Monday, July 28, 2008

First Trip Comes to an End

Our hotel in Moscow was charging $50/hr to use the internet, so we waited to post 'til we returned to the U.S. Everything went great!

Thursday we had a brief pre-court hearing in the afternoon with one of the judges. We had prayed with one of the other couples beforehand that everything would go well, as the judge that everyone has had this last week has asked some tough questions. Our hearing went well. He wants us to bring him our letters of recommendation, including an additional one from our pastor, and more pictures of our home, and the additional paperwork required before court. We were given a court date of September 8th!!! That was much sooner than we had expected, so we are ecstatic. Alexei was representing us while in court, so we think he had a lot to do with getting us a quick court date.

Friday morning we left to Moscow, and arrived around noon. The first thing we noticed from the outskirts of the city was the many older, run-down apartment buildings, but there is a lot of new construction happening. There are many old and beautiful buildings in the city, with the Moscow River running through it. Moscow somewhat reminds me of Paris, but the roads and sidewalks are in poor condition. The subway, however, is great. It's very easy to navigate, with several beautiful characteristics in many of the stations, including marble walls, paintings, carvings, mosaics and chandeliers - some of them look like small art galleries.

Many people dress to impress, and the younger women walk everywhere in 3-inch stilettos and short skirts. It makes their legs look longer. Maybe I'll try that, I've always wanted longer legs, ha ha. Many people smoke. Most of the tourists seem to be French, which could likely be the reason for there being as many smokers as there are in Moscow!
Red Square, including The Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral, and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior are impressive and stunning. There is also a large monument to Peter the Great in the Moscow River. Arbat Street represents the shopping district, and many restaurants are also located there, including the Hard Rock Cafe. There is so much we didn't see that we can't wait to come back. The food has also been great. I had such great borsch that I hope to squirrel the recipe from the chef on our next trip.

All in all, the best part of the trip was obviously meeting our little girl, and the worst was leaving her there. We saw the best of Russia, as a tourist, but it's easy to realize that what was unseen is a sad situation. While our stay was comfortable, our visit to the orphanage reminds us how many children around the world are starving for love and comfort, even in the U.S., and it's heartbreaking not to be able to make that happen for each one of them. It also reminds us that while it's okay to take vacations (ie. Enjoy life), it's also important to make a difference for someone else, and for us, that someone else will soon be our daughter!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Zdrastvutye from Tver

That's Hello! (Rita, you must be so proud). Today we had a very short trip to the notary to sign our intent to adopt, so we spent most of the day walking around the city. It has a population of about 500,000, and it's known in Russia as an ecological tourism center. It might be similar to Minnesota with all the rivers, lakes and forests. All of the Russian presidents since Breshnev have owned a vacation home here, including the current president, Dmitry Medvedev. Tver was also a place of rest for Catherine and Peter the Great. People walk a lot around here, they all seem to be thin; and, the women oddly enough are either wearing flats or stilettos. What we have seen of Russia so far is beautiful. A lot of the buildings are painted similar to those in Salzburg, lots of cool pastels. The woodwork around the windows of homes is intricately carved, and all of the Russian Orthodox churches have the beautiful onion domes. The city is fortunate that the only American restaurant here is a Baskin Robbins. Tonight we took a boat tour on the Volga, which is akin to the Mississippi River, to the beat of dance club techno, but our legs were just too tired to get up and dance ;-) Contrary to Tver's ecological industry, we saw quite a bit of industry along the river, which has unfortunately made the Volga very unclean.

We've had the opportunity to speak to some locals in Tver to get a sense of what life is like here. Economically, people are transitioning pretty well from a government controlled country to independence. Most religious people are Russian Orthodox, which is apparently similar to the Catholic religion, with some minor differences. Moscow is now the most expensive city in the world. It has a higher concentration of billionaires than any other city worldwide. Oil and gas exports are making Russia one of the most rapidly developing nations in the world as well. It really should speak to Americans about using the resources we have.

There aren't a lot of English speakers in Tver, so we play charades until we understand each other, so it's nice when you can communicate with someone. Travis and I will learn more Russian while we wait for trip #2 to hopefully "get by", but more importantly as a comfort to our girl. It was a bummer not to see her today, but we're glad to have explored and asked questions about Tver so that we can share our understanding of the city and the people with her.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"We Do"

Our driver and interpreter were running 15 minutes late to pick us up today, and a good thing because our baggage arrived just in time for us to grab the toys and family picture book for our little girl (I've got to protect her information here, so I'm not going to mention her name). It's a God thing-this was the last day we had to see her, which is SO hard, and we wanted to make sure the caretakers had a book they could give her with our pictures in it to help her remember us.
Time really flies in the orphanage. I felt like we barely spent 30 minutes with our cutie. She cried again when she saw us in the room, but Trav quickly popped a goldfish cracker in her mouth and all was well! Trav visited with the doctor and the social worker while I had all the fun. We got a lot more smiles today, more eye contact and some babbling, so I think she felt much more comfortable. Since there were so many stuffed animals around the room, I walked her around to several and put the animals up to her lips making a kissing sound, which she really liked. She had a big smile on her face and leaned forward to kiss all the animals-it was really cute. I was preparing her to kiss me before we left today, but she preferred the animals to me. I stole a kiss anyway!
She is walking well on her own and very aware of her surroundings. She is quiet but active and developmentally at about 12 months, which is normal given her age and the time spent in the orphanage. The orphanage is very clean and orderly, the children seem to be well cared for and the staff seems genuinely concerned for them all, which is great. Unfortunately we didn't get any video, but we were able to snap a few quick pictures before the doctor walked in. We were fortunate that the orphanage had a lot of information on her mother, and after we had some questions answered, we felt comfortable with our decision to adopt our little girl! Yea! Congratulations to us, we're so excited! This whole experience is surreal. It's amazing.

We have made fast friends with 2 other couples from Ohio whose children are in the same orphanage, so we've decided to get together every year for a reunion to keep the common thread between us and the kids going. There are 5 couples representing 2 different agencies in our hotel, so we've been having a great time sharing stories and experiences in court. We wanted to take a boat tour on the Volga River today, but I really needed a nap! Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Big Day

After a very long day and a half of flying and driving, we made it to Tver, without luggage! Our 3 lost bags will apparently arrive tomorrow. Lesson Number 1: ALWAYS carry an extra set of clothing in a carry-on bag. We have been fortunate to meet 4 other couples at the hotel who are also adopting, so we’ve been having a blast and even scored some clothing donations.

This morning we had a wonderful but short visit with our daughter-to-be. The orphanage is about an hour’s drive from Tver, in a town called Konakava. We shopped for a few toys since the toys we had bought our sweet little girl were in our lost luggage. The orphanage is in a small park-like setting, with a little path around the building, full of flowers and trees. We waited about 5 minutes, and in she came with one of the caretakers. She was not happy to see us nor to see her caretaker go, so there were some tears, which was a very good sign of attachment. She carried a little doll, like Barbie, and we just let her take her time to warm up to us, which took about 45 minutes of play and Travis feeding her some Cheerios and Goldfish crackers. Then, out came the smiles and fun. Oh good, another foodie in our family! She was on the floor with Travis playing with food and stacking cups, and I only had time to snap a few pictures and capture a little bit of video until it was time for her to leave us for lunch. Our visit only lasted about 2 hours, but when her caretaker came to get her, she was not sure she wanted to go, so we were very happy to see that she took a liking to both of us. We are on our way to see her again tomorrow, so we’re hoping we get to spend more time with her, as this will be our last day to visit. She is a doll! I can't legally post pictures here, so sorry!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's A Girl!!!

We are so excited to announce that we got "The Call" yesterday, July 7th, and surprise of all surprises, we have the most beautiful little girl waiting for us! The reason it was such a surprise is because our agency had informed all Russia waiting families at the beginning of the year that it was unlikely that anyone would receive a referral for a girl under the age of 3. Apparantly, there are a large number of requests for girls, and the number of adoptions by Russian nationals has increased. So, we feel extra blessed! She is 18 months old, blonde and blue-eyed, and soon to be very spoiled! We get to see her in just 2 short weeks. There really is a light at the end of the paperwork tunnel!

Friday, July 4, 2008

My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty

Happy 4th of July! We are forever grateful to the millions of veterans who have served and still serve our country to uphold the freedoms we take for granted, and we thank God for the countless blessings he has given to us all.

Last June, we celebrated the month by submitting our dossier to Tver, Russia, and then we took this unforgettable 3000 mile roadtrip, when gas was cheap. We visited Mt. Rushmore, which although inspired by Gutzon Borglum, was carved by hundreds of men with jackhammers, none of whom knew anything about carving sculpture from rock. It amazes me how great the rock carvings turned out given the lack of art skills and the actual scale of the carving. Maybe I too, can carve like Michaelangelo, and just don't know it yet! And what's more, no one died during the many years they worked on it. It's a remarkable American landmark that we plan to revisit with our children one day. We continued through the Black Hills of South Dakota, and then met our families in mid-June at Yellowstone National Park. After Yellowstone we traveled down to the Grand Tetons. All of it was incredibly beautiful. The parks are full of visitors and staff that come from all over the world. It's a great experience for kids and adults, and you can wear everyone out all at once!

This year, gas is expensive, adoption expenses are high, and time does not allow for a long vacation. So this morning, we woke at 5 a.m. to run, for our first time, the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. It was a 10K, and we ran it in 1hour and 9 minutes, amidst 55,000 people. For dinner, Travis made baby-back ribs, homemade french fries, and a salad (he is an amazing cook...I really scored), and we will watch the fireworks over the lake tonight. Next year, our child will celebrate their very first 4th of July as an American citizen, and I can't help but want to spend it in New York City, where my grandma first arrived on Ellis Island with her family in 1927 to become citizens of the United States. Leaving everyone and everything you know must be a difficult experience, and it challenges me to answer the inevitable question: How will our child react, and how will we help them transition?