our first try was to ask the ladies at the hotel beauty salon ourselves as a 'walk-in'.  After a few failed attempts at hand signals and garbled Russian phrases, I punted and headed for the front desk attendant for a little English-Russian translation assistance.

As the lobby attendant could not actually leave the front desk, she instead agreed to call the salon on our behalf (a distance of approximately 50 feet).  Meanwhile, Amy had decided to stay in the salon with Griffin to practice her Russian.  After the lobby assistant got the salon attendant on the line, she proceeded to ask if we could get Griffin's haircut (yes, you would think we were trying to negotiate the purchase of a Uranium depot).  So the conversation went something like this...

Lobby attendant: 'He is a boy?'
Me: 'Yes', I emphatically respond.  I'm still a bit sensitive from the whole passport issue.
Lobby: 'You would like to have all of his hair cut?'
Me: 'Uh, yes.  We would like to have his hair cut.'
Lobby: Speaking into the phone to the salon, she makes a motion with her hand that seems to indicate a buzz cut.  I begin to rethink the meaning of the phrase 'all of his hair cut', and the likely response that I'll get from Amy if I screw this up.
Me:  'Excuse me.  By 'all his hair cut', do you mean that they will completely buzz off his hair?'
Lobby: Smiling proudly, 'Of course.'
Me: 'Ah.  Well, then.  How about 'nyet' to that one. Just a simple trim will do...'

In spite of the fun we have with the language and cultural differences, everyone seems to take it in stride.  The ladies that cut his hair did a great job.  I say ladies as it seemed that we had a virtual pit crew working on him.  One to distract him, Amy to hold him, one to actually cut his hair, one that would brush off locks of hair that inevitably landed in his face, and I paced around nervously.  

Regarding the adoption update, we met with Bayan (our coordinator in Almaty) yesterday evening and were happy to hear that Griffin's new passport has been completed!  I actually held the new passport in my hands, and had the chance to verify the information first hand.  Now, the passport must travel back to Shymkent for an official stamp (not sure what it is), then on to Astana for another stamp (again, not sure -- but it is sacred).  At this point, we are hoping that the passport will make it's travels back to us by Tuesday, so we can meet with the US Consulate, then travel out Wednesday morning.  Of course, that is best case.

For dinner last night, we abandoned our adventurous side and headed out for the American Bar and Grill.  Yes, it was a bit cheesy, with wagon wheels hanging on the ceiling and a general 'cowboy' feel (I guess that's the definition of American).  However, the food was good, and the cafe was located semi-outdoors, which made it a good place to enjoy the cooler evening weather.  

Today (Friday), we are attempting to coordinate a trip to the nearby mountains.  No major hiking with a 17 month old, but a little sightseeing out of the city.  Should be a good change of pace for all of us, and a much needed distraction from the adoption related stressors.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bouncing Back

It’s Thursday morning here in Almaty, and I keep thinking that we should be sitting on a plane right now on our way home. The disappointment I feel is still very strong, but the tears are almost gone. Actually, I received words of encouragement last night on the phone from Connor, our wise 6 ½ year old.  He’s fully aware of the situation regarding Griffin’s passport issue. He asked me during the conversation “who typed the word female?”  (Yes, he used the words “typed and female”).  I replied that I wasn’t sure who typed it incorrectly, but whoever it was made a mistake. He said to me “you know mom, it’s ok if you make a mistake sometimes”.   So that started me crying all over again.  Thanks son for your support, I really needed it!

As for an update as to when we’re coming home, we don’t know for sure yet. We’re hoping for next Thursday. We should get more information today.

So in effort not to turn this blog into doom-n-gloom for the next 6 or 7 days, we’ll continue to journal our activities.  Not at all to say I’m happy to still be here, but at least we are stuck in a beautiful city.  Almaty is surrounded by mountains that are clearly visible, and the streets are lined with big, mature trees. While walking on the sidewalks, there is usually plenty of shade, which provides relief from the midday heat. There are also many parks in the area that are nicely landscaped.  The language barrier here is not as drastic as Shymkent, since many people speak at least some English and cafés tend to have English menus.   Although, buying a band-aid turned into a 30 minute ordeal, and even drawing a picture did not help. Jesse ended up soliciting the help of a local that spoke English to help translate, and now we are careful to keep the outer package in the event we need to buy more.    

It’s Jesse’s turn to use the laptop, so I’ll check in later with more information about Griffin. By the way, I’m so excited to get his pink hair cut today at noon!

Jesse here---

The last few days have certainly been difficult.  It seems that the closer we come to the finish line, the more elusive it becomes.  While we have weathered many challenges during this adoption, this one was particularly painful.  We not only had our expectations set on having our entire family together today, but we also set the expectations of Connor and Lana.  Fortunately, as usual, our children have wonderful perspective, and are rolling with the punches very well.  Yet again, they are making mommy and daddy very proud indeed.

On a very positive note, Griffin is completely oblivious to any of our administrative conundrums.  He is sleeping well, with two naps a day and at least 8-10 hours of sleep at night (yep, I'm sure I just jinxed it).  And he eats like a horse.  Actually, his newest moniker has become the ‘human tick’ (with love, of course), because if we would let him, he would literally eat until his little pot belly burst.  It seems that he is accustomed to eating as much as possible, as fast as possible, which makes us a bit sad.  So, for now, we accommodate him without letting him hurt himself.  I’m guessing that he’ll gain about 3-4 pounds over the next few weeks – hopefully all in his arms and legs!

As a real-time update to Amy’s note above, Griffin’s haircut went very well today (we’ll post a picture later).  He now looks less like our little girl, or as a boy about to try out for a junior Beatles band.  And Amy’s OCD has been satisfied, for now…

We hope to hear more regarding the status of the passport this afternoon, and in the meantime, we are attempting to make the best of our time together here in Almaty.  The weather has cooled a bit, meaning it is now in the mid 80's.  Perhaps we will be able to make an excursion to the mountains this weekend.  More to come...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Brick Wall

I write this post through teary eyes and with an extreme amount of frustration and anger. We did not get Griffin's travel Visa yesterday at the US Embassy and therefore can not come home tomorrow. There is an error on his Kazakhstan passport...it lists him as a female, a typo made at some government office. The US Consulate here can not issue the Visa with that type of error. We begged and pleaded but he explained we'd have serious problems upon our arrival in the US with that type of error. Our adoption agency is working to get a corrected passport...let's hope they handle things better this time around. We hope to be home next Thursday.

This set back is almost too much to bear emotionally. I feel overwhelmed by shear frustration. At this point Jesse is the calm one and I'm the one pacing around like a caged animal.

We're so sorry Connor and Lana!

We'll pass along an update as soon as we have one.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thanks for the Blanket (from Griffin)

Connor and Lana,

Griffin wanted to let you know that he really loves his new blanket, as you can tell from the picture above.  He can’t wait to meet his big brother and sister, and looks forward to hearing your voices on the phone this evening.  He wanted to speak to you this morning, but was so comfortable with his blanket, that he decided to sleep in late (which was a gift to mommy and daddy).

Love,

Griffin


Our First Full Day Together

Ahhh… it’s a good morning here in Almaty. We’re all feeling rested and refreshed today.  Yesterday we figured out the key to Almaty… it’s simple really: stay inside during the hot, hot, hot afternoon and go out after the sun goes down.  Yesterday for lunch we went to Mad Murphy’s Irish Pub. I know it doesn’t sound very adventurous but I was curious. Is there truly an Irish Pub in Kazakhstan?  Yes, it’s an Irish Pub. Jesse ordered Fish-n-Chips and a Guinness.  After walking in the heat we came back to the hotel for our family afternoon nap, and didn’t go to dinner until almost 8:00p.m. For dinner we went to Coffeedelia. The Lonely Planet Tour Guide gave Coffeedelia rave reviews and now we know why.  It’s a great coffee house / fresh deli with free Wi-Fi.  The frapaccino that Jesse ordered would make the people at Starbucks nervous… it was delicious!

Griffin is an active participant on all our excursions.  He enjoys his time in the stroller as we’re walking, and seems to take in the sights and sounds of the city.  He also enjoys all the food we give him… everything! We’re not sure if he is making up for a few missed meals or if he just really likes the new flavors and textures he’s getting.  (Daddy here – Lana, I bet he will really like our homemade Guacamole!).  

The only time he’s looked completely shocked was in the car ride to and from the SOS clinic. It was probably too much stimulation for him to process so quickly, but he still dealt with it well.  At the clinic we found out that Griffin is ~20 pounds. He’s so light but seems to be average height.  His legs and arms are tiny.  Most of the 12 month shorts we brought for him to wear are too big, because he has no butt to hold them on! He’s wearing 12-18 month shirts.  I think most of his 20 pounds is on his head – the boy is in serious need of a haircut.  He has so much hair and some of it is still tinted pink from the medicine they put on it almost 8 weeks ago.  My OCD issues are struggling with the hair… I’m so temped to cut it.

I’m not sure if Griffin remembered us from Shymkent 6 weeks ago.  Jesse thinks he saw a flicker of recognition (a bit if a grin…).  While I didn’t notice signs of recognition, I fortunately didn’t see signs of fear or anxiety either.  It has taken a couple days, but now he’ll smile when we get him from his crib and he’ll reach for us to pick him up.  Last night we had a new first -- we gave him a real bath. Jesse got in the tub with him, and at first he was scared, but by the end of the bath he was completely relaxed and loved the scrub down with baby body wash.  I think he’s starting to realize things aren’t so bad.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

He’s Finally Arrived!


Amy did a great job summarizing our ordeal with the airlines (see post below). Needless to say, my version of the story wouldn’t have been as ‘family friendly’, and she’s right that I might have used a few expletives to fully describe the incompetence of our friends at NW airlines. Ahh, but to the fun stuff…

We arrived at Hotel Almaty early this morning, still dazed from our travels. However, we were quickly awakened from our collective stupor after our driver mentioned that Nurshai’s flight was scheduled to arrive in Almaty at 11:00 am, and our son should be in our arms before noon. The day was certainly beginning to look brighter.

Fortunately, his estimates were right on, as we got the call from the lobby (‘you must come to the lobby’… in stoic Russian accent) around 11:45am, at which time we scrambled for the miniaturized elevators and made our way to finally welcome Griffin to our family. I think we were both surprised by how well he looked, as we both felt that he would probably regress a bit during the 5+ weeks since our last visit. Not so – other than a few lingering spots from a rash that we knew about when we left, he looked physically healthy. And he was active, playful, and most important of all; he smiled after a few minutes of seeing us. All is well now.

We enjoyed the rest of the day hanging out over a late lunch, getting in a good afternoon nap (which it took all of my strength to awaken from), and a casual dinner under the stars (outside dinning at the hotel… nothing fancy, but convenient). Tomorrow morning we head to the SOS clinic to get the final medical review and approval, and should have the rest of the day to ourselves. Assuming all goes well there, we are then scheduled to go to the US Embassy on Tuesday for our final interview and paperwork, and Wednesday will be a contingency day in case anything pops up. Then we are back to the airlines Thursday… and homeward bound.

He’s sleeping peacefully in his crib now. Any misery associated with our travels seems pretty insignificant. Goodnight all.

Misery Loves Company (2nd Trip Travel Woes)

I’m going to author this post because if Jesse did it would all look like this %#!%&*. All along we’ve tried to maintain a positive fun blog, but instead I ask you to feel our pain!

We’re so eager to get back to Kazakhstan that we get to the Cincinnati airport early. We ask the ticket counter agent to help us work out our seat assignments on the return flights, the ones with Griff. He’s unable to help so he gives us 800 # to call. Jesse calls the 800# to discuss our situation… we’re traveling with a 17 month old who’s spent 90% of his day in a crib and major “freaking out” is highly possible. He explains that we’re hoping to have seats together and in the 2 seat section of the plane versus the 4 seat section in middle of the plane. The lady on the phone acts like we’re asking to change the orbit of the earth. She says she can’t help unless we’re ‘status members’ – bingo! -- Jesse has Delta Gold Medallion status. Delta and Northwest are both part of SkyTeam Alliance, so his status should work on this airline. The NWA lady says she can’t verify his status and refuses to help any further. A supervisor gets on the phone, calls Delta to verify his status as Gold and then says she can’t really help because the flights are full and then literally hangs up on Jesse. The very frustrating phone calls last almost 45 minutes and we got nowhere!

As we’re sitting at the gate waiting to leave the NWA agent says we’re going to be delayed because the flight before us is delayed going to Minnesota and they have to wait for the pilot to move that plane out of the way so we can began boarding our plane. Moving us to another open gate would have been too easy, right. We start to panic now because we only have one hour in Detroit to catch our next flight to Amsterdam.

RUN FOREST RUN… we get to Detroit at 9:05p.m. and our flight leaves at 9:20. We land in terminal C but have to get to terminal A. We ran, seriously ran, through the airport. I’m sure looking like two big ole dorks; me in my flip flop sandals, pushing an empty baby stroller and Jesse dragging luggage behind him. He gets ahead of me (nice to be wearing running shoes) and I’m yelling … “just goooo, I’lllll catch up” We come running up to the gate, out of breath and red in the face and the airline agent looks scared to death and says, “But where is your baby?” Our only laugh of the day!

We’re the last to board the plane and feel encouraged when the pilot comes on to say there will be a slight delay while we wait for a few additional passengers and late luggage to be loaded. About 20 minutes later, there’s another announcement about a further delay, only this one ended up lasting almost 7 hours. Yes, it happened to us. We sat inside the plane on the tarmac with little or no air conditioning for 7 hours as they did a repair. We were not allowed to leave the plane “for security reasons”. After two hours we got a drink of water and after five hours we got a bag of pretzels. We sat for 7 hours on the tarmac and then had to endure the actual 7 hour flight. We got off the plane in Amsterdam, walked straight to the gate for the Almaty flight that is now boarding and walked directly onto the plane. No time to stop for a bathroom break or a sip of water, directly onto the plane and then sat for another 7 hour flight! For those that are keeping track, including the Cincy to Detroit flight, we had the joy of experiencing ~22 hours of time sitting in our less than 2 feet of coach space… together. You’ve got to be kidding me… I wanted to cry!

So we’re here now, in Almaty at the hotel, amazingly with all of our luggage. We’re laying down with our legs propped up to help reduce the leg pain and swelling. You should see Jesse’s ankles, they look like baseballs. And we’re thrilled to be waiting for Griffin to arrive… very soon the last 24 hour nightmare will be forgotten.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Robeez Shoe Donation






We'd like to send out a huge THANK YOU to Robeez Shoes for their generous donation. Robeez donated 30 pairs of their adorable shoes to the Baby House in Shymkent. Let me tell you...these shoes are so cute! I applied to be a part of their Heart & Soles Program and was accepted. The donation was shipped to our house here in the States and we'll deliver it to our coordinator in Kazakhstan. A special thanks to Robeez employees Stephanie and Kelly for your assistance in making this happen.

You can find out more about Robeez (a division of Stride Rite) at www.robeez.com

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hang on Griff... we'll be there soon!

We're heading back to Kazakhstan very soon to bring our son home.

The time between trips has been very difficult to endure. We've done our best to stay busy and concentrate on preparing for Griffin's arrival. His room is ready: the bed made, the clothes washed, the diapers purchased.

It won't be long until we have one Moore in the house.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The End of Trip One

Home Sweet Home

Our flights home were uneventful: very long and painful for the muscles and joints but well worth it upon seeing the smiling faces of Connor and Lana at the airport.

The only problem... we can't wait to get back to Kazakhstan.

A Day in Almaty

On Tuesday morning we took the quick flight from Shymkent to Almaty.

Arriving in Almaty was like taking in a breath of fresh air. The feel of Almaty is so different from Shymkent. The city sits in the mountains so the view is amazing. The streets are lined with big trees, the sidewalks are even, the drivers follow traffic laws and many young people speak English.

We spent the warm afternoon walking around the city. We walked to the tourist walking street (similar to Arbot Street in Moscow) where many vendors sell souvenirs. There are shops, restaurants and ice cream stands. We met up with the Dickey's and had one last dinner together. A very enjoyable day.

For anyone coming to Almaty soon... Hotel Almaty is clean and has big rooms and is centrally located, but we didn't like it that much. The room was $170 per night. We could hear the street traffic at night and the shower didn't work well.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Last Days in Shymkent

The last couple days in Shymkent...

Sunday we started the day with a brief meeting with Nurshia and Zhenia to discuss our court appointment. Later that day we finally made it to lunch at a place called AN, we can’t get there during the week because they close at 3:00p.m. They serve a dish called ‘plovf’. It’s a rice dish with carrots, raisins, chick peas and mutton / lamb meat. (I have eaten more lamb in the past month than I have my whole life!) Plovf is delicious and get this… a huge bowl of plovf is $1.25. One of the best lunches we’ve had and it only cost $2.50, amazing!

Sunday afternoon we were invited to a picnic. The invitation to the picnic came in the oddest of ways. We were invited by complete strangers. Saturday evening about 9:30 at night there is a knock on our hotel door and I open the door to find two smiling girls. They quickly say “hello”. They tell me they had heard about the American couple staying in the hotel and they wanted us to come to the picnic so they could practice speaking English with us. It goes against all things normal in the States: one the hotel staff gave them our room number, two they don’t know us at all and three they were so nice and sincere with their offer. The picnic time was pushed back so we were unable to attend… much to the disappointment to the girls. They came back to the hotel Monday night to say good-bye. Complete strangers coming to say good-bye. I honestly don’t even know their names.

The reason we were unable to attend the later picnic time was because we had plans with another stranger who wanted to speak English and ask questions about America. I know it’s very odd, but hey what else do we have to do?… might as well take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about Kazakhstan. We met this very intriguing young Russian girl while trying to figure out how to add minutes to our KZ cell phone. She over-heard us struggling with the Russian directions on the phone card and nicely asked if she can help us. After a few minutes of conversation and many thanks, she asked if we’d have coffee with her on Sunday.

The coffee conversation on Sunday was fascinating. She is desperate to get to the US or Europe to go to college. She’s trying to find a college that offers scholarships to International Students. She doesn't have the money to fund a US education by herself.

The fascinating part of the conversation revolved around her current education. She has an associate’s degree from a university in Shymkent, but the degree is considered worthless. Most of the college degrees earned in Shymkent have little merit in other cities in Kazakhstan and are not honored in other countries. She will have to start her education over in Russia, Europe or the US. How can that be??? In her words, “Corruption and bribes”. She describes an environment where students can pay professors for good grades. This practice is so common that it degrades the integrity of the entire higher education system. The students who get professional jobs after college get the jobs because of family connections or bribes. She completely understands this system is terrible for Shymkent and for the whole country and she’s wants out. If anyone out there knows of scholarships or internships for international students please let us know.

On Monday, the 28th, morning we prepared for court. We made a quick visit to the Baby House to see Griffin one last time before leaving but he was sleeping so we were told to come back later. We had our court appointment and everything went fine. The judge granted our adoption but it does not become official until the end of the 15 day appeal period. It’s hard to feel true excitement at this point.

After court we went for a quick visit with Griffin. He was in a good mood and didn’t understand the extra hugs and tearful good-bye. It’s so hard to leave him! We just keep telling ourselves it’s only one more month and he’ll be home.

We ended the last day with a quick dinner at Istanbul and an evening of joyful packing.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Feasts and Beasts



The past few days have been a whirlwind of activity, alternating between preparations for court and our increasingly busy social schedule.  Above is a picture of our night out with the Dickey's (sounds like a Disney film, eh?) Thursday, at the Uzbekistani restaurant that Amy mentioned in the prior post.  For us, this restaurant probably has the best ambiance we have experienced in Shymkent, and the food is very good as well.  Oh, and we fed 10 people for around $75 US.  Great deal!  You can't tell from this picture, but we are sitting in an upstairs 'loft', overlooking an outdoor courtyard.  We have several other pictures in the slideshow that provide a better perspective and also has the name of the restaurant for those that will be heading to Shymkent (it's in Kazakh).

On Friday we had a very good visit with Griffin.  His head is healing nicely, and he continues to show us his determination and spirit.  He’s now excited to show us how he can walk across the room with mommy holding one hand, and daddy the other.  He’s also started to display his soccer (or football skills over here…), by ‘kicking’ at one of the bouncy balls in the toy room.  While he still has a long way to go to catch up, it is very encouraging to see how much his confidence and endurance has improved over such a short time.  I can’t wait to get him home and see what he can do with the full support of his new family and friends!

Speaking of new friends, we had a special evening Friday night with our new Shymkent friends Jon-Paul and Yuliya, and their two lovely youngsters Brianna and Ryan.  We were treated to a traditional Kazakh feast at a local restaurant, with seating much like the Uzbek restaurant from the prior evening (comfy seating on pillows around the low table in a private room).  During the meal, we were able to sample a few Kazakh dishes new to us, both a gift of the horse (fermented mare’s milk) and, well… the horse itself!  Surprisingly, the horse meat was fairly tasty.  Had we not known it, we probably would have mistaken it found a good piece of beef, perhaps a bit saltier, but tender and good flavor.  I just hope that I didn’t just lose my rights to travel back into Kentucky… 

Regarding Kymys, the mare’s milk, however… Yuliya dear, since I know that you’ll likely read this, let’s start by saying that we loved your enthusiasm and we really wanted to like your favorite drink.  But I must admit I was a bit skeptical when you described the fermentation process as ‘you kinda start with letting the milk set out for a few weeks, then skim off the top…’.  Yea, ok.  Think happy thoughts.  It’s only a drink, and plenty of people survive and actually like this.  Yuliya doesn’t seem to suffer any permanent twitches or other obvious effects, so let’s have it.

The drink looks like milk, only watered down.  It has a slight alcohol odor (there is some alcohol that is a result of the fermentation process).  Amy and I try a sip, and realizing that our hosts are watching, and that we do not have a chaser of any sort to be found, we do our best not to completely give away the fact that this is not a fluid that should be consumed by humans.  Ever.  Under any circumstances.  Yuliya politely notices that we are not gulping down our toxic mixture (again, love you dear!), and mentions that it’s an acquired taste.  I’m thinking that it’s probably acquired over several generations.

Amy Here:

I’m sorry to interrupt but I have to add a few comments. Jesse is correct – the horse meat wasn’t that bad. In case you’re wondering, they boil the meat and serve it cold. It had a casing around the outside that Jon-Paul said to take off.  I refuse to believe it was horse intestines so I’ll ignore how or why the casing was there.  The meat was sliced thin and attached to congealed fat. Sort of yin-yang looking, they said it was ok if we didn’t want to eat the fat (nice of them).  It reminded me of a salty beef jerky. 

As for the mare’s milk… I wish I could explain the taste. It was terrible! It was so soar, so bitter, so bad.  I honestly can’t believe it’s not dangerous to your body.

The rest of the dinner is absolutely delicious, and we ended the night with coffee and great conversation at Jon-Paul and Yuliya’s house.  While the bureaucratic processes in this country can be difficult to navigate and are often dictated by payoffs and corruption, Amy and I have been constantly amazed by the hospitality of the individual folks in Kazakhstan.  Certainly Jon-Paul and Yuliya are in a league of their own in this regard, and have made our stay much more rewarding due to their generosity and friendship.  Thanks guys, it’s nice to know that we’ll always have friends in Shymkent!         

 We continued our adventures on Saturday by traveling to Turkistan (not to confuse with the country Turkmenistan), to visit a mausoleum dating to the late 14th century.  The mausoleum (see slide show) was named for the first great Turkic Muslim holy man, Kozha Akhmed Yasaui.  Turkistan is a region of Kazakhstan, so we didn’t actually leave the country, but it was a 2-2 ½ hour jostling ride by car through the countryside and several small villages.  It’s about 90 miles from Shymkent.

The trip provided us an excellent opportunity to witness how people live in Kazakhstan outside the ‘big city’.   The first thing that hits you is the physical beauty of Kazakhstan’s rolling hills and steppes.  And since much of the land is not well developed outside the city, it’s obvious that the basic landscape has not changed much in the past several thousand years.  In many places farmers still herd sheep, cattle, and goats while riding donkeys.  However, in other areas, we noticed some technology (circa 1960-70’s) in the form of tractors, old trucks, and basic farm equipment.  Life is certainly much different in the villages than in the city, and a world away from what is typical in the States.

One of the highlights of our trip was during a stop to a camel farm.  Our driver, Kostria, felt the camel and I had the same teeth, and that his picture below was proof.   I believe my childhood orthodontist may take offense, but I do see his point.

For those that haven’t had the joy of spending quality time with these creatures, they are intimidating.  They’re bigger than you think, they smell very bad, and they have an attitude.  Our friend here was particularly cantankerous, and started our visit with an immediate ‘Urrggnnnhhhh’.  Can’t do it justice in written format, so you’ll just have to ask Amy and she’ll recreate the sound for you.  Let me just tell you, it wasn’t ‘Hello’, and it wasn’t welcoming.

Amy wanted nothing to do with this creature, which you will notice by the one picture (in the slideshow) with her stiff-arming the thing from as far away as possible.  By the end of our brief visit, Mrs. Camel was tired of the picture-happy Americans, and started to become more aggressive.  The farmer motioned that we would be fine, but I’ll bet that he was secretly hoping that I’d get a chunk of my hide removed by the inch long teeth housed in mouth of my surly new friend.  The last picture taken shows the camel’s head as it was swinging toward me.  Fortunately, you can’t see the panicked look on my face as I realized there was nowhere to hide from the freakishly flexible neck on this beast.  If it wanted to extract a pound of my flesh, it could have without a problem.  I escaped unharmed, and without being spat upon.     

Amy here again:

Excuse the interruption again… look in the dictionary next to the words “Good Sport” and you better see a picture of my smiling face. Remember the night before I ate horse meat and drank poison, got little sleep and had to be up early for the drive to Turkistan. 2 ½ hours one way, Jesse said it is a jostling ride… jostling my butt.  My neck is still sore from the ride there and back: think bobble head doll.  It was 90 degrees that day and in the mausoleum, an official asked me to cover my head and provided me with a large napkin thing. I refuse to call it a scarf. God (or should I say Allah) knows how many other woman had worn it before me.  Interesting place.

I’m happy to be back on the road to the hotel, but the boys want to stop at the camel farm.  Can you imagine pulling up to a house/hut in the middle of nowhere asking if the silly Americans can see your camels?  The old farmer must think we’re nuts!  I, being the good sport, get out of the car and start towards the camel. As I’m walking toward them I see the farmer has just loosely tied the front legs of the camel.  (Made me think of walking up to a dog as someone is putting a mussel on it.)  I’m surprised at its size, as it’s much bigger than I imagined. The creature is making this really loud  ‘Urrggnnnhhhh’ sound.  All signs are blinking “stay away”.  I give into peer pressure and get close enough to touch the camel. Clouds of dirt come off as I touch her and she really stinks. I’m done… get the picture as proof and I’ll meet you in the car. Call me a city girl; actually just call me a girl from Ohio where we have dogs, not camels.

Then Kostria encourages Jesse to give the camel a big hug.  I stop my retreat to the car and turn to witness this trick. As Jesse reaches up to hug it, the camel starts moaning and coughing and then turns his head and neck toward him.  I think it was preparing to spit on him. Ahhh, the look on Jesse’s face was truly priceless. It scared him to death – he couldn’t get away fast enough. The four of us (Zhenia, Kostria, old farmer and I) are cracking up laughing. Made the whole trip worth it!

On an educational note: what do they do with camels?  They drink the milk, sheer them for warm wool, use them for transportation, and eventually eat them. (Jesse here – I would have paid to participate in the eating part… particularly with this angry beast.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Court Date

Our court date has been set!

We go to court on Monday at noon. (7 days exactly from our last bonding day). I think Nurshia had to pull a few strings to get us to court so quickly. She ask for copies of our plane tickets to show the courts.

We'll go to court Monday, then flight from Shymkent to Almaty on Tuesday, then fly home on Wednesday. We leave Wednesday morning here, travel for 23 hours, but still get home Wednesday night there. I'm sure our heads will be spinning for a few days.

English Class

It’s Thursday night here in Shymkent and we’ve had a long but fulfilling day. We started the day with a visit to the baby house. Griffin’s new health issue is being addressed and seems to be getting better. The Baby House doctor requested we go buy him medicine and bring it to them. We set our driver right away to purchase an antibiotic and cream. We also practiced walking today. With Jesse holding one hand and me the other he walked the length of the room and back. It’s a huge improvement from day one when he couldn’t / wouldn’t take a step. The cute thing is how he gets excited about his accomplishment. His smile is infectious.

After the baby house visit we had to grab a quick lunch. We go to the mall and walk up to the “pizza” place. The girl that works there starts entering our order without us saying anything. We’ve only eaten there three times and she knows exactly what we like. Doesn’t she know we like struggling through the ordering process?  Don’t take away our fun!

Later in the afternoon we were invited to The English Center to work with students learning to speak English. The students sign up for the free class to help them learn to speak 'conversational' English. It’s not often they get to practice speaking English with people other than their teacher, Frances, who is from Texas, so they were eager to talk. The class was divided into 4 groups and we Americans rotated through the groups. (Michael and Graham Dickey were with us. They’ve been there before).

It was a great experience. The language barrier has really hampered our ability to learn about the true Kazakhstan culture. So far our only source of knowledge has been from a select few, which are primarily Zhenia, Ulia, and John Paul.  Remember, we can’t read the papers or understand the local news stations on TV. Today we had the ability to ask questions to about 20 students who were willing and able to communicate with us. They in turn asked us questions about our lives or American culture.

I was asked very basic questions like… “Do you like your husband?” I had to answer yes since Jesse was sitting at the next table. “Are you a tourist in our city?” I didn’t realize Shymkent was a hot spot for tourism. “Do you like our food?” Let me set the record straight, in America we do not eat horses.

Q&A from me to them.
Q: Age to get married? A: 18 – 24. Usually the bride goes to live with his parents, which they help to support.  Don't get any ideas Maw-Maw and Papa...

Q: Places you’d like to see in America? A: Florida, California, and New York.

Q: Do you watch American movies? A: Yes, they watch all American movies, translated into Russian.

Q: Do you like American music? A: Yes. (By the way, they play American music everywhere and a lot of “raw” rap music. Obviously they don’t understand the words).  Beyonce was a favorite among one of the 'guy' tables.

When finished the evening by going to dinner with the Dickey's, their translator Erera and our shared driver Kostra. Kostra is a blast to be around. He speaks Russian but talks to us directly like we understand him. Erera spends a lot of time translating and is usually laughing as she does so. It's really amusing. We went to an Uzbek restaurant where we sat on pillows around a ground level table. We ordered a bunch of food and shared it. An evening that will surely be one of our best in Kazakhstan.  We'll soon have pictures posted to view.

Quick story about our old driver. We had scheduled for him to pick us up at 6:00 in the evening to take us to a Chinese restaurant on Wednesday. We usually walk everywhere, so it was a special request. He did not show up to get us. The next day Nurshai (our coordinator) apologized to us. She said, "we had an agreement, he broke the agreement, you have a new driver". Alrightly then... nothing more to be said.

Jesse here -- one quick addition.  After Nurshai has made her impassioned apology and is satisfied that she has adequately dealt with the problem, she proudly asks that we follow her to our new car and driver to head off to our daily baby house visit. As we get to the corner of the road where we typically meet the car, she slowly starts to look around, then stops. A grin emerges on her face. Then she busts out laughing. Our new driver is nowhere to be found! Her moment of redemption appears to be slipping by, but fortunately Kostra arrives a minute later, all smiles and personality (unlike our prior driver). At least everyone has been able to keep their sense of humor throughout this ordeal!   

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bonding Day 14... yippee!

It’s a rainy Tuesday evening here and Jesse and I stayed in tonight, meaning we ate at the hotel restaurant for dinner. Dinner in the hotel is ok, but it’s very expensive. The cost here is $50.00 dollars and the cost at our favorite restaurants (Istanbul and Address) are $10.00 for both of us.

The rain brings a mood of discontent. We’re getting antsy to come hope yet nervous about leaving Griffin for a month. Yesterday (Monday- Bonding Day 14) he came in for our visit with a big lump and bruise on his head. He must have taken a fall sometime over the weekend. I’m not sure why but I felt angry when I saw the bruise on his head, the anger turned to sadness just knowing one of us wasn’t there to help when it happened. He’s starting to show signs of attachment. Today was the first day he cried and we actually saw tears. And the reason for the tears… I sat him down to play before he was ready. We usually start each visit with some hugs and kisses and today I guess he needed more “hug time” and less play time. It was so sweet! I hope he knows how much that means to us.

The desire to get him home is over-whelming at times. We are finished with the official 14 day bonding period and our adoption application has been submitted to the courts. At this point we’re waiting to find out the actual court date. We’ll leave to come home after court and pray for a speedy return. We asked Nurshia if there is any chance of the Judge waiving the 15 day appeal period that starts after court, and she said it doesn’t happen here in Shymkent.

As we get closer to departure we’ve been doing a little souvenir shopping. What you can accomplish without speaking a common language continues to amaze me. We’re now fearless; we go into any shop and just figure out a way to get what we want. There are usually a lot of hand gestures and laughs but who cares, it is fun now. For example, we had to get pictures printed from our digital camera. We take a flash drive into the camera store and somehow placed an order for 1 hour prints. You should have seen us trying to explain that we needed 2 copies of all the photos, size 4x6. Got them printed, piece of cake. We’ve been in clothing stores and got the kids a few things, all by pointing and showing sizes of kids with our hands.

Our biggest accomplishment yet… we ordered a custom made traditional Kazakh outfit from a dress shop. We had to pick the style, the colors and the size. Did we want a hat, shirt and boots to go with the outfit? Did we have a cell phone number so she could call us when it’s ready (that was a tough one)? Keep in mind there are no order forms and absolutely NOTHING is in English. I don’t know who had more fun with the almost non-verbal exchange, the lady working there or us. I should be videotaping these outings; it would provide serious comic relief.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Happy Birthday to my twin brother

I was hoping to get this posted so it would show up on your 20th morning but I missed, being 10 hours ahead throws me off. Happy Birthday to Todd!

I also need to send a birthday wish to Katelyn and Jaret, both from the Churchill gang!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!




As I’m sleeping in on my birthday there is a knock at the hotel door. Jesse jumps up to get it, and much to both our surprise it’s Nurshia (coordinator) and Zhenia (translator). They never come up to the room; we always meet them in the lobby. Today they came upstairs to surprise me for my birthday with flowers and a gift. The gift is a silver and gold bracelet.  Jesse did not tell them it’s my birthday; they have our life history as a part of the dossier.  So I’m standing there in my pj’s feeling a little embarrassed, yet so completely touched by their thoughtfulness. It really almost made me cry… wow such a kind gesture.

Then I read my birthday note from Jesse and I’m crying again. Needless to say I’m having a great birthday, despite not being with Connor and Lana or the boy. The weather turned warm again today and I’m feeling excited about the week ahead, hopefully our last full week in Shymkent.

We are eager to show you pictures and tell you more about our son, but nothing is official in regards to the adoption yet so we don’t want to jeopardize the process. However, as a birthday present to me we’re going to announce our son’s new first name today. His middle name is his birth name -- so we’ll tell you that later. 

Without further adieu...  the name of our newest family member is Griffin!

Happy Birthday to My Lovely Wife

I know that today may be difficult; as I’m certain the only thing you really want is to have the entire family together to celebrate your birthday.  Know that the kids miss you too – and by kids I mean all three little ones.  Connor and Lana are surely aching for some much needed mommy time, and our new little guy is certainly all smiles and giggles every time you walk into the room.  As usual, daddy will be playing second fiddle.    

While this trip has presented plenty of challenges, it has also provided us a unique opportunity to spend some significant quality time together.  Be it surviving the heat-of-the-battle adoption proceedings or our coffee house chats, it’s a pleasure to get your perspective on life and a thrill to plan our future adventures together.  In addition, your perseverance during the hard times and willingness to expand outside your comfort zone are, as always, inspirational to me.  And perhaps most importantly, it’s your ability to live with my antics and even, dare I say, encourage my behavior, that only causes me to fall more in love with you.  And for that, I can’t thank you enough.   

So on your… 27th Birthday (yes, Connor, it seems that you are catching-up to mommy), while you may find yourself in a foreign location, I hope that you also find yourself in a comfortable and happy place in life.  One in which you are surrounded by kids that appreciate you, family and friends that love you, colleagues that respect you, and a husband that cherishes you.

Love always,

-Jesse

Belly-dancers and Kazakh Language Lessons




I’m feeling a little behind in my posting (journaling for the boy). I must back up a few days…

Thursday was our best day yet at the baby house. Our boy was very happy to see us and showed a lot of effort with his crawling and walking attempts.  He’s also figured out how to hold a sippy cup with just a few days of practice.  There are two other kids and parents in the room doing their bonding at the same time as us. None of the kids, all over one year old, can hold a bottle or cup. We parents believe the kids are not allowed to hold the cups. The care-givers might be trying to make the feeding process go faster and therefore not allow the kids to hold their drinks. We’re not permitted into any other rooms in the baby house so we can’t say for sure what goes on back there… just a guess.

Bonding on Friday (day 11) also went well. The little guy is showing more and more of his personality. He squeals like a cat when he wants something or when he doesn’t want something (like Jesse tickling him relentlessly).  We’re encouraged by his progress over the past 11 days and can’t wait to get him home so he can really focus on “catching up” and feeling loved.

Thursday evening we went to dinner at BBQ with one of the families mentioned above. Rob and Donalee are here from North Dakota and are adopting a little boy. Their son gives our son a run for his money in the cute department!  We really enjoyed the company and English conversation.

Friday evening we had dinner plans with Yuliya and Jon-Paul so we in turn invited along all our other American friends. I haven’t properly introduced the Dickey Family yet… allow me to do so before telling about our dining experience. 

The Dickey’s are from North Carolina and are truly a pleasure to be around.  Michael and Angie have given their children such an incredible experience… yes they brought the whole family along to be a part of their adoption journey. Three polite well-rounded teenagers, ages 17, 15, and 13 willingly packed up and moved to Kazakhstan for 2 months (they’re staying for the appeal period). The stories they tell are great! They have such an adventurous spirit and have really embraced living here.  Their new baby sister, Landen, is one lucky little girl!

So nine of us head to dinner Friday night, back to the Greek/Sushi place mentioned in a past post. This time we have the assistance of Yuliya and Jon-Paul, so ordering is easy. I order beef and rice (good) and Jesse orders salmon (good).  This evening isn’t about the food, it’s about the atmosphere.  There was a birthday party or some sort of celebration dinner going on in the main part of the restaurant. The speaker volume was so loud; every time someone gave a toast or they played music we couldn’t hear each other speak at our table (that’s an important fact).  

The restaurant’s entertainment for the evening was belly dancers. The first time they came out to dance they had on pink gowns and we enjoyed the show.  Then they came out again later with fewer clothes on and one of them came slinking up to me. ME, I’m at a table with 4 men and she’s doing her belly dancing/hip swishing thing right in front of me. I’m now way out of my comfort zone, as if living in Kazakhstan where I can’t speak, read or write the language isn’t enough. 

Later in the evening, Michael mentions there is common English sound/word that is a very bad word in the Kazakh language, but is often said during English public speaking. Yuliya says she knows the word he means. She says the word softly. After not being able to hear all night I repeat it kind of loudly….UMMM, with an M or UHHG?  The look of shock and horror on Yuliya's face is priceless. I think she wanted to quickly distance herself from the whole table.  Imagine, setting at a nice restaurant in the States and someone loudly says the “P word” for the female private area.   I’m feeling embarrassed at this point because I embarrassed Yuliya -- but I swear all I said was “UMMM”.

Michael’s daughter Chelsea ran into a similar experience this week, when she said 'Umm’ about 27 times when speaking to a class of Kazakh kids.  Nice of the Kazakh teacher to count, yet not tell her about the meaning of 'Umm' until after her presentation.  Lesson – be aware of subtle language differences when speaking to foreign audiences!

As we're walking home from dinner that night, we see fireworks directly above our heads.  Oh, it's not fireworks, it is the power lines.  The lines running over the sidewalk are swaying in the wind and touching -- thus shooting major sparks across the sidewalk and street.  Maybe the Kazakh God of Electricity was trying to punish me for saying that bad word.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Few Questions Answered

Written 4/17
Local time (Shymkent) -- 5:06 p.m. Cincinnati Time – 7:06 a.m.

As we have stated several times, the blog has served as a great way to stay connected to our family and friends while on this long-distance journey. One of the limitations of the blog is that we can’t directly address questions that are asked in the blog comments. So, Amy and I wanted to take a moment to try to address several of the questions that have been asked along the way, as well as reply to a few of the comments that were posted. So, in no particular order… (no, these are not the direct quotes… I’ve taken editorial liberty to either elaborate on a question for clarity, or altered it to generally embarrass or harass the original author… Jesse).

“Curious if the toilet training approach Amy described actually works?” [Refers to 4/16 post] – Grandma T.

  • Well, depends on your definition of ‘works’. It is very common, as we have confirmed from many sources, and the kids do seem to ask to go to the potty before they are 2 years old. The obvious problem is the fact that you have to be very dedicated to staying on schedule with putting them on the toilet, which knowing the group that is following this blog, I’m guessing letting your dogs out to go pee is a bit of a stretch some days. Actually, I think the bigger issue is that the kids will still have plenty of accidents, so the parents end up doing a lot of laundry. Doesn’t sound like a good option to me. I love the idea of saving a buck and getting through the diaper phase as much as the next guy, but extra dirty laundry… hmm, not a good tradeoff to me.
  • And since we’re on the diaper topic – no Allen, the picture in the slideshow is not an example of a Kazakhstan child’s dirty diaper. It’s a quite taste Turkish dish call Lamahcun (my spelling may be off). Kinda like pizza, but thinner crust. We’ll be sure to bring you back one, if I can ever get the diaper thought out of my mind. Thanks for ruining it for me… ;)

“How long do you guys get to spend with your little guy, and when is the adoption actually finalized?” – Lauryn and Jason

  • As with most everything else, schedules here tend to be very ‘flexible’. While we were provided our son’s schedule (naps, meals, etc.) after our initial meeting, it took a few meetings to really get a feel for his schedule. More to the point, the first few meetings were brief (about 30-45 minutes), as he was quickly tired and wanted to nap. Once we found a time of day that worked well for him (12:30 pm), our visits have extended to about 1-1 ½ hours a day.
  • As for the adoption being finalized --  In short, since we have a US consulate in Kazakhstan, we’ll be able to process all paperwork here before flying back to the US. So, he’ll be a US citizen once the plane touches down in the states (yippee!).

“I’m about to make a trip to Kazakhstan, and I would like a quick way to be able to pick out the prostitutes from the crowd. I hear that they are the ones wearing shorts, is this true?” – Grandma T [umm… I may have altered this question a little - Jesse ;) ]

  • First off, Ian, I suggest you get a hold of your wife and discuss the risks of this type of a lifestyle. Specifically in this part of the world. Or perhaps she was asking on your behalf? Either way, it appears you two lovebirds are out of luck, as the myth is just that. Shorts are not reserved for the ladies of the evening, particularly since summers are quite hot in Kazakhstan. However, I was warned that Americans with chicken legs should consider twice before attempting to wear shorts in public, as it’s likely to result in hysteria among the abundant population of cute Kazakhstan ladies that work and live in the city. Good thing we are on schedule to wrap up before things really heat up here…
  • And since this is a truly important topic, I felt that additional research was in order, so I also discovered that prostitution is actually somewhat legal in Kazakhstan. I say somewhat as it seems that the actual ladies are likely not to be the ones arrested, but the ‘managers’ of these enterprises will be targeted for prosecution. Not really consistent, but seems to have the overall effect of discouraging this type of activity. So, fellas, don’t go getting too excited…

“Has Amy tried any horse meat yet?” – Mama and Papa
  • Umm… I guess the honest answer is that we’re not sure. Not by a conscience decision, at least not yet. Of course, if she does, I’m afraid that our Kentucky friends may not allow us back in the state.
  • Before you ask, I haven’t tried yet either and I just made Amy the designated food taster. Sorry dear, looks like you gave me control of the wrong blog update!

"Xopowezo fpemehh" – Tim MacVeigh
  • Tim, since I need to actually translate this back into Cyrillic before then attempting to translate into English (since my Russian-English book is a bit limited), perhaps you could give me a hint? Pretty sad that you have a better handle on Russian (or is this Kazakh?) than me ;)
Again, please keep the comments coming.  It's great to stay connected to everyone while off in the wilds of Kazakhstan.  Which reminds me that Shymkent is often referred to as the 'Texas' of Kazakhstan.  This is due to the history of lawlessness and corruption in Shymkent, which seems to be somewhat improving over the past few years, but still well off from our standards.  Of course, not sure what is says about Texas, either... ;)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bonding Day 8



So we’re on bonding day 8 of 14 and the baby is doing well. He wasn’t quite as playful and energetic today. We’re thinking his teeth may be bothering him. He was chewing on his fingers and his gums are inflamed. Honestly we didn’t mind because he very happy to be held and then rocked to sleep. Also today we got the results of the blood work we ordered and all the results are negative.

Here’s an interesting fact for all… the babies here don’t wear diapers. Not just the ones in the orphanage but most young children. The obvious first question is ‘what do they do when the baby goes potty?’ --- they just wash the clothes. (Perhaps this is why they put 4 layers on them). We’ve been told they start putting the children on the potty every 3 hours starting at 6 months old. At that age it’s all about timing, but the children are sometimes completely potty trained (asking to go) before they are 2. Diapers are expensive; a pack to 64 diapers is over $25, with the average income being approximately $400 per month. On our second visit the Baby House Director asked us to bring diapers, so now when they bring in our son he thankfully has on a diaper.

We haven’t experienced much “sticker shock”. The prices of most items we’re buying are reasonably priced. Our dinner tonight was $9.00 and it was great. A bottle of water is 50 cents, a .5 liter of beer is $1.00, and a pack of cigarettes is $1.00 (perhaps we should start the habit while we are here?). We did buy a baby toy at the Mall toy store and it was $30, which is outrageous. It’s a $10 toy at home. I did hear that pair of Levi’s Jeans are $125 dollars.

The hotel is the only place that accepts US dollars, therefore we must exchange for Tenge. There are currency exchange places on every street corner it seems. The dollar is weak; we’re getting 120 Tenge for 1 dollar. The hotel said they accept Visa but the machine was “broken” when we checked in. The visa machine was also “broken” at the only restaurant we ask to us it--- meaning don’t count on using your Visa card when coming to Shymkent.

Update on the laundry situation: The hotel service was fine, I don’t know the cost of it but our clothes are clean and wearable. They don’t use Downey that’s for sure! They picked up our clothes from our room and brought them back the next day. Good thing, I was thinking it’s going to be hard to wash jeans in the bathroom sink and use 'the pipes'. In the bathroom there are exposed hot water pipes to hang your clothes for drying. I brought a small bottle of laundry soap and I wash the smaller articles. It’s actually kind of convenient.

We’re off to breakfast. We haven’t talked much about Breakfast because there is nothing exciting to say about it. It's free with our room so we go every morning to eat the same thing. I usually eat oatmeal type food with raisens and Jesse eats eggs and the hotdog/sauage. Blah Blah Blah. Did I mention it's free?