Round Two

We've received our court date. We're haggling with the airlines now. One round-trip ticket for one adult costs a little over $800. One one-way ticket for our daughter's flight home with us costs $1,600!! I suggested just buying our daughter a round-trip ticket (which would be “only” $900) and not using the return portion of it, but Tara's afraid they won't honor that and make us pay the difference at the gate, causing all kinds of hassle when we're at the airport with the child, trying to leave. I realize that free enterprise allows a company to charge whatever they want, but it's basically price gouging. We're working on it. At least this time we do have more advance warning than last time, which is probably why the round-trip ticket is cheaper this time.

UPDATE: ended up being the cheapest we could find, after all, so we're going with that. Even the Delta rep told Tara, “One-way flights are just really expensive.” On the plus side, we're building up a lot of “sky miles.”

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We're in the Atlanta airport now! Good to be on US soil, except that they keep mentioning George Bush (… as in the Houston Airport). 🙂 It's 1:45a.m. Moscow time right now (5:45p.m. EDT), but I'm not tired. I'm anxious to catch the flight to Nashville. Customs and “security” here in Atlanta is sooo much smoother than Russia, though they did tick me off at the end when you have to quickly remove your shoes and belt, etc., open up everything, prove that this is an actual laptop, etc. I swear this whole “security” thing has more to do with harassment than anything else. In the Moscow SVO airport, I added up the number of “checks” they put us through from the street to the plane. There were five. Six, if you count the additional frisking in between two other checks. I'm considering suing the US and Russian governments for harassment bordering on torture. I'll let you know how that goes. 🙂

They showed “Ocean's 13,” among others that I've already forgotten, on the flight home. It was good, but the first one is still the best.

I kept thinking about Elizabeth on the flight home. She's such a great little girl.

I forgot to mention, before leaving Astrakhan I went for a walk down along the riverfront while Tara emailed several of you. As per Tara's instructions, I had our leftover sandwich meat and cheese ready to “donate” to the first stray dog or cat I saw. I didn't see any until I got to the very end of the walkway. There were two smallish dogs, a white female and a black and white male, I'm guessing. I didn't check. The male trotted away, before seeing that his mate was getting fed, so he came back over. Maybe they'll survive another few extra days thanks to me.

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We’re Home!

OK, now we’re home! I’ll try and do a trip summary tomorrow after a good night’s sleep … in my own bed. Tara says she feels like Dorothy, “There’s no place like home!”

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Another Great Visit

We're feeling closer and closer to our child, especially after today. And I think we passed “the test” of having the psychologist there, observing. She was pretty cool, actually. She didn't stay the entire visit. I think she could see that Tara, the child and I are all getting along well. She'll be observing again tomorrow, but we're not worried about it anymore.

Our daughter will probably be in the performing arts when she grows up. She's very artistic. One time, after getting bubbles in her eyes, she pouted and said something which today's interpreter, Liena, translated as “wanting sympathy.” (It's difficult to write these sentences without mentioning our child by name, as I'm supposed to, but I'm trying.) Anyway, after the sympathy plea, I kissed her forehead and cheek, then Tara kissed her. Liena said, “She will be an actress.” 🙂

Tara said maybe she'll be an actress and a musician. We have all these “meetings” with her in the music room, so there are toy instruments everywhere. They've even got a real piano. So, I taught our girl how to play piano, or at least hit several keys in succession. She's also fluent in the xylophone, drums and bugle. 🙂

This is our last night in Astrakhan. We fly back to Moscow tomorrow night, after two more visits at the orphanage.

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First things first: Our little girl is warming up to Tara. She gave her a kiss yesterday, I think without even being asked.

Now, for some more random thoughts:

Before I forget to mention it, I need to tell you what happened Tuesday. I think it was Tuesday. My whole sense of time is pretty messed up. Anyway, it was a momentous day. Yeah, yeah, there's the whole adoption thing. But what I'm talking about is beets. Beets are the one food that I will normally never eat. I just hate them. For lunch, however, I ordered some sort of herring dish for the first course. It was terribly fishy, but not bad once I started eating it. It had some sort of red topping on it that helped offset the fishiness, so I asked what that was. Vika said, “Beets.” Tara about choked on her Coke. “Really?” It was the first time I've been able to eat beets. We tried to order borsch for the main course, but they were out so we had stroganoff. So, I'm still not sure what borsch is. I could look it up, but don't feel like it.

They have a thing about double-doors here. They just refuse to open the other door. So, like at the airports especially, everyone is forced to squeeze through the one door when it would be much easier if they'd just open both doors. As everyone tries to get through the one door, they literally push and shove and cut in front. These people are at their worst when it comes to properly standing in line and/or waiting their turn. They just don't do it. Don't get me wrong, they are very polite to people they know and/or have been introduced to. But if they don't know you and you get in their way, forget it. Otherwise, they're just like people anywhere else.

Men's dress shoes here are pointy and stick out about an inch or two past their toes. Just wanted to get that in.

It's funny to figure out written Russian words, with the Cyrillic characters. Once you sound out each word, it's often phonetically the same as English. Like that lunch mentioned earlier. It was a “business lunch” and that's almost exactly how it sounds in Russian. Our C is their S sound. Our B is their V. Our 3 is their Z. Our W is their SH. Our O is their O, except when it's not. 🙂 “Seminar” is “seminar,” or very close. “Meeting” is “Congress,” etc.

Well, time to get ready for today's morning visit to the orphanage. This time, we'll have “observers.” To add to the stress, Vika won't be there today, it'll be someone else interpreting. We don't know if today's observers will just want the usual song and dance “appearances” sort of “performance” out of us, or if they're seriously studying us to see if we're fit parents. You think job interviews are hard? Try interviewing in a foreign country in several venues in front of various people for a solid week.

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Last Visit for a While

We'll be leaving in a few minutes for our last visit to the orphanage this trip. I'm practicing asking for my baggage back from the hotel baggage room. Baggage actually sounds like “boggage.” “Please” is pa-ZHAL-sta. Fascinating, I know. I thought about getting a parting video shot of the lobby as we sit here waiting for our ride. But then I thought, “why?” They have hotel lobbies back home, too. 🙂

We fly out tonight, get into Moscow a little late, then depart Moscow around 1pm, I think. It'll be good to get home. I need a nap. 🙂 I think I'll suggest just taking our daughter (who we'll be naming Elizabeth, by the way) with us. You know, while we're here, and all. Otherwise, we have to wait until the court date which could be anytime from 6-8 weeks from now.

That'll be the hard part, but at least the waiting will be in familiar territory … home.

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We just got back from today's first visit with the child (we're not supposed to mention her name online). We'll be going back this afternoon. In the meantime, Tara's trying to catch up on her sleep. She had woken up around 5 this morning. I was able to sleep until almost 8.

The girl (hopefully soon to be known as “our daughter”) is great. We discovered that she likes it a lot when we put her on the plastic “motorcycle,” Tara pushes from behind, and I “run” ahead of them as they try to run me down. Typical Russian driver. 🙂 She likes to blow bubbles a lot, and spill half of it on the floor, though she finally did go looking for the cap at one point to put it back on and stop spilling. She likes to roll and kick the ball; and climb on things. The toys she wants the most are the ones hardest to reach. I got good at saying “be careful” in Russian, though at the moment I can't recall the phrase. That's how it is with me and languages. I can remember words and phrases for MINUTES at a time, only to completely forget 20 minutes later until I check my cheat sheet again. She likes to color, but thinks all colors are green. She can probably differentiate colors, but doesn't know the different word for each one.

She's still a little bit less comfortable with Tara than she is with me, for some reason. And I hate that, but what can you do? Chicks just naturally dig me, you know? The girl can't help it. 🙂 If she only knew, it's been Tara's hard work and determination that got us this far in the first place! But that figures. The one who works the hardest almost never gets the credit.

I took some video again today. Just some neighborhood “scenery” shots from the back of the van/taxi they drive us around in. I was asked by our hosts to explain that the reason so many police and military are out on the streets today is because the country's new Prime Minister is visiting. Up until today, I hadn't seen many “authorities” on the street. Security guards in every store at every exit, yes, but not out on the street. I don't have the connections to upload it here. It'll have to wait until we get home.

I also tried to get some video “for the guys” for research purposes only, of all the beautiful women we see everywhere. Unfortunately, the air is suddenly 10-15 degrees cooler, so the women are fully dressed. They're funny here. It gets just a little bit cool, and they act like winter has set in, shivering and putting on sweaters. You would think that, given the infamously freezing winters they have here, this Fall weather would not phase them at all. They tell me and Tara to put on sweaters, and we just have to explain that we like the cool weather.

We were able to figure out the international calling card last night. Our interpreter, Vika, translated the Russian instructions on the back for us, but I couldn't seem to get an outside line in the hotel room. That, plus the fact that I had never used (never needed to use) a calling card before, made it difficult. I was forced to call down to the front desk for help, which we both try and avoid. There's a tall blond woman down there who, I'm pretty sure, does not dig me. I think she is the one I spoke to. I don't know. Maybe they just all hate me. Actually, most of them are very nice, but whoever she was, she was fairly snotty. “Do you know how to use it [the calling card]?” she asked, after making that expulsion-of-breathe sound that signifies disgust.

“Yes, I have instructions,” I said, “but it's not working. I just need to know how to get an outside line.” Silence on the other end. So I try to speak clearly and slowly and not use contractions. “Usually, in hotels you have to dial a certain number to get an outside line.” I'm not being sarcastic with her. I'm actually impressed when anyone can speak a language foreign to them. She gave a derisive snort, then more silence. “… when you use the phone,” I added, in case I hadn't made that part clear.

“You give us your card,” she finally said. “We will make call for you.”
I said, “Yeah, okay,” but never followed up. After hanging up with her, I said “screw it” and just started trying numbers to get an outside line. I'd already tried 8 and 9. The one that works, at least in this hotel this week, is 0.


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Sights of Astrakhan

I'm attaching pictures we made of Astrakhan and our room.

We are staying at the Hotel Azimut in Astrakhan. They are going through major renovations right now. It's kind of funny to see the interior design mix. The lobby is decorated in Art Deco while the rooms are decorated in traditional Russian decor like lace curtains, handblown glass chandeliers, oriental rugs, and silk bedspreads. The place reeks of smoke and it's really getting on my and Bill's nerves. They don't appear to have smoking and non-smoking rooms and although they do have non smoking areas designated, no one adheres to them (that goes for the whole country).

Picture 1 is of our bedroom in Astrakhan the room is a “mini-suite”. I do mean “mini”. We have a small sitting area outside the bedroom with a loveseat, desk and TV. Inside the closet is a pretty good size refrigerator. And then we have a bathroom that is almost the size of the bedroom.

The 2nd picture is of the elevators. They are the size of a phone booth. Bill and I barely fit inside one. And they are on a weird run pattern. You never know how long it will take to get an elevator, 1 minute or 10. They are doing repairs and renovations everywhere within the hotel and often the stairs are closed (can anyone say OSHA violation?) . Our hotel room door lock requires a key on both sides of the door. We were only allowed one key. So, if one of us leaves the room, we either have to leave the other in the room unsecured or lock them in. Let's hope there's no fire before we leave!

The next picture is of us in front of the Kremlin Cathedral (the Astrakhan Kremlin, not the famous Moscow Kremlin). We were not allowed to take pictures of the cathedral inside. But, it is very ornate. Lots of oil paintings of saints, lots of candles burning and even above-ground coffins that hold the remains of famous Russian saints. Lots of things painted or covered in gold.

The last shot is of one of the thousands of stray dogs they have. It's really hard to see these animals out on the street. But they are not aggressive. They are just living their lives on the streets, living off of scraps I guess. We asked our interpretor about the stray dogs and if Russia had animal control or a humane society and she said no. She agreed it was a problem, but it's just not a priority for the country.

Bedroom Tiny elevators Kremlin Cathedral Stray dog

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Great Visit

We had a great visit with our little girl this morning. There were no observers. That happens this afternoon. Vika had mentioned that we should think about showing more affection in front of the observers. It's more in line with how Russians treat their kids. We're fine with that. We like kids so much, we flew half way around the world to have one. We're just not used to getting all touchy-feely with a child we've just met. For one, we don't want to scare her. If we get too “aggressive,” she'll start thinking of us as “those weird grabby people who talk funny.”

With that overt affection in mind today, however, I took a chance and picked her up and started flying her around the room like an airplane. You know, picked her up and tossed her like a paper airplane? But seriously, she absolutely loved it. That's the most I've seen her laugh yet. She also liked when I blew in her ear while she was trying to blow bubbles. She reacted like I was tickling her. She lets us both pick her up now. She's just very practical. If one is closer than the other and she wants up somewhere, she'll just use whichever one of us is handy.

Just don't get in her way when it's lunch time. The caretaker stuck her head in and announced lunch, and our girl just dropped everything and almost ran out of the room until the caretaker told her to stop and kiss mama and papa goodbye first.

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It’s a Girl! It’s a Girl!

Oh My Gosh what a difference 1 day makes! So, we have a beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed, 2 1/2 year old girl!

First, the obvious question: “What happened to the 4 year old boy?” We don't know. After 2 trips to the Minister of Education, and two interviews, they gave us a referral for this girl. It's been so difficult getting to this point, that we just didn't want to “rock the boat” by asking any questions. We think that after the Minister of Ed saw us and our pictures, they thought they'd match us with a child that looked more like us. It's just a theory, I really have no idea.

We got her medical today, there have not been any documented problems. A sore throat and bronchitis. That's about it. But, we are still consulting with the Vandy doc just in case there is a problem that we did not see. We questioned the bumps on her face and found out they are mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are really bad here. I had been warned about that, so we brought bug repellent. Her birth mom is in an institution for the mentally handicapped. So, of course, our big concern is that something that could be passed on to the little girl. The orphanage doctor does not think so, after many evaluations from multiple doctors and the orphanage director does not think that she has any signs of mental handicap. We spent several hours with her today, and she actually seems really smart. She talks, dances, plays ball (Bill thinks that he's still going to have a little soccer player). She knows her colors, animals, and understands everything we (via translator) asked of her.

She took to Bill very fast. She's still afraid of me. I think it's because Bill was able to talk to her in Russian a little (damn him and his natural ability to pick up different languages! ) But, at the end of the day she was playing and laughing with me. She shook my hand (and Bill's) and told us good night and to come back tomorrow. She let Bill hold her for a little bit, but not me at all. This is typical of children in orphanages, they will latch on to one parent at a time. So, I was prepared for that.

As soon as we get our consult from the Vandy doc we will complete the forms to petition the court for her adoption. We have to do this before Friday, because the court is closed on Friday for some reason.

We will spend tomorrow morning with her and then we must leave for the mid-day and afternoon and are allowed to return at about 4:30 to spend another couple of hours with her. We will do this Wed-Friday. We've been told that the orphanage will have “observers” in the room with us and the child on Thursday or Friday to document how well we interact with her. They will have to appear in court to support the adoption.

The process to get here has been nerve-racking. Today at the Minister of Ed, the department head had a whole new set of questions to ask us in addition to the ones that her assistant asked yesterday. She wanted to know how we got to Astrakhan. My first impulse was to say “by plane.” But I realized before saying that she meant how were we referred to Astrakhan. Then I had to do a little song and dance about how CHI-US (our agency) told us about Astrakhan. She quickly pointed out that CHI is not accredited in Russia right now. And I had to emphasize that we were adopting independently and the CHI in America is accredited and they did our home-study. Of course she knows that CHI led us to Astrakhan, and she knew that Galina, our CHI rep was sitting outside in the car (but could not come in with us for the reason of us being “independent”). It's just one more hoop that we have to jump through to get our child. The funniest thing about this whole experience is that the whole time she was sitting there, interviewing us, she was holding the referral information. Finally she was done with her questions, she laid the paperwork down and walked away. Vika, our translator picked up the paper and said “here it is” and starting reading it to us. That's when we found out that we had a girl. The director motioned us over to her desk a few minutes later to show us a picture of the little girl. I swear she looked just like Sandy when she was 2 years old.

After going to a notary to get the form requesting permission to see the child, and returning it to the Minister of Ed, we went straight to the orphanage. We met the orphanage director, a big woman who seems kind of gruff, but you can tell she loves the children. We met the orphanage doctor, their lawyer (a formality thing), and one of the caregivers. The orphanage director started going through her medical report about the little girl. They've kept very good records. I was impressed. They had medical reports on her since she was 2 months old and recorded her height, weight, head circumference, when each of her teeth came in. Every cold. They had a picture (head shot) of her as an infant that I hope I can get or at least make a copy of. And they had a picture of her birth mom (passport photo). They have no information on the father. The orphanage director pointed to the birth certificate and said that the father was not even listed on it. The birth mom was also an orphan raised entirely in an orphanage (although she was about 25 or 26 when she had the baby). So, unfortunately, we do not have much family history to share with [our daughter] when she is older.

I really feel like she's been taken care of in the orphanage. Much better than I was expecting. The orphanage seems to be in a bad part of town and you literally “cross the tracks” to get into their dirt parking lot. But inside, it's clean, but old. We were not allowed to go anywhere in the orphanage except to the play room where we hung out with her. We did walk around the complex where they have a big playground but there were no kids out. We could not see any other children while we were there (but I could hear them).

We'll know more tomorrow! Stay tuned!

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