Thursday, June 30, 2005

June 30th

We sleep in this morning and don't get out of bed until 9:30am. Pat reads while I take a shower. We grab our journals and head for the park. We sit on a bench in the shade near one of the fountains. There are several mothers/grandmothers with toddlers there. A daycare group of about 12 children ages 5-10 arrive shortly after we do. We find it difficult to write. The children are busy and entertaining. We enjoy watching them play. At 11:45am we head back to the hotel. Pat takes a shower and I have a bowl of cereal and a banana. Bob and Beth knock on our door at 12:15pm and we're off to the baby home.

We find the children inside today. Pat is off for Molly and I for Aidan. I get to his room to find him in a walker. He has been fed and dressed. We are ready to go. We arrive at the marble room and find it unlocked. Pat and Molly arrive after a few minutes. He pops her head in the doorway and then pulls her back. She thinks this is fun and is all smiles. Molly is wearing a onsie and flannel pants with bright orange fish on them. We haven't seen these before. They are pulled up WAY over her belly. She is in good spirits today. She plays with her toys and chatters away. Aidan is dressed in a mint green onsie and is wearing his favorite blue socks. I say favorite because he seems to wear them every day. We haven't seen the lime green ones with the yellow daisies in a while. He climbs on me and then spends some quality time with my necklace. He plays with his daddy. Pat flies him around over his head and he smiles away. We'd like to take the kids for a walk in their Snuglis. Pat checks the weather. Its spitting outside. Molly begins to fuss a bit. Pat loads her in her Snugli and walks her around the halls. She is very content. I stay and play with Aidan. He scoots around the floor. He can now go from laying on his belly to sitting up without any assistance. Clever boy. I'll alert the media. Pat arrives back with Molly. She looks sleepy. While still in her Snugli she puts her thumb in her mouth and closes her eyes. We unload her and I put her on my shoulder. She finds her thumb and boom she is out. This girl is all business. We switch her to Pat's shoulder so he can take her back. I think daddy wanted a chance to hold his sleeping princess. Beth holds Aidan while I pack our gear. She and Bob have been most helpful when we've needed an extra hand. We take the kids back to their rooms. Pat puts Molly in her crib and she's down for the count. I give Aidan his pacifier and lay him down in his crib. Up goes his butt. I lay him back down and pat his back. Up goes his butt. Not quite ready for a nap. I tell him mommy and daddy love him and go. Bob, Beth and I stop in the playroom area and fuss over the other children. We pat their heads, touch their cheeks and let them hold our fingers. We wish we could do more. They are well cared for and loved by their caregivers but there are so many of them. We say goodbye and meet Pat out front. We walk back to the hotel.

We drop our stuff off at the hotel. Pat exchanges some money. The rate is 134.5 TT to the dollar. Down from 136 last week. We go to the Internet cafe and have just enough time to post two Blog entries and quickly read email before we have to be back at the hotel.

Dana arrives at 5:30pm. Bob's in the mood for pizza so we go to the pizza place. Bob and I order pizza. Pat and Beth order barbeque chicken. Just ok they say. We walk Dana home. Bob and Beth stop in the park on the way home. Pat and I go to the Gros. Our supplies are low. We buy water, juice, soda, milk, yogurt, bananas, cereal, cookies, candy and Pringles. We are restocked. We get back to our room at 8:30pm. We both write in our journals. I snack on milk and cookies. To bed at 11:30pm.

June 29th

Happy Birthday Aidan! 8 months old today....

Bob and I hit the gym at 8:05. I've got a pretty steady routine: bench (sit-ups between sets), lats with wide grip (jump rope between sets), lats with narrow grip (leg lifts between sets), flies
(jump rope between sets), and finish with dumbbell work (curls & two types of shoulder raises). We're playing ping-pong by 9. Bob takes the first three, I take the next two, and at 3-2 we decide to play a nine game match. We alternate victories from 3-2 out, Bob takes the day at 5-4 and widens his series lead to 23-21. (Blog preview: I rebound in wildly successful fashion on Friday....)

After the gym, Alli and I decide to make a video walking tour of some of the sights and sounds from the area of Kostanai near the hotel. Alli is our cinematographer & I do principal narration. We begin on the mall across from the hotel, wind our way through the university and govern- ment building areas, take in several of the fountains in the two nearby parks (the green-bench park and the pink-bench park), buy a beer from a vendor at 11 AM (just because we can!) and return to the hotel for a quick tour of our home away from home. We're done with just fifteen minutes to spare, so I shower and dress while Alli packs the backpack for the walk to the baby home. We're off at 12:15.

It's very warm in the sun, and my 11 AM beer isn't helping. It's difficult for us to figure out what weather conditions are appropriate for finding the children outside. Today is too warm, apparently, as everyone is inside. Alli finds Molly seated at a tiny table with one of her little boy roommates: The table is tucked quite close to them to prevent mobility, Alli thinks. Molly has a rattle, the little boy just bangs on the table to amuse himself. Molly's been fed and dressed, and as they are leaving the general living area, Alli spots a couple of Russian dolls with weeble bottoms and bells inside sitting on top of a bookshelf. Alli taps the doll lightly for Molly to hear the bells. Our little darling cold-cocks the doll and sends it flying. The bells, the bells...!

On our way to the boys' room, we hear the usual wailing of some unhappy soul. This time, to our surprise, the unhappy soul is Aidan. He was in a crib with Nicholas and another little boy, and we don't know whether one of them rolled on him or he fell over and hit his head: He's busy sobbing in the arms of a care-giver and the other two aren't talking. The care-giver, one of our favorites - a young Kazakh girl names Asiem - tells Aidan "Papa" is here....

Down in the marble room, Olessya suggests it's too warm to take the kids out in the Snugglis. Aidan and Nicholas are animated and playful - primarily crawilng on their Daddies - but Molly is uncharacteristically subdued and out of sorts. By 1:45 she's fussing and unhappy with the usual diversions; by 1:50, she has found her thumb and Mom's shoulder and is out cold, remaining that way until we pack up at 2:30.

After the visit, we bus to the notary with Olessya: She has some paperwork to do involving making copies of our passports. Twenty minutes later, we're on our way to pick up visa forms for the kids (we wait outside while Olessya goes in). Finally, we stop by the photo shop to pick up the kids' passport photos.

It's 4:15 and we are leaving for the soccer match at 6. We decide to eat an early dinner at "The Dom" - the cafe to which we went on our first night in Kostanai and to which we have been for lunch and dinner several times since. We enjoy a nice meal in a shaded, breezy area. After- ward, Alli and i have just enough time to hit the internet cafe and check e-mail.

We walk to the game and notice the excitement building as we near the stadium. No tailgating to be seen, but a large crowd is gathered in the area of the ticket windows and the turnstiles. Inside the gates, a beehive of vending activity is fully engaged. Souvenirs (I buy a team t-shirt and Bob and I buy team "scarves"), food (meat sandwiches and shishkabobs appear to be the fan favorites) and beverages are the primary fare. The beer taps do a brisk business. As best I can tell, patrons bring their own plastic bottles - I see one litre and two litre sizes - and the vendors fill them. Alli and I split three beers with dinner, and we had no inclination to bring containers, so Alli gets a peach juice.

Our seats are in the upper deck - there are only two levels - and, thankfully, in the shade, as the temperature at 7 PM kickoff is still quite warm, particularly in the sun. Section 2, row 4, seats 11-15. On the concourse outside our section, I see a guy wearing what appears to be a hockey sweater in the team colors (bluish-green and yellow) with the number 99. I ask Dana if they sell jerseys like that at the stadium: She replies "Only for the true fans of the club."

We arrive at our seats to find a large drum in seats 14 & 15, the tickets Alli and I are holding. We were told when we bought the tickets the seats were in the fan section and we are indeed surrounded by a sea of team colors on shirts, flags and caps. As we move the drum to take our seats, #99 comes up behind me and begins speaking with me. Through Dana, he introduces himself and asks my name. As I am wearing my yellow Columbus Crew training top, I ask if he'd like to trade my jersey for his. No trade, but he seems amused with the effort and returns moments later with two huge team flags on ploes for Bob and me and instructions to wave them when our team - Tobol - scores a goal. He asks if we are American and where we are from. At the mention of Philadelphia - and Alli's inclusion of the Flyers - he launches into a litany of Flyers past ("Eric Lindros!", "Ron Hextall!") & present ("Jeremy Roenick!","Eric Desjardins!").
I'm trying desparately to think of a Russian on the Flyers, but before I can, he blurts out "Allen Iverson!" This is happening at full volume and to the entertainment and approval of section 2.
He turns to the crowd and says something that has Dana laughing: "He is telling everyone you are his new friends from America!" At that, the guy in the seat next to me taps me on the arm and hands me a cup of beer. It's clear #99 is the Nick-from-Welland of Kazakhstan!!!

The game begins - and so do the trumpets, drums and incessant cheers, all choreographed and led by my new friend from Kazakhstan, Ura (#99). Tobol scores about five minutes in on a terrific free kick by #9 (coincidentally, the same #9 on the back of the t-shirt I bought) and there is bedlam in section 2. The volume increases - "Ole, ole, ole, ole, Tobol, champions!!!!" and
Молодци ("We Are Good!") are favorites - as Tobol carries the play to a second goal near the twenty minute mark. It's 3-0 at the half and #9 has all three goals!

Ura comes to visit at the half and I ask Dana to ask him if we should have thrown our hats onto the field for the "hat trick." I'm not sure how well my question is translated: Dana is not much of a sports fan and who knows whether anyone in Kazakhstan has ever heard of a hat trick. Ura's reply adds to the confusion: He shakes his head and promises us club gifts after the game (at which point he calls over a young boy - perhaps his son? - and appears to issue a series of instructions). No sooner has he wandered off than he's motioning and calling to me from the end of our row: A news crew - camera and reporter - from a local TV station has entered section 2 and, I find out from Dana, Ura has decided I should be interviewed! With Dana's blushing assistance, Ura holding the team flag behind me and everyone struggling to hear and be heard - the trumpeteer picks just that minute to break into song - I answer questions on where I am from and why I am in Kostanai/at the match, who the best players are in my estimation, and how I would compare the play I'm watching with professional soccer in the States. My first TV interview EVER - in KAZAKHSTAN!!!!

The second half is pretty pedestrian: a few good chances for the home team, virtually nothing for the visitors, and otherwise some time wasting and a bunch of guys trying not to get hurt. With about ten minutes left in the match, Ura arrives bearing gifts: a team flag and two full color team posters featuring players, coaches, management, local government officials - and Ura! It turns out he is the President of the team fan club! And, apparently, our discussion of a hat trick earlier translated into trading my yellow TPC Southwind (Memphis) golf cap - now on the head of the young lad from halftime - for Ura's Tobol Fan Club ball cap.

The game ends 3-0, and as we file out our new friends from section 2 congratulate us and wish us well. Ura is exhausted (and pretty drunk) and I thank him. Walking through town back to the hotel, with scarves and team flags over our shoulders, several people ask us who won and by what score. Quite a night!!!

Back in the hotel, I drift off watching Manchester United v Deportivo LaCaruna in a Champions' League replay from at least three years ago. I wake and finish another couple chapters of The Da Vinci Code, wake Alli for her snack (an ice cream bar) at 11:30 and wake her again for bed at 12:30. What a day! More tomorrow....

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

June 28th

With nothing on our schedule this morning, we take our time getting going. Alli finally gets up a little after 9, folds the laundry still hanging in the bath- room and gets a shower. I lounge in bed with The Da Vinci Code until 10. We make the bed and dig out the suitcases we brought full of gear for the kids: With passport photos being taken today, we may pick out- fits we'd like them to wear. Molly gets a blue romper with purple flowers and a denim hat to match, while Aidan gets a red & white striped romper with a navy blue ball cap. Outfits selected, suitcases away, Alli
finishes getting dressed and we're off for a nice walk on a beautifully sunny morning in Kostanai. We walk at a leisurely pace enjoying the sights & sounds of the city before sitting on a park bench near the swan and pelican pool to enjoy the sunshine and do a little people watching. It's 11 AM, and the vendors are setting up or already doing business. Folks are eating ice cream, drinking beer and even singing karaoke. We head back to the hotel around 11:30. We must pack our baby home bag, I need to shower & dress and Bob's knee is feeling up to walking today, so we have to be ready by 12:15.

When we arrive at the baby home, the boys are outside and Molly's inside. Alli goes for Aidan and finds him
fed, awake and waiting. Nicholas is still being fed. Afterward, Alli & Beth dress the boys in the clothes we brought with us, and everybody waits by the cars for the trip to the photographer.

Upstairs in Molly's room, she's in the playpen with several other children and she has not been fed. One of the care-givers begins to feed her as Olessya arrives in the room. It appears we are behind schedule
so the care-giver also dresses Molly in her new out- fit. We hurry down to the waiting cars....

The photo shop is back by the hotel, perhaps a ten minute ride by car from the baby home. I don't believe the kids have been outside the walls of the baby home since they were admitted as infants, and I doubt they have any recollection of another car ride.
Molly's on my lap, Aidan on Alli's. Both are quiet, wide-eyed and appear interested in looking around. We can only speculate how they might be processing the bombardment of sensory images they are receiving, including the sound, smell and feel of the car as it moves over bumpy roads and through traffic; the smell and sound of the streets; the countless colors moving by in an endless collage; the brilliant sunshine and cool breeze coming in through the open windows. If I had to guess, they enjoy the experience - but it's only a guess.

At the photo shop, Alli and Aidan go first, Molly and I second. The photographer wants me to hold Molly in a standing position on an office chair, but he does not want my arms or even my hands in the shot if it can be avoided. Molly has become better at standing and, thankfully, more willing to try, but it's not her best skill. Nevertheless, I hold her around the waist with one hand and by her closest leg with the other while reaching around the back of the chair. She props her arm on the top of the chair back, and her eyes never leave the camera. Six quick clicks and we're done.

On the car ride back, Aidan cuddles in Alli's lap and watches Molly until he can't keep his eyes open any longer and falls asleep. Alli thinks the experience was a little overwhelming for him. I have to admit he was pretty fetal before dropping off to sleep. Maybe it will turn out that he's just one of those baby's for whom the motion of the car is sleep-inducing. We will no doubt continue our research upon our return home....

Back in the marble room at 2 PM, Nicholas and Molly play in familiar surroundings while Aidan snoozes away. One of Molly's new things: While sitting on my lap facing me, she pushes on my stomach with her feet and arches her back as if trying to somersault back- ward off my lap. She appears to enjoy being "upside down" if briefly, then righted to a sitting position before being topsy-turvy again. She gurgles and grins her approval.

After our visit, both kids must be changed back into their baby home clothes. The activity awakens Aidan, and Alli reports he seems less sleepy for nap time than he was a short time ago. The care-givers make short work of changing Molly and she goes down with- out a whimper. She has a pacifier in her crib - we had not seen one until yesterday, and she seemed content with her thumb. I lay her down on her back, pop the nook in her gub and kiss her good-bye while patting her back. Sleep appears iminent as I walk away....

We bus back to the hotel with Olessya: She has paper- work for the US Embassy & the Kazakhstan Consulate. Filling out the forms defaults to Beth and me once Olessya makes good handwriting a prerequisite. There are approximately a dozen forms per child, and the information, all of which must be hand-written with- out benefit of any abbreviations, includes: our full names (order varies by form: some first-middle-last, others last-first-middle); the kids' given Russian names and new American names (in order variety as above as well as in English for the US Embassy and Cyrillic for the Kaz. Consulate); our home address and phone number; the dates and locations of our and the kids' births; the date and location of our marriage; and much, much more. The repetition is numbing, but we are under pressure not to make any mistakes lest we start the form(s) over. It's a nerve-wracking ninety minutes of work to complete a set for Molly and another for Aidan.

Dana arrives at 5. Olessya decides to join us for dinner and our party of six heads for the Russian Pub. We have a great time with lots of laughs, the sort of comfortable familiarity one might hope to have after nearly a month of almost daily contact. We are Olessya and Dana's clients and they work very hard for us, but we view them (cling to them almost) as friends and companions in this strange place. And there's the rub: We want very badly to go home, but we must be careful not to suggest to our new friends our urgency has anything to do with dissatisfaction with their efforts (we have none) or unhappiness with their home city/country of which they are so proud.

After dinner, Olessya heads home and we walk 1/2 way with Dana. We're back at the hotel @ 8. Alli reads and I watch soccer: Man United v Arsenal from this Premiership season just past. After the game, I turn back to The Da Vinci Code before closing the night with today's journal entry. Bob and I are hoping to go to the gym at 8 tomorrow morning, and we've got tickets for the soccer match tomorrow night. It's 12:20 AM and time for bed.

Monday, June 27, 2005

June 27th

We get up at 7:30am today. I do laundry and Pat gets ready to go to the gym. Bob knocks on the door at 8:00am. He's not going to the gym. He has a bad knee and tweaked it yesterday when we were walking. Pat decides to go anyway. He'll just lift. No ping pong today (sigh). I finish up the laundry and take a shower. Pat gets back to the room at 9:40am. Dana arrives at 10:00am. Pat, Beth, Dana and I walk to the soccer stadium. We arrive to find a small line at the ticket window. Our timing is perfect as a half dozen people or so arrive shortly after us. Pat had discussed with Dana on the walk over what areas of the stadium would offer a good view of the game. Dana secures tickets in the "fan' section. The woman selling her the tickets asked her if she was sure that she wanted those seats. That section is loud the woman tells Dana. "Yes, of course" Dana replied. We wonder if we will be sitting in a 700 level type of section (for those of you unfamiliar with the term-the 700 level is where the drunkest, rowdiest Eagles fans sat at the Vet). We're glad Dana changed her mind and will be joining us. If things get rowdy it will be good to have an interpreter with us. We arrive back at the hotel at 11:00am. We're going to take the bus so Bob can rest his knee. We don't have to leave until 12:45pm. I catch up on my journal entries and Pat starts the Da Vinci Code.

We arrive at the baby home and find the children inside. I head toMolly's room. She is waiting for me in the playpen. She is dressed in the usual turquoise stretch sweater pants (hiked up under her armpits), onsie, flannel print jacket and bonnet. Fetching. The bonnet is "tied" under her chin. Hardly enough string to make a proper bow. Pat, Bob, Beth go for the boys. Aidan, Nicholas and another boy are in the small playpen. Bob picks up Nicholas and Aidan crawls across the playpen to where Pat is standing. He recognizes his Daddy. Everyone meets in the marble room. We remove Molly's bonnet and jacket. Aidan and Nicholas have there red and white striped baseball caps on. Molly and Aidan "interact" on the sofa. Aidan's hair is safe under his ball cap. Molly plays with her toys. EVERYTHING goes in her mouth. I feel her top gum for teeth. Nothing yet. Aidan crawls around and climbs on his mommy and daddy. The favorite toy of the day is an empty Kraks (Pringles knock-off) container that Bob and Beth brought. All of the kids love it. Molly chews on the ends and Aidan chases it around the room as it rolls away from him. Bob and Beth take Nicholas for a walk in the Snugli. He enjoys it and they decide to purchase one here. They don't sell the exact same thing but have something very similar. We've seen people on the street carrying their babies this way. When Bob and Beth get back with Nicholas we take Molly and Aidan out. We stroll around the grounds of the baby home. The kids take it all in. We stop to look at and touch leaves and flowers. Aidan watches a bird fly by. Pat sings a song and Molly joins in. I look at my watch. It's 2:25 and time to go back inside. Olesya joined us earlier in the marble room before her massage. She was back when we returned. She had been to see the judge that morning. Our pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for Monday July 4th at 5:30pm. Court is open until 6:00pm so the hearing won't be long. We sign a form that indicated the date, time and location of the hearing. Olesya also tells us that we will take the children to get their passport and visa photos tomorrow. We'll take a car from the baby home into town. We are to bring clothes for the children to wear in the photo. The cost is 800 TT per child. We pack up and take the kids back to their rooms. I put Molly in her crib. There is a pacifier in her crib and I give it to her. This is a first. Usually there in no pacifier and she sucks her thumb. She lays down. I pat her back and tell her we love her. She is ready for a nap. I meet the others out front. Pat reports that Aidan when right down. Olesya is with us so we take the bus.

We stop at the hotel and drop our stuff off. Olesya is taking us to a bookstore and to the post office. I had expressed an interest in buying some stamps to keep as souvenirs. At the bookstore we purchase a fold-out map of Kazakhstan. The map has information about the country in English. We also buy a set of postcards with pictures of some of the sights of Kostanai. On the way to the post office we here someone call "hello" in English. It is a young woman from church. She has done a reading each of the weeks we've attended Mass. She was going to walk by but we wave her over. We have Olesya with us to translate. We asked her name (Natasha), said that we were glad to see her again, and that we would see her in church on Sunday. We said goodbye and went into the post office. We buy several different types of stamps. Next Olesya takes us the the phone place. It is open 24 hours a day. You pre-pay for a certain number of minutes and are assigned a booth to make your call. Olesya writes us a note to give the clerk if we would ever want to make a call. The rate is 190 TT/minute or about $1.25. Olesya departs after we are done at the phone place. Bob and Beth go to the park and Pat and I to the Internet cafe. I check email and Pat updates the Blog. We're there for about an hour. Back to the hotel to meet Dana.

We walk to dinner. Another stike out at Baron Munchhausen. They are apparently making renovations inside. We opt for Plan B. This is a restaurant that we refer to as the spinach tea place. They serve green tea in a clear teapot. The leaves in the pot are large and resemble spinach. It is an excellent choice. Dinner is very good. Pat and I try a new Kazakh beer called Tyan-Chan. It is named after the snow covered mountains found near the city of Almaty. The beer is tasty and has an alcohol content of 11%. We walk Dana home after dinner. We'll see her again tomorrow night for dinner.

Bob and Beth invite us to their room to watch a movie. I request Miss Congeniality. We watch the movie and eat cookies. The movie is over at 10:00pm. We go back to our room and write in our journals. Lights out at 12:00am.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

June 26th

We set the alarm for 7 AM so we can get up and call Ed Rau for his fiftieth birthday! We take a chance on sleeping with the windows open on a cool and comfortable night and we're rewarded with relative quiet as we drift off. The revelry picks up around 1 AM with car horns, car radios and loud conversation/laughter on the sidewalk below our windows. Around 3 AM, pouring rain ends the night's outdoor activities and provides a peaceful soundtrack for returning to sleep. I wake at 6:30 and decide to call a little earlier than planned. Tricia answers and I ask her not to freak out before telling her who's calling as we're hoping to surprise her Dad. She does a great job and, as luck would have it, he's right next to her. I think I detect a note of disbelief when she tells him it's us - one too many practical jokes or surprises on this day, perhaps? - but we take five or six minutes to catch up on what's new here and to get a flavor for the day's/evening's events there. My mouth is watering thinking of all the great food we're missing, and we miss the company of our friends in the village....

We sleep again until the alarm at 8:30. Our driver arrives at 9:40 to take us to church. Alli and I muster the courage to take communion today. It feels very good to take the sacrament once again: It's been three weeks since our going away mass at Holy Trinity.

On our previous two visits - when we did not take communion for fear of being denied the sacrament - the priest who celebrated the mass left the altar and entered the sacristy after the service, and we never saw him again. Today, he follows the usual routine, but after the closing song and a brief litany of prayers - I think I recognize the rhythm, if not the words, of the "Hail Mary" - the priest reappears and practically runs down the aisle to greet us. Regrettably, he speaks no English and we can only fumble through simple greetings in Russian. Alli thumbs through our Russian phrase book while he asks if we speak German or French (no again), then calls two young girls - perhaps late teens - over to ask if they speak any English. They manage enough words and ideas to ask where we are from, why we are here and where we are staying.
We manage to communicate our names, that we are from Philadelphia (I thought Schnecksville might not ring any bells in Kostanai), that we are tourists staying for about a month in a hotel in town. I'm sorry we can't be more truthful, especially with a priest, but as we've written earlier, we have been counseled against revealing the true nature of our business here to anyone with- out Olessya's OK.

By this time, nearly all two dozen people who attended mass have gathered around with smiles and what appear to be words of welcome and encouragement for Beth and Bob to take com- munion next week. (Bob is not Catholic, but now does not appear to be the time for offering that explanation.) Father Stanislaus (if I understood him correctly) smiles broadly: He wants very badly to speak with us, and we'd like very much to accommodate him, but our language barrier is, for the moment, intractable. I thank him for giving us communion. He asks, I believe, if we are all Catholic. Alli answers that we are Roman Catholic, and I try to convey the names of our parishes back home (not knowing whether they even understand the parish concept). We promise to see him again next week, and on the way home, we decide to ask Olessya or Dana to go with us/meet us there to translate for us.

The rain is gone, the cool air remains, and we walk to the baby home @ 12:15. My turn to get Molly: She's in a swing chair (wind it up and it rocks away) and I can't figure out how to get her out of it. On my initial attempt, I lift child and chair off the floor and she's looking at me like,
"I don't know how to say 'Ouch' in Russian or English, you blockhead!" One of the care-givers offers advice then, laughing at my ineptitude/inability to follow direction, she comes over and shows me how to open the tray and lift Molly out. My little girl's looking at me like I'm an idiot, and amidst the giggling of the care-givers, we beat a hasty retreat to the marble room.

Molly's in better form today: still congested, but no sign of the runny nose from yesterday. When we arrive, Aidan's crawling on Alli. She's wearing a sundress with a pattern of which he is particulalry fond, and he's virtually waxing poetic. Later, he offers a dissertation on Bob's wedding band and a particularly enthuiastic evaluation of Alli's necklace. When not extolling the virtues of inanimate objects, he climbs on his sister. She's pretty much unfazed by his attention, but she gives him a look I've seen very shortly before and is poised, hands in air to pull his hair, but refrains for reasons about which we can only speculate. We have a very pleasant visit, and it comes to an end when Mama Natasha comes calling promptly at 2:30.

Off to the internet cafe to post Saturday's Blog entry and send photos. Back to the hotel at 4:45; Dana arrives at 5. Once again our plans for dinner at Baron Munchausen's are folied: They are not open tonight. We decide to return to the "Russian Pub," where there's an English menu - big break for Dana - and the food has always been good. During dinner, we ask Dana about mass next Sunday and she agrees to go with/meet us there. (She's Muslim, so we don't want her to do anything with which she might be uncomfortable.) We'll run our plan by Olessya some time this week to get her approval.

After dinner, we stop by the grocery store for a few necessities, drop our purchases back at the hotel and walk Dana half-way home. We're home by 7:45. Alli cuts my hair - for whatever reason, the hair clipper is super charged here, and the noise and vibration are extraordinary -
then reads and naps while I journal (yesterday and today). Bob and I are meeting for the gym at 8 AM. Lights out at 11.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

June 25th

Today is beautifully sunny and quite cool. The sun is welcome after the rain of the last two days, the cool air the aftermath of the front responsible for the rain. We meet with Dana @ 10 AM: There is a soccer match in town on June 29, and we are going to try to get tickets at the stadium box office this morning. We recognize the walk from our trip to Victory Park last week. The rain has left puddles on the streets and sidewalks and mud on the footpaths, and we navigate carefully.

No tickets on sale today: We must return Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. We do decide where we'de like to sit and how much it will cost: 300 Tenghe ($2.50) for seats in the middle of the park among the first several rows in the second tier! Let's hope they're available when we return.

On the way back to the hotel, Dana points out a small grocery store and recommends their sweets (pastries, cakes, etc.). We all get a little something and find a sunny park bench on which to sit and indulge. We attract a flock of pigeons in no time....

We're back in the hotel with about an hour to spare before heading out for our walk to the baby home. We journal and eat yogurt.

No sign of activity outside when we arrive, so we head inside for the kids. Bob, Beth and I head for the boys' room: The boys have not been fed, so Bob and I saddle up. Aidan eats like a champ, finishing his maroon stuff and 1 1/2 shots of juice/broth. Bob has his hands (and the front of his shirt) full with Nicholas, who is distracted and loses interest midway through.

Alli shows up at about 12:15. She'd gotten to Molly's room to find our little one sitting quite contentedly while having her nials clipped. Alli didn't want to interrupt a good thing, so she played with the other children while the nail clipping ended. She and the Butterball set out for the marble room only to find it locked. So they headed up to find us. We wrap up around 1:20 and everybody's off to the marble room, which has been opened for us in the interim.

Molly's not quite herself today: She's congested and has a runny nose. She plays a little, and I get her to giggle pretty good by rubbing my whiskers on the bottoms of her feet. However, by 1:50 she's fussing and rubbing her eyes. Alli picks her up and rocks her. She finds her thumb and crashes for the rest of the visit.

Aidan is in good spirits. He climbs on me and tells me a story that sounds a lot like the story he told me yesterday. I get him to laugh when I lie on my back, hold him in a sitting position in my lap and pretend to drop him through my legs. He gurgles through a gummy, drooly grin. Just before time to go, he makes a try for my glasses. Denied, he starts to fuss and we all begin to pack up.

Alli takes Molly back: As she's going down, she pops her head up and smiles at Alli. Alli pats her bottom and she drifts off happily. The boys go down with a bit more effort, but the care-givers have installed blankets between the cribs to minimize distractions at nap time. Lights out....

After walking home, it's straight to the internet cafe. In our limited time before dinner - we arrive a little after 3:30 and Dana is due to pick us up at 5:00 - we both post a blog entry and check e-mail. Alli tries to send a new photo, but downloading takes a long time, and time is too short. We'll try again tomorrow.

We set out for Baron Munchausen's at 5: We arrive to find them set up for a big party and no room for us. Plan B is the "Mushroom Soup Place," but Dana has not been there and we're not exactly sure where it is. Un-deterred, we trek in the general direction & stumble right onto it. It's too cool to sit outside, so we go inside. Once again a large party has reserved the dining room, so we are shown to the seating area on the lower level. Alli and Beth are pleased to find beet salad, and Alli tries the mushroom soup again. Those enjoying entrees opt for chicken and everything is good. The Baltika - a Russian beer - is cold and we enjoy trying to answer Dana's questions about USA as opposed to her answering our questions about KAZ.

We walk Dana part-way home and stroll back to the hotel, arriving around 9. Alli continues her journal and I watch a very good FIFA Youth Tournament game: Netherlands v Nigeria. It goes to penalties after extra time, and all eleven players (including both goalies) shoot without deciding the winner. The rotation begins again: The first Nehterlands player is stopped, his Nigerian counterpart converts and it's all over.

It's cool tonight, and though it's Saturday night, we decide to sleep with the windows open. Lights out at eleven....


Friday, June 24, 2005

June 24th

Today starts with good news: I slept well and feel well enough to go to the gym. Bob and I set out @ 8:30, begin lifting @ 8:40 and get about the serious business of ping pong at 9:20. Bob takes the first 3 games, I take the next 2. Bob makes it 5 games to 2 before I rally for 4 straight victories and a 6-5 advantage on the day. Series tally: Bob 18, me 17.

Back at the hotel around 10:30, I'm hungry for the first time in two days, and the thought of food is actually somewhat appealing. I have 1/2 banana and 2 6oz yogurts. The results aren't exactly what I hoped for, but I might have reached the point where nothing sits too well because my stomach is so empty. I'll hope the afternoon comes and goes without incident and try to eat dinner tonight.

It rained overnight and the temperature is as cool as we've seen: 16 C. Skies are cloudy and threatening, but we walk to the baby home without getting wet. It's my turn to get Molly. She's asleep when I get to her room: She must be roused, fed, washed, diapered and dressed by her care-giver. I busy myself visiting with the other children scattered here, there and everywhere between the two rooms (the outer room, where playing and eating take place and the inner room, which is for sleeping). We have babies in walking chairs and playpens and cribs, and we have three little guys sitting at a very tiny table eating what appear to be very soggy remnants of what were once cookies. My efforts go well at first, but it's hard being everywhere at once and paying enough attention to so many. First one cries, then another, until the only ones not part of the unhappy chorus are the two currently being fed....

On one of our previous visits, Molly was not ready when I arrived, so I sat down and played the piano to pass the time. With bedlam in the rooms today, one of the care-givers signals to me to play for the kids. I break into "Danny Boy" and honest to God there's not a peep from anybody. When I finish, there's not a dry eye in the house (of course they were all bawling before I began, but I chalk it up to Irish magic). A little Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer," Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and a riff on "When the Saints Go Marching In" and Molly's ready to go. I leave everybody crying again....

Out little girl is bright-eyed and cheerful today, and we set out to catch up with Alli and Aidan. Alli says she could hear the piano from the marble room & surmised I might have been playing because Molly had not been ready. Aidan is also in good spirits and happily scooting across the floor from toy to toy. Alli says she got a nice big smile when she picked him up today. Remember, this is the same little boy who would scarcely lift his head or raise his eyes to meet ours during the first couple of days. Of course, he still enjoys talking to the arm of the sofa as much as to either of us, so we're not getting carried away....

Molly enjoys munching on Nicholas's stuffed football while Aidan and I play with a rubber ball: I roll it over, he drools on it, I whisk it away and roll it back. The three kids congregate in the center of the room with the toys piled around them: Nicholas gets his football back, Molly grabs her favorite (a pink butterfly) and Aidan gets the Winnie-the-Pooh teether. After a few minutes, I lie on my back and put Aidan on his belly on my belly, and we stay there eye to eye for a good fifteen minutes. He spends time examining every detail of my ball cap, my glasses, the Flyers logo on my shirt, his fingers & my goatee, jibber-jabbing contentedly all the while.

We decide to try the snuggli sacks again today. I sit
Aidan on the floor, reach for the snugglis, and he topples over backward, giving himself a start and his noggin a pretty good thump. Much wailing ensues, and we find the wee man has a pretty good set of pipes. Order is restored quickly and we begin to suit up for a walk in the halls (it has begun to rain, so there will be no outside today).

As we set out, we encounter a nurse and then a doctor who appear to believe we intend to take the children outside. They are clearly agitated: The nurse motions Aidan needs a hat and coat, the doctor points to Molly and actually says the words in English. We know what they are saying, but we have no way of making them understand we intend to stay inside. Alli heads back to the marble room, the doctor yells up the stairs to the care-givers in Molly's room and I decide we'll need Olessya (who has been visiting with us in the marble room) if we are to settle this. I'm not in the marble room 30 seconds and have barely finished asking Olessya if she will speak to the doctor for us when Molly's care-giver appears. She and Olessya discuss the situation and all is well. Molly and I wander happily until it's time to pack up and take the kids back to their rooms.

On the way to the bus, Olessya tells us we will accompany her to the notary today, where we will sign papers giving power of attorney to a woman in Astana, the capital city. The woman will act on our behalf in the paperwork process there. We bus to the hotel, walk to the notary and sign four documents, all in Russian.

Olessya shares some news on next week's tasks: We will take the children to get passport photos taken and begin the paperwork the Kazakhstan government and the US Embassy will need to complete the adoption. We still have no court date, so this effort represents a parallel path and not an effort to expedite our time line.

One more piece of news: All of our kids' birth mothers were located, notified of the impending adoptions and asked to appear in court next Thursday. They might or might not show up; the proceedings can go on either way.

After the notary, Alli & I head to the grocery store: For some reason, potato chips appeal to me and we don't have any in the hotel. Back in the room @ 4, the chips and a little Coke really hit the spot. I doze for about twenty minutes before Dana arrives for dinner at 5. We go to a very local place we've been three times already: It's close to the hotel and the food is trustworthy. Everything goes well.

Alli and I hit the internet cafe to check e-mail, then we're off to Bob and Beth's room for movie night. Tonight's feature: "Miracle," the story of the 1980 US Olympic ice hockey team.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

June 23rd

We wake up at 8:00am. Olesya is due to arrive at 8:30am. At 8:10am there is a knock on the door. Would we like to have our room cleaned? Yes, please. Olesya is right on time and we sign four documents. These are the children's medical evaluations that will be submitted to the court. Our signature verifies that we have reviewed them. There is nothing on the schedule this morning. Pat is not feeling well. He has been having some stomach issues. I prescribe imodium and rest. He dozes on the couch and I read. Later he gets into bed with me and dozes some more. I shower and wake Pat up so that he can get ready to go to the baby home. Pat feels well enough to walk to the baby home.

The kids are outside. I have Molly duty today. She has just finished her lunch and is having her face washed. Her caregiver dresses her and she's mine. Pat goes for Aidan. He tells me that Aidan was in his crib when he arrived and when Pat called his name he was greeted with a big grin. We start out in the marble room. We put Molly and Aidan in an upholstered chair for a photo opp.. Molly plays busily with some toys. Aidan jabbers to Pat. We snap a few good ones. Olesya arrives. She dropped the papers off this morning but was not able to see the judge as she was out of town on business. She will hopefully see her when she returns on Monday. Olesya tells us that our pre-trail hearing is tentatively scheduled for Friday. We are told that at the pre-trial hearing the "prosecutor" will ask questions that are similar to those that the judge will ask at the acutual court preceeding. We are preparing ourselves for a flexible schedule. Olesya also tells us that she saw her doctor that afternoon. The doctor is not happy about the swelling in Olesya's feet and ankles. The Dr. would like her to spend less time on her feet (Olesya walks just about everywhere) and to drink an herbal tea she has prescribed. The Dr. has threatened to put her in the hospital if she does not follow her orders (this is not the first time they have been prescribed). Olesya will comply. While she is at the baby home she has a leg and foot massage and her spirits are much improved. Back to the kids....We brought the Snuglis again today and decide to go outside for a stroll with the kids. We load them up and are off. I have Aidan and Pat has her highness. We can't see the face of the child we carry so we report to one another what's going on. The kids enjoy being outside. There is a light breeze and much to see. Pat walks ahead of me (Aidan is checking out some holly hocks) and runs into two young woman with a baby. He introduces Molly and they tell them the name of the baby they are carrying. The young women begin to ask Pat questions and he tells them "I don't speak Russian" in Russian (we've found this phrase to come in very hand). The visit continues dispite the language barrier with fussing over the babies. Aidan and I arrive. I introduce him as Artyom (his given name and more recognizable than Aidan) and there is more fussing. We continue with our walk. Molly gnaws on one of Pat's fingers. Ouch I here him say. Her tiny teeth are mighty sharp. We finish our stroll and return to the marble room. We arrive to find Nicholas with tears in his eyes and Beth comforting him. We had an incident they say. Nicholas was laying on Bob's stomach as he was video taping. Nicholas rolled off and bumped his head on the floor. His first (and definitely not last) egg on his noggin. We take the kids back to their room. I put Aidan in his crib but he is not ready for a nap. His little butt pops up and he moves around. I pat his back and go. Pat was instructed to put Molly in the playpen. We head back to the hotel. Olesya is with us so we will take the bus. A van arrives first and we pile in. A woman seated behind the driver is engaged in a lively conversation with him. Olesya tells us that the woman believes that she is entitled to the senior citizen discount and the driver disagrees. The back and for continues. Olesya laughs and then tells us that the driver has just asked the woman if she is "mentally healthy". The woman gets off with a parting remark to which the drive replies. Olesya does not interpret this exchange for us.

To the Internet cafe when we get back. Both Pat and I post today. We also check email. We're back at the hotel by 5:30pm. Dana is expected ath 6:00pm for dinner.

Dana arrives and we walk to the restaurant. Pat has decided not to join us. His stomach is still ify and he would prefer to be near the facilities. Dinner is in an immense hall. The tables remind me of dining room tables. We are the only ones there. The meal is good but takes a long time. You can order a cuban cigar there if you like. None of us are cigar smokers though. Dinner is done by 8:30pm. We walk back to the hotel. Along the way we make arrangements for Dana to take us to the museum on Tuesday. We say goodnight to Dana and head up to our rooms. Bob and Beth stop in to check on Pat. He's feeling just ok. He ate a banana and chocolate pudding for dinner. Pat writes in his journal and watches soccer. I attempt to read in bed but my belly is full and I crash after just a few minutes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

June 22nd

Back to the gym this morning. If it's true every dog has its had, today is the Big Dog's day: Bob beats me 6 of 7 and takes a 13-11 series lead. I did nothing right, he could do no wrong. However, as he did on the day I took 4 of 5, I win the final game and look forward to redemption on Friday.

Dana arrives at 9:45 to take us to another open air market: This one has similar wares in shoes, fashion, etc. but also features a food marketplace including a scary-looking butchery as well as produce, baked goods and fresh flowers. It drizzles most of the way over and back, our first sustained rain since the day we arrived. On the way back to the hotel, we discuss walking to the baby home v riding the bus: We decide to walk over (unless the drizzle intensifies) and bus home, as Olessya is meeting us with paperwork at 3:30.

The light drizzle on the way over gives Alli and Beth a chance to try out our new umbrellas: We picked ours up in Target before we left, they bought theirs in the mall across the street from the hotel. Bob and I just get wet.... Remarkably, the kids are outside today. (The cloud cover has kept temperatures cooler than normal, though the humidity is higher than usual too.) Alli, Bob and Beth find the boys in one crib wrestling and laughing. Bob snaps a couple of quick photos before they notice we've arrived. I find Molly in the walking chair - just sitting, thank you very much - bundled in sweater, pants and bonnet. She always greets me with the same wide-eyed look as if she recognizes me from somewhere but can't be sure. The care-givers chatter to her, and I hear, "Papa." They call her by her given name typically but make an effort to use Molly as often as possible. When they say Molly, their pronunciation rhymes with "rolly," as in "poly." Somehow, it fits....

We have another great visit today. No blankets for the floor - a one-hit wonder, perhaps? - and today's highlights include

(1) Daddy's turn on dirty diaper duty. Alli detects the first inkling of unpleasantness and verifies the culprit (Molly) with a quick peak. Suspecting a work in progress, Alli rolls Molly onto her back, and without benefit of closed door, reading material or a buffer of any kind, the little darling takes a moment to finish her business (accompanied by furrowed brow and other looks of determination).
Summoned into service, I quickly don my Haz/Mat suit, rope off and quarantine the area & go to work. Removing the offending diaper - Molly initially tries to push my hands away from the tape strips with a look of surprised modesty on her face - I'm relieved to find earth tones(and not the maroon stuff of which I've become so fond) from stem to stern (not quite the vertical diarrhea of song and story but, in lay- man's terms, pretty yucky altogether). I persevere, coached every step of the way: "Use the clean area at the front of the diaper to wipe up the mess on her butt and legs" and "Wipe from front to back - her parts are different than Aidan's" and "Are you sure you got it all?" Once again in lieu of wipes (we were told not to bring them as they are readily available here, but we have not found them yet) Molly gets cold water on a tissue. A couple of deft swipes and she's clean as a whistle. Now let's see: bear's face in front; tape strips from back to front; lift, shove, drop - oops, I mean gently place -bottom onto clean diaper; wrap and tape ("Not too tight!"); tie three legs together, throw hand in the air and this calf is roped!!!! This game is EASY....

(2) Niagra Falls on Aidan's face: Aidan's runny nose of yesterday is approaching flood warning status. Once again, while seeking higher ground, Alli and I take turns attempting to stem the tide. From his reaction, we are engaged in human rights violations of some kind. Let's face it, though: Drool is cute, but snot is another story. I'll deal with Amnesty International tomorrow.

(3)Snuggli Sack try-outs: BIG SUCCESS. Two fairly intelligent, college-educated people navigate enough straps and buckles for an Ed Rau fantasy, mount the contraption to yours truly and secure Molly for a test drive. She loves it! She sits with her back to my belly/chest, arms and legs free to wave and kick. I walk her up and down the hallways and stop in front of a mirror we've visited a dozen or more times with no reaction. For the first, she smiles at what she sees! After adjusting the straps to peanut size, it's Aidan's turn. He's more subdued - he always is - but he enjoys the ride and does a great job holding his head up and looking around.

We return the kids to their inside rooms and bus back to the hotel. We review and sign English translations of forms the Judge will review in Russian(and we sign copies in Russian for other officials, too). The information confirms our identities and those of the children (in their given names and the names we will give them at the time of the adoption),the childrens' birth dates, our address and our wedding date.

For dinner, Dana meets us at the pizza place at 5 PM to place our order and tally the bill. She walked from her home to spend no more than 10 minutes with us and assure we ordered what we wanted and were not overcharged. Her family is getting together tonight to celebrate her younger sister's 20th birthday, but Dana feels her first responsibility is to us. Bob gives her bus fare and we all insist she promise she'll bus home so as not to miss the birthday meal and cake.

Back in the hotel, time to journal and watch soccer: Tonight, Japan v Morrocco and Nigeria v Ukraine. It's 11:30 and Olessya will be by with more paperwork - the English translations of the medical reviews - at 8:30 AM. We're going to try air conditioning tonight:
I'm looking forward to minimal noise from the street and a chance to get under the covers for the first time in three nights....

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

June 21st

Molly is 8 months old today. It is also the last day of the 14 day required bonding period. Olesya talked to the judge on Monday and asked her when would be the best day for her to bring our paperwork. The judge said Thursday. Olesya will meet with her at 9:00am that morning ans we should have our court dates. The alarm goes off at 7:00am. We get up early to do laundry. We do it together this time and it only takes an hour and a half. We're going to try and do a few things at a time instead of waiting for one big load. We'll see how that goes. I don't think that we'll complain about doing laundry when we get home! Beth and I have appointments for manicures this morning. She is at 9:00am and I am at 10:00am. We will be flying solo. No Olesya this time. Pat and Bob head to the gym at 8:30am. The nail appointments go off without a hitch. I select what I think is a lovely shade of pink. It looks more like strawberry frosting when its on my nails. The total cost including tip is about $8. I leave the salon and find Pat waiting outside for me. It is only 11:00am so we go for a walk. It's a scorcher today. It is supposed to get up into the 90s. We're meeting Olesya at noon for lunch. Brian, Mary Ellen and Sabina will be there too. Their flight is at 4:00pm. Lunch is good. Pat and I split an order of steamed dumplings. Sabina is shy at first but warms a bit during the meal. She is 2 1/2 and this is a big adjustment for her. She eats from her parent's plate even though she ate lunch at the baby home. Brian and Mary Ellen hope her appetite will always be this good. Lunch is over at 1:00pm. We hug Brian and Mary Ellen and wish them well. We will see them again. We're late for our visit at the baby home so we take the bus.

The kids are inside today. I go for Molly. She is laying down in the group playpen surrounded by other children. A boy we refer to as the sumo wrestler topples over on Molly and she wails. Mommy to the rescue. She is wearing a cute pink and blue onsie. We head to the marble room. Pat, Beth, Bob and the boys arrive. They were given 3 square flannel blankets. These are to be placed on the rug. Everyone is very active today. We discover that Aidan can now sit on his own. This is something he could not do when we arrived. His body control has improved. There are fewer face plants. Molly stands willingly. She hasn't gotten the crawling bit down yet but she appears to like to dance. If you sing la-la, la-la-la she shimmies on queue whether laying on her belly or sitting. We have this on video. Nicholas we find has a passion for peek-a-boo. This makes him laugh and laugh. It's another good day of visiting. At 2:30 we take the kids back to their rooms. Both of them go right down for naps. We walk back to the hotel.

We go to the Internet cafe. All of the computers are taken and there are several people waiting. Beth an Bob are each on a computer. They say that they will be done soon but we opt to go to the other Internet cafe which is just a block away. We each get a computer there. Pat has trouble with his so we share mine and check email. It's slow going and the room is hot. We decide to head back to the other Internet place (the Kazpost-in addition to internet access you can also but stamps and mail letters there). It's Pat's day to update the Blog and I'm tired so I go back to the hotel instead. I take a nap while Pat blogs. He arrives back at the hotel at 6:00pm. Dinner is at 7:00pm.

Dana arrives at the hotel shortly before 7:00pm and we walk to the restaurant. Although we were just there on Sunday we've asked to go to the pizza place. We get there and find that there are no tables available. Dana suggests that we try another restaurant. Apparently you don't wait for a table here. We decide on the Russian pub. Pat orders beef stroganoff and I choose stuffed cabbage. It is fabulous (if you like stuffed cabbage). It's after 700pm so Dana does not eat. She's about 5'6" and maybe 110 lbs soaking wet but does not eat after 7 because she's "watching her form". We learn today that others are watching too. Four young men spoke to her on the bus and a gentleman at the table next to ours buys her a refill on her banana and peach shake. We tease her about her suitors. She blushes. We introduce Dana to a new English word-chick flick. She likes it and writes it down in her notebook. The night is pleasant and we decide to go for a walk after our meal. We head in the direction of Dana's home and suggest that we walk her half way. She says the walk to her house is about 40 minutes (she has a somewhat leisurely pace). The route is fairly direct but after a left and right turn Dana decides we've gone far enough. Our 21 year old mother hen is concerned that we won't be able to find our way back. She gives us each a hug good night and says goodbye. We find our way back to the hotel without incident. It's about 9:45pm when we get back. Pat watches soccer on TV and I read.

June 20th

We sleep well last night and wake at 8 AM today. I'm feeling better but not quite 100%. No gym today: Dana is coming at 9:30 sharp to take us sightseeing to Victory Park.

We set out and she estimates about a thirty minute walk. Along the way we stop to see a very Soviet-era "Workers' Monument." Three bronze statues rise at least twenty feet high and depict two men with bowls of the type one might use to grind meal and a woman with a bolt of cloth. Behind them, a mural in bronze captures various snapshots of Soviets at work: agriculture, industry, mining, military, etc. It's an impressive piece: A monument to another era. As we move along, Dana points out the school where she teaches and the hospital where Olessya will likely deliver her baby.

Victory Park is a memorial to those from Kostanai who served and died in WWII. Sidewalks made of brick pavers and neatly lined with a mixture of fir and birch trees lead to a Vietnam Wall-style memorial bearing the names of the fallen. The statue of a soldier stands guard in the middle of the wall, and a flame (lighted only on special occasions) is at the statue's feet. The threshold to the memorial is marked on either side by granite blocks: one inscribed 1941, the other 1945.

As we continue through the park, Dana points out individual plaques "for the heroes." Further along, gravestones mark actual graves of the most heroic, and there is one without an inscription for the unknown soldier. Dana is Kazakh, and she points these things out and explains them in hushed tones with a sincere mixture of reverence and awe.

Interestingly (to me anyway), there is also a statue of Lenin in the park. Kazakhstan became independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and I ask Dana if there is resentment about the statue. She explains that among younger generations perhaps, but for the generation memorialized in the park, no.

Adjascent to the park is Kostanai's professional soccer stadium. Dana checks with the ticket office for a schedule of upcoming matches - next available is July 9 - and we observe a dozen or fifteen guys from the local team going through a series of passing drills. The grass is manicured and SO green, the sun is shining, the stadium seats are arrayed in layers of primary colors in the background, and I'd give just about anything if they'd ask me to join in the workout. Alas, try-outs for short, fat, old guys were yesterday! On the way out, I see a group of a dozen or so young boys - maybe eleven or twelve - training literally in the shadow of the stadium, and I can only wonder about the dreams they dream....

Back at the hotel at 11:15, time for a late breakfast of yogurt and fruit juice, a little journaling and we're off for our walk to the baby home at 12:15. We arrive to find everyone fed. (NOTE: After our visit, Mama Natasha and Olessya have a little conversation and we are asked if the task of feeding the children can be permanently returned to the care-givers. From the care-givers' perspective, our efforts over these past two weeks, though important to the bonding process and certainly well-intentioned, have been disruptive and not always successful: We took longer than they to feed the kids and did not always get them to clean their plates. From our perspective, there has always been a bit of anxiety involved: Are we going fast enough? Did he/she eat enough? Did we make too much of a mess? Are we throwing the other children off their schedules? I'm fine with the change, though Alli is disappointed. I see it like this: If we don't have to spend 15-20 minutes feeding them at the start of every visit, that's 15-20 more minutes we get to play with them and they with each other - keep in mind, Molly and Aidan are in the same age group but live in different rooms and might see each other only for our ninety minutes - and I think the play time is the more valuable bonding experience at this point. Beginning tomorrow, the children will have been fed by the time we arrive. We'll see how it goes....)

Anyway, off to the marble room. The kids are in good spirits. The boys scoot around and Molly entertains us all with her vocal skills and her bathing beauty poses. At one point, Aidan gets a bit too close for his own good and is forced to retreat to Mommy's arms when Miss Molly grabs a handful of hair. (It's one of her favorite things to do, and though Dad has little to offer in the head area, she's made do with my arms and legs! And on more than one occasion, I've had to pry her little death grip from Alli's bangs....)

Olessya joins us for the visit. She sings to Molly and gets the little lass rocking side to side. Wait: Is that forward motion? Yes!!! In her exhuberance, our little girl is doing a quasi-combat crawl that reminds Bob of the old barbed wire and live ordinance game on Parris Island. She is moving, and we are making progress! She is also more enthusiastic every day with the whole standing thing and even pulled herself up to stand with Alli today. She can now roll front to back, sit from a prone position, move from point to point (crawling is too generous a description) and stand like she's been doing it for weeks instead of just the past few days.

The wee man has been a mosquito buffet apparently, though his fresh bites and welts are absent the green or blue dot medicine we frequently see. He again enjoys the water bottle and spends qute a bit of time standing at an end table and batting the blocks on it around and off the table. He jabbers away, typically to himself (unlike his sister, whose announcements are intended for her adoring public). Right on cue - approximately 2:15-2:20, as with most days - Aidan starts to yawn and stuff his fist in his mouth and Molly rubs her eyes and sucks her thumb. We quickly redress them, pack up and head upstairs. Molly, thumb in mouth, goes right down for Alli; Aidan takes his nook, does a 180-degree turn from one end of the crib to the other, gives me one last look and drops. Another visit has come and gone. Olessya is joining us for the return to the hotel, so we take the bus.

We're in, changed and out to the internet cafe. We check weekend mail and post three blog entries. Our efforts lag on the weekends because our schedule is somewhat fuller than during the week. Technology is playing nicely today and we're done in about two hours. Back to the hotel with half an hour to spare before leaving for dinner: I watch soccer and Alli takes another stab at the crossword puzzle she started some time during our flight here two weeks ago.

Tonight's dinner is traditional Kazakh. Served family-style in a HUGE single dish, it's a layer of egg noodles on the bottom - similar to lasagna noodles but thinner - an assortment of horse meat atop the noodles and a layer of onions, peppers and scallions on top. Pun completely intended, there is more than enough to feed a horse! Among Bob and Beth and Alli and me, I think we share a common objective: Try everything and be polite. All but Bob manage two helpings, though we're a bit more selective the second time around. We take the leftovers back to the hotel: The entire staff is Kazakh, and we're told they will appreciate the gesture.

It's Mary Ellen and Brian's last dinner in country, and they celebrate with three shots each of vodka. After the third, they remember they are to meet Dana's mother tonight: If you recall, Mary Ellen and Brian will host Dana for a year of study if Dana can get her visa. Brian asks for some of the leftovers as an offering to Dana's mom. (We find out later the meeting went well, though Dana's mother expressed some concern about tsunami when she learned of Dover, Delaware's proximity to the ocean. Dana is twenty-one and has never seen an ocean.)

We're off to Bob and Beth's room to look at Bob's pictures. It's my first look at the Friday night shots, and all I can say is the mojo was working that night. I don't know whose mojo it was, but....

In our room at 10. Soccer and journals until lights out at midnight. Comfortable enough for open windows again. Good night....

Sunday, June 19, 2005

June 19th

Happy Father's Day!!

The alarm goes off at 8:30am. We get up and shower. Andre picks us up at 9:45 and drives us to Mass. We recognize many people from last week. We have the same priest. We did not go up for communion. We decide after Mass the we'll give it a try next week. We get home from Mass at 11:15am. I convince Pat to lay down and take a quick nap before our visit. He picked up the cold I had last week and isn't feeling that great. Bob and Beth knock on the door at 12:15pm and we're off to the baby home.

The children are outside. My turn to get Molly. I take her out of the playpen and try to determine if she's been fed. From what I can gather she has not. The weekend caregivers are not as helpful as the ladies who are there during the week. I don't blame them. They each have a child on their lap that they're trying to feed. I set myself up and feed Molly. The beet mixture again today. She eats about half and starts putting up a fight. I decide she's done and take her out to wash her face. She is already dressed in pants, long sleeve flannel jacket and a hat. We depart. As I'm walking towards the building I realize that she is not wearing a diaper. I head back to her room and grab on of the ones we brought today. I see Pat leaving Aidan's room and tell him about the lack of diaper. He goes back and gets one as well. To the marble room. I put Molly's diaper on. Turns out that Aidan already had one on. We have another good day of playing. Molly and Aidan wrangle over a purse pack of kleenex. I video the event and Aidan become interested in the camera and makes his way over. The queen bee has her tissues. A little later I'm playing on the floor with Molly and detect an odor. Upon further investigation I realize that we have a situation on our hands. Luckily we have the spare diaper Pat got for Aidan. Beth hands my wet tissues as I remedy the matter. Daddy said he would have changed her but he was busy playing with his boy. We'll let him slide for now....
Luck was with us today. We decide to pack spare diapers in the future. After another good day we pack up and take the kids back to their rooms. Aidan goes down easily. Pat took Molly back and was instructed to put her in the playpen. We head back to the hotel.

Pat is still not feeling. He decides to take a nap before dinner. Bob, Beth, Dana and I hang out in Brian and Mary Ellen's room. Dana brought a few photo albums and shows us pictures of her family. We view pictures of Sabina (Brian and Mary Ellen's daughter) on their laptop and Bob hooks his camera up to the TV. After a few hours we decide its time for dinner. We settle on the Dom as its close. Six out of seven of us order the beef stroganoff. This is a Dom favorite and the best we've found in town so far. We drink a Baltika 7. We find out that Baltika brews varieties labeled 0-9. The 0 is non-alcoholic and 9 is the most potent. We get back to the hotel at 8:00pm. We write in our journals and read. Beth stops over. Dana called. She will meet us at 9:30am tomorrow and take us to Victory Park. Lights out at 11:30pm.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

June 18th

We sleep in on Saturday morning. We don't get out of bed until nearly 11:00am. We shower, have some juice and head to the baby home. The kids are inside today. Pat goes for Molly and Bob, Beth and I go for the boys. Aidan is cruising around the room in a walker. Nicholas is in a jumpy seat which is suspended from the ceiling. Lunch today is the maroon stuff (ground meat and beet puree) and broth. Aidan eats well. He quickly finishes his plate and drinks two shot glasses of broth. I do a really good job of getting everything in his mouth. However, Aidan put his hands in his mouth during the meal and had a good bit of the maroon stuff on his hands. He was touching me and soon my shirt had a good bit of the stuff on it too. I'm still a new mom so I thought it was a good idea to wear a white tee-shirt. WRONG! Mama Natasha saw me and clucked her tongue. She washes Aidan's face and gives me a towel to try and clean my shirt. I didn't mind about the shirt. I was happy that my little boy had a full belly. To the marble room but not directly. We alas wander the halls before I find the room. Aidan was not help whatsoever but he's cute so he can get away with it. Good news. The rug is back. Bob found Mama Natash unfolding it when we arrived. He gestured to her that he would do it. Pat arrives with Molly. He reports that she at about 2\3 of her lunch and drank a cup and a half of broth. We do much of the same things with the kids that we have been doing. They are active and pleasant. We play with them, talk to them, hold them, and kiss and tickle them. Molly holds your fingers and stands wobbily. She likes to play with my hair. If I'm not careful she grabs two fits full and let me tell you that girl has a grip on her. Aidan likes to climb and explore. He sometimes talks to the couch. We put the kids next to one another occasionally but they're not yet interested in each other. They prefer to grab at the toy the other one has. Our play is not directed. We only want to provide them with the type of one-on-one interaction they've seldom had. They are definitely ready for a nap when our visit is over which it is again today. Mama Natash passes by the doorway and points at her watch. Time to get a move on. I take Molly back to her room and put her in her crib. Pat takes Aidan back to his room and we meet out front for the walk back to the hotel.

Dana is in Brian and Mary Ellen's room when we return. We chat for a while. Dana has an obligation this evening so we'll have an early dinner. Tonight is graduation night for the Kostanai Region. A celebration will take place in the large courtyard in the park. All of the schools in the Region will participate. Dana is a school teacher if you remember and has been asked to chaperone at her school for their post-graduation party. It's funny. She is only 21 but refers to her students (ages 16-17) as children. We decide to have dinner at the pizza place. I'm disappointed to learn that they do not have beet salad this evening. Dinner is very good and the conversation interesting. Dana tells us what it was like to live in Kostanai while it was under Soviet control and after it gained independence in 1991. Times were tough but have improved greatly over time. Good jobs are more readily available and so is food. Overall the quality of living has improved. We ask her about relations between Kazakh and Russian people. She says there are no problems and from what we've seem its true. She asks us about race relations in the US and how she will be perceived\treated as a Kazakh. She was asking out of curiosity not concern. We tell her she will not have a problem. We tease her that she will have to watch out for the American boys though. This makes her blush and laugh. Her studies will come first she assures us. There are no opportunities for advancement in Kazakhstan without an education she tells us.

After dinner we go to the park to check out the festivities. The crowds are beggining to gather. This is a big night for the students. The girls dress in gowns and have their hair and nails done. Boys wear suits and ties. The ceremonies will begin at 8:00pm. There will be speeches give by local government officials, music and a dance performance given by younger girls. We enjoy watching people until about 7:30pm and then head back to the hotel. It's a quite evening. We're still recovering from the night before. Many a Baltika 7 were consumed that evening.

June 17th

Bob's back in the game today and we're off to the gym at 8:30. An hour of lifting, sit-ups, rope jumpong and exercise bike riding later and we're ready for some ping pong. Bob's not at his best today and I'm playing very well. I win the first four games before Bob finds some consolation in taking the fifth. The summer tourney tally now stands and 7-4 in my favor.

Back at the hotel @ 10. We'd asked Olessya to have maintenance come look at the air conditioner: It seems the more it runs the less effective it is at cooling the room. She told us someone would be by before noon or after our return from the baby home (usually around 3:30). Alli's been waiting for the possible morning visit, but we tire of it at 11 and head out for a walk.

It's another BEAUTIFUL day! We walk for about an hour, leaving just enough time for me to get showered and ready to leave for the baby home between 12:15 and 12:20. We arrive just before 1:00 to find the kids outside and everybody fed! Bob and Beth grab a blanket and head for some shade; Alli and I opt for the marble room. Still no rug on the floor so we play on the furniture. The kids are lightly dressed and in great spirits. We get some good video and great photos.

They really only do a handful of things each, but we enjoy every minute and every occurrence of Molly shouting at no one and nothing in particular, Aidan blowing bubbles, Molly rocking side to side, Aidan trying to figure out how to stand from all fours. We try to measure improvement in mobility, communication, attentiveness and name or voice recognition, but mostly we just love being with them. We look at them and they look at us - We wonder what they're thinking and they seem to wonder at everything: Why are YOU ffeding me today? What language are you speaking? What are those things on your face and why won't you let me grab them? They are pleasant to be with and seldom even fuss. It's ninety minutes of magic every day however often it might read like the same daya over and over again.

After we walk back to the hotel, Alli and I head for the internet cafe. Another power outage creates a problem: Alli is a couple of journal pages into her Blog entry and loses it all. Our hope is to finish our posting and e-mail quickly today so we can get back to the hotel and take naps before dinner. This setback cuts into nap time, but we persevere. Alli gets her Blog entry posted and spends the last twenty minutes sending a new picture: a very cute shot of the two kids playing on the sofa. NOTE: We can't post photos to the Blog until the adoption is final. We have sent photos to several people and requested they forward to others stateside. If you haven't seen the photos and would like to receive future additions, please let us know.

Tonight's activities: The "Shiskabob Place" followed by a cabaret/nightclub. Alli and I manage about twenty minutes of sleep before it's time to get ready for our 8 PM car ride. Olessys tells us the Shiskabob Place will be crowded tonight: In fact, she had to make reservations with a cash deposit yesterday in order to assure us a table. When we arrive, the dance floor is packed with folks celebrating National Health Workers Day: Doctors, dentists, nurses and other health care workers shaking their groove things and having a great time. The demographic is about five women for every man throughout the restaurant and maybe eight to one on the dance floor. Most of the women are in their late forties or early fifties and all are dressed to kill. We join the dancing - circle dancing is popular - while waiting for our kabobs.

After dinner, the fun starts when a girl arrives with a birthday singing telegram complete with balloons and party hats for two of the ladies. There's singing and well wishes. I dance in the circle with one of the birthday girls, and two songs later she's at our table for a ladies' choice. As that song ends, someone we think is the son of one of the two birthday girls shows up with flowers and entertainment: A guy in drag! Now things get very entertaining....

The guy/gal goes through several minutes of jokes followed by an elaborate bit involving a jester's hat (each of the women in the birthday girls' party had to wear the hat and dance to a song of the guy/gal's choosing). Finally, he organizes yet another circle dance, then walks right up to our table and (apparently) invites me to take part. Olessya explains it's an old joke/story about a match and a match box: She will be the match and I will be the box.

The guy/gal is going a mile a minute in Russian and gives Olessys a microphone so she can not only play the part of the match but translate for us as well. Alli, Mary Ellen and Mary Ellen's husband, Brian, who arrived today @ 2:30 are on the other side of the circle. They are playing the part of the fuse. The story goes something like this (and remember, the guy/gal is speaking Russian, after which the crowd roars with laughter, Olessya translates and, depending on what might have been said or done, the crowd roars again). I'm including Olessya's words below:

"So once there was a match and a box"
"So the match likes the box"
"So we should pretend we like each other"- we hug
"So we should probably rub against each other because I am a match and you are a box" - we
rub backsides (remember, the match is thirty-two weeks pregnant!)
"So now we should probably have sex" - I point to her belly as if to say that's been taken care of,
but the crowd roars its insistence so we hold hands, wave and pretend to leave for more sex

At this point, Olessya goes around the circle to light the fuse and tells Alli et al to make a sound like fire. They hiss, the guy/gal says something, and Olessya translates: "He says you sound like snake, not fire, and he's not happy with you." The guy/gal says something else, and the women in the circle shout in one voice and throw their arms up in the air to simulate fireworks kindled by the match and the box. The guy/gal walks up close enough for me to see the glitter on his fake eye lashes and says something quite earnestly. Gaels of laughter ensue and Olessya finally composes herself enough to say, "So he would like to know if you want to go home and sleep with him."

Now it's one thing to be propositioned by a man in drag, and it's something else altogether when it happens in another language in front of hundreds of people. I'm completely caught off guard and stammer somethin involving no as the crowd roars at my embarrassment. The din is only
beginning to die away when another man walks up , grabs and starts shaking my hand and jabbers at me for a good ten seconds despite the glazed, I-have-no-idea-what-you-are-saying look in my eyes. Thankfully, Olessya is at hand, so I ask, "This guy doesn't want to sleep with me too, does he?" She explains he apparently thinks he knows me but of course he is mistaken. His wife arrives, he tells her who he thinks I am, Olessya tells them who I really am, and much embarrassment ensues as we say our nice to meet yous in languages neither can decipher. I run for my beer and the sanctuary of our table....

Safety is only fleeting: A woman from the table behind ours would like a dance and, apparently, a little bit more if there's any to be had! She's about 5'5" and weighs every pound I do. Tonight, buoyed by vodka and inspired by my performance as the box, she's feeling dead sexy and wants me to light her fire (at least, that's what I think she said...?). I'm at an immediate disadvantage: This gal likes to lead. We twist, spin, twirl and bump. At one point I'm on my knees bending back to touch my head to the floor with the expectation she will dance over me. To my surprise and the agony of my knees, she sits on me mid-thigh! This gal is having the time of her life and I'm wondering if I'll ever walk again!

The song ends, but before I can bid her a galant farewell, another song begins and I'm back in her arms again. Now I'm looking for help: Bob's laughing and snapping blackmail photos. The flash catches my partner's eye, she turns and see's Bob and for just an instant I'm yesterday's news. I see my window and jump for it, leaving Bob for Ginger Rogers (I figure he's a mrine with training in hand-to hand combat and can probably handle her a little better than I can).

She comes back several times throughout the remainder of our stay. She drags brian out while Bob and I cower behind our wives.

We leave at 11:30. I ask Bob if I can see the pictures before he puts them on the internet. he tells me he's already made arrangements for copies he can give to Aidan and Molly. We laugh all the way to the cabaret....

As we enter the club, there's a casino area and a dance club. The dance club has a small stage, and as we take our table, three young ladies are dancing in bikinis made of flowers. When they finish, things start to get eclectic. A woman plays violin over pre-recorded dance tracks while music random music videos play on the screen behind her. Next, a very attractive exotic dancer takes the stage and even Alli - she of the legendary pole moves - is impressed! A male vocalist follows the dancer, begins with a ballad and moves to three pop tunes, the first of which inspires one of the two men at the table next to us to get up and dance - by himself! Moments later his friend joins him, though they both appear to be dancing alone. A young lady makes it a threesome, but she pays them no attention and the favor is returned in kind.

Another exotic dancer follows for one song before the DJ takes over and spins a series of good club dance songs. Alli and I join a crowded dance floor of men dancing with men or alone, women dancing with women or alone and the occasional old fashioned couple dancing together. A young lady takes the stage and sings a series of dance tunes over pre-recorded tracks and the dance floor continues to hop. When she finishes, the violinist returns. Bob, Brian and Olessya order ice cream! In a nightclub! The performers continue to cycle through in similar order as before and we head home around 2 AM.

If I had no clear picture of what Kostanai, Kazakhstan would be like during our six to eight weeks in country, I can honestly say an evening like this one was never part of any scenario....

Thursday, June 16, 2005

June 16th

(This is the second time I'm starting this post. We lost electricity at the Internet cafe and I had not saved like I usually do. I was engrossed in my writing when it happened. Not quite all the comforts of home. This is not the first time we've lost a connection). Here we go again....

The alarm goes off at 7:45 and breakfast arrives at 8:00am. There is nothing on the schedule this morning and we're tired so we go back to bed. A luxury we are well aware will be gone soon. It is a lazy morning. Beth and Bob knock on the door and ask if we would like to go to the Internet cafe with them. We decline. We slowly get ourselves together and head out the door at 11:00am to go for a walk and get some sun. We stroll around for 1 1/2 hours. Pat has gotten the lay of the land and we go far and wide. I'm hopelessly lost most of the time. I have inherited my father's keen sense of direction. We make it safely back to the hotel. We sit for a few minutes before it is time to go to the baby home. We're going to take the bus one more day. Bob figures he'll be ready for the walk again tomorrow.

This is our first time taking the bus without Olessya or Dana. Everything goes smoothly and we get off at the correct stop. The children are inside today. Pat is on Molly duty. I am determined to see that Aidan eat today (at this point we are still unaware that they had eaten yesterday before we tried to feed them again). Aidan and Nicholas are together in a playpen. We pick them up and hold, kiss and talk to them while we wait for their lunch to arrive. Aidan is very alert today and smiles and talks to me. He is very interested in my necklace. Lunch is served. Today's menu features a rice cereal and warm peach juice. The cereal is hot and the caregiver gestures for me to blow on it. Aidan fusses at the first few bites. I give him some juice and get his interest by making funny noises. He becomes more cooperative and coos during his meal. He finishes all of his cereal and drinks 3 shot glasses of juice. I am pleased. Mission accomplished. I wash his face and attempt the word for towel in Russian. I don't get it quite right but I am understood. The caregiver repeats it correctly for me and says 10 (Aidan's bin number) in English while pointing to bin 9. Somehow it all works out. I change his diaper (this is a first) and dress him in a white terrycloth onsie. He looks so cute. Nicholas is dressed in the same outfit by Beth. The caregivers put a red and white striped baseball cap on each of their heads. They laugh and repeat a phrase in Russian which we guess means "twins, twins". Off to the marble room. We get there and there is no rug on the floor. The caregiver who opened the door for us (the room is locked when not occupied) gestures that we are not to put the children on the floor. They are to stay on the furniture only. Pat and Molly arrive several minutes later. She is gabbing away. Pat fed her and she ate well. Aidan is very active. He crawls around on the couch and stands while holding Pat's hand. Pat sits down on the couch with both kids in his lap. Molly is content to sit and play with toys, talk and look around. She doesn't miss a trick. Aidan climbs all over Pat and chats away. I have some really good video of this. Molly attempts to brain her brother with a plastic doughnut. We give her something softer to play with. Aidan's head is safe for now. Olessya joins us and has Aidan laughing as she tickles his belly. Towards the end of the visit we sit all 3 babies in a stuffed chair for a picture. Molly is in the middle with Aidan and Nicholas on either side. We wave our arms, snap our fingers and make funny sounds in an attempt to get them to smile. They look at us like we're lunatics. We get a few good ones and then rescue Aidan who has fallen behind his sister. Molly is throwing her 'bows. It's 2:30 again. We take the kids back to their rooms and put them in their cribs. Aidan's pacifier is not in his crib so I find his caregiver and gesture to her. I return to his crib with the goods and lay him down on his belly and pat his back. His little butt rises up and soon he is on his feet in his V formation. I pat his back and go. See you tomorrow loved one. We meet Pat out front. He put Molly in her crib and and gotten a look which translated to something like "where do you think you're going?". She loves her daddy. We take the bus back to the hotel.

Pat and I head to the Internet cafe for our afternoon routine. We received an email response from Dr. Goff. She did not have any concerns based on the details we sent. Molly is in the 75th percentile for weight and head measurements and the 25th percentile for height. Aidan is in the 5th percentile for all 3 categories. She describes him as petite but proportional. We'll take the kids to see Dr. Goff as soon as we get back. She will be on vacation for a week in July and gave us the email address of her colleague in case we need to get in touch while she is away. We respond and thank her for her speedy reply. We leave the Internet cafe after a few hours and head to the park for a beer. We find a few cold ones and drink them while sitting on a bench in the sun. The park is busy as usual. We walk back to the hotel to meet the others for dinner.

We eat at a place called the Knights Castle. The inside is elaborate. Wood paneling and wood ceilings. It looks like the inside of a castle. There is one table in the middle of the room that is huge. The chairs are highbacked and made of heavy wood. The end chairs resemble thrones. The table legs are huge lions heads. The waitresses are dressed like ladies in waiting in long velvet gowns. Dinner is delicious. We try another new beer tonight, Karl Balling. Bob is with us and eats a full meal. He is fully recovered. For dessert we have crepes filled with fried bananas and topped with whipped cream. As dessert is served the lights go out and there is a loud bang. Music starts to play and the waitstaff performs a dance. Dinner is over at 10:00pm and we head back to the hotel. Pat "watches" soccer and I write in my journal. Lights out at 11:30.

June 15th

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Flew solo at the gym today: Bob is still suffering from his stomach ailment. The workout isn't the same without ping pong to look forward to, but I enjoy the effort required to get body and sould moving for early morning exercise. Afterward, I asked to be weighed: 76.6 Kilos which, if my conversion is correct (2.2 lbs/kilo), I'm 166 lbs, about 5 lbs lighter than when we left. We are eating well here but sensibly, too. When we eat out, portions are sufficient but not too much, and we supplement meals with snacks of yogurt, fruit and bottled water. Throw in lots of walking and workouts three times per week and I almost can't avoid getting fit!

After working out, I go for a nice long walk while Alli is having her pedicure from 9 to 10:30. (Yes ladies, a ninety minute pedicure, including callous shaving, lotion massage and a bunch of other stuff - my terminology, as I've forgotten most of Alli's long and sensuous description - for about $12 US including tip!) I walk along a number of streets we've taken at different times previously - primarily on walks to lunch or dinner - and it's interesting to find shops and sidewalks, paths and walkways becoming familiar.

I'm back in the hotel around 11. No Alli. I start a journal entry of random observations on our first week in Kostanai. It's hard to believe it has been 10 days since we left home and one week since we landed in Kostanai and saw the kids for the first time. If I get through my entry while still in the vacinity of the first week, I'll post it to the Blog.

A couple of notes on the Blog. We are trying to capture and share details of a very unique and personal experience in a very public forum. We are doing so while living through and trying to process a whole new spectrum of emotions. Consequently, we must be somewhat guarded when discussing our feelings: There will be plenty of time for more intimate details after we arrive home, assuming we have everything sorted out by then.

In addition, there are factual, procedural and other issues we are simpy not permitted to reveal and we must abide by these constraints, particularly regarding our visits to the baby home. Please understand: We have come too far to risk anything now.

The above having been said, let me close this thought with the following, which I hope I've mentioned previously: Alli and I really enjoy sharing everything we can with all of you. We work on our journals every day and use them to create our postings. Your responses have been so rewarding, inspiring, reassuring, sustaining, encouraging - all of the above - that a highlight of each day for us is checking to see from whom we've heard and what they had to say. Please, continue to enjoy the Blog and please continue to send your thoughts and prayers our way, either through comments to the Blog or, more personally if you wish, to We will try to answer everything received via the latter if we have the time and if we have your e-mail address.

Whew! Another long-winded tangent. Anyway, back to today....

Still no Alli at 11:30, so I go down the hall to check on Bob. He tells me Alli decided to wait for Beth to finish up a little after 12, and he has good news: He feels well enough to join us for today's visit with the kids. I know he felt as bad about missing yesterday's visit as he did from his stomach misery. He's not up to walking, so we hire a car. The girls are back by 12:15 and we're off to the baby home at 12:45.

The kids are outside again: Alli goes for Molly and the rest of us head for the boys. I settle in to feed Aidan; Bob, who hasn't been able to think of food without unpleasant gastric consequences for nearly 36 hours defers to Beth for today's meal: ground beef mixed with apple sauce and the requisite shot of broth. Aidan winces on the very first bite, rolls it on his tongue for a few seconds and spits it back at me. He does greater damage to himself than to me, but I quickly call for the care-giver - "Mama Natasha", honest - who cleans him up, changes him and hands him back. She also signs to me that lunch is over, which is fine with me and, from the way he giggles madly while getting his onesie changed, fine with my boy, too. (NOTE: We found out later that our effort to ask whether the children had been fed - they had - had been interpreted by the care-givers as a request to feed them again. No wonder none of the three ate much of anything on round two.)

We go inside again today: We enjoy the kids more there, and neither they nor Bob in his condition has to contend with the brilliant sunshine. All three are a little out of sorts - we also find out later they had been to the doctor for a check-up related to the ongoing and, we hope, impending adoptions. Aidan is content to crawl or stand but wants nothing to do with sitting on a lap or bouncing on a knee. He tumbles face first into some small wooden blocks while on a crawling maneuver, and we decide we need a little shoulder time with Dad and a walk around the hallways. He's out cold in ten minutes and stays that way from 1:45 to 2:30. (Our earlier directive not to permit the kids to sleep during the visit was countermanded the following day.) He actually snores in my lap before Alli takes over for the final twenty minutes.

By 2:15, Molly is rubbing her eyes, tugging at her ears and giving her thumb everything she's got. Thirty seconds on Dad's shoulder and she's out too. Poor thing: She cycles through three to four minutes of sleep interrupted by a cough and change of position at least three times before settling contentedly - and sweating profusely - sprawled across my stomach with her head right over my heart. What a moment!

It's a quiet ride home. The effort to shower, dress and join us today has taxed Bob. We discuss going to get money changed near the hotel - rates are better early-to-mid-week than on the weekends - but Bob begs off and opts for a nap. Beth, Alli and I have to make two stops - the first did not have enough local currency to complete our transactions (at least that's what we think they were saying) - and we get 134 Tenghe to the dollar, our best rate yet.

Off to the internet caffe. We check mail - Wow! So many great notes! - and then I send a note to our pediatrician asking her to review the medical records we received last week. Alli updates the blog and we're off line a little after 5:30.

We decide to stroll through the park and get a beer from a vendor. The beers are way too warm for my taste - Note to self: Learn Russian word for cold - but we enjoy them anyway while watching children play near the fountain where the swans and pelican live and listening to competing karaoke "performers." Kazakh people LOVE karaoke!

Olessya stops by around 6:30 to review the gifts we've brought for the various public officials who customarily receive them: eight in all, six for women and two for men. At our request, she hepls select from our various offerings those she thinks appropriate for specific individuals. (his is an important aspect to the process, and we appreciate her assistance!)

At 7, we - us, Beth, Mary Ellen and Olessya - walk to "The Mushroom Soup Place" - once again not its Russian name but a more familiar-sounding moniker passed along from group to group through Olessya. We ask for and receive outdoor seating in a large courtyard behind the restaurant. Salads all around - Alli is thrilled to have found a beet salad again - and three of the four girls get the famous soup. Various chicken entrees and cold beer! Another fine meal.

Afterward, we walk through a new area of the city. Our discussion ay dinner included the railway system, so Olessya shows us the local - and very modern looking - railway station. On the way, we pass the her boyfriend's mother's apartment - where Olessya is staying while her own is remodeled - one of the city's four steam processing plants - remember, steam heats the entire city in the winter - and a brand new indoor swimming facility - there is no outdoor swimming in Kostanai, we are told.

We bus back to the hotel after leaving Olessya at the train station and promising to call her when we are safely in the hotel. Though it is still light out, she is fearful it might be dark before we made it all the way home walking, so she insists on the bus. Even then, she will be nervous for us until she is sure we've made it home.

Soccer tonight: Brazil v Switzerland (in what is, I now know, the World Youth Tournament in Holland, not an under-23 competition as I had previously thought) and a Russian pro league match. All play-by-play is in Russian, so unless the game is of particular interest, I just write in my journal and look up when the crowd roars or the announcers start to yell.

Just after 1:00 AM now. I have to wak Alli and make sure she brushes her teeth and takes her contacts out: She's been "reading" with the book in her lap for the last hour and a half....